January 4, 2012

Open Water Swimming Rules

While I am finishing my post on #EUT11 I came across this from Brett Sutton today. I am currently smashing out swimming set almost exclusively with “toys” as I am trying to get some speed into the arms for 70.3 after a bit of a swim layoff due to extreme pool avoidance behavior (E.P.A.B).

Thought it would tie you over nicely until the full madness is released tomorrow. Have a great afternoon.


Of late I have been fielding a barrage of questions by age groupers, who have improved their triathlon swim by using the old put all the swim gear on Sutto principle, but also from coaches asking when do we then transition into more full swimming with out all the swim ‘toys’. Yet, the more I point out to the athletes and coaches that open water swimming is different than pool swimming the more I point out swimming 3.8 km in a wetsuit is different to pool swimming the more I point out that technique is not the major concern the more doubters I seem to create. Most of the enquiries are good nature and just trying to come to grips with getting faster. In addition, most of them, no all of them have said yes they have seen good improvement in their triathlon swims. So, why the wish to change what works?

It’s a tough gig going against the mob or peer group in any thing, and even I fall victim to it myself. As a coach, you always doubt and ask yourself is there a better way. For the coaches, I say the hardest thing in coaching is to find a method that is not recognized by the hordes and stick with it. If I fall prey to the pressure when I invented the method and am an Olympic level swim coach, I acknowledge how tough it is for almost all others.

But the strength of my swim program was rammed home to me while on camp with a few of our true believers, who have improved their swim immensely since ditching the technique method for the toys method. First, Bella and Stephen Bayliss were back in England after the birth of their pride and joy Charlie and were caught in a situation of no pool facilities. The Baylisses took up a plan of attack as they could only swim for 1 hour every 2nd day. In the highlands of Scotland, not a swim hub, only swimming every other day each session would be dive in and go hard. Now this is not very scientific, but sessions might be: one hour of sometimes non-stop swimming or 100s short rest or 4x 1km and all workouts done with gear on for the swim and all these with virtually no warm-up or swim down. Bella’s idea of swimming is starting all out with pull buoy wedged in tight. Don’t try and take it off her! So the Baylisses’ turn up at camp and both are flying versus the other professional triathletes in camp. In the water, Steve was looking like a whirling devil, and Bella bitch slapping the water with her paddles with every stroke showing it and everyone else who’s boss. Their times were as fast as ever, and Bella has just delivered Charlie only three months ago. Meanwhile another 47 min non-wetsuit IM swimmer joined the fray in the form of Mathias Hecht. Now Mathias’ stroke makes Stephen look like Michael Phelps, it is off balance, breathes on the wrong side, gets nearly as many strokes in as Stephen. He is self-taught without a swimming background and has trained on his own for most of his career. But another interesting thing, I think Mathias sleeps with a pull bouy between his legs just as with Stephen and Bella he puts it in before he dives into the pool and it doesn’t come out the whole workout. While on camp, the Spanish coach approached me and remarked to me one day (while theses sluggers were going after it with a Swiss kid called Andreas who lets it fly too),“ coach , they don’t look that good but I been timing them and they been lapping in at 1:10 per 100m.” I said. “yes, not so fast. But he come back with “But, they been doing it straight for near over 1 hour now.“ And there is the rub. While it might not look pretty or fast, over an hour it is deadly effective. Yes, the idealist will say but wouldn’t they go faster with that perfect swimming technique. But the realist in me says, THEY DONT NEED TO GO ANY FASTER in an Ironman triathlon.

Swinging into short course ITU races, well yes then they will need super technique. But actually No that also is a misnomer. Most rave about the Brownlees swim, but again anyone who takes the time to see them swim or train will realize that they are not that fast over 50 meters. Yes, I would bet good money that 40% of the men they beat out the water every race would smash them over 50 meters. But these Yorkshire boys are happy to get into the melee and fight to the front and do swim workouts that mean they keep their stroke-rating the whole 1500. It is about swimming 1500 meters in open water fast not 50m in a pool. The contentious Harry Wiltshire, who also was one of the slowest 50 men in my squad, in open water took every race out on the feet of the leader around the first buoy. It didn’t matter who was at the front whether Ben Sansom, Richard Stanard, Craig Walton, or whoever, Harry would get creamed over 50meters but by the first buoy there he was all over them. Sorry Harry, but I reckon even if Grant Hacket was leading Harry would be all over his arse like glue the whole way. Just ask Gomez, in openwater Harry was and is unstoppable. He too could just put that pull buoy in at the start and I would say, “Harry,1hr strait or 5000 m whichever comes first.” Harry would hit 5km before the hour everytime.

People, I can only tell you the way it is. You race in a wetsuit most of the time. Get the paddles on, pull buoy between your legs and just get after it. As Bella says, “I used to spend an hour and a half fussing about trying to do all the perfect technique contortionist things in the water gliding and stretching. But once I just got in, got on with it, stopped thinking about technique, and just thought about nothing more than putting on the gear and giving it to myself. I improved by 15 minutes over 3.8K.” I try to educate and tell people, but they just don’t listen. So, I say to all the doubters that have done this and improved their swim, hold the line. I say to all the coaches out there stop looking for clues: if they are improving then it is working. If it ain’t broke, don’t try and fix it!

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