Thursday, December 29, 2011

Setting Yourself Some Goals For 2012

We hope you had a peaceful and rewarding Christmas with your family and friends! After a pleasant break and with the new year coming, now is the perfect time to reflect on 2011 and set yourself some goals for 2012. Here are our five tips on goal setting:

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1) Make your goal something real and measurable, for instance successfully completing a certain event or swimming a certain distance or split. This helps highlight how far you have come and gives you an actual 'Yes I've done it!' moment which more vague goals such as 'I want to become a more efficient swimmer' do not.

2) Make sure your goal is something important to you, something you would love to achieve and are excited about. This positive emotion will help you ride through the inevitable bad session along the way.

3) If your goal is too easy you won't be motivated to achieve it but if it is too hard it will feel completely out of reach. Set your goal right between these two points so it will be a real challenge but is still something you feel your can just achieve, this will keep you motivated and on your toes. (this is the "Sweet Uncertainty Principle" - more in a future post)

4) Give yourself a target date long enough to make some good improvements but not so long that you become stale or risk burn-out. Aiming to achieve your goal four to eight months ahead is about right. If you have an important target further away then set yourself one or two sub-goals along the way and get focused on those first.

5) Tell someone else your goal to help commit you to it. In fact, why not tell us yours in this post's comments here?

Swim Smooth!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

test post to check formatting, please ignore!

India are beginning a grinding four-Test cricket series against Australia in Melbourne. Sports writer Suresh Menon here covers the prospects for the Indian team, which has never won a Test series in Australia.

Not since 1977-78, when a full Indian team was expected to thrash an Australian outfit weakened by the Kerry Packer defections, has there been so much hope in the Indian camp as there is now.

Merry Christmas From Us!
Back then India lost the first two Tests narrowly and won the next two with thumping margins before losing the decider.

"We should have won 5-0," said ace spinner Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, who claimed 28 wickets, 12 in the Melbourne Test with figures of six for 52 in each innings.

It was a rag-tag Australian outfit, led by Bobby Simpson, who had been recalled a decade after retiring from the game.

History clearly is not in India's favour.

Inspired or deflated?

India might have the superior batting, but this series hinges on which team is more capable of taking 20 wickets to win a Test.

Zaheer Khan apart - and no-one knows what his level of fitness is or whether he will even last the series - this is the most inexperienced bowling attack India has fielded in at least six decades.

If that spurs the likes of Ravichander Ashwin or Umesh Yadav, talented bowlers but in alien conditions, it will be a series to savour.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Wishing You A Very Smooth Christmas!

Merry Christmas From Us!
No technique tip this week, the Swim Smooth team are taking a well deserved week off after a very busy year. To be honest we're a bit worn out after beavering away on some very exciting projects which will really help you take your swimming to the next level - we can't wait to launch them to you in 2012!

Also a quick thank you from us to you for sending in your many hundreds of stories, experiences, suggestions and questions throughout 2011 - you guys are a huge inspiration for all the coaches and staff here at Swim Smooth.

From all the SS team in Australia and the UK, here's wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a fantastic 2012 full of personal bests!

Swim Smooth!

Friday, December 16, 2011

What Is A Good Time For My Age?

What is a good time for my age? is one of the most common questions we are asked at Swim Smooth and, to be honest, it's a question we find uncomfortable to answer. That's because it's a bit of a loaded question.

L-R: Suzi, Barry, Brian, John, Emmie
One of the most important duties of a coach (of any type) is to help remove barriers from someone's progress and absolutely never introduce new barriers that were not there to begin with. Normally a swimmer asking this question is looking for an easily achievable target, perhaps one slightly quicker than their current speed, that they can achieve and be happy with. On the face of it this may seem virtuous but such an answer creates a very self limiting mental state that will stay with the swimmer forever: I can't be any quicker, it's my age.

Whether you are 40, 50, 60, 70 or 80 by looking at the age-group world records you will see some scarily quick times. As one quick example, the men's 75-79 100m record is a 1:06 - amazing! The records show us that there really isn't much of a slow-down as the years go by, at least not nearly as much as you might be hoping for. Your stroke technique, consistency of training and mental approach are much bigger factors at play here than your age. Just like the average 25 year old swimmer looking at Michael Phelp's personal bests, there is huge headroom for nearly any swimmer to improve, regardless of age.

We are lucky enough in Perth to have some very good age group swimmers training within the Swim Smooth squads. We conducted an impromptu interview with three of them - Brian, John and Barry (63, 63 and 75 years young respectively) after this Monday's 9:30am squad session. Take a listen, you might find some of their experiences and perspectives quite inspiring as they are still looking for PBs. These guys train very hard and very consistently but you can certainly tell from the interview that they have a lot of fun along the way which is the real secret to great age-group swimming. Take a listen here:

So how do we answer the question what is a good time for my age? We strongly suggest you forget your age and just think just of yourself and your current swimming. Where are you at now and what's a good target for for the next six months? Once you achieve that goal then set yourself a new target. You might be very surprised just how far you can progress - perhaps showing some of those twenty year olds a clean pair of heals along the way!

Swim Smooth!

Friday, December 09, 2011

Going A Little Deeper

Frustratingly and despite their best intentions, good catch mechanics are very elusive for the vast majority of swimmers and triathletes. A good catch on the water is one of the things that separate elite and advanced swimmers from the masses and allow them to move quickly and efficiently through the water - but why do so many swimmers struggle to improve their catch?

Let's take a look at a common problem that might be holding you back. Here is a typical sequence from one such swimmer Anna showing her entering the water and extending forward:

In the final position (3) her elbow has dropped down lower than the wrist with the hand facing forward. This is a problem because from there it is impossible to initiate a high-elbow catch on the water. Instead Anna starts to pull through with the elbow dropped losing her a lot of propulsion:

The interesting thing here is that Anna knows she should not be dropping her elbow in position 3 and yet is unable to stop it happening. Why? Because she is trying to keep her hand too near the surface at this point in the stroke and despite her best intentions, as she rotates her body onto her left side she has to drop her elbow to keep it near the surface. In comparison, take a look at Australian elite swimmer Rhys Mainstone:

Comparing 3 and 5, notice that Rhys' hand is deeper in the water, which allows him to keep his elbow higher than the wrist and the wrist higher than the fingertips. He can then bend his elbow and start pressing water backward effectively (6), generating good propulsion.

As you swim, try entering the water and extending forward slightly deeper so that you are able to keep your elbow high. Experiment with different depths to see what feels best - somewhere between 20 and 30 cm (8 and 12 inches) is best, the exact depth will depend on how broad you are and the level of flexibility in your upper back and shoulders. Of course you don't want to go too deep as this will send your hand down towards the bottom of the pool, it's a matter of finding the sweet spot between the two.

A quick warning here: As you improve your catch you may feel your stroke rhythm lifting and your catch and pull through feels 'too easy'. These are good signs that you are getting things right - don't be put off! Whenever you are making changes to your stroke be objective and monitor how fast you are swimming versus your level of effort, don't just use your judgement of what feels immediately right and wrong, doing so can be very misleading at times.

This tip is taken from our five star-reviewed Catch Masterclass DVD, showing you exactly how elite swimmers generate so much propulsion, how to make these changes in your stroke and many of the other reasons why a good catch can be so elusive. If you haven't seen it already don't miss out!

Swim Smooth!

