Monday, 26 December 2011 12:22

Ironman Texas Training - Week #1 VLOG

The first week of Ironman Texas training is in the books and it was a successful week overall.  Watch the video to see and hear what happened in the first week, what Week #2 is shaping up to look like and a few shout outs to some helpful folks.
  Week #1 Stats: Swim:  5500 yards (3.125 mi); 1.9 hours Bike: 106.8 miles; 5.5 hours Run: 26.57 miles; 3.7 hours Strength/Core:  1x   Thank you for reading and watching.
Published in Train
Friday, 23 December 2011 11:44

Planning and Executing The Ironman

ironman_texas_triathlonIronman Texas is a total of 21 weeks away and being a planner I am starting to think about how to race that day.  It may seem early to be thinking about that but the reason I am thinking about it is because I train the way that I race.  If I can eliminate as many surprises for that day as I can the more successful I will be.  This is why I will be practicing my nutrition and hydration now so there are no GI issues later.  Planning is what I do and then going out and executing that plan to the best of my ability lets me know if it was a successful day or not. I have asked a few questions of myself like:
  • Where do you position yourself for a swim you've never done before?
  • How fast do you go on the bike?
  • Do you eat in the first 3 hours and then all liquid in the last 3 hours of the bike assuming you maintain ~18mph?
  • What type of strategy do you implore for the run portion of the marathon?
I have also emailed a handful of friends who have completed the distance recently to gain some insight from them, kinda like rubbing a babies head to get younger.  I want to learn all that I can from this group of people so I will keep asking questions until I feel comfortable with my strategy for that day which will most likely be finalized sometime between today and 7am on Saturday, May 19th.  Of course I will consult with my coach about her thoughts on how to attack this race.
I also have the fortune of having friends like Jen of From Fat To Finish and KC of 140 point 6 miles of Awesome.  Both recently sent me articles from Endurance Nation about how to attack the swim and the run.  Both are great pieces but the swim made 100% sense to me and maybe because it is the first portion of the race and my biggest concern is with blowing up on the run.  I know that all Ironman are created different, just like a finger print but there are certain rules of thumb that one should follow.  I emailed that group of 140.6 finishers to get their thoughts on the article and they were all helpful.
I am now going to open up the conversation to all of you.  What are your thoughts on the swimming and running portions of an Ironman as pointed out in these tips.
Swimming:
Where to Line Up We’ve learned that a lot of fast people position themselves right on the buoy line. Many more people position themselves as far as possible away from these people, as far from the buoy line as they can get. As a consequence, the middle of the start line is often less crowded than you would expect.
Only Swim as Fast as Your Ability to Maintain Form The net difference between you swimming “hard” and swimming “easy” is usually only about 2-4 minutes in an 11-17 hour day. It’s just not worth it to try to make something happen. Instead, focus on swimming as smoothly and efficiently as you know how. Swim with your best possible form and only swim fast enough as your ability to maintain your form. Keep Your Head Inside the Box Maintain your focus by keeping your head inside The Box of what you can control:
