Thursday, October 25, 2018

Crossing The Kvarken Strait For The First Time

This week on the blog we have a special story from Lennart Flygare, a Swim Smooth follower who used our coaching to set a world first - swimming the Kvarken Strait from Finland to Sweden! This super-tough swim has never been completed before but that didn't stop Lennart and two friends believing it could be done.

Our take on this is that even if you're not a super-fast swimmer yourself, you shouldn't let that stop  you taking on some big challenges yourself. Research, plan and prepare well (including appropriate safety cover) and there's nothing to stop you achieving something amazing like Lennart, Pavio and Tore.

Congrats guys on your special achievement!

Before and after - tired but exhilarated!

Lennart takes up the story:

It was at 7.30 pm with 3km to go when the ice-cold head-on current working against us set in. That was when for the first time I started to doubt if we would make it.

But let's start from the beginning. Some four years ago at the age of 53 I took up triathlon. I had suffered bilateral frozen shoulders and an injured knee and realised I couldn't just run in the woods for training. Variation was needed. As almost all beginner triathletes I dreaded the swim - only being able to swim breast stroke without any clue how to swim crawl for more than 15 meters.

After a few months of struggling in the pool I finally got the hang of front crawl and then progression was fast for a year. Then it all levelled out, I just didn't get anywhere with my swimming despite 3 weekly swim sessions. Yes, I know, it is a common tale…

However, one day one of my triathlon friends Anna Jonsson who had been to Gothenburg and trained under Swim Smooth Coach Anna-Karin Lundin gave me a book, which she thought would suit me. And so it did, the book of course being The Swim Smooth Book.

Suddenly everything fell into place about my swimming. Identifying myself as a slim Arnie I soon found ways to work on my technique in a more structured manner. I didn't swim more but my sessions became structured with a set aim every time. I skimmed Youtube for the Swim Smooth videos and also bought the training plan for Olympic/Middle Distance Level 1 and started to follow it.

Suddenly swimming become my favourite discipline and I longed for every swim session. That first summer I entered my first Ironman in Copenhagen. Stepping out of the water at 1:16 I soon realised that swimming had changed from my weak spot to my real strength in triathlon. Since then I have continued to use the training plan. I am still a mediocre swimmer* with a CSS of 1:55/100m but my stamina and endurance have grown each season.

I live in Sweden, in the city of Umeå by the coastline of the Gulf of Bothnia. At our latitude, 63° North, Sweden and Finland is separated by a strait named “Kvarken”. Although only 23km wide at its narrowest point no one had ever succeeded to cross it swimming although several attempts had been made. Freezing cold water, strong currents and windy conditions had stopped every endeavour even from some pretty good swimmers.

Nevertheless, after one of our swim sessions in the pool last winter me and two friends came to chat about it and decided we should give it a try. I think the others soon forgot our chat but I could not stop thinking seriously about it. I even bought a new Huub Archimedes wetsuit with the crossing of Kvarken in mind.

This year we had an exceptionally warm summer and I spent lots of time studying the weather forecast, and chart of currents and water temperatures. Every day it seemed the wind were too strong and the waves to high due to strong sea breeze in the strait. Finally, my friend Per Edlund and I decided to try a night swim on the 18th July in search for calm waters. As we slipped into the water at 10pm we knew that this was going to be tough. The charts had said 17 °C in the water but it was more like 12-13 °C and surely enough, as the sun set below the horizon the cold soon creeped through our bones. After 2½ hours and just 5½km due to a current working against us, we realised this was not going to work and so we had to abandon our try.

We understood that the next attempt had to be daytime although good weather usually results in a strong sea breeze. Per went away on vacation and in an ironic twist of fate the weather report forecasted perfect conditions the very same evening that Per was to return. So, with much hesitation and sadness we had to leave Per at bay and set out for the next try, this time with Pavio Grzelewski and Tore Klingberg in the swim-team.

We decided to start in Finland and swim towards Sweden in order to match the predicted wind and currents. During the night, there was a strong wind force 6-7 and as we set out for Finland in the morning, the waves in the straight were still at a considerable height. The waves settled quickly however and by the time we reached Vallasaaret in Finland the conditions were close to perfect. Sunny and 18-19 °C in the water and a south-easterly wind force 1-2.

