Thursday, July 28, 2016

Do You FEAR Squad "Failure" - You Shouldn't, Here's Why!

Watch as Suzi and Sally share the love and respect during a hard-as-nails CSS set!

Dear Swimmers

One of my greatest joys in coaching you all is seeing you all improve and also seeing how you all deal with success and "failure" differently, so much so, that I often wonder if the FEAR of "failure" amongst your peers is often what prevents you from truly moving forwards with your swimming? Today I'd like to discuss how to overcome that and tomorrow you can test it out yourself!

We often use the example of squad swimmer Megan Surrette to demonstrate what is possible in terms of improvement. Of course for every email we received that said "wow, that's fantastic - good on her and good on you for helping her achieve that!" we received 3 or 4 emails that had an air of frustration, i.e. "why not me - why can't I improve like that?" - this was such a strong response that we followed up with this blog post on that very topic, Why Not Me? specifically this salient point:

"A key part of achieving that consistency is your swimming demeanour. Megan puts it this way:

"I do know that I felt a big difference when I started swimming Wednesday mornings. I am not sure whether Wednesday improved my CSS or not but it definitely increased my confidence – 1 km TT? *shoulder shrug* … sure, whatever :-)"

Megan's not saying that out of bravado, that really is how she thinks. When was the last time you really shrugged at a swimming time-trial? The key to improving is not to over-analyse or procrastinate but, like Megan, come to terms with the work you need to consistently do, switch off the brain and get on with it.

If you can face your training with an inner smile rather than an inner grimace you've got everything you need to be the next Megan. Don't fear the hard work but actively embrace it - that is the attitude of a true champion."

Could it be that your fear of taking the bull by the horns and leading an occasional set out of concern that you might let others in your group down, be what is stifling your progress? When I'm passing the beepers out for a hard set, I receive far more "no, not me - anyone but me!" looks than "yes, what the hell, I'll give it a go!" - come on people, this is Australia! Where's your digger can-do attitude?!

Nick gives Rob a hearty high-five for leading a solid 400m interval!

The reality is that just giving it a go is what it's all about. We are not racing for sheep stations - a solid workout that gets the heart pumping, blows the cobwebs out and has you thinking about how best to maintain your technique is what the majority of you are after. I've come to realise that more and more about myself - being fit and active is way better than being unfit and thinking of where you once were! Only what you do right now is important, so give it a go!

Training within a squad is a wonderfully motivating environment, challenging you always to be a better version of yourself. It both doesn't matter about anyone else in your lane, and yet it totally does too! A sense of camaraderie and team spirit can lift you on the flattest of days, but if you don't opt to take the beeper and share the love, then you can't get upset and grumpy and see the "red mist" if someone doesn't hold exactly to the pace that is set for the lane! That's Rule Number 1 of swim squad! They're giving it their best shot. This is all I or you can ask of yourself on any given day. You should take that beeper knowing this. Knowing you're not letting anyone down because they didn't opt to take the onus like you did. If you "fail" so what? Does it really matter? No. Learn from it and pass the beeper on! It's fun, or should be!

Chris Froome has just won his third Tour de France title against some pretty challenging odds. Nairo Quintana was his supposed rival, and yet he was never in the picture. Why? Because he was playing a game of defence, a game of safety, never willing to take the risk of an attack, always hoping Froome would eventually crack. He didn't. Quintana lost. Convincingly. 

Are you playing a game of defence with your swimming? Never willing to stretch yourself for fear of "failure"?

To get maximum improvement benefits you'd opt to train totally solo following our totally bespoke system. This would see you tweaking your individually specific CSS pace by small multiples of 1/100th of a second after each session, always moving forwards. But is this ever going to be as engaging as swimming within the Swim Smooth Perth Squad itself? It's finding that balance between specificity and a motivating challenge with your peers that you need to ascertain for yourself. You need to get comfortable with the idea that you, like the next person, might take on the challenge of leading and they might succeed, or they might not - they might even have a stormer and blow everyone's doors off, who knows? But if you're on the front, you're in control. You're the leader. You call the shots. Win, lose or draw, the last thing you should do is fear the challenge!

Mike's quite happy to be following…for now - but when he gets back on front, watch out!

Becoming a Tempo Trainer "Ninja":

In tonight's 6.15pm session and tomorrow's 5.30am and 6.30am session we're going to be doing the familiar Goldilocks set which looks something like this:

  • 4 x 100
  • 1 x 200
  • 4 x 100
  • 1 x 300
  • 4 x 100
  • 1 x 400

Each lane will do the longer swims (shown in red) but depending on your lane will depend on how many 100s you are instructed to do.

We are going to use the beepers in Modes 1 and 2 tomorrow. Mode 1 allows us to be accurate to 1/100th second and this the mode we'll use for the longer swims where your goal will be to STAY with the beeper per 25m. Mode 2 works in whole seconds where your goal will be to BEAT the beeper for your rest on the 100m intervals. Remember, over 100m, if the set is RM Cycle 5, this will typically mean you should aim for 10 seconds rest as the beeper is 5s "slower" per 50m than your group's set CSS target pace. Similarly, RM Cycle 4 would give you 8 seconds rest etc.

