Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Quick one about kit...

Dear Swimmers

Just a quick one as I sit here at the departure lounge waiting for our flight to the UK - it was lovely seeing some of you this morning at the 530am and 930am sessions and I hope you enjoyed the longer Christmas Cracker Session at 530am. My back us feeling so much better already it's just incredible! And yes, I will still take it steady of course whilst I am away!

A number of swimmers this morning noted that someone had maybe mistakenly walked off with their gear, namely Amanda's pull buoy and paddles, Anka's tempo trainer and Aaron's fins. I don't think this was the same person in all cases but if you are able to do a quick check of your gear that'd be great please. Interestingly all these items were marked up with their owner's names / details.

A good solution when there is so much kit on the pool deck is to look at getting a mesh kit bag where possible to help keep everything together. I personally love mine for this reason. Something for your Christmas stockings perhaps from your loved ones??

Also, generally the number of fins and pull buoys that we have for squad use has really dwindled just recently and if I could kindly ask you to remember to always return any kit you use after use, that'd be very much appreciated. My theory is that some of the public outside of the squad are possibly mistaking our gear as being available for public use so if you ever see this happening please offer a kind reminder that it is only for squad use.

Thanks for your help with any / all of the above, but if you do have some of Anka's, Amanda's or Aaron's gear by mistake please pop it down on Friday morning with Sally to swap things over. Thanks!

Dull, wet and windy England here we come!


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bon voyage to Emma!

Dear Swimmers

All being well I will see a few of you on pool deck tomorrow (Wednesday 18th December) before I jet off to the UK for Christmas. My back operation has been a complete success and I'm feeling much happier about things going forwards now - yippee!

I just wanted to take this opportunity to formally thank Emma for all her help and support over the last 2+ months with the squads and helping to train our new wave of coaches etc - she's been great to have around and sharing her wisdom and experience. She's a bit gutted that she won't be here for Rotto this year but has asked that I get those of you on FaceBook to stay in touch with her at or if you're ever over in the UK next (UK) summer, drop her a line through and see what's she's up to.

Cheers and if I don't see you before, have a great Christmas.

P.S some of you have been asking what best to do over the official Christmas break after the 1-2pm session on Saturday 21st December and when we re-start on Monday 6th January and my honest answer is to allow yourself a little bit of time-out…even those of you doing the Rottnest Duo / Solo swims. If you've been following our Rotto program at you'll know that I baked in two steadier weeks over this period (as I always do) so as to almost cut the program in half to allow you to re-energise / re-focus for the final push to the start of the event. I believe this is always very important, always have. That's not to say you shouldn't do anything of course, but now would be a great time to get a little bit of open water practice done safely (in the river or ocean) and to do some steadier technique sets in the pool. Don't go overboard, enjoy the time with your families and if you want one simple session to do each week whilst I'm gone, I always find the Goldie Locks set a great one to keep a bit of fitness going:

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

…all at CSS pace, all with 1 beep recovery between each set.

Of course the "Red Mist" set is another favourite: and if you're down at 5.30am I have an excellent Christmas Cracker Set for you

…anyway, a few things to chose from and keep you busy there, but make sure you have a fun time and if you're feeling a little tired / jaded don't use this as a opportune time to cram more in, listen to your body, use the extra time for some R&R - your body (and family) will thank you for it!

Cheers (again!)


Friday, December 13, 2013

Houston...we no longer have a problem (hopefully!)!!

Not nervous at all (pre-op) - let's get this done!

Dear Swimmers

I thought I'd just take this opportunity to thank you all for your support over the last 5 months whilst I've been struggling with bad back pain and to let you know that my surgery yesterday went really well up at Joondalup Hospital with Professor Stephen Lewis. I had a micro discectomy in my lower back (L5, right side to be precise) and the early indications are great! My leg pain has completely gone (instantly) and all being well so too should my back pain as it starts to all heal up - whoop, whoop! 

Is this a good look on me? I think not!

I'm so elated after really struggling for so long - it's definitely been a year of contrasts from winning the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim in June and feeling literally on top of the world to being totally incapable of putting my socks on in the morning and feeling 80+! Incredible. I'd like to thank you all for your support but especially to Dr Nathalie Laurendeau (chiro), Dr Peter Annear (orthopaedic surgeon), Dr Lorry Dembo (the man who makes things 'happen'!), Professor Stephen Lewis (legendary neurosurgeon), Christine Lowe (physio), Gemma (pilates) and my wife Michelle Smith (physio) for getting me physically through this period.

I would dearly like to at least pop down to the pool next Wednesday to say hi and wish you all a great Christmas, but will have to play it a little by ear. Sincere apologies if I don't! I have arranged some great coaching cover in my absence over the next few days and will definitely be back on the morning of Tuesday 7th January (with the squad officially starting back on Monday 6th January after the last session on Saturday 21st December at 1-2pm, both with Coach Sally).

Relaxing (post-op) with a pint of the finest Yorkshire Tea!

Thanks everyone - have a great Christmas and prosperous New Year!


Monday, December 2, 2013

Christmas swim training / holiday period

Dear Swimmers

Hope you're having a fab start to your week!

I'm starting to get a lot of questions about the Christmas holiday period so I figured it would be good to try to beat the rush as it were and let you know that between Sunday 22nd December and Sunday 5th January 2014 there will be no squad sessions for this 2 week period. Our last session will be Saturday 21st December with Coach Sally between 1 and 2pm (the super-fun open water skills session) and then the first session back will also be with Coach Sally on Monday 6th January 2014 at 7-8am and also 9.30-10.30am.

I will be heading back to my Motherland (sunny Yorkshire) from the 18th December and returning on Monday 6th January. It's going to be a great Christmas break with Mish and the kids and with any luck, the chance to see some snow as we'll be staying entirely in the North of England during our trip. I can't wait! Chance to unwind and relax with family - perfect!

As an update to my back situation (for your information), sadly, despite lots of excellent conservative physiotherapy management with Chris & Gemma at Horizon Physiotherapy and Mish, my back is still being a reluctant so-and-so and not getting any better. After 5 months of pain and having to get Mish up at 4am every morning just to put my socks and shoes on, two "Angels" in the form of Dr Peter Annear and Prof Stephen Lewis have come to my rescue and on the 12th December I will be having back surgery up at Joondalup Hospital to hopefully remedy the issue. I am having a micro discectomy at L5 (right side) done for all you medical boffins out there and I cannot thank Pete and Steve enough for helping to see me before my UK trip where I'll be able to recoup nicely all being well. 

I have however decided to pull out from another Rottnest Solo attempt this year which is a bit sad but I would only want to attempt to rock it at full strength and just don't feel like I'll be running on full power by that point. It'll give me chance to have some proper R&R back home and to also then focus solely on the squad members participating in Rotto and other events going forwards. I'm really pumped about this now that I've got my head around it all.

For your reference, I will miss this Wednesday's 9.30-10.30am session for my "pre-op" and then also Friday 13th December to Tuesday 17th December (inclusive) whilst I am in rehab. I am hoping to show my face on Wednesday 18th December at both the 5.30am and 9.30am sessions as my last before Christmas - I hope you will join me! All the sessions in my absence will still be operational, we are just finalising cover for this as we speak.

Cheers and have a great week!


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Swim Thru Perth entries are open!

Dear Swimmers

Hope you had chance to absorb yesterday's mammoth blog - today's is much shorter and sweeter! ;-)

One of my favourite all-time open water events is the Swim Thru Perth on the 19th January 2014 - entries are now available at

Hope you can make it - the Charity Team event looks like a great idea!


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

80% of you could drastically improve your swimming simply with better pacing...

