Friday, February 11, 2011

The Idiot Set

Yesterday, I started thinking about my swim workout well before I got in the pool. This is never a good sign. Especially because I was thinking about it in the car. When I allow my mind to do specific thinking in the car (as opposed to just driving), I do stupid things - things like panicking because I can't write down what I'm thinking. Thankfully, I my iPhone has an app for taking notes. And, NO, I didn't use the notepad.. I used the voice memos. I'm not an idiot.

But, incidentally, the swim workout I was thinking about was called the "Idiot Set" by my college swim coach. I never knew why he called it the Idiot Set. Was it formulated in the minds of idiots? Would only an idiot do it? I never asked - I usually just groaned. It was not something we did often, and we usually forgot what it was and made him explain it every time. But on days like yesterday, when I'm tired of doing the same old sets of 100s and 200s, I unlock dark things from memory - like the Idiot Set.

The Idiot Set was a set of 13 75-yard repeats (three laps in a 25-yard pool). The 75s were done individual-medly order in the following progression: (1) three laps butterfly, (2) two laps butterfly, one lap backstroke, (3) one lap butterfly, two laps backstroke, (4) three laps backstroke, (5) two laps backstroke, one lap breaststroke... on through freestyle and ending with the final three laps butterfly. It was not a lot of yardage for a single set, and for butterfly specialists, it was probably cake. But for me, every lap was torture. By the time I got to the final 75, I assumed WE were the idiots. The joke's on us. I can't remember ever making it through that last 75 without resorting to the one-arm butterfly stroke.

So why would I EVER do this workout by choice? I'm still asking myself that question. I could say it offered a nice change-up to my usual boring pool workouts. I could say that it would be a challenge to see if I could actually finish it. But I think the main reason I would choose to do this workout is to prove I can mentally handle it.

Memories of the Idiot Set then conjured up all the "idiotic" things done through the years in the name of endurance. Like the time I ran a 30+ miler in my marathon training. Like the time my swim team did a 24-hour relay for fun. Like the time my high school swim coach made us swim in sweatshirts, jeans, and sneakers. Or like my friend Bob who once did, as a single workout, FOUR repeats of 25 miles on the bike followed by 5 miles running. Looking back, many of these workouts are borderline idiot sets -- did they really do anything but potentially injure us?

Yes, they gave us mental fortitude. I was reminded of a guy I met during the bike leg of Ironman Lake Placid last year - he said "I hate to tell you, but we STILL have a MARATHON to do after this." I felt like screaming "YOU IDIOT!" (the key to the Ironman is NEVER going to that mental place.) The most important thing these "idiot workouts" do for us is idiot-proof us - by building mental strength. If you can make it through them, then half way through the Ironman, you won't have one of those "oh-my-God-what-am-I-doing?" moments. When you have to reach deep down inside and pull out that mental strength, you KNOW you CAN. Because you've already done it. And I think that's what the Idiot Set is all about.

(Would love to hear others' idiot sets in the comments)


  1. My “idiot set” moments typically involve hitting the “register now” button on the events website with my most recent “turbo-idiot” event being this upcoming 50 mile run.

    I know running a marathon hurts so I constantly wonder what I was thinking when I decided to enter a 50-miler. Oh, that’s right, I wasn’t thinking.

    Great post!!

    All the best,