If you take the onus of leading - or are politely asked by me or Sal (and we will still be suggesting who does lead, don't worry about that!) - it will be your job to have a go operating the beeper. It's really very simple:

  • push and hold the top* button to CHANGE MODES in sequence (this is reflected on the screen, i.e. numbers 1, 2 or 3 will display as you do)
  • lightly tap the top* button so you can hear the audible beep to START the interval
  • use the bottom* two buttons to decrease (LEFT) or increase (RIGHT) the time displayed

*always hold the beeper with the single button as the TOP - I often see people trying to operate the beeper upside down with rather comical ramifications!

The beeper will be set for you to start in Mode 2, for each subsequent block of 100m intervals, all you'll need to do is take off 1 second using a light press of the bottom LEFT button

For the longer 200 (baby bear), 300 (momma bear) and 400 (papa bear) intervals, Mode 1 will be required but this will be preset for you so you won't need to change it during this specific session - just press and hold the top button to go from Mode 2, to Mode 3, and finally to Mode 1. Simple.

I hope that's been useful for you both in terms of knowing how to operate the beeper and what to do if you find yourself leading a group, most notably:


When we tried sharing the love in the squad a few Friday's ago it worked really well and everyone agreed it was a great session. So, let's calm some of that competitive tension and put it to better use.

It's amazing what you can achieve if you just let yourself.



Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Great Big Squad Happy 80th Birthday to Squad Stalwart, Barrie Eaves!

Dear Swimmers

It is with great excitement that this week we celebrate the oldest swimmer in the Swim Smooth Perth Squad's 80th Birthday, Barrie eaves - whoop, whoop! Barrie has been swimming with the squad religiously for the last 8 years and still attends 3 sessions per week - Technique, CSS Development, and his favourite, the infamous Red Mist Session! On a recent Swim Trek trip around Greece, Barrie covered over 30km in the week and has even gone to the extreme of moving into the apartments opposite the pool to be within a 4 minute walk to enjoy his favourite activity, swimming!

In honour of such a great man and inspiration to myself and many members of the 9.30am crew (and beyond!), Barrie politely asked if we could do a little speed work in this week's CSS Development Session. He asked for something a bit "spicy" and that's exactly what we've got for you this week!

Here's a video singing happy birthday to my hero and then the set you'll be doing below:

So make sure you bring your A-Game to Thursday's 6.15pm session or Friday's 5.30/6.30am sessions in honour of this great man and do him proud on a session which he really loved!

Barrie's number one motto when it comes to swimming and life in general? 


How lucky we are to have such a  great guy in the squad - Barrie, you're our hero! Happy Birthday mate!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Run, Fun, Mara (Moo) You!

Just in from squad swimmer Shelley Hatton FYI:

Start your tri season with something different!

The Maramoo marathon is new and it's a new format to Western Australia.

It's on September 10 and is based on a cricket pitch about 10kms south of Dunsborough. We will run through some wineries, some bush tracks and you will marvel at the scenery.

Delight your taste buds as you indulge them while you run the course. You can try local produce and sample wine as you run. Smell the delicious all-day food from Rivendell as you run a lap of the cricket pitch after each of the three legs. Groove to the music as you complete your lap. High five the spectators who are cheering for you.

Of course, afterwards there will be all of the samples to try again! Stay for lunch and a glass of wine. Stay for the presentations to see if you've won one of the many spot prizes.
You can run the whole marathon, the half or enter as a team of three where you each run one leg of the course.

Go silly and enter the best-dressed competition and be in line for a sensational prize.

Grab some friends and make a weekend of it.

Special discount of $20 for Swim Smooth Squad Members. The code is SMOOO…TH and is valid until 31 July.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Steps To Get Your (Swim) Mojo Back (Baby!) Yeah!

Dear Swimmers

Hope you're having a great day and that you're enjoying this lovely midday sunshine this week…a bit better than the rain / storms of last weekend and the record-low of Wednesday morning at 0.4ºC! I don't know who was crazier that morning, me stood on pool deck for the 5.30am Red Mist session in too few garments, or those of you who rocked up for the 10 x 400 classic Red Mist set…that was a chilly jump into the water for sure! At least the pool's been pumping at 28.5-29ºC all this week to counter-balance that! A few of the other key metropolitan pools have all been struggling with temperatures in the mid/low-20s - ouch!

Like last year, the July school holidays always proves to be a time of year when a) many people go away, b) the excitement of Wimbledon / Le Tour de France on late-night TV keeps people up, and c) just general winter low-mojo leads to quieter sessions. Many of you have been able to experiment using the squad app with hopping into sessions that you wouldn't ordinarily do and that's great, I hope you've enjoyed that! 

I personally like this time of year as it gives me a chance to pull back and reflect a bit and also forces me to be a little more creative with the sessions to try to keep you enthused. I soon know if my creativity (especially airing on things like kick sets, bands only and sprinting / I.M) has pushed beyond what is being enjoyed as I usually get a few grumpy looks or the occasional pull buoy flying off in my direction. You guys become my creative compass as it were!

