All Change – Mind the Gap

I haven’t blogged in a while, well, save for the weekly session plans, as I only tend to write when I feel I have something to share, so after a hiatus of many weeks, here it is:

Last Tuesday was a sad day for me. I delivered my last session at New Chiswick Pool in West London.  It was a good session with attentive and committed swimmers as always.  Actually, they were extra attentive on that particular week, as we’d been told the pool would close early, allowing us just a half hour.  Deciding to make the best of it, they really put in the effort, red-faced and gasping after the intense sets and only just recovering after the easy ones.  It wasn’t until 35 minutes after the session start, that the pool advised us that it would stay open after all, leaving them to swim on a further 25 minutes, wringing out the last juice from whatever my presence meant for them.

We were accompanied that week by Louise, who’d watched from the viewing area for around four months, before finally deciding to make contact and come along.  I worked with Louise on her stroke and as easy as she was to coach, she made great strides in the time we had.  Oh, how I wished she had taken advantage of all four months of attendance since she first noticed our sessions as she waited for her kids to prepare for the squad session that followed us.

I had some of the regulars there, including Vicki, who’d returned having taken the Summer off, so it was good to see her before I left. Missing that week, was Sarah, who had attended almost all of the 136 session I delivered at the venue.  Lane one stalwart and the most determined swimmer I know, Gabi and her competitive buddy Monika were also there.  Noteworthy by his absence, Dan, working away in German, or Russia, or wherever last week had taken him.  Having just knocked out his first Ironman in well under 11 hours, the one thing I was certain of, is that wherever he was, he’d be doing the session in a hotel pool, or venturing out into the local community to find a public pool that was open and accessible.

After the session, we said our goodbyes. It’ true to say, that I’ll be back, at some point, perhaps for work, or just for a social visit, so I may get change to see some of them again, perhaps at Chiswick, Richmond Pools on the Park, or the lake at Shepperton?  It was with a heavy heart though when I drove away – the end of an era.

The reason for my departure isn’t anything to do with coaching but for the day job. My last working day was Friday, which was a final handover and demobilizing from my London flat.  With no time to spare, I had a presentation to give and a viva to sit, for my Level 3 British Triathlon coaching accreditation, back home to pack and now, Sunday afternoon, I’m beginning my mobilization.  No rest for the wicked!

I’m starting an international assignment of an indeterminate period, where I’ll be working for a buddy of mine out in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. As I write, I’m on the train, heading for Manchester airport, then overnighting in Istanbul, before travelling  on to Erbil tomorrow.

It’s never certain how things will turn out but I’m told there are training facilities and a pool nearby.  I’m hoping to have more time to train while I’m away, to focus on a strict diet and take advantage of longer session when I’m home on leave.  Well, that’s the plan.

I intend to complete and publish the weekly training plans for those that follow them, including the Chiswick cohort and for my 1-1 athletes, Sunday morning should still see your training plans dropping into your inbox.

Once I’m there and have the lie of the land, I’ll post again and let you know what Ironman Erbil might look like!

Mind the gap.

Paul

GI Tri Coach

 

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Weekly swim session plan 22 August 2017

Download and print the session plan here: session plan 133

This week, we use threshold swim effort, combined with diminishing rest periods to simulate increased stress during racing. The rest interval has become particularly important for training session success.

Warm Up:

3 x 100m easy pace, 10 sec rest after each

Technical set:

4 x 50m as head-up life saver going up the pool, swim back with early vertical forearm focus.

Main set:

300m threshold (zone 4) 40 seconds rest

300m threshold (zone 4) 30 seconds rest

300m threshold (zone 4) 25 seconds rest

300m threshold (zone 4) 20 seconds rest

300m threshold (zone 4) 15 seconds rest

300m threshold (zone 4) 10 seconds rest – Novice swimmers may wish to skip the last two reps

300m threshold (zone 4) 5 seconds rest

Warm down:

200m     Very easy

Total Volume:

2200m – 2800m

Coaching Points:

Keep a high stroke cadence during head-up life saver. Carry that stroke rate into your swim.

Don’t go out too hard in the main set, or you’ll suffer later in the reps.

Weekly swim session plan 15 August 2017

Download and print this session plan here: session plan 132

This week, we are back at threshold to maintain the fitness gained over the last two weeks working above threshold.

Warm Up:

3 x 100m easy pace, 10 sec rest after each

Technical set:

4 x 50m as kick (without board) or skating up the pool, swim back.

