It’s official – we have welcomed in the new year, and with it the next portion of the swim season: the *dramatic pause* long course season. For some athletes, those three words cue the ‘Jaws’ theme song, haunting them as they longingly look back at their beloved short course pools. For others, this part of the year is welcomed with open paddle-clad arms and sweet relief. In fact, I have found that there is often a comically distinctive divide between short-course enthusiasts and long-course lovers, so that each swimmer tends to belong exclusively to one of the two groups. In an attempt to explain this split in the swim community, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each.
While the short course season typically only lasts a few months, some teams train the majority of their year in either a short course yards (SCY) or short course meters (SCM) pool due to the facilities they are confined to, so these people are often more comfortable in these pools. The most obvious positive aspect of a short course pool is having twice the amount of walls to push off of. This can be a huge bonus to someone who has great turns and strong underwater kickouts, so people with a powerful kick tend to dominate short course races. This is especially true in more physically taxing events such as the 200 fly, where long kickouts in the second half of the race can help preserve your fatigued arms, or enable you to overtake another swimmer who doesn’t get as strong of a push off of the wall. In fact, short course devotees tend to despise long course pools for this very reason; being unable to utilize their strong kickout at each 25 meter point leaves them searching desperately for the wall in the second half of their lap. This is especially true for backstrokers who can’t actually see the approaching wall ahead of them, and who spend copious amounts of time wondering ‘Where the heck are the flags?!’, looking for that beacon of hope that signals the near end of the lap.
Short course pools, especially yard pools, also tend to seem more fast-paced due to the constant turnover from each lap. This can make for more exciting races, although those who are pro-long-course might say that this also makes it harder to keep track of mileage in a race or practice. Especially for distance swimmers, counting out the lengths in the pool all the way up to, say, a mile can be a recipe for disaster in a short course pool for those whose minds wander more easily. In fact, I’m sure we can all relate to having wondered at some point or another ‘Wait, was that 800 meters? Or did I just flip at the 850-meter point?’.
The main attraction of long course pools, though, is… wait for it… how long they are. Revolutionary, right? Hear me out, though. For athletes who are more rhythmic in their style of swimming, it’s easier to fall into a stroke cycle when you have less ‘stop-and-go’ points in a race (i.e. the walls). There are fewer instances where you have to break your rhythm by turning at the wall, allowing you to instead fall into a more natural pace. Additionally, for people who tend to build their speed throughout the length of the pool, having a longer lap gives you a greater opportunity to accelerate to a maximal intensity.
As is the case with any good feud, the advocates for each side are passionate and steadfast. In fact, one of the best ways to stir up a lively debate amongst a group of swimmers is with the simple question ‘Long course or short course?’. Trust me, people really will go the distance (no pun intended!) to defend their pool length of choice.