There is change is in the air at Fit&Abel after a record setting summer in NZ. A plethora of warm sunny days has meant endless opportunities for Open Water Swimming. Our Open Water Fitness and Technique Series continued to establish itself on the Christchurch swim calendar as a fun social environment for open water swimmers to develop their craft. Next summers series is already open with season passes available http://fitandabel.com/events-bookings/fitabel-summer-201213-series/open-water-fitness-and-technique-series/. While I prepare to fly north for the Northern Hemisphere season Fit&Abel’s NZ program will be in good hands with coach Henry Lawson helping Christchurch based swimmers refine and develop their swim technique over the New Zealand winter. You can read more and contact Henry via http://fitandabel.com/events-bookings/fitabel-summer-201213-series/personal-121-techniquefitnessfilming-lessons/.
For those in the North after a harsh UK winter I know everyone is looking forward to a well-deserved summer time. The UK summer open water swimming and triathlon program is jam packed full of terrific events. We are once again partnering with SwimTrek to deliver open water technique and fitness training at Londons Premiere Open Water Swim Training Venue – Tooting Bec Lido. The program starts 3 June. It does book up fast so please visit our UK page sooner rather than later to ensure you get the help you need at the start of the swim season – don’t join the leave it to the last minute crowd and find your open water swim experience tainted by silly mistakes that could have been avoided with a simple training session with one of our team http://fitandabel.com/events-bookings/uk-swim-coaching-swim-fitness-2013/
No matter where in the world you are there is swimming to be done. In the southern hemisphere most swimmers are now indoors working on technique and building the fitness base ready for spring. In the UK swimmers are already enjoying the Open Water, acclimatising to the water temperature and the outdoor environment and enjoying swimming as in its purest form. Time for me to fly … Dan
Thanks for all the requests asking for my personal account of my recent Cook Strait swim.
I wrote the following as I waited for my swim window…
Here I am two days out from my first tide window. Everything you read and hear about the difficulty in waiting for that swim window to open is true. No amount of willing will make the weather and tides conspire so patience is a must.
I remember reading one of NZ Multi Sport legend Steve Gurneys books talking about his process of resting up and being ready to ‘bounce of walls’ before the big event. This was my plan also. It’s tempting right now to get in the water and swim more miles, but I won’t. 30km last week, only 4.5km so far this week. Have I done enough swimming? Yes. Could I have done more? Certainly. Last year I completed 5x 10km plus competitive swims, the shortest was 9.7km in 12 C fresh water, the longest was 14km, my best a 10km sea swim no wetsuit in 14C . All in varying conditions. In November and December I joined my local swim club and took advice and feedback on stroke and technique , the more one learns about swim performance the more one learns they don’t know ( Beware the swim expert who claims to know it all). I pushed myself with a fun group of competitive swimming youngsters. It broke me down pretty good – I got a good flu before Christmas, but I listened to my body. Rest is an important part of training and recovery. So is listening to ones body. I’ve learnt that advice from all sources is valuable but the true expert on what is happening within me is me. I have learnt to trust myself and make decisions about my swimming. A plan is only as good as when it is written, a plan that is inflexible is no good to anyone. This year I have moved my training more to the open water, judging my pace (which sits at an honest 4km/hr for the long stuff in calm water). I can get in and swim that speed now in a heart beat. I’m comfortable in rough water, we trained a lot in horrendous windy, choppy conditions. I know I can hack 12C for a couple of hours at least, that shouldn’t be required on this Cook Strait swim at the moment. My biggest swim was last Monday, 6 hours/21.5km. Lots of rest since then, recovery 3km on Wed and a 5.5km open water on Friday.
Why have I decided on Cook Strait? I am a kiwi by birth, the toughest and most iconic NZ swim had the most appeal. Only 85 people that I am aware at the time of writing have succeeded in the challenge. The chance to work with legendary open water swimmer Philip Rush as my guide. There are many reasons. Much to ponder as I sit and wait (Not at all patiently) for the call …
Cook Strait Post Swim
It was actually another 15 days until I got the ‘Go’ call from Philip Rush at 5pm on Thursday 21 March – be at the Marina in Wellington at 5.20am the next morning ready to swim. A quick flight to Wellington and a pick up from former Olympic swimmer and all round good guy Murray Burdan. Back to his house for a miserly 3 hours sleep, my mind would not rest. Breakfast for me that morning 4 weet bix, a banana, four slices of toast. All food I had eaten and swum on many times before. We headed out to the Marina and got there promptly - after a wrong turn - at around 5.26am. Philip Rush had never specified which way I would swim but there was a general assumption it would be North to South. How wrong we were. My Cook Strait guide and escort team were Philip Rush – open water swimming legend, Chris (Captain), Byron (tactician) between the three of them they have over 60 years experience of Cook Strait swimming, when they spoke I listened. I also had my own crew of chief cheer leader, nutritionist and budding film maker Anna Marshall (she has swum Lake Taupo 41km) , Doug who had assisted me with many miles of swim training and took most of the photographs of my swim and Murray Burdan all around great guy and supporter. I knew my entire team would rather beat me with a paddle rather than let me back on the boat should I have doubts during the swim. I couldn’t ask for a better crew.
