Category Archives: Open Water Swimming

I have tried to write this blog post several times.  I went on holiday to Scotland shortly after Liverpool Tri and I had every good intention of writing a post. However, the technical problems of uploading photos to the blog continued to plague me and the lure of the outdoor life in Bonnie Scotland scuppered all my plans.

I then started to write this post several times in the last week or so and have been wondering if anyone wants to read about the ancient history that is Liverpool Tri on 14th August? Heck,  can I even remember the details of the day?  But because it was a great race , I can remember. So here we are, a quick recap of Liverpool Tri.

Despite being my local Tri, this was my first time in the race. I was super excited about the transition being right inside the Echo Arena (I am always seeking the elite treatment), less excited about the swim in the docks and relieved to know that the bike and runs courses were pretty flat.

Echo Arena

Liverpool Echo Arena as you’ve never seen it before

Events kicked off on Saturday 13 August as we had to rack our bikes the day before in the Echo Arena. Although it can be stressful leaving your bike behind, having done the majority of the preparation the night before does take the stress out of race morning. I wasn’t sure how much to leave and ended up leaving most of my kit there with a view to just bringing my water bottles in the morning with fresh electrolytes. Some of my friends just left their bikes.

On race morning, the weather was looking good in Triathlon terms: cool, dry, not much wind (always a bonus on the bike, especially near the coast) with the prospect of sun towards the end. I took our trusty camper van over to Liverpool early and had breakfast in the van. Then I made my way up to the Echo Arena to finish off the transition preparations and meet some Mersey Tri Friends. We had quite a walk from the arena to where the swim would start so I was glad of my flip flops. Sadly that was the last I saw of them because I forgot to go back and retrieve them at the end of the race!

When I went in the water, I took a moment to lie on my back and look up at the sky and, corny as it sounds, I was grateful for being in the position to be able to do this triathlon. I was healthy, financially secure enough to afford it and free to do it, not something to take for granted when so many women across the world don’t have the basic freedoms we have here in Britain.

Stepping off my metaphorical soap box, and back in the race, the swim was fairly uneventful; it just seemed to go on forever! When I got out, I realised why, it had taken me 37 minutes and 3 seconds! I had managed 32 minutes in the Midsummer Dock Swim so must confess to being a little disappointed with that time after the race. At the time, I was too busy trying to get my wetsuit off over my Garmin and failing miserably to be worried about a slow swim. You were not allowed to run into the Echo Arena with your wetsuit on; it had to be in a plastic bag provided by the marshals. The concrete floor was slippy enough!

Liverpool Tri - bike

Support from Adventurous Daughter (on the right)

Be prepared for a long transition they said. Well, it was long, but not as long as Leeds so it was a piece of cake for me. We had to run in one side of the Echo Arena and out the other. Out on the bike, this was the most fun I had ever had on a bike in a triathlon! Nice flat fast course along the front. The 4 laps meant that there was always someone around and support from fellow Mersey Tri buddies was great.  I have always said that the bike is sadly one of my weakest areas so I was pleased to come in at 1 hour 32 minutes 47 seconds.

Photo of AM at Liverpool Tri

Definitely a grimace, not a smile…

The downside to giving a good effort on the bike was that my quads were burning as I set off on the 10km run. Triathletes are all familiar with that feeling and I am reasonably experienced to know that it usually subsides after 3-4 km. On this occasion, it never really went away. I spent most of the run cursing and swearing that I was never doing triathlon again! I was even berating myself for daring to think that I could do a half Ironman! Luckily the run was also 2 flat loops of the Albert Dock and finally I got over the line after 55 minutes 51 seconds for the run and 3 hours 15 minutes 54 seconds in total. Not a fast time, but a whole 9 minutes off my previous PB over Olympic distance. Of course, the minute that I was over the line and someone put a medal round my neck, the pain subsided and I was wondering why I had made such a fuss (although I found it difficult to walk for the next few days!).

Photo of AM at Liverpool tri

My quads beg me never ever to do that again!

My verdict on the race is that it is definitely a good one for PB hunters even with the long transitions in and out of the Echo Arena. The support from the people on the course was great. I especially enjoyed the support from my Mersey Tri buddies. I am not sure if I will do the race again simply because I am thinking about different challenges next year. But, unlike Leeds Tri, I would not rule it out because it is a well organised race on a great course in a fabulous city.

