Swim For Tri: new website launches

Take a look at the brand new Swim For Tri site.

The old site had some good content from the award-winning SFT coaches, but this new design both looks cool and is far easier to navigate. What Dan Bullock and his team have done is put all the swim content you could ever wish for right at your finger tips. There’s naturally information on all the services they offer – group or individual tuition (personally recommended!), endless pool analysis, and training camps in the UK and abroad (including their inaugural warm weather camp in what sounds like a unique location… in South Africa). Plus SFT’s own shop provides some great deals on swim gear and is accessed direct from the home page. But the big new feature is the ‘members area’ providing unparalleled access to a range of training sessions (swim tests, template sessions, and a periodised program available to download weekly and easy to follow), drills and technique help, videos, articles, and valuable tools for uploading swim stats for progress analysis. There is a catch (no pun intended): membership costs £40 – but this is a snip when you consider what you’re getting access to, and well worth it for any triathlete looking to take their swim performance to the next level.

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Swimming: video analysis

A key part of the training camp this weekend was swim video analysis. Despite my timed swim test performances (1500m, 4x400m, 20x100m) improving substantially of late – principally due to the squad-based fitness sessions I’ve been attending – I knew my technique was pretty raw. I took five 1-on-1 lessons with Swim for Tri in April/May: this got me breathing bilaterally and showed me basic extension and rotation drills. But – never having seen myself self on screen before – I was otherwise at a loss as to what to work on this winter.

Here’s my video.

HEAD ON: rotation is improved (Dan tells me!). But the main faults you notice are: 1/ my straight-arm action – especially on the left arm – failing to bend the elbow and point the hands down at the black line. This means I’m only using shoulder power to propel through the catch. By bending at the elbow I can a) use the entire forearm as a paddle, and b) engage the ‘lats’ (latissimus dorsi muscles of the back) to be stronger through the first catch phase. This provides a less stressful and more powerful muscle engagement. Also: 2/ the hand entry creates too many bubbles (especially left hand) thus creating drag.

What to work on: 1/ focus on correct hand/arm pathway in drills and full stroke; 2/improve ‘piercing’ hand entry.

SIDE PROFILE: where to start?! Two major problems slowing me down: 1/ my alignment is tilted down from head to feet, and feet are pointed down at the ankle (despite kick being reasonably well controlled in range). This creates drag and prevents maximum stream-lining through the water; 2/ no proper glide phase with the lead hand. I have worked on this using extension switch drills, but I slip back to ‘wind-milling’ when trying to go quicker (fine if you’re a sprinter, but inefficient for swimming 1.5 to 3.8k during a triathlon).

What to work on: 1/ strengthen leg kick through drills to properly engage glutes and lift the legs; 2/ slow the full stroke down and focus on full extension, and also use extension and catch up drills. This will also further aid rotation.

Swim for Tri can be reach for coaching, lessons and endless pool video analysis at http://www.swimfortri.com

We did it!!

The English Channel: Dover to Cap Gris Nez. 21 nautical miles. 16 hours and 16 minutes. 5 swimmers, 1hr rotational stints in 17-degree water.

This was a challenge like no other that I’ve undertaken. We set out shortly before 4am in the pitch black from Dover Marina, our first swimmer Burt swimming to the shore to start the official timing. The first three of us had to affix glow sticks to our shorts and caps and swim in the cold, cold water with zero visibility to the boat and only a side light for directional guidance. I did – however – have the fortune of seeing the sun rise whilst turning my stroke over 2.5 miles out into the sea; this is a memory I will never forget.

It took 30 mins to stop shivering, and – after grabbing 2hrs shut eye in the cabin – I could finally feel my feet again. The Gallivant had a small kitchen so I devoured a pot noodle and other high carb foods, before preparing mentally for stint two by shooting some footage of Burt and Ewan.

By 11am the 20-degree sun was high, and the swimming was far better. We all felt strong, comms with the boat was easier – although still hit and miss as you couldn’t hear anything, relying instead on pre-determined time boards held up by team mates. The pressure was on to keep swimming hard as currents and timings are vital; one missed tide and we could add hours on, or even risk failure.

Karen and Luke put in further sterling efforts and by 2pm we were looking good. Channel swimming is very different from other endurance events: knowing you’re on your own in cold conditions, out of comms with the team, and questioning everything constantly – the mind plays tricks and mental fortitude is paramount. Progress is key but – in stark contrast to marathons or triathlons – the time length is not finite and, indeed, completion is far from certain. The third swim was hard: physically and mentally draining, the sunlight almost gone, the temperature cooling, the boat a dark shadow and visibility back to virtually zero.