Friday, December 02, 2011

The New Finis Tempo Trainer Pro

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The Wetronome is a fantastic training tool to develop the rhythm and timing of your stroke, and in the 'lap-interval' mode, a great virtual training partner to pace your swim training sets. We've been selling the Wetronome since 2003 but in a sense they have become a victim of their own success and the manufacturers have been struggling to meet the ever increasing demand.

Enter the new Tempo Trainer Pro - a fantastic new swimming beeper from Finis. We've been testing them with our squads here in Perth for the last four weeks and have been very impressed. They are extremely easy to use, operate in strokes per minute (which was the old Tempo Trainer didn't do) and have a very useful sync button to reset the timer whenever you want to start a swim. They're also cheaper than the Wetronome which is a nice bonus :

Stroke rate beepers such as the Wetronome and Tempo Trainer Pro sit under your swim cap while you swim and beep to you. In 'stroke-rate' mode you program in a desired stroke rhythm (e.g. 55 strokes per minute) and then simply time your strokes to the beep, allowing you to raise or lower your stroke rate a little bit at a time. This helps you find the efficiency sweet-spots in your stroke timing by either increasing your stroke rate to remove dead-spots or by slowing you down a little to help you lengthen out and avoid fighting the water.

In the second 'lap-interval' mode they beep once per lap like a beep-test in the gym. You program in a target swimming speed and pace your swim so that it beeps whenever you push off from the end of the pool. This sounds very simple but it's absolutely amazing how much you learn about your sense of a pacing - in fact many swimmers immediately swim PBs when using a stroke beeper purely through much improved pacing. Did you know that nearly all world records run on the track or swam in the pool use an even or negative split? Most swimmers start too fast whenever they swim and under-perform for that reason, fix this in your swimming now.

We are big fans of the Wetronome and will continue to sell them but the Tempo Trainer Pro is a great new alternative and comes highly recommended by us.

Swim Smooth!

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Two Classic Mistakes Swimmers Make When Swim Training

As an open water swimmer or a triathlete you should be training as a distance swimmer, looking to develop your fitness for best performance over distances of 800m and longer. There are two classic mistakes swimmers make with respect to this:

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1) In their training sets swimmers perform short very fast swims with lots of recovery - this sort of set is commonly used by masters squads, a set might be 15x 100m with 45 seconds recovery. This is good training if you are a sprinter looking for best performances in races up to 200m in length. However as a distance swimmer this sort of training is too fast with too much recovery.

2) Swimmers do not train at all believing that stroke technique is all important. Whist stroke technique is very important in swimming you also need to be able to sustain your technique over longer distances and also develop a stroke technique that is sustainable (i.e. does not over-use the shoulder muscles which quickly fatigue - a real danger if you only ever swim 50m or 100m at a time). Without swim-specific-fitness your stroke will soon shorten as you swim and you will feel as if your stroke technique is falling apart after a few hundred meters (or sometimes less!).

If you are a triathlete won't your fitness carry across from cycling and running? Unfortunately not - ask an strong runner or cyclist what happened when they first tried swimming a lap of freestyle! A large part of your aerobic system lies in the vein, capillary networks and cells in the specific muscle groups used in a sport. For swimming you need to develop these systems by focused and consistent swim training - this is especially the case for triathletes as the main propulsive muscle groups in swimming are completely different from cycling and running.

There is an extremely important principle is sports science called 'specificity' which backs this up. It says that the for maximum effect, training needs to be specific to the sport, pace and environment in which you shall race.

How You Should Train

As a distance swimmer, when you perform your quality training sets you need to train at a pace that is close to your lactate threshold. Compared to those short and fast masters sets, a lactate threshold set is a slightly slower pace but with much shorter recoveries. The pace won't feel too hard for the first 200m or so but will gradually build to a crescendo by the end of the set:

At Swim Smooth we like to use something called CSS to help you with this training - CSS (Critical Swim Speed) is essentially the same thing as lactate threshold but is easier to find. Two example sets are:

8x 200m with 20 seconds recovery between each
16x 100m with 10 seconds recovery between each

Notice the short recoveries between repetitions - such a set might best be described as 'relentless'! Another good example of a CSS set is the Goldilocks Set here.

The benefit of CSS training is that it targets the development of your aerobic system so that you can swim faster for longer in your races. Make the switch away from short fast swims with lots of recovery towards more sustained CSS training and your distance swimming will rapidly improve. For more information and more example sets to follow see:

One last tip: The consistency of how you train is a make or break factor here. Perform these sets religiously week in week out and your swimming with consistently improve but miss sessions here and there and your progress will be much much slower.

Swim Smooth!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Switching Off The Negative Voice Inside Your Head

Have you ever noticed that voice inside your head? That internal dialogue you have with yourself when you're nervous or doubting yourself? Thoughts like "Oh god, I'm not looking forward to this", "What if I go home now and forget this" or "Oh no, I'm really so bad at swimming, why am I doing this?".

Contrast that with when you are happy and confident doing something you love. In that situation you calmly and confidently go about the activity and the voice in your head is quiet.

This negative internal dialogue is really just your fight-or-flight mechanism telling you not to do something and run. By listening to it you are giving it a voice, which amplifies your feelings, giving you an even greater surge of anxiety. Its like a feedback loop running round and round your head creating more self doubt and heightened anxiety.

The next time you hear the voice, take control and tell it "I know what you are, be quiet!". Do this any time you are feeling nervous: when you are thinking about tomorrow's squad session, getting in your wetsuit on the beach or half way down a lap of swimming. Realising what that voice really is - and that it is only a small part of you, not all of you - is very empowering indeed.

Switch off the voice, walk onto the pool deck tall and proud and your confidence will build and build. Soon you won't hear that voice any more.

Swim Smooth!

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Story Of Dramatically Improved Efficiency

At Swim Smooth we receive a lot of emails giving us feedback about how your swimming is improving. Lee (a Kiwi living in London) wrote in and his experience really struck a chord with us - it's so typical of the stories we hear from Overgliders. Thanks for allowing us to share Lee!

Dear Swim Smooth team

I just had to write to send a huge thank you to all of you for an amazing transformation that your website has unlocked in my swimming. 

I am, as I discovered from your website, a 100% classic 'glider' swim type, with a stroke per minute figure somewhere around 36 to 38 (as I know now, very slow) with a huge dead zone between hand entry and catch commencement.  My absolute fastest possible 50m split was about 54 seconds, in a 25m pool.  Well, last night after discovering your website, I headed down to the pool with the goal of just seeing what 60 strokes per minute felt like.  After visualising strokes at one per second at the pool edge using just the seconds hand on my watch, I set off.  First go: 45 seconds!  I just dropped 9 seconds off my fastest ever PB; I couldn't believe it could be that simple.  It didn't even feel like it was all that hard. 

I figure that has got to be the best swimming tip I have ever received bar none, in 5 years of trying to get faster in the water.  I can't wait to get back in the pool again - I'm sure there's another 5 seconds in there somewhere on your website!  So ... um ... THANK YOU!!!

Kind regards

Lee Berry

The next day we heard from Lee again, as he took off another three seconds from his 50m time! The fact he's now swimming 24 seconds per 100m quicker without much or any increase in effort really highlights how inefficient Overgliding with a big deadspot in the stroke is. As you can see from Lee's email, he did this by visualising better rhythm (simply from looking at the second hand on his watch!) which is exactly what Overgliders need to be working on.