Paul (to squad): "My calculations show that 80% of you could drastically improve your swimming simply with better pacing…"

Megan: "…but I was just chasing Ray!"

Dear Swimmers

Ma-hussive email today (sorry!) - it's well worth a read though as there's some golden nuggets of information that will help you swim much, much better than before. If you don't have time though, then please check out the results of last week's CSS Test Set here:

Many thanks to the 112 of you who sat last week's 400m/200m CSS (Critical Swim Speed) Test Set at Claremont Pool. It's been nearly a year since we did this same test in this same format as the previous two tests have used an 800m Time Trial as a close approximation of this same result. In theory, the average pace per 100m from the 800m Time Trials should result in a marginally faster 100m goal pace than from the 400m/200m CSS Test which approximately equates to what you should be able to sustain for 1000m to 1500m, but this will very much depend upon how well trained you are.

As you know, the primary benefit of doing these tests are to ascertain an appropriate training pace going forwards. As much as some people dislike doing them, they are an essential part of your development so you shouldn't feel the need to shy away from them, and as my results show this time around, some of you may be staring some very simple methods to improve your ability substantially straight in the face!

One of the beauties of doing the 400m/200m test is that it shows us a lot about what your innate physiology is like and whether you are more of a natural sprinter or a diesel endurance engine. Given that the squad is primarily geared towards performing well over distances greater than 400m (and typically in the open water), from this resultant data I have been able to suggest whether you would be personally best advised to do some additional Endurance, Threshold or Speed work if you had one additional session to swim by yourself per week. This is by no means compulsory, but if you've ever wondered what is the best way to spend that additional hour, hopefully I have the answer for you today. 

What's more, for the first time ever, I've attempted to direct you all with regards to a couple of simple technique points that you might like to take onboard as an individual. Where appropriate I have advised you on what your focus should be (from a collection of six very common areas needed for improvement) and also the types of drills that you could be doing either solo, or when I say "choice drill" during a session going forwards. Aside from spending some 1-2-1 time with either myself or Sally for a comprehensive breakdown and analysis of your stroke, this should be a good alternative (and it's "free"!).

Friday's 18,003 emails…

No sooner had I got home from a busy day recording all the data on Friday, than I was bombarded with 18,003 emails from members of the squad either in massive hysteria for how well they had performed, or more typically, seeking answers to why they had performed at a sub-par level. OK, I exaggerate, a bit. If you think being a swimmer on Time Trial day is stressful, imagine what it's like for poor old muggins here - ha! 

For the first time ever though, and with the help of the 4 visiting coaches (and Adam, Emma, Marie, Sally and Cyndy) we were able to do something last week which I've been dreaming about literally for years - record everyone's 1st 100m of their 400m Time Trial and collate this against their average 100m pace for the 400m swim. It's proven to be such a simple, wonderful, insightful thing! The results were staggering - over 80% of you it turns out could make some drastic improvements to your swimming if you simply learnt how to pace better. 

Having this data has been a god-send for me as I've been able to categorically state for each of you how much of a true reflection I think the results were last week of your current form. For the vast majority of you who left disappointed in your performance, guess what, it's not because you're not good, but simply because you didn't pace yourself very well. It's really incredibly simple when you analyse the data. So whilst I've always suspected this for some of you, I can now very quantitatively state just how much this is costing you. No ifs, no buts, no maybes - just 110% clarity. Of course the small scale is that you might be disappointed with your results from one single test, but it begs the question, is this self same poor pacing holding your back because you're doing the same thing week-in, week-out during the harder sessions? Needless to say, our mission for the next block of training is to get much, much better at pacing as 80% of you could really do with addressing this.

Super Megan!

Now, we have to be careful here, because if I'm suggesting that 80% of you under-performed with respect to pacing, that sounds like only 20% of you are succeeding and performing well within the squad? Far from it though - many of you are continuing to improve your general speed and ability in-spite of poor pacing, so just imagine if you got better at this very learnable skill?! You could be on fire! Case in point, Megan Surrette joined the squad in June 2012 (less than 18 months ago) and upon her first video analysis session was swimming (at best) 2:15/100m. 10 weeks ago Megan's CSS pace was down to 1:45/100m (a quantum leap!) and last week she tested at 1:41/100m - an improvement which would save her over 1 minute per mile. But is Megan in the coveted 20% who paced brilliantly last week? No, not quite. Upon showing her the fact that she set off in 1:32 for her 1st 100m but averaged 1:37.3" for the last 300m of the 400m Time Trial, Megan simply stated "…but I was just chasing Ray!" - could this same competitive drive also be costing you during your Time Trials and hard training? The results suggest quite likely so.

Consistent Cobie?

If you were one of the ones last week who grumbled and rolled their eyes at the thought of a Time Trial, spare a thought for Cobie Rudd - she performed the test three times last week by attending all three testing sessions! You might think that she's a little strange for doing this, but Cobie is arguably the most consistent squad swimmer at the moment, attending 5 or 6 regular sessions per week. She says its her salvation. What is super interesting though, is just how much one person's results can change within a week - Cobie's CSS worked out at 1:59.5" on Wednesday, 1:51.5" on Thursday and 1:53.5" on Friday - all a massive improvement on her CSS in July of 2:11.5"! What can we take from this though? Well Cobie's best performance came on Thursday night when Coach Sally suggested that she should "treat it like a training session" given that she'd already done the test not 36hrs ago. The result? Much less stress, better pacing, and a significantly better result. Sometimes we build these things up into something they're not - a Time Trial is only ever a gauge of where you're at, right here, right now - nothing more, nothing less. Don't fear them, embrace them for the value and insight they offer.

Janine & Steve go head-2-head!

But what of those of you disappointed with your results? Janine Willis and Steve Gleeson literally raced off against each other in 1:19 per 100m for their 1st 100m (8 seconds per 100m faster than their last tested CSS pace) but ended up averaging 10" and 12.5" per 100m slower respectively than this lightening fast first 100m which (had they held this pace) would have finished 35m and 42m in front of their "virtual selves" - that's quite some margin! I highlight this not to embarrass Janine and Steve but to help take some of the emotion out of wondering why they have under-performed - pacing is the answer, pure and simple. Heck, as you know, I used to be the world's worst pacer - at the British University Swimming Championships in 1998 I went out in 62 seconds for the first 100m of a 1500m race but ended up averaging 74 seconds per 100m - had I held my pace I would have finished nearly 250m in front of my "virtual self"!! That's literally atrocious. 

I attribute much of my recent success in distance freestyle to wising up to this fact and doing something about it, shouldn't you?

Ying & Yang / Adam and Nathan

Two polarising emails on Friday came from Adam and Nathan. Adam Wheeler was rightly disappointed in his swims and quite rightly sought my advice as to why this might have been the case. In previous tests I might have been left to suppose this or suggest that, but just having that one simple bit of information (the 1st 100m split), we were able to turn the frustration and disappointment around in an instant. Adam went out in a 1:29 for the 1st 100m but averaged 1:47 per 100m for the remaining 300m. This wasn't because he is unfit, having a bad day or suffering from technique malfunction, just purely because of the extreme level of lactic acid build-up he would have experienced from the first 100m. It always feels easy in the first 90 seconds of one of these swims (mainly because your heart rate, breathing rate and blood lactate production is in a game of catch-up), but past this point you can literally feel like an elephant has landed on your back!

Contrast this with Nathan Thomson's experience who simply said this: "I managed a PB for the 400 so I'm stoked. I thought I would do around 7:00 and managed 6:51 so I'm thrilled. I always worry about blowing up after the first 100 and knew I'd done the first 100 fast so I backed off consciously in the 2nd, much as I wanted to keep up with Shane (who smashed it!). Then I felt like I built up my pace into the 3rd and 4th 100s."