One such set - which on face value is incredibly monotonous - was Wednesday's 10 x 400 "Red Mist" set. I see this as the holy grail of good endurance swimming but you have to have the right mindset for it, so if you're in the "low-mojo" head space at the moment, this could potentially be the last nail in the coffin as it were! So what we did on Wednesday was ensure that everyone who showed up had to lead at least one 400m. This gave many people who haven't led before (or in a long while) the opportunity to have a go and simply do their best, irrespective of their current state of fitness. The competitive guard was down, with the notion that when he / she was leading, everyone else had to follow their pace. We weren't racing for sheep stations! This of course led to some inevitable variability in the speed of each lane, but it did prove to diffuse some of the competitive tension that we often see mid-season (in most cases anyway!).

Derek Cross - lane 4 - eloquently put it on Twitter:

Here was the set:

So for tomorrow's set - with many of you due to return from holidays - we're also going to try and keep things a little lower-key and hopefully fun and engaging too, but still offering a great workout at the same time! Here's the plan:

…we'll be doing a series of 6 blocks of 3 or 4 x 100 intervals (so nothing too long) and on progressively INCREASING recovery times. Yes, you read that correctly, increasing, not decreasing. In a manner this makes the set feel like it gets easier, but of course with a new leader for each block and increasing recovery times, you should be able to hit some really quick times at the end of the session and enjoy that feeling! James Forbes (lane 4, 530am M/T/F) hit a 58 second 100m swim (with fins) at the end of Tuesday's session - I wonder how close he can get this time around (without fins)?

Who will lead and when? We'll have one of the faster swimmers in the group lead the first set to make the very tight cycle time of the first block (likely only 3-4 seconds rest) and then have some of the faster swimmers in the group lead the last set or two as well when the pace is really cranking. Given that these are only 100m intervals with what becomes a lot of rest, you really don't need to fear coming along tomorrow, even if you're fresh back off holidays, you'll still be able to enjoy it and will probably be assigned to lead some of the middle blocks. Of course, if you don't wish to lead at all, then I'm not going to force you, but in the spirit of the "8th Rule of Swim Club" if you are there, you have to lead! Think of it as something different. When you let that competitive guard down occasionally, surprisingly positive and powerful things can happen!

It may be prudent to highlight some lane etiquette at this point too:!etiquette/c20bh - if we all keep calm and enjoy the set for what it is, all will be fine (he hopes!).

So, let's let our guard down a bit over the next few sessions and try not to feel the stress of having to perform as something which prevents you from starting back, it shouldn't! When we view the last 45 weeks of the new squad app being in place, we can see that the following top-20 attendees have all notched up in excess of 100 sessions each. That's pretty amazing! 

It really goes to show that a) no one session should make or break your continued enjoyment of swimming, and that b) consistency is key and that consistency requires a starting point at some point! Well done Top-20!

One such swimmer who was going through the doldrums a few months back was Chad who swims in the Wednesday 9.30am session. Earlier this year Chad was swimming 1:49-1:51/100m at CSS pace and seemed like he was slipping backwards. I feared Chad might even pull the pin as he didn't look like he was enjoying the feeling of falling back too much (no one does!). Over the last month or so, Chad's started to make a real resurgence it seems and in the set you will do tomorrow, was holding 1:35-1:38/100m - a tremendous turn-around. Here's what Chad says about what helped him:

After Busselton 70.3 I decided I would try and place extra focus on my swimming over winter.  During the season I can usually only manage 2 sessions a week averaging about 5.5km for the week, so the plan was to increase the number of session and the duration of each.  When planning this I forgot how cold and dark winter can be!  One upside though is that if it's raining it doesn't matter because I was going to get wet anyway.  

So I started swimming 4 times a week and most weeks swimming just over 13km.  The first week or two was tough, but the main thing that has kept me going was noticing how quickly I was improving with the extra work, firstly the distance got easier then I noticed myself getting faster.  So far I think I have taken about 8-9s/100m off my CSS pace, and for me this reward is what keeps me getting up on those cold dark mornings.  I think if people can persevere with the first few weeks of increased effort then seeing the improvement this brings will make it easier to keep getting to the pool.  Plus, the weather can only get better from here. 

…Chad's right of course, the weather will get better from here on in - here's Cottesloe at 2pm yesterday:

As Chad says, those first few weeks back require perseverance - we've all been there. My own head has fallen off so many times in the last 18 months that I've stopped counting! What helped me turn the corner was my recent ÖtillÖ swimrun race  i.e. having something to focus on and doing it for a good cause. I can't claim that I suddenly became superman and then first few sessions were depressingly slow (some 14s/100m slower than my normal, or nearly 20%!!), but you've just got to keep at it. My biggest regret of the last 18 months was totally stopping swimming / exercise this time last year when it was cold, when we were moving house, and when I was building the squad app - all necessary things of course, but there's got to come a time when you say: that's it, I'm starting now, come hell or high water!! 

