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

Trew winter training

So… I haven’t posted anything training-related of late. This doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing any! Quite the contrary I’m happy to say. I took the decision – whilst self-coaching my way to the half ironman – that I really needed to start working with others more tri-experienced. Why?

Well…. Sure I reckon I could post a decent time in IM Switzerland next year by continuing with what I was doing… but would that be enough? Would I be satisfied? What has experienced shown me?  After my first marathon I felt elated (or more specifically relieved) to have finished, but immediately (quite literally) this feeling was overtaken by a recognition of what I could have done…, and therefore what I wanted to do. I knew I could have trained better, or smarter (not necessarily more – v important distinction) and that I simply wasn’t satisfied with my performance. 5 marathons later I’m – to be honest – still not. I simply didn’t want to go through the same process with triathlon.

So Ironman. I know I want to be the very best I can be in Switzerland on July 25th. Yes like anything it will be a learning curve, and once I finish I’ll want to go quicker (of that I’m certain). But I just don’t want to leave anything to chance. 12th October marked the start of week 1 of a six-week block working with Olympic coach Steve Trew. Steve’s got me really focused on quality, not quantity. I’m doing 3 sessions of each discipline a week, building carefully but most definitely working hard. That said, he also focuses his athletes on good technique – something often forgotten with bike/run (in contrast to swim) but winter is the time to perfect form and build strength. His guidance – and the fact that I’m expected to stick to and feed back on the training he sets – is helping me make the most of each and every session. I’m really motivated for the challenge ahead.

Steve also organises periodical training camps; I spent this weekend in Hertfordshire with his group of athletes and also swim coach Dan Bullock. Mixing with fellow triathletes ranging from novices to World and European qualifiers was great, and having access to expert advice, video analysis and tuition was invaluable.

There are a number of coaches around offering on-line or distanced coaching, setting training for you, reviewing results and guiding accordingly. I would strongly recommend this for any triathlete; it’s especially beneficial given the complexity in balancing three sports. Now all I need to do is do the training….!

Trading up

Discovered this interesting series of programs following a runner moving into triathlon. It’s exclusive to Outdoors TV, and features Richard Iles (organiser of the New Forest triathlon series) and Dan Bullock (of Swim for Tri).

Mazda London Triathlon

Londontri_logoSunday 2nd August 2009

It’s 5.15am and I’m driving through the quiet streets of East London; bike, wetsuit and a bag of gear are in the boot. The sight of people standing, laughing, stumbling, and inebriated outside bars and clubs whilst us hardy sports nuts make our way in the breaking daylight to the start of another event never fails to move me. Move me to excitement at the challenge ahead, or to pangs of jealousy over what I’m missing out on! – I’m not quite sure. It definitely makes you realise how commited we all are; commited to our sport, our performances, our health and vitality.

Having registered on the Saturday and checked out the route, transitions and venue set up – absolutely vital for a triathlon – I simply had to rack my bike, set up my transition items and don my wetsuit. Physically I was ready; mentally I was nervous (about what technically might go wrong, rather than my personal ability). The added press and camera attention surrounding Jenson Button at the swim assembly actually took my mind off things though. And what struck me was the strong sense of camaraderie amongst athletes.

The Swim: hundreds of seal-like bodies, arms flailing, legs kicking, sight blinded by a low 7.30am sun; the start was tough. It took a good five minutes to get into a rhythm and find my stroke. I hit some good form from then on and confidence grew. It felt odd being unsure of my pace and I didn’t try to glimpse my watch; instead I focused on tempo and as smooth a stroke as the open water allowed. The funnel to the finish found me blocked by a 5-man wall slowing my surge to the ramp. I exited the water in 30.46, middle of the field but good enough for 212th in my age group. Surprisingly I wasn’t too dizzy, and T1 went smoothly in 4.12.

The Bike: the bike loop was special (see the route map); closed roads along the wide streets, down to the Tower of London and along the Thames to Whitehall. I felt brilliant and really hit it hard, notwithstanding the headwind when going West. I used my Madone without tri-bars (I think they look ugly – and I also kind of want a seperate TT bike!) but this didn’t stop me eating up quite a few people. My best moment was in the black of the Limehouse Link, cracking on at 28mph and seeing another rider silhouetted against the orange sun at the tunnel exit – amazing, and I felt inspired. Time: 1.09.32 and 139th of 494. T2 was quick and easy: 2.21.

The Run: unknown territory now. I felt stiff and robot-like, but I was committed to extracting the most from my first 10k in over a year. By the lap 1 half-way turn I felt good and hit the 5k point in 19.59! I’d contemplated a 50min run, so this was well ahead of expectations. Blisters were my only concern – both heals and arches gradually became sore (any tips to help this folks?). But I hung on for a 20.31 lap 2 and a very limited sprint finish: 40.29 – actually a new 10k pb! and 124th in my age group.

My final time was 2.27.19, 144th place. Absolutely delighted, and Dan Bullock informed me – over a post-race chat – that it qualifies me for the fast wave next time out. Full results are here.

Looking at my splits, the swim is clearly the weak discipline – yet this is also the one I know I can improve in most. I also think the bike could be brought down with more high intensity work and an aero position (or a new TT bike!). I have a side goal of breaking the 40-min 10k barrier; based on this I’m confident I can work on tempo speed to achieve this next year. I can’t wait for my next Olympic distance tri.

My mate Nik also competed, and came in a very good 2h47 – his swim was excellent, and he’s new to cycling and running so clearly he’s going to make a good triathlete. For anyone looking for a fast, flat and well-organised Triathlon then the Mazda London event is top class. 2010 entries have opened and another friend as already signed up!

Notes from the pool

In search of lost time, or Swim for Tri session three

I made a mistake: after session two with Swim for Tri, I didn’t get back in the pool for four weeks. Big mistake. Okay, I ran the London Marathon, I recovered from the London Marathon, I moved house, I was busy with work, I needed bike time ahead of a series of sportives…  Maybe – after the quick success found in sessions one and two, the rapid growth in confidence, the comfort in bilateral breathing, the lowered stroke count – maybe I was over-confident. Or maybe I just under-estimated the work to be done in the pool.

Session three was a refresher. Warm up, rotation and extension drills, then the introduction of some new ‘catch up’ drills for timing. But by the end I just didn’t feel good like before. Where had the confidence gone? And – more importantly – what was I going to do about it?

Enter Clissold Leisure Centre.

Clissold Leisure Centre

Lottery funded, and playing a supporting role in the London Olympics, it’s a cracking facility in Stoke Newington, North London. Pool membership is just £26 per month unlimited usage.

I’ve committed to 3 to 4 swim sessions a week now – no messing around – and this is where I’m going to practise. As Dan Bullock of Swim for Tri says: you have to practise regularly, do drills regularly, avoid time lost through re-learning the movements, regaining feel for the water. The muscles need to learn how to execute the stroke and get used to the additional workload. Dan recommends shorter but more frequent sessions to accomplish this; minimise the time between sessions to maximise muscle memory.

I swam 2k today in around 45 minutes – swimming easy, not pushing it, in a crowded pool – with a stroke count typically 18 per 25m length. I’ve got the feel back for the water. I’m breathing bilaterally all the time (something I wasn’t doing before).

The clock is ticking to 1.5k in the London Triathlon, 1.9k in the New Forest 70.3, and likely 2 x 1-hour stints in the English Channel Team Relay.

The question is: can I make up for those lost four weeks?