  • In the Box: Head position, breathing, body rotation, catch, pull, etc. All of your form cues. These are things you CAN control, focus on these.
  • Out of the Box: Any contact you experience, the pacing of other athletes, etc. Basically anything that takes your focus away your form.
Keep Head-Lift to a Minimum We typically lift our heads to keep feet in sight as we draft (a little), or to sight on navigation buoys (a lot!). Every time you lift your head…you drop your feet/hips…and you compromise your form a bit. Here’s what to do. Running: It's Not About Pace, It's About Not Slowing Down Instead, a great Ironman marathon is simply about not slowing down. If you look at the detailed results of any Ironman event, you'll see that the splits for the majority of the field over the second half of the race are significantly slower than the first half. Usually a minute or more slower per mile. Your goal when racing isn't to find new speed, but to find a sustainable speed that you can hold across your entire day while the competition takes off too fast…and then blows up as you run steadily by. Incorporate Walking as a Strategy, Not as Failure If anyone tells you that they aren't going to walk a single step in an Ironman they are either Criag Alexander (so fit!) or a total newbie (so unaware!). Based on our experience coaching thousands of Ironman finishers through Endurance Nation, we have learned that walking is actually an important part of your overall strategy. We encourage our athletes to walk 30-45 steps at every single aid station, which is roughly once a mile. Six Miles of Conservative Pacing Is the Key to a Strong Finish In other words, if you want to have a great race, your job is to focus on slowing down over the first six miles. We recommend you aim for a target pace of approximately 30″ slower per mile for these first six miles. After that point, you can bump it up to your target run pace and go from there. Since 2008 thousands of Endurance Nation athletes have applied this 30 second per mile strategy to dozens of Ironman PR marathons. It works! Just give us three minutes (30 seconds x 6 miles) and we'll make your day. Your last 10k will thank us for sure! Have Three Physical Running Cues for Your Day Instead of following a pace into a brick wall, identify three running form cues that will allow you to maintain good form and proper pace. My personal favorites are Chin Up to promote good posture; Elbows Back to keep my stride open and Loose Fingers to reduce tension in hands, arms, shoulders and the neck area. Build A Repeatable Nutrition Schedule by Mile Marker Having a food plan is better than not having one. Just because there's a ton of free food on the course doesn't mean that your body will be able to process it all. Instead of relying on a plan based on time (i.e., a gel every 30 minutes) build these into the existing support structure on the course. Since aid stations on the run are located about every mile, use your calculator to do some fancy math. If you plan on running 8:00/miles and you need a gel around 30 minutes, then you are eating at miles 4, 8, 12, and so on. You can then fill in the other miles with water and sports drink. Be Equal Parts Mentally and Physically Ready While many Ironman competitors have hit the "wall" when running a stand alone marathon, that struggle pales in comparison to what happens at the end of the Ironman. With your body pushed beyond its limits, running on fumes of gels and sports drink, you have to find a way to will yourself to the finish line despite the pain and/or discomfort you are experiencing.