If we look at our Stroke Rate Chart we can see that Lee's moved out of the blue zone (signifying too slow a stroke rate) up into the white zone. This is why he's been able to make such a big step forward with his efficiency. Of course if he went too far he'd end up fighting the water by moving into the red zone :

(for more information and an interactive version of this chart see here)

If you're an Overglider, as you swim work on keeping your lead hand constantly in motion: either extending forwards, tipping the hand at the wrist to initiate the catch, bending the elbow or pressing the water backwards - never stopping and gliding! A smooth and continuous catch technique will lift up your stroke rate with little if any increase in effort and you'll regain a real sense of rhythm to your stroke. All the details on how to do this are in our Swim Type guides:

Overgliding has become an epidemic in our sport over the last two decades: we sell 41% of Swim Type guides to frustrated Overgliders, many more than any of the other five Swim Types! Lee's experience is quite an extreme example and we can't promise every Overglider can improve quite so dramatically in just 48 hours but you too stand to make some big steps forward in your stroke efficiency by removing the pause from your stroke.

Swim Smooth!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

How To Check The Timing Of Your Breathing

The timing of rotating to take a breath is something that is often overlooked by coaches and swimmers but can make a lot of difference to your ability to get a clear breath and your level of relaxation in the water. When a swimmer rotates to breathe, the head should rotate and slightly lead the body rotation. Here's Jono Van Hazel from our Catch Masterclass DVD demonstrating this:

Many swimmers breathe late and rotate their head slightly after their body rotation, from the pool deck you can see this as a flicking movement of the head as the swimmer has to suddenly rotate their head in a hurry. Breathing late leaves you with a much shorter window to breathe in and you will still be trying to breathe as your recovering arm enters the water - which you might feel hitting your nose! :

Even advanced and elite swimmers can suffer from this problem and is something they can work on. A good visualisation to develop correct timing is to think about 'turning your head away from your hand' :

As your recovering arm and hand enters the water, turn your head away from it to breathe, as if you are trying to avoid seeing it. By doing this you will find you are in a breathing position much earlier giving you plenty of time to inhale smoothly. Of course, you should also make sure that you're exhaling into the water between breaths so that you only have to inhale, not exhale and inhale in that short window! See here.

One other observation: If you have a strong preference for breathing to one side then it's much more likely your breathing will be late on that side. On your non-preferred side you won't have any bad habits in place and your breathing timing is normally much better: As you swim compare the two sides and see if you are indeed breathing late to your preferred side.

Swim Smooth!

Friday, October 28, 2011

50,000 Of You - Wow!

This week the number of subscribers for the Feel For The Water blog went through the 50,000 barrier. As far as we know that makes this the most popular swimming blog on the web with over 100 new swimmers joining every day!

Thanks to each and every one of you for giving us a portion of your time every Friday, it's inspiring (and sometimes a little nerve racking) writing for such a growing and passionate audience every week. As we pass by this milestone we wanted to take the opportunity to tell you a bit more about how Swim Smooth operates and where your email comes from every week :

Hello from sunny Perth this very morning! (click to enlarge)

- Although many of our coaches are English, we choose to base our coaching in Perth, Western Australia. If you've ever been here you'll understand why: It has an amazing climate, beautiful beaches and ocean, thousands of buff Aussie swimmers and 25 (yes twenty five) public 50m pools - all for a population of one million people!

- We run fifteen squad sessions a week from our home base at Claremont Pool catering for around 300 swimmers. These swimmers cover the whole spectrum of abilities from absolute beginners, developing swimmers, world class age group triathletes and masters swimmers, all the way up to elite triathletes and open water swimmers. We work with all ages and ability levels of swimmer every day and we're very proud of our ability to develop and inspire each and every one.

- We conduct between ten and fifteen full video analysis and stroke correction sessions every week and have been doing so for the last ten years. If you've been on one of our highly sought after Stroke Correction Clinics you'll know we're world leaders in the use of video analysis to diagnose and correct issues with swimmer's strokes.

- We run year round open water sessions developing and refining our swimmers' open water skills. This is another area we're very passionate about.

- We constantly train and develop other coaches. This includes our work with the British Triathlon Federation operating Coach Education courses for them to train the next generation of triathlon coaches in the UK in the art of swim coaching.

- Many of our coaches have elite swimming and triathlon backgrounds and all are still training, racing and having fun in the water today. Our own head coach Paul Newsome was on the UK's World Class Triathlon program in the build up to the 2000 Olympics and is still racing at a very high level today, right now in marathon open water swimming.

Working with so many swimmers in such an in depth way has created an insightful and thorough program for swimmers of all ability levels. We don't know of any other group anywhere in the world that has immersed themselves in these experiences simultaneously for over ten years - we really do 'live swimming' (and don't we know it when the alarm goes off at 4:15am every morning for squad training!).

OK, that's enough about us, we'll be back next week with more tips to develop your swimming. Thanks again for reading - we have beavering away on six exciting projects for 2012 which we can't wait to show you. These include one special female swimmer whose stroke we've been lovingly refining.

Enjoy your time in the water!

Paul, Adam, Linda, Francene, Sandy, Sally, Shelley, Nic, Adam, Noel, Jon

Friday, October 21, 2011

It's A Girl...! And Things To Try In Your Stroke When You're Feeling Ragged

Paul Newsome is very proud to announce the birth of his daughter Isla Rose on Wednesday! Paul:

"Thanks to everyone for your well wishes and kind messages over the last few days. Michelle and I are bowled over by our beautiful new baby girl... I'm the proudest and happiest Dad on the planet right now and can't wait to show her off to everyone when we see you in person!"

You can read Paul's full baby blog post with pictures here.

Things To Try In Your Stroke When You're Feeling Ragged

You know what it's like: when you are fresh and start swimming you feel great and complete your laps with a nice flowing stroke. However, as the training session or race progresses things starting to become a little ragged and your stroke feels much less effective.

Here are some very simple things you can think about to help bring your stroke back to you and keep you swimming well. Only focus on one of these at a time, try each during separate training swims and see which works best for you:

- Lightly brush your big toes together as they pass with a regular rhythm: tap tap tap tap.

- Think about keeping the lower goggle in the water when breathing using the split screen visualisation.

- Focus on keeping your lead hand constantly in motion: either extending forwards, lightly catching the water or pressing it backwards - never pausing! (this is a great visualisation for Overgliders in rehab)

- Relax and blow a constant stream of bubbles into the water a bit like you're sighing - brrrrrr!

- Stretch lightly through your core, thinking about moving your chest away from your hips as you swim.

On the face of it these tips might seem overly simple but each is very effective at controlling a particular stroke flaw as it starts to develop.

Swim Smooth!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Things To Try When You're Feeling Ragged

#just thought of this one while writing the book. adam#

You know what it's like: when you are fresh and start swimming you feel great and complete your laps with a nice flowing stroke. However, as the training session or race progresses things starting to become a little ragged and your stroke feels much less effective.

Here's some very simple things you can think about to help bring your stroke back to you and keep you swimming well. Only focus on one of these at a time, try each during different swims and see which works best for you:

- Lightly brush your big toes together as they pass with a regular rhythm: tap tap tap tap.

- Think about keeping the lower goggle in the water when breathing using the split screen visualisation.

- Focus on keeping your lead hand constantly in motion: either extending forwards, lightly catching the water or pressing it backwards - never pausing! (this is a great visualisation for Overgliders in rehab)

- Relax and blow a constant stream of bubbles into the water a bit like you're sighing - brrrrrr!