The Plan Forwards

The good news is that all of this can be learned, if we can just take the ego and some of the competitive aspect out of the process. Learning to back off (sometimes significantly) for 80% of you in that 1st 100m will mean some drastically improved performances down the line - the question is, can you do it? Can you swap gusto for patience, pride for perseverance? 

So one of the key interventions we'll be trying in the next block of training will be 50% of your intervals done with the Tempo Trainer and then 50% without, trying to nurture that innate sense of pace awareness without perhaps relying upon the beepers quite so much. The Tempo Trainer is still invaluable for teaching you what a certain pace should be - you've just got to start connecting the dots with exactly what it feels like to go off a little steadier. In fact, if you're one of the 80% sat there thinking "sheesh, I didn't think my pacing was as bad as these results show" - I challenge you to pick up a Tempo Trainer for Christmas as a little gift to yourself and dial in the average pace that you swam the last 300m of the 400m Time Trial in and without the lightening quick 1st 100m, you'll be amazed at how slow and steady that pace feels like - it'll give you a whole new appreciation for the words "pace awareness".

Do it Like the PROs

And if you still need some convincing that you need pace awareness and either an even split, or a negative split, for an all-out effort, check out this data from some of the world's best ever middle-distance freestylers - Ian Thorpe, Sun Yang and Paul Biedermann - the results are staggering. Oh, and their first 100m includes a dive-start too, so take that out of the equation and we're looking at variances in the 10s and 100ths of seconds, not 5 seconds and above! Amazing. Can you get this good at pacing? With diligent practice, yes you can! (Sorry, I can't guarantee their pure speed though!)

Finally, the Results!

Thanks for reading on so long guys and girls - you might have picked up from my level of enthusiasm which went off into the stratosphere this morning that this is something that has really excited me. I've never had access to this data before and whilst I've dreamed of it to show you how you can make some easy improvements, it just hasn't been practical to get this information. Sir Dave Brailsford (mastermind of the 2-time Tour de France winning Team Sky cycling team) often talks about making improvements through small "marginal gains" and this might just prove to be what it takes for a significant proportion of you to take your swimming to the next level. Leave the detail with me on how we do that, but for now, download the results, check out how your pacing stacks up, see whether I'm suggesting you do an Endurance session, a Threshold session or a Speed session if you can add one extra solo session per week, and also the best drills / technique tips for you to be thinking about. It's all right there, in The Plan. Get on it!

Lastly, sincere apologies to Rory, Ermie, Justine and Shane for whom we weren't able to get the 1st 100m of your 400m Time Trial due to a technical glitch during the time keeping process - do I need to say that I'd be happy to re-evaluate you?! 

Also, for those of you who missed out last week, it might not be practical within the squad context to do another round of testing, however, by all means follow the procedure and do it in your own time - how does your pacing stack up? Statistics suggest only 20% of you will be happy, but if you can use this to identify why then you can move confidently forwards! Good luck!



Thursday, November 21, 2013

Last few days with the coaches...

Dear Swimmers

Hope you have all enjoyed the last couple of weeks having Dom from Hong Kong, Stacey from Chicago, Cath from Calgary and Morgan from (sunny) Doncaster here with us in Perth training up as the next waves of prospective Swim Smooth Coaches in their respective countries - see: - it's been a pleasure having them with us and an absolutely massive thank you goes out to James Millen, Sandra Cronin, Stu Moran and Lorraine Walters (and their respective partners/families) for hosting them whilst they've been here - you've spoilt them rotten by all accounts and we're very, very lucky to have such accommodating and friendly people in the squad to welcome our overseas visitors!

OK, so the coaches and myself, Adam and Emma will be in action on the pool deck tomorrow morning and for the 9.30am session Morgan and Stacey will run Lane 1, and Cath and Dom will run Lanes 2 and 3 with a specially prepared program that they have created between themselves - it will be a lot of fun!

Also, please pop along to the Saturday 1-2pm session for some fun with the open water skills session at Claremont Pool - guaranteed to be a blast! The more the merrier for this one, so come and enjoy the sunshine with us and be prepared to get a little Fresh 'n' Fruity too!

See you then!


Monday, October 28, 2013

Pain in the old bum!

Dear Swimmers

Hope you’re enjoying this splendid spring weather - it’s been a long time coming!

This is a rather ‘weird’ email update in that it might well read to be a bit vain and self-important on my part, however, that is not my intention! ;-)

Many of you have been really lovely this last few weeks asking me how I’m getting on with my sore back. I wanted to let you know that I’m very appreciative of the care and consideration you’re showing this 35 year old who’s walking around like he’s 80!

If you’re not aware I had a bad back way back in March when I flew over to the UK. This lasted for 2.5-3 weeks but then went away pretty quickly, luckily well in time for Manhattan in June. There was no one specific incident that triggered it off, I simply think it’s a combination of poor posture and having two kiddies under the age of 5 who I spend a lot of time carrying etc. The hardest thing recently has been the feeling that I can’t get down on the ground and play games with them as it hurts too much! Following Manhattan the plan was to spend more time playing with the kids and less time in the water training for a big event, but sadly the back hasn’t helped this cause and that’s been a tad upsetting for me.

Since getting back from the US in July I’ve been suffering from a lot of lower back pain, which is always worse on the early morning sessions when it’s at it’s stiffest. With the brilliant help of my physio wife Michelle and more recently Christine Lowe (squad swimmer and from Horizon Physiotherapy in Scarborough) and referrals from Dr Lorry Dembo (also in the squad), we’ve managed to ascertain with an MRI scan last week that I have indeed herniated my L5/S1 lower lumbar disc which is causing me a lot of pain down my right leg, even to the point of making it neigh-on impossible to put my socks on in the morning!! To say I’m feeling old before my time would be a massive understatement!! After 12 weeks of this I’m a little fed up with it as I’m sure those of you who’ve suffered bad back problems will attest to. I’ve kept this relatively quiet, but if you’ve noticed me grimacing or being a little quieter / grumpier than normal on some mornings, this is why.

On Friday I had a shot of cortisone into the area which will hopefully help to alleviate some of the swelling. It’s then a case of utilising the following to hopefully strengthen up the area so I don’t fall foul of this again:

  • pilates / physio with Chris and Michelle
  • stand-up office (pictured - as recommended by Ray S from the squad - thanks Ray, works a treat!)
  • inverted traction machine
  • funny MBT shoes to correct my posture on pool deck
  • experimenting with different sleeping positions

So why tell you all this? Why be seemingly so full of self-importance that you should need to know about my injury woes? Well if you’ve ever experienced chronic pain before, it’s very easy to get yourself into a “woe is me” cycle when every time you think about the pain, it’s a constant reminder that something is wrong. I’ve always seemed to come through injuries in the past when I focused less on the pain and more on the management of that injury. That’s not to ignore it in the hope it just goes away, but to channel my energies on the positive of getting better. This all seems like common sense of course, but it’s very easy to fall down and start getting a little grumpy about it all when the reality is that I am in a good deal of pain when most of you see me on pool deck. However, rather than seek your sympathy, I am hoping that we can do the exact opposite - I will aim to keep a bright, cheery face on at each session but request please that despite knowing you’re simply showing an interest when you ask “how’s the back?”, if you could refrain from doing so, that’d be really appreciated. For me it just tends to trigger off the negative cycle of the awareness of the pain.

So what can you do? Tell me about you of course! Or if you’re really keen, ask me how my big butt is coming along…?! Chris and Mish both agree I need to work on developing my glutes, so if you see my buns of steel starting to bulge then you know I’m on the right track! Lastly, you’d laugh if you’d heard the doctor who did my MRI suggest that I might like to consider taking up swimming, as the irony of all this is that swimming and having my back in extension is one of the best sources of relief for me, so long as I don’t do too many tumble-turns - the river it is then!! :-)

Thanks again for all your well wishes, I really appreciate them, for now I realise I need to get out of this negative cycle and start moving positively forward and your assistance with this will be awesome.



