Jan. 31, 2019

I recognize that I am somewhat of an anomaly is this sport of Triathlon.  I LOVE to swim – anywhere, anytime, any distance.  People often mistake me for a long-time competitive swimmer.  However, I did not have the opportunity growing up.  What I did have, however, was a wonderful Mother who was avid swimmer and she instilled the same love of water into me.  She taught us all to swim before we could walk.  She was the local Water Safety Instructor in our little rural community in Nebraska.  Swimming was how we spent our Summer afternoons when the farm chores were done.  To “play” all afternoon in the water was such a joy.  So, I wouldn’t consider myself a swimming “guru,” but if there is one bit of advice I have to give, it is to first and foremost approach swimming as “play.”  Water is not something to be fear, but to enjoy.  If you can release the fear, the swimming part will really come naturally.  Learning to swim, then to swim faster, is not something to fight, but to embrace. 

While many triathletes will tell you don’t worry about the swim, it is the shortest discipline in any triathlon.  I beg to differ.  The time spent improving your comfort level in the water; working on your stroke; and gaining time in the water can really make a difference.  Consider these calculations by a true swim “guru” Coach Mike Jotautas of Swim Smooth, Louisville.  He did this calculation to show how small improvements can make a huge difference in the swim portion of your event:  13 seconds faster per 100 yards translates to 3 ½ minutes faster over the Olympic distance swim; 4 ½ minutes faster over the 1.2 mile distance; and, a whopping 9 minutes faster over 2.4 miles in your full Ironman race. (https://swimsmoothcoachmike.com).  Just think if you had a full 9 minutes to spare in your Ironman?!

And since I am not a swim “guru,” but Coach Mike is, I picked his brain for his top five swim tips for every triathlete.

1. Find a good coach and/or swim program.  Coaches can be helpful from the ground up; meaning, if you never had the opportunity to learn to swim when you are young, it is never to late to learn now, so long as you have a teacher/coach who really knows and can teach the fundamentals of swimming.  Do not, instead rely upon your friends or other triathletes to teach you.  Trying to learn how to swim from friends is like trying to learn how to snow ski from friends.  You may learn to move your appendages sufficiently to propel yourself.  However, at best, you will “learn” bad habits; at worst, you will probably get hurt.  Beyond techniques, swim coaches can help you periodize you swim training to match the training in your other disciplines.  

2. If possible, a triathlon specific swim program will benefit you more than simple Masters swim sessions.  Just think.  Masters swimming is primarily weighted toward pure swimmers who still want to compete in swim competitions.  Therefore, the Masters session will typically provide for a long course and a short course session.  Those swimmers who are geared toward the sprint disciplines in the fly, back, breast, and free will concentrate on those strokes and speed.  The long course sets will be for the swimmers who will compete at the 400M distance and up.  Regardless, all of the drills and the sets will be focused more on high intensity and not endurance.  I can speak to this point first hand.  I swam with the Masters swim group for years until Coach Mike came to the Louisville Triathlon scene.  I found myself slowing in the water and attributed it to age.  I figured it was just like running.  Eventually, you lose more and more speed.  It just happens.  I began to ask questions and committed to give the Swim Smooth workouts a try.  What a difference.  With Mike’s focused sessions, I began to re-gain my speed and upped my endurance.  I attribute all of that to the triathlete focus.   

3. You should not swim all your workouts hard.  Just like your run training, where you have short days, track days, hill repeats, and long days, you should consider the same for you swimming.  Stated another way, do not treat each swim workout as a hard day.  If you swim each workout hard, you develop your anaerobic system, but your aerobic system needs work for the endurance of the triathlon swim.  Ideally, if you have three days to commit to your swim training, one day should be weighted toward drills and the fundamentals; one day should be focused on tempo or Critical Swim Speed (CSS) sets; finally, a long endurance day, or open water, is great if you can fit it in.  Again, per Coach Mike: “You can be as fit as you like in other sports (e.g. cycling / running) but swim fitness is completely different and needs development through specific swimming sets. . . For distance swimmers - including open water athletes and triathletes - one physiological factor is all important: your lactate threshold. If you can improve your speed at threshold then your race times will drop. Your ability to sprint or work anaerobically above threshold is largely irrelevant in distance swimming and triathlon.” (http://www.swimsmooth.com/improve/intermediate/css-training)
4. Working on the fundamentals of your swim technique is important all year long.  Like some of us, once Spring arrives you can’t wait to say bye-bye to that long black like at the bottom of the pool and hit the open water.  Open water practice is great, but it should not be at the expense of your technique days.  If you trade off the pool for only open water swimming, you may find that you lose speed.  That can be attributed to loosing technique.  Therefore, Coach Mike says he likes to schedule his technique days at the beginning of the week.  Most triathletes have loaded up on training over the weekend to accomplish all of the long workouts in their schedule.  A technique day on Monday or Tuesday can be used to promote recovery while staying in tune with the fundamentals of your stroke.  Drills that focus on your catch and propulsion; developing a useful open water kick; body position and alignment; and, breathing are all areas that need constant attention and can be refined on your technique days.  You still need all of this feedback.    

5. Breathing is the most overlooked part of your swim stroke.  Listen up here men.  While you have a different body composition than us gals, but according to Coach Mike, men tend to try and “muscle” their way through the water.  Consequently, the swimmer tends to hold their breath, which lifts the chest, and the legs sink.  This will often be true of the novice swimmer, who fear sinking and unconsciously hold their breath.  Or a swimmer may try to exhale out and inhale a breath at the same time they turn their head above the waterline.  Trying to get your breath in like this will tend to make the novice swimmer panic, and likewise cause the swimmers legs to drag. If you exhale properly and fully under water, you relax, you are more likely to keep the proper body position in the water, and your stroke will smooth out of its own accord.  As Coach Mike advises concentrate on “breathe, breathe, blow.”  (See also https://bluebuoy.com/important-training-step-swimming-classes-breathing-techniques) 

So, the moral of this swim story is relax in the water; consider your time there as play; and go find yourself a Coach Mike!  


May 2nd


Thu 5/2 - Sun 5/5
9 a.m. - midnight
Masterclass camp hosted by Chris McDonald, Harold Wilson and Scott Horns. Special appearances by 3x Ironman Champ and 12 Hr TT world champion, Dede Griesbauer and other guests to be announced.


Jan. 28, 2019

Looking to take your indoor cycling training to the next level . . . here's a primer on how to "Zwift!" by #SuperSexy Kevin Smith. CLICK IMAGE FOR MORE


Jan. 27, 2019

Hola! My friends call me La Fabulosa, but most people in the triathlon world know me as Chris’s better half. I love food, I love to cook, and we love to entertain! In each BIG SEXY newsletter I’ll be sharing one of our favorite family recipes. CLICK IMAGE FOR MORE


Jan. 27, 2019

Over 50 years of running and coaching has afforded me the luxury of knowing some can't fail, yet simple things for both success and longevity. Sometimes we try and overcomplicate things. "KISS" (Keep it Simple Stupid) and don't get stuck in a winter rut slogging out base miles! CLICK IMAGE FOR MORE


Jan. 27, 2019

Each month we will feature the nutrition plan of a BSR member in the hopes of providing ideas to those new to the discipline or struggling with nutrition issues. CLICK IMAGE FOR MORE


Jan. 27, 2019

You may have noticed, it’s all over social media, a lot of triathletes are preparing for and attending early season training camps. Training camps can be beneficial on many levels. CLICK IMAGE FOR MORE