Today on The Kona Edge we touch base with Paul Savage who has a massive advantage in his Ironman swim. Coming from a background as a swimmer Paul shares his thoughts on when an Ironman athlete should look at increasing their swimming volume and when they should look at improving their swim technique.
Swim faster without spending more time in the water
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BRAD BROWN: Welcome onto yet another edition of The Kona Edge, it’s time to chat some swimming today. I’m Brad Brown coming to you all the way from Cape Town in South Africa and we head to Manchester in the United Kingdom and we’re joined by Paul Savage. Paul, welcome back.
PAUL SAVAGE: Thanks for having me back on the show Brad.
BRAD BROWN: Paul, in our first chat you mentioned that you came from a bit of a swimming background, although you started in triathlon pretty early in your teens, but as a youngster you swam quite a bit. Do you think that’s been really beneficial to you, that swimming is almost like second nature now, you don’t even have to really think about it?
PAUL SAVAGE: Yeah, that was a big advantage and I’ve got my mum to thank for that because she was a swim teacher and got me into swimming at a very early age and then I was a club swimmer. That really helped because I’m involved in triathlon coaching now and it’s such a challenge for people that are new to the sport, that haven’t got that swim background and trying to learn the swim technique. If you’re in your 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, where the muscle memory and neural plasticity isn’t as good, it’s a real challenge for a lot of athletes. So I was very fortunate coming from that swimming background.
BRAD BROWN: You talk about technique and swimming is all about that. Yes, you need to put in the hours and the hard work, but you can put in hours and hours and hours and if your technique is rubbish, you’re just not going to get anywhere. Would you agree with that, that the first thing you need to sort out is your technique?
PAUL SAVAGE: Yes, and no, it does depend on the individual. You need a half decent technique at least, but having said that, I do think sometimes that triathletes and some triathlon coaches get a little bit too hung up on technique and almost ignore the physiology and ignore the fact that you’ve still got to put the miles in with the swimming. You need to get the right balance. It’s obviously a very individual thing, but yeah, some people’s technique is that poor that it’s actually creating so much drag it’s almost moving them backwards. They need to work on their technique but for some people, if they’ve got a half decent technique and then they do a lot of decent swim training, get in a lot of volume, their technique might actually improve and evolve as they become fitter.
BRAD BROWN: Is volume the key? We’ve mentioned about sorting that out and who can use technique, the advice, but at the end of the day hard work will trump and if you put the hours in, you’ll reap rewards. Do you think volume is key?
PAUL SAVAGE: Yes, the thing with Ironman is, obviously the majority of training and the majority of training hours in the week need to be on the bike because that’s where you’re going to spend most of the time in the Ironman. The most important thing is getting efficient swim training, so maximizing your time in the pool.
I think the single biggest improvement in my swim training over the last few years has actually been to move away from the triathlon club sessions and I do my own sessions in a swimming pool that’s a five minute walk from my house. I can walk to the pool, I can bang out a 4km session in just over an hour and then I’m home again. I’m maximizing my pool time and getting the volume in and I think that’s really important.
BRAD BROWN: I find it interesting you say that because I chat to a lot of age groupers who swear by swim squads and that sort of thing, I don’t want to say you walked away from it because you’re obviously with a coach and you still do some, but for you personally, the decision is to not mess about, this is what I need to do in the pool today and you go and you get it done.
PAUL SAVAGE: Yeah and that’s individual to me, that’s because I’m from a swim background. I’ve got a half decent swim technique, I know the sessions that I need to do, I’m self-motivated and yeah, there’s just no fuss. I just go to the pool a couple of times a week, I do one open water swim session on a weekend, but it’s just two pool based sessions in the week and yeah, I get that done with as minimal fuss as possible.
BRAD BROWN: Brilliant. What sort of workouts do you love doing, what’s your favourite swim set?
PAUL SAVAGE: My favourite swim set is the one which you normally do at the weekend and it’s quite often Saturday morning and it’s an open water swim session. I’ve got together a group of decent swimmers and basically we do really hard threshold efforts together.
The weekend just gone, the Saturday just gone, there was five of us and we did 5 x 300m, which included going around two turn buoys. So we were swimming like a triangle, coming back to the same start position at the finish and each rep is like a mini race which is just great for developing open water swim skills such as learning to swim on someone’s hip, learning to swim on feet. Discovering that some feet are not good to swim on because the person is kicking too hard and other feet are good to swim on because the person has got more gentle kicks. Positioning at the turn buoys, do you approach from the left, from the right, do you go a bit wider, do you cut in. All of those things are relevant in Ironman.
Obviously a bit more relevant over the shorter distances, but in an Ironman you’re still swimming in close proximity to other people and if you’re good at citing, good tactically in open water, then it can really improve your swim split. Depending on who is there, we can seed each rep with the fastest swimmers maybe going off 10-20-30 seconds back from the slower ones and then they catch us up and we try and get on their feet or hips. It’s a session that I think is of massive benefit to me and to all of the other athletes in the session. They’re all racing over different distances, sprint, standard, Ironman, it’s relevant for everyone.
BRAD BROWN: I think it sounds brilliant because it’s one of those sets, and the skills you need that people don’t really practice enough, so I think that’s fantastic.
Paul, thank you so much for your time once again here on The Kona Edge, much appreciated, look forward to catching up next time.
PAUL SAVAGE: Okay, thanks 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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