The Hardest Sets of All-Time

  By Casey Barrett // Swimnetwork Columnist


All swimmers work hard. Wait… Scratch that. All swimmers think they work hard. Even the sprinters. Pain is a proud partner for all of us, at some point all of our bodies have been broken and crippled into lactic acid induced paralysis. But some are a breed apart. Aquatic masochists who can take a degree of coaching sadism that’s certainly cruel and unquestionably unusual. The sets they complete send shivers down the wet spines of lap stroking mortals. Best times might be the final word on swimming success, but there’s another standard that counts for swimmers: the sets they did to get there. They’re a shadow currency that carries serious weight among those who know how much it truly takes – and those who can take ever more. This January 4th to 17th, in Potsdam, Germany, an international crew of the some of the hardest core swimmers on earth is gathering for what’s shaping up to be the ultimate distance training camp. They plan to attack the hardest sets any coach can possibly conceive. They’re calling it Battle Training. It’s the brainchild of German National Team coach Dirk Lange and it’s an open invitation to any and all who think they can hang. Germany’s Phelps-beater Paul Biedermann will be there, along with Germany’s open water four-time world champion Thomas Lurz. Russia’s European champion, Yuri Prilukov is going, along with the top distance stars from Australia, South Africa, Canada, and elsewhere. In an email last week, Dirk Lange summed it up for me nicely: “The strongest will survive,” he wrote. “We’re offering it for everyone who is not scared of pain.” A fine taunt for all you self-respecting distance swimmers out there… It got me thinking about the all-time hardest sets I’ve ever heard of… or, in some cases, ever swam myself. Here are five workouts that the folks at Battle Training can try to live (or die) up to… if they can take the pain:

5.) 24 x 400’s, long course – by Tom Dolan. 6 of each stroke, descending each series 1 – 6. Devised by Rick Curl, it was sets like this that helped make Dolan the greatest IM’er of his generation. 6 x 400’s Fly is a back-breaking set any day. When it’s just 1/4 of the main set, you know you’re going around the bend and asking for rare and memorable pain.

4.) 80 x 200’s Free on 2:30, long course. Wearing gym shorts and tights. Ok, I’m biased, I did this one myself when I was at the Bolles School in 1993. But I’ll take the challenge with anyone who’d like to say it doesn’t belong. 16K wearing shorts (with pockets) and tights, while holding 1:10+ for over three hours. 1996 Olympic champ Trina Jackson was among the last standing; others had to be dragged from the pool barely conscious. Literally.

3.) 20 x 1500’s on 20:00, long course – by Larsen Jensen. Had he made it, this one would be number one. However, word has it that Jensen made it to #17 before missing the interval and having to stop. No shame there. It’s sets like this that made Jensen step up every time under pressure and always perform at his best when it mattered most. With this in the bank, it must have seemed easy.

2.) 4 x 5000’s on 50:00, short course – by Jeff Kostoff. The distance king of the 80’s reportedly did this one while he was at Stanford. Makes you delirious just thinking about it. 20K averaging under 1:00 each 100… Flipping at every wall for 200 consecutive laps before a few gasps of rest, then doing it again, four times. Kostoff did this 25 years ago. You can take the fast suits and the tech-assisted records, sets like this are more impressive any day.

1.) 30 x 1000’s on 10:00, short course – by Erik Vendt. The gold standard by, quite possibly, the greatest training animal in American swimming history. Vendt performed this masochist masterpiece in high school when he was with the Ocean State Squids in New England. It happened one Saturday morning when Vendt and his coach, Josh Stern, decided to show up at the pool an hour and a half before workout started for the rest of the team. When his teammates arrived, Vendt had already plowed through half of this monster. They dove in and pushed him through the back-half – another 10 miles at minute pace! Anyone who’s swum with or even crossed swimming paths with Vendt has a story to tell about his training toughness, but this set may set the standard for every age grouper who wants to know where those outer limits lay… Here’s hoping the swimmers in Potsdam push these limits further still… If you’d like to be one of them, the invitation is open…


Girls 9-10 100 Free
   1:25.23   Joanna Hirsch at Brent 19th Meet 2006
   1:24.17   Sidney Miralao at ISM Fall Meet              
Girls 13-14 100 Breast
   1:32.78   Cayi Yoon at ISM Spring Meet 2009
   1:31.85   Eve Caudill at ISM Fall Meet 2009

Girls 13-14 100 Fly
   1:36.24   Cayi Yoon at Club Twilight Meet
   1:33.31  Cayi Yoon at ISM Fall Meet 2009
Boys 13-14 100 Back
   1:13.86    Raymond Oo at ISM Spring Meet 2009
   1:10.00  Jung-Ho Kim at ISM Fall Meet 2009
Boys 13-14 200 IM
   2:35.58    Jung-Ho Kim at Club Champs – Oct 2009
   2:31.99  Jung-Ho Kim at ISM Fall Meet 2009

Girls 9-10 200 Free Relay
New Record –

2:55.68  P. Sungkboon, S. Peabody, N. Gonzales, S. Miralao

Girls 9-10 100 Medley Relay

1:30.08   S.Peabody, M.Tumiwa, S.Miralao, I.Jeffries  9/19/2009 ISM
1:29.43    N. Gonzales, P. Sungkboon, S. Miralao, S. Peabody

Sailfish News



Today we had the Sailfish parent meeting, and we discussed:

ISM Fall Swim Meet

  • Juniors are to meet at the pool at 7:10am
  • Seniors meet at the pool at 11:30am
  • The club is going to run a bake sale, please bring along something to contribute to sell. Parents are requested to help man the booth.


  • has been moved to the 5th of December,
  • Pledge forms have been sent home with the swimmers, and a copy has been e-mailed. 
  • Parents or an Adult Guardian is required at the event to count each swimmers laps. 
  • We also need parents to assist with the registration process, please email coach Andy Astfalck, if you are able to help.


  • December 1s for Elementary and Middle School Swimmers
  • Starts at 3:30 finishes at 6:00pm
  • Cost 200 Pesos each.  Club will be subsidysing event
  • Bring your swim suit and clothing for bowling.

December Club Champ Meet

  • Date has been changed to December 14th.

Questions?  E-mail Coach Andy

ISM Sailfish and Varsity Swimming

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