We set out at 9.30 AM. The first hour we clocked almost 3½km on the GPS without much effort, probably due to a good tail-current. We took turns to stay in the lead ½ an hour at a time with the two others enjoying the wake of the lead swimmer. Soon the initial excitement wore off, the distance gained dropping to the expected levels of around 2½ km/hour and it all became a matter of keeping the pace, concentration on breathing and holding the course direction.

Beautiful conditions 1 hour into the swim
Erik and Urban in the support-boat stayed ahead of us directing us to the finish at Holmön in Sweden. At around noon the sea breeze started to set in but as it was from the left side and just a tiny bit from behind we thought we could manage as long as it did not get too strong. However, as the sea breeze built up to force 4, Pavio became seriously seasick and I was not feeling too good myself. Rye sandwiches and Coca-Cola from our supply vessel combined with a decreasing wind got us through though. It was not until afterwards that Pavio admitted he was seconds from giving up right there and then!

After 5 hours, we were exactly halfway according to our calculations having swam some 12½ km, the extra km due to our slithering course. Apart from some neck chafing that had to be covered with duct tape, we still felt good and as the wind died out everything went as planned. We were out of sight of land, minutes became hours, swim strokes became kilometres and after 8 hours, we began to see the Swedish coastline.

It didn't get much closer though and after 9½ hours and 22 km on the GPS I asked our friends in the boat how much was left, anticipating their answer to be 1-1½km. When the reply was 5½km we were not too happy realising we had forgot to calculate for our inability to swim a straight course topped off with a slight head-current. Still, the weather was nice and we were still in a good mood so this should be all right as long as we could cross the shipping channel safely. We were lucky and managed to cross just between two big freighters without having to stop.

By now the coastline started to come closer but the sun was getting near the horizon. Remembering our try from the week before I desperately wanted to finish before the sun set. That was the moment when we came into the freezing head current and I thought: "No - this is not happening. We have not´ swam more than 23 km just to give up with the finish in sight!". Tore was totally exhausted by then, battling with cramps in his calves, and I secretly decided to take his turns in the lead should it come to that. Pavio had however made a remarkable recovery after his seasickness and made good turns at the front. I could slowly feel my limbs getting heavier and stiffer but as the coastline started to come nearer with every stroke our spirits lifted.

25km done - and spirits still high
Just 2km to go!

With 2km to go, we suddenly heard some cheering and there was Per with our good friend Anders on jet skis greeting us. What a nice surprise! Their support was so welcome and with a final effort, we pushed through the last km to arrive at Holmön 12 hours and 2minutes after the start.

The finish! Watch it here:

As we climbed out of the water on pebbles and rocks, the whole world kept rocking, the way it does for ocean sailors coming ashore. I guess the feeling of relief even overwhelmed our joy to have made it!

So, what were our experiences of long open water swims like this:

• Preparation is everything. Follow the weather reports closely and never cheat on security. We had orange swim buoy's attached and all swimmers were connected to each other with long rubber cords, just like the ones used in swim-run events. The service-boat always stayed within 100 meters from the swimmers.

• With time you will get cold. We used neoprene swimcaps, as well as neoprene swimgloves and socks. I also had a thin woollen t-shirt under my wetsuit acting as insulation. Still our body temperature dropped fast the last hour.

• Don't start out too fast. It is just like the swim sessions in the pool. One really needs to hold back in the speed from the start. Fatigue will come for sure anyhow. Think a Red Mist Session X plenty!

• Train for endurance, not speed. I have personally found the Swim Smooth training plans for triathletes ideal in this respect.

• Finally, if someone in the team gets seasick – put them to the back of the pack. 😉

Lennart Flygare
“Swim Smooth Prospect”
Umeå, Sweden

* Actually that's a perfectly respectable CSS pace. Nothing to be ashamed of Lennart!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Must Watches From The Hawaii Ironman

We hope you enjoyed watching the Hawaii Ironman last Saturday as much as we did. It was a race of incredible performances up and down the field as Pros and Age-Groupers alike set some stunning times and course records fell in the lightening-fast (for Kona) conditions.

This week on the blog we have some inspiring links for you from around the internet to images, interviews and quotes from some of those athletes who had great (or not so great) performances.