Swim Smooth Perth Squad Stalwart Barrie Eaves turns 80 this week. He swims everyday and 3 times per week with the squad. His number one rule? Never stop. #BeMoreBarrie

Have a little read here of the steps that you're likely to go through getting back in: - sage advice, albeit from 6 years ago. Even our "Get Your Mojo Back" campaign from 2014 is worth a re-read here: and here: and hopefully this then becomes you:

Lastly, a bit of humour from author Bill Bryson in his book "The Road to Little Dribbling" which is quite poignant given the recent Brexit vote in the UK I think (we don't know whether we're coming or going!). Hope you enjoy, especially those of you who've enjoyed a recent European vacation!

See you on  pool deck!


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Squad fees 2016/17

Dear Swimmers

Please be advised that the following fees will apply to the squad PAYG-BLUK credits system from 1/7/16:

  • Casual visit = $20.00 (no change)
  • 10 sessions (3-month expiry*) = $159.00 (from $156.00)
  • 10 sessions (12-month expiry*, specifically for those attaining temporary spots via the wait list**) = $179.00 (from $175.00)
  • 25 sessions (4-month expiry*) = $350.00 (from $343.20)
  • 50 sessions (6-month expiry*) = $627.50 (from $616.30)
  • 100 sessions (8-month expiry*) = $1,120.00 (from $1,100.00)

As ever, we have endeavoured to keep these increases down to an absolute minimum, but each year face increases in fees and charges for utilising the Claremont Pool that have ranged between 4% and 33% over the years. We thank you for your understanding and continued patronage.

*please note that all swimmers are permitted a 1-month extension on the expiry of a single block of PAYG-BLUK credits within one financial calendar year to help with holidays away, sickness, work trips etc. You will be automatically notified if / when you are running low on available time for your block of credits, in which case please simply contact us to request an extension.

**we are currently extending the squad schedule out beyond the 2nd week in August, so if you're wondering why you can't sign up (or cancel out) of sessions beyond this point, that is why. It's a bit of a mammoth undertaking but we're getting there! All permanent member's spots will be automatically rolled over unless you inform us otherwise. A notification when this has been completed will be sent out to you.

Squad Availability:

With the quieter months upon us, now is a great time to get registered into some of these sessions and use the app to it's fullest. Good availability can be found in the following sessions currently:

  • Monday 7am
  • Tuesday 6.30am
  • Wednesday / Friday 9.30am
  • Tuesday / Thursday 6.15pm

…most of the wait listed spots for the above sessions are offered out each week, so there may even be the possibility of snaffling up a permanent spot here and there. Please let us know by return email if you are keen.

Many thanks,


Thursday, June 23, 2016

My 2016 ÖtillÖ Scilly Isles Race Report...a bit more than 600 words!

On Saturday 18th June 2016 I had the opportunity to participate in a crazy, exciting ‘new’ adventure sport 28 nautical miles off the south west coast of Cornwall, England, called ÖtillÖ (, pronounced “urr-till-urr), which is Swedish for “island to island”. Teams of two compete whilst tethered together using any means possible to cover 37.5km split as 30km of challenging trail running and 7.5km of cold, ocean swimming divided up into 19 continuous stages where you roll from the land to the water and back again like the proverbial amphibious beast emerging from the primordial soup of life…or something like that!

A great 3m26s video review of the race can be found here: and if you have Facebook you can see an extended version here: 

The Isles of Scilly

Sitting squarely in the middle of the Gulf Stream in the wilds of the Atlantic Ocean, the Scilly Isles is an archipelago of over 100 small islands where many hundreds of ships have been wrecked and thousands of lives lost to the sea during unpredictable storms and weather patterns. 

The experience would prove to be life-changing in more ways than one and also sits atop all my other previous endurance challenges such as the 20km Rottnest Channel Swim, the 46km Manhattan Island Marathon Swim and even the mighty 34km English Channel in terms of difficulty and extremism. Yes, it’s that tough, but somewhat perversely more enjoyable at the same time!

ÖtillÖ, or the sport of “swimrun”, is not actually that new. Dating back some 10 years since it’s first inception in the Swedish Stockholm archipelago, this would be the first official ÖtillÖ event outside of Sweden to form the new World Series. Each event allows up to 10 teams of two to qualify for the World Championships in Sweden on the 4th September each year. The event in Sweden comprises some 65km of hardcore trail running and 10km of open water swimming and island-hops between 26 different land masses. In comparison the Scilly Isles race was just 30km of beautiful coastal trail running and 7.5km of cold, ocean swimming visiting eight key islands with some six energy stations; you could think of this then as the “little sister”:

The fact that the Scilly Isles event was only 50% of the distance of it’s Swedish big brother sheds some perspective on how challenging the big kahuna really is; even the winning team featuring multiple world aquathlon champion and a former training partner, Richard Standard from Great Britain, stated it was the hardest event he’d ever done! If Richard says it was tough, it was tough.

