Category: Elite

Hey readers, sorry for the radio silence. I’ve been floored with the flu for the past week and haven’t managed to do much of anything at all.

In fact the closest I’ve come to swimming is watching Finding Nemo on DVD from under a doonah on my couch.

I’m feeling on the mend, today, and hoping to get back to training on Wednesday.

In the mean time, here’s someone else’s thrilling open water swimming story. It’s pretty inspirational and includes winning the event…something you’re unlikely to ever read about from me!

Back soon.


Oops! Missed a week…sorry. I’m assuming anyone who’s really seriously and strictly following the Ky Hurst training program I’ve been posting here has probably signed up themselves and isn’t too upset that I missed a week and am posting two at a time here. Right? Right?

Anyway, here are the two latest weeks…

week 5 on active recovery and week 6 on the taper.

Interestingly, in the last two weeks of the plan he talks about active recovery and tapering to ensure you are rested and in peak form for a goal event.

It’s a good point that a lot of people don’t get when training for any type of event. Essentially, any work you do pays off about 2 weeks later. The catch here is that it’s not like a test at school…you can’t do a last minute cram and train like crazy in the last 2 weeks before an event….it’ll do you more harm than good!

Once you hit those last two weeks you really want to be doing just enough that you are staying comfortable in the water and maintaining a routine. The focus is really on resting and eating well and sleeping well to ensure you can really output maximum energy on the day.

I have, on occasion taken this approach. Particularly the first year I swam, I followed a very specific training program geared towards a particular goal swim, and I definitely did a proper taper before the event.

More recently, however, during summer it’s not uncommon for me to be racing just about every weekend. Last season I spent 13 individual days racing and I didn’t start til after Christmas. Under these kind of circumstances (crazy ones? well, maybe) the line between training and racing does start to blur after a while.

Regardless, my strategy involved taking it fairly easy at the Saturday sessions before a race, and weighing up how far, what the conditions would be like and what else was going on week to week. For a big race somewhere in open water (as opposed to a course that is entirely inside a bay) I’ll know that I’m going to need more energy than a short course at Bondi. Regardless, the principles of active recovery are really important here. I’ll make race day the hardest swim of the week….and then it can do double duty as a training day for 2 weeks later!

If you’re looking for them, here’s week 1 and week 2 and week 3 and week 4

If you’ve been checking out the great training program from the fabulous Ky Hurst, week 4 is now available. This week’s focus is on long strokes.

Here’s where I’d normally give you my take on the topic. Except that it’s probably the biggest flaw in my swim technique that I don’t do this nearly enough. I have a sneaky suspicion that may have something to do with why I’m down in the lower end of the pack on a consistent basis.

If you’ll excuse me, I think there’s something I need to go do…..

If you’re looking for them, here’s week 1 and week 2 and week 3

If you’ve been checking out the great training program from the fabulous Ky Hurst, week 3 is now available. This week’s focus is on surging. This is something I’ve personally found really useful in races for different reasons.

I’ve used surging to quickly get past another swimmer. Particularly if they have a *ahem* creative stroke and are flailing or swinging wide or, worst of all, swimming breaststroke, that most heinous of ocean swim racing sins!

In contrast, another way I’ve used surging is to get out of the way. With different types of wave starts, and being a slower swimmer, most races see me with the vanguard of a different age and/or gender group coming up behind me, closing fast, and looking like they’ll happily swim right over the top of me to maintain their line. I’m not that competitive a person. Not enough to get into a fight with a big burly fast swimmer over a line, so I usually try to move slightly to the side and just get out of their way.

The last one is a tactical move. I frequently use a surge to catch up with or keep up with a slightly faster swimmer and see if I can get a bit of a draft. In this case it’s definitely worth extending the effort a touch to gain a bit of a boost and/or rest.

So there are my thoughts on why this skill is really useful for all ocean swimmers, even me!

If you’re looking for them, here’s week 1 and week 2

I posted the other day about Ky Hurst’s week one training plan. And it seems he’s followed it up with something I like even more! What a hero!

Today was Ky’s 5 Commandments for Swimming Smarter Not Harder. That links to the online source, but I’m going to reproduce the commandments below because I love it so much I want to make it my mantra for this swim season (at least!)

Such a good, well-balanced, realistic approach!

