From failing a swim ability test to Ironman Kona – This is how Meghan did it
From failing a swim ability test to Ironman Kona – This is how Meghan did it

From failing a swim ability test to Ironman Kona – This is how Meghan did it

From failing a swim ability test to Ironman Kona – This is how Meghan did it

Having failed a swim ability test, Meghan Fillnow shares with us how she has made massive gains on her Ironman swim.

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BRAD BROWN: It’s time to chat some swimming now. We head back to Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s a great pleasure to welcome Meghan Fillnow onto the podcast.

Meghan, let’s talk about the swim. You mentioned that it’s not the strongest of the 3 disciplines for you.

If you look at your personal record swim times, you’ve got a pretty fast one. I don’t know if that swim in New York was the fastest one you told us about. It’s a sub-50. You’ve got to be pretty decent with a current to swim a sub-50 swim, so your swim can’t be that bad.

Sub-50 swim on a good day

MEGHAN FILLNOW: Well, I’m definitely not a sub-50 swimmer. That was totally because of the current. I think I fooled you on that one.

BRAD BROWN: That’s a pretty decent time. But let’s talk about the swim. You mentioned that your twin sister and yourself, with a driving course a couple of years ago you needed to do a swim ability test to make sure you wouldn’t drown while diving. And you nearly failed that. From a swimming perspective is it something that has come naturally to you or is it something you’ve had to work on?

A master’s class and a swim coach

MEGHAN FILLNOW:  Swimming did not come naturally at all. Even with my athletic background they were all land sports and ball sports. More hand eye coordination. So, swimming definitely didn’t come naturally for me. I know I told you in that first episode how I literally failed a swim test and couldn’t go scuba diving, so I’ve come a long way.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to get in the water. I kind of dread it, I sit on the edge of the pool for a few minutes but eventually, once I’ve jumped in, I really do like it.

It’s been great joining a master’s class and I think that’s been super helpful. I now have a coach on deck that can give me some technique advice because I was never taught properly how to swim. That really helped.

BRAD BROWN: If it makes you feel any better, a very good friend of mine is a very decent triathlon coach here in South Africa. He says that if somebody comes to him as an adult and they want to take up the sport of triathlon, and they want to be competitive, if he has to teach them to swim; if they didn’t play ball sports as a kid, so if they didn’t play tennis or football or whatever it was, he said they are absolutely rubbish.

Ball sports put body awareness in place

Having that background from a ball sports perspective makes a huge difference just because that hand eye coordination and body awareness is in place, which is fantastic. So, you might not have a swimming background but you’ve got a competitive tennis background and I think that’s probably helped your swim.

Let’s talk about the masters. The swim squad. That is probably one of the keys that people discount often. They don’t think swimming in a group like that helps their swim, but it does. What are some of the benefits that you’ve got swimming in a masters group?

Benefits of having a coach on deck

MEGHAN FILLNOW:  I would think the first benefit is having a coach on deck. Our coach is great. She swam for [inaudible] and knows her stuff and she can give us some good technique help which is really important. Swimming is such a technical sport. If you can just make one little change, that can definitely pay huge dividends. So, that’s been helpful.

And also, it’s helpful for me to have others to push me because a lot of times if I’m swimming on my own I don’t think I push myself hard enough. So it’s been good in that way. Then we also get in some good volume which, if I was swimming on my own, I probably wouldn’t be doing as long sets or anything like that. So I would say it’s a combination of all that.

BRAD BROWN: How many swim sessions would you typically do in a week when you’re training? In a big training block for a Kona or for an Ironman? Sort of an A-race?

Increase time in the water

MEGHAN FILLNOW:  My sister coaches me and we started something different and increased my swim frequency, which I think was huge for my training, for my last Ironman. I was swimming 4 to 5 days a week instead of 3 days, and I think that extra 1 or 2 days really helped.

BRAD BROWN: It’s so funny you say that because that’s popped up a couple of times. That even though you may not be increasing the volume, just having the increased frequency improves your feel in the water. I’ve heard that makes a huge difference. Is that what you’ve done? Not necessarily pushed the volume up but just the frequency so that you’re in the water more often?

Swim frequency provides active recovery

MEGHAN FILLNOW:  Exactly. I just had more frequency. We’re racing against people who have been swimming since they were 5 years old and in college. I can’t even imagine how many yards they put in a week. It’s not like you can compare yourself to them but I think it’s important as a new swimmer to just have that frequency. Because it helps you get that good feel of the water and just helps with technique.

I remember back in my tennis days if I would miss a day of tennis practice I felt so rusty and my stroke was all awkward, so I compare that with swimming. I think that swim frequency really helps and it’s also, to me, good active recovery too.

BRAD BROWN: As far as workouts go, what sort of things do you love doing in the pool and what do you think really helps you swim better?

Combination and variety can improve your Ironman swim

MEGHAN FILLNOW:  That’s a good question. My parents live up at the lake. I love going to their place and doing some open water swims and I think that’s really helpful before a race, just for specificity. And then in the pool I like a combination of endurance and speed. Maybe broken 500’s.  You might do a 500 at an endurance effort and 5 x 100 descend then 10 x  50 hard, so I like those combination workouts. And then repeat that.

BRAD BROWN: Fantastic. Meghan thank you so much for your time here on The Kona Edge today. Look forward to chatting about your bike the next time out. We’ll save it for then. Cheers.


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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