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Swim theories – can you improve? are there any shortcuts?

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“Float like a canoe, Breathe like a dolphin,…Swim better in 10steps. What your swim coach, who means well, is not telling you or can’t tell you.”

Is your  FB timeline getting clogged with the likes of these gems? mine is and some are quite enticing. My favourite comes not from a swim coach, not a former swimmer but someone who knows what his triathletes need and told me that while I mean well my elite swim background means I can’t understand Tri and Openwater. Sadly though people do want the shortcuts, the quick fix and after 25 years of doing this I still can’t offer the holy grail other than practice, repeat, be scientific in your approach but not always in the pool and swim often. Unfortunately time pressured swimmers do not want to hear that but when I raced as a strong AG athlete in the early 2000s you could get by as a strong ex biker/swimmer or runner and ‘cope’ on the other disciplines. Times are changing and athletes are better, well rounded individuals good at all 3 disciplines. Being weak in the swim means less enjoyment in openwater, less competitive and getting to the bike more tired. Not a Triathlete? then long swims are getting longer and longer and you will want to conserve your energy not waste it through drag and resistance.

Keep in mind….
Swimming is more like a language or musical instrument in terms of patience and practice. It is highly technical.
Learning to fly, probably is easier <this I had shouted at me once>
One swim per week is  6 days of unlearning
Missing the Autumn to have a rest after a tough season is just not helpful. Swim easy, swim the other strokes, swim drills, swim water polo but please stay in the water. The regular testing we conduct shows this year after year. Any delay in getting back into the water ie leaving it to xmas or the new year makes it very difficult to progress. Many will eventually get back to where they were in the previous Spring.
Swimming alone probably will not fix it all, ankle mobility, range of movement through the shoulders, S&C, confidence, yoga, pilates etc No one wants to hear all that though!

Reading the latest material I could get my hands on regarding swimming development I was left feeling a little uneasy recently. As a Coach with the American Swim Coaches Association, the Amateur Swimming Association and many swim groups on LinkedIn etc I get memos, newsletters, research and findings from around the world. Some great stuff comes from the Australian Institute of Sport, from the NCAA where I raced in the 90’s and from a worldwide network of colleagues who are coaching and racing.  It was not so much the conflict but more the complete polarisation between some who felt it was impossible to become a really good swimmer and those who felt it was entirely possible to become really good. Is it possible to improve significantly? Why can’t we be more sure of what is possible and how to go about it? Why do some make great progress and others seem limited? I have my own theories but first the two extremes.

You Can’t….

A coach put forward a theory that made for fairly depressing reading for any adult learning to swim. He proposed that since as cavemen we spent most of our days running and either chasing or being chased we had great Aerobic capacity in our muscles in our legs. Our arms were mostly Anaerobic as we survived throwing spears and stones, hurling items to catch our dinner. With this in mind most swim club youngsters spent their teenage years developing more efficient aerobic movements in their arms so they could spend four or more hours per day pulling their way through the water. If you can swim a fast 50m but suffer at over 200m this might sound familiar and be quite worrying that it is a hopeless mission this late in life.

You Can…

Soon after this bombshell came along which left me thinking I had been wasting my time this past 25 years coaching, some good news. From the complete other end of the scale in terms of swim progress possibilities this came along. Another coach felt tremendous levels of expertise could be achieved through the application of learning, swim aids and swim imagery. The theory runs along the lines of how the Brain has a plastic capacity in terms of how we learn, it is no longer the static organ once thought of but can change throughout life. From years of research into Neuroplasticity, neurological training, motor coordination and applied teaching through the removal of filters to learning it was felt possible to focus the brain on learning new physical movements. He felt that rather then swimming remaining an aerobic model; his new ideas in teaching will help it become a neurological one. Well that sounded better then the first message of doom and gloom but how could two ideas be so far apart.

I have seen enough people improve their swimming significantly over the past 25 years of coaching to know change is possible. A great deal of change  if instruction is good and the student diligent and enthusiastic. Perhaps not as much as the swimmer hoped for but then expectation is quite individual and perhaps coach and athlete will have to agree to differ on what was or is possible. A sporting background, even in a non-related sport to swimming is of use. The rate of ability to change movements and make them permanent seems easier if the swimmer in front of me has come from a sporting background. Possibly to do with hand & eye coordination, control of breathing, timing and proprioception skills. I think the fashion for instant results in a digital age and a lack of patience, are not helping and people become too disillusioned too quickly leading to disappointment. I have said it before but learning to swim is more akin to learning a language or a musical instrument with the added complication of doing a lot of it with the face under the water where the air is not readily available. A great deal of time needs to be put into it for it to be done well and to feel natural. Depending on your definition of becoming a good swimmer you could say both ‘models’ are accurate. A sub 21min 1500m is a good swim if you came from a non swimming background but it is not going to make a county final at a young Swim Club level.

