Monday, 17 January 2011

Triathletes and swimming - the "feel"?

Triathletes as a group seem to struggle with swimming.

Unlike the bike and run elements of triathlon where you can nip out for a quick 10km during lunch or ride on your trainer indoors after dinner while your respective partner sits on the couch and watches TV, swimming is significantly more time consuming.

You can't just "nip out" for a swim. Swimming takes planning. You must find a pool, often find a group to train with, fit that groups training hours, pack your swim bag, drive to the pool, get changed, warm up, FINALLY get into the water, do the session, get showered/dried off, drive back. Definitely not what you would consider an easy process.

When children and work are thrown into the equation swimming is often the first thing to get the axe. Swimming pools have strict lane swimming hours, offering little flexibility to a tight schedule involving a 9-5 job and school runs. But swimming, for literally all triathletes (myself included), is the most important part of training when you look at what you get out of the hours you put in.

Swimming relies on a huge number of things to be done in an effective and powerful manner. This huge number of things is often what puts people off, it can seem awesomely overwhelming. ESPECIALLY when coaches or athletes offering advice seem to refer almost mystically to this thing known as "the feel".

"You just need to get the feel of the water"
"Try and get the feel"
"You'll know when you get the feel"

Ah the glorious feel. Before I start to break it down into simpler terms I must admit my reasons for writing this post. I found the feel today. I've been back in full training mode since early November but today was the day, January 17th, when I got the feel back.


So the feel. What is it? Why does everyone make such a big deal about it? How can I get it?

Well the feel is simply a word used to describe what is essentially a result. It is the result of a number of very important things all swimmers must do in order to get better. None of them more so than the triathlete swimmer. Triathlete swimmers swim less than stand alone swimmers (in general), they also have much busier training schedules given they have to compete in 3 different disciplines, it is of even more importance therefore that triathlete swimmers understand and are not afraid of the "feel" concept. They must embrace it and be willing to go after it, with the feel will come faster times, much more confidence and better races - which in the end of the day is the biggest goal of all.

Swimming is a technical sport. Pulling yourself through the water (without taking waves or fellow athletes into account) is a terribly difficult thing, therefore the more efficient you can be in doing so has a massive effect on performance. The technique of swimming I wont go into (see your coach tomorrow morning on pool deck) but I can say it comprises of a huge number of little things, little puzzle pieces that must all come together.

"Keep your hips up"
"Don't drop you elbows"
"Stretch forward when you enter"
"Don't cross over your centre line"
"High elbowed recovery"
"Don't jerk your head up when you breath"

At least one of these things will have been shouted at you by your swim coach (they are still shouted at me on a regular basis) and they have a tendency of sticking in your head, usually knocking the old pieces of advice out of their way. When thinking about one aspect of technique you will more often than not forget about the others. Not an easy process.

This part of swimming ties directly into the next. Practice.

All those little technical aspects need one thing and one thing alone. Practice. Laps upon laps of practice, continual reminders of what you are doing wrong and embracing the process of improvement. Unfortunately what this requires is plenty of time in the pool, often a struggle. If you can get yourself into the pool regularly, 3 or 4 times a week, even if just for 45 minutes, on a week in/week out regular basis, you WILL see improvement. The things that at one point in time seemed overwhelming will suddenly start happening naturally, your hips wont be dropping as much, your breathing will feel natural, here it comes ... this is the feel.

You won't see it coming. One week you will be swimming up and down, feeling awkward, hitting slow times, over thinking every little bit of your stroke and the next week you get in and just start swimming.

Simple as that. You just jump in and the next thing you know you are 2km into the set and haven't thought about a single technical element ... more importantly your coach is saying "yeh you're looking pretty good this morning".

Your times start to come down, speed is accessed a little easier and there you have it ... the feel is yours.

It is nothing magical nor is it something just reserved for the swimming elite. Everyone can get it, its just a result of working hard, not letting yourself get demoralised and spending consistent time in the pool working hard. Not fast, just hard. Stay focussed and try and let things come to you, if you keep reminding yourself of your points of improvement they will eventually start to happen without the reminders. You will, in short, be pulling yourself through the water a little bit more effectively than before.

With the feel then comes the ability to train harder, the real gold mine. You can start to push yourself without over thinking your stroke, the focus becomes the intensity, where the real gains are made.

My advice would be to focus on getting your stroke sorted, be able to breathe comfortably (and to both sides) and get to a comfortable state where you can swim 2km without feeling awkward and unnatural. Be happy in floating up and down, doing some scull work, some kick and pull. Enjoy the water and the great feeling post swimming when you are exhausted. It's a great thing.

