Keri-Anne Payne talks about swimming, training and chocolate

Keri-Anne Payne featured as our open water hero in the first issue of H2Open Magazine. She spoke about her Olympic silver medal, training regime and her fondness for a certain type of chocolate pudding. You can see that interview here.
On 12 November 2011 we had a chance to catch up with Keri-Anne at Royles in Wilmslow*, congratulate her on winning a 10km World Championship gold medal and see how her plans are progressing for 2012, and, of course, whether she still eats Gü.
Has your training changed at all coming up to 2012?
No, not really. We’ve maybe added one or two things in, which I couldn’t possibly mention now, but if you ask me again after the Olympics I’ll tell you if they’ve worked or not. But nothing drastic, no. It’s just trying to be a little more race specific.
Didn’t you have some kind of shoulder injury?
It was a back injury. I didn’t know I had it. I think that during the 10k at the worlds, maybe sighting or something, I may have injured my back. Then going from that on to a holiday I didn’t notice it. Getting back into training it came on over a couple of weeks and then took five weeks to get better, so it was really frustrating. I knew I needed to be in the water and was missing out on some stuff but I’m back fully fit now and doing full sessions, which is brilliant, so hopefully that will be the end of that.
Are there any particular technical improvements you’re still working on?
Oh yes, absolutely. The drills and skills are really important, especially when you’re tired. If you do feel you’re getting tired, break it back down, you don’t even need to do the full stroke, just work on the kick or the pull and just bring it back to basics so you can swim a bit further next time. It’s all about making sure you’re swimming with really good technique for as long as possible. That’s where you’re really going to see the benefits. If that’s the only way that you’re swimming then when you get tired you stroke is still just as good, and that will translate in racing. We still do drills. Mainly we do specific drills in the warm up to making sure we’re setting ourselves up for a good session, then at the end the coach will usually put in some more technique work.
What sort of drills do you use?
I’m a big fan of finger tip drills where you drag your fingers along the surface of the water. For I me I think that’s good because it’s important to have a nice long stroke but that doesn’t mean you have to enter with you hand at the end of its reach because then you’re going to lose so much. The great thing about finger tip drill is when it feels natural to put your hand in you can, but you still get that stretch underneath the water, if that makes sense. The other drill I do is straight arm freestyle. That really works the underwater phase because you’re not worrying about your technique on top of the water so you’re really concentrating on the underwater phase and making sure that’s really good and powerful. In drills you just concentrate on specific things and then bring them together for the main set.
When you’re working on a big set is technique something you think about all the time?
You don’t necessarily, but when you start to get tired you can feel that you’re not doing something or you really are making a conscious effort to make sure you’re doing what feels right. You should be in a position where even under stress you’re doing the right kind of stroke. Towards the end [of a race] you want to make sure you’re doing everything right, you’re using as little energy as possible in terms of breathing or sighting so you’ve got more energy to pick up for the end.
You missed the Olympic test event in August, why was that?
I was on holiday. It was so important after the worlds to have some time out to recuperate the mind, the body, everything. It was especially important this year with next year being the Olympics. We’re not even going to be taking time off at Christmas this year, which is fine, it’s not a problem. It’s a coaches dream that Christmas is on a weekend and we don’t miss any swimming. We knew we weren’t going to get much time off – maybe a week after the trials in March (for the pool swimming) – otherwise we just have to get our heads down, so it was really important to have a break, and the test event came right in the middle of my break. I didn’t want to come and do a swim unfit because it wouldn’t have made me feel good.
Would have been good to swim the course?
It would have been nice to experience the course but I’ve swum in the Serpentine a couple of times in the lido. Before the World’s I didn’t get a chance to swim on the course until the day before so I know at least the day before at the Olympics I’m going to get a chance to swim there.

What about some of the complaints some of the other swimmers made about the course, the temperature and congestion?
I didn’t really see the course, to be honest. You just have deal with what you’ve been given. I’ve been in places where you’ve had to swim 10km down stream, where the course is circular or triangular, you just have to deal with it, that’s the reason you’re an open water swimmer. I’ve seen pictures of the course. To me it looks brilliant. Obviously it’s not the biggest space. It would be nice if it were slightly bigger but the beauty of it is swimming in such an amazing location. For me, as a Brit, swimming in the Serpentine is going to be so iconic. I just have to make sure I’m not thinking about that too much and just get on with it.
Will you also be taking part in any of the pool events?
Hopefully. The trials are next March. I think I’ll go for the 400m individual medley, the 800m freestyle and the 200m freestyle, just to give myself a bit of everything. Hopefully I can make the pool team as well as that worked out so well in Beijing.
Will you have time to recover between events?
It’s going to be so different to doing the 10k first and then the pool as happened in Beijing. Having the pool events first will be a great chance to see how I’m swimming, how I’m feeling. It will be more preparation for the 10k, which will still be the main thing.
Why would you pick 200m rather than or as well as 400m freestyle?
I don’t want to be doing too much. With the 200m it’s more to see whether I can qualify for the relay. That would be amazing. I’m certainly not going to get an individual spot on there as we’ve got some amazing talent. In the 400m also, there’s such depth with some people stepping up from 200m and Beccy [Rebecca Addlington] stepping down from 800m. Realistically it’s not an event that I could be in the top three I think, or top two sorry, so there’s not much point doing an event I’m not going to make. I stand more of a chance in the 400 medley and the 800m free. The 200m free is just a bit of fun really.
Are you still a big fan of Gü?
I haven’t it for a long time! I haven’t had it for ages actually. I’m a big fan of baking so I’ve been making a lot more of my own. Marmalade pudding is really easy. I tried my hardest to make one of those chocolate puddings in a mug but I had a disaster three times so I’ve kind of failed there. I’m not really a big fan of chocolate so it’s weird that I like Gü. No, it’s funny, I haven’t had one for ages.
Do you still love swimming or does it become a bit of a chore sometimes?
We’re swimming so much so every now and then it does feel like a chore but I do love it. I love going to training and the camaraderie and banter we have in the group. We all get on really, really well so I am going to see my friends. Essentially that’s I go to training to do. There’s nobody there who’s like, “I don’t want to do this today, I can’t be bothered.”
I do have a couple of days where I get in and I don’t want to talk to anyone, I’m tired or whatever, and I just have to put my head down and get on with it. And that’s fine, everyone has a day like that. Mostly though we’re all pretty cheery people. I know if I’m not doing the training, someone else somewhere around the world is so you want to stay one step ahead of your competitors. You have bad days but that makes you a better athlete and a better swimmer if you’re trying really hard and progressing on the days that you really don’t want to do it.
What will be the next competition for you? Will it be the Olympic trials?
There are a couple of smaller meets in between. We have our Stockport Metro open next weekend, then there’s the Flanders cup next January. We’re doing that as well.
What about open water?
I’m going to see if I can do another one. I might do Israel again next year, other than that it will just be the training.
*Keri-Anne Payne was in Wilmslow as part of an event organised by Speedo to giving swimming tips and advice to competition winner Mike Whitely. See here for details.

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.