Continuing the theme of reposting a swim of the week with some extra info as a way of sharing great events/destinations for you to consider entering, Andrew just got back from Sweden where he swam somewhere between 21 & 23km in the Vidostern event. It is a Global Swim Series event so you know it should be good! Andrew is a regular at our London Fields Fitness sessions – well, fairly regular 🙂
He goes on…….
“I think that Dan would readily admit that I have been one of his most regular swimmers over the last 15 years. Each year, like clockwork, I would turn up, swim for three weeks, and then, like clockwork, disappear for the next 11 months. I realised that this was sub-optimal, and so in December 2019 decided to sign up to a race that meant I would have to swim more regularly. That race was the 21.5k race in a lake in Sweden: Vidosternsimmet.
I did do quite a lot of swimming in 2019, although not enough long (i.e. over 10k) or open water swims (as I only did 2 – a 10k and a 15k, both in docks which make for relatively straightforward swims). The race was on 10 August 2019. After a lovely summer, the weather took a turn for the worst on that day. Heavy rain and winds – gusting up to 15 metres per second – were forecast. I wasn’t too worried about the wind as I don’t know what metres per second means (although I have since googled it and found out that it is about 28 mph which is quite lively).
Value for money…
There were just over 100 swimmers, quite a few from the UK. The start was quite rough – waves in a lake! – and it took a while to get into any kind of rhythm and wait for my heart rate to drop. In just over 8 hours (8 hrs 5 mins) I reached the finish. Which was very cool. Although the course was 21.5k, most people with GPS watches said that they swam closer to 23k. The organisers said that this was probably right but they would not charge any extra.
What I learned?
I learned a few things. I would have reduced my time with better sighting, better weather and more open water training (or being a better swimmer). The wind (or something) meant that for long stretches of the race I would end up pointing in completely the wrong direction if I didn’t sight every 4 strokes or so. This wasn’t too bad though as the rain meant that I couldn’t often see where I was going anyway. And the field spread out (ie most of them left me far behind) after about 7k so I was more or less on my own until I was overtaken with 25 metres to go!). When the wind dropped, or I was sheltered behind an island, I could go about 12 strokes between sightings, which felt much more efficient.
What I ate?!
My arms felt really tired, but were loosened up by a few strokes with fists (seriously, really worked) or a few strokes tapping the compulsory tow float.
One think I did get right was the nutrition. I did take time at the stops – every 4 or 5 k – to take a couple of gels, a snickers bar and some pickled cucumber (who knew). I may have been the only swimmer to put on weight during the swim, but I felt I had energy for the whole race.
All in all, it was terrific. The link is here. I am sure entries for next year will enter sooner or later. I recommend it. And the pickled cucumber.
I have always been intrigued by the possibility of swimming between the Continents. The Bosphorus Cross Continental Swim is an open water swimming event between the continents Europe and Asia held annually at Bosphorus, Istanbul, Turkey. Established in 1989.
“Here’s my swimming adventure of the month : Last Sunday, I officially became a cross-continental swimmer as I swam from Asia to Europe during the 31st edition of the Bosphorus cross-continental swim race in Istanbul ! I was one of the 2,400 competitors from across the globe who took over the Bosphorus waters while one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world was temporarily closed to traffic.
I have been a keen swimmer since the age of 3, formed part of several swimming clubs for 16 years and swam competitively for more than 7 years. However, I’m completely new to open water swimming, and this swim was one the biggest challenges in my swimmer’s life.
This is why it was so important for me to join SFT and get Dan’s guidance to learn a new way of swimming. I realized how essential was the training and preparation as I jumped in the Bosphorus along with thousands of people – it was literally diving in a human chaos but luckily the starts practice paid off and I got out of the crowd fairly easily. I then started to shift forward with the strong currents, while enjoying the gorgeous setting: blue sky, clear water with many small jellyfishes, Asia on one side Europe on the other, with amazing landmarks on the way.
