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3 things that have contributed to my improvement as a swimmer

For as long as can remember, I’ve been a runner. Immediately after becoming a triathlete, I realized that improving my swimming was not going to be easy.

Over the years, I trained with many different swim groups and coaches. I tried what seemed like everything possible to increase my speed in the water, yet experienced a lot of frustration for all my effort. Often I wondered, “why couldn’t swimming be as easy to improve in as running?”

Fortunately, this all changed within the past 2 seasons. I’ve identified 3 things that have contributed to my improvement as a swimmer.

1. Training with a Vasa SwimErg while being coached for open water swimming by Eric Neilsen.

Shortly after getting my Vasa SwimErg, I was introduced to coach Eric Neilsen. He is a highly skilled swimming and triathlon coach who has also experienced considerable success as an athlete himself. Eric has coached and trained with the Vasa SwimErg for many years, thus understands how to leverage this indoor swim training tool to assess an athlete’s current strengths and inefficiencies, and then design a training program for athletes to swim stronger, better, faster.

Through careful analysis of my training on the Vasa SwimErg, Eric was able to identify that my swim-specific strength needed to improve. This makes sense because as a runner, I was always a “leg athlete” and never really needed to build upper body strength.

Incorporating Eric’s carefully constructed power-based workouts for the Vasa SwimErg have allowed me to build up my swim specific power while improving my stroke technique. For example, under coach Eric’s watchful eye, I learned how to access my powerful lats & back muscles by practicing a high elbow catch and accelerating the pull while engaging the torso for just the right amount of rotation in Freestyle. That alone was a game changer. As I increased my ability to sustain greater stroke power, I’ve achieved incredible personal best swims in triathlon races this year.

Shannon Coates Vasa SwimErg

All workouts are designed using power (watts). I’m able to record the results from those workouts using Vasa’s ANT+ power meter technology and upload the data to TrainingPeaks for coach Eric to analyze. He can see my average watts, stroke rate, Right arm / Left arm power balance, pace per 100m, time per distance, and so much more. Eric’s feedback on workouts has really helped me fine tune my swim training on the Vasa and in the water.

One understated benefit of swim training at home has been the time- savings and the ability to maintain consistent quality workouts without needing to go to the pool or open water all the time.

2. Better open water swimming

Increasing my training time in open water has resulted in being able to practice and perfect open water sighting technique. It’s just not ideal to practice sighting in a pool. I have realized it’s best to sight in the open water and practice lifting my eyes out of the water ever so slightly, finding my marker and swimming along in a straight course.

More frequent open water swimming has also given me familiarity of the environment. I have found that getting consistent practice in the same environment I race in to be incredibly useful.

Most importantly, I’ve gained confidence. I’ve witnessed myself push past barriers and swim further faster. I’ve proven to myself I can do it and that deep belief in myself has made all the difference.

Shannon Coates open water swimming

3. Finding the love.

Open water swimming is freaking fun!! Living in Portland, there is an abundance of beautiful open water swim locations to choose from. I’ve connected with some amazing swimmers that inspire me and have welcomed me to their open water swims.

I’ve truly opened my heart to open water swimming and have realized the beauty of wild, open water. Thank you, Oregon Wild Swimming (OWS), The Merfolk, and River Huggers for inspiring me and opening my eyes to the open water world. I truly love it and can’t wait to explore more (channel swimming anyone??)

Shannon Coates open water swimming

Improving as a swimmer is an incredible journey and I am far from done. I am motivated to continue raising the bar and redefining my limits. Just recently I won the NW Regional Championship for women at the Best in the West half ironman and set the course record. I remember how excited I was to swim and how strong I felt the entire way. I ended up with a PR swim, which was my second swim PR this season!

Shannon Coates Best in the West half ironman champion

I also had a phenomenal result at Ironman Maryland this past October. My swim was so strong and it felt effortless the entire 2.4 miles! Even better, that strong, efficient, and confident swim set me up for a new bike PR! I had saved so much energy in the water I had more to put into the bike and run.

Shannon Coates Ironman Maryland

Thanks to Eric, the Vasa SwimErg and more open water training, I’ve greatly improved as a swimmer and have discovered that I have a real love for swimming. I’m excited to keep raising the bar and can’t wait for what’s next!

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