The long silly swim at Christmas

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The Swimming Silly Season – on the 87th 100m of Christmas my Swim Coach gave to me. 7 breaths per length….4 kicks per arm cycle, 25 strokes over 25m and a pullbouy between my ankles…. you get the idea…

I called this article ‘Silly Season’ since it is the time of year when overly long swimming sets seem to take place and swimmers are challenged above and beyond their usual sessions. Christmas Day Hyde Park, Moonlight & Midnight, New Year’s Day, long, cold & open water dips. There are Championships in unheated Lidos and of course Xmas day Sea Swims. If you want to travel and swim then there is probably something to suit you somewhere. This list while a few years old is pretty comprehensive. Outdoor Swim Society.  One of my favourite pools, Hampton Lido is open 365 days of the year and you can book in a moonlight swim. This pool is heated so if you are looking to continue your training over the Xmas period, head SW out of London past Richmond and you will find it.

In particular though I wanted to touch on the Xmas themed 100x 100 challenge that for some reason pops up at this time. I first stumbled into this during my College years in Ohio. Coach Hammond had a fondness for a big final 10km mainset during our December Winter training periods when there was no studying to be done so we could swim even more. From the chart below you can see his fondness for distance in December!


A few days before Xmas we would usually be allowed to leave campus but not before a morning 3-hour swim that included a 10km mainset. (50x 200, 10×1000, straight 10km in 1992.) My last year he went with the C X C  as we arrived and were greeted with the cryptic message on the chalkboard.

100 x 100m Long Course meaning in the 50m length pool rather than the 25yards we trained and raced in the collegiate system. Odd were off 1:25, even swims a very generous 1:30! Having got my pacing wrong I don’t recall the last 12 as I blew up spectacularly. These were the days before gels and energy drinks.

More recently we now swim this at Charlton Lido in December to remember Steve, a local legend who first came to Tenerife with us on a training camp. Steve and some friends started this in 2015 and now his friends continue it to raise money for Kent Air Ambulance while remembering Steve after we sadly lost him in a bike accident while out training.

On 20th December 2015, a group of 6 keen swimmers assembled at Charlton Lido’s 50m outdoor pool to swim a classic set of 100 x 100m off 2 minutes to get ourselves fitter and front-run the turkey over the festive period.Sadly one of our group is no longer with us. During the Easter weekend in 2016 , Steve Wand was fatally injured while out training on his bike and the world lost one of the fittest athletes of his age group.

I look forward to this poignant swim and have finished it twice now. It is a great legacy for Steve and a lovely morning of swimming as friends gather and recreate something Steve enjoyed. Whether for charity or remembering someone, as a fitting memorial the added weight of a good reason to finish will help you finish as the going gets tough. Which it will. NO matter how steady you start, how fit or how well you fuel this is a long way and it will test you. Perhaps that is a good place to start; with the ‘why’ would you swim 10km. Well there are now lots of Open water 10km swims so it might make sense to see if you can hit the distance now. If you don’t make it there is plenty of time to alter your training and revaluate for the Spring or Summer. Contemplating the Marathon Swim 10km next year? A good way to break down the 10 x 1km blocks they offer is to further sub divide to 100 x 100m swims. Often the rest period on these 100 x 100 swims is 15-20secs so you get a feel for the distance without too much of a chance to recover.

For whatever reason you might get caught up in one of these challenges, over distance training is one reason to give them a go as we rarely venture this far in our usual training.  Since so many people are now chasing the 14km Thames Marathon, the 10km Dart event, the Jubilee swims, Lock to Lock and Chillswim Lake Coniston this long distance challenge has relevance. Being able to replicate the race distances this early can be encouraging. Equally if you only make 75x 100 then you know the additional work needed to be successful. Steven Munatones, in his book ‘Openwater Water Swimming,’ recommends being able to swim past your distance by as much as 30% to use as a buffer if conditions, temperature and tides get bad. Not a bad thing to have that much more in the tank just in case when it comes to an Ironman or the Swimathon at 5km. Being able to do double or just over now is quite the reassuring safety blanket regarding your preparation. Perhaps then you can focus more on your weaker run leg knowing the swim should be ok. But of course, don’t neglect the swim completely.

Do these types of long swims help? confidence, mental toughness and tenacity are all tested along with the physical demands. Do you have to do it to swim an Ironman? No of course not. Will you feel like you can comfortably swim the distance next year, then bike and run? Yes, I think you should be very positive. I love the challenge of long distance events. Often taking you beyond your current limits and exploring what you may or may not thought possible. 3+ hours in the pools is also a nice long time to be working on stroke defects and allowing you a good amount of time to refine and perfect a certain element of your stroke that might have been causing issues.

Key points to Success.