Did you take part in Liverpool Tri?  What did you think of the race?

Zoe is one of the swim coaches at Mersey Tri and a simply awesome swimmer. So I asked her to write a post about swim sets. I hadn’t had any swim coaching prior to joining Mersey Tri, so the coaching sessions were fantastic but some of the terminology was baffling! Over to Zoe…

Photo of Zoe Brunton

Zoe after swimming the Mersey (very brave!)

Triathlon has been a part of my life since I was 7 years old, and 14 years later it is safe to say I love it! I have competed in junior and youth races, and now continue to race in university and adult competitions. At 16, I completed my Level 1 coaching course and this autumn I will progress to Level 2. For me, coaching is a fantastic thing to do, and I would love to take it further as I have now graduated from university and am stepping into adult life! Some of my races (swims in particular) to note, include Windermere End to End, Henley Skins vs Suits and the Across Mersey Swim.

Writing swim sets is something I have come to do bizarrely frequently. I write them for Mersey Tri, for my own training sessions, for my parents, for friends who ask me for help with their programmes and I have also written them for the Uni Triathlon Team.

There are a few important aspects to consider. Who is it for? What is their ability and what is their goal? What does the session need to work on? All of these elements contribute to the set in terms of focus, distance and difficulty.

If we take Mersey Tri as an example, the sets need to cater for a wide range of abilities and they need to be very varied as some members will swim at our sessions twice a week, week in week out. For a regular session such as this, it is important to consider the annual progression with relation to the off-season, pre-season and race season, and how the athletes need to progress. For example, it is pointless to have them peak in January, when no one is racing! But as an opposing example, when I write sets for myself, because I know exactly where I am in the season in terms of fitness and progress, as well as what I need to target, the sets can be a lot more specific. Sometimes, for this reason I prefer writing a programme of swim sets for one athlete rather than a group training session due to the ability to be able to hone in on individual goals, progression, and their training as a whole. That said, I absolutely love the opportunity that group training sessions provide to try out new drills, swim ideas and, of course, the fact that there’s a group of people all doing the same thing alongside one another, pushing and helping each other. The atmosphere of club sessions is one of the best things that sport offers.

A lot of people have a tendency to go to the pool, and hammer out (or cruise through!) a certain number of lengths, or a certain time slot. Whilst this does benefit their aerobic fitness, it also leads to a plateau in training, and isn’t the ideal race prep. Swim sets are a key way of getting out of the same old routine in the swimming pool, they make sessions fun, different and challenging!

Photo of Zoe swimming

Zoe swimming the Henley Mile

Triathletes in particular, spend outrageous amounts of money on the best, newest, nicest looking, lightest, sought after, or whatever it may be, kit! Such as bikes, running shoes, Garmin’s, without even giving a second thought to the minutes they could save on their swim time – its all about shaving seconds off their bike, transition or run, and ‘just getting through’ the swim. Swim technique, and training, could get you out of the water a lot higher up in your age category than a Garmin will get you out of transition!

One to one coaching is the final aspect I will touch on, as it is one of the most rewarding things I do. It gives me as much buzz as the athlete themselves, to see the rapid progression, whether it be technique, confidence or times wise. The smile on their face makes it all worth it! And that is true of all of the coaching I do, swim sets are just the starting point.

Here’s an example swim set:

This swim set would be a set to do during the pre season, as it focuses on technique and pacing.

Warm up 

200m front crawl
50 backstroke
100m front crawl
50 fast

The warm up should be easy swimming, across a range of strokes, to warm up all muscles and increase heart rate. I like to include a bit of pace work at the end of the set to really ensure that the swimmers are warm and ready for the main set!

Main set

4 x 100 as 25 metres drill (see below for the drill) 75 metres swim 

  1. doggy paddle
  2. fists
  3. catch up
  4. thumb to thigh

400m
300m
200m
100m

+20 seconds rest at the end of each set

Race pace swims (consistent pacing)
4×50 as 25 hard/25 easy

Technique work at the start of the main set allows swimmers to break down their stroke at a steady pace and concentrate on any weak areas before taking this through to their normal/race pace work.

This main set is 1km long; the challenge here is to maintain a consistent race pace. This means that swimmers can go into a race and feel confident of what pace they should swim at and be sure that they can maintain it throughout the race.

