The second in a series of posts on etiquette for organized pool swimming. These lessons are considered “advanced” because they focus on nuances of etiquette specific to organized or coached swim workouts, such as Masters. You should already be familiar with basic pool etiquette for lap swimming, which has been well covered by Art Hutchinson.
Do you walk right behind people on an otherwise empty street? No? Then don’t do it in the pool, either.
In a short-course pool there are 50 yards (or meters) of physical space to swim in. In a long-course pool there are 100 meters of space. Use it.
In an organized workout, each swimmer is entitled to a certain amount of personal space behind their feet. During an interval training set, the relevant dimension of personal space is actually time - specifically, 10 seconds. By default, leave 10 seconds apart.
An exception to the 10-apart rule is if your lane is so crowded that the lane-leader is nearly finished with the inbound length before the last person has begun the outbound length. In this case (and ONLY in this case), it’s OK to leave 5 seconds apart.
For a short-course lane swimming at a pace of 1:30 per 100 yards, there’s enough room for FOUR swimmers leaving 10 seconds apart. The last swimmer will leave 30 seconds after the lane leader, leaving 15 seconds of space before the leader completes the 50-yard round-trip.
For a long-course lane swimming at a pace of 1:40 per 100 meters, there’s enough room for TEN swimmers leaving 10 seconds apart. The last swimmer will leave 90 seconds after the lane leader, leaving 10 seconds of space before the leader completes the 100-meter round-trip.
What if there are five swimmers in a short-course lane? Does that mean everyone now leaves 5 seconds apart? No. As many swimmers as possible should still leave 10-apart. In this case, three swimmers leaving 10-apart and two swimmers leaving 5-apart is equivalent to four swimmers leaving 10-apart.
The progression of “5-aparts” always begins from the back. In a short-course lane with six swimmers, the #2 swimmer still leaves 10-apart, and #’s 3, 4, 5, and 6 leave 5-apart. Why is that? Because the lane leader is doing everyone a favor by leading the lane, keeping track of the intervals, and dragging everyone along in his draft. The lane leader’s personal space always has priority.
Only in the case of seven, eight, or nine swimmers in a short-course lane (assuming a pace of 1:30 per 100 yards) should everyone leave 5 seconds apart.
Another exception to these rules is if a set includes particularly long repetitions - e.g., a set of 500’s in a short-course pool - and the lane leader is substantially faster than the swimmers at the back. In this case, it makes sense to create a little more “cushion” behind the last swimmer, to avoid the lane leader lapping the last swimmer.
In a long-course pool, you should almost always be leaving 10-apart, unless your lane is extremely crowded. Occasionally I’ve seen even very experienced swimmers come to a long-course pool and leave 5-apart even when there’s plenty of room. Usually it’s a function of their background - perhaps they always swam in crowded short-course pools, and never learned that 10-apart is the true default.
Why is 10-apart the default? Because this is swim practice, not drafting practice. Leaving 5-apart in a lane with plenty of room is disrespectful of the leading swimmer’s personal space, and is a breach of pool etiquette.
But most infuriating of all are the people who leave on an odd number - e.g., 7 or 8 seconds apart instead of 10, or 3 seconds apart instead of 5.
When a swimmer leaves 7-apart instead of 10-apart, he’s transmitting misleading information to everyone around him. If the swimmer behind me leaves 7-apart instead of 10, when I turn at the opposite wall I’m going to see him closer than I expected, and assume he’s swimming faster than me. I may even consider stopping at the next wall to let him pass. But really, he isn’t swimming faster than me - he just left early. And that interferes with my workout.
The 7-apart-leaver is also frustrating to swimmers behind her. If you’re not leading the lane, oftentimes you’re not keeping rigorous track of the intervals; you just leave 10 seconds after the person in front of you. But if the person in front of you leaves on a “7,” it’s unclear whether she was supposed to leave on the “5” or the “0.” This interferes with other people’s workouts. (That being said, you should keep track of the intervals even if you’re not leading the lane.)
In general, the unwritten “personal space” rules in the pool are sort of like drafting rules in cycling races. In no-drafting cycling races, there’s a “drafting zone” behind each cyclist. If you enter this zone, you must pass within 15 seconds or drop back.
In the pool, you’re not entitled to draft off the swimmer in front of you for as long as you like. If you do, they’re allowed to punch you. (Not really.)