Ky’s 5 Commandments for Swimming
“Smarter not Harder”

If you don’t average 2 -3 swims a week you tend to lose your feel for the water and your technique will begin to deteriorate. No feel, no technique, no speed. You might be doing a great swim workout once or twice a week, but for most swimmers that is not enough. If the option is between one or two long workouts or three or four shorter workouts, swimmers seem to do better  when they swim more frequently as opposed to only doing a few longer workouts each week.


Maintain the best possible technique at all speeds during a workout. If you try to go fast with bad technique, you are wasting energy. It might still be a good fitness workout and you are burning plenty of calories by getting your heart rate up, but you are not helping yourself to become a better swimmer. If you can teach yourself to go fast while using good technique, you will make bigger gains.

Early in your workout, in the middle of your workout, or at the end of your workout (or any combination of the three!) do some specific technique work to reinforce good swimming skills. Even a few strokes thinking about what you are doing with your hands, arms, elbows, sho
ulders, head, body, hips, legs, knees, or feet can help you be a better swimmer. There are many drills you can do to stay tuned up, or to help you develop better technique.

One or two times a week (depending upon how frequently you swim) do part of your workout with oomph – push the effort, go hard, whatever you want to call it. If all of your workouts are focused on technique, your technique will improve. But what will happen when you try to go faster? You will get tired, your technique will deteriorate, and you might as well call it a day. If you are doing some hard or challenging workouts – mixed in with technique work – as different workouts or as part of the same workout – you will learn how to hold good technique while going faster.

Depending upon your swimming goals, there may be no reason to do more than one or two tough workout sets a week, as long as you do one or two easier workouts, too. Work hard on the hard things, and easy on the easy things, and each kind of work will work together, resulting in an overall improvement in your swimming.
It is also important to have 1 week in every 4 to 5 as a recovery week.


More random weirdness from the Olympics Swimming News.

And you thought things couldn’t get any stranger than that last post? Watch. This. Space.


I’m still a long way off doing a 10km event…the best I’ve done so far is a 2.8km, or a couple of double-ups (1km backed up with a 2km event on the same day), and I’m making the 5km Coogee to Bondi my goal swim for this coming season.

A couple of my friends actually managed the 10km Bondi to Watson’s Bay event this year and I was mightily impressed with that effort.

So since I found out about the Olympics Marathon Open Water Swim event (two days ago…impressive, huh?), my ears have been perking up and I’m quite intrigued to see how the elite handle the races.

I read this article in the Sydney Morning Herald today that has me even more intrigued. I’ve copied the full article below as I think direct links expire if you’re a non-subscriber…but full credit to the Herald for the article.

 When the going gets tough, the tough get swimming
John Huxley

John Huxley

Associate Editor, Sydney Morning Herald

More than six years have passed, but Melissa Gorman still winces with pain as she recalls the first time she competed in a 10 kilometre open-water swim – on Elk Lake, Vancouver Island, in the Pan Pacific Championships.

”It was horrible. Just horrible. I was going OK for the first seven or eight kilometres but then … well, it was like a piano dropped on top of me. I couldn’t feel anything. I was pretty much not going anywhere. I didn’t have the energy. The arms, the legs, were dead. I really didn’t know what I’d let myself in for,” says the 26-year-old Sydneysider, who still managed to finish fourth.

My will to live completely overcame my desire to win. 

Undeterred, Gorman has since swum a dozen more 10km marathons, including at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she finished 15th.

Open-water swimmer Melissa Gorman still winces at the thought of her first 10 kilometre event.Open-water swimmer Melissa Gorman still winces at the thought of her first 10 kilometre event. Photo: Getty Images

”To be honest,” she explains, ”there’s no 10 kilometre race that won’t hurt. When you’ve got experience you can switch off the pain. Or at least the bad pain. You can turn it into, like … good pain.”

Gorman will race 24 others on a six-lap course on the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park. Ironman Ky Hurst will compete for Australia in the men’s event on Friday.

”It’s going to be amazing,” Hurst says. ”I can’t think of a better place in the world to showcase the event.”

Although the 10km swim became an Olympic event as recently as 2006, open-water racing has a long and colourful history, dating from 36BC, when Japanese warriors competed in aquatic marathons. In ancient Rome, races on the River Tiber attracted thousands of spectators. And the first Olympic swimming events were held not in purpose-built pools but on open water until 1908.

In 1896, competitors were taken to sea in rowing boats from the port of Piraeus in Greece and tipped into icy waters running a four-metre swell. Many had to be rescued as they struck out on the 1km swim back to shore.

