This is the second in my series of blog posts leading up to Ironman Staffordshire 70.3. You can find my previous blog post here .I’m not a bad swimmer actually, especially given a nice warm clear pool that has sides where you can stop and rest and study the list of 9 pool rules * (if you existed in the 80’s!).
This is augmented by being generally given enough space to do as you so desire and lane guides lines to follow on the bottom of the pool to make sure you don’t veer too far of course in the space of 25 m.
Swimming pools also have the benefit of slow medium and fast lanes, where you can benchmark yourself against the floating public, even though people’s definition of their pace can be woefully misguided. Essentially swimming in a swimming pool is great for getting your rhythm and sticking to it.
To get an idea of what it’s like to swim in open water, take all the benefits of swimming in a pool and discard them. Then throw yourself into wetsuit which simultaneously helps to keep you warm and more buoyant whilst fighting your every stroke. The additional design characteristic of the in-built simultaneous neck and shoulder constriction is a feat of modern engineering.
If we now add to this the fact that in a triathlon the swim is essentially a legally sanctioned aquatic fight club, where the legs and arms of 100 other swim-fighters are all flailing and all akimbo, you can start to appreciate why my swim times suffer in the open water. The swim is never smooth, everyone receives and dishes out punches and kicks and you can never find that sweet rhythm!
The next part of the problem then is that as I come out of the water I’m gasping for air and dizzy, stumbling around like a newborn giraffe. This affects my bike leg as giraffes can’t ride bikes and neither can I for the first 10 mins or so that it takes for me to focus and find my cycling mojo.
OK – So I’ve Identified the Problems
So what’s the problem here? Well essentially- I needed to swim more and better and more again. If my swimming technique and ability is improved the theory is that I’d be able to shrug off my more of my competitors in a swim, go at my own (hopefully faster) pace and come out ready to battle on the bike leg.
I enlisted the coaching help of Julian Nagi, an advocate of the of Swim Smooth system to look at my technique. Here is a link to video of my first assessment.
If you watch that video you might not see anything particularly wrong. I didn’t see anything bad the first time! As far as I could tell I was going forward, and might I add, it looked like I was going quite fast!
After adhering to Swim the Swim Smooth techniques for 10 months I just see error after error after error! I don’t know how I could even swim as fast as I was. For those uninitiated swimmers, here are three of my greatest swimming faux pas in reverse order. My pictures are compared against ones of Rebecca Adlington to highlight what I should be doing and to add some comedy factor!
3) Kicking far too much, and badly!
I used to think “speedboat!” when I got into the water and tried to drive my swim from my legs, thinking of them as meaty propellors. The problem with this theory is
- You actually get very little forward drive from your legs
- Kicking hard really knackers you out in the swim
- Kicking hard makes takes toll your legs so affects your bike and run legs
- Kicking too hard can really play with your body positioning and affect your hydrodynamics in the water
Here is a picture of me kicking like a submerged Roadrunner
Here is a picture of Rebecca Adlington kicking
When your hands go into the water they should drive forward and straight ahead of you. This provides stability, some forward momentum and hydrodynamic positioning for the rest of the stroke. My hands would enter the water and snake anaconda like across my face, serving to contort my body and leave me in hydrodynamically “odd” positions. This was exacerbated by my over-kicking and proved that I was fighting with myself as well as the other fighters in the swim leg of the triathlon!
Here are some picture of my bad alignment!
Here are some pictures of Rebecca Adlington’s sweet alignment
1) Not breathing!
Dumb I know! For reasons unknown to me I was happy breathing in dry land, but when It came to swimming my body shifted to a more sporadic “about to drown” pattern. When you exhale underwater you give your body less to do as when you come up for air as you don’t need to breath out and then in. Not exhaling fine for maybe a length but is quickly fatiguing and makes it hard to keep a rhythm. You also stay more alive than when you don’t breathe.
Here is a picture of me not breathing!
Here is a picture of Rebecca Adlington breathing!
Julian gave me a prescribed programme to follow, where 3 + times a week I swim by myself and focus on technique, endurance and speed often working at tempo and on my timing. I have generally followed plans, in spite of not being able to train as consistently as I would have hoped and found them hugely rewarding!
Julian managed to knock 1 minute off my 750m swim time off the back of one session with one salient piece of advice which was essentially, “Calm the fuck down”. I have a tendency to go off hell for leather at the sound of the klaxon. There is no way my body could sustain that kind of speed and I would quickly tire out and also be fighting the lactic build up!
My times was 1 min faster simply by relaxing, finding my own rhythm and being present with each stroke.
The Swim in a Half Ironman is 1900m. I should be able to do this in less than 35 minutes. In theory I should be able to do this in about 30 minutes, but that would mean everything would have to come together on the day. Let’s hope that It does!
I went back to see Julian Nagi at the end of 2014 for a reassessment. There were some improvements: my 400m Time had gone down from 7m 00s to 6mins 41seconds and some technique had been refined but still a lot to work on which is fine. I should have visited him a couple more times this year really and I will do. Ill post the progress report up here when I do! See if you can spot the improvements and the techniques that I still need to work on!