Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Open Water Swim Clinic

For the record, I'm not nearly as short as this picture makes me look.  I'm actually tall.  Jordan is just really tall.

Recently, I was hanging out on facebook, and I saw a link with information about an open water swim clinic, run by Jordan Bryden, a professional triathlete.  In this climate, the open water swim options are extremely limited, which means I don't get a lot of practice.  I also haven't had any open water specific swim instruction.  I've done a couple open water races, swam a bit in open water and I've read about technique as well as watching some utube videos, but I learn best with practical instruction.  This clinic fit the bill.

I'm pretty comfortable swimming in the pool, and my technique has improved incredible amounts in the time I've been getting coaching from Angie.  But, the thing is, that's with cute little ropes between the lanes and lines on the bottom of the pool to help me go straight.  You don't get those in a lake.

This clinic wasn't actually in open water.  (Most of the open water locations around here probably still have ice on them.)  It was in a swimming pool, with the lane ropes removed and buoys in the pool.

After a bit of ineptness at finding the pool, I still managed to arrive in time.  (The pool was on one of the post secondary campuses in Calgary, and I apparently read the campus map upside down or something.)  Thank goodness I had planned to be a bit early.

Once everybody had gathered, we sat down and Jordan went over some of the basics of open water swimming.   I won't get into everything, but one of the main things he talked about was sighting, and the main mistakes most people make while sighting, which include raising your head too high, and not putting it back down far enough.


Then into the pool and into wetsuits for those of us that had them.  I was almost used as a volunteer, but I acted like a teenage girl and begged not to be made an example of.  Truth is, I remembered how much time it took me last year to get the bottom of my wetsuit on, and I just didn't want everyone staring at me while I attempted it.  In the end, it seems that the little bit of weight I've lost since then has made it considerably easier (too easy?).  Good thing, I haven't gained weight instead; wetsuits keep you very honest...


Then it was time to hop into the pool.  Like I said, there were no lane lines, and we were in close quarters, so there was definitely a need for more awareness then you have in the average pool swim.  After warming up, we started doing lengths with different focuses.  Then, it was onto swimming around the buoys.

Jordan talked about some of the challenges of open water swimming and covered some techniques.  They had buoys in the pool, so we swam around them quite a few times, practicing sighting.  He also covered some techniques of getting around corners, two of which involved doing a single backstroke or a double stroke to get around the corner.

Jordan, Madi Serpico (his girlfriend and also a pro triathlete), and Russell (super fast swimmer guy) did a demonstration that was very cool to watch.  I love how good swimmers make it look so easy, even though I know they're probably going double my speed.

There was a lot to absorb, and in some ways it was slightly overwhelming.  Having said that, for me, this is one of the best ways to learn.  Some of it will stick with me right away.  Some of it I'll practice.  Some of it, I won't really remember until it's introduced to me again, at which point it will stick better because of my previous experience with it.

It was also a much different feeling swimming in a group of people - not entirely comfortable.  However, we all know that being comfortable doesn't really bring any kind of growth.  Besides which, races don't involve lane lines and lots of space between swimmers.

Some race advice

After we finished the swim Jordan went over some more advice when it comes to racing.  A couple of key points was that he suggested being aggressive at the start and the turns.  Those are the areas where gaps tend to appear and you risk getting stuck behind slow feet.  One thing that surprised me was that he did not suggest swimming to the outside.  That's probably the most heard piece of advice given to rookie triathletes.  Among other things, he made the point that if everyone thinks it's the lower traffic area, it's not going to be -  a valid point.

Initially, it seemed like his advice was more geared to people trying to win the race, but it didn't take me long to realize that it's advice for anyone racing a race, rather then simply finishing a race.  Most of us that do this as more then a bucket list thing are trying to beat our own times, and do our best, even if we don't expect to place.  Therefore, we are racing.

The video analysis:

It wasn't pretty.  In fact, when I saw it, I initially denied it was me.  I was flailing.  My head was coming way out of the water, even on my non-sighting breaths.  My hands were coming above my elbows.  I was crossing way over with my stroke.  Yikes.  The list could go on.

Upon reflection, I concluded that there are a few main issues that affected my form while being videoed:

1. I was out of my element.  Swimming in a group kind of flustered me.  I was focusing on "going fast" rather then focusing on keeping my form solid and pulling a lot water.  That never works for me.

2. Trying to sight really did screw me up.  I did exactly what Jordan said is one of the most common mistakes.  I raised my head too high when sighting.  I didn't put it back down far enough, and then brought it out too much just for regular breaths.  Doing this messed up my form further by dropping my hips even more then usual.  I could just not sight in races, but then I might end up in the Atlantic ocean instead of getting to the swim finish.  Alternatively, I might want to practice that sighting thing a bit...

3. I'm not as good a swimmer as I thought I was.  This may sound negative, but it's not at all.  The thing is, in my first year of swim coaching, I saw a speed increase of around 20% and my comfort in the water went way up.  I know very well that I still have work to do, but I thought I was past the big improvements and into the land of celebrating tiny ones.  Not so.  After seeing myself there, I'm confident that there's a couple breakthroughs left to be had.

Final thoughts

If there is one area in triathlon where coaching is the most important, it's on the swim.  To a large extent, you will get faster on the bike and run by putting the time in.  Unless you have a background as a competitive swimmer, this simply isn't true for swimming.  If you don't get the technique down, you will simply work harder and work harder.  That's where refining the technique makes such a difference.  With better technique, you go faster at the same effort level, and when you work harder, you actually go faster.  I honestly believe that one of the best investments you can make is swim coaching.

I was really happy with the clinic that Jordan ran.  I won't say it was always easy or comfortable.  But if it was, it wouldn't have been worth my time.  He did a great job of simulating open water in a pool environment, a fabulous opportunity for those of us that live and train with an extremely short open water season.  I learned new skills and became more aware of some of my current limiters.

For anyone in the Calgary area, Jordan and Madi Serpico are running a training camp on the May long weekend.  I won't be able to attend it, but if you are interested, I highly recommend it.


  1. Jordan is indeed one tall dude. Sounds like a good session. If your swim form reverted under stress, then there are still big gains to be made. Tiny changes can have huge results.

    I'm having trouble imagining being in a pool, wearing a wetsuit. You guys must have been really hot.

  2. That sounds like a great clinic. I really should give one of those a try. I am the WORST at sighting.

  3. Sounds like a great experience! I've never been a fast swimmer and I always line up on the buoy line rather than outside, and in teh middle of the pack. My reasoning is this - I don't have any issue with body contact and getting swum over/past so I'd rather start in the place that gives me the best chance to make a faster time!

  4. This sounds super cool. Glad you got a lot out of it.

  5. Sounds like a great clinic! Chuckled at your comment about wet suits keeping you honest. I always feel like I'm a stuffed sausage :-).

  6. That's really a good clinic and I would like to take a visit there. simply awesome from all side. Thanks dude. :)