How does it get better?

Slowly; after some early rapid breakthroughs, which can excite this will then frustrate as the rapid trajectory plateaus and improvements seem to reduce for a while. Aligning correctly more propulsive pathways of the limbs will make for instant improvements to speed, as they can be completely wrong early on. Less drag will reduce fatigue so early on progress can seem quite easy. Practicing these to the degree they are then on autopilot and into the subconscious takes a lot of time. Most people that come to me for an initial consultation can swim 25m in 25secs. Some can swim 1:40 for 100m. Few can swim 25mins for 1500m. It is all the ‘same speed,’ I don’t need you to get faster, just keep doing what you did for 25m. If breathing is relaxed and under control this should be a lot easier effort wise compared to average efforts biking or running.  To make the stroke repeatable, accurate and sustainable with low levels of effort takes a lot of time, a lot of relearning after erasing bad habits. More swimming, more often is key at this stage as long as it is done with some instruction and with the correct movements.

How I can tell it is getting better.

When each movement that comprises the stroke no longer needs a conscious effort the stroke appears to stop being a sequence of separate movements stitched together. The mechanical edge to it reduces and the movements take on a fluid appearance. It might not appear graceful or without faults but you can see now that some of the movements are happening with less conscious effort. The breathing sequence becomes as relaxed and seemingly under your control as if you were on dry land. Swimming is one of the few activities, which restrict your breathing in such a way. The rate at which breathing happens, the timing of it and the lack of options when it is not possible, create some major challenges. The other triathlon disciplines, obviously allow for a smooth exchange at your leisure. Swimming, on the other hand, can be tough, especially in the early stages before you fully master stoke mechanics, as the stroke dictates when you get to breathe. The better swimmer you become, the more control and relaxed you can be in all aspects of your stroke.

When it gets better, what happens?

If you are swimming on your own without a coach the lack of instant feedback is a major issue to swim progress. Activities on dryland are easier to record and measure. Water complicates our ability to measure things and it makes exact and 100% repeatable movements unlikely. Try the following ‘senses’ of swimming to help gauge if it is getting better. As you improve I would hope you feel some of the following being experienced. Purely measuring time and heart rates may not always be conclusive. I am sure you have experienced those sprints where more effort went in but no reduction in time was found. This is swimming notoriously being unfair in how it not always rewards effort.

1)         A surge forwards over the locked in ‘anchor hand’ when the catch works well in conjunction with a well streamlined body position. But do not pull too hard to make this happen, it won’t.

2)         At a more advanced level the ability to swim slow, medium and fast, yet still take a similar number of strokes per length.

3)         Hand starting to exit close to where it entered in relation to your position against a lane rope as the body travels efficiently forwards and over your locked in hand.

4)         The stroke never feeling so rushed that you are uncomfortable when trying to get a breath.

5)         Legs only kicking with a board and not going backwards. Not moving is ok, going forwards is tough and may be a longer term project but work on avoiding going the wrong way. Poor mechanics will have you do this.

6)         A general relaxed state and a feeling of being very comfortable in the water. Being able to exhale under the water and inhale above the water and feel very much in control of this action.

7)         The ability to start ‘even splitting’ or at some point ‘negative splitting’ your longer swims. I.e. the second half of a 400m swim being faster then the first

8)         Open water swims being looked forward to rather then dreaded and thinking of your wetsuit as an aid to speed rather then a life preserver!

I don’t think swim improvements for adults are futile. Equally I don’t think it will be as easy as some make out promising rapid improvements. The body just does not work that way. I do think you can accelerate the rate of learning utilising a well rounded approach. It does not all have to be done in the pool but you won’t progress not being in the pool enough. I think people need to appreciate the point at which they are starting, what they may have missed out on as a Teenager and be realistic as to how you define what becoming a good swimmer may specifically mean. I think a sub 75min 3.8km swim is within most peoples grasp if they are physically fit, healthy and prepared to put some time into making this happen. I would have thought many would be happy with this level of becoming a better swimmer if you were new to the sport late in life. Maybe?

