Tag Archives: Swimming

Scout camp

Scout camp by Andrew Gills
Scout camp, a photo by Andrew Gills on Flickr.

Canoes, kayaks, a pontoon and a large dam. What more could a Scout troop need on a warm autumn weekend.

After an hour setting camp, the seven Scouts and three Leaders who came on camp hit the water in canoes and kayaks. Within an hour everyone was in the water and the first canoe had been purposefully flipped for the day.

With all but one of our Scout troop being 11 years old, shennanigans like tipping people out of boats are still the order of the day. And we Leaders weren’t exempt from being sent swimming.

The pontoon was also popular for climbing on, rocking, jumping off and removing each other from it. Again, the Leaders were not exempt from being helped off the pontoon.

By the time we lit the campfire, most of us had been in the water for about six hours. After a meal of tacos and burritos, we enjoyed a few hours sitting around the campfire. It was an informal campfire, so mostly I just listened to the Scouts talking and scaring each other with stories.

It was a day of laughter, swimming and fun. Just what I needed.

I had to leave at the end of the day because Whoops Witch Way have an adventure race tomorrow.

Morning swim

Morning swim by Andrew Gills
Morning swim, a photo by Andrew Gills on Flickr.

I am rediscovering the joys of swimming. I suspect part of the rediscovery is related to summer really kicking into gear now, with overnight temperatures in the mid-twenties (Celcius), and daytime temperatures well and truly sitting in the thirties. There’s little more inviting than the clear water of a swimming pool. Even for me, someone who likes to get my feet wet but prefers the rest of me to stay dry.

This morning I swam at Mum’s house. I did a short 1,100m session, which only took about 20 minutes. I guess it’s a recovery session. I swam:

  • 300m freestyle warm up using my pull buoy
  • 200m catch-up freestyle drill
  • 100m breast stroke
  • 200m freestyle
  • 100m open water drill (six strokes head under water, six strokes head above water)
  • 100m breast stroke
  • 100m freestyle using pull buoy.

I focused on turning my hips when I breath and on having a strong underwater pull. The session felt good.

Given that the only swimming event I have coming up is the 400m swim leg of a triathlon that I’m doing as a team with a friend, I don’t have to stress too much about distance in swimming training. I just need to turn my arms over and enjoy the cool, clean water.

Total: 1,100m swim

S is for Summer and Summer is for Swimming

Sunday swim by Andrew Gills
Sunday swim, a photo by Andrew Gills on Flickr.

Wow! Free masters swim coaching for all-comers. And the classes take place twice a week. All you pay is the $5 pool entry and then the coach will tailor a session specifically to your goals. How wonderful!

This morning I attended the Redlands Masters Swimming session at Cleveland Aquatic Centre. It was wonderful. Coach Alan tailored sessions for each of his groups of swimmers of varying ages, abilities and goals. Those who were learning to swim also had access to a separate coach in the shallower 25m pool who could give them private instruction while more advanced swimmers completed their sets. If I hadn’t been there to experience this fantastic community initiative, I wouldn’t have believed it.

My friends are training for their first sprint distance triathlon next weekend so I fit in with them. I told Coach Alan about my sacroiliac joint injury and that I’m just this week returning to exercise after a lengthy break. At his suggestion, I used a pull buoy for my 300m warm up to reduce the pressure on my back caused by kicking. It worked and I felt strong as I glided through the water.

After our warm up, Coach Alan gave us all some tips rolling from the hips when we breath. Everyone in our little group of five swimmers was at a different stage of technique development but even for those of us a bit more experienced, the tips were wonderful. We then did some navigation swimming where we swam six strokes without breathing then six strokes with our heads above water. The Coach told us to shorten our stroke when swimming with our heads up and it helped a lot. I found this exercise comfortable.

We then did some drafting and pack swimming exercises. This was a load of fun and we probably did 500m of drafting in a V before doing four 25m pack sprints where we experienced the kicking, hitting and thrashing that is normal at the start of a triathlon.

We finished with some bilateral breathing exercises in which I focused on gliding and taking my breathing roll from the hips. My friends were then sent off to tread water for a while to learn some techniques that will help them conserve energy while waiting for the deep water start to their race. The Coach suggested I sit the exercise out because it would likely set my back off. It showed his professionalism, experience and interest in his swimmers that he would remember that I was injured out of the whole 20-odd swimmers he was looking after.

