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!


Monday, May 30, 2016

My craziest "adventure" yet for the biggest of all causes - childhood leukaemia

Dear Swimmers

I am writing to inform you that I'll be absent from my squad coaching duties from Friday 10th June until Thursday 23rd June (inclusive, returning to pool deck on Friday 24th June), but for a very good cause indeed. You can read on for that reason if you're keen to know a little more about the weird and wacky stuff I'll be doing whilst I'm away, or just finish now and know that I'll be away for that period - I can't guarantee this is a short email, but hope you enjoy!

Meeting great people, doing great things:

One of the biggest privileges I have with my crazy life of being able to whip around the world teaching swimmers how to improve their swimming and coaches how to improve the way they coach, is that I get to meet some very special people along the way; people I become close to and get to know much more about them and their families than a simple exchange on pool deck allows me.

In March 2015, one of the three Swedish swim coaches we invited on our 3-day Coach Education Courses in the UK was a guy named Matti. We clicked instantly and at this point Matti was hopeful of ditching his career in IT for the pursuit of becoming one of Sweden's first Swim Smooth Coaches. Sadly, life for Matti took a very sad twist when on the 28th September 2015, his 8 year old daughter, Stina, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL). The news understandably devastated the family and given that my new friend's daughter was only 12 months older than our own son Jackson, the reality of how lucky we are to have our health and - even more so - the health of our children, really hit home. 

You can read more about Stina's journey at which has seen her be subject to intense chemotherapy which has resulted in no less than five brain strokes and coma when her body rejected the treatment. It's been simply awful, but Stina is a tough little cookie and has been pulling through! As of 20 days ago, Stina is responding very well to the treatment now and doctors are confident of her recovery.

During this period Stina and her family have been making special bead necklaces to raise awareness of the condition and Swedish rap sensation "Petter" even got together with the family to produce this video:

Swimming Smooth for Stina:

Back on the 4th December I remember messaging Matti with a proposal which I at first thought as being "inappropriate" but surprisingly was met with great positivity.

Apart from being known for it's furniture behemoth, IKEA, it's meat balls and also those crazy chefs from the Muppets, Sweden has been home now for the last 10 years to one of the hardest and most crazy sports developing on the planet, "SwimRun". This is a far cry from the aquathlon events that usually tag onto triathlon events around the world where the world championships see athletes perform a 1500m swim followed by a 10km swim - that's a piece of cake compared to the ÖTILLÖ ( which is a beast of an event that sees athletes working with a partner to cover 65km of terrain including 10km of swimming and 55km of hardcore trail running over mountains and crazy stuff like that! The thing is, you don't just swim the distance, have a nice cosy transition and then do the run, oh no, these Swedes are crazy! You literally swim between islands, run over the top of them, swim to the next island, run over the top of that etc etc! 

All up, these events usually comprise about 13 swims and 13 run sections as a continuous race. What's more, you have to carry everything you start with around the entire course! So yes, that means running in your wetsuit and swimming in your trainers all whilst tethered by a 2m rope to your mate! 

It's insanely hard! I'm a previous British Universities national aquathlon (and triathlon champion), I've swum the English Channel in the worst conditions of the 2011 season (28-35 knot head winds), I've swum - and won - the world's longest marathon swim, a circumnavigation of Manhattan Island in New York (a total of 46km of just swimming), but this thing's got me spooked, believe me! Spooked, but equally intrigued at the same time…

…intrigued enough that when the first official ÖTILLÖ World Series event outside of it's home of Sweden was announced on the gorgeous Isles of Scilly (off the south-west coast of Cornwall in the UK and amidst the oft-brutality of the Atlantic Ocean), I thought "what the heck!" let's do this and lets do it to support and raise money for Stina's treatment and that of the Childhood Cancer International Foundation (! 

So I got on the Facebook messaging service to Matti, and tentatively asked him if he'd be keen to be my partner. Matti has previously done the Swedish version and is very experienced with this type of event (see - yes, that's ice he's climbing out of!!), but given the situation with Stina's health, I was more expecting him to say no, than yes. Despite the race date also being his wedding anniversary on the 18th June (and my wife Michelle's birthday on the 19th June), Matti and his family were excited for him to have something positive to aim towards, and gave him the full tick of approval. 