Stay injury free. This is critical and my main fear when we give these big distances a go while underprepared. Be careful. If I suddenly up my distance significantly then usually my elbows get irritated with some kind of inflammation. I was recommended wrist curls by a Physio to help reduce the effect.

Preparation, it is getting a little late for one of the big Xmas themed swims to suddenly increase your swim distances dramatically but adding Dryland to strengthen the shoulders and reduce the likelihood of issues can help. I swear by prehab to keep my shoulders healthy now. Work on scapular, posture and strengthening the small muscles of the shoulders to counterbalance the FC effect. Rowing I feel helps with a reverse motion as does double arm backstroke.

Leading up to the event. Rest from a few days out leaving your last big swim or hard effort on the Wednesday if performing at the weekend. This is a big training event so it should not impact your regular training significantly but to turn up tired will hinder your chances of completion and enjoyment. Don’t forget to be familiar with and own several pairs of comfortable goggles. Losing a swim hat to a split is unlikely to spoil the day but goggles leaking will.

Nutrition- trial and error, now is a great time to see what works and what does not in the relative safety of a pool event. If it goes wrong in terms of what sits nicely and digests well then it is better here than half way across lake Coniston. I like the Hydro Gels as they are easy to carry in a wetsuit <by the shin.> and don’t need water to help them go down when I am racing long OW events so I usually stick with these on long pool swims. Jelly beans, crisps, pasta, bananas have all been spotted on poolside. Like I said, trial and error. Sometimes the nutrition component is ignored while the brain needs some motivation and excitement during the 60-70 block of 100m swims where fatigue is kicking in but you still have at a long way to go. Keep drinking and keep water bottles stocked up with electrolytes and energy drinks.

Counting  – Last year we set an interval of 1:45 and swam blocks of 10. This meant each block took 17:30 so we rounded it up to 18mins. 10 blocks of 18mins was spot on 3hours.

Some used watches, some used the clock, a nice 55 or 05 setting will help your counting. ie 10 swims off 1:55 means you might start on the red top of the clock and finish your 10 when the red hands sweeps around as follows.

0, 1:55, 3:50, 5:45, 7:40, 9:35, 11:30, 13:25, 15:20, 17:15 finishing at the 19:10

Rest an extra 50secs to start again on the 20mins. 10 rounds at 20mins having started at 9am you will be done by 12:20. Have fun with the numbers, it will help pass the time. Don’t solely rely on your watch, you never can tell if it will be 100% accurate.

Keeping going. As mentioned, with a charity and completing the swim for £ looming over you, these are great ways to keep going. Swimming in a pool in a group with teammate encouragement, the energy and positivity created means it is much harder to exit than a solo effort. If you are injured, unwell then of course be sensible about this, there is no point making things worse. Equally, I wonder at the wisdom of swimming through a big event, especially an optional one if under the weather. Whether your cold has gone from head to lungs or not. If it is optional reconsider.

Be careful in the later stages with your push offs, cramping will be highly likely as fatigue, dehydration and lack of fuel kick in. Performing a streamlined push off will position the legs in exactly the ideal cramping position. Keep the ankles loose with simple rotations while resting and frequently stretch the calf muscles.

Plan ahead and have friends/family to help with driving after the event. Dehydration and fatigue can take their toll. One year at Charlton the boilers were stuck on high and we boiled in 29deg pool water. Dehydration headaches made driving really dangerous. As soon as you finish and feel ready, food, massage and stretching will all aid your recovery so don’t hold back and be sure to bask in the glory. Good luck and well done!

Swim of the Year.

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Here at SFT we do love to hear all about your improvements and how your races, training and events went. If you could share a swim experience with us, a result or an improvement we will be offering a prize for Swim of the Year. If you did enter in the summer for swim of the month then by all means submit again. Think of this as a chance to enter if you missed out or raced since the end of the Summer.

Glenda went off to Kona, some of you headed to IM Mexico, it was a great Autumn for further racing. Some of you tried pool racing in the Masters arena and Otilo continued. It was indeed a big year for swimming. Fortunately we are going to exclude what Ross and Lewis did for this 🙂

T10, time trials, races all count. Not necessarily the fastest or ur furthest. We are looking for overcoming insurmountable odds, a breakthrough, conquering fears etc Will need some verification though if done outside of an SFT session. Goodluck

Swim Drill of the week – NOV 19th

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If you follow us on Social Media you might have already spotted this great drill. I am going to share something Technical & of use each Monday that you can hopefully incorporate into your training.

Drill of the week- Single Arm Enhanced!  If you are on our fitness classes we will add this into the subset to build rotation and keep the stroke narrow. Often with the single arm drill the catch <pulling arm> sets a nice position and the kick& hips bring the upper shoulder through to the chin but not always does the submerged shoulder then reappear above the surface as the rotation completes.

If the trail shoulder does not resurface you can see here how you will struggle to breathe to left side. The opportunity to breathe is blocked. By elevating the trail arm it will remind you to finish your rotation and keep the kick and hips involved.

