Shopping Cart

No products in the cart.

Coach Dan Bullock’s personal success story from the 2015 British Masters National Open Water Swimming Championships

Triathlon Swim Coach saluting

Note: this story was written by Dan Bullock and submitted to Vasa.

On Sunday, August 2nd 2015, the Great Britain National Open Water Swimming championships were held in Sheffield, England.  It was held exactly 30 years after I won my first National medal as a Junior.

I had recently moved up an age group and so far had been enjoying my early season racing.  It had the makings of an enjoyable ‘race’ as an OW test event. This race was going to be very competitive as all swimmers from the age group 20-49 started in a single wave. The no wetsuit rule was also going to make a difference. However, for my last few races, I had switched to a SwimThin suit to help me gradually prepare for a non-wetsuit race.  For this race, I had a new OW swim suit from Speedo.  I had also loaded up drinking Beetroot Juice all week, as I wanted to swim well and race hard here, having not won it since 2011.

My training had been predominantly on the Vasa Swim Erg of late, with the Vasa Trainer also being utilized. My shoulders do not enjoy too much pool time these days as I move up into the 45-49 AG.

The race started at 3pm, so this made race day warm up for the 3km event a bit tricky, especially as it was a long drive to the venue.  So having the chance to warm up early at home on the Vasa Swim Erg was golden.  I did 10 mins very light, then stepped it up 5 x 2mins adding a couple of watts with each time period. Recovery was 30secs light in between each 2 mins interval. I swam the final few mins at easy pace and focused on aligning technique as accurately as possible.

I was unsure of warm up availability or what the temperatures would be like at the venue.  Regardless, it would be unlikely that we would get a decent amount of time for warm up in the water.  Even if the race allows decent warm up time, there typically is no structure to the warm up swims, simple because there are lots of people swimming in random directions.

Upon arrival at the race venue, my warm up consisted of light arm circling followed by us of light resistance rubber stretch cords with a focus on Triceps and Catch.

An open water swim event is different from a Triathlon in that the start is usually a little less frantic and we warm up as we swim into the main race.   Then we finish strong for a place.

On arrival, nails are checked at registration before you enter and if long, out come the nail clippers. The race organizers must they take these precautions given no wetsuits for protection.  Without the wetsuits at events like this, people are a little more careful feeling more vulnerable and exposed. Not always though and hence the precautions.

I was right to warm up earlier in the day and then repeat my stretch cord routine at the venue. The British Swimming schedule would have us leave the warm up swim zone 5mins before race start and parade on to the pontoon as racers are introduced by name.  So I gave that warm up a miss,  feeling it was fast track to feeling cold.


Being at the top end age of the group in wave 1 placed me away from the younger fast guys, (whom I wanted to be racing with in order for a top 10 overall) who were at the other end of the pontoon. But a clean dive and some fly kicks had us merge into a small group and we were setting off at a pace quicker then I expected towards the first buoy on lap 1 of 3. I shared the lead swimming side by side with number 5.  I was number 28, so he was clearly not in my age category.

All I needed to do was look out for anyone 23+ ! I felt strong during the first two laps, with very little fatigue, having nicely warmed up and feeling fast. My new suit had proven to be really quick in the London Aquatic Centre on Thursday morning so I did not feel too concerned I was going out too fast.  But I did reign in some thoughts of just ‘going.’


Perhaps this is an overstatement and people are not aggressive but at 1:18pace per 100m in open water racing, you cannot afford to make a mistake.  If you do, someone will swim into you, bump you, or try to take your line or your place in the lead pack. Swim too close to the buoys and you may catch a hand on the anchoring rope.   Lose an arm stroke and the leaders get a meter or two ahead and so the heart rate and effort must go up trying to bridge the gap.

The similarities to cycling are many in this respect. With multi loop events and waves there are going to be issues. The older wave 2 started 10mins after us. They were probably going to be slower than the leaders of the younger wave 1.  We caught the tail-enders of wave 2 at the start of lap 3 and perhaps fatigue or new to OW and it suddenly made the buoys a lot harder to navigate.

At this point swimmer number 5 and I were side by side sharing the lead and we both went either side of a wave 2 swimmer (Orange cap, we wore Green caps)  ahead of the turn. Unfortunately Orange cap guy overshot and I turned left into him as he carried on!  Two guys behind took the better line on the left and I was isolated by a few meters as I negotiated my way around. This coincided with the ‘windup’ – a natural increase in pace with just one lap remaining.  So I was dropped from the leaders and struggled to bring them back.

Finish hard – and then some more!

I caught back up to the leaders slowly as lap 3 progressed.  Around me, I could see the lower numbers on swimmers caps and so figured I was well placed in my age group.  I wasn’t done though.  The recent increase in training and increased time on the Vasa swim bench really showed and I surged again to claw back 3 and 4 to finish 3rd.

I am glad I did as unbeknownst to me, someone new in my AG was having a great swim and had been sitting in. 6 seconds is not much over 3km! If the crash at the start of lap 3 had been worse I might have been caught.

Times and splits

Who knows how far we actually swam! It might have been long, it was certainly choppy and windy, so the overall time is of no relevance.  41Mins sounds a little slow.  Winning a national championship was key and that was achieved. More importantly, I really enjoyed a good tactical and entertaining race. The round trip to Sheffield was well worth it. If you have not tried a true Open Water race, give it a go.

I enjoy the longer distances of Open Water swimming events rather than being pool-based.  However, sets in the pool of 5K+ are really not great for my shoulders, and I like to race these events competitively. Fortunately, the continuous, uninterrupted nature of the training on the Vasa Swim Erg and Vasa Trainer lend themselves really well to the Open Water feel.

My longer sessions and time spent safely on the Vasa Swim Erg mean I can now increase race distances to 10K and 14K (DART and Henley Bridge to Bridge all done successfully). I try to get two 45min sessions done each week on the Vasa Trainer for strength.  Then, for endurance, I do 1 longer session of 60-90mins on the Swim Erg.

One of my favorite sets on the Vasa Swim Erg is our “Pyramid of Pain”:

  • 1 min Strong with control & 1 min Light recovery
  • 2 min Strong with control & 1 min Light recovery
  • 3 min Strong with control & 1 min Light recovery
  • 4 min Strong with control & 1 min Light recovery
  • 5 min Strong with control & 1 min Light recovery
  • 6 min Strong with control & 1 min Light recovery

… now descend back down the other side for a 47 min block of hard work.
Including time for warm up and cool down, it’s all done in 60 minutes.

I strive to do 1 or 2 light swims in the pool of 45mins – 60mins each week. This routine, with some additional running and rowing thrown into the mix, works well and keeps me racing well and pretty hard.


Dan Bullock is a highly regarded British swimming coach specializing in triathlon & open water.  He is also a champion Masters swimmer.  He has been coaching since 1990 at Swim For Tri  He is co-author of the book 100 Essential Triathlon Sessions.

… More about Dan