The Importance Of The Swim

I hear a lot of people (coaches and athletes alike) state: "You can't win a triathlon in the swim, but you can lose one in the swim". 

I've heard numerous athletes declare: "I just need to survive the swim".

I disagree with both statements. As a coach these are the first things, should an athlete of mine say such a thing, that we remove from the conversation. You can indeed win a triathlon by having a good swim. Just as you can win it by having a good bike, or run. But you have to be strong across all the disciplines to ensure that your good swim effort holds up at the end. 

Just surviving the swim? That's a great way to lose time, waste energy, and ensure you have a harder bike and run leg than is necessary.

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On Writing Workouts

During all of my various coaching certification clinics the discussion around the creation of workouts was covered in detail. The main points of interest?

  • Specificity
  • Energy systems
  • Athlete understanding of goals of workout

Of course the importance of a good warm up, cool down, and dynamic stretching, was covered as well.

Let me clarify: Did we cover 'everything' in granular detail? No. You can't cover everything in a weekend-long clinic. You need to continue your education beyond the initial course. But, all that said, the three points above have been resonating with me lately. Why?

I'm seeing too many triathlon coaches prescribe workouts that have no specifics around energy systems, and no way for the athlete to know what the goal of the workout is. In some cases guaranteeing that the athlete do nothing but train their body to run long and slow on race day. A couple of examples that I've seen (posted online) lately:

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It's Never Too Late To Learn

I was at the pool a couple of days ago -  getting in a short workout of my own - when one of the managers of the aquatics center stopped me in the middle of my set. He said: "Hey Dave, can I tell you something that I'm seeing in your stroke?"

Now, I'm a good swimmer. And I'm pretty comfortable with my stroke. But this gentleman has been around the swimming community for a long time. His wife is the head coach of a college team here in Colorado Springs. And he did his own share of swimming back in the day. So I knew he must have seen something.

He told me what he saw (it was something my left arm was doing during the recovery phase of my stroke). I made a change, and immediately felt a difference. He then commented: "Yep, that was it. Looks much smoother." I swam a little more and could tell there was definitely a positive change that was made. I thanked him for his input.

The message here? Always be open for constructive feedback. You never know where good advice might come from, and it's never too late to find ways to improve your performance.

Swimming Stroke Rate and Distance Per Stroke

I've heard many a triathlon coach tell their athletes that reducing their stroke rate in their swim is one of the telltale benchmarks of swimming improvement. It can be. But it's not that simple. And all too often I've witnessed these coaches focus so much on reducing the number of strokes their athlete takes per length in training that they neglect to consider their distance per stroke, pace, and the overall impact of a low stroke rate in an open water setting

You can't talk about stroke rate without looking at distance per stroke. Period.

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Navigating The Holidays

It's that time of year again. The holiday season is here - and that means Thanksgiving, Christmas parties, and Christmas itself. This is the time of year that athletes are taking time off, and tend to overindulge. It is the off-season afterall, right?

Well, it is most likely the off-season for most. But that doesn't mean that you have free reign to eat too much, drink too much, and ignore your training. A little focus, a few smart choices at dinner, and you'll come through this holiday season unscathed.

Don't skip your workouts

The pool may be closed over the week of Thanksgiving. But that doesn't mean you can't get out and run or ride. Continue the momentum of your off-season training and get your running or riding in. I like to joke with my athletes - "earn your Thanksgiving dinner". Get in a run or ride early that morning. And the day after? Yep, do something. Anything. Just because it's the holidays doesn't mean you can take the week off. You're traveling for Thanksgiving or Christmas? Pack your running gear. Get in a couple easy runs. You'll feel better if you do. 

Don't over-indulge

You're thinking about seconds?  Okay. Just wait a little bit. Let your stomach send all the signals to your brain that it's full, or not. If you think you want seconds (thirds?) just wait 15-20 minutes. You might not be as hungry as you think. 

Equally important, don't overdo the alcohol. As the saying goes: Everything in moderation. You'll snack / graze less if you drink less, too.

Do make smart choices

Whether you're hosting dinner, or bringing a side dish, it's easy to add some healthy options to the table. Mashed sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes. And I'm not talking about the sweet potato casserole with brown sugar and marshmallows! Just a straight up substitution. A sweet potato as more fiber than regular potato's, and is rich in potassium and vitamin A. Make green beans and almonds sautéed in garlic instead of the old green bean casserole. Ditch that can of condensed soup with the fat and sodium. How about dairy free / veggie broth mushroom gravy. (You'll never know the difference - and neither will anyone else.)

It's really quite easy to make some substitutions with healthier, more nutrient dense, ingredients. Do a little Googling. You'll find recipe substitutions abound. Or email me - my wife is a cookbook author and we can hook you up.


So, be that person and bring a kale salad to the holiday shin-dig. You think I'm kidding? My wife has a killer recipe!

Do workout the day after

Get back outside. Organize a run with your usual group of running buddies. It doesn't have to be a hard workout, just enjoy the morning with a nice aerobic run to keep the momentum going. If the weather is good, get on the bike. Even a hike. Anything. And since it's the holidays you don't need to do this before the sun comes up. Wait till after breakfast. Ride at noon. Sleep in for goodness sake.

Most importantly, work with your coach to ensure your schedule is manageable if you're traveling.

This is a great time of year. Enjoy being with your friends and family. You've worked hard all year, so enjoy yourself.....and with a little planning you'll come out on the other end none worse for the wear.