Friday, October 4, 2013

Training this weekend

Dear Swimmers - hope you enjoyed those "evil" 100s in the pool this morning - I know I enjoyed cracking the whip!! ;-)

Don't forget that despite the school holidays and the Royal Show, Saturday's 1-2pm squad session at Claremont Pool will be on tomorrow. It's a cracking session to come and hone your open water skills and also work hard and have fun!

Also, in case you missed last night's free webinar about our 2014 Rottnest Channel Swim Program, that can be now viewed here (73 minutes):

Finally, subject to my slightly niggly shoulders being ok, I should be at Challenge Stadium tomorrow morning in the Outdoor 10 lane pool completing a 3000m Time Trial if you care to join me at 530am.

Have a good weekend.



Thursday, October 3, 2013

Tonight's Rottnest Channel Swim Program Q & A location

Dear Swimmers

If you're planning to "attend" tonight's Rottnest Channel Swim Program Q & A, you'll be able to see us live at:

...for those of you who registered your email address, you should have received a direct invitation which will allow you to participate in the conversation.

Hope to "see" some of you then!


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

2014 Rottnest Channel Swim Q&A, 8pm Thursday 3rd October 2013

Dear Swimmers

Please be reminded of two notes this week:

  1. those of us doing the 2014 Rottnest Channel Swim (be it Solo, Duo, or Team) will be swimming down at the Claremont Jetty tomorrow morning (Thursday 3rd October), meeting at 5.45am and hopefully in the water by 6am. Sunrise is ~5.51am. As this is our first foray down there for a few months, we will take the opportunity to suss out the 1km out and back course (for those of you new to this loop) and aim to swim 2-5km depending on where you're at with your program. Last year I got into the habit of doing a really solid 10km swim (5 loops of 2km) every Thursday and it was a great chance to practice pacing, sighting and of course nutrition. Don't be scared by those distances, most were swimming 4-6km on this particular session. It is likely to be cold tomorrow (15-16ºC) so wetsuits might be well advised for some of you and that you shouldn't push yourselves too hard on this first time down - no need to be a hero! This swim is entirely at your own risk, so please take care and we'll try to buddy up with someone of similar speed. I will personally be participating in this swim each week, so besides this first introduction to the Jetty, I will not be down at the Jetty in a coaching capacity, but as a swimmer like you all (at least pre-swim...I'm usually a lot more chatty post-swim!). The water depth is typically no more than 1.5-2.5m and is usually quite clear. There is the occasional jelly fish to contend with but the biggest risk is people swimming into each other on the out & back loop, so please stay vigilant and practice your sighting!!
  2. as mentioned I will be running a Q&A session free of charge tomorrow evening online at 8pm (WST) for ~1hr using a "Google Hangout" as per: to answer any questions about our 21 week program leading up to the Rottnest Channel Swim on the 22nd February 2014. I would please ask that you have fully familiarised yourself with the program at and you come prepared to listen in and ask any outstanding questions that the program doesn't answer. I would please prefer not to waste time answering questions that are already contained within the program (i.e. Where is Claremont Jetty? What date is the swim?) but would like to get into some detail about best training practices, technique tips, shoulder injury management, nutrition strategies, boat skippering and navigation etc. This will be the best use of our time. You may need to download the Google Hangout Plugin and if you are intending to "attend" please flick me over your google email address (or email address linked to your google account) and I'll add you in as a guest. This will be strictly first-come, best-dressed and will allow you participate in the video and ask questions. You will of course be able to still see the Hangout without this access if you simply visit the page above and for those of you who can't make it, we plan to record the session and post out a YouTube link on Friday so you can catch up. This is my first time running a fully-fledged Hangout, so fingers crossed it all goes smoothly! You might find it to be a good platform to even use in your own businesses.

Cheers and hope to see some of you tomorrow, either in the water or on t'internet!


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Breaststrokeathon December 1, 2013

Take on a brand new swim challenge with Breaststrokeathon - a 6 hour team based fundraising challenge on December 1 with exciting prizes & a great atmosphere guaranteed. Visit Breast Cancer Care WA to find out more & register now:



Monday, September 30, 2013

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

A quick reminder about which sessions are ON / OFF this weekend...

Dear Swimmers

Just a very quick reminder that there will be no swimming today (Saturday 28th September) at 1-2pm due to the AFL Grand Final and the anticipation that few would attend the session anyway - go the Dockers! (I think that's how you say it?!).

Monday 30th September's 7am and 9.30am sessions will both run as normal. Please note that the pool only opens at 7am on Monday so there will be no class in before us, but equally please be ready to rock and roll as soon as they open the gates. See you then!


Thursday, September 26, 2013

October 2013 to March 2014 Swim Smooth Perth Lane Allocations

Dear Swimmers

I've been promising the following squad lane allocations for several weeks now and they are finally here for your reference:

Of course, not everyone is expected to turn up for every session that I have them allocated for - that's the beauty of the PAYG card system - flexible for you the swimmer, without being charged for the sessions you miss. I normally express this list with a "buffer" with 2 or 3 more people over the "normal" 8 to 10 per lane, however, this time I have not done that due to the "seeding" nature of what I have done with the list which should help to better manage the lanes. Would love to hear your feedback.

A great deal of observation from a) regular attendance, b) time trial results, and c) observable paces being held in the various squad sessions following the tests 3 weeks ago has gone into collating this list. I am hoping it's 98% complete and accurate, however, there are a few gaps with respect to paces per 100m of some of the very new faces in the squad (namely the Tuesday / Thursday 6.30pm sessions and the Saturday 1pm session) so if you have any amendments or additions for me, please just let me know.

As discussed in our "Mind the Gap" blog a few weeks ago, I have been working diligently to try to ensure three things in the smooth running of the squads lately:

  1. that you are all pacing as well as possible in the harder interval sessions.
  2. that you know exactly what your current threshold (CSS) pace is (you will notice that I have made some minor tweaks to the resultant paces from the 800m time trial for some of you based on how you've responded and having been progressing recently) and that you're training at the right intensity*
  3. ensuring that you leave an appropriate gap** between you and that you don't try to close this down to draft on the feet of the person in front of you, unless I specifically state that as an aim for the session, i.e. Saturday 1-2pm

*you will also see from the linked file above that in some cases we have elected for 2 or even 3 sub-groups within a lane to try to ensure we are getting as close to everyone's individual threshold paces as possible within the realms of possibility of a squad session. The slight downside with attempting to do this is there usually comes 1 or 2 occasions during a main set when the faster sub-group laps the slower sub-group and it can get a little messy for 100m or so. If you're aware of this though and have respect for your fellow swimmers, all should be OK. You'll often hear me managing the lanes with firm commands to "leave now" or "cut in front" etc - these are there to help the sessions flow as well as possible - please don't think I'm barking at you! I know exactly what it's like to have the challenge of a target time in front of you and wanting to meet those targets - it's very easy to get a little snappy. Calm control in "adversity" will make you a much better swimmer all round ;-)

**in some of the busier sessions (i.e. Wednesday 5.30am specifically) it's a challenge to keep the flow of the session running smoothly at all times. I would like to take this opportunity to commend those of you there this Wednesday when 42 showed up for this session and how well you handled yourselves, especially in lane 2. It was a sudden jump up from previous weeks with several old faces popping up unexpectedly out of the woodwork. Luckily this specific session with its long intervals, short recoveries and little or no pull & paddles, drill / technique or fins work can operate well with several more people in the lane than some of the other squads and in theory with gaps of 5 to 8 seconds and at a lane pace of 1:40 per 100m (for example) we should be able to accommodate between 12 and 15 people in a lane for this type of session. However, the amendment that we are going to try next week in lane 2 (as promised) is to move 3 swimmers who normally swim at the front of lane 2 across into lane 1 as the faster of two sub-groups (as indicated by the double-headed arrows). What will then happen is that these three swimmers will be matched up with three swimmers across in lane 2 of similar speed and thus provide the opportunity for more of you to share the workload. I am hoping this is going to be a success, but we will trial next week and see how we go. We will need to be mindful of the other group in lane 1 who will be moving ~4 to 8s per 100m slower, but one of the things that I like about this session is that it very much accustoms you to controlling your pace and your temperament just like is necessary when you're racing in the open water - it's the perfect Red Mist Set! The more turbulent water and the occasional draft from a passing swimmer is also great practice for those of you who race, after all, when is the ocean ever as smooth as the pool!

