Monday, June 20, 2011

Advanced Open Water Swim Clinic Review

What I learned from The Stroke Doctor, Gary Fahey this week.

A few weeks ago I attended the beginner Open Water Swim clinic on Key Biscayne where I learned the fun little twisty turn I now use in races. This was the advanced Open Water Swim clinic also through the Hammerheads. As a Hammerheads member there was no fee other than the purchase of the Finis Tempo Trainer and there was a good discount.

Swimming has been a focus of my triathlon season this year.I started the season in March at the Spring Training triathlon in Fort Lauderdale. In that race even though it was only a sprint I had total swim anxiety and panic which is the worst feeling but very common. So whatever I can think of to do to avoid that I've been doing.

The focus of this workshop was tempo and to participate he had Finis Tempo Trainers for $20. As a comedic side note - I had planned to grab a $20 from my husband in the morning but sadly he had no cash. So imagine me scrounging quietly around the house to make sure I had $20 and $1.50 for the toll, quietly and in the dark. It was funny. I also spilled my coffee on my toes - OUCH.
This is the tempo trainer. It's only about 2 inches in diameter.


We started on the beach and he showed us how to use the timers. I think they are designed to clip on goggles but we put ours under our swim caps. It beeps on a rhythm. It is a bit annoying but can definitely be tolerated. The idea is when it beeps you're at the same place each time with your stroke. For me it was right hand in the water (whatever that's called). Then he put us in the water and over an hour we progressed through faster tempos.

As a side note apparently these are legal with USAT to use in triathlons. I'm conflicted as to whether it would be helpful or just something else to keep track of in transitions. Something to consider though.

Toward the end of the clinic we progressed through side by side races and ended with a longer maybe 400 yard swim at a pace of our own choosing. If your curious I chose 1:05. It was a random selection based mostly on the fact that :90 was too fast. For what it's worth that tempo started out fine but did feel fast at the end of that longer distance.

Gary is a clear speaker. He's good at showing techniques and explaining the reasons for doing things. His method of teaching is Total Immersion. Total Immersion is something I've heard a lot about since training for triathlons. It can be a heated topic among triathletes whether it's the best way to train. I have no opinion about that but it is what Gary Fahey teaches.

For my own personal perspective I have built my distance up to being comfortable swimming a mile. But I do seem to have one speed. Going faster I am not sure how to do it. But I would like to get faster.

So, my experience was that having the tempo trainer on kept me honest over the distance. The first tempo was slow 1:15 but easy to manage with breathing and sighting. As the tempo decreased or increased - as it got faster it was interesting to see that it was harder to maintain. At the fastest we tried which was :90 I could not keep up and was quickly winded. It was also harder to sight without losing the timing.  For perspective, according to Fahey super fast olympic level swimmers would have a tempo of :65 or so.

At the start I would have to admit I had no idea what tempo I used. Or in fact even how to calculate a tempo so this was eye opening. It keeps you honest and on pace. Eventually the tempo increased to a point that I could not comfortably sustain it. That was fun because it's good to find that point.

I think for me this was a worthwhile workshop.

Actually let me back up a minute. I feel really lucky to have these workshops. I don't know if open water swim workshops are common everywhere. I mean I never hear about anybody else doing them so maybe they aren't. So far I've attended two of these which means that for two Saturdays Gary dragged his tookis out of bed early and hoofed it down to tri beach on Key Biscaye to train slacker middle of the pack triathletes like me. So while I'm going to put some feedback here I'm going to say I think it's flat out awesome that he does this. I also think it's awesome that the Hammerheads put it together with him. 

So - back to gentle feedback. I don't know that I would call it an advanced workshop so much as maybe intermediate because the concept was geared to somebody at my level who is comfortable in the water but looking for more tips. Then again maybe that means I'm advanced. That last part is a joke - I'm not advanced.

What could make it better? After going to both of these workshops the only thing that I wish there was more of was individual feedback. I think Gary doesn't give this because he makes his living giving individual instruction and so I think it's a good business decision for him. But, as the student it's a teeny tiny bit of a bummer.

The only other thing I think would have improved this workshop is some timing. All the pacing and winning and such was just done by looking and it is tough to watch while you are swimming. It would have been fun to have them time us at the different tempos so we had some results. Here's how it could work. They would take our names - in fact he gave out caps so he could write the names on the caps at the start. Then he could put his assistant at the end with the timers and give out the times as we finished. Of course, I could have just timed myself. Just thought of that.

When we did the races it was coed. Which was fine but all the winners were boys. Maybe we should have had a girls heat :-) That might have been fun.

Like I said this was a good open water swim workshop. Also to repeat I really appreciate that we had this workshop at all. I learned more about my own swimming than I knew before and I'd recommend it to others. I think it would also be worthwhile to do private coaching with Gary Fahey. He's located in Davie but he does come to Miami once a week for private lessons.

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