I experienced a new and amazing feeling : flying on the water once I caught the main current (well I think I did?). I did have my little moments of panic when getting out of it and feeling like I was swimming stationarily and also when I realized that I was making my own route to the finish, with people being so spread out that I felt like I was racing on my own in this huge strait of water (“where is everyone?!”).
The main route was manageable in terms of physical effort, but I found that the most challenging part was the last 500 meters as we had to shift to the riverside and face strong counter currents while making sure not to turn too late and be carried away into the Marmara sea (meaning no finish time, and being taken out of the water by collection boats). The water got a lot colder, and I felt the current pushing me away from the finish line. That was the moment to put all in, so I really intensified my strokes and checked every 4 strokes that I was not being carried in the wrong direction… the longest 500 meters of my life ! But I made it and completed the 6.5K race in 1 hour, 1 minute and 57 seconds. I’m very happy with my time for this first try, as I managed to rank 8th/81 in my age category, only 4 minutes from the 1st.
I also chose this once in a lifetime opportunity to fundraise £480 for ClientEarth, a charity that uses the power of the law to protect the planet and the people who live on it.
All in all, only good stuff ! I would definitely give it another try in a couple of years to see if I can get under the hour and closer to a podium…And also make it a pretext to treat myself afterwards by going to the Turkish Baths and eating lots of delicious Turkish food !
Thanks again to Dan and the team for the preparation, the training sessions and the tips, I would have never been able to perform so well without you guys ”
More info on entry here
Clare submitted this to our blog as her swim of the week and I think sometimes it is great to hear from others who are not keen on the swim or struggling with the technique or distance. I have known Clare a few years now and finally this is the year she decided to enter an IM (Italy) Preparation has been meticulous including an Italy training camp, smaller races along the way but swimming 3.8km is a long long way regardless of all that. Sometimes all the coaching qualifications in the world can just be surpassed when someone just comes along and tells you how it is. Wise words if you are contemplating a race, coming to train, starting openwater swimming in any format. Over to you Clare, thanks for this.
“I’m standing on the edge of a lake in Essex, it is 6.30am on a sunny Saturday morning. The sun is glinting off the lake and around me the heady smell of neoprene as other early risers and I pull ourselves into our wetsuits, readying for an open water swim session. I can just about see the buoys around the edge of the lake marking out our route. My training goal is to do 4 laps, 4kms being further than I’ve swum before and this being only my 5th visit to the lake.
I find myself over thinking the enormity of what I’m about to do, “it’s a long way”, “I’ve never done this before”, “what if I can’t get round?”, “what if……?”, “what if….?”. I’m doing a great job at starting to psych myself out of not only not achieving my goal, but not even starting on the journey.
Finally I give myself a good talking to, walk into the lake and just start swimming. I’d resolved to face my fears, to focus on one stroke at a time, to recollect everything my swimming coach had taught me and to trust in my ability. I was not breaking any records, but before I knew it, 91 minutes later I’d achieved my goal and you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
As I drove home, I mulled over my morning’s experience, the parallels with everyday life, how easy it can be to self-sabotage our potential to achieve. How often do we just not start something, talk ourselves out of it, not take that next (or first) step or stroke, not speak up with a new idea, not apply for that new job, or promotion because we over think it and we don’t know how we will do it, if we can do it and we certainly don’t have all the answers, let alone all the questions!
We have all been there, so let me challenge you, where in your life do you just need to just take that first step (or stroke!)?
Be courageous, be bold. Today could be the day to just do it.”
When someone asks me ‘do you think I can break x mins for y metres in the pool, in an OpenWater race or in a Triathlon’ I rarely say no. I can help provide the training and stroke improvements to get you there but you need to get to the pool, get your dryland shoulder strengthening done, stay healthy, rest well, eat well, slowly build volume and make sacrifices. By this I mean give stuff up to find time to do what you need to do. Saying yes to you is the easy part but are you prepared to help answer your own question?
