Friday, July 18, 2014

Nearly there...

Dear Swimmers

I'm just about to go into my last 3 days of Coach Education Clinics over here in Sunny Oxford and am looking forward to seeing you all back on pool deck next Wednesday!

Just a quick one - myself, Mish and the kids as well as Mish's Mum and Dad (over from Canada) are keen to rent somewhere (preferably down south) over the Christmas period (22-29 December) and are keen to hear from anyone in the squad who might have a holiday home etc during that period…please let me know, even if via an agent etc.

Cheers and see you all soon!


P.S I'm even getting my cycling Mojo back over here too!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

UK Tour Update

Dear Swimmers

Hope all is going well back home in Perth - I heard the weather has been pretty bad? Surprisingly we're up to 30ºC today - wowsers!

I thought I'd send through some photos of what I've been up to for your interest. I'll see you all back on pool deck on Wednesday next week!

Le Tour de France:

First up was Le Tour de France which actually started in my home county of Yorkshire and went up many of the hills that I cycled and trained on as a young triathlete. It even inspired me to buy this fun little foldable bike to get around on. I haven't ridden for years and the first road went immediately up a 25% gradient which was "interesting" - I was loving being back into it though and saw the first stage go up the Category 3 climb of Buttertubs and then I watched the Grand Départ in York on day 2 before seeing the finish in Sheffield on the famous Jenkin Road (33%!!) - it was truly amazing!! Here's the pics:

The Tour de France, in my home town, seriously??!! You betcha!!

My new steed! 20 inch wheels and 18 speeds (most of which are slooooowwwww!)

Jens Voigt makes a break just before reaching us - his 17th Tour de France!

Little kids battling hard before the riders came through - very inspiring!

It takes all sorts I guess! :-)

Simon Gerrans cruises by - Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!

Kittel from Germany takes the first Yellow Jersey after local legend Mark Cavendish crashes out

Check out this little kids commitment riding Le Cote de Jenkin Road - 33%!

People were grabbing any vantage point they could!

Alberto Contador leads the way with 3km to go (Vincenzo Nibali ends up winning the stage and taking the Maillot Jaune)

I spent the afternoon with former British Cycling Head Coach and one of the key figures behind much of Britain's successes that are being realised now, Simon Jones - you can only imagine the level of insight he brought to the proceedings!

Our first 3-day Coach Education Course:

After two days of "holiday" it was straight into our first 3-day Coach Education Course at a new venue in Oxfordshire which looks a lot like Hogwarts School (think Harry Potter!). It was a fantastic venue and we had 14 coaches from all around the world attending whom we pairs up with 14 swimmers on the 3rd day. We'll be running this same course again this Friday, such was the massive demand when we opened applications to the 1,300 registered coaches on our worldwide Swim Smooth coaches network. This is the very best thing for me - being able to spend time with my peers, chew the fat and help them improve their own coaching businesses. We have now had 175 international  coaches sit this particular course since we started it in June 2010 and the demand just keeps increasing each time we advertise it. I was able to share with them all the recent data from the 8 Week Get-Your-Mojo-Back program which was really useful also.

Coaching elite triathlete Paul Ryman using my radio headset and communicating with the coaches at the same time

"You can't be serious! I can improve just by doing exactly what you say?" Correct, you can!

Enjoying an evening open water swim in a lovely local lake!

Day 3 with all the swimmers - the coaches get to practice what I've preached...

Scull # 1 - as much a favourite in the UK as it is at sunny Claremont Pool!

Jazz hands everyone!!

The Jenson Button Trust Triathlon:

On Friday / Saturday we were invited to the Jenson Button Trust Triathlon on a private estate near Luton to conduct an open water swimming workshop and familiarisation exercise the night before the race. I couldn't have been more chuffed when I was introduced to Jenson himself (2009 Formula One World Champion) and his Ichiban Triathlon Team before I started coaching and he knew about our program - wow! Jenson's wetsuit of choice is even the one we helped to create, the HUUB Archimedes 3:5. Great!

