My USRPT Success Story as a Self-Coached Master

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    Gary P

    I’m a 46 year old former high school swimmer who, about a year ago, decided to take up swimming again. My baseline fitness level was pretty low. 15 months ago, I was 60 lbs overweight and hadn’t done anything in years to keep in shape. I drastically changed my eating habits, and started riding my bike in the mornings. In 3 months, I worked my way up from 3 miles per ride to 6-10 per ride, depending on how much time I had. I also dropped 30 lbs in that time. Around that time, I started going to morning lap swim at the local outdoor pool twice a week. At first, I could only do about 500 meters before feeling exhausted, but by the end of summer I was doing a little over a mile in a workout I was more or less making up as I went along.

    When the pool closed for the season at the end of August, I took a tour of the local YMCA and decided to join. As the mornings were getting cooler and the sun was coming up later, I quit biking regularly and made swimming my primary fitness focus. By this time, I was down about 40 lbs. I started getting the itch to compete again, and found a nearby pool would be hosting a Masters Meet in early October. I joined USMS, and started looking online for workout guidance. That’s when I stumbled across USRPT. It seemed like the perfect solution for me, someone who had a fairly limited amount of time to devote to training. There was no way I could replicate the high-volume training I had done in high school. USRPT seemed very efficient, and would also seem to provide constant feedback as to my progress. With only a few weeks before my first meet, I made USRPT my exclusive workout format.

    At that first meet, I swam reasonably well. One of the more experienced swimmers mentioned that my 50 free time was only ~ 1.5 seconds off the Qualifying Time for USMS Nationals. That piqued my curiosity, so I looked into it more when I got home. I studied the Summer (LCM) Championship NQT’s for the 50, 100, and 200 free, and decided they were within reach. I made achieving an NQT in at least one event my goal for the year. If I could qualify, I vowed I would go to the event. I worked out 4 times a week for ~45-60 minutes, doing 25’s at my 100 free pace, and 50’s (then, later, 75’s) at my 200 free pace. When the actual order of events for the Summer Nationals was published, logistical circumstances prompted me to drop the 200 and start training for the 400 free instead. I kept the same pace in the 50’s and 75’s, but increased the number of offered repetitions. I increased my workout frequency to 5-6 times a week.

    In early March, down 60 lbs, I swam a short course meet and posted times in the 200 and 500 that, using a common conversion formula, were under the Long Course NQT standards. I made my travel arrangements for the Summer Championship meet and went back to work in the pool. My “stretch goal” was to crack the top 10 in the 400 in my age group at the meet. I had a couple set-backs with minor illnesses, and struggled at times to advance the pace, but I kept at it.

    My first attempt at a 400 Long Course in a meet in mid-June was discouraging, as I was way off my expected pace. I chalked it up to fatigue and unfamiliarity with the format, and continued on with the training. I tried to do more 75’s than 50’s from that point, aware that I was leaning a bit too much on wall speed on the 50’s. I picked up a second workout twice a week for the last 6 weeks of training, taking my total to 8. The week before the Championship meet, I started progressively reducing the workload by a combination of longer rest intervals and fewer repetitions. The last few days, I worked on my pacing strategy by swimming 400’s broken by 50’s, replicating my race plan. I went back through my log and checked my totals the night before I left for the meet. I had done of 1500 25’s, 1500 50’s, and 1000 75’s at race pace in the preceding 10 months. That gave me great confidence that I would be able to perform well. Weight wise, I was down 64 lbs from my 15-month-earlier high, and only about 8 lbs heavier than I had been in high school.

    My first event at the Championship was the 50 free. Since I hadn’t done any work specifically on the 50, I really didn’t have much of an expectation for a time. When I swam a time that converted to a 1.5 second improvement over my previous best, I felt pretty good about my chances in the 400 the next day. Before the 400, my wife asked what my goal was. All along, I had hoped to get under 4:59, but there was never indication from my USRPT training that I could sustain that pace. I told her “5:09” based on what the USRPT sets had actually indicated. I followed my race plan to a T; easy first 50, medium-press with a 2-beat kick for the next 150, medium-press with a 6-beat kick from mid-way to the 350 turn, and give it all I had on the last 50. Early on I thought I was in trouble, as I could see at the first turn I was about mid-pack with a couple swimmers pretty far ahead. I stuck to my race, however, and took the lead by 150 mark as the rabbits started to fade. I could feel myself fading a bit on the 7th 50, and didn’t have as much pop on the last 50 as I had hoped, but I held on to win my heat fairly handily. My time? 5:09.26. I watched the next heat, which was the last of my age group, intently. I was hoping that I would leap-frog at least one swimmer from the heat, earning the top-ten finish that had been my motivation. In the end, I fell 0.51 seconds short.