For those of you starting to build-up and prepare for Rottnest and wanting to either get some additional volume under your belt or seeking quieter lanes, I will personally be swimming "solo" at the following times and would welcome some additional company if you can make my rather weird hours:

  • Tuesday 11.30am @ Claremont Pool (same session as the 5.30am, 6.30am and 6.30pm session - technique & low intensity endurance work)
  • Wednesday 11.30am @ Claremont Pool (same session as the 5.30am session - long, hard endurance work)
  • Thursday 5.45am @ Claremont Jetty (long, continuous open water swim building from 4km to 10km on our 2km circuit)
  • Friday 1.30pm @ Claremont Pool (same session as the Wednesday 9.30am, Thursday 6.30pm and Friday 5.30am / 6.30am squads - hard intervals OR an easy recovery swim)
  • Saturday 5.30am @ Challenge Stadium Outdoor 10 lane pool until the end of November and then Claremont Jetty (long, steady endurance work)

...I can't guarantee to be there every session, every week, but if I'm not then the morning's session is usually still on the whiteboard or of course you can follow the session suggestions in our 2014 Rottnest Channel Swim Program.

Finally, as of next week, the pool will be operating on it's summer opening hours and as is customary, the Tuesday and Thursday sessions will shift to the slightly later time of 6.30pm for your reference.

Thanks for your attention - I think we are now pretty much set for the summer and I will now give you a break from my two long emails in as many days ;-)


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

It's here! Our 2014 Rottnest Channel Swim Program!

QUICK NEWSFLASH! Massive congratulations to Ceinwen Roberts (née Williams) who successfully crossed the Catalina Channel in California between 3pm and 11pm on Tuesday (Perth time), taking a total of just 8h04m for the 32km crossing (an average of just a shade over 1:30 per 100m!). The first 6 hours of this swim were spent in complete darkness for fear of a shark attack (apparently you're less visible to them at night!). This was just 37 minutes shy of the world record and make Ceinwen the first of us seven "Swimming Sandgropers" to complete the Triple Crown of the English Channel; Manhattan Island Marathon Swim; and the Catalina Channel. Really in awe of Ceinwen's achievements this year, notably: Rottnest Solo (1-way), Rottnest Solo (3-way), Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (46km and 1st lady overall), Catalina Channel - when will this pocket rocket ever slow down?! If you tune into at 3pm today, you'll also get to see Lisa Delaurentis going for her Triple Crown too! Good luck Lisa...wish I was there doing it as this space!

Dear Swimmers,

I'm not going to claim the same amount of monumental work as what went into this program as last year as this year remains largely unchanged building on the success and simplicity of the 2013 Rottnest Channel Swim Program. It is however all up-to-date and brimming with a few new nuggets of information which should see you well set for a great Rottnest Channel Swim Campaign, be it Solo, Duo or Team.

IMPORTANT: Next week I am planning to schedule a Google Hangout at 8pm WST on Thursday 3rd October for 60 minutes to discuss the program and answer any questions that you might have. Google Hangouts is like Skype essentially but allows me to readily share information on my screen, run through the program and field any questions with a large number of people. It'll be a great opportunity for those of you not living in the Western Suburbs and whom follow our program remotely to tune in and hear how to get the best out of the next 21 weeks of training. It'll be well worth dropping by.

To get started you'll need a Google Account and then download the Google Hangout Plugin - essentially Google creates a webspace for me to deliver the broadcast that you can tune into, watch and even type questions or (if you're one of the first 10 to register) be able to ask questions on live video - groovy! And if all that's too much for you, I will simply be able to post out a link before the broadcast which you'll be able to watch (but without being able to interact) through a simple YouTube video pane. It's very easy. And if even that's too much effort or you can't make that time, I'll even go to the trouble of recording the session and then uploading it to YouTube for your subsequent viewing pleasure in your own time. How's that sound?!

Further joining information will be sent out early next week - for now get yourself set up with a Google account and the plugin if you intend to participate - I hope you will!

Equally, if you have any pressing questions once you've gone through the program, please send them through and I'll go through them on the night.

The Program:

You can now download our 2014 Rottnest Channel Swim Program at the following link: is only 2mb in size and is designed to be read on your computer as it contains links off to various other bits and pieces that will help you during your training.

Please take a good read through of the material for anyone doing (or thinking about doing) the event in a little over 5 months time. By all means circulate to friends, family, work colleagues etc - I simply ask that if you are planning on doing the event and seek to follow the program that you quickly email me to let me know if you're doing a Solo, Duo or Team and then I shall watch out for you!

A few notable points:

most of the early morning squads are already close to capacity and as such, if you're not already swimming in some of the sessions which feature in this program, please email me on swimsmooth@me.comto be kept informed if / when spaces become available. I can't guarantee to be able to get you in but will keep you posted.
we do have 5 places available in our Tuesday / Thursday 6.15/30pm session (note this will go back to 6.30pm for the summer season from 6th October onwards) and also our Saturday 1pm session for the first 5 people to raise their hands for interest in these. 
given that the squads have been so busy, it may not be possible for those of you who sometimes do a double 5.30am to 7.30am session on a Tuesday and Friday to do this this season, however, three solutions: 1) swim in the 6.30am session and then continue on to 8.30am when the pool is much quieter (I'll still be on pool deck with a 1-2-1 which is good); 2) do the double at 6.30pm on a Tuesday evening, i.e. two separate sessions in a day - if you've never tried this it's actually very effective; 3) swim with me on a couple of the sessions listed in the Program to boost your volume at quieter times.
if you don't already have a copy of our new book and are planning to do quite a bit of swimming by yourself, I'd highly encourage you to order a copy as there are literally over 5,000 possible training session ideas in there that you'll be able to use to compliment the longer, more specific sessions that feature in this program.
we start on Monday 30th September and run for 21 weeks to Saturday 22nd February 2014 (race day).

Cheers everyone, can't wait to get cracking!


Monday, September 23, 2013

Ceinwen & Lisa to swim the Catalina Channel, CA right now!

Dear Swimmers

As most of you are no doubt aware a group of four "Sandgropers" are over in California right now preparing to swim the 32km Catalina Channel. In fact, right now if you switch over to you should be able to see Ceinwen Roberts starting her attempt which will take anywhere between 7.5 and 11hrs. Her GPS tracker will give live updates of her progress as will the Twitter feeds @ceinywilliams11 and @ssandgropers

Unfortunately after nearly 6 hours in the water on our Saturday afternoon, Paul Downie suffered some bad shoulder pain and had to withdraw his efforts. Then on Sunday it was Wayne The Train's turn and unfortunately he wasn't even able to start owing to a poorly timed ear infection. I am sure you will be with me wishing these two swimmers the speediest of returns to full health. It just goes to show how tough this marathon swimming business is!