We delivered a 1hr coached session on the Friday night before attending the race on the Saturday and watching the great Chris McCormack (2007 and 2010 Hawaii Ironman World Champion) do battle with Jenson and a collection of other high calibre elite athletes. Adam had to pinch me several times to let me know it was all real, especially when out for dinner with them after the awards. This has been a real highlight of my trip so far!

65 swimmers about to be put through their paces and shown some cool new open water tips and tricks!

Annie coaching from the kayak - Emma (waving) is enjoying her 2nd ever open water swim, the first was only 2 days earlier, also with us!

Demonstrating some drafting skills with elite triathlete and über-swimmer Stuart Hayes (one of my idols as a young junior)

The Swim Smooth Team: Adam, Annie and myself

Can we get a "whoop, whoop!"

Jenson with his custom-coloured HUUB Archimedes 3:5 wetsuit - he's an impressive swimmer / triathlete as well as a great racing car driver!

All smiles for the cameras - such a great, relaxed event and all for charity!

Legend: Chris McCormack

The bunfight - nearly 30% of the field were wearing one of our HUUB wetsuits - not bad considering they were only launched 2 years ago!

Textbook: Jenson Button in the swim!

Catch me if you can! Jenson exiting in about 5th place

Even cruising for fun, Macca still packs a punch!

Jenson punctured about 2km from the finish, ditched his bike and ran the rest of the way to T2 in his bare feet!

Macca "gifted" 4th place to an up & coming top age-group athlete who performed brilliantly!

Paul Ryman (who we coached on Wednesday) finished just behind Macca - impressive!

Despite puncturing Jenson still finished strongly!

Macca with his Team Macca-X after the finish…great to hear a more familiar Aussie accent 12,000 miles from home!

Out with Jenson's Ichiban Triathlon Team the night of the event - spot my Shimano SPD shoes - great for tap dancing on the dance floor!

Open Water Course for Triathlon England:

So all of the above has happened in the last 7 days (unbelievably!) and yesterday we hosted two Open Water swimming clinics for Triathlon England at the wonderful Shepperton Lake. We have re-written the entire swim coaching curriculum for British Triathlon / Triathlon England and as such all of their coaches (over 3,000 UK-wide) are now familiar with our methodology. We have also been running these training days for their members over the last two summers and this was my first chance to deliver one myself and it was an awesome day! The morning session is with a group who have typically never swum in open water before and the afternoon group are a lot more experienced. Taking someone into the open water for the very first time and showing them how to not let their anxiety dictate them is one of the most rewarding things that I am privileged to do - I love it!

With our novice group - showing them how to avoid a panic attack (luckily sharks aren't a consideration here!)

Ian prepares to join the drafting conga-line!

All smiles from Jo-ann!

Talking race tactics with the more advanced group

One week to go:

And after all that I've still been able to get a bit of "bro-mance" time with my best mate Adam - cruising the country lanes on a summer evening on our bikes has reminded me just how much I miss cycling!

Simply: awesome!

Still finding time for a cheeky Mojito!

Cheers and thanks for viewing!


Friday, July 4, 2014

The Results of the Get Your Swim Mojo Back 8 Week Program!

Dear Swimmers

Hope you are all doing well - this newsletter comes to you from 38,000 feet somewhere over the Indian Ocean between Singapore and Dubai! It's taken me 12 solid hours to crunch these numbers, but hopefully this will be time well spent and something you'll benefit from knowing how you've done and what you can now work on going forwards! 

I've spent a little extra time putting together a full report of the results here to hopefully answer some of the common questions I get about CSS testing, training and pacing. I would like to thank everyone in advance whom I've used as an example here and trust you know that it will help both yourself and everyone else in doing so. I realise that some of you will take one glance at the length of this report and hit the delete key (that's OK) but do know that there are some golden case studies here which will really help you. 

In no small part I figured the extra effort was worth it to say a big thank you to you all for all your support in the last 8 weeks - not just by attending the sessions but with all your heartfelt messages as we've gone through this tricky period in the lives of our family. Thank you.


I've added to the spreadsheet from May 2014 for your ease of reference so it's quite choc-a-block full of info, but if you use the zoom function in your PDF viewer you should be able to see the necessary details.

