Going from the doggy paddle to the Ironman swim
Today on The Kona Edge, we welcome back Eulali Gouws to discuss how she overcame her swimming challenges and find out what training methods she used to go from doggy paddle to swimming strokes.
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BRAD BROWN: You’re listening to The Kona Edge, my name is Brad Brown, Eulali Gouws joins us now, one of my fellow South Africans. Eulali, welcome back onto the podcast.
EULALI GOUWS: Thanks so much for having me Brad.
BRAD BROWN: Eulali, let’s talk about your swim. You mentioned in your first chat with me that your swim isn’t your strongest of the three disciplines, have you had to work really hard at it, to get to the level where you are now?
EULALI GOUWS: Yes, absolutely Brad. I’ve had to put in so many hours and money into it because if you can’t swim, you need a coach. You need someone that helps you with that stroke correction. I still currently go to a swim coach twice a week, once for just focusing on drills and swimming and then again for some squad training, just to swim with other people in the lane, also to get used to swimming in open water with people around you.
BRAD BROWN: Was it something you did very early on? You mentioned in our first chat that you did a cycle race in Johannesburg and then decided triathlon is pretty cool, did you go and seek help for your swim straight away or did you try and find your own way for a bit first?
EULALI GOUWS: No Brad, I actually had to go and seek help immediately because I could not even swim freestyle. I could doggy paddle, but I could not swim any stroke. The moment I decided I’m going to do Half Ironman, I decided in May and the Half Ironman is the next year January, so I didn’t give myself lots of time. I started immediately with a coach because I needed some help. As I said, I couldn’t even swim freestyle.
BRAD BROWN: Eulali that’s amazing. You mentioned you couldn’t swim but I didn’t realise it was that bad. To do that in less than a year is incredible! Was it a challenge, do those sorts of things fire you up, knowing you’ve got to put in this work to get it done or was it a real struggle to get to East London for that first Half Ironman?
EULALI GOUWS: A lot of the swimming is in your mind. I decided, you have to put your face in the water, you have to learn how to breathe, so I know I was struggling with the freestyle and the drills and everything and then I decided, I’m going to go to the gym, I’m going to put my head in the water, if I breathe every two or three strokes, just get through it. I started small. I remember the first time I swam 800m I was so chuffed because I knew, I’m almost halfway there. I just had to figure it out for myself. I did have my coach helping me with some drills, but I went in my own time, put my face in the water, went up and down the 25m pool and just put my stroke together like that and then obviously had the coach to correct me as I went, but starting off, putting my face in the water, that was just all me going into the pool and pushing through.
BRAD BROWN: It amazes me. I was one of those lucky ones who grew up around water who was swimming all the time. I swam fairly competitively as a kid, so I don’t remember that as part of my swimming journey. It amazes me that people have to go through this. I’m always massive respect for anyone who has gone as far as you have in the sport, having to do that with the swim. Let me ask this question and I don’t know it, in that journey, the reason I’m asking this, I think a lot of people are there now, who want to do this, but they’re struggling with the swim. Was there a time where because it’s so technique driven, you’ve got to get your technique spot on, was there a point where it’s almost like the penny dropped, where it started making sense, where it felt right? Often it just doesn’t feel right. Your arms are moving independently to your legs, it’s quite weird but for you was there a point where all of a sudden it just felt like it clicked and it got easier or was it a process to get better?
EULALI GOUWS: Yes, something clicked when I started being able to actually swim consistently because at first I was like, I’m never going to get through this and then one day something clicked and I could just do it. I must say, as you progress and you keep on swimming, then it’s like you hit a wall again because now you can swim but you’re not going very fast. One day, it takes a long time, but to develop a feel for the water and I think I’m finally getting there now, and it only just happened recently where it just clicks and you realise, oh, if I do this with my arm or that with my arm, it helps and you go faster. It really, for me, it took a while to get there and all I can say, it’s consistency, just keep on going.
