Read Andrew's incredibly inspiring training and racing journey covering 1000km race distance to date!
I have now been swimming competitively for four years, starting when I entered the Thames marathon, or Bridge to Bridge as it was then, before my first real open water swim. During that first year one event quickly became two, four, eight and my focus went from finishing to racing; to optimising my pace, observing the other swimmers, looking for that final sprint to the line.
Annie and Ali have been involved from the start; I attended a Beginner Open Water Skills Session with Annie before my first race as well as a Video Analysis Clinic that provided an immediate boost, knocking several minutes off my 2.5k time trial PB. Over the last three years I have also regularly attended their squad sessions.
While my main focus has been on the longer events, I have also entered shorter swims to work on race craft, tactics and improve my race pace. During the cooler months I have enjoyed the social aspects that come with winter swimming while also entering some cold water events.
In previous years the goal had always been simple, win a 10k+ race. Therefore, the season had always been built to give multiple chances of reaching this target. With the exception of a small number of mass-participation events, most long swims draw a small field, so you can be competitive if you can swim in the 14-16min per km range, but there always seems to be that one faster swimmer in each race. So, of my 15 podium finishes at 10k or longer only 1 was on the top step. You have to learn to race, and hopefully beat the swimmers you can race and identify and ignore the superstars you have no chance of catching.
This year has been a start of a new phase, switching from wetsuit to skins (no wetsuit) and also shifting my ultimate goal away from racing towards longer marathon challenges. I got a taste of this side of the sport completing my first 10k without a wetsuit in 2017 and more significantly completing the 24hr 2swim4life challenge (1 mile per hour for 24 hours).
Planning out my 2018 season this time last year, I had one goal in mind, completing the 21 mile BLDSA Loch Lomond swim. A secondary target built on the back of this event was to compete in the season long BLDSA Grand prix a points based championship based on 13 events across the year. To reach this goal I thought it would be important to:
Spend the year as a skins swimmer rather than constantly switching back and forth (BLDSA Lock Lomond is skins only), swim styles are slightly different, and acclimatisation is a key part of longer skins events.
Include some back to back swim weekends to get used to completing 10k+ distances without much recovery time
When training for longer events and with a heavy race schedule, I strongly believe that your speed is determined by your winter training. Peak speed with usually be around April/ May; after that I have always traded top speed for endurance. Last year’s winter training didn’t run smoothly; other parts of my life were having a greater importance than a couple of years earlier and I had more self-doubt about my technique and swim-fitness. With the season approaching it was important to focus on what the most important goals were. To that end from March onward I realised I had to prioritise endurance over speed.
Now I’ve reached the end of the season was this the right decision. A lack of speed work, high mileage and the switch from wetsuit to skins has had a huge impact on my race pace, I was often well back from the lead.
However, I met the main goals I had at the start of the season. The southern shore of Loch Lomond was reached after swimming 14hrs overnight. The conditions were good, flat water at a reasonably warm 15⁰C, but there was lots of added stress from mechanical issues with my support boat.
In the Grand prix:
I swam for 3hrs with no food or drink in horrible weather at dover,
completed the 10.4km St Marys loch swim in 12.4⁰C water
Swam the length of Windermere less than a week after Loch Lomond
In summary I see four main factors that determine the difficulty of a swimming achievement: Speed, Distance, Temperature and Conditions (wind/waves etc). A possible fifth would be recovery time from previous events and a 6th could be wildlife; thankfully the Jellyfish haven’t got me so far! Each of these require different training and the balance that is right for you will depend on your goals. Maybe for 2018 my focus was too much on distance and not enough on speed, but it was better to be wrong that way than to be faster but not finish.
For 2019 the focus will remain on two or three big challenges but before then there will need to be work on regaining a bit of speed, fitness and improving technique.
Despite 1000km of race experience there are always new things to learn, re-learn and work on!