The concept is very simple: you and a partner (male or female) work together to follow a marked course and are typically bound together by a bungy-cord, which serves as a safety mechanism, or an anchor, depending on how you view the world and the differential in your speed! Pull buoy and paddles are allowed to help offset the drag of wearing your trainers when you swim, but depending on how you use them, they’re not always an advantage (myself and Richard Stannard both opting not to use paddles in order to keep the stroke rate higher in the cold, choppy waters). ÖtillÖ’s number one philosophy is that you work together as a partnership to experience unbridled beauty in the environment as you seamlessly transition from the land to the water some 19 times, running in your wetsuit, swimming in your trainers (no easy feat let me tell you!) and navigating (hopefully!) the stunning flora and fauna of the islands:

Every twist and turn saw you experiencing a new landscape, never knowing quite what was coming next or how you’d handle it. It was as much liberating as it was a chance to view the world from a whole new perspective that you just can’t get from any other angle.

It’s a sport that encourages innovation rather than stifles it. A sport where the number one goal is survival rather than competitive performance and to use your tether like a metaphorical umbilical cord to feed each other both physically and mentally over the duration. A sport which embraces the environment rather than litters it with gel wrappers, empty CO2 cannisters and discarded water bidons. In short, it’s what triathlon felt like in the 80s and 90s before the big corporations came in and commercialised the whole experience to such a point that competitors are lost amongst a sea of anonymity. Never before in a sport have I felt so much inclusion - like a true sporting family - and having spent a lot of time with it’s founders Mats Skott and Michael Lemmel over the weekend listening to their hopes for the growth of the sport, something tells me this will always reside above the potential for commercialisation. It’s exactly the sport I have been looking for:

The excitement and air of participating in something truly special bristled over the entire weekend and extended to the masses of enthusiastic islanders and bewildered tourists who’d never seen anything like it before. I doubt I have ever felt so much support and energy from a crowd who truly wants you to succeed than on the Scilly Isles. It was the perfect place to run the event, no question.

A Tale of Two Journeys

I first heard about the event from a Swedish swim and triathlon coach called Matti Tordsson in March 2015. Matti was attending one of our 3-day Coach Education Courses in the UK and knowing my passion for all things crazy and my distant life as a triathlete, Matti enthusiastically suggested I’d love to have a go at the event which he’d experienced himself several times before in Sweden. At this stage I passed it off quite quickly as I hadn’t run for the best part of 10 years.

Sadly in September of 2015, Matti’s 8 year old daughter Stina was diagnosed with high risk Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) and his whole family’s life was turned upside down in an instant. Stina has had to subsequently undergo intense chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, suffering in the process with five brain strokes and even coma in response to her critical state. Having a son who is just six months younger than Stina, I could not begin to imagine how such a terrible condition would wreak havoc on their daily lives as they came very close to losing Stina.

When the Scilly Isles race was announced in December, I recalled Matti’s earlier enthusiasm about the event. Having never been to the Scillies myself - but knowing it to be a magical place - I reached out to Matti and tentatively asked if he wanted to team up with me, not knowing if this would even be on his radar given everything he and his family was going through. I wished that the positive outlook of having a goal to aim for, and the chance to raise awareness of Stina’s condition, would be something that could help bring hope where mainly despair existed. As I was about to experience, the goal of completing this event also had a profound impact on me and what is truly important in life.

Obviously the practicalities of training for the event given Matti’s circumstances and the fact that we’d never be able to practice together until the actual event, meant that we had to approach the event purely as participants rather than competitors, though this emphasis proved to be exactly what the ÖtillÖ was all about:

Thankfully, nine months on and five months since the coma, Stina has been responding well to the treatment, but even up to the race day, we weren’t sure if we would be able to compete together.

Of course, you cannot pretend to understand the implications of having a child so gravely sick, but you can certainly reframe your perspective on life when someone you hold dearly as a friend is suffering so much. In the last 3 years since my Manhattan Island Marathon Swim win I have personally been through a bit of a slump. I endured major back surgery in late 2013 and have suffered through a shoulder issue for the last 18 months, both of which have prevented me doing what I love as much as I would have liked. I felt my body was starting to fail me at only 37 years of age. Other than that though I’m healthy, my family has been healthy and my coaching has been going from strength to strength. How utterly ridiculous it seems to be so self-absorbed that (what are effectively very minor issues in the grander scheme of things) can bring you to feeling down in some kind of mid-life crisis. The prospect and perspective of racing with Matti, doing it for Stina and raising awareness for the Childhood Cancer International and the Swedish Childhood Cancer Foundation has helped me to take a hold of what these types of events are all about and for the first time ever I was pleased to find myself smiling the whole way around a race, ditching my serious 'race face’ for a much more appreciative outlook:

And so to the race!

As mentioned, we expected very little from ourselves during the event, but ultimately this proved to be our biggest asset. Matti had managed precious few training sessions in the last nine months and I had only begun running again in December 2015. 3 weeks out from the race I injured my left glute (requiring a cortisone shot) and couldn’t run at all and Matti had also injured his foot too in the lead-up. We also had no opportunity to practice together at all until the gun went off to signal the start!