The first man to cross the finish line, Hungary’s Alfred Hajos, later recalled: ”My will to live completely overcame my desire to win.”

Such life-or-death struggles are not a thing of the past. Last year, American Fran Crippen, a six-time US champion, died in an open-water race in Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates. A report suggested he died of a ”cardiac abnormality” and ”uncontrolled exercise-induced asthma”. Several other competitors suffered heat exhaustion as water temperatures rose above 30.

As Greg Towle, the Australian national open-water swim coach, points out, on other occasions competitors have risked hypothermia, as well as water-borne hazards such as weeds, jellyfish and even floating carcasses.

No such extremes are expected on the Serpentine, a recreational lake topped up with tried, tested and quality-approved water from the nearby River Thames. Even the ducks are being excluded. But Towle says the snaky, tight-cornered course will bring extra excitement to an event described by one expert as ”two hours of aquatic anarchy”, which can leave swimmers with black eyes, bloodied noses and even broken ribs.

Officials patrol the 1.67km course, especially at the start, at the corners and near floating stations, where swimmers fuel up. Yellow and red cards is used to identify and punish offenders. Hurst insists most of the contact is unintentional. ”It’s just part and parcel of the sport. There’s no black line for us to follow. About 99 per cent of the world couldn’t follow one anyway.”

Towle agrees. ”You can’t put a bunch of athletes, especially guys topping six foot, in such a confined place and not expect there to be contact. But it’s never a focus for us. That would just be a waste of energy. What we work on is ensuring Melissa and Ky have flexible plans to get around the course as safely and efficiently as they can.”

The dynamics of open-water swimming have changed, Towle says. ”Winning is no longer just about swimming at a constant pace over a long distance. You are not in your own lane, not just focusing on your own race. It’s not always the fastest person who wins. It’s the person who can swim in a pack, get out of trouble, read a race, get in the right place in the last few hundred metres.” That includes negotiating crowded feeding stations.

”It’s very tactical,” Towle says. Some swimmers, such as British world champion Keri-Anne Payne, go straight for open water and try to stay to the finish. Most play cat and mouse. ”It’s a race where experience gets you a long way. It’s tactical,” Towle says.

Such a combination of mental and physical demands, and unpredictable conditions, has prompted some observers to claim the 10km swim is the toughest event at the Olympics. Other claimants include rowers (”all-body intensity”), marathon runners (like open-water swimming, ”two hours of gruelling endurance”) and triathletes (”an unholy trinity of bloody tough sports”). Counting calories per hour burned, energy expended, suggests marathon runners and rowers might ”do it tougher” than open-water swimmers, who can lose from half a kilogram to four or 5kg in a 10km race.

According to one rough, online calorie guide, in two hours a male swimmer weighing, say, 86kg, can expend 2700 calories, a rower 2000 and a swimmer 1400. But as Towle says, there are so many parameters. ”You can take measurements, but so much depends on an athlete’s build, metabolism, intensity, environment and so on.”

How, too, does one measure the physical and mental toughness required not just to endure but to survive the roughing-up, accidental or not, that is inevitable. Peter Larkins, a doctor and sports physician who works with athletes across many disciplines, agrees marathon swimmers do it tough, although their rough ride is ameliorated in part by the ”buoyancy effect”. Significantly, his personal pick for ”toughest event” is the decathlon. ”It’s two days, 10 sports, jumping, throwing, sprinting, standing still, waiting. It tests a range of athletic skills and is mentally stressful.”

Ultimately, the toughness title does not matter. As Towle says: ”All I know is people doing open-swim for the first time come out of the water and say it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever done. I’ve got the greatest respect for them.”

Gorman’s regime, devised with coach Ken Wood of the Redcliffe City High Performance Centre, includes swimming 60 to 70km, and gym, riding and running sessions.She sees a long-term future in a sport whose widespread popularity is reflected in the packed Australian ocean swim program. She recently launched special edition Olympic togs for sponsor Aquadiva. At $400 they might sound expensive, but the revenue helps fund the athlete in a sport that still struggles for financial support. By contrast, 31-year-old Hurst says the London Olympics will be his last.

Having realised in Beijing a lifelong ambition to represent Australia, he will give London his best shot and return to ironman events. He will not be lost entirely to open-water swimming: he founded and will continue to run the Great Australian Swim Series.

Returning to ironman will be hard, but Hurst reckons the 10km race is among the world’s toughest events. ”My first, I still remember. I almost died at the finish. I mean, I was toast.”

%d bloggers like this: