Jo Mitchinson blog: Preparing for the first race of 2016

Jo Mitchinson is preparing for her first race of 2016. An image of her and her swimming coach.

Elite Masters open water swimmer Jo Mitchinson is currently preparing for her first race of 2016. Find out discoveries that Jo has made along her training journey so far.

So, my first race of the 2016 season is now just 4 weeks away and I honestly can’t wait. The ASA OW Festival is only 13 weeks away and I’m now in a hard training phase. When I stop and consider that my OW season, from start to finish lasts only 14 weeks, it makes me realise the importance of the remaining 38 weeks of the year and the training that takes place in that time.

There have been considerable changes to my training over the last few months as my coach (Dan McDonald) got a very well deserved appointment to another club. ‘Maggers’ and I worked well together- he was an intuitive coach and I had total faith in him. It was simple, he told me what to do, I did it to the best of my ability on that day and I got better. With Stevenage SC in the middle of the interview process all that concerned me ahead of the new season was consistency.

I am very aware that now I am older, I am a different swimmer to coach. I’m no longer capable of training twice a day and I take longer to recover between really tough sessions. I would guess that I’m not alone in these discoveries that an aging body needs ‘managing’. Masters swimming is enjoying a boom and most swimming clubs, like Stevenage SC now cater for older swimmers of all abilities. This means that many coaches with vast experience of youth swimmers now find themselves being asked to coach us ‘oldies’ too.

Jo Mitchinson swimming underwaterBefore the permanent Head Coach starts, I am lucky enough to be coached by Emma Hill. Previously a swimmer herself and hugely experienced swimming teacher and junior coach, I was surprised to hear from her that she was nervous of coaching the masters! It made me consider how I’ve changed as a swimmer over the years and what I now value in a coach.

Straight away, if Emma wasn’t sure about suitable rep times, she asked us. Whereas in my younger years, I may have used this as an opportunity to try to blag an extra 15s per rep, I now thrive off of the challenge of completing the tougher sessions. She has also bounced my more individual Thursday morning sessions off of me the day before, explaining the aim and inviting feedback. Again a change; there was a time when I’d have hated to know what brutal session the coach had in store for me the following day – but now I really appreciate having an input in my training. I like knowing ‘why’ I’m being asked to do something and how it will benefit me long term.

I simply don’t have time in my week for ‘garbage yardage’.

Emma has created some absolute beasts for me recently (4 x 800 race pace – each one broken differently, large blocks of race pace 100’s, a pyramid set 200, 300, 400, 500, 400, 300, 200 – really pushing the first 200 to reflect the start of OW races etc), but it is all quality – I simply don’t have time in my week for ‘garbage yardage’. Of course there are recovery sessions in between, but these focus on technique, hypoxic work and my least favourite word to hear in training “kick”!

To conclude, as this month rolls into next month, I’ve learnt that anyone who coaches me needs to have a lot of patience; I can’t climb out of the pool anymore – I need the steps, I train using what Stevenage swimmers term ‘senior fly’ (which is actually front crawl) and I ask ‘why?’ an awful lot. I’ve also learnt that I really like being involved in the planning of my own training and that the communication and mutual respect between swimmer and coach is essential to the enjoyment and progress of the athlete.

Next month I’ll be reflecting on my first race of 2016.

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