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.
These are the resources that were discussed on this podcast:
Ironman Coaches: Coaches Corner
BRAD BROWN: Welcome onto this edition of The Kona Edge. We head back to Australia now to catch up with Tim Rae. Tim, welcome back onto The Kona Edge. Thanks for your time.
TIM RAE: Thanks Brad. Thanks for having me back on. It’s good to catch up for another chat.
BRAD BROWN: Tim, you had a bit of an unfair advantage coming into triathlon. You mentioned in our first chat that your mom was a good swimmer in her own right. It must be in the genes, you took the sport up young. And I don’t want to say you haven’t had to work as hard at it, but I guess it’s like learning to ride a bicycle. The sooner you do it, the more natural it becomes. It’s much the same for swimming.
Swimming comes naturally when you learn early in life
TIM RAE: Yes. It’s one thing I’m grateful of. Again, not sure how early, but I know mom had us in the pool early on. And I guess as I’ve grown up I’ve cherished being able to go to the beach and swim. Swimming competitively at school. Also, when I signed up to start racing, the swimming did come back naturally to me.
For a little while there I did take advantage of that and get out in a good enough position. Never where I wanted to be, but for how much training I was doing it was there. And it probably wasn’t until the start of last year where I was sick of coming out just behind the front pack guys, in age group racing specifically. Having to get to work on the bike and chase them down. I managed that in a couple of races where I came out right in the front.
It just changed my whole race tactic. I could then dictate the race the way I wanted. And go out and make the guys hurt on the bike and see what they had. It just changed the whole race dynamic of racing the way I wanted. As opposed to racing the way other guys made me race and it’s something I haven’t fallen out with.
Getting a better feel of the water allows you to swim faster
Having an injury at the start of this year I’ve been swimming more than ever I did. Doing a couple of 30/35k swim weeks. For a triathlete that’s a lot of time in the pool, but it’s paid off. Regularly now, I probably swim around 20k’s a week and that’s something I make sure I keep up. The more I’m swimming, the more comfortable I feel. And have a better feel of the water. I guess now, and moving into the professional race, is something I won’t be resting on. Because if you’re too far off that front pack, where you don’t make it in some races, then it’s just about game over.
BRAD BROWN: You make such an important point there Tim. I think a lot of swimmers who come from a background like you’ve got. Where you’re comfortable in the water, you don’t have to put in too much time to be there, or thereabout. You might not be with the front pack, but you’re not going to lose too much time. And they tend to feel that’s good enough.
So, it’s almost good stopping you from becoming great and that’s a valid point. Even though it’s something that still comes easy to you, you still need to work hard at it if you want to get good at it.
Work hard when you want more from your Ironman swim
TIM RAE: Yes. It’s like everything. You can be happy with where you’re at and you can rest on that. You might be happy riding a certain time or a certain wattage on the bike. If you’re happy with that then you know what you must do to keep it that level. But I guess I’ve always wanted more, and I’ve wanted to swim better and change the race, I guess.
Early on someone said to me, and it’s something which I still believe highly today, that you can’t win the race on the swim, but you can lose it. And I think that’s highlighted. Especially in Ironman 70.3 racing. The way these guys who are coming from ITU are the top of the athletes. The times they’re churning out now, they really have no weakness across the board.
If you’re not in the mix out of the water and forming that front pack on the bike, or getting in the group, you’re leaving yourself with too much work to do. And it’s unlikely that someone will come from a fair way back in am Ironman 70.3 and run down Ironman, it’s a totally different story.
I guess it’s just wanting to be better as an athlete. It’s a discipline that I know I can work on and people can always work on. So, it’s just trying to work harder and to make the group in the front.
BRAD BROWN: What are some of the things that you’ve done over the years that you think have moved the needle and improved your swim?
Improve your Ironman swim technique and get the miles in
TIM RAE: At a point, it was at the start. So, upping my mileage during my weekly swimming. When Sam Appleton was coaching me for a while, I took a big step up from my early days. Where I was swimming 12, to maybe a big week at 15k’s, which would wipe me out. Then with Sam, he came from a swimming background, he got me up to swimming 20/22k’s a week, regularly. And that for a block of time helped. I just settled on that. Longer swims. Becoming more comfortable.
I remember starting and you get a 5km swim set and by the end of it I’d hope I was not drowning. It was more just trying to stay afloat. I’ve noticed the progression in the length of swim and the interval sets, and watching times come down. It’s just working hard at it. Working on your technique. Getting the miles in and spending the time.
Treat your Ironman swim with respect
People don’t treat it their Ironman swim with the same respect as they might their bike or their run. They focus so hard on running. Getting their 1km reps back or working on a specific power output for the bike. But if you’re never going to be able to use that to your advantage, then it’s a waste.
You’ve just got to be thinking differently towards an approach to look at the racing. And it starts with the swim. So, you’ve got to get it right. Then let your work that you do on the other disciplines happen after that.
BRAD BROWN: What swimming workouts and swim sessions do you love doing in the water?
TIM RAE: Probably the ones you hate the most are the best for you. You can get a set of 19 x 100’s leaving on 120’s high heart rate threshold work, which is like a race simulation. I don’t think anyone particularly enjoys it. But you get to the end of it and you know that’s something you’ve worked hard on. And that it’s a good one to have in the bank.
Lately I’ve enjoyed some of the longer swimming sets. Where it might not be at the highest threshold. Probably just more aerobic conditioning and getting out some 5 or 6, maybe 6 and a half kilometre swim sets. Where you’re in the pool for a good 90-minutes or so.
Variety in your Ironman swim sets gives greater gains
Whether it’s technique based or strength based with some paddles doing back to back. I did one the other day which was a k-and-a-half warm up into 10 x 400’s. Doing that sort of work is slow and steady. Strength endurance work. But you start to feel it by the back end of it.
And it’s knowing that you can do a slower set like that as opposed to a high heart rate, 2 and a half thresholds set. You’re getting benefits out of 2 completely different sets. So, just enjoying a variety of mix in the pool. Knowing that swimming more and focusing on it I’m enjoying it a lot more.
BRAD BROWN: Sounds brilliant. Tim, thank you so much for your time here on The Kona Edge. Much appreciated. I’m looking forward to getting you on to talk a little more about your bike next time out. Thanks for your time today.
TIM RAE: Thanks very much. Cheers Brad.
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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