What Are Your Experiences With The Swim and Bike at the 140.6 Mile Race?

==================== And KC is not just about sending me articles to get prepared for the race, she was also my secret santa.  In addition to that she is one of the angels on my shoulder I have come to rely on during my racing.  Check out the gift that she got me and just know that I have not wiped the smile from my face yet. [caption id="attachment_4893" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Thank You KC. I am more excited about the race because of these great gifts."]secret_santa_ironman_gift[/caption]
Published in Train
Thursday, 08 December 2011 14:52

Practicing Form In The Offseason

The offseason has now officially begun for me and that means that the focus is on form.  Form in all three disciplines will help me become more efficient and eventually faster.  I have been practicing my form in the pool for about two weeks now, ever since I was directed to Mr Smooth.  I have watched that little 3D image multiple times over and especially the night before I head to the pool in the morning.  By focusing on form I have been able to shave seconds off of my 100y times in those two weeks.  It is amazing to me how I can swim faster splits and be less fatigued. This week I also was forced to focus on form with my running.  Ever since the weekend after 70.3 Austin I have been dealing with a pain on the top of my foot right where the foot and the leg meet (that 90* angle when you are standing up.)  It has been a throbbing pain when I run but I knew that I wanted to run the Las Vegas marathon so I ignored the pain.  Two days after the marathon I tried to get a 30 minute easy run in and almost quit after a minute.  I decided to walk because I knew I needed the lactic acid out of my quads.  After walking for two minutes I started to run again but focusing on a mid-foot strike and all the sudden there was no pain.  I was conscious to make sure I wasn't compensating on my right leg and wasn't.  Yesterday I ran outside for almost 23 minutes and covered 2.76 miles at a pace of 8:18/mi with no pain.  Today I ran 3.80 miles in 35 minutes for a pace of 9:13/mi and neither time did I have pain.  I can say that I could feel it in my calf but that is to be expected with a change in landing. Yesterday I got an email from Active.com regarding the aero position and I immediately thought of two things.  The first was how I could benefit from practicing better form on the bike and how that could help save my legs for the run since both of my runs in 70.3 California and 70.3 Austin were not the best.  I also recall pictures of Craig Alexander from Kona whose rear saddle water bottle was parallel to the ground.  Most of us ride with our water bottles vertical but this was the first I had seen a water bottle be horizontal (Kona World Championships are this weekend so tune it to see the angle of Craig Alexander's water bottle.) Here are the points that Frank Bures wrote for Bicycling magazine that was re-published on Active.com: 1. Cover all exposed brake and derailleur cables. "This can be difficult, but I use a lot of electrical tape and flexible cables," says Frey. "You can tell that you have done a good job if you cannot see any cables when looking straight on at the bike from the front, seeing what the wind sees." [caption id="attachment_4821" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Notice the water bottle in the vertical position"]craig_alexander_kona_aerodynamic[/caption] 2. If you buy a time-trial helmet, make sure it's tail is flat against your back when you're in the aero position. "Airflow separation between your helmet and back will negate much of the benefit of having the teardrop helmet in the first place." 3. Smooth out. "Always use a skinsuit with no wrinkles or excess fabric as well as spandex shoe covers. Do not wear gloves!" Quiet your ride: How to silence a noisy bike 4. Flatten out "Make sure your forearms are parallel to the ground and that your thumbs point forward with flat aerobar extensions, giving you leverage to pull up on the extensions when going up steep power climbs while also making a more aerodynamic shape. Always think of what you look like to the wind." 5. Shield yourself "Pedal with your knees and legs inward, so that your forearms block the wind for your legs. You want to be as low and narrow on the bike as possible while still being able to breathe and produce power. Roll your shoulders inward and keep your head as low as possible." [caption id="attachment_4822" align="alignright" width="276" caption="Notice the water bottle and the flat aero helmet on his back"]craig_alexander_kona_triathlon_2011[/caption] 6. Front first "Most important in terms of aerodynamics is the front of your bike—it is the first thing to see 'clean' wind, and this means your front wheel, fork, aerobars and helmet are the most important pieces of equipment. I think the Zipp 1080 front wheel and Zipp Tangente tubular tire make up the fastest wheelset on the planet. An Oval Concepts A900 Jetstream fork with HED aerobar give you the most important thing: adjustability so it fits you perfectly. The new Giro TT helmet is great for a person with a good TT position and flat back, and the Louis Garneau Rocket is the best for a curved back."  

What will you be focusing on in the off-season?

