It’s the age old Ironman swim debate: Volume or Technique? On this edition of the Kona Edge we chat to Rob Hill and discover his thoughts on the matter.
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BRAD BROWN: You’re listening to The Kona Edge and it’s time to chat some swimming now. We head back to Melbourne in Australia to catch up with Rob Hill.
Rob welcome back onto the podcast. Thanks for joining us today.
ROB HILL: Yes, thanks Brad. It’s great to be back.
BRAD BROWN: Rob out of the 3 disciplines, which would you say is your weakest?
You can lose interest when it comes too easy
ROB HILL: I’d say the swim. I won’t say weakest because I like to talk to my athletes about sports we’re not as strong at as the other sports. But yes, my swim is something I would like to improve further. Although I’d say that about biking and running as well, so the swim.
BRAD BROWN: You’re the first Australian I’ve ever met whose swim is not their strongest discipline. I thought all Aussies were born water babies.
ROB HILL: Well look, I must admit something Brad. I was born in England. My dad is Australian and my mom is from London so I’ll blame my mom.
In a way I think I’m fortunate that the swim is something that I’ve had to work hard at to get reasonably competitive and I think we need that. If it all came easy, not to say that the biking and the running comes easy, but if the swim wasn’t as much of a challenge to me maybe I would have lost a bit of interest in the sport by now.
BRAD BROWN: Yes absolutely. As far as the improvements that you’ve made, is there certain things that you think you’ve done over time that have moved the needle for you?
Open water swim training make a difference on race day
ROB HILL: I think with swimming there’s that boredom of following the black line which we have to be very careful of. Through all of our training if we don’t enjoy something we’re not going to do enough of it. And with swimming if we’re trying to do the sessions on our own and we’re in the pool, I think for a lot of us that is the biggest handicap to improving our swimming.If we were good swimmers anyway, you tend to enjoy what you’re good at. If you don’t have a mental image of yourself as a good swimmer, then that gets in the way of you enjoying what you’re doing.
But I think the number one thing that I did that made a huge difference was having a regular open water swim. So over summer, sort of from mid-November through to probably April, in Melbourne. The city of Melbourne is on a bay and the bay is a great place to be able to do open water swimming and it’s not like the ocean. It’s reasonably flat depending on the direction of the wind. It does get pretty choppy with the southerly but it gives you all conditions to train in.
I think putting the wetsuit on and getting in with a group of people, I lead a group every Friday morning over the summer. Not winter because it’s way too cold for most of us. We’ll do some race specific stuff and at the end of that swim, you do an hour in the bay and you feel like a million dollars.
Train to be comfortable in your Ironman swim
Getting out of the pool, I don’t know if it’s the chlorine or the chemicals they use or whatever it is, but it’s just not the same feeling. Plus race day, when you’ve been doing a weekly open water swim, you’ve got the wetsuit back on and it’s out at the race and you get in the water and it’s just something that you’re used to.
But for the first few years of doing triathlon I just didn’t have that comfort when I was getting in the water when I was out at a race because I wasn’t doing enough of that in training. And a lot of people I think fall into that trap. Whether they’ve got the opportunity, that can be the big problem. But if they’ve got the opportunity or can make it, get a group of friends together and start doing some open water swimming.
BRAD BROWN: Yes absolutely. Volume vs technique, in your mind what’s more important? And when should you sort each out?
ROB HILL: For swimming they’re both important and I think other than the open water swimming, I’ve done a couple of swim challenges where I pick up my own tab in February because it’s quite a short month. I try and swim a minimum of 15 minutes every day. Just that frequency of swimming as well as the boging, so it’s not just boging, but the frequency of every day for a month.
Pump up your Ironman swim volume and technique with frequency
That made a huge difference to my swim form so that actually really helped my technique. Because when you’re swimming that frequently you’re not spending half the session trying to get your stroke back. And like the elite swimmers, they’re swimming 2 a day sessions, 6 days a week. Talking to their coaches, a big reason for that is keeping that feel for the water. It’s always there because they’re getting in the pool twice a day for almost a whole week.
BRAD BROWN: Absolutely. Looking at your swim times over your career, is it vital that you have to be dipping under 60 minutes if you want to be competitive in an Ironman? Whether it’s age group at a local race or on the big island.
ROB HILL: That 60 minutes sort of time, if you’re much slower than that it does give you a bit of a handicap and you are playing catch up. I’m pretty much a 60 minute swimmer with a wetsuit on, racing back home in an Ironman.
Don’t let your Ironman swim handicap your results
But in Hawaii, with no wetsuit, whatever it is about my stroke I tend to lose a lot more time compared to a wetsuit swim in Hawaii, than a lot of people I know so I’m still working on that. It might be something to do with my turnover, my arm cadence, stroke cadence.
I’ve had some better swims in Hawaii and a lot of less better swims so I certainly can’t give anyone advice on how to swim out in Hawaii. But I think if you want to be competitive in your age group and obviously depending on what the age group is. I’m in the 50-54 age group now. I know that if I swim round about that hour and then if I ride strongly and then if I run well, then it’s going to add up to a pretty good result for me. If you’re a slower swimmer then it puts you on the back foot right from the start of the bike.
BRAD BROWN: Yes absolutely. Rob as always, great to catch up. I look forward to chatting about your bike but we’ll save that for next time out.
ROB HILL: Fantastic Brad. Great to talk again.
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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