Main set:

200m threshold (zone 4) 30 seconds rest

400-800m continuous (zone 4) 60 seconds rest

2 x 100m threshold (zone 4) 20 seconds rest

Warm down:

200m     Very easy

Total Volume:

1500m – 1900m

Coaching Points:

This short session should be swum at the appropriate intensity – Zone 4 threshold.  Be disciplined with rest period in order to prevent heart rate dropping too far between reps.

Weekly Swim Session Plan 20 June 2017

Download and print the session plan here: session plan 124

With temperatures soaring and the race season in full-swing, most triathletes are swimming some open water sessions each week.  Anecdotally, not everyone has transitioned from pool to lake as well as we might hope. This week, let’s use a pool session to really nail some key attributes of open water technique.

Warm Up:

200m easy pace

Technical set:

4 x 50m sighting skills – crocodile eyes

4 x 50m high swingers

Main set:

12 – 18 x 100m with 10 seconds rest, incorporating the sighting skills from the drill, 2 per length of the pool

Warm down:

300m     Very easy

Total Volume:

2100m – 2700m

Coaching Points:

Sight straight forward on the non-breathing stroke and follow up immediately with a breath under the opposite arm. Don’t try to sight off the end of the breath as this won’t allow you time to properly view the course.  Only lift your googles out of the water – don’t sit up too high, or your hips will drop, causing drag.

 

Weekly Swim Session Plan 13 June 2017

Download and print the session plan here: session plan 123

This week we re-cap the basics of alignment, balance and catch ABC to keep us on track with great technique through the race season.

Warm Up:

200m easy pace

Technical set:

3 x 50m skating drill to halfway, swim to wall

3 x 50m scull to halfway, swim to wall

Main set:

6 x 200m OR 300m OR 400m (depending on ability and target race) at above race pace / intensity.

Warm down:

300m     Very easy

Total Volume:

2000m – 3200m

Coaching Points:

Sprint distance athletes choose 200m, standard or middle distance choose 300m, Ironman athletes use the 400m reps.

Keep fingertips lower than your wrists during sculling (and freestyle catch) to avoid ‘braking’ the stroke

During skating seek out long straight body alignment and just enough rotation to balance. If you over rotate, you’ll feel yourself using up precious energy trying to regain your balance. If that happens, check that your trailing arm is down in your ‘front pocket’, to close down the shoulder of the recovering arm. This should help regain balance for the drill and the follow-on swim stroke.

Weekly Swim Session Plan 30 May 2017

Download a print this session plan here: session plan 121

This week we take the speed we have been building over the past few weeks and push it for longer distances, to simulate race duration efforts.

Warm Up:

200m easy pace

Technical set:

3 x 50m                  sculling to halfway, swim to wall

3 x 50m                  doggy paddle to halfway, swim to wall

Main set:

600m (24 lengths of the pool) – (novice swimmers should skip this longest rep)

500m (20 lengths of the pool)

400m (16 lengths of the pool)

300m (12 lengths of the pool)

200m (8 lengths of the pool)

100m (4 lengths of the pool)

Warm down:

300m     Very easy

Total Volume:

2300m – 2900m

Coaching Points:

Try to maintain or increase pace toward the end of the session, as if swimming toward the race finish arch.  Increased technical focus toward the end of the set should help maintain speed.

Its not about the bike

Ironman athletes tend to spend between six and nine months preparing for their race, depending upon their experience and fitness level.  Hundreds of hours are logged in the pool, on the indoor trainer and out on the road, pedalling and pounding the pavement in zone 2 and tempo, with threshold and above efforts pushing their fitness as race day approaches, getting to race weight, practicing brick sessions, planning transitions and nutrition.

Its finally here, the big day, the music is pumping (AC/DC Thunderstruck…) you filter in through the rolling start, hoping to catch the draft of someone normally a few minutes faster than you.

That’s how most of us remember it.  The swim start….but what comes next can vary A LOT.

The swim is just 1.7% of the race distance. Being a strong swimmer is considered by many age group athletes as almost irrelevant, given the time that can be made up on the bike and run. Most of you are out there now, nodding at the wisdom of this suggestion.

There is of course one big supposition.  That you make the swim cut-off.  Two hours and twenty minutes is a long, long time to swim 3.8KM.  To be on the safe side, let’s say 2 hours and 15 minutes. It’s 3:33 / 100m pace. For those that have actually done their swim training sessions, the breast stroker that always got in your way – they were swimming that pace… Exactly.

So why then, do some athletes have their dreams shattered by the sight of the race clock reading 02:22 as they wade from the water, knowing that the race referee is about to tell them, in the most consoling way they can, that today just wasn’t their day?