So after Ceinwen today, Lisa Delaurentis will also attempt the swim on Thursday at 3pm Perth time using the same @ssandgropers Twitter handle.

Go girls! Best of luck from everyone here in Perth!


Swimming this Long Weekend

Dear Swimmers

Wow! The Dockers made it through the AFL Grand Final. Now I'd be the first to put my hand up and wave a white flag of apology in not knowing too much about AFL (shame on me, I know, I've lived here 12 years now!), but if you're a Dockers supporter - well done!

Given the high anticipation about this game on Saturday we have made the decision to cancel Saturday's 1-2pm squad session at Claremont Pool. This will resume as normal on Saturday 5th October. If you've been wanting to get into this great open water skills session, please let me know asap as we do have some availability here.

Also, the pool does not open until 7am next Monday 30th September, but the plan is for the 7am and 9.30am sessions to continue as normal. 

Thanks and have a great's hoping for some sunshine!


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Home stays for coaches - can anyone help?

Dear Swimmers

It's that time of year again when we invite several coaches from around the globe to come over to Perth and develop their own swim coaching skills for a period of 2 weeks between 11th and 23rd November. 

Both Adam and Emma will be back during this period as well, so it'll be "all hands on the coaching deck" so to speak which will be great for you all in the pool as well with the additional input. 

There might also be the option of getting a 1-2-1 Video Analysis & Stroke Correction Session in with a couple of the coaches during their stay. I'm personally fully booked for these until the start of April if you need your stroke checking over, please reply to this email and I'll collate a list of interested parties. For full details on this service, please check out: 

Please also note that Coach Sally is now running these 1-2-1 sessions as well to great effect and has had a plethora of excellent feedback, so if you need seeing asap, drop Sally a line at

I am yet to hear exact dates of arrival departure from the coaches listed below, but if anyone has a spare room and would be happy to accommodate one or more of the coaches during this period, that'd be very much appreciated. Contributing to costs and even a little weekly rental wouldn't be out of the question, at your discretion of course. In 2011 we organised a group house for the 8 coaches at that point, but being a smaller group is making this a little cost prohibitive this time around. Here are the coaches:

  • Morgan Williams, UK
  • Cath Liversidge, Calgary, Canada (although actually a Pom from around the corner from me in the UK!)
  • Stacee Seay, Chicago, USA
  • Dominic Tsui, Hong Kong
  • (potentially) Karl Stine, Florida, USA

Please let me know if you can assist. Obviously if you're very close to the pool, even better! ;-)

Lastly, I've been collating attendances over the last 2 weeks in the various squad sessions to see where we have potential "gaps" and spots for all those keen bees thinking about training for Rottnest. I will be sending out full details of our 2014 Rottnest Channel Swim Program very soon, but if you've not been down for a while and were hoping to get back into it, now would be a great time to let me know of your intentions as we're already 90% full across the board and I will start to open up any availability to the 287 people currently (still) on the wait list. Reply back by email which sessions you were hoping to attend. Thanks!


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Mind the Gap!

Dear Swimmers

Hope you're having a cracking week - the blue skies are back - wahoo!

In case you missed it on our main blog, here's the interview with our very own Kate Bevilaqua after she won Ironman Louisville in the USA last weekend - she's races again this weekend in Las Vegas at the 70.3 (Half Ironman) World Championships - good luck Kate!

As Kate mentions in the interview, she has been working with me for the last 2.5 to 3 years following all the exact same advice and principles that I deliver to you guys here in Perth on a daily basis. What's that I hear you say? "Why haven't you dropped your IM swim time from 62'30" down to 49'03"?" - well that's a good question! Let's focus on one potential reason (irrespective of technique changes you could make), courtesy of Tuesday / Friday 6.30am squad member Ray Steffanoni (thanks Ray!) - you have to "mind the gap!".

In our harder Fresh 'n' Fruity CSS sessions (Wednesday 9.30am, Thursday 6.15pm and Friday 5.30am & 6.30am) you hear me constantly harping on about three things: 

  1. pace awareness
  2. the benefit of swimming at (or close to) CSS pace - defined simply as the pace you're able to currently maintain for ~1500m racing
  3. ensuring you leave an appropriate gap in front of you, namely 5 or 10 seconds (or for the person in front to be at the green sign at ~9 meters before you set off)

Last week, 150 of you 'kindly' participated in an 800m time trial to find out exactly where you are at right now. Now we can come up with a million and one different reasons why you had a bad day (some of them genuine admittedly!), but in one fell swoop, you have everything you need right here as a benchmark of where you're at right now. You may or may not be happy with that point, but that's where it is, good or bad. The point is, what are we going to do about moving that point forwards? Firstly, here are your results:

...some very nice performance improvements from the squad - well done! We'll be re-assigning some of the lanes based on these results, but more on that below in Jeff Davis's email.

But what if you were one of the swimmers who didn't improve? Should you be embarrassed about this? Absolutely not! Should you dwell upon it and feel down? Balderdash! (a phrase from David Walliams "Big School" TV Comedy on the BBC - check it out, it's a classic!). Should you identify what is potentially holding you back and move forwards positively? Totally!

In an ideal world, during these 800m time trials (which are a slight variation on the 400m / 200m time trials we have done in the past) I would be able to get everyone's 1st 100m split and compare that with the average pace sustained for the 800m (which will form your target paces for the next 4-6 weeks). In a couple of the groups I was able to do this, and notably in the 9.30am Friday group (for those who missed Wednesday's time trial), I saw consistently swimmers losing 60 seconds in the 700m after the initial burst at the start, i.e. if the swimmer went out in a 1'30" for the 1st 100m, if they'd held this pace they would have swum 12'00" but were more likely to swim 13'00". So somewhere along the line they were swimming a whopping 9 seconds per 100m slower than the first 100m. This is a massive drop-off and something that needs to be addressed.

People think of time trials as all out efforts, but forget that a good 800m swim still needs to be paced well. One of the best pacing results from the whole squad was that of Suzi Scarff in the 9.30am squad. Her 1st 100m was 1'24" and her average was 1'25" giving her a time of 11'23" - brilliant pacing. The problem you get into with poor pacing is that if this is done on a repetitive basis (and I'm a serial offender for this, now in remission though I'm pleased to say!) session after session, week after week, you are never truly getting the most from each session and this is when stagnation, plateauing and even going backwards occurs. Let's say I tell you that your pace needs to be 1'40" per 100m on a set of 200m intervals but either through eagerness to swim hard / fast or through the belief that 1'40" is somehow too slow for you, you do your first interval at 1'32" pace, then 1'38" for the next, then the following six intervals progressively getting slower than 1'40" per 100m, then realistically you've only spent 10-15% of the session at the pace that you were a) meant to and b) will elicit the best performance improvements over time. 

Knowing this benchmark, accepting it as simply where you are at right now, and then slowly and diligently chipping away at it is how you move forwards - nothing more, nothing less. It's really quite simple, once you remove the part of the brain that's saying "go fast!" or "I am better than this" or "I should be better than this". If you're anything like me, your brain often thinks you're fitter than what your body actually knows you are. Control the brain, improve the body. Simple. Stick to the beeper - even more simple!

That leads me finally to point 3, and the topic of this post: mind the gap. The upside (and it is a big upside!) of swimming in a squad is that the motivation to complete hard sessions like this and measure yourself against your friends is quite simply massive. The downside is that not everyone will be swimming at exactly their threshold pace - there's typically a 5-7 second differential between the swimmer leading the lane and the swimmer at the back of the lane. Is this a massive problem? No, not really. Given that you will still feel a drafting benefit from sitting 5 to 10 seconds behind another swimmer, 1'36" per 100m sat behind 2 or 3 other swimmers will likely feel more like 1'40" or 1'41" per 100m and thus nicely account for some of these differences. But this is also why we need to minimise that drafting as much as possible on key sessions like these...set-off too close and/or repetitively short turn, and you're really doing yourself a disservice long-term. You need to be able to be diligent enough to maintain the gap in front of you. It's not always easy to do this (I know!), but if I could proffer some advice, it would be to work on doing just that: minding the gap.

