Olympic swimming lesson

Myself and Katie were at the London aquatic centre on Saturday (18 March), aka the London 2012 Olympic Pool, for a lesson with Olympians, power couple of GB swimming and founders of Triscape David Carry and Keri-Anne Payne.  Triscape is a health and lifestyle company that focuses on swimming coaching in various set ups and locations.


Before heading to swim, we had a chat with David and Keri-Anne about our swimming, why we do it and what we wanted to get out of the lesson.  Katie wanted to know what dry land training she should be doing to compliment the swimming.  I decided to aim high and request to swim faster, longer and without shoulder pain. 

We made our way out to the pool and after a short pool side warm up, we plunged into our private lane and did a 300m swim, where we were told not to change anything yet but just to do our normal stroke.  I can do that!

Over the next hour, we covered 3 key elements to “straight line swimming”, the triscape swimming method.  We focused on our head position, breathing and rotation.

First thing to sort was head position.  We had to stop looking forward.  We watched a video Keri-Anne had taken of us swimming and watched David’s demo of the impact that his head position had on his body position and therefore, streamlinelyness (new word people – keep up) and it all made sense.  I like to look forward whilst swimming, as I need to know where Katie is at all times for fear of letting her get too far away or even worse tapping her toes (not her favourite thing!), but as soon as I did put my head down, I instantly felt the benefits. It is going to be a difficult one to crack, especially, as we get closer to public lido swimming, where unless you know what is going on around you, you are destined to bang heads with someone.

With the rotation theory, while I couldn’t feel the benefits to the same level, a simple pool side demo from Keri-Anne to show the impact it has on your shoulder muscles was enough to convince me that this is the path to shoulder pain relief.

Soon enough David was sprinting 50m to check he still has “it”* and our time was up.  Armed with our new technique we went into a public lane and did a short pyramid set to practice.  We both promised to make sure we put time in our sets to focus on getting this nailed…otherwise we might have to book ourselves on one of their trips abroad 😀

We both really enjoyed our coaching session and we would definitely recommend the session to other swimmers.


*he does





Shelley Taylor-Smith: Dangerous when wet

I (Manda) heard about Shelley Taylor-Smith from Paul Newsome (of swim smooth fame) when he referred to her as his mentor in the run up to his Manhattan Marathon swim, which he won. It wasn’t for a year or 2 later that I got wind of her book and promptly tracked a copy of it down.


Whereas the book tells the story of Shelley’s life up to 1994, her swimming career kicked off in earnest after she was awarded a scholarship to the university of Arkansas in 1982, so the majority of the book is about her dominance in marathon swimming from then.

I loved this book. There was a lot of things I could relate to whether it being places where I have swum, the love you get from the guys when you beat them or the feeling of getting stronger the longer the swim but there was a 20 year gap between the book being written in 1995 and me reading it in 2015. So 20 years later, have things really changed that much in Woman’s marathon swimming?

Things that have changed since:

· Marathon swimming is now an Olympic event

Shelley mentions her desire for marathon swimming to be in the Olympics.  Shelley believed the media coverage her swimming was gathering would only help get marathon swimming in the Olympic programme. I think she was hoping that it would be a 25km or longer event in the Olympics but I hope she is happy with the 10km being there instead (even if we still haven’t got the 1500m for women yet…..what’s that about?!)

· Water quality in New York has improved… we think!

Shelley had to contend with condoms and dead rats during her multiple Manhattan swims and in 1984 Karen Hartley swam past a dead body. Fortunately during our 2012 Manhattan swim we didn’t seen anything like that, the threat of the east river monster was enough for me to handle.

· Men and Women’s now have separate world rankings

At one point in 1991 Shelley was the best in 25km combined world rankings. Not just best female, THE BEST SWIMMER. Shortly after they decided to split the rankings. Evidently the boys just couldn’t handle being chicked. Grow some lads…Grow some.

· Equal prize money for men and woman

Despite beating the men outright she would normally receive a smaller prize. Some races did offer a large prize for the “outright” winner but evidently they weren’t expecting Shelley to turn up and whoop ALL the boys butts, even if she occasionally did! As the swimmer’s representative at the International Marathon Swimming Association she fought for the equality in pay that we are now have.  FINA offer equal prize money in both the openwater world cup series (10kms) and the grand prix series (>10km).

Things that haven’t changed since:

· The water quality in Rio is poor

With RIO 2016 fast approaching there are still concerns about the water quality. Shelley when swimming there in the 90s got dysentery and this seemed to be a theme of any south American swim she raced in. She ended up in being horrendously sick 3 times after racing in Argentina and therefore, vowed never to return until they improved the water quality. Kerri-Anne Payne, the British 2016 10km swim hopeful, did a test event in Rio in August 2015 and supposedly no swimmers were sick post the race so hopefully the concerns re water quality won’t be founded.

