Monday, November 09, 2009

An Exclusive Interview With Triathlon World Champion Jodie Swallow

##Nadya, for this post, please feel free to correct Paul's grammar and spelling but just Jodie's spelling (not grammar). It's a colloquial interview so Jodie's grammar is her own and makes it more real. ;) xxx##

In today's blog we have an exclusive interview with new World Champion Jodie Swallow. Swim Smooth's Paul Newsome caught up with her after her victory here in Perth, Australia:


PN: Hi Jodie. Many thanks for taking a few moments out of your busy training and racing schedule to speak with us about your stunning performance at the ITU World Long Course Triathlon Championships here in Perth. Having been a former training and racing buddy of yours back in the UK, it was so great to see you dominate the race from start to finish and smash the field by over 11 minutes! Well done!

JS: Thanks Paul. It was an absolutely perfect day for me and probably will rate as one of the best in my life. The Aussies and the Brits over here were so supportive and made up for the fact that my family, ex-coach and my new coach couldn't be here. Sometimes the celebrations aren't as good without those close people around but the importance of this world title and the general warmth on the day astounded me. Having my old team mate there was also great - as always vocal and brilliant... thank you :)

PN: We'd love to just spend a couple of minutes with you chatting about the swim discipline of this particular event given that the conditions in the Swan River were so brutal and that so many athletes really struggled with this first 3000m leg of the event.

(To set the scene for our readers, the day started off with a screaming easterly wind of 30 knots which created a persistent wind chop of about 60cm for the first 2000m of the swim, also against the current of the river. This small but draining chop made sighting the buoys incredibly difficult especially when looking directly into the rising sun! Combine that with loads of large jellyfish and you can understand why so many competitors said it was the hardest swim they have ever done!

Jodie, seeing these conditions at the start of the event, what was going through your mind in the warm-up area and the minutes before the start? How did you get your head around the thought of ploughing into those waves for so long?

JS: Because of my swimming background I always have to make the most of my swimming speed and harder conditions generally help me to do this. However, following the Gold Coast (ed: the short course world champs) where I was severely beaten up I was apprehensive and in some ways hoped for a straightforward swimmer vs. swimmer lane swim. I guess you have to deal with the cards dealt on the day and push aside any preconceived ideas of what's going to happen. I couldn't change the waves - I just had to deal with them and keep battling forward.

PN: And were you happy that it was a wetsuit-legal swim? How do you find the wetsuit helps or hinders your stroke?

JS: I actually like wetsuit swimming - I have a quick stroke rate and a wetsuit just adds that aid and saves the energy spent on supporting the body. I do think however non-wetsuit swims broaden the difference between good and average swimmers so it is probably more in my favour to be without. Again I deal with what is handed to me on the day and make the best of the decisions not in my control.

PN: You led out the swim portion of the triathlon by a considerable margin of over 70 seconds from Australia's Pip Taylor, but perhaps more interestingly you caught (and passed) the large pack of elite male swimmers who had set off 90 seconds in front of you, including local hero Sean O'Neill. Was this always in your plan or had you planned to maybe draft a portion of the swim leg and save some energy for the bike and run?

JS:No, the difference between my flat out 100s and my threshold 100s in swimming is about 2 seconds. I am ab aerobic queen - so going what other people consider as 'hard' in the swim is pretty standard for me. I know I could hold this pace for every 6km swim session I do. I couldn't see the men but 90 seconds isn't a lot in 3km terms and I swim hard. In Singapore we started with the men and this was great because I could swim as hard as possible and also get the feet of the pack. This accelerates the speed even more. I swam on my own the whole of the swim but it would not have been worth me waiting for another girl and forfeiting my actual and also psychological lead going into the bike.

PN: Just on that point about drafting then - you have raced and won at the highest of levels on the ITU World Cup scene where the pressure is really on in the swim, how much of a help do you find drafting, how much skill does this take and how often in training do you practise this?

JS: I like to swim at the front of packs and away from trouble. Unfortunately a mini culture of bashing the better swimmers to catch their feet has developed. I think its annoying because it slows everybody down and is actually a form of cheating, intentional or not. The better swimmers rarely touch one another because we have better spacial awareness and in fact I rarely hit anyone even in public lanes because I can read swimmer's speeds and know good lane discipline from my swimming club days. Training with men is really helpful because I have to be aware of them because I could get hurt. Training with girls is not as good because I dominate the speed and the direction of the group more often than not and am not as scared of being hit!

PN: Just back to the Perth race then - swimming well in the pool (with your background as a National Pool Swimming Champion in the UK) is very different to swimming well in the open-water. Would you agree? How do you, and how did you, modify your stroke at the Perth race to combat the messy conditions where holding a good rhythm in the water is absolutely essential?

JS: I was actually a 400 IM swimmer (4.48). I trained very hard as a youngster and much of my mindset was about effort and miles. This infact is incredibly similar to open water swimming where you keep the cadence high and keep going. I have never been incredibly strong or skilful to create a long, slow stroke and I am much smaller than a lot of top class swimmers so this would not have challenged their stroke reach so it was more effective to keep a higher rate and a decent grip on the water. Rhythm is a great word for open water swimming because if you work with the waves it is a little like dancing. Waves can not only hinder you but help as well and I often catch currents when some people can even sense them. I think the main point of open water swimming is that you have to attack the wave for it to respect you. Hold strong against it and it backs down.

PN: I was doing coach-nerd thing whilst you were swimming and clocked your average stroke rate in those conditions as 90 strokes per minute. For many of our swimmers using a Wetronome to help monitor and develop stroke rate, this will seem like a very high figure. How do you find this helps your swimming ability in the rougher conditions compared to focusing perhaps on distance per stroke in the pool?

JS: As I said before - you cant attack a wave when you are gliding in the streamlined position. It's just going to take you backwards. If your stroke is more punchy and quick it is also more adaptable and you can duck and dive with it too. If a rugby player has to change direction he is better off using quick, short strides because you can accelerate better. It is exactly the same when you are having to cope with sideways and frontways waves. Some pool swimmers have amazingly long strokes but the water is pan flat in their lane and will flow over their streamlined glide. Open water won't do this.

PN: Any idea on how many strokes you take then per length in the pool (50m)? Do you count this on a regular basis? Is it important to be as low as possible or do you prefer to concentrate on rhythm and flow in your stroke?

JS: I am undecided on this one. I have tried to lower my strokes and been congratulated on it etc. but I am going much slower so I lose concentration and go back to my quicker stroke and get faster again! As a kid this always confused me. Now I try and do less strokes per length but the same rate which means I am getting more power from each stroke which I have concluded is the most important factor.

PN: Finally then, whilst training with our squad here in Perth after the event you had a good chance to use the Wetronome product yourself. How did you like using the two functions: Stroke Rate and Lap Time to assist you with your training?

JS: I love the stroke rate function. I often have to train alone as I travel so much and it just helps to keep me engaged and tuned in to my sessions and the reasons I am doing them. I don't like the lap time function - probably because I always attack each lap then slow down into the pace for that rep. I wouldn't want to change this aspect of my training really, however, in teaching proper pace judgement I think it is invaluable. I have had the advantage of training up and down a pool since I was eight - the Wetronome is the best tool to help a newcomer understand their speed and how to pace rep sessions.

PN: Many thanks for your time then Jodie. We wish you the very best of luck at the upcoming 70.3 World Championships in Clearwater, Florida and your goals building up to the London Olympic Games in 2012!

JS: thanks paul. I'll come and cause trouble in Perth sometime soon :) x

--- Interview Ends ---

Find out more about Jodie and get regular updates on her website:

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