I have just had the pleasure of spending a week on training camp with Septuagenerian Ironperson Eddie Brocklesby. She is planning on another IM event later this year so some swim, bike and run at Club La Santa seemed ideal. While many approached the last day tired and exhausted she got up early and went off and raced the local Mini Tri hosted by the facility. I wrote the following recently about Eddie and her amazing training routine that we can all aspire to at any stage….
The Ironman Swim, Later in Life…
Swimming did not come easy to Eddie having learned late in life. After many years now working with Eddie on her swimming, I want to share the story of what went into turning Eddie from someone who did not really enjoy the swim into an Ironman Triathlete, tackling her fear of openwater, and getting her to (start to) enjoy her swim training. In this time, Eddie has improved her swimming to the point it was possible to finish the swim in a strong enough position to bike very well, run well and compete in multiple IM events including Kona.
Not really for Eddie! shoulders made of concrete were going to be a real hindrance to getting any kind of upper body rotation and arm recovery. Yoga and stretching as part of her regular weekly training were encouraged which would help mobilise her strong upper body. The strength needed to keep the trunk rigid while running, her first sport was impressive, but in order to mobilise and streamline we needed to add the ability to relax and increase her range of motion. Upper body rotation through the long axis of the body while keeping the head still took months. Eventually, with a lot of practice and the sort of determination that distinguishes Elite Competitors, these skills came and progress was made. What was lacking in natural talent was offset with tenacity. I have met few with such an appetite and desire to improve.
What needed to happen
The general drills program Eddie followed in her own time were restricting incorrect movements, encouraging correct movements and, perhaps most importantly, interrupting the “auto-pilot” movements that had been creating inefficiencies and slowing her down.
- Pushing down on the front hand to lift the head out of the water when breathing
- Scissoring the kick when trying to increase rotation
- Slow dragging legs that were not contributing to the overall stroke.
She was moving from the stage of “unconscious incompetence” towards “conscious competence”, which required a lot of thought, effort, and diligence in creating correct pathways that reduced drag and created propulsion.
At this point, it was not possible for Eddie to contemplate swimming as Active Recovery ie be able to go and have a nice relaxed easy swim to recover from a bike or run session. This is now becoming possible and a real breakthrough in terms of enjoying relaxed swimming. Preciously the act of swimming even very slowly was exhausting. She struggled with physical limitations and restrictions, as well as a lack of confidence and coordination in the water. The combination of physical and mental obstacles proved to be one of the toughest challenges to overcome.
What needed to stop happening
While friends, club coaches, and teammates all meant well with advice and suggestions, the information overload was hindering progress. Most swimmers learning good technique in their adult years find the process can be quite overwhelming and need to get their main technical coaching from one consistent source. That is not to say there is only one way to go about improving your training and that we have cracked it! Far from it but the issue is if many voices are adding comments at different stages of progression. This causes issues.
The increase in weekly distances swum meant that certain body parts needed strengthening to cope with this increase. A dryland routine was introduced ahead of each session to mobilise key swimming muscle groups and start the warm-up sequence allowing her to enter the water ‘warm.’ Working with Annie, Eddies Tri coach has been a great help coordinating a full plan of attack on getting Eddie race ready.
Training in all weather and against adversity
You will see Eddie out on the bike and running year round in all weathers. You will also see her busy all over London involved in her charity Silverfit. What she squeezes into a day is breathtaking. On the many training camps Eddie attends the amount of swim, bike and run she fits into a day is amazing. Recently after a 130km sportive to conclude our Italy training camp most celebrated with a beer. Eddie put on her run shoes and it was time for 7km of running. Choices and sacrifices. If you want to achieve, improve and accomplish it comes at a price.
I hoped Eddie would have the patience to see it through another winter and keep at it. Recently she rejoined the Mile End fitness Wed AM group for 90mins and 4km of swim fitness. It is an early start but she is there working hard in her lane. These group sessions including our Summer Openwater sessions keep her motivated, challenged and inspired. It was not easy to convince her that taking a step back now and again from her fitness sessions and work on technique would help in the longer term. Of course, she was not about to become unfit while biking and running so much, but it is highly counter-intuitive for someone with a Championship mindset to be told to step back a little, take it easy a little more, and be patient. Keeping track of progress and setting new challenges was key.
Results, Testing & Scheduling
I quickly learned that Eddie was keen on stats, such as knowing Resting HRs, weight, calories consumed, 5km PBs, foot cadence, etc. I developed a schedule so that even small degrees of progress were clear. At first, in a typical week, we juggled 2 pure drills sessions, 1 technical endurance session and a light fitness session. Stroke efficiency developed with this balance and, if the next test went well, we would bring it up to 2 fitness sessions and lose one of the pure drills sessions. If our efficiency measures stalled we would take a step back, talk about what was lacking or being lost in the stroke, devise a plan and continue. Even the fitness sessions I write contain 20-30% of drills, due to the technical nature of the sport.
2017 and onwards
I guess the best lesson we can draw from Eddie’s experience is that swimming is not a “one size fits all” sport. You cannot mimic a good swimmer and expect to swim like them regardless of the assurances they might give that their new technique is wonderful. Given the fact that a large proportion of people new to triathlon are coming from either running or cycling backgrounds, and given that most of them have struggle with swimming technique, we can safely say that many of the things that Eddie has struggled with are common issues that triathletes of all levels struggle with. But, each of us has unique strengths and weaknesses that need to be addressed effectively in order to see us become more complete, better performing triathletes who really can enjoy all three disciplines of the sport. I see another IM in Eddies future. Watch out Mexico.