I watched in awe as over 100 teams arrived on the island looking super-fit and amped to practice on the course - I had to just sit and watch as they did. I felt every bit under-done and yet had the prospect of running further than I ever have over terrain that amplified the intensity one hundred fold:

What had I got myself in for? The only thing I knew is that I could not let Matti and Stina down. I had to start and I had to finish no matter how long it took or whatever happened to my body along the way; and very ‘strange’ things happened as I was about to find out…

Stage 1 RUN: Hugh Town to Halangy Porth (2.5km)

My lasting memory of the start was one of enthusiastic energy, not the dogged race-face anxieties of a typical triathlon or open water event, but perhaps that was just a change in my own perspective? We crossed the start line with a resounding shout of “For Stina!” and the race was on!

The plan was to start very steady knowing we had about 7 hours of racing ahead of us. We watched as the leaders raced away from us and peered wistfully down the cliff face as they entered the water some 500m ahead of us as we came to a standstill amongst the mid-pack on the single track high above the rocky shore. Several of my former racing and training mates were in the top-3 teams at this stage so it required a monumental amount of control and acceptance that I’m just not at this level of running anymore. The good news was that I felt no pain at all in my glute and actually felt quite light and easy on my feet.

Stage 2 SWIM: Halangy Porth to Bathinghouse Porth (2.0km)

As we poured into the water on the first swim I felt like this was our time to shine. This swim proved critical in us moving up from 35th place to 15th and eventually to 12th which unbelievably saw us miss a spot at the world championships in September by only two positions. It was a far cry from what we expected of ourselves and a strong indication that our pacing strategy was working out. We weren’t fast in any of the sections, but we always kept moving and this allowed us to steadily chip away at those in front of us:

The water was cool (13ºC) but clear and had huge clumps of seaweed to contend with like swimming through an organic version of the garbage collection bay in the Star Wars movie! I towed Matti using an elastic tether which allowed him to stay firmly within my draft zone. This worked really well and we moved swiftly past 20 teams. I was using a Finis Axis Pull Buoy between my ankles and whilst this slowed our transitions a touch I felt it held my feet higher in the water and reduced drag better than between my thighs. In my prior research I am about 10-12 seconds per 100m slower in all this get-up than swimming ‘au natural’ which apparently is ’normal’:

Stage 3 RUN-SWIM-RUN-SWIM-RUN-SWIM: Bathinghurst Porth to Castle Porth (6.0km)

The next six sections were a series of short runs and swims, many of which were more like wading through the shallow water, seaweed and slippery rocks, all of which made for slow going:

We finished this section with our first energy station where we took onboard energy drinks, gels, bananas and even some yummy cake! This might have been the source of my later stomach discomfort around the 4hr mark!

Stage 4 RUN: Castle Porth to Long Point (6.8km)

The first long run was simply stunning, starting with a run through the world-famous 200 year-old Abbey Gardens and then became more challenging as we edged out along the coastal path. We were moving well though and closing down on a few teams in front of us at this point just by holding a steady, consistent pace. Upon reaching the steeper climbs, Matti would immediately instruct us to walk so as to conserve energy for later in the race. Whilst this seemed to slow us down initially, it offered a bit of respite which definitely served us well on the final run of the day.

Stage 5 SWIM-RUN-SWIM-RUN-SWIM-RUN-SWIM: Long Point to Lower Town Quay St Martin’s (3.0km)

We then commenced another seven section zone where we were constantly in and out of the water. I’m not sure if it was a combination of the horizontal to vertical repetitive movement, the cold water, the carbohydrate-rich energy stations or the belt that I was wearing around my middle to tow Matti along, but towards the middle of this zone I started to develop some pretty severe stomach cramps. Ultimately I couldn’t hold things in any longer and as we approached the ramp of the Lower Town Quay at St Martin’s I crossed the proverbial last bastion of dignity and finally discovered how to “go #2” whilst on the move. It wasn’t pretty or comfortable but it was entirely necessary and made me feel better immediately after. Unfortunately though this was just one of fifteen subsequent bowel movements during the last two hours of the race which rapidly started to really dehydrate me - how’s that for an open / honest report!

Stage 6 RUN: Karma Hotel to Crow’s Nest (7.6km)

I went from hero to zero very quickly indeed and felt absolutely terrible during the second long run of the day. I didn’t let Matti see this, though I’m sure he felt the pace slow and my conversation ceased entirely developing a horrible cold sweat to boot. Even feeling like this I didn’t doubt we’d finish but I knew it could be a long way back to Hugh Town at this pace! I was desperate for a drink and even stopped to ask two hikers if I could steal theirs only to have Matti block my approach and warn of the impending disqualification if I did. I bowed my head and carried on, fearful that we’d start to fall back down the standings as my pace slowed. Eventually we reached the energy station and I drank what seemed like gallons of pure water to try to flush everything through. We spent a long time at that station but were cheered on by some fantastic volunteers which really helped. 

