Swimming the Waitakeres

By David

Arthu Lydiard didn’t much like talking about history. He preferred debating how to win in Beijing than relating how he had won in Rome, Tokyo or Munich. There was one exception. He never tired of telling the story of the hours, days, months and years he spent running the roads around Auckland looking for the perfect training circuit. A run so tough, so mind numbingly brutal that just running it would turn boys into world class running men. Finally he found a run of 24 miles through Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges. Seven New Zealanders earned the right to be called Olympic medalists along the roads and through the bush of Lydiard’s Waitakeres.

Alison first ran the Waitakeres the same year she qualified to represent New Zealand in the Commonwealth Games. There was no doubt about which achievement ranked, no doubt about which qualified her for the label of a real runner.

We wrote about Lydiard’s Waitakeres recently:

“In the haze and clouds that rise off Manakau Harbour, the hills that stretch beyond West Auckland are known for little but their slightly flashy suburbs and relative inaccessibility from the city by public transport. The city’s better off citizens find their homes at the end of evergreen crescents and avenues for a few miles into the Waitakere Ranges, but after the clean streets of Titirangi give way to bush, Auckland’s city limits are thought to come to an end.

Once the sharp, clean asphalt has surrendered to dirt roads and steep inclines, unsuitable for the well-to-do people living below, there begins a trek through the ranges that has become synonymous with runners coming-of-age. Numbering twenty four miles, a handful of people began pounding this route through Auckland’s volcanic hills in the 1950s, because a burgeoning coach called Arthur Lydiard told them to.

As you disappear into the clouds, into the region’s unforgiving hills and trails, hot and sticky in the summer, cold and sticky in the winter, a passing motorist or a nearby payphone becomes as distant as the pavement. Aside from training partners, people who have also been suckered into this deal and promised outstanding success, you are completely alone. Arthur Lydiard does not care if you crawl back into his house in the suburb of Mount Albert after you have completed your Sunday run around the Waitakere Ranges. He has promised that in ten weeks, you will be fit enough to run all the way to Italy. Sunday’s weekly journey around the Waitakeres was famous and infamous: hated and admired by those who labored through it every seven days.”

Lydiard said to me once, “It’s a shame you have to swim build up conditioning miles in a swimming pool. Wouldn’t it be good if you could drop buoys in a lake five kilometers apart and just have the team swim between them three or four times a day.” Of course cold water, alligators, the Loch Ness Monster and the like have prevented that being possible. However all is not lost. The people of Chile have provided a Waitakeres of swimming; a solution that could make Arthur’s idea a reality, that could place Chile in the vanguard of the swimming world just as New Zealand once was in athletics when its runners pounded the Waitakeres.

In a place called San Alfonso del Mar they’ve built a nineteen acre, 1000 meter long swimming pool. It’s fantastic. The 250,000 cubic meters of water is heated to a comfortable 26 degrees centigrade. Even the beaches have heated sand. Don’t get me wrong the Aqua Crest Pool in Delray Beach, Florida is a superb facility; the best I’ve ever coached at. But it is not 1000 meters long.

Just imagine, no more sets of 100×100 or 4×1000 IM or complicated descending, ascending, hypoxic, broken intervals; at San Alfonso its just a simple 4 lap medley or one lap fly warm up, followed by nine one length sprints. Consider the saving in dry eraser pens. Seriously though, I’d love to do a ten week, 1000 kilometer, build up in a pool like that to see if Lydiard’s idea worked. I bet it would. Ten weeks of timed 1000 straight swims and you’d have the aerobically fittest athletes around.

You’d have to do the next fourteen weeks of anaerobic and speed work in a regular pool, but I notice San Alfonso have several of them set into the sides of the main pool. It’s about time someone came up with something new in swimming training. We need to move on from the interval, “quality” training stuff of the last thirty years. It could be that San Alfonso is the answer. It would be fun to give it a go.