Get fitter, not faster in the water - Ironman Swim Tips
Get fitter, not faster in the water - Ironman Swim Tips

Get fitter, not faster in the water – Ironman Swim Tips

Get fitter, not faster in the water - Ironman Swim Tips

We are joined today on The Kona Edge by James Wilson who shares his battles in his Ironman swim.  James reveals why he chooses fitness above speed in his Ironman swim.  He warns against falling into bad habits and we learn that although the swim is only 10% of your day you can’t improve it only by watching YouTube video clips.

Subscribe to The Kona Edge:

Subscribe on iTunes

Download via RSS

Swim faster without spending more time in the water

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


If you  need a triathlon coach, check out the Coaches Corner.

Support The Kona Edge by becoming a Patron


BRAD BROWN:  Welcome back onto yet another edition of The Kona Edge, it’s awesome to have you with us. We head back to the UK now to chat some swimming. Returning guest, James Wilson. James, welcome back, nice to touch base once again.

I’m really looking forward to this chat cause you’re a self-confessed, I don’t want to say ‘hater’ of swimming, but it’s not your most favorite thing in the world to do, it’s a necessary evil isn’t it?

The swim – a necessary evil

JAMES WILSON:  I don’t know, hate is pretty close! I wasn’t made for swimming at all. Something I really have to force myself to do. A necessary evil is the best I’ve heard it described.

BRAD BROWN:  It’s interesting, you said to me in our last chat that the swim is your weakest of the three, so you get out the water, you’re quite a way back, you’re a strong cyclist, so you make up a lot of time on the bike, it’s a nice mental position to be in. Coming off a discipline like the swim, knowing that that’s the hardest bit of your day done, essentially and here on in it’s your wheelhouse as opposed to having it the other way around where you’re a strong swimmer, maybe you’re first or second out of the water but you know you’ve got to really hang on because people are chasing you down. From a mental perspective it’s nice to have that getting out of the water isn’t it?

Swimming is only 10% of your day

JAMES WILSON:  Yeah, it’s nice to know that you’re going to spend the next few hours overtaking really, rather than being overtaken, so yes, I accept it. I know where I’m going to be when I get out of the water. It’s a fairly empty transition one but you get your head down and just accept the rest of the day is going to be better than that first bit. I’ve never been too fussed about it, I’ve always accepted that swimming is 10% of the day, the rest is all about the bike and the run, it’s not something I particularly stress about. I don’t think I’m ever going to set the world on fire with my swimming, so I just kind of do what I can do. That’s best for me really.

BRAD BROWN:  I love that and I’ve never had someone describe it as just being 10% of the day and I think that’s such a great way to look at it. Particularly for people who struggle with the swim and feel like they need to be spending hours and hours in the water. Yes, some people do, but you’re never going to win an Ironman by having a fantastic swim. You need to work on the other things too and sometimes you’ve got to draw a line in the sand, this is good enough and no more. I’m going to keep it at this level and focus on the other two.

Get fit and be in a good position out of the water

JAMES WILSON:  That’s exactly my attitude towards it. I saw a lot of gains when I first started, when I began swimming and then I just hit this point where I wasn’t getting any faster, I was here and there little bits and bobs, but I wasn’t making those gains that you see initially. Rather than be disheartened by that, I just turned that into, well, this is probably as fast as I can go, let’s try and get as fit as I can or as efficient as I can at that speed, so when I’m getting out of the water, I’m getting out of the water in exactly the same time as I was before, but in a lot better condition to get onto the bike, so just getting fitter rather than faster.

BRAD BROWN:  You also mentioned the gains early on, in our first chat you spoke about possibly getting help sooner in your triathlon career, from a technique perspective, what are some of the things you’ve done in the water that have given you gains, that’s really improved your swim over time?

JAMES WILSON:  It’s quite difficult in the UK to find a big window of opportunity to do much open water, so there is a lot of time spent in the pool, so you’ve got to make it count. And again, it’s so difficult for me to get down to the pool and I have to make sure that if I’m going there I have to make it worthwhile and it’s got to be a quality session.

Is YouTube enough to improve your Ironman swim?

For me to learn a technique, I was almost self-taught, I’d watched clips on YouTube or signed up for various newsletters that someone pops up in your newsfeed and says: Five ways to improve your swim. I’ve tried all these, so I do a lot of short, sharp reps just to get that fitness up. Like the start of the race and a lot of the sessions were always kind of just longer endurance, resistance things, there was never too much. My technique is never going to improve massively because I’ve got into too many bad habits that I’ve allowed myself to do. It’s always been a bit of a struggle to work around a problem that I’ve created for myself.

BRAD BROWN:  Like you say, you get to a point where you go: Enough is enough, I’m not prepared to waste any more energy on trying to fix this, I’m happy with where I’m at and I like that, where you want to get fitter and not faster, it’s to get out the water feeling good so that you can smash the strong thing that’s coming, whether it’s the bike or the run that you’re really strong at. You’re a great example of that, that you can still get to a race like Kona and race by not having the strongest swim, you don’t have to be out of the water first.

Accept where you are at your Ironman swim

JAMES WILSON:  Yeah, I think if I spend twice as much time swimming and put a real focus on it, I’ll only be improving by one or two, a handful of minutes maybe, I still wouldn’t be coming out of the water too far up. So I think that time is better spent admitting to yourself early that you’re not going to set the world on fire here and this is you, this is the swimming hand you were dealt, so just make sure you’ve got something else in the locker to back it up afterwards. It’s a long day ahead as soon as you get out the water, so you don’t want to be cutting any corners in that, whereas in swimming you can maybe just accept it and move on.

BRAD BROWN:  The truth of the matter is James, if you do double the amount of time you spend in the water, that time has got to come from somewhere else, you can’t magically make that time up, it’s got to come off a bike or off a run and are you then going to be able to maintain the levels that you’ve got on those two and that’s where you’ve got to get that balancing act right.

JAMES WILSON: Certainly, the last thing I want to do is weaken my bike that I’m strong at, that’s where I need to make all my gains back. There’s no way I’m willing to save two minutes on the swim where it might be costing me five minutes or ten on the bike.

BRAD BROWN:  Let’s talk about your bike next time out here on The Kona Edge, much appreciate your time once again, we look forward to chatting about that next time, thanks for your time James.

JAMES WILSON: Cheers Brad.

Subscribe to the Podcast – iTunesStitcherRSS

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.


If you'd like to advertise on The Kona Edge, download our rate card.

Support Us

If you'd like to find out more about becoming a Patron of The Kona Edge, click here.

Contact Us

12 + 14 =