 

 

 

 

Swim of the week…

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Congrats to Valerie who we awarded Swim/Run of the week last week, making a bit of an exception to the usual but it was a great write up. Just because the season is winding down we still want 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.

Did you swim the Dart10k at the weekend? Ironman Wales?

Were you with us at Stubbers raising money for Melanoma Fund?

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

Swim and Run of the week – congrats Valerie.

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If you are interested in Otilo, the run/swim event growing ever popular then how about some insights from Valerie who swims with us at London Fields who raced at the World Champs.

We are going to create a new category for this report – swimRun of the week 🙂

Race report ÖTILLÖ SwimRun World Championship 2019, Monday 2nd September 

Taking care of the unfinished business was our target (see link for what happened). My sister and I had attempted the ÖTILLÖ SwimRun World Championship back in 2017, when the weather was at its worst in the history of the race; storms, hails, 50 mph wind, you name it, we got it. Eight hours of battling and 45km into the race, we made the difficult decision to pull out at the island Getskär. It was not an easy decision but we were risking hypothermia. Two years on we are better trained and prepared, and so we think…

The pre-race preparation (not to be confused with training!) started on the Wednesday prior when Natalie –my twin sister and teammate – and I flew out to Stockholm to acclimatize, to ready our bodies and minds, and to prepare our gears. Seasoned swimrunners are familiar with the feeling of running around town (especially if you live in a big city like London) as if attending a costume party.  Though our ‘costumes’ are fitted like armours to our weather-beaten frames, everyone agrees that this is most importantly a mental game – It is enough that we go through all sorts of feelings, ups and downs throughout a normal day, swimrunning means alertness is elevated and emotions run high …and in our case, for almost 13 hours.

Thursday and Friday were occupied by a mini-SwimRun session of 1.5 hours, just enough to get used to our new wetsuit (rookie mistake, it is too tight!), studying the race course, laminating it onto our paddles (See picture) and early nights. By Saturday the carb-loading and tapering meant that we could no longer sit tight, I felt especially jittery. To ease tensions, we took a day trip to the beautiful Djurgården (the Royal Game Park). What was initially a plan to visit the Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum) culminated in a rollercoaster ‘Twister’ ride at the amusement park Gröna Lund, thinking it might expense some of that excitement (or better known as nerves). I am convinced now that I pulled my neck – or at least that’s what I am telling myself seeing as I struggled so much in the swims at the race.

To avoid the queue, we got to the pre-race hotel early. That was proven a good strategy as we had an early lunch, prepared our gears in a timely fashion leaving room for a couple of episodes of Friends to de-stress. At the race briefing, we were told the weather should be relatively pleasant though thunderstorms overnight meant wet, slippery rocks on some of the technical runs – never mind, we always walk those sections anyway… Finally, we were shown the unforgiving schedule – breakfast at 3:45am, ferry ride at 4:45am, race start at 6am on Monday morning. Thankfully dinner was promptly served at 6pm which meant we were all tucked in by 8pm (yup we are grannies).

And so it began – a loud gun shot at 6am on the dot and off we went. Experience showed us that our first hurdle was the cut off at 11:15am (5 hours 15 minutes into the race), which by the time we would have run 24km and swam 5km. It sounds easily achievable, if you are running on road and swimming at the pool; not here, at the Stockholm Archipelagos – we only made the cut-off with a mere minute to spare in 2017, so we were not about to underestimate how slow we would be navigating through the costal rocks – the 2nd and 8th island, Vinadalsö and Käckskar (it is pronounced Shack-shar) had proven exceptionally tricky.  The first run and swim (longest of 1.75km) went relatively smoothly, when we were still in the pack and were able to run without looking for signposts and draft behind other swimrunners. Without any surprise though the second run on Vindalsö was technical enough to separate us from most teams; but that’s ok, after all we only had one goal, to finish the unfinished business.

If there is one thing we have learnt since picking up endurance sports in 2017, it is to eat early and frequently, as such our strategy was to eat two to three clip bloks gummies every 30 minutes. So far so good, we reached the first cut-off point without too much drama, and with about 30 minutes to spare, similar to our pace in 2017. We bumped into fellow 2017 non-finishers Kai and Klaus. This time round they had to pull out due to Klaus’ cold. Though they were in high spirits and encouraged us to carry on. No time to relax as all focus went onto the technical runs and long swims between us and the second cut-off point. We picked up pace when the trail flattened and slowed down when it got rocky. Then the 1km swim was when I first felt the lack of energy on my upper body.