Now I was in trouble! I'd have to learn to run all over again. My last run-type of event was the Singapore 70.3 Ironman in 2007 and I reckon if I've run 10km in total since that time, I'd be lucky! Whilst I know we aren't going to be out there doing this thing for the win (or even to qualify for the World Championships later this year in Sweden), I did have to start my run training in earnest and learn how to wear silly things like this:

Anything goes (so long as you can carry it!): wetsuit, trail running shoes, compression calf guards, pull buoy, paddles, cap and googles - if you've never tried swimming with your shoes on you should, it's a blast (not!), it's a good 10s/100m slower believe it or not, even with the buoyancy of the wetsuit and pull bouy (here's some stats: ( - see "The Perfect SwimRun Shoe 2016"))

So my run training picked up and I even managed a win in the local Lake Claremont 10k fun run a few weeks ago (Mo Farrah was a notable absence it has to be said though!). I've got my swimming back on track and am loving this crazy sport! There's something really weird but nature-engrossing being able to swiftly convert from a land-based mammal to a marine fish - I'm like aquaman! A truly amphibious beast! I had a 20km session (5km swimming and 15km of running) last night as the sun went down along the banks of the Swan River and got to see a side of Perth very few witness from the rugged shoreline along Dalkeith. It was wonderful! Maybe you even saw the weirdo in his wetsuit prancing along by JoJos restaurant in Nedlands?! Apparently it's not just me who finds this bizarre fascination with the sport, there's a whole webpage dedicated to the "lifestyle" surrounding it: 

Here's the course we'll be navigating ( on June 18th (or maybe the 19th if the weather turns foul):

The route, 42km, comprising 32km of trail running (in a wetsuit!) and 10km of ocean swimming (in your trainers!) You can see the actual breakdown here: 

Gorgeous - the Isles of Scilly - a lot like Rotto (but a tad colder!)

There's still a chance that Matti might have to pull out even as close as 6 days before the event (the date of Stina's next bone marrow test), but if that's the case Bjarne Koning (who many of you in the 9.30am crew met in January) will become my partner and we'll still race under the same team name with the same purpose. Worryingly Bjarne finished 15th out of 300 in yesterday's Swedish qualifier so whilst I had the measure of him on a >38ºC run through Bold Park in January, I dare say he'll take me to the cleaners on the actual race if that's how it eventuates!

Please donate:

If you feel you can help us with rising money for Stina, they are 70% of the way through their target and donations can be made here:  (if your Swedish is not what it once was, follow this short video clip here:

Thanks everyone - here's to a great day on the Scilly Isles then!


Monday, May 23, 2016

What to do if the weather turns foul...

Dear Swimmers

It's that time of year when it's worth re-iterating what is the squad policy in the event of bad weather, especially after this weekend's massive storm and with bad weather forecast for tomorrow.

Essentially, we are governed by the pool's decision to stay open or to close. The pool will close if an electrical lightening storm is close enough on the weather radar to cause potential damage to the pool and / or it's patrons. In this case we cannot obviously proceed with any proposed sessions that we might have on. Sorry to disappoint!

Come rain, (small) hail, or shine though, you can be assured that unless it's a huge lightening storm, we'll still be here encouraging you to take a dip…so at this stage, even tomorrow is still on for now! We know you're a committed bunch, so like you, we want these sessions to continue as consistently as possible too, and will do all that we can to ensure that occurs.

For your reference, the pool remained completely open on Saturday amidst the storm as no major hail or lightening was present.

Cancellation Alert:

Using the new squad app, I am able to post a notification that a session has to be cancelled. I will aim to do this 15-30 minutes before a set session. Please ensure that you have the app installed on your phone (visit from your phone and follow the links to install), and that you have the notifications alert turned-on. You'll know if you have this turned on as you'll have received an SMS-style notification from me earlier today briefly explaining our bad weather policy. If you opted to turn this off when you originally installed the app, you'll need to re-install the app to turn this feature back on.

If all that fails, you can always call the pool too to check: 9285 4343


If the pool is open and the session proceeds as normal (even in inclement weather), your account will be charged as normal if you remained opted in for the session. Of course, if you weren't able to get here because a tree had flattened your car etc (!!), then please just drop me an email later in the day and I will arrange a re-credit.

If the session has to be cancelled, and we notify you of this before the session starts, your account will automatically be refunded for that session later in the day so you don't need to worry about that.