 It is also a great drill to use between blocks of the mainsheet as we use it to polish and restore our best full stroke ahead of the next block of harder work. Keep practicing the Advanced Single Arm so your foundation is strong for the original drill. If this drill is weak then this natural progression will struggle


I would always try this drill with fins. It is a tough one! Take a breath when the arms have stopped moving, perhaps take a single arm then the shark fin then breathe.  You can always take 2 breaths to help remain composed. The purpose of the shark fin is to help you breathe by popping the trail shoulder back up above the surface. It is an insurance policy to ensure your body position remains strong and never flattens.


Single Arm with a Sharkfin. A great progression from the advanced single arm. Add the shark fin to ensure you finish your rotation. The trail arm can also elevate straight to 12oclock if you straight arm recover. The key issue I see with this drill is people not finishing their rotation. If the ’trail’ shoulder is left flat you will struggle to breathe.


By elevating the trail arm it is a nice reminder to finish your rotation and allow the opportunity to breathe to the side easier.Try it in the early stages with a central snorkel to get a feel for it but progress to trying without. The body rotation can remain flat  with the snorkel and you will struggle to know how well you are rotating.

Think of this new combination as a cross between –

Single Arm

Clock drill

Enjoy and please practice this one ! Drop me a line with any questions –

Guest Blog – Charlie’s swim progress.

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Charlie’s SwimProgress – from 2017 onwards.

Charlie swam with us back in 2017 and swam well, making great progress to swim a 1:15 at IM Switzerland, her first attempt at Ironman. I recall a keen swimmer willing to train hard with more than a few technical issues to iron out, but her enthusiasm for training was infectious and I could see this would take her far. Her basic pace was around 2mins per 100m in the 50m pool we use at London Fields and she went onto to race well to record just under this pace with a wetsuit.

After a break Charlie has been back swimming with us since the Spring, 2018, and I wanted to share all that has happened recently as she has demonstrated some remarkable progress that might well see her break 60mins at IM in 2019. Of late she has had no problems hitting low 1:40 per 100m with not much rest. Her most recent blocks of recorded swims suggest a cruise wetsuit swim speed of 1:35. At this pace a sub 3.8km IM swim is possible if the course is true and fair.


Leading and Following– swimming between the steadier lane 1 at our London Fields session and the faster lane 2 has been a useful but simple training stimulus. Lead the slower lane1, work harder pulling the other swimmers. Slot in at the back of lane 2 and work harder getting a feel for faster repeat times and faster intervals. Sometimes it works and she was there with the group, other times it was a bit fast and we added fins. Undeterred, Charlie would bounce back with a smile and attack the set regardless.


Fitnessadding a 90min session and aiming towards 4km has been a great aim. With a 60min session we are limited in that you cannot reduce the warmup ahead of peak performance. Drills need time to be swum well. A 90min session allows a good warmup, time for technical aspects to be worked on and then still have 50mins + available for a solid mainset which could be 2500m or more.

Technical Aspects-These are a few of the issues we have slowly been working on in 2018. Head position– was very high causing issues to streamline, to breathing and lowering the legs as the body swam uphill.

Kick– the kick has started to contribute and not just tag along for the ride.

Arms, crossing over slightly on entry while performing a very short stroke due to the lack of rotation as the legs did not help drive the hips in turn helping rotation.  Rotation was limited so surface recovery was low & wide with the arms having the potential to cross over when fatigued. As the kick has improved, the upper body rotation now delivers a smoother higher arm recovery which can travel forwards aiding momentum.

Bottom line is you cannot beat regular training and adding a regular 90min fitness session with tech pointers has really helped. In her own words….

“Jumping into an outdoor pool at 06.45 whilst the mornings are getting darker and the temperature is most certainly dropping does sound mad and I would be lying if sometimes the thought of the freezing cold mad dash from the changing room to the pool and back again make it hard to leave my bed, but my Tuesday SFT sessions have become a very important part of my week. 


 Since my IM last year I had retained basic swimming fitness, occasionally going to the pool with friends, but I knew my technique had got rusty.  I started back with the gang in the Spring, settling into the steady lane prepared to work.  Week after week, working on various drills and taking on board little tweaks here and there, my confidence grew and strangely I started to enjoy the sprint sets and the challenges given.  I could feel I was getting faster which was then confirmed when I was asked to join the faster lane.  Working with STF and having them be able to pin point the weaker elements of my stroke has helped no end. 

The faster lane includes a strong group of swimmers but SFT has bought together a wonderful community of like minded people who are extremely supportive of one another and they continue to help push and encourage me to keep plugging away and sometimes even put them through their paces. The sessions are tough and tying up my hair post swim is usually difficult but my Tuesday mornings are invaluable to my swimming progression and secretly I absolutely love it!”