If you've not heard of Ironman or the race out in Hawaii, all you need to know is that it's the ultimate triathlon of 3.8km (2.4mile) swim, 180km (112mile) bike and a full 42.2km (26.2mile) marathon run! Kona is the World Championship with a rough water ocean swim and is crazy hot and normally super windy on the bike and run too. Hopefully you've gathered you've got to have a screw loose to do this sport! Here's the official intro video:

First up don't miss this interview by Bob Babbit with women's winner and Daniela Ryf reflecting the day after the race and giving us a real insight into her mindset, which in turn makes her such a great champion:

It was a phenomenal performance by the "Swiss Miss" to set a course record of 7:52:39 despite that nasty run-in with a jelly fish during the swim. We love this clip of Daniela on the bike too, has any triathlete ever looked stronger at the end of the ride? :

As you know from our interview own with him last year, Bob is a great interviewer with unparalled knowledge of the sport, he's got a great way of getting into what makes an athlete tick. Don't miss his interview with men's winner Patrick Lange who is rapidly becoming a legend is his own right, especially after lowering the lap record to an unbelievable 8:26:18 :

With another super-impressive performance came from the ever improving Lucy Charles smashing the swim record in 48:14! :

Of course (shameless plug alert!) you can see Lucy swim and understand why she's such a swimming machine from our exclusive study of her stroke in the Swim Smooth Guru (subscription required):

Also don't miss HUUB Design's chat with 3rd place finisher David McNamee (below) - huge congrats from everyone at SS David on another great race:

What happened to Lionel Sanders on race day? He opens up here:

Think you're getting too old to perform? Think again - 85-year-old Hiromu Inada (above) became the oldest finisher in IRONMAN World Championship history!:

None drafting race? Chris McCormack shows us what the start of the age group bike looks like:

Lots of ideas in the comments on how to fix the problem. Our suggestion - change the race to a 10K swim at Kona - that will spread the field. ;)

Last but not least, friend of Swim Smooth Dan Plews (below) set an all-time age group world record too. We will have our exclusive interview with him

Swim Smooth!

Raced yourself? Let us know about your own experience at Kona by replying to this blog email or emailing We'd love to hear from you and don't forget to include any photos you have! :)

Friday, October 12, 2018

Never Waste A Good Crisis

First up, a big shout out to everyone competing at the Ironman World Champs in Hawaii this weekend. Race strong and have an awesome day out there!

Special mention to British pro athlete Tim Don making his comeback at Kona after being wiped out horrifically by a car and breaking his neck during race week last year. If you haven't seen the mini-documentary about his incredible recovery and comeback, watch it now. It's super-inspiring:

Tim's a good friend of Swim Smooth (you can study his stroke technique in the Guru here). Give it full beans and enjoy every minute Tim!

Never Waste A Good Crisis

If you live in the northern hemisphere, you might be reflecting on your race season just gone. We hope you had a brilliant time, smashed some PB's and achieved everything you set out to do.

But what if you didn't? What if you under-performed, didn't hit the targets you set yourself or perhaps you even went backwards?

There's a saying from the worlds of politics and business "never waste a good crisis" and it applies to athletes just as much as diplomats. If you think about every big change you've made in your life for the better, most were been made at a time of crisis, when everything felt tough, when your world was in reverse, when your confidence was low.

The worst thing you can do in a crisis is nothing: Stay in the bad relationship. Don't look for a better job. Repeat the training you've done before. Keep your head down and keep plugging away. That's blindly carrying on as before but hoping for a different outcome.

The key to getting yourself out of a hole is to make some changes. We see the process in three parts:

1) Think long and hard about everything you did and what happened as a result.

Make a list - as long as you like - about what you did that had a positive impact and what happened that was a negative. Think about all areas, for example:

- Training and preparation - both the nature of what you did and your consistency doing it.
- The quality of rest and recovery.
- Your diet, alcohol consumption etc.
- Your mental attitude and approach (e.g. positivity, self esteem).
- The impact of the people in your life.

This reflection can take a bit of time but it is absolutely critical to recognise each element to move forwards.

2) Ask your support network for advice.

Talk to your coach, your family, your friends and ask them for their input both on what went wrong and what you can do differently to get a better result. If they have your best needs at heart it's amazing the sort of insight and clarity they will have and will likely have some thoughts and ideas that never occurred to you.

Don't be afraid to chat to some athletes who are that bit better than you and ask them for their input too. Approach them in the right way and more often than not they are happy to help.

Whoever you ask, remember to be open minded and actually listen to what they have to say!

Need to actually spend some time in open water?