So, how did we all do? Did you enjoy the process? The attendance during the colder mornings has been exemplary so I am hoping that if nothing else the 8-week program has kept you a little more engaged than you would otherwise maybe be at this time of year. As the image above shows, this will set you up well for the coming summer months, so just keep on keeping things ticking over and remember that consistency is key!

So I had a good delve through the analysis and thought I'd share some poignant information with you:

Biggest Loser(s):

Once again, Gavin Cooke topped-out the biggest loser competition with another 8.5s/100m lost off his CSS pace and first time under 8 minutes for 400 - well done Gavin! Here are some more great results:

  • Gavin Cooke - 8.5s/100
  • Kelby Thornton - 7.0s/100
  • Jono Considine - 6.5s/100
  • Janine Kaye - 6.0s/100 (Janine also topped the list in May, showing a whopping 22s/100 improvement since November 2013!)
  • Shane Hunter - 6.0s/100
  • Renee Waller - 6.0s/100
  • Simon Bedbrook - 6.0s/100
  • Paul Newsome - 6.0s/100
  • Cobie Rudd - 5.5s/100
  • Ruth Chang - 5.5s/100
  • Clare Hanavan - 5.0s/100
  • David Ulbrick - 5.0s/100
  • Todd Gardiner - 5.0s/100
  • Andrew Hunt - 5.0s/100
  • Lindsay Dodd - 5.0s/100
  • Ben Dundas - 4.5s/100
  • Kay Fuller - 4.5s/100
  • Graham Crocker* - 4.5s/100
  • Chris Foley - 4.0s/100

*there was of course discussion in the blog back in May by Jeff Davis recognising the extraordinary athletic achievements of Graham Crocker. At age 66 and having swum with me for the last 12 years, Graham is still making improvements, despite what his age would suggest. I hear from so many people around the world claiming that their age is holding them back from improving (an amazing number of whom are only in their 40s as well!) and yet here's Croc proving that age should be no barrier. Very inspirational! Equally, Ben Dundas has continued to make giant leaps forward too - well done Ben! If I can be half as good and as committed as you guys when I reach your age(s) I will be a happy man! Impressive.

All Swimmers Have Bad Days!

Of course not everyone had a great result this week. One of the benefits of coaching you all as regularly as I do is that I am able to say with a very strong degree of certainty whether that was simply down to having an off day (for whatever reason) or simply that you don't enjoy the stress of testing itself - it happens! Knowing how well the following swimmers have been performing lately in training I'd encourage you to either do a re-test yourself or simply know that I know that you're capable of more than what the numbers simply showed on the day - don't get down on yourself! I am hoping that by listing you here you realise that I am not "naming and shaming" but simply highlighting the fact that despite what you may have had going on in your lives recently, you still fronted up and had a go and that is worth a lot in my book. Know that you won't be demoted or anything of the sort…training as frequently as you all do allows me to bypass the numbers and use my true coaching instinct for what you are capable of!

  • Chad Marriott
  • Bill Moody
  • Rhian Chin
  • Tim Humphry
  • Bonnie Tollafield
  • Lindsey Shepherd
  • Bronwyn Fricke
  • Saskia Letham
  • Caroline Claydon
  • Sally Steffanoni
  • Anka Franzmann
  • Lorraine Driscoll

Some Coaches Have Bad Days Too!

If you attended the Wednesday 5.30am squad you'll know that a) we had absolutely terrible torrential rain and wind during the session, and b) we had a record 44 people show up for the session - all eager to get their CSS tested. Unfortunately this proved to be recipe for disaster! Whilst I cannot apologise for the weather, I do wish to apologise to the following swimmers who I feel had results which were hampered by a slower-than-normal 400m swim due to the busyness of lane 3 and the fact that my fancy iPad stopwatch literally got stopped by the force of the rain drops hitting the screen just after lanes 3 and 4 had commenced their swims! Not ideal! Thanks to the help of Carolyn Gorrick and Gina Grayson I was able to count back and work out the actual times of everyone though it was very stressful for everyone and made for quite a lot of congestion in the lane. As such, I'd highly recommend the following swimmers do a re-test if they are so inclined (essentially the back markers of lane 3):

  • Matt Illingworth
  • Sean Webb
  • Megan Surrette
  • Nick Muir
  • Nicole Anson
  • Gina Grayson

Thank you all for your patience - I was utterly unable to provide you with the immediate feedback that you would have all liked on Wednesday morning and when all my recording sheets became piles of paper maché I all but gave up on it! I just wanted the pool to swallow me up!