We swam for an hour and probably covered 1,000 – 1,200m (I lost count). While the distance wasn’t great, the quality was excellent. I think I got more out of this morning’s session than any of the long swims I did alone last triathlon season. I will be back.

Total: 1hour swim

‘Bayside Runners and Swimmers’

Image courtesy of vorakorn / Freedigitalphotos.net

I’m part of the Brisbane Bayside Runners and Walkers. It’s a social running and walking group here in the Redlands area of Brisbane. I started running with the group in August 2011 and love being part of the family atmosphere.

With the running season coming to an end, there are more and more people from the group hitting the pool. This morning I turned up to find three blokes from the group already gliding through the water. It felt good to have someone to say ‘hello’ to before starting my session. To me, the social element of training makes a big difference.

Set Swimming
Warm up 400m alternating freestyle and breaststroke
Drills 100m pull buoy100m catch up

100m pull buoy

100m one-arm freestyle

Main 800m medium pace with fartlek (8 x 25m sprints)
Exercise 400m freestyle kick
Cool down 100m freestyle100m breaststroke

The 800m swim was the farthest I have swum continuously so I was pleased with my effort, especially because I was able to do the 25m sprints throughout the set.

Total: 2.2km swim

Back in the pool


Okay, so I took the photo last year before my underwater camera broke, but it’s one of my favourite photos and seemed appropriate.

I hadn’t swum since April or May so had forgotten how beautiful it is to watch the sunrise through the water droplets falling from my arms. There wasn’t barely a thin glowing orange line on the horizon when I slid into the pool at 5:45am. By the time I finished my warm up, it had spread to a broad orange and yellow band that I could look at every time I breathed on the eastern side of the pool. By my main set the big ball of orange came into view over my right shoulder and I enjoyed the sensation of it’s warmth spreading over the water. By the time I got out of the pool just before 7am the sun was high in the sky above the palm trees. Perhaps I should count myself fortunate for being injured or I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy this start to my day.

As for the swimming itself, it went really well. I think it’s one of the longest sessions I’ve done, which shows how much my fitness and mental toughness have improved since I started long distance running. Last May, when I was training for triathlon, I found it physically and mentally tough to swim 1,500m – 2,000m sessions. However, this morning I found the distance and duration of the session comfortable. I actually looked forward to it, rather than counting down the laps.

I completed my first 1,800m by about 6:30am but then my running friends all started turning up to the pool so the remaining 400m took almost 30 minutes because I just had to stop and say hello to everyone as they arrived. That’s the only thing I don’t like about swimming: you can’t hold a conversation with your head underwater (though I did try).

Set Activities
Warm up 400m easy alternating freestyle and breaststroke.
Drills 400m alternating:

  • catch-up
  • one-arm freestyle stroke
  • 5-stroke breathing
Main 2 x 400m freestyle medium pace
Exercises 400m kicking:

  • 100m breaststroke
  • 300m freestyle
Cool down 200m slow freestyle

Total: 2.2km swim

A morning swim

My running friends went to the pool this morning so I decided to join them. Yes, it does seem strange to go swimming with running friends, but it’s definitely more pleasant than swimming alone.

Warm up: 500m freestyle

Main set:

  • 500m as 50m kick, 50m pull
  • 5 x 100m as 50m fast, 50m recovery with 10 seconds between each

Cool down: 500m freestyle

Total: 2km

Getting strong in the water

Somehow I force my body into the cold water. The onset of our Brisbane winter comes as a shock after the luxury of swimming in an ocean that felt like bathwater up in Karratha over the weekend. Sure, it doesn’t get frosty here but the water temperature has definitely dropped in the past week since I last swam.

Once in the water I feel a slight sense of panic as the cold grabs me so I push quickly through the water for the first 25m of my 300m warm up. My arms are slightly numb by the time I reach the middle of my second lap of the 25m pool but I tell myself to harden up and relax. It’s just the right pep-talk to get me swimming properly again. I complete my warm up without incident.