Stage 7 SWIM: Crow’s Nest to Innisidgen (2.4km)

The notion of starting what was billed to be the hardest challenge of the day when I was feeling at my absolute lowest took some resolve, drawing upon the doggedness that is required to swim things like the English Channel. Whilst only 2.4km, this swim was against the tide and we ended up meandering all over the place through fatigue, cold and (in my case) a touch of disorientation from the stomach issues. I figured we could well be in the water for about an hour and ultimately this proved to be the case. All that was driving me on at this stage was to not let the team behind us catch up, so we carried on, one stroke after the next and eventually reached the shore. I was heartened to later find out that even the great Richard Standard found this challenging also!

Stage 8 RUN: Innisidgen to Hugh Town (7.2km)

Incredibly, as soon as we had regained some feeling in the ice blocks that were now our feet and ankles, we actually ran really strongly for the final run and I felt great again. Anything better than terrible would have been a bonus, but we ended up putting 3 minutes into the chasing team at this stage which was a great way to finish the most epic of all challenges.

Crossing the finish line and the emotions were evident for both Matti and myself. To have done this side-by-side with Matti for 6h16m without a single moan or whinge from him was incredible after all he and his family have been through, but that’s what perspective does for you. Nobody holds a gun to your head forcing you to do these types of events. We are all privileged enough that we have the health to do it. We had finished 12th overall after expecting to finish in the latter half of the whole field, all things considered, and were 45 minutes quicker than I calculated we would be. Given that the winners were 25 minutes slower than predicted, this really was a great result and one which I’m very proud of.

Over 100 teams had entered the event but only 85 had made it to the start line. Of these 85% would go on to complete the entire course, including our new Japanese friends Umi and Hanae who were very fearful of the cold on the day before the race but in a great show of resilience powered through regardless - well done girls! Full results can be seen at There’s also a complete set of images at if you like what you see here. (Photo credits: Nadja Odenhage / ÖTILLÖ Isles of Scilly 16 or Matti Rapila / ÖTILLÖ Isles of Scilly 16).

Training Plan

So if you’re still reading I’m assuming that’s because you’re as crazy as me and Matti and fancy the challenge of something new and exciting like the ÖtillÖ? This is what my typical training week has looked like since the start of April. You’ll note the extremely low volume involved. Two things caused this: 1) limited time availability with family and work; 2) having not run in 10 years I needed to respond to my body, running when I could, not when I’d planned necessarily. Ultimately I didn’t run at all in the last 3 weeks either:

  • Monday - 4km easy off-road run at ~4:30 per km / 2km swim using our Goldilocks CSS set as a template (reducing down from a CSS of 1:28 per 100m in April to 1:14 prior to the race). Total training time = 60 minutes
  • Tuesday - 3-4km swim including some longer intervals of 300m, 400m and 500m at CSS +2s/100m and mixing in some pull-bouy and paddle work to simulate the race and non-use of my legs. Total training time = 60 minutes
  • Wednesday - a repeat of Monday’s swim session. Total training time = 45 minutes
  • Thursday - a swim-run practice session lasting about 75-90 minutes. This was an integral part of my program. I’d typically cover about 3km in the open water with a group of friends, sandwiched in the middle of two 4km runs in all my gear. I was able to use this session to see not only my swim fitness improve again after a very mediocre 12-18 months, but to also measure the effectiveness of changes I made along the way to my kit. I started off being dropped like a lead-balloon by my mates in April with all the gear on (slowing me down by 10-12s per 100m) to being able to hold and then challenge them on the front of the group within 6 weeks. It was very frustrating at first to be swimming so slow and yet working so hard, but eventually I got there. I always tried to keep the swim to run ratio the same as what we’d do on the event itself, i.e. 20-25% swimming and 75-80% running. Total training time = 90 minutes
  • Friday - (always in response to how I recovered after Thursday) but typically another 2-3km swim session including some drill and technique work. Total training time = 45 minutes
  • Saturday - long, off-road run, building from 8km to 15km at ~4:30/km, or a longer version of the swim-run session on the Thursday (up to 2hrs). Total training time = 75 to 120 minutes
  • Sunday - day off with the family (or alternate with Saturday)

Total weekly training time = 7hrs (add to this 10-15 minutes every morning and evening 7 days a week running through some stretching for mobility and injury prevention)

We will be soon adding a complete swimrun training program within the to help flesh out these details a bit further - stay tuned! 

What did I learn from this event?

My ultimate personal goal for the 2016 ÖtillÖ Scilly Isles Race was to simply give myself a goal and pull myself out of the silly slump I was in. I simply wanted to feel fit and healthy again without the pressure of extreme performance. Ironically enough this mindset has been very agreeable for me and is one which I aim to continue. Always having the thought that we were doing this for Stina and the greater cause of uniting as a partnership on the day was incredibly motivating too. In total over 215,000 SEK ($26,000 USD) has been raised for the Childhood Cancer International and the Swedish Childhood Cancer Foundation - if you feel like you’d like to contribute to Stina’s cause, please visit: and if your Swedish is not what it used to be, you can visit a quick video tutorial of how to donate here: 

Above all, I learnt that to do the ÖtillÖ you need RESILIENCE, a sense of ADVENTURE and more than a realisation that you are doing this for FUN because you can. Not everyone is so lucky. Use your body, do something positive and make a difference. See you out there!

