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During the winter months it is important to a big focus into your swimming, making an effort to improve the most technical of the three Triathlon disciplines. If you fall into this category it is a good time to start being a bit more specific with your training, making sure you are going to be able to transfer the progress you have made in the pool into fast open water swims.
Contrary to this, a lot of you will have spend your winter months cycling and running and have put swimming to the back of your minds. If this is you, it is not too late. Assuming you have developed a base level of fitness through your other training, you can still make improvements by being specific with your swim sessions.
If you have done very little or no training at all up until now, then I’m afraid what I’m about to suggest will probably be too much for you. This kind of training is not suitable for someone who is very new to the sport or someone who has not developed a base level of aerobic endurance. You would get more benefit from working on your stroke technique by doing a few drills and your swim fitness by doing lower level intervals.
The following are some guidelines to help you hit your top swim form for the season. These will be of benefit to you regardless of what swim training you have done during the winter months. I am not going to tell you how often to swim in the week, this will be very individual and depends a lot on your goals. However, even if you only swim once a week, sticking to these pointers will help you.
The swim leg is the first in a triathlon, meaning people will be starting fast, trying to get a good position. Your heart rate will rise quickly and stay high for the duration of your swim, so you need to prepare yourself for this. Swimming long intervals at a slow pace in the pool does not get you ready, you need to replicate this intensity in the pool regularly.
You probably train in the pool 90-95% of the time, however you may never race in the pool. There is a big difference between open water swimming and pool swimming. The way to minimise that gap is to replicate some of the practices and techniques you will use in open water in your everyday pool swimming. These include:
Sighting – looking forward to see where you are going, trying to keep it within the natural rhythm of your stroke
Swimming in groups – getting used to swimming on feet / hip / with people around you, probably bashing into you
Deep water start / mass start – getting used to starting with pushing off the wall and getting used to the frenzy that will be around you
Turning Buoy – practice swimming around a turning buoy, getting used to changing direction in the water
There will be no pace clock where you are going to be swimming. It can become a crutch for a lot of people and this is not a good thing. For open water swimming you need to learn to be able to measure how hard you are working to make sure you are getting your pace right. Use things like stroke rate, rhythm, breathing pattern, heart rate, leg kick all as indicators. Do some sessions without using a clock, just counting your rest periods in your head to get used to this. Feel your effort.
In Ireland are there ever any races that aren’t wetsuit swims? This being the case, why then do a lot of people never swim in their wetsuit until race day. You need to train in your wetsuit regularly, it has a very different feel and you need to make sure it fits you properly. A wetsuit that is too tight around the shoulders can tire you out much more quickly than normal and a wetsuit that is too loose will let in too much water and slow you down. I know that training in a wetsuit in the pool gets very hot, but you are Triathletes – be tough! If you still don’t fancy it then you can take the next and better option - go and swim open water. As soon as it is warm enough, do this as often as possible, you will become much more comfortable in your race environment.
Here are a few sets which incorporate these methods. They can be done with a group or by yourself and you should do a thorough warm up beforehand and a good recovery swim down afterward.
15 – 30 x 100FC @ Race Tempo – Rest 15
Key Points – This is all about rhythm, settling into a pace and holding it. Start with a lower number and add 100’s on as the weeks’ progress. Heart rate should gradually rise and should be high by finish.
2 x (300FC Hard – Rest 30 + 4-8 x 100FC @ Race Tempo – Rest 15 + 100 Easy)
Key Points – Really push the 300 to get your heart rate up and build a little bit of lactic acid, you are then going to settle the pace down and get conditioned to holding your pace after this initial hard effort. This simulates the start of a race.
2 - 3 x (300FC - 1st 100 Max, next 200 @ tempo + 6 x 50FC Very Hard – Rest 30 + 100 Easy)
Key Points – Max means max! Hold the pace as best you can, this will get your heart rate very high and will produce lactic acid. This set will help you develop good speed, so will get you clear of the pack straight away into nice clear water.
4 x (6 x 100FC @ Race Tempo – Rest 15)
Key Points – Pick a different open water skill for each set to practice doing them at race intensity when your heart rate is up, for example sight every 4th stroke or open water start each 100. However, there is no reason why you can’t employ these techniques in any of the above sets as well!
In conclusion, if you try to do in training what you will actually be doing in a race as much as possible in terms of effort and techniques, you can’t go too far wrong. Doing this means that come race day you will be physically and mentally prepared, ready for a good swim.