Impressions: I am writing this having just returned from Italy after another training camp. If you have not been on one it is a great mix of people from all walks of life coming together to swim. To swim further and faster then ever before perhaps, with better technique and to gain confidence in Openwater. Nervous laughter is apparent in the welcome meeting, some have not swum openwater before. This is going to take a great deal of courage and commitment for some. I observe and guess if the person is a Triathlete or OW swimmer, newcomer or experienced, masters swimmer or new to the sport. One of our swimmers, a most unassuming, down to earth, softly spoken Gentleman has just told me about his day job. Along with some other Physicists he is working in France to ‘create a magnetic fusion device that has been designed to prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale and carbon-free source of energy based on the same principle that powers our Sun and stars.’
Limitations:I am reminded not to judge a swimmer and their abilities from initial introductions and first impressions. I am also reminded not to judge what their limitations might be when it comes to their ambitions in the field of swimming. I am always amazed at how on these camps the lengths people go to finish sets, swim faster and learn more. Pushing themselves well beyond what might seem sensible! In the normal course of swim development and swim improvements what can be achieved? I have seen some amazing feats of endurance and events completed over the years. Levels of achievement from people of apparently limited ability, from people with injuries or disabilities to unfit, overweight, recovering from Stroke, DVT etc etc They have completed Ironman/The Channel and other events of amazing endurance. Working with the London Disability Swim Club leaves me mesmerized daily as to peoples achievements and the ability to keep coming back to the pool for more training. Shoulder pain? We can adapt swim strokes around that to an extent. Missing limbs? I have seen Butterfly swum and not be an issue. Ironically for some thinking about target times for certain distances and events and whether or not they can achieve x time for a certain distance they don’t actually need to swim any faster then they do now. What I mean by this is for example the Triathlete looking to break an hour for the 3.8km swim. Many can hit the target 100m pace needed as a one off. The hard bit is then repeating this pace for the least energy expenditure and maximum propulsion 38 times. You don’t need to swim faster just avoid slowing down as fatigue sets in and technique starts to fail. You possibly can already swim fast enough to achieve what you want in our chosen event.
Commitment. This really is a two step process. In terms of committing to an event and committing to the training to complete the event. I am always saying get an event entered and the slight pressure that process creates will help keep getting you to the pool/gym/out the door as appropriate. The hard part is probably typing in that first address/website, getting logged in and making a contract with yourself to then get the training done. Once you have that race date set and committed to, getting to the pool gets a lot easier but that is not the full story. I conducted an experiment this year after several people explained they had issues getting to one of our full swim courses I host. I allowed them the flexibility to drop in and pay per session, not ideal in terms of getting numbers balanced, coaches and lanes booked. This would also then create disruption at start of session as we would have to catch a few people up. They assured me it would be 1-2 sessions missed at the most. All 12 people I offered this to did not make it to a single session. This might have been a coincidence/illness or change of heart but if you also make a financial commitment to attend a course it probably will help.
Psychology– be positive and attempt to set out and achieve great personal accomplishments. But don’t over achieve to the extent each training session or small race along the way is doomed. Set expectations sensibly. To break a world record, to win an Olympic Gold is to be the best on the Planet. Not just in your County or Nation but the sole single individual on the Planet. Thats asking a lot and I think as adults looking to improve we can put that to one side but I do hear some lofty ambitions being outlined. Be realistic with what you set out to do or at least set intermediate goals that can be reached and ticked off slowly building a sense of pride and achievement. This time of the year I work with a lot of Triathletes who have entered their first Ironman. The sense of doom where the focus is on the all day event gets a lot of people down and deterred. So late January or February you possibly are not going to be ready for an Ironman <or long distance swim, choose your event and level of dread here!> taking place in July. Focus on the sessions this week. Get them done, tick them off and focus on resting ahead of next weeks. Don’t let your imagination run away with you to race day too soon and be overwhelmed with how futile it seems now. You are not racing today.