My main set today is 10 x 150m with 20 seconds rest at 50m easy, 50m race pace and 50m maximum effort. I feel strong in the water as I complete my first two repeats. And then, as I head down the pool for my third repeat I see the beautiful huge big ball of orange light rise from the eastern horizon as I breath. The site is magical and I draw strength from the rising sun. By the time I have completed my main set the sun is shining brightly in the morning sky and the birds singing their morning tunes loudly.

I am puffed from the exertion but feel happy as I set off on my 200m cool down. I swim it as 25m breast stroke and 25m easy freestyle.

I have decided to start using my heart rate monitor when I run and cycle. It came with the Garmin Edge 800 I won back in August but I’ve never used it because I didn’t know how. Not only did I not know how to use the HRM but I also didn’t know why I would want to. I have recently finished reading The Outdoor Athlete by Courtney and Doug Schurmann and it included an excellent explanation of the importance and effect of zone training.

There is a plethora of formulas available to calculate heart rate zones. I have decided simply to use the Schurmanns’ formula because I’m hoping to use their training plan to do some hiking training in the coming year:

MHR = 208 – (0.7 * age) = 186

HHR = MHR – RHR (48) = 138

Recovery = <65% HHR = <90bpm

Distance = 65% – 75% HHR = 90 – 104bpm

Tempo = 75% – 85% HHR = 104 – 118bpm

Interval = 85% – 95% HHR = 118 – 132bpm

Max = 95% – 100% HHR = 132 – 138bpm


Total: 2,000m swim


Byron Bay Triathlon preparation week 3

This week is the third week of my Byron Bay Triathlon preparation. I’ve been quite disciplined at following the training program that I downloaded from the Triathlete Europe website. The program is split into four 3-week sets, which focus on speed, strength, race-specific preparation and tapering. Each 3-week set is split into two hard weeks followed by a recovery week.

I’m currently in the recovery week for phase 1 (speed). I found the first two weeks incredibly tough because I was stepping up from training 5-6 times a week to training 8-10 times a week at a much higher intensity than I had been used to.


Before I started the program I was swimming sporadically (I only did 4 swim sessions between December 5 and February 18). When I did swim I was only swimming about 1km, with at least half my sessions being breast stroke. I didn’t do any speed work, kick board or pull buoy training. It’s quite shocking really that I swam 20:45 for my 1,500m at Kingscliff Triathlon.

Under the training program I am swimming three mornings a week. My sessions range from 1.5km to 2km. I am now doing a structured warm up, main set and cool down. Many of my sessions include speed work, kicking, pull buoy or all three. I’m actually using the timing clock at the pool now to limit my rests between repeats and, sometimes, to time my speed. I am feeling strong and confident in the water, and will be starting my last two races of the season at the front of the swim start rather than all the way out at the back.


Before starting the training program I was cycling once or twice a week. Most sessions were just social rides with either my mum or my running friends. I was riding 25 – 40km at about 22 – 26kph with the odd 27 – 30kph effort thrown in for good measure. My race speed at Kingscliff was 34kph, which is astounding given the training – I think I really brought it on the day.

Under the training program I am cycling 2-3 times a week. My sessions are much more structured, including time trials and hill work. As the training program progresses the time spent cycling at higher intensities will increase. I am enjoying the hard bike work and can feel a significant difference in both my strength and speed. I am finding that my warm ups and cool downs are faster than my training rides used to be (that being said, I never used to do warm ups and cool downs).


Before starting the program I spent most of my training time running. I joined the Brisbane Bayside Runners and Walkers in about August last year and found myself enjoying their company a little too much for a triathlete. But while I was running quite a few miles, they were also relatively slow. The great thing was that I went from struggling to complete a 5km training run to knowing I can run any distance I choose if I pace myself appropriately. But my speed suffered (I ran a 54 minute 10km at Kingscliff).

Under the training program I am running 3-4 sessions a week. The training is structured and focused on increasing my 10km pace, which is what I need for triathlon. For the first few weeks I was still going to parkour training, which I included as my weekly speed running session (we run 5-7km at parkour plus activities). However, in the coming months I might be knuckling down to focus more on triathlon training and leaving parkour until my partner’s days off change again (she’s currently off work on Thursday and Friday, which means I like to be home with her on Thursdays). While I miss my running friends I know the absence is temporary and that I am on the verge of a significant running breakthrough that will probably come in the next two phases of the program, which include more hard training at race pace. I know I’m about to go from running 6min/km pace to 4:30min/km pace over 10km, and that I’m about to crack the point where I can confidently set off on a 30-50km trail run and pace myself to return home safely (even if at 7:00 – 8:00min/km pace).