In Friday's session you will have the opportunity to do a variation of the following set:

  • 4 x 100m at CSS pace, with 1 beep recovery (or your approximate average pace for the 800m time trial which will be very close to the 400m / 200m tests that we've used previously)
  • 1 x 400m at CSS + 3" per 100m (i.e. 3" per 100m slower than the 100m intervals)
  • 4 x100m at CSS pace, but with only 15 seconds rest (we will use the re-sync button on the top of the Tempo Trainer for this)
  • 1 x 400m at CSS + 1" per 100m
  • 4 x 100m at CSS pace, but with only 10 second rest

...this will be a tough set, but a fair one. You'll all feel it's too easy at the start, but then be challenged by the end. But you'll do it, if you pace correctly and if you're diligent about those gaps!

So please, save me some breath on a Friday morning :-) and let's get minding those gaps, pacing correctly and truly tapping into the benefits of swimming at this pace and progressively chipping away at it - and if you do, maybe in 6 weeks time you'll be writing an email like this one from Jeff Davis in the 5.30am squad who's now swimming nearly 8 seconds per 100m faster than he was 6 weeks ago - well done Jeff!

"Hey Paul,
A little bit hard for me to share how excited I was this morning with my 800m time… So I'll do it over email.
6 weeks of doing the 530am Tuesday / Wednesday / Friday sessions took me from 13:15 to 12:14 (or something like that anyway).
I have been stuck at 1:40 per 100m pace for years so this feels like a massive break through!
I understood the concept of "CSS" but now I've seen it actually work. The discipline of 3 sessions a week, respecting each session (no cheating), and operating at / around threshold has helped me a lot.
So a big thank you from me!

My thoughts:
  • I was actually relieved to move to lane 2. What I found was that the short repeat sessions (Tuesdays and Fridays) I was ok in lane 3. But Wednesdays would blow me up big time. I got to the point where I was honestly nervous before turning up on a Wednesday morning cause I knew it was going to be too hard! Interestingly, while I was relieved to move down a lane I think other people see moving lanes as a "demotion" of sorts. I just never saw it like that. I think there is a bit of "ego" around which lane you swim in. But who cares? Don't you want to do whatever makes you a quicker swimmer? I see guys in other lanes doing short turns and jumping on feet and I laugh – how can you be getting anything from that?
  • Ironman World Champion Chris McCormack talks about threshold sessions where if you are working above threshold you can only do a little bit of work at that level (like trying to pull your threshold up) whereas working just below your threshold you can do a lot more work at that level (like pushing your threshold up). Obviously we do a bit of both of those over the course of the week. But lane 2 felt like I was able to sit just below threshold – and therefore do more work. It was comfortably uncomfortable. And almost straight away I was getting through the Wednesday set (my suspicion is that we're not talking massive numbers here are we? Would it be like 4-6 seconds / 100m between the groups???). The start of the long sessions in lane 2 would feel easy to me – but that was ok because it would always catch up with me by the end of the session. Over the weeks I started feeling stronger and stronger over those distances. Which meant I could jump on the front and do some of the harder work. Then today, after 5-6 weeks in lane 2 building my strength and aerobic base I could jump back into lane 3 and hold my own (still lots of better swimmers than me in lane 3 but the point is that I didn't feel totally out of place).
  • I would also say that mentally there is a massive difference in being able to lead a lane and being the worst swimmer in the lane just struggling to hold on. I don't know what it's worth as a % but being one of the strong swimmers makes you swim better. It's probably the puff your chest out factor!"
Hope this helps crew going forwards into a great summer of Swim Smooth in Perth!


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Race Around Rottnest!

2013 Race Around Rottnest

Join in the Adventure Race phenomenon with the Race Around Rottnest on Saturday September 21st. Tackle it solo or get a team of 2, 3 or 4 together and make a day of it!

Hotel Rottnest will host the post event function where you can kick on with a live band, presentations, food and drink as well as live finals footy on the big screens after you cross the finish line!

Registrations are now open with early bird prices closing on August 31st! Register now at  

We've teamed up with Autism West as the chosen charity for Race Around Rottnest. All participants will be supporting this very worthy cause by raising awareness and funds to enrich the lives of families living with Autism. This is your chance to make a difference. Get  

Participants who register early will receive a FREE Icebreaker t-shirt valued at $99 thanks to our Principal Sponsor Mainpeak. Register now to avoid missing out!
Date: Saturday 21st September, 2013
Time: 9.30am
Location: Swim leg kicks off at Thomson Bay
Legs: Swim- 1km, Bike- 17km, Ski/Paddle- 6km, Run- 7.5km
(all team members will meet their runner at Heritage Common and make the final dash to the finish line at Hotel Rottnest together).
Entries: registrations are open now, with early bird prices ending on August 31st. Registrations close on Monday 16th September 5:00pm WST.
Twitter: @rottorace  
Instagram: @racearoundrottnest

Monday, August 12, 2013

Are the best youth and junior swimmers really the most talented? Could we be doing more to help our children and even ourselves enjoy swimming more?

Dear Swimmers - some musings to ponder over a coffee if you're so inclined - enjoy! Would love to hear your thoughts / experiences to this effect.

Arguably one of the most quoted books on the factors that contribute to high levels of success in sport, and indeed life in general, is the fantastic title by Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers. The book was released in late 2008 and spent eleven consecutive weeks as the New York Times bestseller. I simply love this book and how Gladwell draws upon a range of high-profile examples to support his thesis that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, the product of consistently practicing and perfecting a specific task for at least 10,000 hours.

Edit 3/10/13: David Epstein in his book "The Sports Gene" adds further flavour to this discussion with regard the role that innate talent plays in developing sportstars and is highly recommended as a read alongside Outliers.

One of my favourite examples from Outliers is that of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and how he took advantage of being able to use his school's very primitive computer system literally '24/7' in the 1970s to write computer programming code. No one forced him into this - legend has it that he was privileged to be at a school that had one of the first ever computers and that his IT teachers were willing to let anyone keen enough to learn how to use it to spend as much time as they wanted on the new set up. Gates took passionate interest in something which many people at that time found very 'geeky' or just plain complicated, and consequently over time became the guy responsible for writing the majority of the software and operating systems that we all now use on a daily basis. He had done his 10,000 hours of specific practice way before anyone else claims Gladwell.

Now this article is not a book review, but my own musings on something which I've observed over the years growing up as a swimmer and now as a coach with respect to which swimmers seem to perform the best as youths and juniors and how the 'system' supports those who perform well at a young age, but potentially overlooks those that are still developing or might even be in the wrong discipline altogether. Swimming in particular is notorious for having a massively high drop-out rate at the age of 13 to 15 years from children who've either become burnt out by training 6 to 10 times per week, or whom have realised that they might never be the next Michael Phelps or Missy Franklin. I hope to pose a few questions and equally to provide some potential solutions which might help your own children love swimming past their mid-teens, or if you're a coach of a youth or junior program, encourage your swimmers to identify their best performance pathway to keep them in the sport.