Published in Train
Sunday, 27 November 2011 14:59

Winter = Pool Time

[caption id="attachment_4773" align="alignright" width="260" caption="Maybe I'll just have one of these installed in my garage"]endless_pool_swimming_triathlon_training[/caption] The temperatures have gotten into the 30s today here in Dallas and that means that most of my training will be indoors.  With 70.3 Puerto Rico coming up in March there is no time to wait for the weather to improve so that I can go open water swimming.  It's also a great time to use the pool to practice technique. In the past year I have been able to knock my easy swim times from 2:05-2:10 per 100 yards to 1:50 per 100 yards.  I have learned through all of 2011 that power will not get me through the water faster, but instead technique.  Each swim set that Coach gives me starts with an easy swim followed by drills.  I am doing catch-up, fist, single arm, finger tip, zipper drills all week and it has improved my technique but there is still tweaking going on. I have learned by reading and then trial and error that when I rotate my hips and reach that I lessen the number of strokes per 25 yards but I go faster because of my glide.  I also noticed that this helped me improve my sighting at the end of the open water swim season.  Continuing to improve this technique will allow me to take my 1.2 mile swim from 40 minutes to 32-34 minutes.  I know I have a 34 minute 1.2 mile swim in me, and believe that I can even knock that down to 30 minutes with the proper focus and practice. Active.com has provided me with some additional swim drills/tips that I will be incorporating.  The article Breakdown Your Freestyle To Boost Efficiency written by Matt Fitzgerald and Lance Watson for Triathlete Magazine can be found here. Here are some highlights from the article: Stroke Rate Just as there are some elite pro cyclists who time trial at 85 RPM and others that do so at 100 RPM, there is also a wide degree of variation in the stroke rates that work best for top triathlon swimmers. Shorter athletes with more aerobic power than muscle power tend to swim better with a higher stroke rate. Taller, lankier triathletes with great feel for the water tend to prefer a slower stroke rate.
  • When I started training my stroke rate was between 24 and 26 strokes per 25 yards.  This tells you that I was swinging wildly and not gliding.  After a year of training I am now at 22-24 strokes per 25 yards.  I know there is still improvement to be made and will use some of the tips from the article to do so.  My goal is to get down to this incredible stroke rate:     Katie of Run This Amazing Day
Kick Pattern The kick is perhaps the most variable technique element. Some athletes achieve success with a strong, patient two-beat kick. Others find more speed with a fluttering, efficient six-beat kick. A two-beat kick is more common among triathletes, but even within the two-beat tempo there are several possible variations in rhythm. The best kick for each individual is the one that interferes the least with body position and stroke rhythm. While it's nice to have a powerfully propulsive kick for fast starts and surges, the main job of your kick is to help lift your body into a high float position, aid in body rotation and boost the glide between arm pulls.
  • Each and every swim has kick sets in it.  I was able to go 50 yards in nearly 2 minutes and now regularly finish in 1:45, and if I really push can finish 50 yards in 1:17.  Getting to that 1:17 and maintaining it will be my goal throughout the winter swim practices.
Arm Recovery Arm-recovery styles vary from straight-arm to sharply bent elbow. Janet Evans made the straight-arm recovery famous in showing off her windmill arm cycle en route to winning five medals in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics. At the other extreme is five-time triathlon world champion Simon Lessing, who nearly drags his fingertips along the surface of the water during his arm recovery. Most swimmers fall somewhere between these extremes.
  • My arm recovery is a sharply bent elbow.  I use the Simon Lessing school of arm recovery where my arms are bent so much that I am practically dragging my finger tips or doing the zipper technique.  I do this because it slows me down and allows me to glide without trying to hard to get to the other end.  This helps me stay focused and keeps me from hyper-ventilating.
Arm Cycle There are three basic arm-cycle rhythms used in freestyle swimming.
  • In the traditional 90-degree rhythm, the pulling arm is pointing directly toward the bottom of the pool just as the hand of the recovery arm enters the water (such that the two arms form a 90-degree angle).
  • In the rotary rhythm, the pulling arm is already past the midway point of the pull as the recovery arm enters the water. This is used primarily by sprinters.
  • The third arm cycle rhythm is known as front-quadrant swimming, where the lead arm is left extended in front of the body until the hand of the recovery arm has come as far forward as the head. If you're familiar with the catch-up drill, front-quadrant swimming is like a partial catch-up freestyle stroke. This rhythm works well for those who have good hydrodynamics, and when done well it is an excellent energy saver for long-distance swimmers.
This is one thing I have never looked for and so I have no idea what I do.  What I do know is that because of the tendinitis in my left shoulder my left arm swings out wide before coming down and through so that my thumb glances my left thigh.  My right arm goes straight down but I just don't know where the other arm is but I do know that when I get out of breathe I resort to the catch-up drill to slow me down. Breathing Breathing patterns are widely accepted to be a matter of personal preference. The most common breathing patterns among triathlon swimmers are every two strokes and every three. The two rules of breathing technique are:
  • Breathe as often as you need to, and not more
  • Breathe in a way that does not negatively affect your overall stroke efficiency
As I have pointed out I breathe to my left at all times except during my one-armed stroke drills.  I will be working this winter on breathing to my right more often to improve any imbalances and work the rotation of my hips through the water, which will also help my kick.

What Are You Going To Work On This Winter?