Friday, June 3, 2016

A Sneaky Little CSS "Test" - but did you realise it??!!

**Don't forget: Monday's 7am and 9.30am Pure Technique Sessions are still running despite the Public Holiday - if you can't attend, please be sure to cancel out your spot - thank you! Equally, see if you can pick up a spot for this great start to your week!**

Dear Swimmers

Whilst those of you who were busily beavering away in this morning's 5.30am and 6.30am CSS Development Session getting the "job done", I was sneakily putting you through a CSS test, but did you realise it??

Cool Party Trick:

For those of you who like to monitor your numbers when you're swimming and like the whole notion of CSS training, you might have worked out that an easy way to calculate your CSS pace from the formula that is used to derive this pace, which is:

…is to simply subtract your 200m time from your 400m and then divide by two - simple, right? So 3:09 (for 200m) taken off 6:32 (for 400m) is 3:23, divide that by two and you get 1:41.5/100m (or rounded up to 1:42/100m). Take a quick view of this video now:

I've been able to wow friends and colleagues at parties over the years by being able to calculate their CSS pace from their 400m and 200m time very quickly like this (this probably has a lot to say about the types of parties I go to more than anything else *geek alert*!). Really though, whilst the equation (circled in red above) looks complex, it's actually quite easy. This line of regression stands that if you pick two distances: one short, i.e. 300m; and one longer, i.e. 600m, as we did this morning, you should be able to use the same rule to get close to what your CSS pace would be if you were testing properly. 

Now of course, there are several caveats to be aware of here:

  1. none of you realised you were doing a time trial this morning: for some that's a good thing (less stress and anxiety), for others you could have performed better had you known
  2. you didn't have the customary 8-10 minutes rest between the 300m and the 600m, instead you did anywhere between 500m and 900m already at (or in some cases) above CSS pace and on  a very short rest cycle too (hardly optimal testing procedures)
  3. in some of the groups the beeper was passed around once or even twice during the session, so the swimmer listed as the leader in the chart below might not have been the leader at the end
  4. data was only collected for the leader
  5. the two distances were run in reverse, meaning you did the longer interval after the shorter one when you were most tired (again, hardly optimal testing procedures)

Nonetheless, it proved to be a useful exercise for:

  1. seeing how everyone was going
  2. seeing what paces could be maintained over a 1.4k to 1.8k set at CSS pace
  3. seeing what the drop-off was between your 300m and your 600m swims
  4. seeing how close to your 600m target (basically a doubling of your 300m time plus approximately 7 to 10 seconds to account for fatigue) you could get
  5. calculating your "inferred" CSS pace from the 300m and 600m times and relating this back to your CSS "base" time which was used to set the original RM Cycles, and also against the average pace of your combined 300m and 600m swims (i.e. your true training pace)
  6. opening up excel and crunching some numbers on a Friday afternoon (a treat for this swim geek!)

Here's the results:

Top Performers:

Highlighted in yellow are the groups who performed really well this morning. To qualify for this "award" you had to be:

  1. within a couple of seconds of your CSS "base" for your 300m time
  2. to have less than a couple of seconds drop-off between your 300m and 600m time
  3. for your average pace for the 300m and 600m combined to be within a couple of seconds of your CSS "base" (i.e. your true training pace)
  4. for your "inferred" CSS time to be within a few seconds of your CSS "base"

…but what about the rest of you?

So I categorised only 7 out of the 17 groups this morning as having performed really well, but what about the rest of you? Here's my thoughts:

  1. your CSS pace is a dynamic thing - my CSS "base" is derived from the constant data I collect from you all every time you swim. Is it totally accurate? Perhaps not (but it's very close!). I could have under estimated you, I could have over-estimated you
  2. not everyone has a good day, every day! Two weeks ago Andrew Graham leading Group 1 of Lane 4 at 5.30am was hitting an amazing 1:16 per 100m, today more like 1:23 per 100m. Has Andrew really lost that much fitness in a couple of weeks? No, he just had a bad day. We all have them!
  3. some groups shuffled their ordering in response to who was feeling good on the day. Whilst this might not give the "perfect" result, it was the right thing to do on the day, and that is what training in a squad is all about - sharing the workload, sharing the "love"!

Training is testing and testing is training:

I love the above statement, because it's so true! You might hate time trials and testing, but every time you get in that pool you're testing yourself and I'm testing your results. It might not always be in the form of objective data like this, or a formal time trial, it could be just based on how you feel during a pure technique session, so much more subjective. But ultimately, we're always testing, and that testing is what it means to train - to keep fit, to improve yourself, to knock out a new PB etc etc. 

If you have a good day, great! If you have a bad day? No great shakes! Just keep on keeping on! Consistency is the only way forwards. Riding the bumps and troughs of training is what it's all about - taking the rough with the smooth! You might have had a great training week this week and that's excellent - enjoy the feeling! If you didn't, you know what, it's NOT a big deal! Pick yourself up, dust yourself down, come back next week and turn it around.

Have a great weekend and I look forward to seeing you all next week!