We motored over to the South Island. Philip greased me up, I only put grease on my neck, arm pits and crotch. I actually grow a beard to stop chaffing. For me it works. I took a look at the temperature gauge, 15.8.C water temperature. Some last minute words from Philip – breathe to the boat, DON’T look up at where we are headed (looking at land 2o plus km away can be psychologically devastating!) and a mention of a rock a couple of km’s out, evidently swims that pass one side are often successful, swims to the other side are not. Swim smooth and relaxed but make sure I get out past the rock. I dived in, the water was brisk and chilling. I had a slight ice cream headache. I am certain the fabulous NZ summer temperatures had weakened my cold water abilities slightly. Standing on the beach facing the North Island was a big moment. No mucking around. I had visualised this moment intently and had a very strong sense of determination to get across. Some may chuckle but I did regularly imagine myself successfully making this swim and how I would feel when I completed the crossing. I used that feeling often throughout the swim to provide drive and motivation.
Water conditions on the day were much better than all my training swims. Very lucky. We can control fitness and cold water abilities but not the weather. I felt great from the get-go. Philip and I had talked about taking the first hour to get into a groove. I can honestly say I felt great within the first 300M of the swim. The first few feeds came by very quickly. Philip and Anna in my immediate support boat gave me plenty of thumbs up to let me know I was on pace. Sharks, Jellyfish and deep sea monsters – I had considered them during training swims but today was all business. At around 1.45 into the swim I got a horrendous cramp in my left leg, seriously cramped. I had to reach down in the water and massage it out. I was well hydrated (I had a pee while swimming between each feed – its an essential skill) but I believe the lower blood flow to my legs and the cold water cause me to cramp. It has happened in my training swims and as per my training swims is happens early and then goes away. I fed every 30 minutes. I have used maxim in the UK but wanted to use easily sourced products here in NZ. I drank the neck of a bottle of powerade for the first couple of feeds and then had these diluted with warm water. I had an electrotyle tablet diluted with warm water and a very small amount of powerade at the 2 hour mark. After 2 hours I started with some solid food, bananas to start. I also used a carb protein mix called Sustagen, some bread and honey! And some lollies as the swim went on. I won’t tell you what I yelled out in the later stages of the swim when I spotted the crew eating meat pies
At the 2 hour mark I asked Philip if I was getting close to the rock , he laughed and told me I was way past it. Good news. At the 2.5 hour mark Philip turned serious and asked me how much I had in the tank? He said I was just over half way, conditions were great and I was on track for a good time. I told him I was 37 not 27, I wasn’t sure of my endurance but could guarantee him a good 2 hours of 4km plus pace. He encouraged me to lift me tempo for the next 30 minutes to see how I felt. I brought my stroke rate up from around 45 strokes to 55 strokes per min. For the next 2 hours I worked hard and with the encouragement of the crew and good conditions made great headway. Approaching the 5 hour mark I thought another big boat had gone past but then the wake stayed messy and didn’t subside. I was in one of the infamous Cook Strait tidal rips with an opposing wind. Washing machine time. Even with my pace we spent a good 30 minutes going sideways rather than forward. I had spent a great deal of energy in the previous two hours so found this period psychologically and physiologically very tough. My team kept encouraging me and I made of point of responding at times with crazy comments and signals when I breathed in order to keep my spirit up. I know this works for me, some would no doubt find it distracting and a waste of energy.
Philip made a suggestion at about 5 hours 30 min that I change my stroke. Again for some who are not comfortable this would be a no-no but I am comfortable with using slight alterations in technique to reduce pressure on back and shoulders while maintaining pace.
I’d broken through the rough stuff by now and was on the straight run for shore, Philip and Anna were cheering relentlessly, I hit the shore, my legs definitely would not work so I crawled up the beach knowing the clock doesn’t stop until I clear the water. Adrenaline helped me stand and I raised my arms, a personal victory. You can watch the closing stages of the swim here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCACOgQmRNc
Something that makes you hurt, sweat and endure that you face up to and beat provides one of the greatest senses of accomplishments on earth.
