As I write this I am sitting on our ‘command boat’ in the sea next to the peninsula in Kaş, Turkey. 30 minutes ago our swimmers begin the first strokes of their challenge swim on this final training day of our open water distance camp. The weather is promising- open skies, a light breeze coming from the east, the air about 24 C and the crystal clear sea about 27 C. This is what we look forward to in the latest days of September.

Launching our swimmers on their challenge swim at 7:15 am

We’ve set aside 5 hours to let our swimmers go as far as they please. For some of the swimmers, 4 or 5 km will be a satisfying accomplishment. One or two may go for the next landmark at 7.5 km. And a few have their eyes set on the full 12 km that our one-way route around the peninsula affords. Some may not necessarily swim farther than they have before, but to swim a certain distance applying new skills, to feel better than they ever have before. 

The 12 km route (if you stick close to shore), from the green dot to the red one

The swimmers are divided into 3 groups with a kayak escort, with radios tying all together with the command boat – a spacious, classic Turkish gulet boat with marvelous hospitality. We have a few spouses on board to relax and cheer them on… and yes, we warmly welcome companions and family members at our training venues and on boat tour days. Bring them along!

Coach Baha and Mat talking about nutrition and training principles

Yesterday, after a light morning swim session, we took time to discuss principles and ideas for hydration and food on longer swims like this, then they went to town to buy supplies. Each person prepared their own bag with 2 water bottles, and individual sealed baggies with chosen snacks. Each bag and item inside is marked with the swimmer’s name, and bag is to be kept in the kayak for that group. At about 45 minute intervals the kayak comes around to offer drinks and snacks to each. With our encouragement and guidance, most are experimenting with food on a longer swim for the first time. Some of the more experienced swimmers might take in less or no food, while others might feel more hungry or less hungry as they go along. This is the time and place to see how their bodies will respond to a new metabolic challenge.

Once embarked on the swim, we check in periodically. They can keep going if they feel good or get on the boat when they’ve had enough. Everyone is encouraged to do as much as they please, with no pressure to go farther, but quite safe under our guidance to try more than they have before. 

Coach Mat giving the first training talk before we hit the sea

At the start of the week I introduced some concepts about training for longer distance, longer than they currently feel capable of. 

Before our first session in the sea on Monday, I explained the three components of training we would experience this week, which they would continue to develop in the months and years to come:

 

Skill Training, Fitness Training and Mental Training

All three are intertwined and serve each other. The stronger one is, the more it supports the work you do on the others. The weaker one is, the more limited you may be in your ability to develop the others. In other words, you need to develop all three in proportion, careful to not let one lag too far behind the others.

Skill Training
  • Reducing risk of injury
  • Increasing efficiency
  • Increasing sense of ease
  • Building a better menu of physical responses for open water and more challenging conditions

We learn that skill training is the foundation for efficient, injury-free swimming for distance and speed. 

Jo taking studious notes during video analysis

Fitness Training
  • Developing neural control over body shape and movement patterns
  • Developing muscular strength around those patterns, to hold them over longer distance
  • Developing more power through those patterns

We learn that we need to be persistent and patient, to work through a systematic process of safely building more strength and eventually more speed. Yes, there are other methods that could possible make people faster… but would have them reach limits sooner. For those who have come into swimming as adults, to build distance endurance and speed safely, in terms of keeping strong and healthy joints, it is a process that takes a few years of dedicated training, not mere weeks or months. We share stories of normal people like them who have gone through this process to produce very pleasing results.

Nico getting the timing just about right on his full body synchronized propulsion

Mental Training
  • Improving intelligence and strength of attention upon those things you can control
  • Filtering and organizing attention so that you work on fewer, higher priority features, in a certain order, and end up developing them better
  • Improving attitude regarding those things you cannot control and for discomforts and fatigue, and fears. 

We learn that where the mind goes, so does the body and its energy. Train your attention to stay focused on things that matter – you get much better results in training, and you end up enjoying the training so much more. Trained attention is the key to efficiency, safety and enjoyment so later on you are free to pay more attention to the beauty you are swimming through and the lovely people you are swimming with.

Erkin rounding the point, and moving into calm waters, with 6 km to go

In open water, on longer distances, depending on what the different swimmers’ needs are, our practical lessons may included: 

  • Improve body shape and stroke choreography
  • Improve consistency in form over many strokes
  • Improve synchronized propulsion by tapping into the torso rotation power
  • Improve synchronized propulsion by more smoothly transferring force through the body
  • Learn how to blend with waves and turbulent water
  • Improving navigation
  • Improve responses to fatigue
  • Learn better approach to hydration and food
  • Learn how to working through anxiety and fears
  • Improve responses to discomfort and pain signals 

 

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p style=”text-align: center;”>Keith finished off his first 12 km swim, all with a steady stroke and pace.

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