Training.More does not equal getting faster without appropriate breaks in training to absorb and improve. More does not necessarily mean better due to the technical nature of swimming. A 5mile run for the most part will be of more benefit then a 4mile run but a 2hour swim can easily be made to be less productive then a 1hour swim. Train appropriately, within a schedule that gradually takes you further, challenges you more but allows you to rest and absorb the training load. I can provide this in your quest to get you to your finish line but you will need to uphold the previous points to help me get you there. As a responsible coach I am not going to tell you something is not possible but it would be unfair if I did not point out the possible ramifications of proceeding against medical advice and what that might hold for a future sporting life ie might your career be cut short? Be responsible and sensible, help me to say yes to your objectives and we can work together to achieve them.
What can go wrong…or right with a little preparation.
A common question as the open water season starts goes along the lines of “where at the start is safe? No where here it would seem! How do I know where to go? Will I get swum over?” It is not easy to answer all of these questions, as the start of a race is an unpredictable chaotic event with 00s or 000s all looking to swim in the same direction to the first buoy but rarely doing so. The more you race, the more will get an idea of how a race start unfolds and where best suits your ability. Even this can go wrong, as a certain race you entered might be a higher standard than previous, and a third of the way up the field this time might have you getting swum over whereas previously you did the swimming over. A race might be advertised as novice friendly attracting you to enter. If you have a situation where there are a lot of novice Triathletes who were former swimmers trying a Triathlon for the first time, then the swim start can be fast and furious leaving the general pecking order in a mess. If this does not upset you and you do successfully get onto the bike, no doubt you will make back lots of time over those lucky enough having swum lots as a youngster, as you pass them on the bike.
A common response is to wait at the back until all the swimmers have gone to ensure the least amount of stress and aggravation. If you are better than you imagined, this can cause issues since, if you as a front crawl swimmer then have to navigate through a wave of swimmers doing Breaststroke, this will be incredibly frustrating. Sometimes changes are made by the race course officials, that do not help. I watched a Standard distance race last year, male and female were going to start together for the 1500m swim. This made sense as faster swimmers (male and female) could assemble at the front. Slower swimmers, regardless of gender could assemble towards the rear of the pack. With 2mins to go, the men were called forwards to start the race, the women would start 2mins behind, the organisers assuming it would be safer to have two smaller groups. For the fast women this made the start very uncomfortable as they swam through the slow men, many who were doing Breaststroke and for the slow men, it could not have been much fun either getting swum over.
I think it is safe to say that no one wants to deliberately hurt anyone during a race but given the tight proximity to each other that shapes the start line, it is inevitable that swimmers will bump and nudge each other. At the start of a Marathon with 000s packed together, the gun goes and for most the first few minutes are spent walking until some space clears before attempting to run. Unfortunately in the water, most relax waiting for the start in a vertical position, treading water until the start of the race sounds and then everyone takes up 5x the room by switching to a horizontal position and boom, it’s chaos in neoprene. You can create room for yourself at the start by holding position horizontally during the countdown and so encourage some space. With limited swim skills and an ability to change pace comfortably, many people usually start too fast in a frantic, losing-control fashion that leads to blows to other swimmers and is misinterpreted as aggression. I hope.
Start line positioning – If you are reasonably confident in the water as a strong pool swimmer, then don’t be surprised if you spend the first 20mins of a Triathlon swim overtaking slower swimmers who have possibly mis-seeded themselves due to inexperience or just not being sure how fast they are. Many people report back frustrated that the middle of the pack was quite slow and it took ages to meander through before clearer water was available. It is hard to give full advice on this area as races and the quality of the depth of field changes, but experience will eventually help you choose an ideal location on the race line. Make your first few races smaller, low key affairs where you can experiment, make adjustments and not be too distressed if things don’t go well. I know of only one person who made an Ironman their very first race and enjoyed it and continues to race. This would seem to be quite the exception.
So much can hinder your swim on race day that it is surprising if it ever goes fully to plan. Arriving early and allocating time to relax, prepare fully, watch earlier ‘waves’ of competitors, if a multi wave event, will help you be at your best when the race commences. Specific swimming dry land warm up exercises are key to bring the body up to racing temperatures and to get the swimming muscles ready to perform. This will allow you to swim a little faster a lot more comfortably when the gun goes, rather than overload a cold body and feel very uncomfortable when you get to the first buoy. A short swim warm-up if it is not too cold and wetsuit flushing (allow the suit to flood once immersed, exit and squeeze water from it then pull it back up into position) will squeeze air and excess water, vacuum sealing your suit, making it the most invisible to you yet the most helpful in terms of flexibility in the shoulder and assisting body position.