In the event that we start the session and have to be evacuated from the pool (as happens perhaps once or twice per year if we're unlucky) then we'll assess how much of the session was completed before this occurred. For example we were evacuated last year during the final 200m of a 5,000m Red Mist Endurance set where the vast majority of the session had already been successfully completed. The major concern I had then was about 15 or so frustrated "Red Misters" who simply wanted to get the distance in - that's the spirit I say!

Hope this all helps. Of course if the idea of getting up in the wind and rain doesn't appeal irrespective of the pool's decision, please ensure you cancel out of the session up to 12hrs beforehand so that we can offer your spot to someone else on the wait list. Thanks!


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Which is your best side?

Dear Swimmers

If you're attending tomorrow's 5.30am or 6.30am session (or indeed tonight's 6.15pm session), we have a little experiment for you!

The main set will consist of 3 blocks of 4, 5 or 6 x 100 +10 to 15s rest at CSS pace with the beeper set per 25m (stay with the beeper!).

Block 1 = breathe left only (preferably every 4)

Block 2 = breathe right only (preferably every 4)

Block 3 = breathe bilaterally (preferably every 3)

…the 9.30am Wednesday crew did this yesterday and there was mixed feelings about it. Some liked the challenge, others didn't like the feeling of being "forced" to breathe to their least favourite side; but that's the idea! Whilst myself and Sally won't be holding a gun to your head to follow this breathing pattern, it is worth you being diligent about it as the results might surprise you!

I've been back swimming now for 6 or 7 weeks following a few shoulder niggles and a busy year last year with our two apps that we've developed (the squad one and the one released earlier this month). When I started back at the start of April I was struggling to hold times under 1:30 per 100m. So a set of 10 x 200 might see me hitting 2:58 to 3:02 on a 3:20 cycle. This is all about context, having seen my CSS as quick as 1:12-1:13 per 100m before Rotto 2015, you'll know I'd have been a little disappointed with this. However, fast forward to earlier this week and I was holding 1:20 per 100m for the Goldilocks set. Much more pleasing. So for this set which you'll do tonight or tomorrow, I set myself the target on 1:19 per 100m when I tried it yesterday. My least favourite side is my LEFT, my favourite is my RIGHT, but I ordinarily breathe BILATERALLY for all the reasons that I recommend it to you; yes, I'm a goody two-shoes! I swam with a Garmin Vivo Active and the Tempo Trainer set at 19.75 seconds per 25m and these were the results (thanks Mike Fischer for compiling!!):

…on average I was 0.6s per 100m faster breathing to my least favourite side (LEFT) than to my favourite (RIGHT), and whilst I was about to write that off as perhaps because I was less fatigued breathing to the LEFT as it was at the start of the experiment, the real eye-opener is that at the end of the set I blitzed my 1:19 per 100m target and averaged 1:17 per 100m or a full 3s per 100m faster than only breathing RIGHT (my favourite). 

Only by experimenting like this was I able to see the difference and now go on to use this information over the next few weeks and months.

But what will the experiment show for you? Even if you don't have the beeper tonight / tomorrow or a Garmin to measure your times, or are worried about the drafting effect of swimming in a group etc etc (which can be limited of course by you being diligent about "minding the gap"!), you can subjectively measure how you go varying up the sides like this relative to your squad buddies and equally relative to the known constant, i.e. the pace which I set for your lane. If nothing else, it should provide you with a slightly different perspective on what is otherwise a tough session.

For me, the results show that bilateral is indeed the way forwards and that my CSS time is coming down nicely now that I'm on a roll with my training. All good stuff to know.

What will you discover in this session about your own swimming? The only way to know is to pop down, give it a try, and do your best to stick to the plan*



*if anyone is concerned about unilateral breathing to one side causing / aggravating possible shoulder concerns, then by all means just swim it as a normal set of CSS-paced 100s - I won't hold a gun to your head!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Top Times & "Trendy" Technology!

5.30am crew' times

Dear Swimmers

Congratulations to all of you whom have swum this week's CSS session (the one with the 400 / 500m timed swim in the middle) - I hope you enjoyed it?! Some very commendable performances across the board.