P.S If Bronywn Fricke, Justine Murphy and Sean Jermy have their 200m times from Wednesday, please email them through - thanks!

Gaming The System

One of the most common queries we get about the CSS calculation is that if you slow the 200m time down, your CSS pace gets faster - try it at - the number of emails we get saying that the calculator must be broken because of these "erroneous" results is insane. One coach from Canada even emailed us last month trying to disprove the notion with a complex spreadsheet he'd designed himself, only to get himself even more confused in the process. There's nothing wrong with the calculator - it's not a system we've designed but one which is frequently used in sports science to ascertain a swimmer's estimated threshold pace in the absence of expensive and invasive blood lactate analysis. The calculation looks at the rate of drop-off between your 200m and your 400m times and essentially predicts that this rate of drop-off (the "slope of the curve" for you number bods) will continue in a similar fashion as distances increase. Thus someone who is very quick over 200m, but dies a little over 400m will have a slower CSS than someone who is much more evenly paced even if the first swimmer's two times combined are faster than the second swimmer. Confused? You shouldn't be. This simply has to be the case as otherwise the world's best sprinters would also be the world's best endurance athletes, and they're not. This graph should help:

There's even been some discussion recently about how you'd "game the test" in order to get a better CSS result, but this would be totally pointless as the whole idea of the test is to get a valid picture of exactly what you're capable of at any one point in time. Gaming the test will simply see you having to target unrealistic CSS target times in training and that will be a massive detriment to you. So please, don't do it! Both Time Trials have to be maximum effort, but they still need to be well-paced too. This also often confuses people - how can an all-out effort be well paced? I don't know…try asking any world record holder in any distance event (over 90% of all records are achieved with either even pacing or a negative split (finishing faster than they started)).

The benefit of doing the two time trials over a single continuous 1500m is as follows:

  1. a little easier to do psychologically
  2. a little easier to maintain lane control and avoid bunching up which could go for or against your favour
  3. delivers a good picture of the physiological balance between how good aerobically (endurance) and anaerobically (sprinting) you are, thus we get a better insight into what type of fitness training would benefit you most

How Can Both My 400/200 Be Faster Than Last Time But My CSS Slower?

Michael Japp has improved both his 400 and his 200 times since May, which is great news. However, his CSS has slowed by 1s/100 - how so? Remember that the CSS calculation looks at the rate of drop-off in speed between the 200m and the 400m, thus CSS can decrease even if both times improve if the 200m improves significantly more than the 400m. Michael improved his 400m by 5s but his 200m by 7s. Hard to get your head around I know but this is often symptomatic of biasing your training load more towards very fast, short intervals with lots of rest and recovery rather than longer intervals at (or slightly slower) than CSS pace. In Michael's case, being of very good athletic experience, I simply feel that his anaerobic system has come back to life a little quicker than his aerobic endurance and as such the recommendation here would be towards more of the "Red Mist" type sessions, i.e. Wednesday 5.30am and Friday 9.30am. Here's what it looks like:

Broken Record Time: The Key To Good Distance Swimming Is All About The Pacing - Simple As That!

In May, our joint "biggest loser" was Jens Bischoff who'd knocked off 14s/100m off his CSS pace. Needless to say he was thrilled. Being the competitive guy that he is, this fuelled Jens's desire to be even better this time around, so he's been working very hard during training to achieve that - even staying in for an extra 4km after the 4km "Red Mist" session on a Friday at 9.30am has finished!! However, his results this time around have slowed by 5.5s/100m - how so? You can imagine that Jens was quite rightly a little upset and frustrated by this, but if we delve a little deeper, the answer is staring us in the face - pacing. Since we introduced the ability to capture the first 100m of everyone's 400m time trial in November 2013, this has been a real revelation into analysing why some people just don't seem to be improving at the rate that a) I would expect and b) their efforts would warrant. It's not always practical to capture everyone's first 100m, but if you're ever in doubt, have a go yourself with a partner timing you and the results (should be) very revealing! 

