Weekly Swim Session Plan 26 April 2016

Session Introduction

This week, we simulate a race start and then settle into our swim stroke by controlling effort and breathing.


200m easy building to threshold pace


2 x 50m focus on high stroke rate

Main set:

4 – 6 x 300m as 100m max effort, 200m steady (to lower HR and control breathing). 60 sec recover after each 300m rep.

Warm down:

200m – 400m Easy, down to very easy

Total distance (average) 1700-2500m

Coaching Points:

Observe lane etiquette

Try to gradually reduce effort off the first 100m, rather than making a sudden switch in pace.

If you experience rising anxiety, really focus on a strong exhalation.

Just Passing

I’m four months into my recovery following a broken hip from a bike accident that put me on crutches for six months in total. I was never a good runner before this and rehab is doing little to reverse that. Now, I’m used to being passed by other runners. I’m slow. I hear them coming: tap, tap, tap, Tap, Tap, TAP, TAP whoosh – there they go.

I look at their feet, moving a little faster than mine perhaps, stride length, yeah, that’s a little longer too despite my 6’ 4” height. But the combination of faster feet and longer stride means that they sweep by. I hear them thinking “look at the big dude, so slow, poor guy”. However, on my Wednesday evening run, for the first time in this campaign, I passed another runner.

Yes, I passed another runner. They had emerged onto Chiswick Bridge from the riverside footpath on the South bank, just as I was running up the approach road, maybe 30 yards ahead. Then they crossed the bridge and descended the steps to the south bank of the Thames to run back along the trail toward Kew – my route!

I expected them to disappear along the river but to my pleasant surprise I was actually maintaining the gap. Suffice to say, the runner in front wasn’t exactly gunning it. In truth she was an attractive young woman, skipping along, blonde ponytail swishing from side to side with each step and the tell tale white wires extending from her shoulders to her ears, Adele 25 was my guess at her choice of distraction from the world around her.

At 30 yards, you’d have to be a bird of prey to see the iPod wires extending out of her ear buds, which meant only one thing. More than maintaining the gap I was gaining. But now this presented a dilemma. Should I pass?

She was running pretty easily it seemed, whereas I was working hard and breathing deeply. “If I choose to pass, I have to make it stick” I thought. I didn’t want the embarrassment of passing her, only to be unable to sustain my pace, and for her to pick up her tempo and come skipping back past me.

Soon enough, the time for deliberation was over. I was at her shoulder. I had to pass now and pass decisively, not least because in my haste, I’d selected last year’s finisher T shirt from the Longhorn Trail Run, a fetching number in luminous green with a huge steer’s head emblazoned on the rear, clearly suggesting that I am a seasoned trail runner and after all, at least for the next mile, we were running on a trail. More than that of course, it was important to look good. This was an athletic encounter with the opposite sex and I couldn’t afford to look like I was struggling to hold the pace. The thought of the Longhorn was clear in my mind, as I ran West toward the setting sun. I imagined both my bodily and running form like that of Scott Jurek, running a high trail, light and fast.

The reality of course was somewhat different. Miss iPod will have seen a red-faced, profusely sweaty, middle aged man, in an unfortunate combination of royal blue lycra run shorts and lime green T shirt that fitted just a little too snugly, his forty-something love handles straining against the fabric with every shuffling step. Adele will have spared her the sound of his labored breath. Why do guys always have to pass by so closely? There’s plenty of room on the trail!

Having made it past, I listened for her footsteps. I’m sure she picked up her pace, just for a time. I leaned forward just a little bit, believing it might just give me the form I needed to pull away (the trail runner delusion still to the fore). Eventually her footsteps faded; Tap, tap, and I satisfied myself that my improved form and concerted effort had succeeded. A casual glance over my shoulder confirmed that I’d lost her. It was a successful pass.

Was she on her cool down? I wonder.


Coaches ROAR!

As coaches, we are encouraged to develop and document our own coaching philosophy and mine has been developed and is published on my website and on the Ironman coach profile.

The reality is, that in my case, philosophy is a flattering label for a few plainly obvious words, cobbled around popular themes and values that are important to me as a coach. But an experience this weekend has helped to put my own philosophy into perspective, as indeed it has my own coaching knowledge and ability, gained over the last seven years.