What's great to see with this type of session is because it's NOT a formal time trial, people seem to just do it without the stress that is often associated with a proper time trial. Time trials are OK (we've done a lot of them in the past), however, gradually over the last 12-18 months we've been moving more towards the idea of testing more frequently in the sessions without you often really being aware of it!! Operating like this desensitises you a tad to the stress of a time trial and allows me to more regularly keep an eye on your progress. It also means we don't "waste" a hard training session with a much lower load time trial session, which, if you're only swimming 1 or 2 times per week for example, can be detrimental in the long term.

There is a saying: "training is testing and testing is training" which perfectly sums up this approach I believe

It is what spurred us to then build the new CSS Tweaker (see ) aspect of the new Swim Smooth Guru ( which this week has been getting some rave reviews! It's essentially what I instinctively do with you each session as I adjust the tempo trainers up and down according to how you've been performing. Now with the tweak of a button, so too can other swimmers around the world more intuitively tweak their own paces. It's pretty cool!


The Virtual Squad

One of the points we're going to be talking about on tonight's blog ( is how using the power of the Guru, we plan to share our best 1 to 2 sessions per week with the wider swimming community from the squad sessions here in Perth. We're calling this feature "The Virtual Squad" and it will allow people from all corners of the world to tap into what we do day-2-day here in Perth and join the growing Swim Smooth community. From time to time you'll see me wearing these "funky" HD video glasses (I've been trialling them this week) which allow me to film short snippets of the sessions without interrupting my coaching to compile as a short video diary to complement the video introduction that I film later on in the day once you've all left the pool. We are hoping that this allows an immersive feel for those tuning in and equally provides a little fun and entertainment for you to pass on your stories of how much it hurt or what you really liked etc as you often do with the other squad members! By all means just say "no" if I ever ask you for a quick snippet on how you felt etc but I'm hoping you'll find it quite fun! Equally, if you're ever away from the squad and want to "catch up" on a session you missed, you'll be able to do that now within the Guru. For those of you who work FIFO, this should allow you to maintain your pace and fitness much better than in the past.

As ever, I'm keen to hear your feedback on these initiatives - so fire away!

Have a great weekend,


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Swim Smooth Cleans Up At Lake Argyle Swim!


Breath-taking! Coach Sally powers along to 3rd place in the solo 20k swim!

Dear Swimmers

I'm very proud to present this race report from Coach Sally who's been up in the Kimberley this past week competing at the Lake Argyle swim…yes, complete with crocs! Apologies for the delay in getting this out to you, the team has had limited email connection, but thanks to Sally for the report and Rocky Sutherland for the amazing photos! I think more of us will have to go back next year!

Winning team member Renee Waller prepares for her leg of the 20k "quad"

Sally takes up the story…

According to the Kimberley locals and regular participants of the race, the 2016 Lake Argyle swim will be remembered as one of the wettest, wildest and toughest swims in the history of the event. Conditions on the day meant times were significantly slower than in previous years.

Stormy conditions before the start of the 20km

Despite the storm before the start of the 20km race and another during; swimmers finished with clear skies and flat water surrounded by the incredibly beautiful landscape that comprises Lake Argyle.

The majority of the Swim Smooth squad members who raced on Saturday found swimming in water measuring 30 degrees quite challenging. The transition from Open Water Swimming in salt water to fresh was also a concern for many. However; we had some awesome results!

Mark Lewis - looking a lot happier than during a Wednesday morning Red Mist session!

20km Results

First place overall (5:21)
Quad team 'The Toad and The Gropers'
( Renee Waller, Mark Lewis and Steph Gaudin)
They battled it out all day with the second placed team and won by 18 seconds!

Winners are grinners! Renee, Tracy, Mark and Steph

Fifth placed quad team (6:04)
'The Argonauts' (Serena Wells, Lotti Van Merwyk and Tony Van Merwyk)

Pre-race nerves…

Second placed Duo and Third Overall (5:39)
Vaughan Davies (locally known as 'The Legend of the Lake')

The Legend himself!

Third placed Solo (6:40)
Sally Scaffidi - (Paul: nice job Sal!!)

10km Results

Fourth placed Solo (3:13)
Cyndy Hetrick

Coach Marie in support of Coach Cyndy - it's a coach thing!

Cyndy - glad it's over! A marvellous effort!

Cyndy had a fantastic result despite battling nausea throughout the majority of the swim. Marie Hunter, who paddled for Cyndy did an amazing job of managing her through all of this and Marie's support and experience got Cyndy across the finish line at the front of the field.

A local squad swimmer…

Well done to all! You've done the squad very proud! Thank you!