- Stretch lightly through your core, thinking about moving your chest away from your hips as you swim.

On the face of it these tips might seem overly simple but each is very effective at controlling a particular stroke flaw as it starts to develop.

Swim Smooth!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

H2Open Magazine Article: Training For Long Distance Swims

Swim Smooth's Paul Newsome writes regularly for open water swimming magazine H2Open. In the latest edition Paul takes a detailed look at the preparation required for long distance swims of 5km and over. Click on the image to read a digital copy of the article from the magazine :
H2Open is a fantastic new open water swimming magazine that Swim Smooth are proud to be involved with. Find out more about the mag here and to subscribe go here.
We know from the emails you send us that many of you are interested in setting yourself a challenge in 2012 and taking on an open water swimming event or two. We'd really encourage you to go for it - they're hugely rewarding and great fun to train for. Paul's article contains lots of tips on what your approach should be and how you should train for these events.

Here at Swim Smooth we're all very excited to see the boom in open water swimming that is under way around the world. All the Swim Smooth staff and coaches are open water swimmers or triathletes and we are all very passionate about swimming in the great outdoors and the rewards on offer - go for it!

Swim Smooth!

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Timing The Rear Of The Stroke

Every week on the blog we receive lots of comments, feedback and questions on every post - thanks, we really enjoy reading them all here in Perth. If you've never dropped us a question before then please feel free to do so - it's very easy, all you do is visit the comments section at the bottom of the post itself #add link#. With nearly 50,000 subscribers now we can't promise to reply to every question directly but we do promise to read them all and steer the blog accordingly!

A couple of weeks ago on "How The Catch Should Feel To You", Mark Schnupp asked:

"I was wondering for nexts week's post if you could expand upon this post and discuss the rotation of the hips and how they relate to the catch and pull to include timing, what to look for, what it should feel like some drills to coordinate it. I know that I struggle with this and I'm sure others do as well. I know that all of the power comes from the rotation of the hips and would love to see a post on how that all is supposed to work."

That's a great question Mark. Many swimmers do struggle with timing their body rotation, it's one thing that separates intermediate from advanced level swimmers. Before we look at a visualisation to help you develop this, we need a quick word of caution: the reason most swimmers struggle with timing their rotation is that they have one or more fundamental stroke flaws in place. For instance:

- They have poor alignment with crossovers in front of the head or under the body.

- They have an over-glide in the stroke.

- They press down on the water during the catch phase.

- Their stroke falls apart when breathing.

All of the above fundamentally disrupt the balance and timing of the stroke, which makes developing good rhythm and timing very difficult. Most beginner and intermediate swimmers have one or more of these problems in place in their stroke. If that's you it could well explain why you struggle to feel rotational power - work on those issues and good timing will start to follow naturally once everything else is right in the stroke.

That being said, if you are a stronger swimmer some work on rhythm and timing can be very powerful to tune up the stroke timing. We like to use a visualisation where we 'rotate the hips ahead of the hands':

Notice in the sequence above how the hip rotates out of the way before the hand reaches it. As your hand comes through and past your chest and stomach, visualise rotating your hip out of the way, maintaining a healthy gap between the two. Keep the effort in the arm stroke moderate and emphasise the hip rotation instead.

Try this visualisation immediately after some catch development drills such as sculling and doggy paddle. In combination with the visualisation above they will help you develop a powerful rhythmical stroke.

Swim Smooth!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Stroke Symmetry is Even More Important In Open Water Swimming Than Pool Swimming

If you're a triathlete or open water swimmer then you should be seriously concerned with the symmetry of your stroke. A lack of symmetry will tend to pull you to one side or the other as you swim and so lead you to continually swim off course, which can add many minutes to your swim split. Constantly moving off course will also harm you ability to stay in a draft, another key skill to open water success.

A lack of symmetry is never a good thing but in the pool you can instantly correct your path as you have the lane markings and black line on the bottom of the pool as a reference. You might not be aware of how much you are correcting your course as this correction process is normally subconcious.

If you like to study swimming on YouTube then you've probably noticed how some elite pool swimmers such as Michael Phelps have quite lop-sided strokes, often with one arm recovering high over the water and the other swinging around the side. This lop-sidedness comes about from just breathing to one side. These swimmers are getting away with a lack of symmetry in the pool but if they made the transition to open water they would have to address this as a real priority.

You might have already guessed what comes next: The easiest way you can develop and maintain the symmetry in your stroke is by breathing bilaterally, if you do so your stroke will naturally become more symmetrical without any additional effort on your behalf. If you don't have a coach watching you constantly and providing you with feedback then bilateral breathing becomes even more essential for your swimming.

In an ideal world you would breathe bilaterally all the time but if not then treat it as a drill you practise religiously during every session. Have you struggled with bilateral breathing in the past? There's two common reason why:

- You need to develop your exhalation under the water, aiming to exhale in a nice constant stream of bubbles. Holding on to your breath builds up CO2 in your lungs and so bloodstream, making you feel desperate for oxygen. Lose the CO2 while you swim and you'll find bilateral breathing much easier.

- You're trying to swim with too low a stroke rate, i.e. the gap between strokes and so breaths is too long. This is normally a problem for Overgliders who have tried to slow things down and overly lengthen the stroke. You probably already know that the deadspots in an Overglider's technique are a major disadvantage in open water. As we see here, this inability to breathe bilaterally is another disadvantage. Developing your catch technique will elevate your stroke rate without any extra effort and make bilateral breathing much easier.

Swim Smooth!

Friday, September 23, 2011

#paul, please re-check!# How Your Catch Should Feel To You

'The Catch' is the movement you make to get a hold of the water and begin pressing it backwards at the very front of the stroke. For most swimmers the catch is a bit of a mystery, you probably know that it is important to your speed and efficiency but getting a feel the catch and improving it seems very elusive.

A good catch is about making the right movements and timing them correctly. In this post we're going to look at the timing of the catch - and as a consequence how it should feel. The feeling of a good catch may be quite different from what you expect and this is one reason why it's difficult to grasp (pardon the pun!).

Matching The Water Speed

Let's take a look at elite swimmer Mel Benson, swimming here at around 65 seconds per 100m pace. Like all elite swimmers, Mel's got a fantastic catch which is one of the secrets of her speed and endurance. This is the catch phase of her stroke on her left arm, see how her elbow starts to bend straight away and how she begins to press the water back behind her:

You might have read or been told by a coach that you should 'keep your elbows high' underwater and we can see that Mel's doing that nicely, keeping her elbow higher than her wrist and her wrist higher than her fingertips at all times.

This is an interesting image sequence as Mel's taken a few bubbles with her into the water. See how the bubbles don't move much at all relative to her hand and forearm, this is because Mel's merely matching the water speed as it travels past her. This means she's feeling a relatively light force on her hand and forearm.

The important point here is that you can feel powerful during the catch but it's not about brute force or high effort, it's just about engaging with the water. The lack of force required is one reason why your 11 year old daughter can zoom past you so easily. Her arm action is far superior to yours under the water and she doesn't need much strength to complete the movements.

The Pull Phase

Moving on a little and Mel's arm starts to accelerate as it passes under her body. We can now see her arm start to leave those bubbles behind as it does so:

Pressing backward through the water, the pressure on the hand and forearm now builds. This is where most of the propulsion is created in the stroke but that couldn't happen without the catch phase immediately before where she matched the water's speed so that it stabilised around her hand and forearm.