As part of my Level 3 triathlon coaching qualification, I had the great pleasure of meeting Chris Furber, formally a coach within British Cycling (under Sir Dave Brailsford) and now National Performance Director of British Para-Swimming.   Alongside amusing and emotive anecdotes, Chris shared his current coaching philosophy, the notes from which I have set out for you below:

  1.  ROAR – Responsibility, Ownership, Achievement, Respect

These are the values that frame the athlete – coach relationship. For a coach, creating a contract with your athlete, that sees them taking responsibility for their training and ownership of their training plan, is key for the coach to have the space to focus on coaching the athlete, rather than chasing around after them and checking they’re doing what they are supposed to do.

2.  Marginal Sport

British cycling is now known world wide for the performance benefits of aggregating marginal gains. The marginal gains however become somewhat irrelevant if you haven’t got the basics right. A titanium skewer won’t be of much help if your athlete has 30% body fat!

  1. Centralized Training

As Performance Director, Chris brings together athletes and coaches centrally. (When coaching individual athletes, we might build a network of expertise around us, in place of a centralized coaching team). Centralization of coaching facilitates an environment where its ‘safe’ to say, “I don’t know” and to refer to others for advice. Most importantly, this approach requires a growth mindset, whereby the coach acknowledges that they are continuing to learn and have not yet learnt everything they need in order to fulfill their role.

  1. Coaches should be judged on their ability to coach, not performance (its ok to fail).

As a coach, think in terms of moving on an athlete, rather than your athlete winning races. Many coaches point to the accolades achieved by the athletes they coach to support the notion that they are themselves, great coaches. If the coach started with a great athlete, that inevitably went on to win, what was the coach’s contribution? In a high performance team, a great coach is someone that can adapt to the varying needs of athletes in the squad, rather than catering solely to the specific needs of one individual.

  1. Emotional Intelligence

Make decisions and provide feedback on the basis of logic, rather than emotion. When receiving feedback from an athlete, hear the emotion first and then analyze the data before ‘solving’ the problem.

Recognize that sport is emotive and learn to separate that from actual performances, decisions and feedback. Consider  insight profiling  in order to understand the introversion extroversion or emotion or logic of your athlete.

  1. Drive comes from athletes (beware of magpies and fettlers)

Make sure that the athlete wants ‘it’ more than you want it as a coach and that they are prepared to do what it takes to achieve their goal. Beware of athletes that constantly look for bits of equipment, or minor tweaks to their set up for the gains they need to give them the winning edge.

  1. Components of a winning performance

Know what it will take, in terms of the building blocks of transformation, to get your athlete from where they are, to where they want to be. Make sure every session states where it fits within the plan and how it contributes to the desired outcomes.

  1. Hard work isn’t enough – work smarter

Don’t just keep doing more and more volume in the name of hard work. Think about tactics and techniques more. Do the minimum amount of training required to achieve the outcome, and no more, keeping in mind that the minimum might be in itself, a huge amount.

  1. Clarity, transparency, consistency and congruence

Athletes want consistency – don’t be different under the pressure of an event than you were in regular training. Use clear links between the goal and the training plan. Agree the goals and the means of reaching them with the athlete (refer back to ROAR).

So these are the main points I picked up from Chris who spoke for 2 hours, 29 minutes and 30 seconds of his allotted two and half hours, without once, as far as I could tell, looking at his watch. He said a whole lot more than you’ve read above but I hope that the points I chose to note capture the essence of his philosophy.

The really big takeaways for me are that the core of his philosophy is in the emotional contract between coach and athlete that are set out in the ROAR values in point one. The coach can’t make the athlete perform; only the athlete can. So let’s ensure that our athletes understand that from the beginning. Get the basics right and only when you’re reaching the potential of those basics, allow yourself to peer into the margins for potential gains. As a coach, keep a growth mindset because the only thing we really know is that currently, we know very little.

As for my own philosophy, I think its time for a thorough review. I have always believed in the basics, so that’s a theme I’ll keep. I’ll be reflecting over the coming days and weeks about what is really important to me about my coaching practice and values, and what the athlete’s I coach commonly experience. I hope that the next time I publish a philosophy it’ll be a little more me and a little less ‘B.S’.

Weekly Swim Session 18 Apr 16

This week, we use CSS as a baseline for an moderate endurance swim.

Warm Up

200m easy

100m steady

100m threshold


4 x 50m as sculling up the pool, swim back (focus on good catch)

Main Set

1200m (48 lengths of the pool) @ CSS + 10 sec /100m

Cool Down

200 – 400m stead down to very easy

Total Volume 2000-2200m

Coaching points

Keep weight on fingertips during sculling to maintain forward propulsion and an effective catch during the freestyle stroke.

Take the main set out steady – don’t go too fast!


Weekly Swim Session 11 April 16

Session Introduction

This week build the utilization of your critical swim speed (CSS) to improve your aerobic capacity, utilising shorter work intervals at a slightly higher pace.


