One of my & Delphine’s Christmas presents to ourselves this year was to book a swimming and running analysis session. We were due to be in the UK the week prior to Christmas, and found Mark Harvey (Take3 Tri Performance Centre) online. A quick read through the ‘About Us’ page on his website convinced us that as well as having a bunch of coaching qualifications, he clearly had practical knowledge, and was also possibly a bit of a nutter 🙂 I hadn’t even heard of a 5 x Ironman let alone met someone who was bonkers enough to do one!
We met up one morning in Oxfordshire and he was very friendly and approachable – and not at all mad…well not on the surface anyway! We started off in the Endless swimming pool after a brief introduction of what was in store for us that day. I’d never used one of these before – it’s basically a small pool with a big pump at one end which creates a flow which you swim against. It took a little while to get the hang of it (if you veered too far left or right you’d ‘fall’ out of the flow and get too close to the front of the pool). I also found it a little trickier to breathe than in a normal pool, but that could well have been my lack of swimming experience as I’ve only had two lessons, one sprint triathlon, and 4 months since I started to learn freestyle!
After a few practice swims the session consisted of being filmed from different angles, then Mark gave his initial assessment (basically, I was pretty poor, but this news was delivered in a very considerate way!). He got me to try out one exercise which immediately corrected my worst fault (droopy legs), and then it was Delphine’s turn:
We then tried out quite a few different drills which were designed to enable us to ‘re-learn’ how to swim. This was mainly to do with keeping a good body position in the water and maximising the ‘catch’ (so each arm stroke scoops up a good volume of water and pushes it in the right direction to propel you forward). I can only presume that as we were very much beginners that anyone with a bit more swimming experience would have received different advice and drills on whatever was holding them in particular back. Mark’s approach seemed very analytical, focussed on solving our particular problems and not at all just running through a list of drills that were generally good practice for swimmers (like we get at our local swimming pool).
A interesting bit of information (more relevant to me) was that the natural urge to keep yourself alive interferes with what you should be doing to swim fast. Throw a non swimmer in a pool and all their efforts will be to keep upright, with their head above water. For a lot of swimmers this urge is still there, maybe subconsciously, interfering with what you really want to do, which is move yourself forward in the water quickly. There’s nothing like the threat of potential death to get your instincts to kick in!
So the solution is to try and ‘unlearn’ your bad swimming habits by doing the aforementioned drills, and not swimming much…as you’ll just jump back into your old ways without really noticing!. A little frustrating (we’ve been to the pool a couple of times since) but I’m hoping it will be worth it in the long run…I’ll report back once I’ve done my prescribed 8 sessions!
Next up was the running analysis – and a few questions from Mark had identified that we had no idea how we should really be running. We kind of assumed that unlike swimming there wouldn’t be much from a technical point of view to find out – we’d always been able to do it so getting fitter was the only real way of getting faster. I actually only added on the running analysis because we were going to be there anyway, and as I already knew what I need to know about riding a bike, it would be a bit of a shame not to chuck it in there.
Turns out we were wrong – here’s a couple of before and after photos:
Delphine’s turn now:
The process followed was similar to the swim session – observation, filming, suggested technique changes or exercises to induce the changes. This time we also got to have a go at implementing the changes – as it’s a less complex movement than swimming (and no threat of death by drowning to mess up your lizard brain!) it worked out quite well. Mark suggested that we just try to incrementally use the new running style rather than just switching over, to reduce the risk of injury (from muscles un-used to being worked that way). In fact all throughout the day we’d be fed tips and pointers, and most importantly (for my engineers brain) how and why a particular technique change would be better for us. It was this aspect that impressed me the most, as it emphasised the ‘analysis’ side Mark’s approach and left me with no concerns at all about making quite a large number of changes to how I run and swim.
In fact we both left the nearly 5 hour long session keen to get right back into the pool or go for a run as quickly as possible so we could try out everything we’ve learnt. I’d wholeheartedly recommend that anyone book a session with Mark – we had a enjoyable time and came away with a very clear idea of how we could progress. Next stop Alpe d’Huez Triathlon!