Q&A with Keri-Anne Payne

Consistency in training, tips for being a better swimmer, and the all-important issue of hair removal. We caught up with super-ace open water swimmer Keri-Anne Payne. Swimming 10k outdoors, jeez this woman is smashing!

She was the first Briton to qualify for the 2012 Olympics after winning 10km open water marathon gold at the World Championships in Shanghai. She bagged silver at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 and bronze in the 400m Individual Medley at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, and that one was in the pool. Basically, Keri-Anne Payne kicks swimming ass!  We caught up with her at the opening of the Everyone Active Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre in St Albans where she was giving swimming demos and workshops to young local swimmers.

Now it’s cold and dark outside we’re struggling to haul ourselves out of bed and train. How do you motivate yourself ?

It’s tough to get up on dark mornings sometimes but you have to remember how you feel in the summer when winter training has gone well. I want to be the best I can in my sport and that can only be achieved by training consistently and getting up each morning with that desire to achieve my best. If that doesn’t work, I think of my rivals getting up and training earlier and more than me – the desire to deny them that advantage is stronger than my desire to stay under the duvet!

I think of my rivals getting up and training earlier and more than me – the desire to deny them that advantage is stronger than my desire to stay under the duvet!

How does your winter training differ from your summer?

Winter training is the beginning of our season. After our September rest month we get straight back into hardcore training to restore fitness levels in and out of the pool. Winter training is all about building our strength, pushing ourselves further and faster, speeding up in the pool and setting ourselves up for a successful spring and summer. It’s a tough season designed to strengthen our will and our bodies.

Are you based indoors more than outdoors in winter?

I only train indoors – winter or summer!  All my swim training is done in the pool and I’ll only do a few outdoor sessions before key races. I run as part of my endurance training though and I prefer to do that outdoors rather than the gym.

How do you practice things like sighting in the pool?

I don’t practice sighting until a week before a competitive race: it’s a technique that once learned is not forgotten.  In race mode you automatically snap back into sighting.  That said, in the pool I do ensure I include the sighting technique each session to keep that ‘muscle memory’ fresh.  I also practice diving off the pontoon into the pool at every session and do this for every entry into the water because it’s essential for a good start.

What is the one essential piece of kit or gear you can’t train without?

I simply train in the obvious kit – costume, goggles, hat and fins. They’re in my kit bag every day.  I don’t have any lucky charms or superstitions: the danger there is that if I lost the charm or my superstition appeared to be coming real that would throw me far more than not having such ‘props’ as part of my training and competing routines.

What is your favourite training drill and how could readers adapt it to try themselves?

All swimmers are different so no one drill will suit everybody. But an important drill technique I use is to have someone watch me swim from the pool or poolside. Their perspective and feedback is very valuable and essential in spotting bad habits or poor technique creeping in. Swimmers can’t see themselves – but a spectator watching you closely can pick up all sorts of small details that could be having a big impact on your performance. You don’t need a professional swimmer to watch you – most people can see if you’re out of alignment, if an arm is going wide, if your hand isn’t cutting in the water at the right angle or place.  A quick look on YouTube will reveal a wide range of swimming techniques and after watching these most people can spot the problem areas.

What is the one tip you would give people to improve their swimming?

‘Consistency is key’ is a motto my swimming club lives by and I wholeheartedly agree with it. Keep consistent. Train regularly and don’t let up. It’s better to train for 30 minutes three times a week than do one 1.5 hour session a week. Plan your sessions in advance and DON’T skip one – it’s better to do a short, hard session if time is tight than to miss it. Consistency will result in improvement.

Do you have a training mantra

Sorry, no!  I’m concentrating so hard on the swim, sighting, who’s touching my feet and where I’m heading: I simply couldn’t use a mantra. Open water swimming is particularly reactive and opportunistic: you have to be alert to change all the time. A mantra works for a sport where you get into a good rhythm – like running  – but not for swimming, there’s too much else to think about!

Lastly, and most importantly, you’re wearing a swimming costume everyday, what do you do about hair removal?

Waxing is the way to go – every time.  I wax my underarms, legs and bikini line – all the girls do the same.  It’s effective, lasts well and lessens the regrowth over time.  On the days where there may be a little regrowth, honestly the men don’t notice and girls understand so it’s not an issue. I have professional waxing done as they do a much better job than I could ever do on myself!



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