How The Catch Should Feel

Many swimmers are searching for a really strong feeling during the catch, thinking that when they get it right they will suddenly feel their muscles working hard in a kind of "eureka moment". Unfortunately searching for such a feeling may lead you to press down on the water or even try and push it forwards. Both of these stroke faults increase the load placed on the shoulder and so increase your perceived effort:

Pushing down or forwards will create a pressure on your palm but don't let this fool you into thinking you're developing a nice catch. The movement should feel smooth, rhythmic and relatively easy. We say rhythmic because a good catch take less time as you're not changing the water's direction, you're simply helping it on its way. A good catch lifts your stroke rate (cadence) and so increases your sense of stroke rhythm.

The next time you're swimming try a lighter feeling to the catch and focus on engaging with the water and pressing it backwards to the wall behind you. Drills such as Sculling and Doggy Paddle from our DVDs will help you refine this movement, you should immediately see your times improve on the pace clock and notice the extra rhythm in your stroke.

Developing Your Catch Further

The catch is such an important part of the freestyle stroke that we devoted a whole new Swim Smooth DVD to it called Catch Masterclass. It's receiving rave reviews from swimmers, coaches and critics alike as it shows you exactly how elite swimmers develop so much propulsion, highlights where you've gone wrong before and how to make the necessary improvements in your own stroke. Find out more here or click on the cover below:

Swim Smooth!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

How The Catch Phase Should Feel

'The Catch' is right at the front of the freestyle stroke, it's the movement you make to get a hold of the water and begin pressing it backwards. For most swimmers the catch is a bit of a mystery, you're probably aware that it is important to your speed and efficiency but are not sure how to improve it or how it should feel.

A good catch is about making the right movements and timing them correctly. In this post we're going to look at the timing of the catch - and as a consequence how it should feel. The feeling of a good catch may be quite different from what you expect and this is one reason why it's difficult to get a grasp of (pardon the pun!).

Matching The Water Speed

Let's take a look at elite swimmer Mel Benson, swimming here at around 65 seconds per 100m pace. Like all elite swimmers, Mel's got a fantastic catch which is one of the secrets of her speed and efficiency. This is the catch phase of the stroke on her left arm, see how her elbow starts to bend straight away and how she begins to press the water back behind her:

You might have read or been told by a coach that you should 'keep your elbows high' underwater and we can see that Mel's doing that nicely, keeping her elbow higher than her wrist and her wrist higher than her fingertips at all times.

This is an interesting sequence as Mel's taken a few bubbles with her into the water - see how the bubbles don't move much at all relative to her hand and forearm. During the catch phase of the stroke she's merely matched the water speed as it travels past her.

What does this tell us about how a good catch should feel? Well if the hand and forearm isn't moving relative to the water then there's going to be very little force or pressure from the water on them. A good catch merely matches the water's speed and so feels very light and gentle to the swimmer.

The Pull Phase

What happens next is that the arm starts to accelerate as it passes under the head and body. We can now see Mel's arm start to leave those bubbles behind as it does so:

Pressing backwards through the water, the pressure on the hand and forearm now builds and feels more 'solid' to the swimmer. This is where most of the propulsion is created but that couldn't happen without the phase immediately before, where the catch matches the water speed so that it stabilises around the hand and forearm.

Light And Rhythmical

Many swimmers are searching for a 'locked on' feeling during the catch, thinking that when they get it right they'll really going to feel a 'solid' connection with the water. Unfortunately searching for such a feeling may lead you to press down on the water or even try and push it forwards:

Such movements will create a pressure on your palm but don't be fooled that you're developing a nice catch. Quite the opposite, a good catch should feel light and 'rhythmical'. We say rhythmical because a good catch doesn't take much time, it happens fairly quickly and see the feeling is of rhythm.

Next time you're swimming, try a lighter more rhythmical feeling during the catch, simply focusing on bending the elbow at the front of the stroke. Under the head and body the pressure on the hand will build but let this happen naturally, don't force it.

Get the timing of the catch right and each stroke will take less effort and you'll swim more quickly with more rhythm. This is the true 'feel for the water' you're looking for.

Developing Your Catch Further

The catch is such an important phase of the stroke that we developed a whole DVD about it called Catch Masterclass. It's receiving rave reviews from swimmers, coaches and critics alike as it breaks down exactly how to develop your catch and shows you all the other reasons why you might have tried and failed before. Find out more here or click on the image below:

Swim Smooth!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Paul's Report: What It Really Takes To Swim The English Channel!

Two weeks ago we announced that Paul Newsome was about to swim the English Channel, starting at 4am that night. Unfortunately the English Channel gods suddenly changed their minds about the attempt and denied him with increasing winds forecast for the following day and thick fog developing in the early hours of the morning. Sorry to everyone who tuned into that night only to be disappointed that Paul hadn't started.

The good news is that after an anxious week of waiting Paul did finally get his swim start a week later! So here hear we are with Paul Newsome's full report on his crossing. It's long but an absolutely fascinating read, so grab a cup of coffee and find out what it really takes to swim the channel!

Dear swimmers,

Well what a roller-coaster ride this last three weeks has been.. .and the last three years really if you want to take it that far back! This is inevitably going to be a long post (even for me!), so if you'd prefer to just see the video footage and a few little interviews before and after see here:


Or to just take a quick peak at the conditions out in them middle:

My English Channel Swim - 12h14m in 28-35 knot S / SW winds and BIG swell (head-on) - Friday 9th September 2011 - a tough day at the office!

A Thousand Thank Yous! 

Firstly, a quick thank you to all those of you who posted Twitter comments on the website whilst I was swimming. There were over 400 in total and it was a massive heart-warming feeling knowing that you were all there "with me" as I battled the very trying 28 to 35 knot (50 to 65km/h) wind and massive swell conditions! Interestingly enough, the Rottnest Channel swim was cancelled in 2007 when conditions exceeded 25 knots, so you can get a pretty good picture from this of what the day was like; that and the fact that Adam and Simon on my support boat were sick no fewer than 87 times between the two of them - maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but Simon was left incapacitated with nausea for a good 6 or 7 hours of the swim! He literally turned green poor guy. Thanks also to those of you who've sent post-swim emails through...I've tried to reply to all of them, but it is a slow process as there have been so many of them. As the famous British band "The Verve" once sang: I'm a Lucky Man!

Picking Our Slots And The Weather

If you've been following our progress whilst over in Dover through our Blogs and through Shelley's excellent video interviews at you'll know that it's been a very mentally challenging few weeks over here in Dover due to the constantly changing weather conditions. Swimming the English Channel is very much a gamble in terms of trying to time the tides and weather exactly right, and when you've only got a small window of opportunity for your booking (typically 5 to 7 days), things get even harder. That is why it was so important that nearly two years ago we went through and booked 1st spots on the tides with our respective pilots. Andrew Hunt came up with a very sophisticated way of ranking these available slots using some genius algorithms which we all then drew straws for, but at the end of the day, no amount of mathematics will change the weather. Most pilots will book 3 to 4 people on a 5-7 day tide, so you can only imagine how nerve-wracking this becomes when the weather starts to look fairly grim for a prolonged period, as it has with us. The devastating Hurricane Irene that destroyed parts of the east coast of the USA has just passed back over the Atlantic and the meteorologists are saying this is the reason for the unsettled period we have experienced.