The last part is a bit of speedwork. I like to include this so they they know they have worked hard! It is also great to know that you can handle a sprint finish.

Cool down

50 scull
50 back

The cool down is again a super easy pace to flush out any lactic acid and decrease the heart and breathing rates.I prefer swimmers to avoid the front crawl in cool down. Backstroke is great to stretch out the swimming muscles ans sculling helps increase your feel for the water. Breaststroke is great for cool down too. Happy Swimming!

If you want to contact Zoe for more info on her swim coaching, her email address is swimwithzoe@gmail.com.

Delightful Dee Mile

I promised myself that I wouldn’t enter any events between Leeds Tri and Liverpool Tri so as to focus on my training for the standard distance Tri that I did Liverpool on 14 August (another blog post to follow). The lack of organisation at Leeds Tri had put me off a little, if I am honest.

As time went on though, I missed the thrill having a race to go to (the words adrenaline junkie spring to mind!). I really wanted to do the Dee Mile but I was also hesitant because a few Mersey Tri buddies had done the Deva Triathlon on 11th June and had fallen ill after swimming in the Dee. The really nice weather and dry spell in May, followed by heavy rain at the beginning of June led to the bacteria that had accumulated on the ground being swept into the river. Hence the GI distress suffered by many.

As the race drew nearer, some other friends entered it, and I noted that we hadn’t had any really nasty weather so I told myself that the Dee Mile was just a training opportunity to improve my swim times before Liverpool Tri. I have never swum in a river before (not as a race) so a new experience box was also ticked and I found myself in front of the computer screen, with a credit card entering the 2km race.

My family were away in Scotland so I was doing this on my own. However it was a really nice event for families to come and watch. The car parking was in the Meadows in Chester. The weather was kind and lots of people had brought picnics and chairs and were settling down for a nice afternoon.

Photo of goody bag

Goody bag from the race. I liked the handgels and wipes for preventing norovirus.

Registration was quick and easy, I picked up a very nice goody bag and wandered off to the Selkie stall for a look around. Eventually I succumbed and bought a dry bag/inflatable tow for wild swimming which I later used on my holiday in Scotland.

The race briefing undertaken at 5pm, it was time to start the walk to the start. The race was going downstream with the current which was a relief. However it  took about 20 minutes to walk upstream to the start. I had flipflops for this but they were taken off me quite early for transporting back to the start so I had another 10 mins to walk over rough ground in my bare feet. Top tip: take someone with you to carry your shoes!

Also it wasn’t ideal for me as I had to leave my hearing aids at the beginning to be transported to the finish. It was very hard to have conversations with friends without them (sorry guys for having to repeat yourselves so much!). I got very hot at this point too as the sun had come out so it was a relief to reach the start and jump in off a very nicely placed pontoon.

Lining up for the start, I had to keep pushing back against the current not to go over the start line. The usual washing machine start ensued and whilst I tried my best to stay with the pack, I quickly found myself lagging behind. On the plus side, I found I got into my stroke (stride?) quite quickly once I got some clear water. I couldn’t remember the advice I was given before hand whether to get close to the bank or not but it didn’t seem to matter because I seemed to be pushed over to the middle of the river.

AM after Dee Mile Swim

Well earned hot chocolate in my special Dee Mile Swim Mug after the race

I was glad I had checked the forecast and placed my faith in it because the sun was splitting the sky and I had chosen to wear my tinted goggles.  It was simply a glorious evening for a swim.

The finish was at the suspension bridge so when I saw that coming up, I put a final spurt on. We had been told that we needed to place our chips on the timing block at the finish. On crossing under the gantry, there were some confused swimmers, trying to reach what looked like the timing blocks which were high up but it turned out we didn’t need to do this. My time registered at 39 minutes and 36 seconds; a time with which I was very happy.  Even with the assistance from the current, that was one of my fastest ever times and much faster than I had done in training.

One of my friends who did the 1km option said that the start there was a bit more chaotic. It seemed to put off some of the novice swimmers in that race especially when the fast swimmers from the next wave came up behind them because when I arrived at the finish, there were quite a few swimmers holding onto the support canoes. Perhaps the organisers could allow slightly longer between the waves next time?

All in all, even with the uncomfortable walk to the start, I really enjoyed this race. the added bonus was that I was not ill afterwards! Hopefully one for my calendar next year…