150m (6 lengths of the pool) building gradually from very easy to threshold

2 x 50m fast, with 10 seconds rest

Main set:

6 – 12 X 200m (8 lengths of the pool) with 30 seconds rest between each rep at CSS pace + 4 sec / 100m

Warm down:

200m – 400m Easy, down to very easy

Total distance (average) 2350m

Coaching Points:

Observe lane etiquette

CSS pace feels fairly easy at first. Try to not better CSS particularly in early reps.

If you don’t yet have a CSS pace, swim at an RPE equivalent to your best 1500m pace

Observe rest periods – don’t allow your HR to drop too far

Open Water Swimming – What’s it worth?

Open Water swimming is increasing in popularity in UK (and hopefully everywhere there aren’t man-eating crocodiles). That’s hardly surprising, as swimming in the great outdoors can be exiting, challenging, and is rarely dull.

With the potential for close encounters with actual wild life and a view of the shore never previously seen, there’s a lot of appeal. Of course swimming in deep and often cold water presents intrinsic risk. If there’s a coach on hand to provide support and guidance and someone nearby looking out for your safety, then such risks can be reasonably managed.

What is such an invigorating experience worth? How much should we be willing to pay for the enjoyment of open water and what should we expect in return?

The third season of open water swimming at GI Tri’s fantastic Lakeside, Doncaster, UK facility is about to start and its being launched with a new emphasis. FREE SWIMMING.

the lakeImage: Setting out the buoys for the first time.

If you’d like to swim here for free read on…

With easy access, grassy banks, beach entry, shallow margins and an open expanse of deep water, Lakeside makes an ideal open-water swimming venue.

The modest fees for coached swim sessions over the last couple of seasons, allowed GI Tri to create a small surplus after paying license fees, governing body affiliations and separate insurance premiums.

GI Tri’s Lakeside set-up isn’t fancy; no showers, fluffy towels or post swim pedicure. An event tent acts as a changing facility and an old surf bus offers shivering swimmers the chance to warm up with a varied but somewhat inconsistent selection of cookies, coffee hot chocolate, and of course, Yorkshire Tea.

The sessions contain the essentials: starting with a pre-swim safety briefing, a clearly marked out course, kayak safety cover and an experienced coach on hand to advise the novices and qualification seekers alike on their open water technique.

Clearly, however, there is a downside to GI Tri’s offer of free swimming. Namely, that if nobody ever pays anything, then the costs won’t be met for next season’s license and insurances. GI Tri considers that this doesn’t mean swimmers must pay but is instead gives swimmers the opportunity to make a small donation, if they can, rather than paying a fee.

Swimmers aren’t be obliged to donate at every session and indeed some attendees may choose to never donate, but on balance, if some people donate some of the time, the sessions should cover themselves and be financially viable.

Does this sound idealistic? I go back to opening question; open water swimming – what’s it worth? Open water swimming offers the chance to develop an existing skill or learn a new one; meet new people; and perhaps most importantly experience the great outdoors in a new and exciting way. The intrinsic worth of this is, in a sense, immeasurable. Donating according to what you think it’s worth and what you can afford, makes this opportunity potentially ‘free’ and makes the experience more accessible to a greater number of people. It’s consistent with GI Tri’s no-cost / lo-cost and ‘no barriers to entry’ approach to an active lifestyle that it has maintained since forming in 2009.

It remains to be seen whether the 2016 accessibility experiment works but my hope is that there’ll still be enough money at the end of the year to roll forward this approach into 2017. The greater hope, of course, is that the appeal of ‘free’ swimming will attract yet more people to this increasingly popular sport. Has this whetted your appetite? Maybe removed one more reason not to give it a go? Come and try it. For free!


GI Tri Coach

Weekly Swim Session 4 April 2016

Session Introduction

This week builds the utilization of your critical swim speed (CSS) to improve your aerobic capacity


150m (6 lengths of the pool) building gradually from very easy to threshold

2 x 50m fast, with 10 seconds rest

Main set:

4 – 8 X 300m (12 lengths of the pool) with 30 seconds rest between each rep at CSS pace + 6 sec / 100m

Warm down:

200m – 400m Easy, down to very easy

Total distance (average) 2350m

Coaching Points:

Observe lane etiquette

CSS pace feels fairly easy at first. Try to not better CSS particularly in early reps.

If you don’t yet have a CSS pace, swim at an RPE equivalent to your best 1500m pace

Observe rest periods – don’t allow your HR to drop too far