Sara Fix's Ironman swim tips for adult onset swimmers
Sara Fix's Ironman swim tips for adult onset swimmers

Sara Fix’s Ironman swim tips for adult onset swimmers

Sara Fix's Ironman swim tips for adult onset swimmers

We are joined on The Kona Edge by Sara Fix to talk about her Ironman swim struggles. Sara does not come from a swimming background, but works tirelessly to improve her Ironman swim performance.

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BRAD BROWN:  Welcome back. This is the Kona Edge. I’m Brad Brown and it’s time to chat some swimming today and we head back to Chicago in Illinois to catch up with Sara Fix. Sara welcome back onto The Kona Edge. Thanks for joining me today.

SARA FIX: Thanks for having me.

Struggling with your Ironman swim

BRAD BROWN:  Sara let’s talk about your swim. You don’t come from a swimming background. You pretty much learnt to swim as an adult. Your then boyfriend you were dating; he’s now your husband, basically walked you through the process.  Did it come easy to you? Is it something that you struggled with or did you find you were a natural from the start?

SARA FIX: No, I’m not a natural and it’s so funny we have 3 kids and they all ended up being swimmers. I kept them in lots of sports because I thought none of these guys are going to end up swimming, who would want to swim? The sport is so hard. But they all ended up being swimmers which is so crazy to me.

No, it was not easy. We have tons of family jokes and my husband still makes fun of me, I’m not a swimmer. I’ve struggled with it. Even at our training camp this past weekend in Madison, we had a pro there with our group, Amanda Wentworth which was really fun having her, but she wanted to have this little talk about my swim.

Enjoy the place you’re at in your Ironman swim

She was talking to me about my swim as though I had never really worked at it. And the funny thing is that I’ve had individual coaches that have tried to help me swim. I’ve done everything to try and make myself a better swimmer. I just don’t have that real natural feel for the water.

But I always get through it and it doesn’t wear me out and I feel very secure in the water. I’m mad at it because I wish I was better at it, but I’ve come to enjoy it at the place that I’m in and I’m not going to change it. So, I can swim.

I’ve actually been Swim Coach certified so I give lessons. And my husband says that I’m the best stroke instructor that he’s ever seen. It’s amazing, you can watch people swim and you can see all their issues so quickly but you can’t do it yourself.

Another thing I’ll say to him, we will coach someone together on swimming and he’ll give them information really quickly and expect them to just go and do it. And I’m like “David, people don’t just naturally have a feel for the water. It just doesn’t happen”.

A swim coach with empathy in your Ironman swim training

So I’d have complete empathy. I completely feel how they feel and I know what it feels like to think that you’re extending, and catching and pulling. And you think you’ve got that water underneath your arms, but you don’t.

He thinks he should throw out a few words and they should say “oh ok, yes I can do that” and for some people you watch it and they do it. This natural position in the water and feel for the water. But others don’t have it.

I think that’s what makes me a good swim instructor is that I’m empathetic to how it feels not to be great at swimming. And how to try little tricks to try and get yourself to feel the water.

BRAD BROWN:  Sara where do you draw the line? You get to a point in your triathlon career where it’s almost that law of diminishing returns. You can put another 5 hours a week into the water but you’re not going to get massive gains.

Whereas if you put that extra time into the bike or the run, you’re going to make much bigger gains. Where do you draw that line? When does the time come that you decide you are doing enough on the swim, you are happy with the 60 minutes or the one hour ten swim? It’s not going to get much better than that and you should invest your time elsewhere?

If your Ironman swim dictates you invest your time elsewhere

SARA FIX: For me personally, which would not be the answer for everyone, I think if you look at the way I’ve trained and you saw all of my training and where I’ve brought my cycling to. And where I’ve brought my run to. You would probably say “Sara you could probably take a big fat break from that because you do so much of it, you have such a big base”.

If you tap back into that for 12 weeks, you’re going to be right back where you were. So typically in my age group I’ll be almost last out of the water, even in Hawaii I was last. I think it was 74th in my age group coming out of the water and I finished in 7th, and that was with a bad bike. So I can run and I can bike myself up.

Even in Texas I was last out of the water and I moved myself right up into first place with my bike and my run. I can do that and you would say to me now, “Sara, if you could really attack that swim and get back to those years that you had swim specific training, you would help yourself so much”.

Allowing your Ironman swim training to develop longer gaps

Now, there’s such a big gap. It’s not that I’m lazy. I swim a ton and I’m fine in the water. I can do the two-and-a-half miles. I’m strong and I get out and I feel really good. I’m just not fast. And that 15 minutes, those women that are coming out in 1:05 and 1:07, I’m coming out 15, 10, 12 minutes behind them. That’s a lot. Whereas if I was just back to a 1:09 swim then I’m only 4 minutes behind them.

I’m just doing myself a huge disservice at this point. So for me, I think anybody would look at it and say you have to correct it. You have to spend a year working on your swim. Or 8 months or whatever. And get back to that place. That’s probably going to be my game plan.

Take the time to correct your Ironman swim

I know what you’re saying. I have a lot of those athletes that are the natural swimmers and whether they swim; first of all they’re not going to finish topping the age group, a lot of these guys and girls. So we’re not talking about making sure they’re out with the front pack because they’re going to win.

A huge group of the demographic of the people I’m coaching they’re really good but they’re not going to be, particularly in the men’s which is so hard, they’re not going to be way up high there. So what if they get out in a 1:05 or a 1:10, they’re probably going to lose more on the bike and the run than they would in the swim.

So, you are right, those are the times where I say we don’t have to spend as much time. But people that struggle in the swim, I typically have them train a lot in the swim.

BRAD BROWN:  For you personally, swim workouts, what do you love doing in the water?

Making Ironman swim workouts fun and interesting

SARA FIX: Actually, my favourite swimming now is where our club trains at a place called West Superior Training, that’s in one of the little communities close by in Willowbrook and that’s the club my kids swim with. They have kind of picked a coach for our club and being in a little Master’s program is really fun.

And then it also keeps us together as a group but takes me out of being the centre so I don’t have to be managing it. So I can get in and actually do the swim with them. Usually all the swims they set up for us because they’re predominantly a swim club, are true swimmer swims.

Lots of intensity, lots of recovery, shorter distances like 25’s, 50’s and 100’s. We’re not getting in and swimming the 1000 or 800 or any of the crazy stuff that triathletes typically do. Swim and swim until they’re done and then they get out. So it’s fun. It makes it interesting. Lots of descending work and stuff like that, so it’s a good workout.


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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