By the second cut-off, we had managed to catch up with some teams including 3 women’s teams and with 10 minutes to spare – a massive improvement from our previous time. So we took some time to ensure that we recharged our batteries, hydrated and consumed salt tablets for the next sections. The infamous and dreaded ‘Pig Swim’ was ahead of us. I thought to myself ‘it will be ok as the weather is much nicer this year’; Mother Nature has quickly proven me wrong – we got to the shore and kind volunteer Johanna reminded us the origin of the name ‘Pig Swim’ – the combination of strong current and head wind often results in losing coordination of the body while swimming. This is coupled with another strong westerly wind pushing us to the left. At this point it was as if I lost control of my arms… no matter how hard I pulled it felt like I was going nowhere. Meanwhile Natalie soldiered on steadily ahead of me but this is why I love swimrun, being a team race means sticking together throughout the entire race, so I drafted behind her and enjoyed not having to sight, something I really need to work on!

From the third cut-off at 41km, three more runs and three more swims later, we reached Kymmendö, officially passing the point where we blew our whistle and abandoned the race two years ago. Forty-seven kilometres in – at the fourth cut-off point – we were cheered on by staff, volunteers, spectators and one of the race directors Mats who congratulated us for coming this far. We swam 300m to the largest island of the course, Örnö, to start the long-awaited half marathon run. Running a half marathon is normally a relatively casual affair, but not this time – we had been battling the elements for 9 hours by this point. Natalie, who also had a cold, was not feeling great and said ‘I can’t lift my legs’, so we adopted a 3-minute run, 2-minute walk strategy, which we were able to maintain quite consistently throughout. It took us almost 2.5 hours, but hey, we are in no rush.

Emerging from the forest the shore is ahead of us again. 7.5km, 6 more islands to go. We have reached all the cut-offs within the time limits, only now we were able to enjoy the rest of the course. I was getting excited but reminded myself not to be too jolly, after all our bodies are probably reaching their limits and we must not lose focus. A few transitions later we got onto Utö – the much-lauded island of love – 3.65km to go. Suddenly our legs, especially Natalie’s felt almost fresh again and we started running, slowly but continuously… wow how resilient are our bodies! The last 500 metres is a small climb to the Utö Värdhus, unsure whether we could run up the whole thing – mind over matter! – we walked the first half, and as spectators, fellow racers, staffs emerged, we started running again – one must keep up appearances!

As always we held our hands and crossed the finish line, and were immediately greeted by race director Michael who congratulated us on the ‘cold revenge’, and we responded ‘no, it was a warm revenge’.

We set out to complete an unfinished business, but the truth is SwimRun is never finished – it is all about an enduring team spirit, an occasion for which to rise and a challenge to overcome. We are still riding the highs from the World Championship, and have yet to make future plans, but we are already looking forward to the next adventure SwimRun may bring!”

Isle of Man – Swim of the Week

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There is only one consideration for swim of the week this week and it goes to Mike who has been working on his tech and fitness with us for quite some time now. His aim was to swim the 100miles around the Isle of Man. His full blog is fascinating and please take a moment to head over to –

Mike’s Blog and ITV coverage

Where you will learn of his swimming with seal efforts, the history and nature of the Isle and some fascinating insights. Enjoy.

“Yesterday I finished my swim around the Isle of Man. It ticked most of the boxes for me in terms of slightly hackneyed dramatic twists.

For a start, it was much harder than it was supposed to be, mostly because I got stuck in an eddy about half way along the 10km stretch up to the Point of Ayre. This was the same place where Mercedes Gleitze, the first person to swim round the Island, back in 1930, got into trouble. She drew strength to get out of it thanks to supporters singing to her from the shore. I got something better: the reappearance of my seal friends from day 1

After that I got to the Point of Ayre around the three and half hour mark and then had a frantic battle to get round the corner in face of a tidal stream ripping up the east coast. Was met not only by the seals, but also my mum, my amazing kayaker companions and mentors Steve and Lee and my friends from the Manx Wildlife Trust.
Which reminds me to make one last request that you share this link with anyone you think might be minded to make a donation to support MWT’s work and also that of Blue Marine Foundation:

Champion of Champions

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Since the 2008 Olympics which coincided with the launch of the Great North Swim the popularity of pure Openwater events has exploded. With the likes of the Outdoor Swimming Society, Chillswim, Henley and the British Long Distance Swmming Association ‘swim only’ events have never been more popular. Corinna swims with us at London Fields on Tuesday and was an alumni of Millfield as I was. I got to spend my 2 years there swimming in the old pool. Now they have a 10 a lane 50m pool on campus.
Here Corinna explains how BLDSA hold their Champion events. Great work Corinna, well done on your 3rd place and good luck with the next.
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On 3 August I was in Holyhead for the BLDSA Champion of Champions – my second attempt after a DNF at the Dover event.
 