Last Friday (3rd September) we posted out a blog stating that we should all (myself, Paul Downie and Andrew Hunt) get the opportunity to swim on Saturday 4th September. This was a known risk given the fact that it was still a large spring tide but with the prospect of bad weather coming up for our actual tidal window, I was personally really hoping to take it. Suffice to say that despite an afternoon of getting all pumped up listening to some banging tunes on the white cliffs of Dover, we were all called off literally just after we had blogged the post - Murphy's Law they call it I think?! 

Dealing With The Cancellation of Attempt #1

I cannot even begin to express in words how deflating this was. We are told that we'll be put through these anxious waiting games but nothing can prepare you for what that actually feels like to be lifted up with the prospect of a swim and then blown just as quickly back down again. Given the fact that the weather was looking very bad for the next week when we were due to swim, I am not ashamed to say that I went through quite a down and depressed few days with the very real possibility that I might not get to swim at all before having to return home to Perth on the 14th September for work and also the close arrival of baby Newsome # 2 in six weeks time. How did I pick myself out of it? Well, initially I tried to calm myself down saying that it's still not even our tide and that we still have at least 10 days to wait it out but then my pilot Andy King of the Louise Jane called me on Monday after spending a beautiful day in Canterbury with my family suggesting that things really weren't looking good for the rest of the week. There would still be the prospect of then swimming on the next Spring Tide if I could extend my flights back before his next set of swimmers arrived, but how long could I realistically wait it out? 

At this point panic really set in and I started to feel a weird mix of disappointment, the potential of unfinished business, a kind of disgust in myself for putting on all this weight for the cold conditions and even guilt over having put my family through all this training only to come home without having achieved the end result. It's funny how the mind works - I often tend to drift towards the absolute worst possible scenario long before the process has had chance to play out. This is something that has always plagued me through my athletic years and something that I am acutely aware of needing to change. 

Luckily Shelley Taylor-Smith (open water guru, 7-times World Marathon Swimming Champion and our travelling mentor) took me under her wing at this point and posed the possibility that this was maybe all happening for a reason and that there would be some sort of lesson in all this after all. This cheered me up no end - Shelley truly is an inspiration for me personally - I've even tried to model my marathon swimming stroke on hers!! :-)

Being Cheered Up By Britain's Best Comedian

What was the lesson that I needed to learn? Well, on Tuesday I was invited by my good friend and physiologist, Dr. Greg Whyte, to travel up to Oxfordshire and have the once-in-a-lifetime chance to swim with world-renowned comedian David Walliams from Little Britain as part of his hugely inspiring and monumental swim of the 140 miles (220 km) length of the River Thames. David is doing this for Sport Relief and aims to raise over £1 million for the charity. The guy is a total legend, my personal comedy hero and certainly one of the biggest inspirations for me attempting the English Channel in the first place as David successfully smashed the Channel in 10h 29m in 2006 for the same charity. This is a totally amazing time and so it was a real honour to be invited to swim with him - I was grinning like a cheshire cat all day long and had to keep pinching myself that I was even there!

I ended up swimming for 7 hours with David but wore a wetsuit to keep warm and stave off any potential infections from the dirty(ish) water of the Thames. The pace was pretty steady but then again David has to swim the length of the English Channel every day for 8 days in a row!! Truly amazing - here's me making a big deal out of the English Channel when Walliams is truly doing it tough. Puts it all into perspective.

I think what I learned from this experience was how cool, calm and collected David was when swimming and taking everything in his stride. He commented on how he used distraction techniques (like thinking about the lyrics for all the James Bond theme tunes) to take his mind off the pain he was suffering along the way. Also, in his very modest way he was the first to say that his amazing Channel swim time was due in part to the very fortunate weather conditions that he had that day. He went on to add that his coach (Greg) was a much stronger swimmer and yet had terrible weather when he tried unsuccessfully two days previous to cross the Channel. 

I guess this made me really appreciate the fact that to set a good time you need a lot of factors on your side and given that I was still (at this point) facing the prospect of no swim at all I began to focus on the simple goal of just getting my feet wet. I cannot thank Greg and David enough for offering me that opportunity to swim with them that day... definitely one to tell the grandchildren! 

"The Call" And The Emotion Of It All

But then the call came just two days later that there was a possibility of a small opening in the wretched weather but that the prospects were still grim and could easily change. The window would only suit swimmers capable of getting across in around 10 hours due to the likelihood of more forecast bad weather around 4pm that day. We had to call Andy King at 6.15am on Friday 10th September with the view of starting literally just two hours later. This made for some very frantic telephone calling to assemble our much dwindled support team, many of whom had returned back to their normal jobs / lives. Interestingly enough, nearly all the other swimmers who had been waiting it out in Dover for the weather to change had been sent home by their pilots stating that there was zero chance of a start on this tide. This made for a very gloomy atmosphere within the channel swimming fraternity in Dover and was hard to avoid feeling the effects of.

So, after we got the green light to go from Andy, we drove down to the harbour through all the thick fog. I was listening to Eminem's "Not Afraid" on my iPod and all the emotions of what I had gone through with all the hard training, the waiting around, and the upcoming challenge of swimming the Channel suddenly all boiled to the surface. I sat there and thought about my family, about Jackson and Michelle, about all my wonderful Channel Dare training buddies and support crew, the people that I coach and who have supported me all the way, Shelley and Adam's ultimate belief in me and also the burning desire to get the job done. I'm not ashamed to say that tears were flowing freely down my cheeks but it wasn't fear or sadness it was the realisation in one moment that I could do this and that I would get across to France come hell or high water. It was such a strong, powerful emotion that I wish I could have bottled it as I've never experienced so much conviction and belief in myself ever before.

Adjusting The Goal Posts

It was heartening to know that when we got down to the harbour that there was one other swimmer who was also due to set off for an attempt. Up until this point I thought I was going to be tackling the Channel alone that day. He was apparently a fireman and a former "cage fighter" with a strong swimming background, under the wing of brilliant Channel swimmer Lyndon Dunsbee who formerly held the British record for a crossing of the Channel in 8h 34m.

I immediately thought that with his bulging biceps, strong shoulders and excellent support crew (including legendary pilot Reg Brickell) that if they're making this tough decision to at least give it a go, then we've made the right decision too. Mark (the swimmer) shook my hand - actually, crunched it ;-) - immediately before we set off and Lyndon stated that he believed that in good weather his guy would go sub-10 hours (about where I pitched my own ability). However, Lyndon took one look at the weather, sniffed the breeze and very firmly stated that today he'll do 12 to 13 hours. How right he was (Mark did 12h48m as it transpired). 

This brief encounter with Lyndon prior to the start was crucial for how the day played out for me as I immediately let go of any aspirations of knocking out a fast time knowing that one of the world's greatest marathon swimmers had the experience to call it even before we started with "today will be character building if anyone gets across"

I'm assuming this was the second lesson that Shelley suggested I needed to learn before my swim: patience and persistence from David Walliams and letting go of any thoughts of fast times but focusing in on the "simple" goal of finishing.

