Friday, August 30, 2013

Kate Bevilaqua Interview: Going From 62 To 49 Minutes For An Ironman Swim

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Last weekend professional Ironman athlete Kate Bevilaqua from Perth won Ironman Louisville against a high quality field, exiting the water with the lead girls in a sensational 49 minutes for the 3.8km swim.

Kate won Ironman Louisville last weekend by just over 4 minutes. Her swim split
was only a few seconds slower than the lead pro men.

Before working with Paul Newsome, Kate swam around 62 minutes for the 3.8km Ironman swim leg. For an athlete of her calibre this is a relatively slow time and left her at least 10 minutes behind her competitors, coming out of the water with a huge task to catch up with them on the bike and run. As Kate put it herself: I can't win the race in the swim but I can definitely lose it!!

What did Paul do with Kate and what does she feel made the difference? Let’s find out with our exclusive interview with Kate earlier this week:

Paul: Hi Kate, thanks for joining us this week on the blog. After your sensational win at Ironman Louisville at the weekend with a fantastic 49:03 swim split - you must be on Cloud 9 right now? The whole of the Swim Smooth Perth Squad were ecstatic to hear of your third Ironman win - well done!

Kate: Thank you!! It has taken a while for it all to sink it! The race seems like a blur at the moment and it has been pretty hectic for the last 24 hours but once we arrive back in Boise (halfway there Las Vegas airport!) then I will have a good chance to sit down and take it all in. The support from home (Perth) has been amazing and I can't wait to get back at the end of October! A few more races to do before then though! 

Paul: It's been a little over two years since we last spoke about you on the blog in reference to those swimmers who feel awkward in a wetsuit and feel that they don't gain as much time as others from using one.

We worked on two key things with your stroke, for you to look further forwards in the water to prevent your hips and legs sitting too high, and to adopt a straighter arm "swinging" recovery to avoid the build up of fatigue you were feeling in the shoulders when using a classic high-elbow recovery. Both could be considered slightly unconventional but they have certainly worked, would you agree?

A straighter arm recovery over the water is one of the changes Paul made to Kate's stroke.

Kate: Thank you for all you've done with me and my swimming. We won't see another 1 hour swim here!!! But going from a chaser to the chased has been an interesting and fun change.

The two pointers you mentioned have definitely allowed me to swim 10min quicker over an Ironman, WOW thats a lot of time! Plus training with your awesome Swim Smooth Perth Squad over the summer!

A lot of people especially those who think we should all have the classic swim stroke probably won't believe me but my high arm turn over makes me feel in control, my heart rate is actually lower than when I try swimming with a lower arm turn over. My head position and stroke rate have been instrumental to my swim performance.

I feel quite lucky to be rather buoyant in the water. But therefore watching my head position is key to engaging my kick.

Paul: The IM Louisville swim was warm (27C/80F) so non-wetsuit, with your 49:03 split breaking down to an average pace of 1:16/100m which is super quick swimming. Conditions in races always vary so it’s interesting to compare your time against your boyfriend (and super-fish) Guy Crawford who regularly leads out swims at 70.3 and IM races around the world. At IM Louisville you were just 30 seconds behind Guy out of the water - a far cry from the 12+ minute gap you would have seen back in 2010. Guy must be getting a little scared?!

Louisville bike: Kate no longer has to play catch-up on two wheels.

Kate: I’m not sure if Guy's getting worried just yet but 30sec is the closest we've been in any race sprint through Ironman and I'm so happy that the techniques I've learned, drafting, sighting and Red Lining (if you can call going to max a technique) have paid off because all of those things contributed to a fantastic swim. 

It was a bit of a rough start for me as people struggled to find a good position. I fell off the back initially but worked extremely hard for the first 1km knowing it would be worthwhile for the rest of the swim. The focus was high turn over, relaxing and getting into a good breathing pattern! It was definitely tough... but totally worth it and instead of chasing for the first 90km of the bike I was sharing the lead with Nina Kraft within the first 10km. My entire race plan changed! It was weird to be in the lead of a race so early, when typically I am the "non swimmer" and chasing! 

Paul: I think it's fair to say as well that yourself and Guy couldn't have two more different physiques - Guy being 6ft 3in and with a +4" Ape Index and yourself being just over 5ft with a -2" Ape Index. See this video for a comparison between Guy and Kate’s builds and also of their swim strokes:

youtube clip of kate and guy

Correspondingly you both swim with very different styles: Guy the classic Smooth and yourself now the classic Swinger (developed from being more Kicktastic). Guy races at around 64SPM (strokes per minute) with yourself closer to 90SPM.

