When it comes to open water swimming, Paul Newsome is a man worth listening to.
For starters, he won the 46-kilometre Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, arguably one of the world’s most grueling open water swims, in 2013. Secondly, he is the founder of the UK and Perth-based Swim Smooth which is acknowledged as one of the world’s leading swim coaching companies. His coaching expertise is regularly sought out by professional triathletes and open water swimmers from around the world who descend on his Perth base for intensive Swim Smooth squad training.
And finally, he’s the pro-coach for this year’s (February 25) famous Karma Resorts Rottnest Channel Swim – an arduous 19.7-kilometre open water swim starting from the scenic white sands of Perth’s Cottesloe Beach and before finishing across the channel in Thomson Bay on Rottnest Island.
We recently spoke with Paul Newsome and asked for a few of his tips on how to plan for this year’s epic and some of his insights on what it takes to not only finish the Karma Resorts Rottnest Channel Swim but to finish in style …
#1 – Practice makes perfect
“You should be swimming at least four times a week. That’s three pool sessions and an open water session. The pool sessions should then focus on different elements of your training regime. For example, use the first (pool) session to concentrate on technique, the second for intervals around your swim-specific fitness and the third for endurance,” Paul says.
#2 – Learn to adapt your stroke and kick tempo
According to Newsome smart swimmers are adaptable swimmers. “You’ve got to know how to maximise your time in the water and that depends on the conditions,” he explains.
“When facing choppy conditions, adjust your stroke to incorporate a straighter arm. This will help you overcome the swell and keep your stroke rate up.”
“And if you’re facing calmer conditions and there’s an easterly wind behind you, increase your kicking tempo – that way you’re using the wind to help propel you to Rottnest (Island).”
#3 – Breathe
The importance of breathing (especially bilateral breathing) is the difference between a strong swim and a mouthful of seawater.
“If the westerly is coming in (off the Indian Ocean) then breathing on the left is just not an option. We teach everyone to feel comfortable breathing on both sides … in those conditions, you can then just breathe from the right-hand side and avoid the discomfort.”
#4 – Eat, Drink and train
Newsome recommends swimmers prepare a proper race day nutrition plan to ensure they maintain enough energy throughout the day. Importantly, the same intake rules apply whether swimmers choose to compete solo or take part in a duo or team of four.
“You should be eating or drinking every 30 minutes – either 200-250ml of water or a sports drink, energy bar or gel pack.”
“Avoid anything with a lot of fibre, as it can upset the stomach and make the going difficult.”
#5 – Avoid shoulder pain at all costs
For Newsome there are not many things that can finish a well-prepared Rottnest Channel Swimmer’s day early beyond sustaining a shoulder injury because of a lapse in technique. Swimmers should look to avoid rotator cuff injuries in particular, using a combination of good technique and focus.
“First off – don’t go thumbs first into the water. It’s fingers first all the way”.
“Also, avoid crossing your stroke over your body’s midline in front of your head – there’s no need to over extend. Focus on your stroke and keep these techniques in mind, you’ll avoid a potential swim-ending injury on the day.”
#6 – For teams and duo entries…
“Make sure you have someone on board your support boat whose sole job is to retrieve swimmers from the water as they complete their swim.
“It shouldn’t be a fellow team member. Heaving a body into the boat costs time and energy and the more team members expend the less they’ll have for their turn in the water.”
#7 – Ensure you have a great support team
For Newsome, one of the most fundamentally important aspects of the day is ensuring you have a great support team behind you. He says swimmers and support crews should practice working together in the lead up to the swim – not just on race day.
“Navigation, safety, pulling swimmers out of the water – it’s all extremely important. Teams need to build trust. Trust between the swimmer(s) and the support crew and trust that everyone knows their place.”
“A good team can really help cut down changeovers times and (ensure swimmers) avoid going off course, which will of course cost you valuable minutes to correct.”
#8 – Plan your swap overs
As for specific advice for duo and team swimmers: “The first swimmer straight off the beach should do 1000m, then the next swimmer the same distance. After that, it’s better to measure by time. Time changes are easier to measure and improve upon.”
“The fastest teams change swimmers every 30 seconds to 2 minutes – a huge amount of planning and practice goes into that, they’re the interval kings.”
#9 – Always bring a towel… or fifty
It would seem Douglas Adams was onto something in A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy when espousing the virtue of towels because Newsome’s quite the fan of a fluffy Sheridan number but for a far less comical reason.
“People don’t think to plan for hypothermia when the water temperature is at 21 degrees Celsius and that can lead to real trouble. Remember, it’s about length of exposure and temperature. Even the most experienced swimmers can suffer.”
“Pack your support boat with as many big, fluffy and dry towels as possible. When you think you’ve got enough, add more! That way the swimmers will always be warm and dry out of the water.”
“Boats with protection from the wind are a definite plus, the bigger the team, the more protection the boat should have.”
#10 – Navigate to win
“In the past, most teams would add kilometres to the swim through bad navigation however, thanks to modern GPS technology there’s ways to avoid major course corrections.”
“The official app, Map Swim, is really useful. It will not only tell you whether you’re falling left or right of the most efficient route to Rottnest but also the position of the other teams. It’s a must if you’re serious about giving it your best on the day.”
Summing up his advice to swimmers, Newsome comes back to adaptability – swimmers that can adapt their stroke, breathing, kicking and plan on the day will deliver their best on the day.
“You can’t change the conditions on the day, but you can change yourself so make that the focus of your training.”