3) Make changes.

You need to make changes to move forwards and this involves an element of bravery because although the ideas for change normally come easily you don't actually know whether they will work. There's nearly always a leap of faith here.

Some examples of change:

- You've realised your working relationship with your coach has broken down and the element of trust is disappearing. A new coach is needed - take your time finding the right person but kick off the search immediately.

- An athlete that you train with, or someone in your friend network is a negative influence, eroding your self esteem and knocking you off track. A frank discussion, or making a change to distance them is required.

- You have a weakness for alcohol. Friday and Saturday nights normally involve some drinks with friends and it's hard to get up and train for your key sessions the next day. Recognising addictions like this and breaking them will not only improve your performances but make a huge difference to your long term health.

- Your training is good when you do it but your consistency is poor. A key change would be to do slightly less training to make it more achievable so you can execute it consistently week-in week-out. Don't underestimate how much difference this could make!

- Something is wrong technically with your training and preparation. For instance, in swimming you could be focusing too much on technique work to the detriment of your fitness development (the classic "Overglider Hermit" scenario) or you don't swim in open water until race day - remember open water skills are worth just as much time as your swim fitness and stroke technique!

Of course there's no limit to how many changes you can make in one go but it's probably best to focus on the key one, two or three that are influencing you most heavily.

Swim Smooth!

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Structure Your Training The Swim Smooth Way

How should I structure my training week? is one of the most common questions we hear at Swim Smooth.

If you swim within a Swim Smooth Squad or train using the Swim Smooth Guru (our virtual swim coach) you'll know that we favour a consistent routine all year round without much (if any) periodisation.

SS Coach Mike Jotautas takes his squad through a technique session in Louisville, Kentucky.

We like a consistent structure that you can easily understand and follow week in, week out. Keep this rolling along and you'll get the right training stimuli (and the consistency of training) that you need to keep on improving over many months and years up to a very high level.

This is a far more effective approach than overly periodising things and focusing exclusively on one thing at a time (e.g. just on your stroke technique over the winter, your aerobic fitness in the spring and your open water skills come the summer).

Fundamentally we are talking about five types of workout here:

Technique sessions (watch intro video here)
CSS sessions (watch intro video here)
Aerobic Endurance sessions (or for more advanced swimmers a Red Mist session)  (watch intro videos here and here)
Open Water Skills sessions (watch intro video here)
Sprint sessions (watch intro video here)

Those videos are the introductions to each session type from the Guru's extensive training plans (subscription required).

Develop A Weekly Structure - And Keep it Rolling

Fundamentally you need to roll through the first four session types, occasionally introducing a Sprint session if you are swimming three times per week or more.

We know from the 5000 of you subscribed to the Guru that most of you swim two, three or four times per week. So here's how that works out for each of those instances:

Swimming Twice Per Week

Week 1, 3, 5 etc: Technique session and CSS session
Week 2, 4, 6 etc: OW Skills session and CSS session*

* on weeks 2, 6, 10 etc swap the CSS session for an Aerobic Endurance session

Swimming Three Times Per Week

Week 1, 3, 5 etc: Technique session, CSS session and OW Skills session
Week 2, 4, 6 etc: Aerobic Endurance / Red Mist session, CSS session*

* on weeks 4, 8, 12 etc swap the CSS session for a Sprint session

Swimming Four Times Per Week

Every week: Technique session, Aerobic Endurance / Red Mist session, CSS session and OW Skills session* 
* on weeks 4, 8, 12 etc swap the CSS session for a Sprint session

This structure can be seen in Appendix C of the Swim Smooth Book (also showing examples for swimming 5, 6 or 7 times per week) and is baked into the Guru's extensive training plans and Goal-setting engine (subscription required).

The key here is to keep this regular structure rolling week-in, week-out. It's a challenging routine but done with consistency will take your swimming to the next level.

Open Water Skills... Through The Winter?

Absolutely yes!! Open water skills (whether practised in the pool or open water) are so valuable to your performance as an open water swimmer or triathlete that they should be practised all year round. These sessions - normally swum in a group in your own lane - are great fun and really remind you of what you are training for next season.

Don't underestimate the importance of this - developing the confidence and an effective stroke to swim in open water is worth just as much time improvements as stroke technique or swim fitness.

Watch SS Head Coach Paul Newsome's explanation here:

Swim Smooth!