The Routine: Mark Foster, record-breaking British swimmer

It's a job, not a hobby, but I do still love it
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The Independent Online

Mark Foster, 31, has won a total of 31 medals at World and European Championships and the Commonwealth Games, including 13 golds. He has set numerous records, including seven world records for the 50m freestyle short course, 50m butterfly short course and 50m butterfly long course. In January 2001 he regained his butterfly and freestyle world records, following up by taking bronze in the 50m butterfly at the World Short-Course Championships. He is looking forward to this year's World event in Moscow next month.

How did you first become interested in swimming?

I had swimming lessons when I was a child largely because my dad couldn't swim and he did not want the same thing for me. Things just went from there.

What motivates you?

I view swimming mainly as a job rather than a hobby. I do it because I earn a living from it, and I would not do it so much otherwise; I would not be able to afford it. But I do love the sport as well. No matter what job I had, I would want to keep in shape.

What is your training schedule?

Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are the same: starting at 10 in the morning, two hours' weights followed by an hour's swimming. I also do a bit of track training on Wednesdays. Tuesdays and Thursdays I swim from 9-10am and then again from 4-6pm. On Sunday, I swim from 6-7pm. This schedule does not vary much. If I am in harder training for a competition then there is more in each session, and in "softer" training it is less in each.

How often do you practise starts?

Every session. The dive-off is clearly important, even if I only gain a centimetre on the man next to me. Sometimes I devote sessions to breaking down technique, and once a week I do plyometrics.

What are plyometrics?

Jumping and rebounding, for instance jumping from one box to another. It teaches your muscles to contract and expand. It is an important thing to develop for the dive-off.

Do you follow a specific diet?

It varies. Six weeks before competition I am very careful about what I am eating. The things I would eat would be vegetables, fruit, salads and salmon. I get as strong as possible and then I try to lose some weight while keeping the power. The way to do that is to cut down my carbo-hydrate intake. There is a lot of energy to be had from vegetables and fresh produce, which a lot of people do not realise.

What are the strengths needed for swimming?

My events only last between 21 and 23 seconds, so I do not need long energy, I need fast, explosive energy. The thing I need to watch is my weight.

Have you suffered from any injuries?

No, touch wood. My body does not get the pounding that other athletes' bodies do because in the water I am buoyant, and not subject to as much gravitational force. I would be more likely to get an injury in the gym.

At 31, how much longer do you think you will remain in the sport?

At the moment I am better than at any other time. I did all my best times last year and I'm still learning things about my body and finding out different ways of training. As long as I can compete at a world level then I will continue. Competitive times and world records keep coming down as the science behind the sport improves, particularly in regard to swimwear.

Have you got any further ambitions?

Ideally I would like to win in the Olympic Games and retire straight afterwards. Unfortunately it's a Catch 22 situation, in that if I win at the Athens Olympics I will then have to capitalise on it and carry on swimming!