The Plan

And so we were off on the support boat, out through Dover harbour and heading down the coast towards Samphire Hoe for our proposed swim start at 8.30am on Friday 9th September 2011. Even as we drove out, Andy (my pilot) kept saying that we'd just see how it goes and test whether or not it was truly possible to attempt the swim given that the breeze and swell were really picking up already. We had a bit of a deal that if we started and got up to a maximum of four hours and the weather looked like it was really going to turn, that Adam would pull me out of the water at this point and we'd look to waiting on for Thursday (15th September) when much better weather was forecast. We reasoned that with only four hours in my arms I'd have a chance of recovering in time for a second attempt six days later. 

As we ploughed round towards Samphire Hoe, Andy took the quick decision to change our starting point to Shakespeare Beach instead, which is literally just around the corner of Dover harbour wall. Reg Brickell and Mark (the other swimmer) employed the same tactics and before I knew it I was greased up and jumping into the water which was 16.2 degrees at this point - chilly, but much warmer than we've been training in. I've grown to like the cold actually, despite the weight gain (which helps massively from a thermal perspective), I like how invigorated it makes me feel - a kind of electric charge through the body. Andy and Reg had placed a bet on whether Mark or myself would get across to France first and all I remember Andy saying is "don't let me down son!" as he looked hard into my eyes. The race was on! I'm a sucker for competition... it was exactly the right scenario to get me off to a good start.

Those Critical First Few Strokes

I reckon you can tell within three or four strokes exactly how good you're going to feel on any given swim. As I swam from the boat to the English shore to start I felt absolutely amazing. Again, I knew that I would make it across to France right there and then. I did however have a massive 25 knot wind up my backside and a big swell pushing me into the shore! When I officially got started it was a very stark contrast having to swim in the other direction off the beach and push into the waves with the realisation that this would be a relentless headwind all day without any sort of let-up. If anything it was due to get worse at about seven hours into the swim. From my last big 18km training swim in Perth with Amanda Nitschke and Bae Hooper (my two loyal and keen-as-mustard paddlers) I learnt that whilst I needed my stroke to be strong and purposeful into these types of waves, that I also needed to conserve energy and not fight it as much as I'd be able to do so in say a 5km swim. It sounds obvious of course but just backing off 10% and going with the flow of the swell and chop made all the difference. I was immediately into my rhythm and ploughing towards France.

Motivation, Tactics and Feeding

In Perth I had been training with a Garmin 310XT GPS device which I'd place under my swimming cap and which would record how far I had swam and also how fast. Prior to leaving Perth I was able to comfortably knock out 14 minutes per km for 4+ hour swims and had set the Garmin to buzz at me every 500m. This was a massive motivating device in those long training swims as I'd only ever focus on reaching the next buzz, every 7 minutes or so. I never once thought about the length of the swims as a whole as doing do would just freak me out. No one really likes swimming that long but if you break it down into a series of smaller chunks, it becomes much easier. 

During my Channel swim I wasn't allowed to wear anything more than a cap, some goggles, very standardised bathers and grease - the Garmin was banned as a pacing device. Instead I asked Adam to blow a sharp blast on the loud-haler every 7 minutes to signify the same milestones as I'd done with the Garmin in training. The sound of the loud-haler was instantly obscured by the force of the wind, so we had to go with plan B - holding up a red umbrella every 7 minutes instead. Adam, Paul Caunce (who'd travelled 5 hours down from Doncaster on a whim the night before, hoping that I'd get to swim - legendary commitment) and Simon (editor of H2Open Magazine) did brilliantly doing this 105 times (!) through the course of the swim and took great dedication and an understanding of just how important it was for me to keep this going. I would cite this as the biggest single motivation technique that I used out there during the swim - aside from all your Tweats, emails and SMS messages of course! ;-)

To coincide perfectly with the red umbrella waving, every 4th cycle (28 minutes) we'd stop briefly for some fluid and / or food. This is exactly how I'd practiced in Perth and I didn't change a thing from what I know works for me now. This was a stark contrast to the critical error I made in 2004 when attempting my first Ironman and losing confidence in my well-rehearsed fuelling strategy, thinking I'd need to suddenly consume more because this was the "big one". In that case I became massively bloated and dehydrated because none of the carbs were getting into my system, they were just sat there like a useless weight in my stomach from over-consuming. Stupid when I look back at it as it forced me out of the race in the end and to date I have never revisited Ironman.

I alternated between 250ml of Gatorade on stop #1, then 250ml of Gatorade and a GU gel on stop #2. This I repeated over and over again for all 25 of my fuel stops. On a couple of occasions I'd ask for something different (Turkish Delight, Boost Bar, Annette van Hazel's amazing fruit cake...) but I generally stuck to the plan and only ate these things when I felt like I craved the action of eating rather than slurping! I had two Nurofen at 4 hours and 8 hours to help with my shoulders but didn't drink any pure water at all and had one quick sip from a bottle of Coke. Aside from that it was Blue and Red Gatorade e-numbers all the way to the post-swim toilet... I'll leave that thought right there! ;-)

Swinging Both Ways

As you know I am super pedantic about bilateral breathing for endurance swimming. When I started the swim the swell and chop was coming at us from the front and to the right. Andy (my pilot) expertly positioned the boat to shelter me from the main effects of this such that the boat was on my right. Right is my preferred side to breathe naturally, however, this asymmetry in my stroke from years of unchecked unilateral breathing is also the primary reason why my left shoulder is always the one that gives me grief on long swims as I generally don't rotate as well to my left. As I had to try and maintain visual contact with the boat, I started to breathe more and more to the right but as the waves were still hitting me hard from this side I was swallowing a lot of water and not getting a proper breath in. The waves were so strong at this point that I was also being pushed away from the boat and then frustratingly having to readjust my position. I didn't feel totally relaxed and at just two hours into the swim my left shoulder started to let me know it was there.

I asked the guys on the boat if I could swim on the other side (allowing me to breathe more to my left and alleviate the pain in my shoulder), but their initial response was that I was crazy as the conditions were even worse on that side. After suffering like this for the first three hours I firmly stated that I would have a go on the other side and that I could always come back if necessary, potentially even swapping every few hours between sides. We tried it and the effect was instant... my shoulder pain eased up, I was able to sit closer to the boat, my rhythm improved and whilst the conditions were arguably harder to swim in, at least I was guaranteed a breath on my left hand side and at the same time stay in contact with the boat. I stayed on this side for the remainder of the swim.

Flying Along

As there are no land marks when you're halfway across the Channel, it is very hard to judge how well you're moving in terms of pace. I felt like I was totally flying along for the entire swim and this was evidenced by a super consistent 75 to 80 strokes per minute for the whole swim. The video clips in the link above were filmed at 8 hours into the swim and you can see that I'm still moving really well. I do not think for a minute that I could have swum this Channel crossing any better or faster than what I did given the conditions I was presented pacing was perfect, stroke was consistent and I felt strong the whole way. I am entirely happy with my efforts and the end result. Geoff Wilson said of his epic 15h15m swim back in July that if he had have been forced to swim further he could have done given how physically well prepared he was. I'll admit that initially I even found this hard to truly believe but when out there I also felt this amazing energy that would just seemingly go and go. I've never experienced anything like it and it just felt amazing. 

You all know how pedantic I am about pacing in training sessions and the reason for this is because I know how bad I naturally am at it and is something I've worked incredibly hard on the last three years. On this swim all that effort paid off - it went totally according to plan and when the weather really picked up at 7 hours into the swim, I lifted my game even further - I wasn't going to let Mother Nature beat me now! 

