Jamie Lawrence

Swim Smooth Mallorca, 2024

Around Christmas time, I saw Paul Newsome was running a Swim Smooth camp in Mallorca for a week in June. After a quick check that I could take my one-month sabbatical from Podia at that time, I enthusiastically booked it. Here is my reflection on that week starting with my journey getting to this point…

Background

I swam as a kid but quit after I had my mile badge because it was boring and I never even liked swimming front crawl. There was occasional swimming over the intervening years but nothing consistent or focused.

In 2008, I had a traumatic car accident and part of that rehab was hydro-therapy to gradually help me walk again. That eventually developed into light swimming as a way of getting some exercise without putting too much stress on my healing bones. And over time, I started tracking the number of lengths I swam and how long it took.

Around ten years ago I found Paul’s “Mr Smooth” animation and through that all his blog posts. I started learning to swim properly (bidirectional breathing), taking inspiration from his posts. When he launched the first version of a coaching app (that became the SwimSmooth guru) I quickly signed up to get access to the training sessions. I’ve now been swimming Swim Smooth sessions consistently for the past 10 years, learning just from Paul’s content—no other swim coaching at all in that decade.

So, with that background, it was a pleasure and a delight to finally meet “my” coach after all this time:

Paul and his small team of coaches had put together an amazing programme that perfectly mixed a blend of pool sessions at The BEST Centre’s glorious 50m pool and excursions to open-water swimming spots around Mallorca.

Day 1: Saturday

I arrived and we kicked things off with our first video analysis session. I met up with my coach (Candice) for the first few sessions and, after a few warm-up laps, I jumped over into the video lane. I was so nervous and adrenaline-filled that I swam the 200m far too fast for comfort but Paul got all the footage he needed to highlight the flaws in my stroke.

We found a shady area and Candice sat down with me to analyse the footage. The results were unexpected but made sense in retrospect. When applying for the camp, I had mentioned that I’d love to develop a two-beat leg kick because it’s much more efficient—so I definitely had an awareness that I was kicking a lot. But I was also paranoid about my legs dragging so I had begun looking straight down, and bracing my core a bit, in an attempt to pull my legs further up.

Well, you know what? It turns out that my legs were fine and all that looking straight down meant that my hand was entering the water too deep, and that was shortening my stroke, which in turn meant I needed more propulsion from my legs. Oh, what a complex dance this is!

So, back in the pool and Candice was instructing me to look further forward at different distances to see how that affected my hand entry. The change was immediately apparent.

We all had dinner together, getting to know each other and commiserate over our respective stroke deficiencies. And then there was ice cream (which seems to feature strongly in any recap from swimmers in Colonia de Sant Jordi)

Day 2: Sunday

We kicked off with a 9am pool session focused on correcting our stroke. I honestly can’t remember much of the session except that I was able to work on that head position and hand entry.

Then there was an afternoon excursion to Caló des Moro and Cala s’Almunia, which features on many of the postcards of Mallorca. This was my first opportunity to swim in the open water for over a year and I was a bit nervous about it. Despite all the barely-clothed bodies on the beach, I donned my wetsuit and we set off exploring the cave and swimming laps of the cove—and chasing the fish that barely noticed me. On the other side of the headland, we swam out to explore a blow hole before trekking back to the bus.

Day 3: Monday

Monday started with an early trip out to Cabrera island, off the coast of Mallorca. There we explored an old castle and walked over to one of the beach on the interior of the island. I was still a little unsure of myself and opted for the shorter swim (1.2km) because I wasn’t too comfortable going too far from “home base”. Missing out on the longer 2.5km swim might be my only regret from the week.

Returning to Colònia de Sant Jordi, the boat took a small detour to the “Blue Cave” where it moored up inside the cave so we could all swim in the gorgeous azure waters. We also got to witness first hand the amazing skills of David, one of the swimmers in our group, who was an experienced free-diver as he dived about 17m down to the sea bed. This was also my first time in the water without a wetsuit and despite the cooler water in the cave it was quite pleasant. Not sure I’d have enjoyed a long swim in it though.

Back on dry land, we headed back to the pool for more lane swimming and some fun drafting exercises. This was my first experience ever of drafting (and being drafted). Nothing could motivate this lazy introverted programmer to find some open water swim friends more than the efficiency of drafting behind another swimmer. It was like unlocking a super power!

Day 4: Tuesday

Tuesday was a heavier session in the pool performing a short “red mist” session. This felt great and was solidly in my comfort zone.

That afternoon, we headed over to the port (much prettier and cleaner than you’d imagine) for an open water skills session off the beach. In particular, we were playing with swimming at different stroke rates, sighting off the buoys, and drafting. I also learnt not to max out my effort on the second lap because Paul will tell you to beat it on the third 😅

Day 5: Wednesday

We started the morning loosening out our tired and stiff muscles with a light stretching session—and whether it was that stretching or my improved stroke, my shoulders have felt much more relaxed than they were when I arrived in Mallorca.

