Improving your feel in the water – Colin Cook’s Ironman Swim tips

Improving your feel in the water - Colin Cook's Ironman Swim tips
Improving your feel in the water - Colin Cook's Ironman Swim tips

Improving your feel in the water – Colin Cook’s Ironman Swim tips

Improving your feel in the water - Colin Cook's Ironman Swim tips

We catch up with Colin Cook on this edition of The Kona Edge to talk about his Ironman swim. We chat about feel in the water and the changes you need to make between pool and open water swimming.

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Discover the 4 most common swim killers and how to fix them so that you can shave minutes off your swim time.


BRAD BROWN: Welcome back onto yet another edition of The Kona Edge. I’m Brad Brown. It’s great to have you with us. Thanks for joining us today and don’t forget if you are enjoying the podcast, if you’re getting anything out of it, we’d love it if you left us a review or a rating on iTunes.

It just helps us get in front of more people and spread the message about the sport we all love so much.

We head back to Australia now to catch up with Claire Davis. Claire, welcome back onto The Kona Edge. Thanks for joining us.

CLAIRE DAVIS: Thanks Brad.

Ironman swim speed – Is volume the answer?

BRAD BROWN: Claire, your Ironman swim is undoubtedly the strongest of the 3 disciplines. You come from a very, very strong swimming background. If I look at your Ironman swim times, particularly Ironman Kona in 2016, you absolutely smashed that swim. Just shy of 54 minutes.

Swimming has come naturally to you, but that’s because you’ve done so many hours in the pool. The Ironman swim is the one discipline you find quite easy. You’re pretty comfortable in the water, aren’t you?

CLAIRE DAVIS: Yes, the Ironman swim is definitely my strong point. It’s nice to get in there and have a good swim at the start of a triathlon.

BRAD BROWN: You also, in our first chat, mentioned the volume you did growing up as a teen competitive swimmer. It was hours and hours and hours in the water. Is that the key to getting better, is just doing the work?

CLAIRE DAVIS: Yes, and even now I find that if I increase my swim volume I feel much better. Not just in the water but also on the bike and in big run sessions.

I feel like I don’t get the big lows and the fatigue after a big bike session, if I just increase my swim mileage from about 9 to about 15 kilometres a week.

BRAD BROWN: Why do you think that is? That’s quite interesting.

Recovery is important for your Ironman swim speed sessions

CLAIRE DAVIS: I’m not sure. I guess even though you are working in the pool, there is some active recovery in there. I can’t work out why, but it just makes me feel better if my swim volume is increased.

As a swimmer, I find that I’m more likely to drop a swim session because I feel like that’s the easy one to drop. That’s because I don’t have to work at it too much.

Truthfully though, the more I’ve increased my Ironman swim volume, the better I feel elsewhere. It’s kind of motivation for me to not drop that session. Where I usually would because it will help me in the recovery from the bike and run.

BRAD BROWN: Is your Ironman swim speed still something you work on actively? Is it a case of, because of your history in the sport, you can just pitch up, do the work and go home?

Or is there something, from an Ironman swim technique perspective that you need to work on? Are you constantly trying to improve your Ironman Swim speed or are you just trying to maintain what you’ve got?

Volume is important to maintain your Ironman swim speed

CLAIRE DAVIS: It’s more of a maintenance thing. Making sure that I’m not dropping too much time off there. I think if you were to concentrate on your Ironman bike and Ironman run and let your Ironman swim fall by the wayside, you’re going to drop a couple of minutes.

I personally want every minute that I can get out of there. My coach gave me the option of just going and setting my own Ironman swim sessions. Telling me when to swim and I don’t particularly like that.

I think it comes from being the ex-swimmer and needing to have some instruction in what I’m actually doing. Now she actually sets my Ironman swim speed sessions for me or I’ll jump in on a local squad.

BRAD BROWN: When it comes to the sort of things you’ve done over time,  are some of the things that you’ve done that you think has really improved your Ironman swim speed? What has made you faster and built that Ironman swim endurance?

CLAIRE DAVIS: Adding in some aerobic threshold work into it, I think that’s really helped improve my Ironman swim speed. We used to do that when I was swimming competitively.

Improve your Ironman swim speed with aerobic threshold work

There’d be a big aerobic threshold set at least once a week. Adding that into my Ironman training has really helped. We use a set from a glide person, called Paul Newson from Swim Smooth. He sets a critical swim speed which is, I guess is the closest to a power tester in an FTP tester that you would get in the pool.

Then the session is based on that critical Ironman swim speed time and variations of that. So, adding that in has helped my swim, particularly over the Ironman distance.

It works out that whatever my critical swim speed is in the last test before the Ironman, I usually swim within 1 to 2 seconds of that pace on race day.

BRAD BROWN: Wow, that’s incredible. Would you say that’s one of your favourite Ironman swim workouts? Are there Ironman swim workouts that you really enjoy doing?

CLAIRE DAVIS: It is my favourite. It’s probably the most painful. The typical one would be you do 10 x 400 at a descending pace. It feels really easy at the beginning, and then by the last one it feels like your arms are about to drop off. But I get a lot of satisfaction out of doing that Ironman swim speed session.

An Ironman swim squad shares your pain

BRAD BROWN: How do you deal with boredom in the pool Claire? That’s one thing a lot of age groupers struggle with. Just staring at that line. It can drive them up the wall. But you’ve spend lots of time in the pool in your life, what would you suggest to age groupers who battle with getting bored in the pool.

CLAIRE DAVIS: Definitely join a squad. Shared pain is much better to cope with.  Find a squad so you can have a chat to people at the end of each 100 or whatever. I think that definitely helps.

I’ve done a lot of training on my own in Singapore, and I used a temporary trainer which will be on the repetition. I kind of felt like that takes a little bit of the loneliness of a solo Ironman swim set away.

BRAD BROWN: I love it. And the transition to open water? You spend lots of time in the pool and racing in the pool, did you struggle with that transition?

CLAIRE DAVIS: Not too much actually. I remember my swim coach told me that I would be a really good 800 to 1500m swimmer but my technique was too poor to match it with the other girls in the pool.

I think maybe moving into the open water, my poor technique as a swimmer I’d say kind of erodes away. It is not as noticeable in open water.

BRAD BROWN: I love it. Claire, thank you so much for joining us on this edition of The Kona Edge. Much appreciated. We look forward to getting you back on to chat a bit about your Ironman bike next time out.

CLAIRE DAVIS: Thanks Brad.

About Us

Brad Brown is a 40 something age grouper that dreams of one day qualifying for and racing on the big island (He may have to outlive everyone in his age group though).

Morbidly obese in 2009, Brad clocked in at 165kgs (363lbs) at his heaviest.

He's subsequently lost a third of his body weight on the way to a half Ironman pb of 5:06 and a full Ironman pb of 12:21.


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