Shelley tried to explain it to me as needing to feel like I was on a leash for the first two-thirds of the swim, holding back for when I really needed it. For those of you following the tracker, some of you have commented how it appears like I slowed to a snail's pace at about 4 hours into the swim, but this couldn't be further from the truth. At this point the tide was changing directions (becoming slack) and this affects your forward progress significantly. Many swimmers at this point actually struggle to make any ground at all and some even get pushed backwards, so it's very important to push on here and not take too long over your drink and food stops.

Not Afraid

I would say that I remained in a happy place 98% of the entire swim and for me this is the single biggest achievement of the swim. It's amazing what can be achieved when you can keep yourself in this flow-state of positivity. I was doing all that I could do to get across to France and I vividly recall thinking at about 7 hours in that if the predicted storm does really kick in now (and that they have to drag me from the water for safety reasons), I'd be very happy and satisfied with my efforts even if I wasn't able to finish. Whenever an ounce of doubt crept into my mind, I'd start singing "Not Afraid" by Eminem and think about my son Jackson and doing it for him. I know that all sounds a bit cliche but having this anchor to go back to in the tougher moments was so useful. 

I read Des Renford's book in the days before the swim (19 x Channel Swimmer and Australian swimming icon) prior to my attempt and in it he stated a couple of quotes which had helped him:

"Even the darkest hour still only has 60 minutes!"

...this was also brilliant to refer back to, as was another:

"A man who wants something will find a way; a man who doesn't will find an excuse!"

Getting On With It

I had been keeping a mental note of how many food stops we'd had and so how far into the swim we were, but after about 4 hours I started to lose track of this and actually let the counting float away. This was a good period for me and I quite enjoyed the freedom from anything other than thinking about the next stroke, the next umbrella, the next feed. I had told Adam that I would not ask how close to France we were at any point during the swim, but at 8h50m I slipped and just had to ask exactly how long we'd been going for as I still couldn't see France or smell the croissants. Adam asked if I really wanted to know and then eventually told me. I asked my pilot Andy where was France and he just pointed forwards and said it was "over there". Fair point, I took that as my cue to get going and stop worrying and just got on with the task at hand.

Eventually the light started to fade and we paused briefly to pin on a Glow Stick to make me more visible in the water (like my Hot Pink Funky Trunks weren't loud enough?!). I knew at this point that I was getting very close and decided to stop for an extra feed just 6 minutes after the last which was to be my final surge of energy for the push to the finish. I could see the boys readying the dinghy to escort me to shore and at this point I knew I had made it, bar disaster. Little Andy (Big Andy's first mate on the boat) escorted me in and witnessed me finishing on the rocky beach in complete darkness and a little fog. I didn't get chance to savour the moment unfortunately (not even a photograph) as I was being beckoned back onto the boat so we could get back to Dover as the temperature was dropping.

Despite being neck and neck up to the four hour point with Mark I eventually finished 34 minutes clear. As such, Andy won his bet with Reg and we all felt quite chuffed with ourselves - what a day! Sharing those conditions with Mark was a real privilege. 

Will I Ever Do It Again?

In a word, no. Job done, next chapter, move on. The training and preparation was excellent. I couldn't have asked for a better training crew to train up with for this mammoth undertaking. Wayne, Ceinwen, Paul D, Andrew, Lisa and Geoff were all amazing and we always kept each other on track and the vibe was fun, enjoyable and supportive. I've had the privilege to train with some of the world's best athletes in a former life living in the UK as part of the Triathlon World Class Program, but can honestly say that I've never trained with more dedicated and committed athletes than these guys.

Adam's (Young) support through this whole thing has been legendary, especially given the monster work tasks we set ourselves with Swim Smooth. Surviving the sea sickness on the boat was a big thing all in itself. Shelley's (Taylor-Smith) encouragement in these last few weeks in particular has been outstanding. Not all elite athletes make great coaches and mentors but I can categorically state that Shelley does. She's been brilliant and both Adam and Shelley were right there when I needed them to help me turn around what was becoming a period of despair after our first swim attempt was cancelled. 

My boat support crew of Big Andy (King or "Grumpy" as he is known), Little Andy, the CSA observer (Mick) and of course Adam (Young), Paul (Caunce) and Simon (Griffiths) were legendary. All pilots have their own ways of getting swimmers across the Channel but what really stood out for me with Andy King on the Louise Jane was how quietly confident he was in his own judgement, methods and experience. Andy always got back to me within a few hours on email even going back two years ago when I registered with him for the swim. He'd answer any questions that I had and dealt with me in a professional and courteous way at all times. He calls a spade a spade and for a challenge like this, I personally believe that this is what is needed in a pilot. He was determined to get me across the Channel in a fast time but when the conditions looked as though they wouldn't give me an opportunity to do that we switched to Plan B and focused on making the best of a very small window between two strong weather fronts. 

For me, getting across was always my number one goal, irrespective of time. On the day, everything was all perfectly timed and whilst there might not have been millions of gadgets and computers to dazzle us with technology, there was just the right amount. This to me is the sign of a true craftsman, someone who knows his stuff and gets the job done. It's a little like the bookworm or "swot" at school who might get the grades but has no practical application of what they have learnt versus someone like Andy who has practicality pouring out of his ears. You can see that Andy positively loves doing what he does and to get me through those conditions like he did was nothing short of extraordinary. He must have been watching me 110% of the time through his little port window as there were a few times when I came close to the boat in the rough seas and he'd always manage to manoeuvre the big boat out of my way accordingly. I cannot recommend him highly enough for anyone considering a crack at the English Channel.

Varne Ridge Holiday Park is where we stayed for our entire trip and I have always been intrigued as to how good this site would be given the tremendous amount of positive feedback I have heard about the site itself and owners David and Evelyn. I knew from the instant we arrived that we'd be well looked after as Evelyn came bustling in offering us loads of free food and supplies to get us started before the grand trek to Tescos supermarket. David and Evelyn are truly wonderful genuine people who were the perfect hosts for our time in Dover. They know so much about the Channel and always have a calming effect on you when you're worried about whether or not you're going to get to swim. We all thoroughly enjoyed our time there.

Finally, to my parents Linda & Steve, Shaun & Catherine, my sister Sheryl and close friends and of course especially Michelle and Jackson without whom I wouldn't have been able to do any of this and accomplish a boyhood dream. I am totally in awe of how Michelle does what she does, looks after me and copes with me when I'm tired and grumpy and manages to look after our beautiful little boy Jackson whilst all the while carrying around a massive lump in her belly. I haven't seen either of them for nearly six weeks now and can't wait to get back to Perth for the big reunion. Mish, you're a legend and Jackson, maybe we can do a Duo to Rottnest one day soon?

What Next?

Well, Baby Newsome # 2 is due at the end of October so I'll go fully back into "Dad Mode" then. We also have quite a few exciting projects on the go with Swim Smooth that we're due to roll out in the next six months too. I'm currently weighing in at around 80kg and would like to drop back down to 72kg within the next 9 months. I'll do this by getting back into a bit of running and cycling (which I have missed dearly) and maybe even the odd triathlon. The Rottnest Channel Swim Solo 2012 is probably off the cards at this stage but never say never... I am however super excited about the prospect of assisting many prospective Soloists train up for this magnificent event, potentially even with the view to a crack at the English Channel themselves down the line.

Thanks again for the opportunity to undertake this challenge - it is without a doubt the very biggest and best athletic achievement I have ever completed.