Achieving Consistent Underachievement – part1

So as the only member of BuccaneerTri Team not to have qualified that makes me qualified to advise on what doesn’t work which is hopefully of use to those out there looking to get to around the standard BuccaneerTri is looking to promote.  In this article it’ll be part retrospective over what I’ve done since I signed up for Ironman Austria in late 2006 (and thought I’d best get a bike and some Speedos) and what I will need to do differently from this point forward.

I had the general outline of the article in my mind before Gary’s genius idea to do an article where you don’t have to write anything if you just get some of the top Pros and Coaches on the planet to write it for you.  As the responses came in there were several recurring themes… make time, have the support of loved ones and perhaps the biggest of them all, the consistently referenced, consistency.  Game on, that’s me all over so that makes me a shoe in for the Big Dance, right?

Yes I make time…pretty much every single morning of my life, a few lunchtimes and some evenings.  The training fits around life and life fits around training perfectly.  I’m lucky that work and family (and my desire) allow that but that’s definitely a big fat tick in that particular box.

Yes I have the support of loved ones.  The kids are just about old enough to amuse themselves if I need to grab an hour here or there that previously wasn’t available.  My long suffering girlfriend couldn’t be more supportive and rather fortuitously her family each live around a 100mile bike ride away in a different direction.  There’s no truth in the rumour that was part of her appeal! Another tick in the how to qualify box.  So far so good.

Consistent?  Oh yes.  Pride myself on my consistency.  Mr Consistency.  With the greatest of respect to Gary and Nick I think they’d both put me several rungs above them on the consistency ladder.  Thankfully never really had an injury of any consequence in 7 years, never really had an attack of CNBA-itis, work/life rarely cause significant disruption and I seemingly possess the innate ability to bash out day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year of swim, bike and run.  Pretty consistent, huh?  Tick!

Never been to Kona though and I’m convinced I have the ability/talent to do so….so it must be more than that.  Let’s look and see if we can see what’s missing.  First up swimming :-

SWIM swim

I do not have gills or flippers.  I took up running in my mid30s to get a bit fitter and that’s the only background I have.  I hadn’t swum since I was maybe 10 when I decided youth club was more fun than swimming club – my feelings haven’t really changed in over 30 years!  So never one to over complicate things I got in and swam – initially without goggles…just like everyone did before about 1970.  Hence ‘I had a crap swim. I had problems with my goggles’ won’t ever wash with me.  I went through the standard process of coughing up a lung after every length until eventually I could swim quite a long way, very badly.  Progress of sorts.  I remember a few weeks before IM Austria swimming 3.8k continuous outside the lanes whilst there was proper swimming going on on the other side of the rope and feeling pretty proud of myself. Oh the pride at such a gargantuan effort to ingrain such a bad technique.  How jealous the Speedo brigade must have been feeling every time they stopped and saw the proper endurance swimmer getting slower and weaker with every lap.

I spent a year or two justifying my poor (~1:10) swim performance based on the fact I wasn’t a swimmer…yeah we can see that given the swim split.  So I pretended I was trying to get better.  In the early days I went on a weekend swim clinic – with hindsight either it was rubbish or I wasn’t advanced enough to benefit enough.  Probably both. I swam a bit more often.  I sometimes swam a little longer.  I kind of half tried to teach myself how to do it. I read a couple of books but ultimately it was a bit like asking for a golf lesson from someone the same standard as you from your local golf club.  Most people tend to opt for the club pro…with some justification no doubt.

So I attended another clinic, this time with one of the best swimmers in triathlon as the tutor.  I was going to get better.  I was going to swim more as that was one of the take homes.  I did.  I swam over 10k every single week for 6months. I bumped into the tutor around this time and he dutifully asked if I’d improved.  Our exchange left me not particularly enamoured by the fact that of all his pupils over the years no one had ever committed to that much increase for that long and NOT got faster.

I’d addressed the not enough bit I was sure of that.  I was being consistent.  I was committed.  Hell I’d been on another course…but had I really got ‘it’.  Did I know what ‘it’ was?  Did the course add a lot to my understanding? Looking back not even close.  Luckily at this time I happened across a parent at school who talked of a guy who’d helped him.  One on one.  So I went along about a fortnight before Embrunman.  He pointed out one or two things about ME not about swimming in general and then…Boom!  I dropped 5minutes off my swim split at Embrun before I’d even had time to work on it.

About the same time an informal group of swimmers at my gym pool formed.  I hopped in.  I’d never swum in company before – well not since I opted for youth club.  They weren’t superfly swimmers, mainly open water swimmers training for a couple of Summer events and I was somewhere in the middle of the pack.  People to hunt and people to be hunted by. I was swimming harder than before.  Not vomit inducing all the time by any means but the unproductive distance logging was gone.  I was being kept honest at least twice a week.  I was doing whatever was set, regardless of how I much I would have preferred to do what I was more comfortable with.  There’s a reason we do what we like.  If you like to avoid it learn to like it.

I’ve now logged a 60min IM swim, feel there might be a little more to come but most importantly I’m arriving in T1 quicker and fresher.  Looking at my potential swim split now I can see it’s in the realms of qualifying.  Can’t win it in the swim but hopefully not go part way to losing it now either.

So what are those golden bullets that have been 7 years in the making for swimming?

  1. Get one on one tuition tailored to your stroke and your faults
  2.  Swim with swimmers. Wherever possible swim in company, learn to use the clock or buy a Tempo Trainer to keep you honest and on the pace you want
  3.  When swimming alone go with a plan…which is more detailed than ‘Swim 3k’.
  4.  Lack of ability has a cause.  Find it and remove it don’t use it as a justification.
  5.  Work out how fast you need to be and then make sure you’re moving towards it.  If not do something different.
  6.  Worry more about what’s going on under the water than over it. A high elbow recovery is wasted on a collapsed elbow catch. (If that makes no sense to you see Points 1 and 4 above.)
  7. It’s not about killing yourself with 10×100.  Think more 40×100 (or ideally think more imaginatively than that) but it’s about sustainable speed over a long time not the ability to hurt, recover at the wall and bury yourself again.

CAUTION: Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago.  It takes more than consistency alone.

More to follow…

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  1. Great advice, if only I had read it in 2008! I made all your mistakes and more, biggest waste of my time was getting involved with Total Immersion, It ingrained a slow stroke rate and dead spot that still haunts my stroke now. Good luck at IMDE and hopefully see you in October…..

    • Yes the words Total and Immersion may have appeared in the title of one of the books and that first course. Total something…I think we’re agreed on that. The one on one advice was via SwimSmooth and after recommending them to at least half a dozen of the group I swim with EVERYONE has said only positive things and improved efficiency and or speed. A decent spread of swimmers from just over 5mins to around 7mins for 400.

  2. Sounds like solid advice to me ‘coach’.

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