Ironman swim tips with Wes Thompson
Wes Thompson joins us on The Kona Edge to talk about his Ironman swim. Coming from a lifetime of surfing he reveals that this does not make you a great swimmer.
Wes shares his favourite swim sessions with us and his love for open water swimming.
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BRAD BROWN: Time to chat some Ironman swimming. We head back to New South Wales in Australia to catch up with Wes Thompson. Wes welcome back onto The Kona Edge. Thanks for joining us today.
WES THOMPSON: Thanks for having me back Brad. Great to be here again, thank you.
BRAD BROWN: Wes let’s talk about your swim. You’re a self-confessed, I don’t want to say water baby, but you grew up surfing so water has played a massive part in your life. You must have found it pretty easy to make that transition.
Surfing gives you confidence in the open water swim
Swimming with a surfboard is slightly different but you’re pretty comfortable in the water and it does make a big difference if you’ve got that sort of background.
WES THOMPSON: It certainly does. Especially as far as open water swimming goes. Very comfortable swimming in the water especially when it’s rough and there is a swell. Whenever there’s a triathlon involving open water it’s an open bay, I’m pretty comfortable.
Unfortunately the surfing side of things doesn’t translate to being a great swimmer but it does give you a lot of confidence in open water.
BRAD BROWN: I’m sure it does. As far as things you’ve done over time that you think have really moved the needle in your swim, can you put it down to a few things?
Investing in a swim coach sooner than you think
WES THOMPSON: I can, I left it a long time before I did anything about it but it’s a swim coach. Having a look at my stroke and video me swimming so I can actually see what I look like and point out exactly what I was doing wrong. That’s fairly sobering when that happens. For the sake of hiring a swim coach for a few sessions for half an hour at a time I can’t recommend that highly enough. There’s bang for your buck right there.
BRAD BROWN: Yes, absolutely. We always joke about it on the podcast where you think you’re swimming like Michael Phelps until you see yourself on video, then not so much, unfortunately.
WES THOMPSON: Yes that’s it.
BRAD BROWN: You mentioned in our first chat that you’re not a big one on training in groups. Do you swim in a swim squad or do you tend to do most of your stuff on your own?
Ironman swim training in open water when you’re spoiled for choice
WES THOMPSON: Yes I do what I have to. In the lead up to an Ironman race I will knuckle down with my swimming and I do swim in the local squad here when it’s on. We do have Clayton Fettell; he’s a local in the area here. I think he’s ranked number 2 as far as Ironman swimmers in the world currently, so he’s a good bloke to have in your corner.
We do some squad swimming at the local pools but I mix it up. I am fortunate where I live to have a handful of quality 50m pools within half an hour’s drive and I’m lucky to have 2 open water bodies to swim in. One being a saltwater estuary bay and I do have a freshwater lake about 25 minutes from here. And there’s also the option for open water swimming at the Byron Bay which is nice. There’s no shortage of options for open water here so we’re very lucky.
BRAD BROWN: Do you mix it up quite a bit? What sort of percentage would you do open water as opposed to in a pool?
Know your limit in your Ironman swim
WES THOMPSON: Open water vs pool. I firmly believe that the volume of swimming I do there’s a limit to how much swimming I can do and how much net gain I’m going to get from it. I’m not one to go to the pool and swim for an hour and a half and clock up 4 and a half k.
I know what sort of swimmer I am and I know what I can do. I’ve got a pretty good idea of where the improvements need to come from and it’s just consistency. It’s probably more shorter swims than the bigger, longer sets that frankly bore me. So I’d rather get in the pool, get in get out and I really enjoy doing my open water swimming. Especially when it’s a nice sunny day and the water is warm. Just get out there, swim with a purpose.
You don’t just get out and aimlessly swim around the bay. You do have to focus on what you’re doing and try and get value from every swim but that’s where the enjoyment is. Just getting out and doing open water. I’m not a fan of the pool, I admit that. That’s probably the part of triathlon I dislike the most is trying to get in the pool, have a swim and getting out, just get it done basically.
Do short sessions more often and long sessions less
BRAD BROWN: You sound to me, by what you’re saying, is that you’re more a shorter sessions person more often than a longer one less often, if that makes sense? How many times would you generally swim in a building block, in the build up to an Ironman?
WES THOMPSON: I swim nothing less than 3 times, and probably 4 times in a week leading up in the build. Not massive volume. I think the net gains are on the other 2 disciplines even though I’m not a great swimmer. I’m probably the top 3rd if I look at my rankings. I can do a wet suit swim, in saltwater I can swim, I think my best was a 56 so yes, I’ll take that.
BRAD BROWN: Yes, absolutely, absolutely. As far as workouts that you love doing, what are some of your favourite things you love doing in the water?
Training your Ironman swim workouts with the greatest gains
WES THOMPSON: Well besides the obvious open water swim on a beautiful sunny day with crystal clear water, if I’ve got to name a pool set it’s probably just swimming 400’s with the warm up and then just building some 400’s. Probably a little bit like a pyramid and then bring it back down a little bit and just finishing up with 3k’s that will do. But with some intensity and with some warming up and warming down, it’s a book ended.
BRAD BROWN: Tell me about making the decision, like the law of diminishing returns, where you decide “you know what, I could spend an extra 2 hours in the pool but I’m only going to make up x amount of time as opposed to spending that out on the bike or the run”.
It’s a tough decision that a lot of triathletes need to make and sometimes some triathletes don’t make it. They end up spending too much time in the water when they could actually better spend that time on the bike or the run. Your thinking around that, how did you make that decision where you go “well that works for me?”.
Can longer Ironman swim sets fix your bad habits or technique?
WES THOMPSON: I think there are a lot of triathletes that swim, what’s the point of swimming a 4k set if you’re doing it wrong? If you’ve got the same bad habits, if you’ve got some technical flaws? Personally I can’t see the point in doing these massive sets when you could go to some shorter sets, have a coach cast an eye on you, video you. You can go home, have a look at it and see what you need to do and come back and maybe just think about your technique a little bit more and focus on that. Rather than just pumping your volume because that’s what triathletes do, or “should do”.
BRAD BROWN: Wes as always, great to catch up. Thanks for your time today on The Kona Edge. Much appreciated.
WES THOMPSON: Thank you mate.
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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