Some facts for the factoids out there …starting weight 101.7 kg , finishing weight taken two meals after the swim 98.5kg. Body fat 22% pre swim, Visceral fat 12% . Swim time 6 hours 15 min 15 seconds. 4th fastest crossing. 80th person to swim the crossing, 88th swim of the Strait.
For those who have not visited the website of late; Fit&Abel’s Dan Abel has grand plans of swimming Cook Strait this year. The support coming in has been terrific though not surprising. The global swimming fraternity are renowned for being such a fun, social and supportive bunch. The following is from Dan:
I have had loads of questions regarding the Cook Strait swim. Given that I am still waiting for suitable conditions for the swim I thought I would take time out to answer some of your questions…
Why are you doing this swim? Why not? It’s an age old adage but it’s applicable … because I can. Because I don’t want to get older and wonder could I have? Because I am a New Zealander therefore the Cook Strait is my ‘local’ swim. Because only 85 swimmers have officially made the swim to date. Because its rough, cold and tidal as anything, therefore a terrific challenge. It also happens to be one of the ‘Oceans Seven’, which is a list of seven global open water swims coined by open water legend Steven Munatones.
How far will you swim? It’s 26km straight line, swim distance on the day … it’s not quite a lottery but tides, fitness, swim pace will all impact on the total distance. Sure as eggs it’ll be further than 26km.
Who is helping you to swim the Cook Strait? Legendary NZ Open Water Swimmer Philip Rush has been helping swimmers successfully negotiate Cook Strait for decades. Philip was the first two way Cook Strait swimmer, holds the fastest three way English Channel swim 28hours 21 min (Wow!) His knowledge and expertise are second to none when it comes to Cook Strait. http://www.cookstraitswim.org.nz/ Philip will have two boats out escorting me and we will have a total support crew of around 6 people. A not insignificant amount of logistics are involved.
When will you start? That is the million dollar question. For those of you with any marathon swim experience or who have friends who have swum a big one you will know it is simply not a matter of having a start date. To actually start a swim you need tides, weather and your team to all be on the mark and available at the same time. Every season that I have been in the UK there have been swimmers who have trained for years to swim the English Channel, they have had their swim window and pilot boat booked years in advance only to spend weeks on the shore waiting for decent weather. For some it’s not to be, if you don’t get good weather in your booked swim period you miss out. Such is open water swimming. I am very hopeful we’ll get a good window here in New Zealand for the Cook Strait but you never know, I too may miss out. That’s Open Water swimming for you – mother nature always maintains ultimate discretion on your start time.
What is the expected water temperature? It has been 18C this year but the air temperatures especially during the night time have been nudging down in single digits. Expected water temperate will most likely be around 15 – 16C.
Do you eat? Absolutely. I could be out there up to 12 hours. I will take on liquid and other energy foods every half hour. All the supplements and liquids I use on the day I have tested during my training to ensure they work as advertised and don’t upset my stomach and make me sick. Getting the right balance of energy and hydration and maintaining it throughout the swim is vital.
Can you get on the boat? Not until I make it to the other side. No touching the boat until the finish. It’s all about having a level playing field for all who undertake such swims.
Will you wear a wetsuit? No. 25 August 1875 Matthew Webb became the first person to swim the English Channel. He wore a swim suit, cap and goggles. In the spirit of this swim and once again to maintain an equal playing field a true blue marathon swim adheres to the same equipment list.
What about the sharks? … yes they’re out there … guess what? They live in the ocean. There is something justified and poetic about entering the water and suddenly NOT being the top of the food chain anymore. It gives one much more appreciation about the world and our real place in it. I feel sorry for those that don’t have this experience. Having said that do I get scared? yup, absolutely. I have a super active imagination too which doesn’t help. But I love the outdoors and nature … the biggest fear is fear itself. Sharks aren’t stupid I’m sure they know you’d need to soak me in a good marinade and cook me for a good 6 hours before I’d be anywhere near worth eating . I am far more concerned about Jelly Fish than anything else.
Keep an eye on www.fitandabel.com and our social media Twitter @fitandabel and fb page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fit-Abel/196225367082495 where I or one of my team will keep you updated on the Cook Strait adventure.
How many of you have watched an elite Olympic level athlete on television and heard mention of their mental preparation for an upcoming competition? Now hands up how many of you who thought this type of training was only useful to the best of the best?
So often we spend an entire season/build up preparing our bodies that we overlook the mind. Make no mistake the body and the mind are inextricably linked. The mind more often than not acts as a safety link for the body, tripping off well before the body has reached its physical limits. Preparing both body and mind is how you will truly set yourself up for swimming success.
Don’t fall into the trap of believing mental preparation is only for those preparing for an Ironman or 10km swim or the Olympic Games, any swim event that you are training for competitive or non-competitive involves a physical and mental component.
