I had the great pleasure and privilege to have Suzanne Atkinson’s expert coaching and advice as I trained for the 24-mile Tampa Bay Marathon Swim. Training with Suzanne involves more than getting ready for an endurance event. It has been an experience of self-growth and improvement like no other.
Suzanne put together a yardage plan for me that was not only sound and thorough, but practically doable in the context of job and family obligations (not a small feat when one has to swim about 15 hours a week!). In building the plan, she consulted with accomplished marathon swimmers, and emphasized “swimming smart” in terms of overall volume, recovery days, and diverse sets and strokes. She also gave me individualized workouts, each of which was a masterpiece of continuous improvement.
Every time I came to the pool, it felt more like practice than like a workout, and I knew I would learn something new, improve my stroke, and hone my mental skills for the race. Suzanne’s coaching style has a lot of respect for her athletes as thinking, reflective people. She clearly and rationally explains the goal behind each set and offers ways to push oneself and improve.
She leaves room for her athletes to draw their own conclusions from their intervals and constantly and effectively offers and receives feedback about sets. Her advice on nutrition, miscellaneous medical issues, and the mental aspect of endurance sports, is on point, informed, and constructive. Suzanne strikes a perfect balance between offering her athletes empathy without coddling and pushing them without dampening their spirits.
In the four months I trained with Suzanne I shattered all my personal bests. My stroke remarkably improved. My endurance levels significantly rose. The race itself was an exhilarating adventure and I felt calm and prepared. I was pulled out of the water after 18 miles (considerably farther than I’d ever swum before and under very harsh conditions) with a shoulder injury, but felt incredibly pleased and accomplished for having swum that far. What I learned in the months that Suzanne coached me will accompany me for the rest of my career as a marathon swimmer.
Hadar Aviram, San Francisco