BRAD BROWN: Are you one of those people that does big volumes in one or two sets a week or do you try and get into the water as often as you can?
EULALI GOUWS: Because I don’t like the water, I prefer going for shorter but more times. I try and get into the water at least four or five times a week. It’s not always that long, but at least then I develop that feel for the water. I find it better to get into the water more consistently than going once or twice a week and going at it for 4km. I realized, you get bored and then you forget about your stroke. I can go out and push a 2km set and actually do a proper workout.
BRAD BROWN: You talk about forgetting about your stroke, that’s the important bit, it’s not necessarily just getting the mileage in in the pool, it’s getting it in properly where you are building that muscle memory. It’s all good and well that the first 2km you’re feeling great and your form is fine, but if you’re struggling the last 2km and you’re forgetting about your stroke, those 2km aren’t doing you any favors.
EULALI GOUWS: Absolutely, I found rather do it properly than going on forever and telling everybody you did a 4km swim but it took you two hours because you struggled so much or you forgot about your form. That’s why my other thing is, I don’t train with music at all. I don’t run with it outside, I don’t cycle with it, I know these days people swim with it. I don’t do that, it’s like every time I go do my 25m, focus on this arm going that way and another arm or your body position or your legs. I try and focus when I swim and not just bang it out.
BRAD BROWN: I love that. As far as the swim squad side of things, you mentioned you don’t just get help from a coach but you swim in squad as well, has that made a big difference to your swimming?
EULALI GOUWS: Absolutely, you won’t believe how it helps with your open water swimming. Now you’re in the lane with three or four other people, there’s kicking, there’s water and splashing, it gives you more the open water feel because that’s really something you have to get used to. The ocean, as flat as it looks the morning you stand there, once you get in, it’s not flat at all! You need that to get used to people next to you, water splashing, not being able to breathe every second stroke or whatever you’ve planned. To be able to sometimes not have a breath, so that’s where doing some hypoxic really helps because you’re not always going to be able to breathe as you want to.
BRAD BROWN: Coming as someone who doesn’t come from a swimming background, that’s one of the big things I think where a lot of people struggle is that where all of a sudden you don’t get a breath and you start panicking, that’s when the breathing gets out of whack and the heart rate goes up. It’s learning to do that in the pool so when it happens in race conditions it doesn’t freak you out.
EULALI GOUWS: Yes, so you can tell yourself you won’t die, you will finish this! What always keeps me going, because I don’t like the swim but I love the bike and the run, I always tell myself: You have to finish the swim otherwise you can’t do what you really love.
BRAD BROWN: I like that, rewarding yourself with 180km bike and a 42km run. If someone is listening to this and they’re not a triathlete they’re going to think we’re crazy! Eulali, talk to me about your favorite workout in the pool, what do you love doing?
EULALI GOUWS: I love a set where it’s 50m sprints. I’ll easily go and do 20 x 50m sprints, leaving on one minute or whatever you planned for the day, that’s one of my favorite sets. Whenever I see a set that involves 5 x 800m or something, my heart just sinks. Going at that slow, long in the pool is horrible for me. I like the short, fast stuff in the pool, although I’m not fast!
BRAD BROWN: It keeps it interesting as well and that’s, I guess, one of the things with swimming, having a coach that’s writing sets that mix it up, but swimming with a squad as well, it’s not you just going to the gym and swimming 4km and getting out and then three days later going back and swimming 4km again, not doing the same thing, you’re mixing it up and that keeps it interesting.
EULALI GOUWS: Absolutely, it helps because some days you want to do it alone, but you have to force yourself some days to go to the squad and a coach that pushes you just beyond that threshold.
BRAD BROWN: Eulali, it’s been great catching up once again, I look forward to talking about your bike next time out, but we’ll save that for next week, thanks for your time today.
EULALI GOUWS: Thanks Brad, have a good day.
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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