Here are some simple methods to start setting yourself up for swimming success;
- Find a picture of your planned open water swim location, imagine yourself completing the swim. How ecstatic will you be? How good will it feel?
- When you are training try and visualise yourself achieving your goal, this builds confidence and belief. The more you do this the more this scenario will become ‘real’ to you.
- Positive words lead to positive outcomes. You don’t need to say them out loud, just get used to using positive expressions in your head. They are really help when the going gets tough. Practice these when training. Simple, concise statements work; ‘I feel strong and smooth’ ‘I can and I will’ ‘I love challenge’ ‘I feel alive, I feel great’
I have seen many swimmers who have been unable to do all the physical training they wanted due to sickness, injury or work commitments but they have visualised success, practiced positive and have a complete belief in their ability to succeed, As a result they have completed their swim goal.
If you believe you can, you can and you will.
Here are the most common swim coaching inquires to Fit&Abel over December and January:
- I want to swim faster and more efficiently
- I have trouble with my breathing
- I am training for an open water swim or triathlon and need help
- I have had shoulder trouble/injury
If you have any one or multiple of these questions on the tip of your tongue you can see you are not alone.
Here are some swim tips to help you on your way:
Both swimming fitness and swimming technique will help you swim more efficiently and faster. Don’t neglect one for the other.
Get some help; did you learn to drive a car without instruction? I am guessing not. It makes sense to get some help with swimming lessons and swimming drills.
Find a coach you can relate to, one that is happy to answer your questions. Never be afraid to ask questions.
Swim technique such as breathing and stroke drills should first be conducted in a swim pool.
Don’t fall into the trap of trying to work on skills while swimming your complete stroke. To work on breathing first use the side of the pool, a kick board or even some flipper assistance.
Find a group to swim with; swimming is usually more fun and productive in a group.
Don’t simply swim endless laps, this will limit your results. Learn how to swim properly, get a coach to provide you with some structured swimming lessons.
Swimming only in a pool is not ideal for triathlon and open water swim training. Search for an outdoor swimming pool or open water swim location near you. The open water swim environment is very different to the pool.
Shoulder pain is most often caused by excessive or incorrect loading either from increasing your distance too quickly, from errors in your technique or a combination of both. If you develop shoulder pain don’t push through it, you may develop a more serious problem. Get diagnosed, get treatment and rest it. Diagnosis should always include some training and technique analysis.
In my opinion there is very little justification for a beginner swimmer to have hand paddles as swim equipment. The risks out way the positives. If you must, do so only after receiving instruction and in a structured swim environment.
Finally when searching for the perfect technique it is always helpful to look at Olympic swimmers online, they really know what they are doing and we can learn a lot. But you should also realise there is no one perfect technique. We are all different physiologically and therefore what is perfect technique for one person may not work for someone else. There are of course ‘the essentials’ that must be present to swim faster and more efficiently. To get the best combination for you – get some help and don’t wait until the week prior to your event to ask. Happy and safe swimming in 2013.
Some thoughts to finish 2012 … the most common goal I hear from a new swim client is : ‘I want to swim faster and more efficiently’. Is this achievable for everyone? Absolutely. Is it something your loved one can buy for you and place gift wrapped under the tree to be opened on on Christmas day? Yes and no. ‘Eh?’ I hear you say. Yes : knowledge is power. A swim technique book or video can help, swim lessons or swim membership to a swim group can also help. No : there are no short cuts. You will still need to do the work and that doesn’t mean simply swimming more laps. It means learning at least some theory behind good swim technique, learning what makes up your current swim technique. Most importantly is means understanding what you need to change, them applying the changes so that good technique becomes second nature.
Do we all need to swim like Michael Phelps to have a great swim experience? No. I certainly don’t, but I never stop trying to improve, for me this is part of the joy of swimming. For you the joy of swimming might simply be you want to swim 4km in open water comfortably. This comes down to your goals and your comfort level. Open water swimming doesn’t have to be about competing against someone else nor does it need to be about racing the stop watch. Some of the most inspiring swim stories this year for me have been when a swimmer completes their first 10km swim or having a safe and fun open water swim experience for the first time. News flash: you don’t need to go to the Olympics and win a gold medal to have a swim journey that is just as challenging and rewarding. My challenge for you for 2013 – set your own swim goal. Be realistic but still challenge yourself. A life led entirely in your comfort zone is not only safe it can be boring and totally unfulfilling. Comfort zone … open door … get out.
Be safe, swim within your limits, get some professional advice, swim with friends but most importantly get swimming.
Merry xmas from Fit&Abel , have a great festive season. May 2013 deliver the swim adventures, challenges and rewards you seek.