Keri-Anne Payne's name is synonymous with open-water swimming. She won silver in the gruelling 10km marathon swim at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, when open-water made its Olympic debut.
With London 2012 quickly approaching, Keri-Anne is predicted to dazzle once again. In July she became the first athlete to qualify for the home Olympics following her 10km open-water victory at the Fina World Championships in Shanghai.
So who better to ask about open-water racing, motivation and confidence? We caught up with Keri-Anne to uncover the mental tactics she uses to smash her competitors, her recommended spots for open-water training and a few of her nutritional secrets (including jam and peanut-butter sandwiches!).
How did it feel being the first athlete to earn a Team GB slot for London 2012?
It was an amazing feeling. It probably hasn't quite sunk in just yet, I'm only just getting back into the swing of things and I'm trying not to think about it too much. Once more people qualify for the team, it'll start to feel a little more real.
How do you cope with the pressure of being one of the leading contenders for a Team GB medal in the London 2012 open-water event?
I must admit that I'm trying not to think about it. Ultimately, I can only control my own performance, I can't control what anyone else does. I just need to make sure I've done all the training possible, that I'm confident about what I've done and that I step on to the pontoon with no regrets. No matter what the result, I'll be happy, because I'll know I did everything possible. If everyone else is faster than me on the day, then so be it, if not, it's a bonus.
How did you control your nerves before the Fina World Championships in Shanghai knowing an Olympic slot was up for grabs?
I try not to think about what's at stake before going into a big competition, I only think about it when I absolutely have to. I've been working really well with a sports psychologist to learn techniques on dealing with pressure.
What does your training schedule looking like at the moment?
It's fairly full-on all the time. My schedule consists of ten sessions a week in the water, lasting between two to two-and-a-half hours each. Then I have two or three one-hour gym sessions on top of that and there's 15 minutes before every session devoted to injury prevention exercises and stretches
Has your training regime changed since you qualified for London 2012?
I wish I could say that we start training properly a year before, but I've been training for the last 12 years of my life to qualify for London 2012. It's a case of securing your Team GB slot and then just keeping up the hard work.
Do you have tips for recovery between training sessions?
Rest is obviously crucial and make sure you get sufficient sleep to help with recovery. Also make sure you eat something in the twenty minutes after you've done a hard set, because it's so important that you replace the fuel you've used in your body.
How do you switch off and relax when you're not in the pool?
I need to make sure I have a lot of rest, so I watch a lot of television, go to the cinema and catch up with friends. I unwind by watching American television series, including Criminal Minds and The Mentalist.
How was it combining pool and open-water swimming events at the Fina World Championships? Will you do that again in London 2012?
It was difficult, because the open-water event took place before the pool races. In London 2012, the open-water event is after the pool sessions, which should work better for me. Hopefully, I can qualify for the pool events and then I'll use those races as a practice swim. The big event for me is the open-water swim in the second week, but I'll definitely try to compete in both the pool and open-water races.
Keri-Anne's Ten Secrets of Open-Water Success
- It's normal to feel a little uneasy the first time before an open-water race or mass start, but just give it a go. You'll probably come into contact with other swimmers in your wave but it's an organised event and as safe as open-water can be.
- If you're feeling very nervous, why not train somewhere with a shallow area for getting in and start by swimming short distances whilst keeping calm. I'd recommend the Lake District as an ideal training spot - the water quality is great and the scenery is stunning.
- It's really important to have a goal. My focus at the moment is gold in the 10km open-water event in the London 2012 Olympics, but your goal can be anything that's important to you and keeps your excited.
- Don't worry about anyone else when you're racing. Don't follow them, or get distracted, keep the focus on yourself.
- Match your race strategy to your confidence levels at the time (and those might change depending on fatigue, injury or training). Don't feel you have to get involved in the rough stuff if you don't want to.
- Whatever your race strategy, start steady and make sure you're comfortable and in the right frame of mind. Then, if you've got something left at the end of the race, go for it!
- The worst thing you can do is try to train or race having not eaten enough. You risk running out of energy and feeling light-headed.
- You must eat before you race, regardless of how nervous you are. If you can't face proper food, opt for gels for a quick fuel fix.
- As a child I ate a jam and peanut-butter sandwich before swim training and they always did the job.
- In general, eat a healthy balanced diet. The leaner you are the better you'll swim, but only to a point. Don't worry about an extra kg or two.
Keri-Anne Payne is an ambassador for British Gas which is supporting initiatives to give everyone the opportunity to enjoy swimming, as part of its partnership with the sport at all levels. Visit britishgas.co.uk/swimming