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Dispatch: Swimming Tips From One Of Boulder’s Top Coaches

Monica Byrn shares a few thoughts and observations gleaned from her years of coaching experience and provides a workout for you to try.

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“Dispatch” is an online column from Triathlete Editor-at-Large Holly Bennett that features pro updates, industry news, happenings afield and otherwise random reports related to multi-sport. Look for “Dispatch” every Thursday on

Summer is surely upon us here in Boulder, with temperatures regularly reaching into the 80s. But it’s not only the warm weather that’s drawing crowds to Colorado Athletic Club’s (CAC) outdoor 50-meter pool. It’s also the club’s stellar coaching staff, including Aquatics Director Erin Hansel, pro triathlete Mandy McLane, Rife Hilgartner and Monica Byrn.

Many of you may know Byrn by her maiden name. Monica Caplan dominated triathlon’s professional swim scene from 2001-2007. She regularly led out of the water, scoring the top swim times at the Ironman World Championship in 2003, 2004 and 2005. In fact, her 2003 time of 50:28 still ranks among the top-10 female pro swim splits ever recorded in Kona.

These days, the Boulder born and bred aquatic phenom, who married former pro and well-known triathlon coach and author Gordo Byrn, spends her time chasing her two (soon to be three) young children, enjoying the culture and community of her hometown and coaching three weekly swim sessions at CAC.

Last Friday – during the noontime distance session – Coach Monica shared a few thoughts and observations gleaned from her years of coaching experience. She also shared the day’s workout for our readers.

What do you enjoy about coaching?

MB: I like giving back to the sport. I think about how much it’s given me – my whole life, pretty much! It’s given me my husband, my friends and my lifestyle. It’s nice to be able to help people with something that I excelled in.

What are some of the most common mistakes you see triathletes make in the pool?

MB: Going too hard at the beginning – not having a pace strategy. You’ll see people going as hard as they can for about 300 meters and then blowing up. When you run, you don’t go all out for the first 5k of a marathon and then suffer through 37k more! People think they can do that with swimming. Ultimately, in a race, swimming is your warm up for the day. It is so short compared to everything else, yet still it can ruin your race because you can be so tired from it. So you need to pace yourself.

The biggest mistake people make is not preparing the overall distance. They don’t get enough time in the water, and then they think that on the day, all of a sudden they’ll be able to swim 4000 when they’ve never swam that far in a workout. If you’re going to race an Olympic, make sure you can swim 1500 meters straight. If you’re going to do a half, make sure you can swim 2000 meters. If you’re doing an Ironman, you’ve got to be able to swim 4000 straight, in a workout, just by yourself.

What are a few simple tips that can help almost everyone improve their stroke or swimming stamina?

MB: Swim every day. Even if it’s for 10 minutes. If you’re a good swimmer, do at least 1000 a day, just to keep that feel. You’re not going to become a strong, efficient swimmer if you swim only once or twice a week.

The other thing is stroke count. Count your strokes – at the start of the workout, somewhere in the middle and near the end. You’ll tend to have more strokes when you’re tired because you’re less efficient. The goal is to have the same stroke count at the end of the workout as you did at the beginning. When your stroke is falling apart, work on a drill that you know helps your stroke. Regroup, sit on the wall for a minute, then do the drill. And then get that stroke going again.

True or false: Triathletes benefit from swimming IM?

MB: To an extent. It doesn’t need to be all the time, but I think mixing up the strokes is beneficial, the same as mixing up big gear work on the bike or fast turnover running. It stretches out the body and works different muscle groups. It should feel good. I wouldn’t necessarily put an emphasis on it, but I think you should definitely try to become proficient at all the strokes.

Friday’s distance session (intermediate level pace, adjust times as needed):

Warm up 5 minutes on your own

Warm up set: 

300 pull on 4:30

6×25 swim fast on :30

200 pull on 3:00

4×25 swim fast on :30

100 pull on 1:30

2×25 fast swim on :30

Main set:

4×600 done as follows:

1)  600 paddle/pull steady on 9:00

2)  2×300 swim steady on 4:30

3)  6×100 paddle/pull alternate 1:25/1:30

Swim easy 100 to re-group

4) 600 swim best effort (very hard the whole way)

Warm down set:

8×50 kick or non-freestyle swim on 1:00

Total = 3,800 meters (not including 5 minute warm up)