This, or something very much like it, happened recently to someone I know and what I’d like to share now, may I hope, prevent it happening again to anyone reading this, who’s thinking of taking on an Ironman but isn’t yet confident of the swim.

Like most things in triathlon, it starts with planning. If you have a coach, you’ve already taken the first step toward planning for success.  Assessing your current ability and having the knowledge of what is going to be required, is where a coach can make the greatest difference to your race day outcome.  If you’re a novice swimmer, or a weak swimmer, plan to swim at least four times a week for the entire duration of your Ironman training.  Many athletes can get by on fewer. While a good friend of mine swims just once a week, I wouldn’t condone that here!

The second piece of advice, is to swim the course.  I don’t mean a recce of the swim route – though clearly that will always help.  What I mean is – swim the actual course laid out by the race organizer.  The athlete I mentioned earlier swam at a pace of 3:09 / 100m not fast by any stretch but for the 3.8km should produce a swim time of 2 hours. Indeed, his first lap split was around an hour, right on course for T2 and beyond.  However, including a diversion on lap 2, the total distance swum (according to Garmin which can sometimes be inaccurate, I’ll concede) 4492M.  He was still swimming strong and at the same pace as before – just in the wrong direction and for a whole lot farther than required!

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In my experience as coach, those that struggle the most with the swim are a particular type of swimmer and in fact, type of personality.  Their characteristics are well summarised by what Paul Newsome and Adam Young of SwimSmooth call Arnies (or Arnettes) for female athletes.

Strong and competitive, they tend to tackle the swim in much the same way as they do the bike and the run.  They go hard. They go long. When it’s tough, they grit their teeth.  In the pool, they push and push against breathlessness and fatigue, often relying on training aids to keep themselves afloat (enter the HUUB Big Buoy).

So, what’s the problem with that? In short, they’re picking the wrong fight!

You can pound on water all day long, it’ll just take it and as you start to tire, it’ll feel like it’s just getting stronger in its resistance of your attempts to pass through it!

Swinging the recovering arm like you’re throwing a hook, might cause a big splash and sound powerful but by the time its crossed the centreline, caused you to fall off balance, resulting in the ‘snow plough’ of scissor-kicks to splay at the back, followed by the craning neck and head to search for air, as the sunken shoulder slips toward the depths, it’s all over – literally all over the place. Add to that the ‘sinking legs’ that have resulted from the craning head, it’s like swimming uphill, or like trying to drive with the hand brake on.  Choose any analogy you like, for going nowhere fast and you’re pretty close.

If that sounds like I’m describing your swimming, or if it sounds like someone you know, please, seek the advice of a swim coach.

If you don’t like the sound of that and need to DIY everything because it’s harder that way and you’re all about everything being hard, here’s the bad news – you need to take it easy.

Most people that ever trained for triathlon of any description know what catch-up drill is.  The leading hand stays out front while the pulling arm completes the stroke then recovers over the water, before slapping the leading arm in a never-ending cycle of swim-tag, that lets it know, it’s now its very own time to pull. You get the idea.

What if I were to say, that even a swimmer with a relatively weak pull can swim at 3:22 / 100m while doing catch up drill? How come?

At the most basic level, catch-up causes the swimmer to elongate, to not drop the leading arm (leaving a stable platform to support the breath), in doing so, the body is straighter, the arms don’t cross the centre-line, so they stay in relatively better balance, the legs don’t sink because the head can stay lower in the water and they don’t need to splay out to regain control. The swimmer slips through the water with relative ease and economy, compared to the kung fu fighting aquatic attack with which the swimmer normally entertains the rest of the pool.

I’m not necessarily saying you should swim an Ironman by doing catch–up drill the whole way round but if you did, you’d make the cut-off and be pretty relaxed for your bike ride.

Lengthening, balance and alignment are stroke characteristics displayed by all great swimmers and increase the likelihood of swimming in a straight line, when coupled with regular sighting, should allow the swimmer to swim a true course.  There are dozens of drills that promote these attributes, catch-up is just one of them.  Trawl through the weekly swim session plans and you should get lots of ideas for other drill sets.

To close, let’s circle back to planning for the DIY Arnies and Arnettes out there. Break your training season into four quarters.  In Q1 swim 4 drill sessions without any volume sets, in Q2 swim 3 drills, 1 volume, Q3 2 drills, 2 volume and in Q4 1 drill session, 3 volume.

By race day, you’ll not be fighting the water but slipping through it and the only cut off you’ll have in mind, is the one long after dark.

Paul

GI Tri Coach