Adaptations to the training plan

I have made some slight adaptations to the training plan to make it better suit my lifestyle.

  • I do not train on Sundays unless I have an event. I have learned that my body and soul need a day off every week. I need a day for my garden, for my family and friends, and for my body to recuperate from the effort of the week. I am pushing myself quite hard when I do train and I don’t want to injury myself or become ill.
  • I also do some of my running on trails and will be doing some of my cycling on my MTB. Being in the bush is food for my soul and I prefer it to pounding or rolling along the pavement. Also, after the Byron Bay Triathlon on 12 May, all my events (starting from 20 May) will be off-road until at least April 2013. So it’s good fro me to start mixing my preparation to finish this road season strong and have some sort of base for my off-road future.
  • I have been doing basic strength exercises most nights while I’ve been watching television. I just do plank, push ups or crunches during add breaks. I don’t enjoy strength work and hate going to the gym but this is one way that I can manage to squeeze it in without feeling like I’m ‘doing strength’.


I’m confident that the new training program will do wonders for me. I’ve already noticed some changes in my body – my arms and chest are more muscular from the swimming and strength work. The last bits of belly I had have disappeared though I am definitely no Ryan Gosling and doubt I’ll ever have a six-pack (I like food too much). I feel more confident about entering different types of events, such as the Adventure Race Australia (20 May), Dawn Attack AR (September) and the 50km Washpool World Heritage Ultra Trail Run (October). And I think I’m going to really have a good crack at breaking 2:15 for the Byron Bay Olympic Distance Triathlon.

I do admit, though, that I’m excited about this week being a recovery week 😉


Water drops glisten in the morning sun

My hand is like a blade as it cuts into the water in front of me. I’ve turned it slightly inwards so that the inside tip of my index finger is first to break through the water’s surface before the rest of my hand slips easily through.

Small bubbles form around my hand as I push it down and back along my body. The bubbles float to the surface as my hand passes below my shoulder, making interesting and surreal patterns. I smile inwardly as I watch the bubbles.

As my hand pulls back past my hips I feel swirls of water against my thighs long before my hand rises. The swirls make their way down towards my knees as my body glides forward in the water and then the swirls are gone; left behind as I move ever forward. Maybe the swirls continue to move through the water behind me or maybe they have done their work and dissipate quickly in my wake.

My elbow rises high like a shark fin as I start to pull my hand back out of the water. As I breath I watch the water drops arc across the water under my now exposed hand. At first the drops are like a small waterfall as water tumbles back into the pool. But by the time my hand is descending back towards the water only a few small droplets spill off my skin. The droplets glisten in the morning sunlight; I see small rainbows in some of them.

My view of the world is wonderfully distorted as I breath. I was taught that it is most efficient to leave half the top of my head in the water to breath, which means that one eye is looking across the lanes under water while one looks at the world above. In reality the distortion lasts less than a second but in my mind’s eye it captures a life-time of moments. I see the lane ropes slip past quickly, the drops of water coming off my arm, the swimmers in the other lanes, the pool deck and the trees above. Sometimes, if the sun is at the right angle I can even see my arm reflected under the surface of the water at the same time as I can see it above the water. My lungs refilled with oxygen I drop my head back down and watch again as my hand re-enters the water.

There’s so much to experience while swimming laps. Sure, you can focus on the struggle of following the black line on the bottom of the pool or you can really experience the special moments that make up our swimming sessions. There’s nothing quite like spending time in the underwater world. There’s the light reflecting off the water and down to the bottom of the pool. There’s the way millions of drops of water make up the splash of a kick. There’s the sensation of water moving around our bodies. And there’s the delight of being almost weightless.

My warm up is 300m freestyle. My main set is 300m kick followed by 10 x 100m pull with 20 seconds rest between each. My cool down is 200m alternating between 50m breast stroke and 50m freestyle. My session has been easy because I’m in the recovery week of the first quarter of my 11 week pre-Byron Bay Triathlon training program.