In Outliers, Gladwell opens with a fascinating look at the junior ice hockey leagues in Canada with the following observed phenomenon by Canadian psychologist Roger Barnsley:

"in any elite group of hockey players - the very best of the best - 40 percent of the players will have been born between January and March, 30 percent between April and June, 20 percent between July and September, and 10 percent between October and December"

Gladwell cites Barnsley's reasoning for this as simply because the eligibility cutoff for age-class hockey is January 1st each year. A boy who turns ten in the first few weeks of January is literally twelve months more physically developed than someone in his same age-category who turns ten in December. Being such a physical and strength-limited sport often means that the older of the two children is often viewed as being more talented due to the likelihood that they will be physically bigger and more coordinated at this age. Subsequently they might get chosen for a rep squad, receive better coaching and in volumes / frequency of up to three times that of the younger child who gets left in the "house" league. At this first divergence in their respective hockey 'careers' the two children might not be too dissimilar in terms of true ability, but after 3 or 4 years of this better coaching, the older child really is better and will then go onto selection for the Major Junior A league and onwards and upwards from there towards a potential professional career.

Gladwell sums up these findings with the following:

"Barnsley argues that these kinds of skewed age distributions exist whenever three things happen: selection, streaming, and differentiated experience. If you make a decision about who is good and who is not good at an early age; if you separate the "talented" from the "untalented"; and if you provide the "talented" with a superior experience, then you're going to end up giving a huge advantage to that group of people born closest to the cutoff date."

As a young swimmer growing up in the UK, January 1st was also the age-class cutoff. I remember becoming painfully aware of this as someone born in September as all the kids who were performing really well were born at the very start of the year, and yet because the school year ran September 1st to August 31st, many of these kids were in the year above me at school. As an interesting aside, being the oldest in my school year carried with it the same advantages as the faster swimmers in my age-class - I was literally the top of the year academically throughout my whole time at school, which I now recognise to be more of a virtue of my birth date than of any intelligence I might have had - I was seen to be 'gifted' in many subjects and consequently received additional tutelage and guidance. If I thought I had it 'bad' though in swimming terms, one of the kids in our squad was born on December 31st (making him the very youngest our age-class) and I recall his mother complaining to the national governing body (the ASA) to claim an exemption for her son. Had he been born a day later, he would have been the top swimmer in the younger age-class, instead he was very rarely noticed at competitions and subsequently withdrew from swimming at the age of just 13. Equally, a line has to be drawn somewhere though.

Many of you who have children or who grew up swimming will know all about this, and as such nothing I have stated thus far will be of any particular news to you, but how about we stop looking at the age-class differentiation and look instead towards the physiological differences between those swimmers and athletes who gravitate more towards sprint-based events (anything under 200m in the pool) and those who are seemingly naturally better at distance events. Could we be over-looking some of our potentially promising youths and juniors to a system which is biased heavily towards sprint-based events and as such recognises and celebrates only those who are naturally good at sprinting, leaving many of the would-be distance athletes to potentially become dejected and fall by the wayside?

In swimming, up until the age of about 12 or 13, the majority of events you might attend will have offerings in the 50m to 200m range, i.e. events lasting 25 seconds to 3 minutes. In fact, even the 200m is often considered a 'distance' event at this age. Seldom few distance events exist on the calendar where young swimmers might have the option to compete over 400m, 800m and 1500m. Is this due to lack of interest from the swimmers and their coaches; lack of time available to run a program of events which will each take between 5 and 25 minutes to complete; or due to a deep-seated belief that young kids should not be exposed to the rigours of a 1500m event, despite training typically at least 10 to 20 times this volume per week as sprinters. Good coaches will tell parents that they don't allow their swimmers to "specialise too young" in any particular event and that "all strokes should be attempted" due to the balanced effect that this will have on their kids. Surely though, if we're not letting our children specialise in any of the strokes too young in the hope that they will naturally develop towards their optimal stroke(s), that we should also be doing more to give those who might not be excelling at sprinting, but are motivated and love swimming, to not be afraid to let them have a go at the longer events and find their groove there potentially? Given that the 10,000m open water event is now an Olympic discipline, I would suggest that we need to be doing everything we can to help develop this relatively grass roots area of the sport. This all starts by recognising what are some of the physiological, mental and technical factors that will allow a swimmer to excel in these events, and obviously these are grossly different to what swimmers have historically required for pool-based sprinting.

Whilst studying Sport & Exercise Science at Bath University in the UK, I was fortunate to spend my third year on placement working for the British Triathlon Association (or BTA as it was known then, now simply British Triathlon) as a Young Person's Development Officer for the South West region. This essentially entailed me travelling around schools and clubs in the area looking for potential young 'talent' and then guiding them on a pathway to better performance in the fledgling sport. Even as far back as 1999 British Triathlon and the World Class Program had identified that the best triathletes of the future would be those that could swim and run really well, owing to the fact that triathlon was switching to it's draft-legal format on the bike for the 2000 Sydney Olympics and beyond and as such effectively placing less emphasis on cycling prowess. Whilst the Brownlee Brothers (Alistair and Jonathan - Olympic Gold and Bronze Medallists, London 2012) would have been only 11 and 9 respectively when I was in this role with the BTA, clearly their backgrounds in swimming and cross-country running ahead of cycling, earmarked them as being prime candidates for future success. There was much talk at this time that as Talent-ID officers we should be visiting the local swimming clubs and preening those swimmers who weren't quite "cutting it" in the pool to give triathlon a bit of a go. Not coincidentally many of these swimmers who elected to switch to triathlon were those of smaller stature than their physically developed sprinter-type rivals, seemed to gravitate more towards distance events anyway (even if by virtue of the fact that they weren't achieving County and National standard times in the shorter events) and had strokes which their coaches readily described as being "rough" compared to the technically more gracious Smooth sprinters. Were these neo-triathletes simply the first major wave of true Swingers, whose stroke style, work ethic and endurance-biased physiology would ensure that they'd excel in the very different environment of the rough open water?

Obviously triathlon had it's own "selfish" thoughts of medals at the olympics at heart when we went in search of the next wave of über-triathletes, however, did this whole process invariably breed new life back into swimmers who'd spent much of their lives being "shunned" from a performance perspective by doing a discipline (sprinting) that never suited them physically, mentally and technically in the first place? As swim coaches, should we be "giving away" these swimmers to triathlon, or instead at least look at how and why a certain squad swimmer with a good work ethic and seemingly "rough" stroke might actually be prime fodder to be developed as a distance swimmer either in the pool (400m, 800m and 1500m) or in the open water (5km and 10km plus) despite this not being necessarily the "norm" for a kid or a swim program as a whole? Could we be doing more to support these kids and recognising the signs that might earmark them for achieving more in a different discipline? I know for one that I personally wished I'd been led more towards open water distance swimming long before someone suggested I switch to triathlon instead. There was a kid in our squad back in the early 1990s whose mother enrolled him for the local open water club up the coast in Scarborough. In reflection I knew nothing about what or why he was doing this, only that we all thought at the time that he was only doing it because he wasn't that good in the pool and was carrying a few extra pounds in body weight. How wrong we were - that same kid went on to doing really well in the open water and has since swum multiple marathon swimming events as well. What's more, he's still in the sport and still loving it as much now as he did when we first got thrown into the deep end of Bridlington Leisure Centre; not many of those sprinters from my youth are still going (if any), that's for sure!

So if little Jonny comes home from squad practice one day all dejected that he hasn't made the team for the weekend's sprint meet, but genuinely loves swimming and wants to achieve, then maybe little Jonny should give some longer events a bit of a go. Who knows how he might go if given the opportunity? Is this really saying that distance swimming is only for those who don't achieve in sprint-based pool events, or is it simply recognising that all of us excel at different things even within the specialism of swimming and would be best advised to follow what we are truly good at, because everyone likes to be good at something and that's what ultimately keeps the majority of us motivated to keep enjoying something for life?