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8 Characters you’ll encounter at your next swim workout

Lane leaders (or foes). How you behave in your swim lane matters.

I joined my first triathlon swim club when Ronald Reagan was president and I remain friends to this day with several of my old lane mates. One of them even swims in the club I now coach. From the first time I got in the water, I have taken note that there is a short parade of characters that are an integral part of every club. Some of the characters you’re likely to see will add to your swimming experience. Some will detract. Who do you swim with and, more importantly, which one are you?

The following list is not exhaustive. There are others but these are some of the most common:

Larry Leader: Larrys take control of the lane. They “suggest” pace times and put the other swimmers in the optimal order. If things aren’t going to plan, they’ll make changes. Other coaches (and people who have taken a weekend coaching course) often fall into this category. Sometimes Larrys keep a lane tight, but they can also make you miserable.

Heather However: Heathers love your set, however, they have a suggestion that would make it apply spot-on to where they’re at, at this particular phase of their training. The 16 x 100 fins @ 1:30 turnaround is perfect, except, could we do them as 50s and, instead of fins, could we do a pull/paddle set instead? Heathers are almost always entry level pro athletes, or high level age group athletes. With few exceptions, Heathers will make their lane mates miserable.

Henry Wise: Henrys have been swimming forever. They never miss a workout. And they’re older than you are. And they swim faster than you do. And they’re humble. They want to see everyone succeed. They’ll give you advice, but only if you ask for it. There’s usually only one or two Henrys per club. They’re more valuable than gold.

Betty Bambi: Bettys are new, but just so happy to be there learning. They can be 18 or 80. Their joy is infectious. Their enthusiasm makes coaching worthwhile. Everyone wants a Betty in their lane.

Related: Swim training – master your breathing

Eddy Steady: Eddys are the backbone of your club. They show up on time, get in the water and do the session with little comment. You never really know what they’re thinking because they keep their nonsense to themselves.

Nelly Nurse: Nurses are caregivers. If you’re having an off day, they’ll notice, and do what they can to make things better. If there’s conflict in a lane, nurses will take the lead to diffuse the situation. They often like to hug. This can be uncomfortable in swim kit.

Ricky Rebel: Rickys aren’t happy unless they’re breaking the rules. They don’t hesitate to grab toys if they’re not feeling the love. They seldom feel the love. They change the set and then proclaim – “You guys carry on. I’ll just do my thing back here and stay out of the way.” They’re always in the way.
Rebels seldom add anything but chaos to the lane.

Jessie Jester: There’s one in every lane. Depending on your mood, they’re usually harmless.


Chances are you’ll see some of the people you swim with in the above list. Maybe you see yourself? The point is, how you behave in the lane matters. If you’re not a lane “mate” there’s a chance you might be a lane “foe.”

And, because I can’t help myself, here’s a great set to do as we move into the fall. Write it down and hand it to your coach as you arrive on deck. Tell her “the set on the board looks great however this one will really take things to a new level.”

Warm up/Pre-set = 1,600 m

  • 400 easy choice
  • 4 x 200 fins with snorkel as 100 kick no board/100 swim @ 15 SRI (seconds rest interval). Progress these 1 to 4 (work harder with each one)
  • 2 x 50 as 35 moderate/15 easy @ 10 SRI
  • 2 x 50 as 15 hard/35 ez @ 10 SRI
  • 200 pull buoy/snorkel – gentle, work on body position

Main Set = 2,400 m
Ideally, select a turnaround time that gives you 30 seconds rest on the first 100 then simply subtract 5 seconds as you progress.

  • 100 @ 30 SRI
  • 50 easy pull
  • 2 x 100 @ 25 SRI
  • 50 easy pull
  • 3 x 100 @ 20 SRI
  • 50 easy pull
  • 4 x 100 @ 15 SRI
  • 50 easy pull
  • 5 x 100 @ 10 SRI
  • 50 easy pull
  • 6 x 100 @ 5 SRI
  • 50 easy pull

This set reinforces (the hard way) that going out too strong can cost you dearly.

Cool Down

  • 200 easy choice

Total Workout = 4,200 m

Clint Lien is the head coach of Victoria’s Mercury Rising Triathlon (www.mercuryrisingtriathlon.com) and assistant coach at the Canadian National Performance Centre