It never fails to amaze me the difference in approach to the start of the masses at a Running Marathon event compared to the frenzy of the start of most large Open Water swims. When starting the Marathon, the masses mostly walk until eventually space develops and then a shuffle/jog can start. Compare to a swim start, and while similarly cramped when the gun goes, what happens? Arms and legs start moving frantically as the smallest gaps are fought over.
Confidence at the start of a race comes from controlling as many areas of the race as possible knowing many will be out of your control. Swimming your best will come from a combination of a well sized and well fitted wetsuit, arms and shoulders mobilised and warm ahead of time, knowing the course, the number of laps, the direction and look out for anyone you recognise from previous races that are fast you can follow or avoid!
Here at SFT we do love to hear all about your improvements and how your races went. If you could share a race experience with us, a result or an improvement we will be offering a prize for Swim of the Week.
Simon at the Putney sessions just swam 6mins quicker at Mallorca last weekend compared to his best last year so that is not a bad starting point for July. Leslie H just added 45m to her T10 best at London Bridge. Please add your results to the comments below and one will be selected for a prize. Goodluck!
T10, time trials, races all count. Will need some verification though if done outside of an SFT session. Goodluck
Now and again I put some thoughts out there on the sport of Swimming, mostly related to Openwater and Triathlon Training. I observe, get involved, read about and chart all aspects of training and racing with great interest. Swimming and especially Triathlon/Openwater has many, many experts, fast swimmers wanting you to mimic them and swim fast like them. Sadly within such a new sport it does not take much to seem worldly when the general knowledge base is still building. What I find interesting is when swimmers who come in for lessons tell me what they were advised when they travelled and participated in a training camp or had prior lessons. Of late, someone has even claimed to have invented a new style of FC <Front Crawl but also known as freestyle.> Think about that for a moment. Your left arm alternates with your right arm to rotate from the shoulder while horizontal in the water with your legs travelling up and down almost vertically behind the body. Millions have done it, been taught it and travelled millions of metres with it. In 2019 you are unlikely to have invented anything new. Within this loose outline of the mechanics is a unique movement to you in terms of your strength, flexibility, fitness and proprioception skills. Don’t mould yourself to a style. Work on improving propulsion, lowering drag and then you can fine tune and decide the stroke rate, the kick to arm ratio, the breathing pattern and head position that suits you.
If a swim guru recommends ‘catch up’ as a stroke to you then keep in mind that is alternating single arm FC. Not fast. If this is your full stroke you will not swim fast. There will be no flow, no coupling of the body from the legs, your kick, through your rotation to your arm pull. It looks pretty and bubble free. But it cannot be fast. There is no anchoring of the lead arm as it moves to a vertical forearm position with fingertips pointing down enabling you to launch the recovering arm forwards as the hip rotates.
If, while on training camp your coach did not tell you about swimming with 3mm of daylight between your fingers, they should have. This has been well documented, scientifically proven and if your tri coach is not up to date then your swimming is suffering.
If you read that Bilateral breathing was best, then yes it is something to aim for in training but not always the case on race day. As you demand more air as your pace increases or the stress of an openwater start kicks in you will probably feel better breathing to one side every 2nd stroke. Wonderful if you can dictate which side that is and that will be made easier if you breathe to both sides in training.
If a swim guru suggests you mimic their technique, check that you are also similar height, have a similar range of motion, as long arm span, similar flexibility, strength & fitness etc better still ask them to improve ‘your’ current technique. What suited them, what they managed to get away with or make use of due to factors particular to them are unlikely to work for you.
Bubble free swimming is pretty and looks great as I demonstrate it during lessons. It is also slow, not practical and hard to sustain. Keep separate the notion of perfect FC and an optimum, useful speed to move at. While excessive bubbles, from technical inaccuracies and splashing create the illusion of speed but rarely deliver. Fast swimming is never bubble free. Keep in mind you are not aiming to swim bubble free.