Then it was back in the pool swim for another endurance session as a mix of CSS (hit the beeper) and RM (beat the beeper) sessions. This felt a bit tougher than yesterday’s session but we were all tiring by this stage.

Towards the end we jumped over into the lane for Paul to film us a second time. This was so helpful because I’d mostly corrected the low head/steep hand entry from the first day and now I had new things to focus on. Yet again, being on video made me 6s/100m faster 🤷‍♂️

The afternoon’s actvity was an open water swim from the hotel, around the headland, to Es Trenc beach; about 2.5km. We swam as a group and I enjoyed lots and lots of drafting practice, at least until we hit the choppy water and then it was a bit more of a battle to keep up with Sally. A good sprint at the end was pretty satisfying too.

The day wrapped up with a team dinner at CASSAI Beach House and another cheeky gelato on the stroll home (‘Cherrymania’ flavour is the business!).

Day 6: Thursday

Paul was encouraging everyone to get up each day at 6:30 for a sunrise swim from the hotel. This was the first morning that I felt I had the energy, sleep, and a more relaxed schedule to be able to do it—and I was so glad I did. It’s a nice little 1km swim in flat calm water around a small island bringing a sense of accomplishment to the start of the day, and enjoying the beauty of swimming back into the rising sun (which is my excuse for sighting on the wrong hotel building!).

After breakfast, Paul went through our individual video analysis from the previous day. Yay! I had new things to work on. Now it’s my catch and establishing the proper elbow angle during the pull through. Then it was off to the pool for a short technique session in the pool working through individual drills to address the feedback from the morning.

After the pool, it was straight to the catamaran for a sail along the coast, through the most amazing turquoise waters, with more engaging conversations, and a barbecue dinner. Stopping near a beach, the captain announced that passengers could swim around the boat but not to go too far; the beach was deemed too far apparently (~200m). A bunch of swimmers looked at each other, chuckled, and promptly swam over to the beach and back. Hell, yeah! That was also my furtherest non-wetsuit swim.

Reflection

Looking back, the week had a great cadence to it. It started with the video analysis so everyone had something to work on, then stroke correction, the longer endurance swims, then a bit more video analysis, and then tapering off with some more technique and fun swims. Each day had a pool session and an open-water experience. It was perfect.

I’m so emotional and sad that it’s over but also relieved because I couldn’t have carried on for much longer. I ended the last day with an “over training” warning from the Guru and you can see my body battery metric in Garmin bottoming out each day but eventually not recharging enough. This is exactly what I wanted: as much swimming as I could possibly fit into the week, whilst still retaining some form and not injuring myself. Perfectly pitched in my opinion.

We also got lucky with the weather: every day was clear, sunny, and not too windy so the sea swims were pretty calm. A few days later, the little island swim would have been a lot more challenging.

I’m spending another week in Mallorca and I’m considering where I want to take my swimming next. I’ll be availing of a few more sessions in at The BEST Centre (it really is the best swimming centre), and I’ll definitely be doing a few open-water swims whilst I’m here. I’ll also be venturing out to our local swim spots in Cork, for a few lengths of Garretstown or laps of Myrtleville during my sabbatical, and hopefully getting some long swims up and down Inch beach. But I’ve also started looking at organised swim events/races this summer with renewed confidence in my abilities as a swimmer. Maybe Gaddin Abt Garnish in September.

If you’re considering taking your swimming to the next level, and are looking for stroke correction and confidence building, especially if you don’t have access to local coaching, then I highly recommend a Swim Smooth experience. I’m already planning to return next year.

Gratitude

Thanks to my fellow swimmers for the chats, the drinks, and the poolside laughs. It was a delight to meet you all, hear your stories, and see your progress. Not least of all Ron, who is an inspiration to remain as active as possible well into our old age.

Shout out to Candice for the encouragement and stroke correction in the early part of the week.

Thanks to Sally for all the advice & correction in the pool, and drafting in the sea. It was epic to tag along on your feet for most of the open water swims—at least until we hit the chop!

Thanks to Cyndy for helping me to realise that everyone can get a bit apprehensive in the sea. It’s not just me.

Much respect to Jon—the guru behind the Guru—for producing such a great app to keep me on top of my swimming and feed me new swim sessions each week.

And finally, immense gratitude to Paul for starting Swim Smooth so many years ago. I wouldn’t be the swimmer I am today—or possibly even a swimmer at all—if you’d gone to drive trucks in the mines. You organised a great event, pulled together an amazing programme of activities, and were a beacon of energy, enthusiasm, and guidance throughout the week.