The Champion of Champions takes the form of three races – a 5 mile, 3 mile and finally a 1 mile swim.  The times are approximately 4 hours for the 5 mile, 2.5 hours for the 3 mile, and 45 minutes for the 1 mile… but that includes your rest.  So the quicker you swim, the more rest, recovery and warming up time. (As with all BLDSA events, it is non-wetsuit).  My attempt at Dover was tough, I was pulled out after 7 laps (3.5 miles) in the 5 mile event due to uncontrollable vomiting.  Whether this was seasickness, vertigo, gels, or a reaction to the 14 degree water and a bit of chop, I don’t know.  I used that first recovery to warm up and take a seasickness tablet and continued for the 3 and the 1.  After coming so close to finishing, I was disappointed, and pretty desperate to prove to myself that I could finish this challenge.  Which is how I ended up in Holyhead!
 
We were lucky to get calm water for the start of the five mile, the tide was out, and after making sure I was vaselined up and had my earplugs (anti-vertigo), my travel sickness pill, and a swimming costume full of gels I set off.  I took the five mile pretty steady, being nervous after the Dover events, but the 10 laps ahead of me soon became 2 and I was feeling good for the last mile.  There were some super speedy swimmers there, and I was lapped by a few of them, but there were also a couple of breaststroke swimmers which made the event feel like less of a race but more of a friendly swim with lots of like-minded (slightly mad) pals. 
 
Five mile done (2 hours 20), I got dry, changed into a new costume, had some ovaltine and snacks, and half a (family!) pot of Ambrosia rice pudding.  It was soon time to get back into the water for the 3 mile and I set off with a bit more confidence this time, keeping up with a few other people.  After a couple of laps I realised I was keeping up and so kicked a little more, focused on keeping my head still, my EVF and rotation, and ended up overtaking a couple of the swimmers I noticed had finished the five mile ahead of me.  I’m not usually competitive, but I challenged myself to stay ahead of the swimmers I had overtaken.  And I did!  The three mile felt like an awesome swim, I was really pleased to have been able to keep up the pace. When I got out I realised that I had finished ahead of a few of the faster swimmers with a time of 1 hour 20 – hurrah! 
 
A shorter break this time, another dry cossie on, more ovaltine and what I now considered to be the almost magical rice pudding, and we were ready to get back in for the one mile.  I emptied the tank on this one – mainly because I knew I could and also in the knowledge that this was the final swim of the day and there were hot showers in the clubhouse… and beer!!!  After a sprint finish against two speedy chaps (apparently the marshalls on the turnaround boat were cheering for me – thank you Amanda and team!!), I was finished in 24 minutes and 52 seconds (ahead of the guys 😉). 
 
I was super pleased to have finished this event after the Dover challenges, and the icing on the cake was the fact that I got my first ever trophy for third place – just 90 seconds behind the awesome Liane (who has a DOUBLE channel crossing under her belt).  The best thing about this event was the people though – I turned up on my own and everyone was just so friendly.  I was even invited to join a relay team to swim Loch Lomond on the August Bank Holiday weekend.  I’m 100% in!  
 
Thank you to Dan and the Tuesday morning crew for keeping me going and positive – I have had my moments and they are always there to help get me back on track with a few kind words and lots of encouragement!    
 
 
 
Corinna Bridges

swim of the week – a trip to Sweden.

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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.

Cheers

Andrew

Across Continents

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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.

Mariana swims with us at Mile End, on Wednesday mornings and her account has really inspired me to enter. Thanks for this great submission Mariana.

“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’s journey…

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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.”

Where can my training take me?

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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.

Race Start.

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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. 

Navigating through slower swimmers with big kicks is not easy.

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.

Position yourself wide to stay out of the scrum.

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.

With a clockwise course, staying left might help.

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.

Watch, observe, listen to others mistakes to help you map the best route.

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!