Swimming Masterclass with Richard Stannard

Richard Stannard

Beginning swimming lessons three years ago was genuinely one of the best decisions I’ve made. Being confident in the water has lead me onto so many things I never would have previously considered, including finishing a half-ironman triathlon and planning to swim the Solent next year.

Now that I swim with a masters group and a triathlon club, it’s easy to forget how far I’ve come in three years. When I took those first tentative steps onto the poolside at an adult swim school, I was nervous about putting my face in the water and self-conscious of wearing a swimsuit in public. Supportive and patient instructors helped me to develop my swim skills, technique and confidence. According to the ASA, over nine million adults in England are unable to swim. I actually often consider taking qualifications to become a swim coach myself and helping other non-swimmers discover a love of the water.

Sometimes it’s good to go back to basics and learn to swim as a complete beginner. Last week, I had the chance to take a swimming lesson with Richard Stannard and Jas Thorpe at Fitness First Hammersmith. Richard was a professional triathlete for 20 years and has won 7 world titles during his career. I’m always keen to get as much advice and input on improving my stroke, so I jumped at the chance to attend the session. The pool at Fitness First is short and shallow making it perfect for beginner lessons as the water is not too deep that you cannot touch the floor at any point. The ambient glow from the pool lighting creates a relaxed atmosphere.

Before we even got into the water, I learned something new- I’ve been wearing my goggle strap too low all this time. It should be placed higher around the head at the broadest part. Turning up to work in the morning with goggle marks around my eyes has become the norm for me, so hopefully making this adjustment it will reduce this problem!

Richard Stannard

The front crawl technique was broken down into bitesize chunks with Richard providing demonstrations. It’s always inspiring to watch a pro athlete in action gliding effortlessly through the water. We began swimming a few lengths focusing on body position, aiming to keep our head, hips and heels in a straight line. Richard complimented me on my body position which was nice to hear!

Triathletes are notorious for neglecting to use their legs whilst swimming, but I actually find that kick drills are my favourite part of a swim set. I could quite happily use my kick board all day long! Richard emphasised that an effective kick starts at the hips with straight legs and pointed toes. We swam a few lengths concentrating on engaging our glutes and creating small, quick kicks without bending our knees. A tip I’ve heard before is to imagine your big toes rubbing together as your feet move up and down side-by-side.

Richard Stannard

Finally we moved onto our catch and pull technique. This is the area which I struggle with the most- I’m always told that I drop my elbows and therefore don’t create enough leverage to pull my body through the water. We floated in the pool moving our hands in a figure of eight motion to get a feel for the water then Richard explained how rolling your shoulder inwards activates your lat muscles. He suggested visualising a large barrel under your arm as you reach and pull through the water. It still didn’t quite click with me but Richard assured us that this part of the stroke can take years to get right. It’s something that I will continue to work on!

Richard Stannard

The group of bloggers was a real mix of abilities and everyone made noticeable improvements during the hour session under Richard’s guidance. I really hope everyone is inspired to keep swimming as it has so many health benefits. For more information on swim coaching, check out The Triathlon Training Centre.

Thanks to Abbi at Upraised Living for the images.

Can you swim or have you ever taken lessons? 

Club to Pub Swim

Club to Pub Swim

On a summer’s day, there is no where better to be than swimming outdoors. Last weekend, I took a refreshing dip in the Thames for the Club to Pub swim.

The unique appeal of this event is that the 1500m swim course goes from Henley Rowing Club to the Angel on the Bridge Pub. On arrival at the pub you are presented with a specially brewed bottle of Two Bells beer, a bottle-opener medal and a burger from the BBQ. What more could you want!

A relaxed evening event made a change from the usual frantic early morning race start. It allowed plenty of time for parkrun in the morning then a drive over to check into our hotel in nearby Sonning. Glen and I ate and relaxed by the river before meeting friends Amy, Annie and Olivia, plus supporters Matt and Spencer. There was a great atmosphere at the rowing club as we waited for the race briefing. The warm weather had attracted a record number of entries with just over 500 swimmers.

Club to Pub Swim

The water temperature was a balmy 21c, so I did consider ditching the wetsuit but decided to keep it on for the added buoyancy. I was sweating in my rubber as I watched the river fill with bobbing green hats as Glen’s wave was set off at 7pm. The all-female wave followed at 7.20pm with our pink swimming caps. We tapped our timing chips against a sensor to activate them as we jumped into the cool river.

Club to Pub Swim

The first 400m of the swim was upstream working against the current, before turning at the buoys and gliding with the flow of the river for the last 1100m. There was a noticeable difference in the two sections of the swim- it was definitely more challenging swimming upstream! Even while waiting in the water for our wave to start, I struggled to stay in position as the current was pushing me backwards.

I found plenty of space around me in the water as we had the whole width of the river. Although around the turning point, it did become a little crowded with swimmers. I came in too close and head-butted the buoy!

The riversides were lined with spectators enjoying the evening sun. I could hear cheers of support as I turned my head to breathe. We were told to keep close to the riverbank, but I was conscious of not swimming too close to any boats or getting caught in the weeds.

As we swam under the finish line, we were told to reach up and tap our timing chip against it to record an accurate time. I floated towards the steps and climbed out of the river to receive my beer and medal. I was pleased to come in just under 30 minutes with a chip time of 29:48.

Club to Pub Swim

It was possible to take a ferry back to the rowing club to use the showers and changing rooms, but I decided to spend the rest of the evening at the pub watching the rest of the swimmers come in. Overall, a fantastic event which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Club to Pub Swim

Club to Pub Swim

Club to Pub Swim

Have you ever ended a race at the pub? What’s the best medal you’ve received?