Taming that urge to go racing off as fast as you can on the first 100m of a so-called "all-out Time Trial" can be very challenging indeed - and I'm not afraid to say it's taken me 13 years to work it out myself (more on that later!). But get this right and you can achieve anything. Let's take Wayne "The Train" Morris as a perfect example of what is possible. Not only is Wayne of a very similar physiology and build to Jens (powerfully built, very explosive etc), but he's also got the same sporting background too - martial arts and heavy gym work. Both swimmers have ultra-competitive mindsets, but what Wayne has learnt to do (very successfully indeed) in the past 6 or 7 years, is to tame that inner powerhouse knowing that if he does his average speed will end up being quicker and still leave gas in the tank for a final surge at the end of a race. He's now swum multiple Rottnest Solo swims plus the English Channel and Manhattan Island Swim as well. 

There are very few people out there who would beat either Wayne or Jens in a sprint over 25m, the difference though (at this stage at least) is that Wayne knows exactly how much he can push before he steps too far into the red. The good news for Jens is that he too can do this, if he can just resist the urge to try and chase at the start. It's hard, I know - I'm terrible for this! I also realise how weird I must sound saying "to get faster, you need to start slower!"  but it's totally true.

Here's Wayne .vs. Jens as a comparison of pacing - the colour coding really gives it away. Note how Wayne's most recent Time Trial was the ultimate in pace awareness - a brilliant result for him:

As I say, it's far easier to make an anaerobic sprinting machine become a good endurance athlete than it is to turn a one-pace pony into a galloping gazelle, but the mentality of these two types of athlete couldn't be any different. The patience and control showed by the innately good endurance athlete is what the sprinter needs to adopt and of course the good news is that this is entirely trainable if you let it be. Here's some swimmers who have done just that - congratulations Adam Wheeler, Janine Willis, Janine Kaye and Mark Wallis (again the colour coding here is very clear):

Adam has gone from being ranked one of the worst pacers in the squad to being almost in the top-tier - this will serve him well come a certain big event in February next year...

It's all in the name! Brilliant results Janines!

A more subtle improvement for Mark - but it's all in those marginal gains, right?

The Queen Of The Diesel Engines

Sue Oldham's results were particularly interesting. Upon face value it appears that Sue has not improved at all since May despite all the heavy English Channel training she's been doing which has significantly increased in this last 2 months ahead of her proposed swim on the 1st August. But again, upon closer inspection we see that whilst her 400 and 200 times have actually slowed a little bit, her CSS has remained steady at 2:05/100. Does this show lack of improvement or does it show both fatigue from the 30-40km per week she's putting in (at 68 years of age too, mind!) in freezing cold waters and a heightened development of her long endurance capabilities? The latter. Both Sue's pacing and the ratio between her aerobic and anaerobic systems have improved significantly in the last 8 weeks - both of which tailor-make for a great swim across La Manche. If Sue were to freshen up and have a week easy, sure she'd swim faster over 400m and 200m, but that's not her goal - her goal is to cross the 37km English Channel with the highest average pace she can muster and these results speak volumes about how well prepared she is for that - go Sue!

And Finally…

I think I'll just stop talking now and show you this - something I'm more proud about that some of my biggest races…after exactly 200 days since my micro-discetomy back surgery for a L4/5 disc issue, I managed to knock off 6s/100m off my own CSS pace (now down to 1:12.5/100m) and in doing so record my fastest 400m in over 13 years!! How did I do it? Exactly the same way as I've been encouraging you all to do it this last 8 weeks…I've done the same sessions, had the same focus and have enjoyed swimming purely for the prospect of self-improvement and to get me out of a bit of a rut. In short, I've got my Mojo back and I hope you have too! 

Thanks for your time! I will see you in a couple of weeks - be good and remember: "You Don't Always Get What You Wish For, You Get What You Work For!"