· Marathon swimming can be more mental than physical

Yes you obviously can’t swim for hours and hours without being fit and lots of training but without the mental strength you aren’t going anywhere, let alone anywhere fast, long and cold. Shelley puts her mental strength down to being a woman and the pain she learnt to endure through years of back problems. She suffered from a childhood back problem that meant she was in a brace for 2000+ days, as well as multiple car crashes and temporary lower body paralysis from excessive training.

· Jellyfish are horrid

Shelley worked with her sports psychologist before her 25km world championship win to be able to deal with the excessive jellyfish. He managed to get her to think that the jellyfish were her friends and that the stinging was them kissing her. I am not sure what she thought was happening when she bit into one during the race.

Michael Phelps: No limits

I (Katie) recently read Michael Phelps biography which he wrote after winning an unprecedented 8 gold medals at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. This is another one which Manda lent me sometime ago that has been sat on the bookshelf for a while. I am really glad that I finally got round to reading it though. While the book is not as engaging, varied or as well written as some of the other swimming biographies out there it is an really interesting insight into the life and psyche of the greatest ever Olympian.

The book tells the story of the eight Beijing races interspersed with narrative of Phelps’ early life and how he went about preparing for the 2008 Olympics. Of course I knew all of the stats about how many medals Michael had won but reading the book gave me a new appreciation for the enormity of the achievement and the dedication required to get there. Critics who say that it is easier to win a lot of medals in swimming should try swimming 200m free, 200m butterfly, 400m IM etc and being the world best at them.

I won’t recount all of Phelps’ story here as if you want that you should read the book! I will set out a couple of bits that I found really interesting though.

Phelps trains every day! Wow most swimmers have a rest day every week to allow their body to recover but Michael believes that he can be 1/7th better by training every day and this approach clearly works for him! It is interesting though as for a lot of swimmers I think less is actually more and they perform better for a bit of mental and physical downtime.

Bob Bowman, Phelps’ coach, is the architect of Phelps’ success. Everyone has a different relationship with their coach but Bob is really a second father to Michael. He has coached him from when he was a kid with ADHD and Michael clearly trusts him implicitly. Part of all those gold medals belong to him.

You would have thought that nutrition would be one of the keys to success but not the way Phelps’ tells it. There seems to be a lot of breakfast burritos consumed!

Speedo gave Phelps a $1 million bonus for beating Mark Spitz’s record of 7 gold medals at one games which Michael donated to charity. I’m sure this was well publicised at the time but I had not heard this before. As an executive compensation consultant the idea of incentive pay in swimming was very interesting to me. Was it the $1 million that inspired Phelps? I very very much doubt it – he was motivated to win regardless.

The book talks about Phelps’ conviction for drink driving in 2004 after the Athens games. He talks how he feel like he let everyone, especially Bob down. In 2014 Phelps was charged again with drink driving in 2014 and ordered to spend 45 days in a treatment facility. There is clearly a side of Michael’s life which understandably isn’t discussed in the book.

As I mentioned above the book was written after the 2008 Games but this clearly is not the end of Michael story. He competed at the London 2012 Games winning four gold medals and two silvers. This took his Olympic medal haul to a record 18 golds, 2 silvers and 2 bronzes. After London Phelps retired. Once a swimmer always a swimmer though as Phelps is currently staging a come back. In August 2015 he competed in the U.S. nationals while the world champs were on in Kazan, Russia. Michael won the 200m fly in 1.52.94. This is his fastest time since he set the world record in one of the shiny suits and would have won him the 2015 world title by a mile (Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh took the title in 1.53.48). The 2016 Rio Games are going to be fun to watch!

Touch the Wall: a tale of two swimmers

At Team Mermaids we love swimming and we love the cinema so when Brian invited us to go and watch the first international screening of Touch the Wall we were there!

Touch the Wall tells the story of rising swimming star Missy Franklin and two time Olympian Kara Lynn Joyce as they prepare for the 2012 Olympics in London.

Missy is just 15/16 at the start of the documentary training with the Colorado Stars. She is unproven but there are high expectations of success from the swimming community. Kara Lynn has already competed in two Olympics winning four silver medals in the freestyle and medley 4×100 relays at Athens and Beijing. Kara Lynn’s choice to move to train with the mainly teenage Colorado Stars raises eyebrows in some quarters but her and Missy quickly build a good relationship and benefit from training with each other. Ultimately Kara Lynn, however, decides that the Colorado Stars is not for her and moves to swim with a pro team with other swimmers in their early twenties.