6pm and Cap Gris Nez was tantilisingly close, like Everest’s summit from the Hillary Step. But, one simple factor would determine our success or failure: could we push far enough with the current before turning in to the peninsula? If we couldn’t, then when it changed course the current would take us sailing past and into channel swimming oblivion. But if we could, the shore was in our grasp. Luke finished his third stint strongly, and Burt stepped up for his fourth – an epic final hour for our tired but impressive lead swimmer. His mind visited some dark places – to use his words – but he swam hard and got us to touching distance, before Ewan celebrated his birthday with 16 minutes and a struggle up the rocks to land.

After cheering a soloist who’d been behind us through the day – whose identity I’m trying to establish – we commenced the journey back to Dover. I could write many more words on this experience. In retrospect, I could have been a lot better prepared and I shall learn from this; but to swim in such challenging conditions gives me a tremendous confidence for the comparatively simple Ironman swimming to come. Moreover, we are proud to join an elite and very unique club and it’s something to cherish for years to come.

Incidentally, below is our exact route as charted by our crew; this is the first ‘V’ finish in 40 years.

Channel Route

English Channel swimming

We got the call last night. Good weather is on it’s way to the south of England and our piloting team are ready to go whenever we are. So me and five others – Ewan, Ruth, Burt, Luke and Karren – could be starting out from Dover as early as Thursday this week for a minimum of 19 nautical miles in cold, choppy water (likely 15-19 degrees), navigating our way through flotsam, jetsam, and tanker shipping lanes all the way to Cap Gris Nez near Calais!

The team challenge involves 1hr stints in rotation for each swimmer in a pre-designated swim order. Depending on how we fare, each swimmer could do 2 or 3 stints. Our crew have been monitoring the tides; we’ll start either 1.30am or midday to swim with the current. Conditions look promising for success, but weather patterns can change very quickly in the Channel and a safe passage will rely on variables coming together in our favour. Fingers crossed!

Dover Straits_map

Aqua Sphere Long Swim Series 2009

AquaSphere Long Swim SeriesCompleted the Dorney Lake long swim today. 1h26, which I was happy with considering it was 16 degrees and I wasn’t using a wetsuit. For anyone looking to experience a mass start long swim in open water ahead of a triathlon or swimming event, I’d recommend this series. Dorney Lake is a great setting – my Channel Swim team mates also did the Bournmouth sea swim – and the organisers said they are looking to add another sea swim and one to two lake swims to the 2010 schedule.

Twitvid: at the start.

Sea swimming and the Forestman

The New Forest, 12th July

This weekend I was down in the New Forest supporting my friend and Channel Swim team mate Ruth, as she undertook her first ironman distance triathlon: The Forestman. Although not an official Ironman event, this course is arguably tougher and certainly longer than many long distance triathlons. Arriving bright and early at Ellingham lake for the 5.30am start, around 120 athletes set off on their 3.9k swim. Ruth nailed an impressive 1h17 time into T1. After seeing her onto the bike, Burt and I then headed off – swim gear at the ready – in search of the coast, on leg two of our own triathlon of sorts.

Southbourne is a sandy beach and well manned by the friendly life guards; the ideal place to practise sea swimming. With the team Channel swim just two months away, this was our first experience of English seas this year. Thanks to the warm weather the temperature was a comfortable 17 degrees and we quickly adapted – a relief! We swam for 40 minutes between two groins spaced 200m apart. The tough aspect was maintaining technique as the rough waves battered and buffeted us around. Occassionally a break would sneak up unannounced just as I turned to breath; after a while the horrible salty taste at the back of the throat almost burned. Next time we should probably swim further out from the coastline. All in all a valuable session both for swim strength and fitness, and psychologically in prep for September.

We made it back in time for leg three: a few beers supporting the athletes for most of the hilly marathon course. Hats off to all those that finished; it’s an amazing achievement. Ruth came home in 14h52. Next objective for her is the Channel Swim, and we’ll be hitting the beach again soon for more sea swimming. The weekend also proved a good reconnaissance mission for me for the New Forest 70.3!

Here’s a glimpse of what awaits us in the Channel.

Cool swimming

As London revels in a mini heat wave – 31 degrees and rising – a great place to cool off are the Ponds in Hampstead Heath. With the London Triathlon looming large, and the English Channel Swim on the horizon, today I headed for the Heath and some more open water practise.

I swam in the mixed pond, located off East Heath Road with it’s own off-street parking and costing only £2 for an adult swim (see Heath map). There are changing facilities and toilets if required, and the Ponds have life guards on hand to ensure safety. Arriving at 5.15pm was a touch late and – given the weather – bathers were out in force. Moreover, the water is very murky due to the shallow depth so siting was doubly difficult. I opted for swimming lengths on the west side, using the reeds and bushes for guidance (the left of the photo below). Unfortunately the water wasn’t as cold as I needed – 20 degrees today – so my quest for gaining 15-18 degree experience (without wetsuit, in prep for the Channel) continues…

Hampstead Heath_Mixed Pond