The feel will come to you, just don't build it up in your head or you will never find it.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011


Ah what a time of year, I definitely love the festive period.

Well I'm back in Canada, beautiful and snowy here and have enjoyed a lot of great family time over the past 7 weeks. Since last week I've been in Whistler at my family home and enjoyed a great new year with my girlfriend and her family.

I have taken a few relaxed weeks training wise, all in or around the 20 hour mark. 30km of running though in 2 days Monday/Tuesday of this week so still making the most of my time.

After a bike/run at the gym this morning and a 3 hour epic snow trek with my parents I headed into Whistler village for a quick bite to eat. I was sitting in one of my favourite places to eat reading the "2010" edition of the Whistler Question magazine and really enjoyed Whistler local and regular columnist Paul Ruiterman's 2010 summary piece.

"...the year started out with a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti, which killed an estimated 230,000 people and from which to this day Haiti has not recovered.

The next month an 8.8 quake hit Chile, but the country seems to have taken it in stride — even though 2010 was not yet done with it.

Meanwhile, here in Whistler, we had a few people over for a visit back in February and March. They came, they partied and they watched a good show — several shows, actually. The whole thing had an ugly start when Georgian luge competitor Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed in a serious accident, skidding off course doing approximately 140 kilometres an hour. But organizers where able to keep the Games on track and Canada was on its way to bag 14 gold medals.

Meanwhile the world kept turning and North Korean Dear Leader Kim Jong-il, pissed with the joint anti-submarine warfare exercises organized by the U.S. and South Korea Navies, decided that this was a good time to sink a South Korean corvette. His navy boys selected the ROKS Cheonan for the honour, striking it with a torpedo fired from a North Korean sub. Later in the year North Korea would shell a South Korean island with the result that the two Koreas are still walking a dangerous tightrope as the new year rolls in.

Further north, Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull blew a hole in European civic flight schedules while a few days later the Deepwater Horizon blew a hole in BP’s public image. Eleven crewmembers where killed that day and the worst ecological disaster in American history was about to unfold.

On April 27 Greece’s sovereign credit rating was downgraded to junk, precipitating the Euro crises that would later envelop Ireland and may still do Portugal and Spain as well.

During the Soccer World Cup in South Africa, played between June 11 and July 11, the world was introduced to the vuvuzela — something I could have done without.

Later on in the year Chile received its second shock of the year when 33 miners got trapped 700 metres underground in a mining accident in San José. The world watched as all 33 were brought back to the surface after surviving underground for a record 69 days.

Finally in November researchers at CERN trapped 38 antihydrogen atoms for a sixth of a second, which, in a world where computers do calculations in nanoseconds, is a long time. The creation of antimatter did not cause a black hole to appear, blowing yet another End of Times prediction out of the water.

Since I did promise some names as well as events at the beginning of this column how about a few from the 2010 Hall of Shame? Try Mel Gibson, Tiger Woods or Conan. Meanwhile, our own Leslie Nielsen, no Hall of Shamer, passed away on Nov. 28.

No, I did not forget. We had some local experiences as well.

To wit: an asphalt plant, paid parking, budget overruns, the WB sale, anti-HST simpletons, old growth cutting, and probably some stuff I missed.

But you know what? Been there, done that and meanwhile another year went down the drain while I wasn’t looking."

Great summary of the past years events. Some terrible natural disasters, the winter Olympics, the summer football World Cup, instability in North Korea, serious financial instability in Europe, the historic trapping of anti-matter at CERN, the rise and fall of many a sports, Hollywood and political star but of course a lot of other great and not so great things happened as well, all the while another year passed us all by.

I hope everyone has a great 2011, I'm loving being out in the snow right now training hard and doing what I love. And lest I forget, my big sister's boyfriend asked her to marry her yesterday ... she said yes, congratulations guys you two are an awesome couple.

Here are some pictures of the last few weeks,

Happy 2011

The river Dee back home in Scotland

Crathes castle very near my parents house back home
My awesome dog Basil!
Taking some pictures out at the Banchory Lodge Hotel in Deeside

The Peterculter Heritage centre
Scottish sunset from my bedroom window
Christmas tree!
Parent's Christmas party
Christmas day
Christmas dinner pictures with little sister
Mum and Dad
Callaghan Valley, BC
-15 snow shoeing!
Morning sunrise at the Callaghan Valley backcountry lodge
Snow shoeing :)
Some beautiful snow meadows in the distance past the trees and across the creek

Nicole and I at Callaghan lake
Black tusk in the distance