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Ironman World Champion Pete Jacobs reveals his top Ironman swimming training and race tips

Pete Jacobs' Guide to Ironman Triathlon PlusIronman World Champion Pete Jacobs is a fantastic swimmer thanks to his background in surf lifesaving competitions, but even he has to spend serious time in the pool to increase efficiency and develop the speed needed to string out the field in races. Here’s how he does it:

  • Let your fitness build naturally

“When I’m taking a break between races, I’ll just jump in the water and swim easy, two to three times a week. After my post-Hawaii break, I always start out with just moving – doing a little bit of exercise, but with no structure and no goals. Then I start building it into a bit more of a routine. I’ll start my regular training days of swim, bike and run, but the sessions are really short and with moderate efforts.

“I never have structure in my swimming. If I get into the water and I’m tired, I just swim slow and easy, and not too far. If I get in the water and feel a bit better, I go a little bit harder. So it’s all by feel in the water and just whatever’s left after I’ve done my bike and run sessions.

“This means my fitness builds naturally. After a month or two of swimming, you’re probably going to feel good in the water more frequently, so you’ll find you just end up doing a few more solid sessions than at the start of the race season.

“I’m not trying to get a lot of fitness in the swim or do a lot of efforts to get faster. I’m just trying to be efficient and have a bit more strength, so as I go through the season, I start to feel more comfortable swimming 4km in the pool.

“Open water’s never been an issue for me and I’ve never trained in open water before a race. I like the pool because it’s a much more controlled environment. I can focus on my technique and efficiency, and get some good feedback from the times that I’m doing. Even if I’m slow on the day, it’s still nice to just keep track of everything.”

  • Play games to stay motivated

“To keep going during long swims, I tell myself that I’m an islander and to get from one tribe to the next I have to swim. I pretend I’m between two islands and there’s no question of stopping – I have to get to the next island to eat.

“I play little games like that when I need to just get some miles done. At other times, I’ll keep track of my times every 100m – I’ll have a quick look so I’m getting feedback, which keeps me motivated.

“If you train at the pace you’re going to swim at in the race, practising your stroke, technique and rhythm, then your stroke shouldn’t change in open water. Your rhythm changes if you try to go faster or get panicked so it’s all about keeping the same rhythm in racing that you have in training.”

  • Plan ahead if you’re in a pack

“I’m always pretty conscious of what the pack is doing during racing and I’m always making decisions about how I can get the best lead with the least amount of effort. I’m not thinking about the next leg, more about what I can do in this minute, this second, to be going fast efficiently.

“In a mass start, if you’ve got people sitting right on your hip or if you’re shoulder-to-shoulder, it’s very hard to pull away because someone on your hip will drag you down, make you slower and act like a weight. You’re wasting energy if someone’s right on your hip and you’re trying to sprint away, so you want to do your accelerations when you’re in clear water. So at the start, if you’re going to accelerate hard, try to find a bit of clear water. If you’re not trying to get in front, then you should just sit on someone’s hip while they accelerate.”

  • Physio work can help flexibility

“To supplement my pool work and my overall structural strength, I do lots of physio work focusing on the areas that swimming particularly tightens up – exercises, stretches and movements to give me back a good range of motion that swimming might otherwise limit.”

  •  Get a good wetsuit

“Swim skins and wetsuits are faster – they benefit from less friction and hold muscles tighter, decreasing your surface area. A well-fitted wetsuit is going to be faster than one that’s a bit baggy. The Blueseventy Helix has always been the best-fitted wetsuit for me. The top-to-bottom zipper allows a much better fit around my lower back than other wetsuits so my core is more stable, which helps strengthen me in the water. It also keeps me more compressed. The nice thin forearms don’t have any of that built up plastic that other wetsuits have, so you get a really good feel for the water. It’s also incredibly flexible, so you can wear a really well fitted, tight one.”

See the rest of our 2013 Ironman World Championship coverage here. We’ll be updating regularly in the run up to Kona.

Pete Jacobs is the reigning Ironman World Champion and is sponsored by Boardman Bikes, Asics, GoldCross, Alaska Milk, Yurbuds, Rudy Project, blueseventy, F2P, Sram, Zipp, Quarq, Shotz nutrition, Healthwise Active Travel, Xlab, Computrainer, ISM saddles, BPM Sport. PJ is also an Ambassador for the John Maclean Foundation.