I finish by taking off my goggles, closing my eyes and pushing myself off the wall with a few breast stroke pulls and kicks under water for 15m. With my eyes closed I can really focus on how the water feels against my body and how my body feels moving through it. I enjoy the freedom of the play. It’s a rare treat because today the pool is empty (I’ve gone back to Springwood and there are 6 lanes open to the 6 lap swimmers left in the pool).

Total: 1.8km


It’s Friday and my training plan has a 1.7km swim and an 8km aerobic run listed under today’s date. I finish work at 4pm today, my partner has the day off work, it’s been glorious weather the past few days and I am in the middle of finishing off the native garden at home so I decide that I don’t want to train this afternoon. Instead, I will do my two sessions today as a brick.

I drive to the Thornside community hall, which is about 4km from the Cleveland swimming pool. We used to do this run-swim-run session with the Brisbane Bayside Runners and Walkers so I know the terrain well. I sling my Camelback over my shoulders and set off down the road at a steady pace. The run is supposed to be aerobic and my training guide says that means the slower the better. However, I really don’t have the patience for slow so I decide to do my aerobic session at about 70-80% effort. I complete the 4km run to the pool in 21:38, a pace of 5:24. My second kilometre was the best at 4:42 pace.

The pool is fairly crowded again and there is no dedicated slow, medium or fast lane. Instead, everyone is just mingled in together. Without beating my drum, I’ve found over the past months that I’m almost always the fastest swimmer in the pool (other than the squad kids but they don’t count because they have a full 5-6 lanes of the pool to themselves with their coaches), so it’s sometimes difficult choosing a lane but more so when there are breast strokers in every lap lane.

I chose a lane that looks okay and set off on my 300m warm up. After some stretches I do 8 x 50m sprints with 15 seconds between each. Now, I know that 50m sprints are frowned upon in a crowded pool but I figure that if the slow swimmers can do whatever they want (including standing chatting across the whole end of the pool making it impossible to even do a touch turn, let alone a tumble) then I can sprint past them to my heart’s content. And I do.

After my sprints I settle into 3 x 300m steady pace (about 80%) with 20 seconds rest between each. Before I start my 300s I change into the next lane over after the group of women using it leave. As I get through my first 100m a father and son join me in the lane. Their pace is okay but they don’t know how to tumble so they both kind of bob around blocking the end of the pool at the end of each lap. I indicate that I want to turn and they just stare so I cruise between them and tumble anyway. They don’t block the end of the pool again for the rest of my set. And hopefully they will not block anyone else’s lanes either in future. I didn’t do it rudely but after giving them a chance I just did an easy non-splashing turn between them.I finished with an easy 100m comprised 50m breast stroke and 50m Biondi fly.

I know I sound like Mr Cranky Pants about the pool situation but it is very frustrating when it is totally chaotic. The pool managers should have signs to indicate fast, medium and slow lanes. Most pools have them but a few local ones still haven’t worked it out. The thing is that most swimmers will probably sort themselves out but there are always those few newbies who don’t understand the basic rules:

  1. If you are slow – accept it and swim with the other slow swimmers. I started my season in the slow lane and loved it but now I want to be able to actually get a decent session in.
  2. If you want a rest, stand to the side of the lane, not right smack in the middle where lap swimmers need to turn.
  3. If you want to chat, there are plenty of seats available in the stands or stand to the side of your lane not in a big bunch across the whole end of the pool
  4. This one’s not a rule but a tip – gentlemen, wear speedos because board shorts will only slow you down and make you feel like you are drowning. No one is going to look at your package because we’re all focused on that long black line at the bottom of the pool.

Oh well, by the end of March the pools will be almost empty again and by mid-April only the hardy winter swimmers will be left. And last season I found that the winter swimmers all knew about fast, medium and slow lanes.

After my swim I ran back to the car. I ran the first 1km relatively slowly (5:45 pace) but then relaxed into a rhythm and got back to the car with a 4km time of 21:44, just 6 seconds slower than my first 4km and at a pace of 5:26.

Total: Run 4km @ 5:24, Swim 1.7km, Run 4km @ 5:26