Adam Zucco's Ironman Swim Tip - Throw away your watch
Adam Zucco's Ironman Swim Tip - Throw away your watch

Adam Zucco’s Ironman Swim Tip – Throw away your watch

Adam Zucco's Ironman Swim Tip - Throw away your watch

On this edition of The Kona Edge we ask Adam Zucco for an Ironman swim tip. The nine time Kona qualifier reveals why most Ironman Age Groupers should not train with a watch on.

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BRAD BROWN:  You’re listening to The Kona Edge, I’m Brad Brown, it’s good to have you with us and we’re going to talk some swimming now and we’re joined once again by a returning guest, Adam Zucco.

Adam, welcome back onto The Kona Edge, thanks for taking the time to chat to us today.

ADAM ZUCCO:  Absolutely, I’m excited, swimming, one of my favourite sports.

BRAD BROWN:  Except when it’s in the race in Kona. You mentioned in our first chat that that’s not your favourite swim to do, but I mean from a pretty perspective, it’s very nice, but it’s a bit of a scrum and a real dog and bun fight out there isn’t it?

Don’t get into panic mode at Ironman swim start

ADAM ZUCCO:  Oh yeah, you have to swim out to the start line and about 10 minutes before you’re thinking, okay, this isn’t so bad. And five minutes before your elbows are kind of hitting someone else’s elbows. And then 90 seconds before your chest is against someone’s back. And you’re kind of thinking, how are we going to do this! It’s definitely an interesting situation.

BRAD BROWN:  There’s obviously lots of work before then that goes into getting to Kona, from a swim perspective. For you, out of the three disciplines, which would you say is your strongest, which is your weakest?

ADAM ZUCCO:  I would say the run is the one I definitely struggle with the most. I would probably say the swim or the bike is my strongest one. I’ve been asked that before and I would say my swim/bike combo is probably my best. I usually swim around 54 or 55 and then I’ve biked Hawaii in 4:48, I think I’ve biked 4:30’ish, I don’t know.

BRAD BROWN:  From a swim perspective, if you look at your triathlon career over the years, can you pin it down to one thing that you’ve done that’s given you the most gains, if you have to look at your swim performance, what would you say that is?

The simplest technology to improve your Ironman swim performance for Kona

ADAM ZUCCO:  I can answer that very easily. Use the pace clock and not on your wrist. I would say most people who are really good at swimming know exactly how to use a pace clock and most age group athletes who are trying to get good at swimming have no clue. They’re swimming with those things on their wrist and all that other stuff and by the time they’ve come out of the water, focused on that thing, hit the button, they’ve missed their interval.

So, using the pace clock, for sure, is definitely something that I think every athlete who wants to get better at the swim should do and to include, you should be able to see the pace clock out of the corner of your eye while you’re swimming too, to give you some idea of how to pace yourself.

BRAD BROWN:  Funnily enough, that’s the first time that’s come up. Why do you think that’s so important Adam?

ADAM ZUCCO:  I think just for that exact reason. I think if you take most people, I usually swim in the faster lane at Masters and I usually cannot keep up with the slow lanes warm ups and I think that most people lack for form, proprioception in the water. Just have no body awareness and then I also think that effort-wise, they have no ability to gauge real effort in the pool or definitely in the open water. So, then they cap that off with tips from their friends that are like, go out fast and try to catch fast feet. They’re just stuffing themselves for the race because I guarantee you, they’re spending half the bike recovering from that effort.

BRAD BROWN:  Absolutely. As far as swim workouts go, what are some of your favourites, what do you love doing in the pool?

Boring can build you up in your Ironman swim to Kona

ADAM ZUCCO:  This is going to be really boring, my athletes get this all the time. But I have them swim a four or five K straight every week, which I know sounds mind-numbing, but it doesn’t have to be technically straight. You can throw some paddles on or kind of change it up with a couple of different things. But one thing that I do every single week is, when I’m in Ironman shape, is 5000 and I break it up by doing 200 bi-lap breathes with a 50 back, 200 weak side breathes, 50 back, 200 bi-lap breathes, 50 back, 200 strong side breathes, 50 back and that’s a thousand. Then I just roll through that continuously and I know that it’s five times.

I actually enjoy it because it’s mind-numbing. I don’t have to think about I’m hitting a certain pace, although I just said the pace clock is important, but it allows me to just get the distance in, to be confident about being able to cover the 4km no problem and I can think about other stuff going on in life. But I use those 50 backstrokes to kind of keep me on track.

BRAD BROWN:  As far as open water as well, funny, we don’t talk much about open water on the podcast and I think we should. Some tips to get yourself better when it comes to open water swimming, how much open water do you actually do in the buildup to an Ironman or to Kona?

ADAM ZUCCO:  Yeah, I only really race with the open water, just by proximity of where I live, we’re just not fortunate enough to have, for me to swim in the lake, I’d have to drive about an hour and a half, so it would make my hour swim about a five hour event. I think that it’s good to do in the open water.

Does your Ironman swim deserve a relaxing or hard workout?

One thing that I will say that I don’t like about the open water is a lot of people will go swim in there, they’ll swim a few strokes, then they’ll look around, then they’ll swim a few strokes, then they’ll talk to their friends, then they’ll swim a few strokes.

If you’re going to go to the open water, just don’t get caught in that cycle because then I just don’t think you’re getting in a good workout. I have ways of staggering sets, so if you use, let’s just use a 500 for example, I’ll do a 500 in the pool and I’ll do 100 hard, 100 smooth, 75 hard, 75 smooth, 50 hard, 50 smooth, 25-25 and that gives me a good open water replication to having a kind of swim with groups or catch or whatever.

And you can take that, if you add in 150 on the front and now you’re doing 800. If you add 200 on the front, now you’re doing 1200. You can go down to 300’s, you could do, I was lucky enough to go to Melbourne and work with a guy named John Van Wisse. He was first out of the water at several Ironman races, I think he’s done a triple channel crossing. He’s won the Round the Manhattan Swim, which is a 48km, I think he sat on 1:08 pace for the whole 48km, which is insane. But the big thing that he would have me do is butterfly and I encourage my athletes to do butterfly because that is going to build huge upper body strength.

Most people will say that they can’t do fly, but they really can, it’s just double arm freestyle is all it is. We’re not trying to win any medals at any meets, so I don’t care if they do breast stroke kick or flutter kick or if they use fins, but if you can work yourself around to being able to do some fly, it will really help keep height and momentum in the water, for sure. That’s definitely something I try to incorporate is butterfly.

BRAD BROWN:  Awesome. What’s the biggest mistake you see age groupers making in the water?

ADAM ZUCCO:  Like I said, for sure, pacing. Pacing and I would say I feel bad for these people cause they’re getting good advice, but they’re taking it to extreme, over rotating and swimming too  much catch up drill. If you look at the best swimmers in the world, which have to be the ITU guys, none of them are doing long, smooth strokes and concentrating on side glide. They’re all out there, trying to stay high in the water and keep that turnover going.

Don’t be afraid of keeping your turnover going, I promise you, it will serve you well, as long as it’s controlled.

BRAD BROWN:  Awesome stuff, Adam, thank you so much for joining us on this edition of The Kona Edge, we look forward to chatting next time out about your bike and what you’ve done on two wheels to get better, we’ll save that for next time, thanks for your time today.

ADAM ZUCCO:  No problem.

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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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