February 2017 - TRIATHLON
Triathletes Heading to Area Pools in Growing Numbers Off-Season
By Christine McKnight
Swimming: it’s the most technical part of triathlon and usually the most challenging to master. But a relaxed, smart swim can lay the groundwork for a strong bike and run. That’s why the area’s triathletes, from newbies to savvy veterans, are heading to pools in growing numbers for off-season swim clinics and training.
“Winter is really the best time to focus on technique,” said Steve Vnuk of Delmar, president of the Bethlehem Triathlon Club, who has been participating in triathlon-specific sessions with Excel Aquatics at the College of Saint Rose pool for the last three years. For the 61-year-old Vnuk, who admits he was “never a swimmer” before he took up triathlon in 2012, it’s paid off with steadily improving swim times in his races, including five Ironman events and 10 half-Ironmans. The swim he’s proudest of is a 41:53 effort in rough water at last year’s 70.3 World Championships in Queensland, Australia.
Another triathlete, Chris McNally of Ballston Spa, said he feels the sessions helped him be more efficient during his race at Ironman Lake Placid last year. “Technique is the key in swimming. As an older triathlete, I know I’m not going to get significantly faster in the water, but I can swim smarter,” Chris said. He swam 1:22 at IMLP and came out of the water with plenty of energy for the remainder of the race, which he completed in 14:12.
Kevin Kearney, director of Excel Aquatics, said demand has been strong for his program’s two triathlon-specific classes, a Sunday morning session focused on technique and a Thursday evening “Get Fast” session, both one hour in length. “I think there is more interest in off-season swim training, even though triathlon registrations have been declining a bit in recent years,” he said. Not only is winter the perfect time to focus on technical aspects of the swim, but getting feedback from a coach in a calmer pool setting makes for crisper communication and increased likelihood for improvement, he said.
Two other coaches of triathlon-specific winter swim programs, Ann Svenson of the Saratoga Regional YMCA and Kristen Hislop of Hislop Coaching, also report growing participation. “There’s more interest, and that’s a good thing,” Kristen said. “There is definitely more recognition and willingness” to hit the pool off-season.
With a coach for every lane, and no more than four swimmers per lane, Excel Aquatics provides individual, specific and immediate feedback. Joining Kevin on deck is an experienced team of instructors who all come from competitive swim or nationally recognized coaching backgrounds, including College of Saint Rose aquatics director and head coach Keith Murray, an Ironman triathlete himself; Dave Washburn, Kiersten Beckford, Gabriana Beckford and Thomas Kearney.
The most rewarding part for the coaches, Kevin said, is how self-motivated triathletes are. “They come from all kinds of backgrounds, from newbies who have never been in open water and want to get the basics down, to more seasoned triathletes who want to be more competitive. Collegiate coaching has changed so much, and we’re able to take what we’ve learned as collegiate swimmers and coaches, and translate that to triathlon-specific instruction.” Kevin himself swam competitively for 13 years, including Shaker High School in Latham from 2003-07, and Division I Binghamton University from 2007-2011, when he reached the America East championship finals 11 times as a backstroke and freestyle specialist.
No one would agree more about how challenging swimming is than Total Immersion coach Ann Svenson, who has clinics scheduled for Sundays on March 26, April 23, and May 21, 3:30-5pm, at the Saratoga Regional YMCA in Saratoga Springs. She gears her program to first-time triathletes, especially those doing the Hudson Crossing Triathlon on Sunday, June 11, or the Betsy Owens Memorial Open Water Swims in August at Mirror Lake, Lake Placid. Ann said more individuals than ever are coming to her clinics, not only triathletes, but anyone who wants to be more comfortable swimming in the water. “Swimming is such a complicated sport, there’s so much to learn, and the pool is an excellent place to start,” she said. Ann has been swimming for 35 years and holds multiple U.S. Masters Swimming long distance age group records. Her sessions focus on stroke technique, how to swim straight and sight, what to do if you panic in the water, race start strategies, drafting and equipment.
Coach Kristen Hislop began triathlon-specific swim clinics last fall at the Niskayuna High School pool in response to demand. Her program, which features six 90-minute sessions, includes a combination of drills, skill work and sets on Sunday mornings, 8:30-10am, as well as video analysis. “Without question, there is a lot more interest now, because triathletes better understand how swimming can set you up for an overall good triathlon finish and head-off a lot of frustration,” she said. “It’s not about being the fastest swimmer, it’s about being efficient so when you get out of the water, you feel fantastic on the bike.”
Kristen, who is certified through both Ironman University and USA Triathlon, is joined on deck by two other experienced coaches, Kristen and Brianna Phillips. Her program is open to all, and the spring session concludes March 5.
For beginner swimmers, the adult lessons offered at Capital District YMCA, Saratoga Regional YMCA and Glens Falls Family YMCA pools are great places to start. Most of these local Y’s, the Albany JCC and Colonie Ciccotti Center offer swim lessons for members and non-members. For intermediates over 18 years old, masters swimming (adms.org) provides structured workouts led by certified coaches. Area colleges and school districts with pools offer reasonably priced sessions and a variety of swim times.
All of this off-season swim training is helping area triathletes lay the groundwork for these early-season triathlons:
· Capital District YMCA USATri 60 Indoor Triathlon – Sunday, February 26 at Southern Saratoga YMCA in Clifton Park with 10-minute pool swim, 30-minute stationary bike, 20 treadmill run (cdymca.org).
· Capital District YMCA USATri 60 Indoor Triathlon – Sunday, March 19 at Guilderland YMCA in Guilderland with 10-minute pool swim, 30-minute stationary bike, 20 treadmill run (cdymca.org).
· Anyone Can Tri Triathlon – Sunday, May 7 at Southern Saratoga YMCA in Clifton Park with 350-yard pool swim, 11-mile bike, 5K run (active.com).
· Cooperstown Triathlon – Saturday, June 3 at Glimmerglass State Park in Cooperstown with 800-meter open water swim, 18-mile bike, 3-mile run (atcendurance.com).
· Hudson Crossing Triathlon – Sunday, June 11 at Hudson Crossing Park in Schuylerville with 500-yard open water swim, 12-mile bike, 5K run (hudsoncrossingtri.com)
· Great Sacandaga Challenge Triathlon – Saturday, June 17 in Broadalbin with 750-meter open water swim, 20K bike, 5K run (sacandagatriclub.com)
· Tupper Lake Tinman – Saturday, June 24 at Municipal Park in Tupper Lake with half-Ironman, Olympic and Sprint: 0.5-mile swim, 12.6-mile bike, 3.1-mile run (tupperlaketinman.com).
· Pine Bush Triathlon – Sunday, July 23 from Rensselaer Lake, Albany to Guilderland YMCA, Guilderland with 325-yard swim, 11.5-mile bike, 3.25-mile run (active.com).
Christine McKnight (email@example.com) is a veteran triathlete who lives in Wilton.