One of the aspiring age group athletes in our squad with a very similar height and build to yourself had received conflicting advice from another swim coach to suggest that she wouldn't be efficient if she couldn't swim less than 40 strokes per length (SPL). He claimed she was over-revving with a too high stroke rate despite the fact that all her times were getting significantly faster.

I had her watch you do a 20 minute 1500m swim in the pool at 56-58SPL to prove the point that whilst this might be reasonable advice for someone like Guy with his huge height and reach advantage, it certainly wouldn't be beneficial for her or for you. How important do you think it is to ensure you're doing the right thing for your own height and build as opposed to what might be banded around as being the most efficient way for everyone to swim?

Kate: In the past before I was working with you and Swim Smooth I was given the same information. It was all about increasing my distance per stroke, slower my stroke rate down and I felt terrible doing it! In fact I felt slow and my swimming never got any better through years of persistence. When swimming with a slow stroke rate I began to over kick to compensate and we all know triathletes don't kick! We save our legs for the bike and run! I was wasting a lot of energy!

The key factor for me was knowing that everyone is different, we don't all need to look like Ian Thorpe or Michael Phelps in the water! We can swim much closer to our potential if we do what we're naturally good at. I am short with short arms, but I can turn them over super quick and rather efficiently so with some guidance (thanks to you) that’s what I do now and finally my times have been coming down and I am becoming faster and more efficient!

So work with what you have, making small, fine adjustments and the results will follow. That PB you've been after is not that far away!!

Paul working with Kate and Guy in Perth.

Paul: You spend about 7 months of the year here in sunny Perth training in the SS squads and then the northern hemisphere race season in Boise, Idaho (USA). When in Perth we spend a lot of time working on your aerobic endurance, your ability to swim well in the wetsuit and your ability to sit on someone's feet and take maximum advantage of the drafting benefit. 

You’ve swum a let of sessions with me now, what did you enjoy the most and/or what made the biggest difference?

Kate: Guy won't like this but its the Paul Newsome Monday 10x 400 and our Wednesday swim sets with Swim Smooth!! They are my 2 key swim sessions each week.

On a Monday it is just me training alone with the Tempo Trainer beeper, I set the pace and just get it done. Honestly it can be boring and hard to start that session, especially after a big weekend of training but as you would say "you just have to get in the water and get it done!" - I have to swim 3.8km anyway for an Ironman! [Ed: Kate’s talking about our ‘Red Mist’ set, see here]

Wednesday mornings are always a surprise and we never know what we are going to get... but I know it will be solid... and at some point in time I will crack... but I will get back on. I tend to wear my wetsuit for this session (I need to swim  in it at least once a week to feel good!) and I also get the chance to practice my drafting. All of these things combined have helped to improve my swimming over the last 2 years and I now have a lot more confidence across all three disciplines rather than starting to enjoy myself only once I get out of the water! :-)

Kate now uses a more forward looking head position to maintain
balance in her wetsuit. Try this yourself if you feel unbalanced in your wetsuit.

Paul: Finally I just wanted to say it's been an absolute privilege and honour to have helped you develop your swimming over the last three years. They say that an Ironman is never won on the swim alone, but by judging the results at IM Louisville it seems that it did indeed play a huge part of setting you up for a great day at the front of the field? For those readers out there who've maybe been doing the sport like yourself for a good 10+ years but feel like they've never really progressed with their swimming, what final piece advice can you offer them?

Kate: Absolutely.... my swim at Louisville set me up for a great day! I must admit I didn't realise I was swapping the lead with Nina until the first out and back section of the bike course because I thought there were some faster swimmers up front. Not that I had come out of the water with them!

Advice - Firstly (and this might sound like a plug for you Paul but it's truly the best thing to be able to see yourself swim on video and know what your doing wrong) you need a one on one with Paul Newsome or someone from Swim Smooth so they can video your stroke and give the feedback you need to make the necessary changes. That will also include the drills and skills you can do to swim faster! Honestly, you won't regret it. It helped me so much over the past few years and the information I took out of it.

Finally, don't try and fit the mould of the perfect swimmer, we are not all like that!! Roll with what you've got and learn how to use it to your advantage and you will be swimming faster! 

Paul: Thanks Kate, looking forward to catching up back in Perth in October. Here's to a great rest of your season!

Kate: Thanks Paul! Can't wait to be back home in Perth!! Better head off for a recovery swim now.... don't want to lose that "feel for the water"!!

Find out more about Kate and her victory at Louisville:

Also special thanks to Ali at for use of his photos from Louisville.

Swim Smooth!

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