Swimathon 2016


The Olympic Park was buzzing with activity as I arrived to take on my Swimathon challenge this morning. With running, cycling and of course swimming events taking place for Sport Relief, it was the iconic venue was a great place to complete my 2.5km swim.

It’s the second year which I’ve taken part in Swimathon- this time I was lucky enough to be involved in the BlogSquad which included a training session with Duncan Goodhew back in December.

Glen and I arrived around an hour early for our start time and watched the swimmers from the previous session finishing their challenges. We collected our coloured swimming caps and headed down the changing rooms to prepare. I bumped into another BlogSquad member Adele as we were lining up on the poolside waiting to start. I hadn’t actually realised we were swimming at the same venue, so it was great to see her before we set off. 

I was assigned to Lane 4 and met with the volunteer who would be keeping count of our laps. As one of the flagship venues, there would be hundreds of people taking part in the event. Our coloured caps help the ‘Lane Manager’ distinguish swimmers and count our laps. We were also assigned to coloured teams to create a bit of camaraderie with swimmers across the country. I was representing #TeamYellow in my yellow cap, although I had a feeling it wouldn’t stay on my head throughout the swim! 

Before starting, we were lead through an aqua aerobic style warm-up in the diving pool. It was very cheesy, but actually quite fun and helped to get me loosened up for the swim. I might suggest it for our tri club sessions! 

I was the third swimmer in my lane to start. Duncan Goodhew was at the venue to set the swimmers off- I wondered if he would remember me from the training session! 

As the pool is 50 metres in length, I would need to swim 50 laps to complete the 2500m. Broken down in my mind into 5 lots of 10 lengths, it doesn’t seem so far at all. The swim seemed to fly by with the metres soon adding up. I focused on my technique and staying strong from start to finish.  

With 15 people in my lane, it was a little too overcrowded. There was a real mixture of abilities, I found that I had to constantly overtake slower swimmers. I had planned to tumble-turn at the end of each lap, but it actually wasn’t possible as the lane-ends were pretty congested with swimmers taking a rest. 

My Garmin never seems to work accurately at the Olympic Pool for some reason. It was adding on additional lengths, so after only 30 minutes it read 2000m which I knew couldn’t be accurate. I checked with the Lane Manager and he told me I had another 18 lengths to go, which sounded more like it! Perhaps I should have left the Garmin at home and just kept track in my mind. 

With 10 lengths to go, I was given the signal and tried to pick up the pace for the final 500m. I felt my swimming cap slipping off the back of my head and filling up with water, so I grabbed it and left it on the poolside. The struggles of having long, thick hair- caps never stay on my head! 

I finished in 53:07, alongside another girl in a green cap. I’m really pleased with the improvement of 4 minutes on last year’s time– it shows progress with my swimming. 

Glen had finished his swim a while before me and was waiting on the poolside. We collected our medals and had an official photo. 


Swimathon is a fab event for all abilities. I’d really recommend it as a goal to work towards if you are a beginner in the pool. With options for 1.5km, 2.5km and 5km there is a distance to suit all levels. Next year I might even attempt the 5km!

Did you take part in Swimathon or any of the Sport Relief events?

Swimming with Duncan Goodhew

Duncan Goodhew

As part of being involved with the Swimathon BlogSquad, I had the amazing opportunity to take part in a training session with Olympic gold medalist Duncan Goodhew. I met with Adele, Emma and Victoria at Cally Pool last December to pick up some tips as we train towards our swimming challenges.

We began with a few warm-up lengths, then stopped to get some feedback on our technique. Duncan complimented me on my stroke, saying that I swim beautifully and he is jealous of how much flexibility I have through my shoulders. It was a huge confidence boost to have great feedback from a swimming legend like Duncan! 

Duncan Goodhew

We moved on to drills with the aim of getting more upper-body rotation and therefore becoming more streamlined in the water. I realised that I never finish my stroke fully, so Duncan’s tip of ‘flicking’ my fingers away by my thigh really helped to lengthen my stroke. 

We also worked on our catch, leading with the elbow with the lower arm relaxed and dangling. I tend to tense my forearm and overthink how I am placing my hand into the water, so this gave me something to work on in my training sessions. 
Duncan Goodhew

Duncan then demonstrated his winning breaststroke technique, which was actually awe-inspiring to watch! He seemed to cover half the length of the pool in just one stroke! I think I will stick to front-crawl as my breast-stroke leaves a lot to be desired! 

Duncan’s passion for swimming really shone through during our session. I asked him if he still swims regularly and he told me he still gets to the pool twice a day where possible. I wondered if the children training in the lanes beside us realised they were in the presence of an Olympic great. It wasn’t quite their usual Monday night training session! 

It was great to see how everyone’s confidence improved over the course of the session- Emma, Adele and Victoria’s strokes improved noticeably. The hour absolutely flew by, we all left feeling inspired by Duncan and excited for the Swimathon challenge. 

After our session we filmed a short video talking about our inspiration, motivation and proudest swimming moment. I guess I have to do tumble-turns now that I’ve committed to it on film!

There is now just under three weeks until Swimathon kicks off. I’ll be completing my 2.5km challenge at the flagship venue- the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park on Sunday 20th March. I’ll be aiming to improve on my time from last year- 57:08.

Have you met any Olympic athletes? Are you taking part in Swimathon this year?