The documentary is a fascinating look at swimming from opposite ends of the career spectrum. Missy can’t put a foot wrong, going from strength to strength, while Kara Lynn struggles, loses her funding and is disappointed with performances. Watching Kara Lynn struck a cord for me, whether you are swimming at elite level or amateur level giving it you all and everything not quite coming together is no fun.

At the Olympic trials Missy qualified to swim in four individual events in London. Kara Lynn puts in a fantastic performance to come second and qualify for the U.S. Olympic team for a third time in the 50m beating Team Mermaids new hero, Dara Torres to the spot.

In London Missy wins four gold medals in the 100 back, 200 back (in a new world record time), 4x200m free reply, 4x100m medley relay and a bronze in the 4×100 freestyle relay and catapults herself into world stardom. In the documentary Missy comes across as a genuinely lovely person. She swims for her high school team treating the meets as seriously as world champs. She turns down turning pro as it has always been her passion to swim at collage level (she goes on to swim at UC Berkeley for the Cal Bears).

I loved watching this documentary – it is funny and touching and for swimmers there is lots to identify with. The scene were Kara Lynn throws a strop at coach Todd over a set made us laugh as this is something Manda and I have done a ‘few’ times ourselves (poor Terry and Dan)! The scenes from London 2012 brought back all the good memories of the summer and the amazing job that London did hosting the games. Kara Lynn herself was at the screening to introduce the documentary along with her husband who she met during the filming.

I would thoroughly recommend this documentary about these two amazing ladies.

Dara Torres: Age is just a number

Back in January Manda lent me a copy of Dara Torres’ autobiography ‘Age is just a number’ for some post baby swimspiration. What with having a new baby and all I only just got round to reading it.

I didn’t know much about Dara before the reading the book but her tale is fascinating and it made me realise what an incredible sports woman she is. Dara has competed in five Olympic Games winning a whopping 12 medals. The last games Dara competed was in the 2008 Beijing when she was 41 years old and had a two year old daughter. The book covers the whole of Dara’s career but mainly focuses on her preparation for Beijing, the different strategy she needed as an older athlete and combining motherhood with being a top level athlete.

Dara competed in the Games in 1984 in Los Angeles, 1988 in Seoul and 1992 in Barcelona winning relay medals with Team USA but underperforming in her individual events. She made a come back in 2000 for the Sydney Games finally winning the converted individual medals Bronzes in the 50m and 100m free and 100m butterfly.

When Dara fell pregnant with her much longed for daughter, Tessa she started swimming again for fitness. She soon got the bug again and started planning a comeback after Tessa’s birth. It is really interesting to understand how Dara did things differently an older athlete. In short this meant less mileage, lighter weights and ‘mashing’ a form of resistance stretching. Dara put in her best individual Olympic performance winning silver in the 50m free missing out of Gold by just 0.01 – heartbreaking!

Reading this book has given me some faith that it is possible to get in back the water and even improve after having had a baby. The book took on another dimension for me as while I was reading it my mother passed away suddenly. Dara’s father passed away as she was preparing for the 2008 Games and I found reading about her experience a comfort.

I really enjoyed the book. It is a page turner for swimmers and non swimmers alike.

Dorney Lake 10k May 2012 – 10k swimming is an awfully long way

In 2011 Manda and I had done a lot of shorter open water races so we decided that 2012 was the year for a much longer challenge. We also need to do more long distance swimming in preparation for the Manhattan Island Relays in August. We therefore decided to do a 10km swim. 10km is swimming’s equivalent of a marathon and is the only open water race which is currently an Olympic event.

We trained in earnest over the winter doing lots of long sessions in Crystal Palace. We even attacked the dreaded 100×100 session. Afterwards I was so exhausted I bumped my car into things twice on the way home.

The event we had entered was a human race event at Dorney Lake at the end of May. As the day on the race approached we started to panic as the weather was still cold which meant that the water was a very chilly 13 degrees. We were struggling to stay in for an hour let alone the nearly three we would need to complete the swim. We were furiously ordering neoprene gloves and booties to wear. Luckily the swimming gods were shinning on us and the week before the race was scorching hot which warmed the water up nicely to a lovely 18 degrees.
We had agreed that we would try and swim together but with 200 plus people not losing each other as the start was going to be a challenge. Somehow after about 200m we did managed to find each other and we started off on the 5 lap course. For the first three laps we managed to stay pretty much on 1.30 pace (lap 1 30m 22s, lap 2 30m 52s, lap 3 30m 33s). At the end of the third lap we stopped for a drink at the feed stop. I think Manda wanted to stay there all day so I had to remind her we were in a race and that we needed to get going again! We slipped off pace a bit for the fourth lap (34m 33s) but manage to bring it back a somewhat on the fifth (32m 15s). We exited together in a time of 2 hours 37 minutes.


Very tired but happy we went for a celebratory Byron Burger and a well-earned Oreo cookie milkshake.