    Just an hour and a half later, I had the 100 free. My wife again asked me my goal. Again relying on my USRPT set performance as an indicator, I told her “1:03.5” I ended up swimming exactly that; 1:03.50. My final finishing positions were 18th in the 100, 16th in the 50, and 11th in the 400 free. I went from couch potato to .51 seconds from a top 10 finish in the USMS Masters Summer Nationals in 15 months, thanks largely to USRPT. I will continue to train with USPRT, and expect to get that top-10 finish sometime soon.

    Here’s a before/after photo:
    Before and After

    Here’s my race video (I’m Gary Patrick, the 3rd swimmer from the bottom, in black trunks and the gold cap). If any of you coaches have any feedback on my stroke or race strategy, I’d love to hear it. One drawback to self-coaching USPRT is the lack of regular technical feedback.


    This is great! Congratulations on the success and weight loss. It’s good to see more people hitting their USRPT pace times very closely in a meet.

    What does you typical training week look like? How many sets do you do for 100’s, 200’s, and 400/500’s? Have you thought about adding any strokes to your program?

    Gary P


    I mostly did just one USRPT set per workout. In the beginning, it was because I would get leg/calf cramps when trying to exert myself on a second set. I was getting 2-3 exposures a week each to 30 x 25 @ 100 pace and 30 x 50 @ 200 pace. Later, when I’d switched emphasis from the 200 to the 400, it was because the 400 set took pretty much all the time I had. I would offer 40 X 50 a couple times a week and 25 x 75 three times a week. I let the 30 x 25’s offering fall to just once a week until about 4 weeks out, then I brought it back to twice a week. On top of that, I did an occasional high effort long distance swim (800-2100 yards) to work on my pacing for an open water event, along with some occasional all-out, no-breath sprint 25’s with long rest to tune up for the 50.

    In retrospect, that turned out to be an overload on the 400 work. At one point, my progression stalled out, then actually regressed a little bit. About 7 weeks before the Championship meet, I swam a 400 Long Course in a local meet, my first exposure to that format since I came back to the sport. My time converted to about 12 seconds slower than I had done in a 500 yard Short Course 15 weeks prior. I knew it while I was swimming it, too, since I could see my splits on the scoreboard at each 100, but I just couldn’t go any faster; my arms felt like mush by the 100 mark. That kind of shook my confidence momentarily, but I managed to get over it and looked for lessons to be learned. First, I recognized that the Long Course format was considerably more demanding that I had remembered, and that, in practicing short course, I had been relying on turns for both rest(arms), and speed. I worked on developing a longer, slower turn-over stroke for the early part of the 400. Simultaneously, I worked on a six beat kick for the back half to hopefully keep the overall speed up as my arms were fatiguing. (Previously, I had only done a six beat for the 50 and 100, where I was breathing no more than every 4th stroke, and hadn’t developed a six beat to use in combination with my every-other-stroke breathing on longer distance events). At the same time, I recognized that I probably wasn’t allowing myself enough recovery. I started tweaking the rest interval variable a bit. Up until that point, I had been strictly adhering to the 20 seconds rest rule for 50’s and 75’s. I allowed myself to go to 23 seconds on both distances until my success rate recovered, then started alternating shorter rest at the same pace with the same rest at a slightly faster pace. I stopped doing 75’s all together than last two weeks, and gradually increased the rest while decreasing the volume of 50s’ and 25s. I ended up going 18 seconds faster in the 400 at Nationals than I had in that earlier meet.

    As for other strokes, I didn’t take any up because I was over-focused on the 400 free. I will work in a second stroke in the coming year in hopes of not overloading on freestyle again; probably breaststroke.


    Thanks for sharing this! I’ve just watched the race for the second time. It is very encouraging to hear/see.

    "Most people have the will to win. Few have the will to prepare to win."

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