I once read that an unbalanced FC lacking symmetry is to be strived for in Openwater due to the chaos that OW comprises. Yes there are subtle changes to your technique as conditions outside change. (Stroke tempo, the side you breath to, rate of leg kick, straighter arm recovery might be advisable.) But if one arm pulls wide, pushes down or moves across the centre line while the other performs a nice ‘catch position’ you are unlikely to swim straight. The less you swim straight the more often you need to sight which has drag and energy cost.
SFT does not have a style or method we teach, or even a steps 1-10 we recommend our coaches follow. We work to improve what suits you best and ideally make what you have better. This can, but rarely happens in a one day workshop, it needs time and patience. At best in a lesson we can identify what is holding you back, film the faults and introduce some drills to help you breakthrough. It will take months for this to bed in, feel natural, to have new muscle groups recruited and start to work efficiently. Think of this process more akin to learning a musical instrument or language. I will never forget when a swimmer yelled at me ‘ I learned to swim quicker than this!!’
A wonderful, but not easy skill to help you work on your underwater pull phase is called the MFC. The momentary fist clenched as that is exactly what it is. A variation one the classic fist drill but the timing shift makes this so much more effective. Swimming with fists makes pulling harder, hoping we offset by using more of the forearm. In this version the effect of opening the hand mid pull suddenly makes the back of the stroke feel more more exaggerated and complete. The water gets heavier, you know it’s right.
When it comes to swimming, I feel the body is a remarkably adaptable piece of ‘machinery.’ If we encourage it into a position of reduced ability where it needs to compensate we then work harder to achieve previously similar levels of ability. The hand slips in its reduced state then slows as it retains it full size. The larger the object the slower it moves in water, the hand shape will suddenly feel very large and slow as the pressure builds from the increased drag around it.
By improving a specific movement having removed or reduced another area that previously was adding propulsion we have seen tremendous improvements achieved.
Here we are reducing the hand from being a paddle to something less than half the size in order to deliberately force the body to adapt your stroke and become more efficient. The shift from small to large helps activate the back of the stroke, reminds you to finish the stroke and helps you feel the water get heavier at the back of the stroke.
Two videos showing slightly different perspective
More details here and some different footage –TRI247
Head position is key to either helping or hindering your full stroke FC. Too high and like a ‘see saw’ the legs will suffer leaving you swimming uphill as they sink. Imagine sticking your head out of a sunroof in a car, you will ruin the aerodynamics of the car shape. Too low and and it is a long way up to get to the air!
Some coaches associate head position with low legs solely, but poor kicking technique will also sink them. It is not a miracle fix. Legs need to be addressed as well.
Looking at and facing the bottom of the pool is probably the most hydrodamic position for fast racing you can achieve but rarely practical for public lane swimming with peoples feet flailing in front. Openwater also has its own compromises where you need to sight forwards. I would suggest look forwards but not to the extent you are facing forwards which can strain the neck, make turning to breathe trickier and keep the body slightly uphill.
Keep the head still unless turning to breathe. A central snorkel can help practice this by eliminating the need to turn for air.
Breathe slightly backwards. The assumption will be to lift forwards and up for air but in fact a turn sideways/slightly backwards will create a shallow trough in the water bringing the air nearer. The two swimmers in the pic demo this nicely. Closest swimmer lower head but higher mouth. Furthest swimmer higher head, lower mouth.
Lift the head forwards for air and you meet the waviest water (don’t lift up out of the sunroof!)
Eventually aim to submerge the lower goggle, not easy until the body in general sits higher in the water. Note the pic again.
After inhaling try to get the head back into its neutral position before the recovering arm returns to the water.
Timing the breath – Follow the hand under the body as it pulls you forward, turn sideways into the breath as the hand passes under the body.
Aim for a slow trickle exhale under the water and a fast inhalation when you have access to the air.
Some of the following might be of interest. I wrote for Speedo on the topic of head position in openwater.