Published in Train
Tuesday, 08 November 2011 11:14

That Course Was Long

[caption id="attachment_4643" align="alignright" width="231" caption="Source: Wikipedia"]jones_oerth_coutner_course_certification[/caption] On Sunday I ran the Dallas Running Club Half-Marathon and my watch when I was finished read 13.13 miles.  Extremely accurate I would say, wouldn't you?  When I was done I stayed by the finish line to wait for Karen to finish.  As I was waiting I heard runner after runner say that the course was long. I heard: That course was long.  I have 13.24 what do you have? I heard: Man I would have been faster if the course was not so long.  A 13.28 mile half-marathon? I heard:  Who measures these courses?  Seriously every one I have run was long and this was 13.22 miles....... Let's first start out by saying courses are certified by a governing body and thus are not long or short by the discrepancy that your watch is showing.  Why would a race director sell a 13.1 run and then make it 13.28?  What do they gain from that? So let's discuss running the tangents.  When you run the tangents you run the straightest line there is so you remove discrepancies from a course.  How about the fact that you are running side to side to avoid the people in front of you?  That adds the distance to your run. How about the fact that GPS units use a triangulation to 'guess' where you are at.  They don't pinpoint your exact spot and follow you.  It guesstimates where you are at over the course of that run or ride and gives you a distance that you travelled. Karen and I were discussing this yesterday because her watch showed she ran 13.24 miles and I told her that I ran the same exact course and the course measured out to 13.13 so how could she have run a 13.24 half-marathon?  It created a bit of a discussion in our house to say the least.  I gave her all the reasons above but remembered reading about how courses are measured and wanted to show that courses are neither long or short and are accurate to within 1/100th of a mile.  Very accurate wouldn't you say? You can read the entire article here, but here are the highlights from my perspective: ==================== The preferred method of measuring a course is with the "Jones-Oerth" counter attached to the front wheel of a bicycle. The counter is then calibrated over a surveyed or steel-taped 1000' calibration course. My bike and counter registers over 18,000 "counts" per mile (a counter registers different totals depending on tire size). That is just over 3 inches per "count", producing pretty good accuracy. When calculating the measurement factor for the bike counter, a "Short Course Prevention Factor" 1/10 of 1% is included in the calibration constant. This Factor gives a course that is very slightly long, adding a perceived 5 meters over a 5K. Yet, much of that can be "eaten up" by the rider swerving to avoid a pothole or a vehicle, or in doing a first time measurement. When a course is measured for certification, it is done along the "Shortest Possible Route" (SPR) that a runner can take. That is, the route is measured along the line of sight a runner has, cutting all tagents and crossing corner to corner. If a course is to be restricted in any way in meauring (such as staying to the right of the road or going wide around a turn, there will need to be monitors, fences, or cones to do so. Anyone reading this article has probably seen that you can't rely on runners to stay in the breakdown lane, or to run where they should if it is not monitored. ==================== [caption id="attachment_4645" align="alignright" width="237" caption="Source: USATF"]jones_oerth_counter[/caption]

In a nutshell, the procedure is as follows:

  1. Set up a calibration course on a flat, straight road. Once laid out and marked, this standard calibration course can be used at any time in the future. It is best set out on a lightly traveled road.
  2. Attach the counter and calibrate the bike. Every bike wheel will calibrates differently. Even changes in temperature during the day can change the constant several counts per mile.
  3. Ride the course at least twice. Use the longer of the two rides as the final ride. The rides must be within .00008 of the distance of each other, or a third ride is needed. While it may sound like a difficult precision to attain, experienced measurer s routinely have their two rides match to within 10 counts or less (about 30") even over courses 10K and longer.
  4. Recalibrate the bicycle following the measurements to be sure the constant has not changed. A change in temperature or air pressure can change the constant. Adjust the course if needed.
  5. Complete the application and draw a detailed map to accompany the paperwork. The map should allow a total stranger (or a new race director) to set up the start, finish, and race course.
  6. Send this paperwork to the certifier postmarked no later than race day, and preferably earlier. Courses cannot be retroactively certified after the date of the race.
With this tool measuring a course can we all put to bed the idea that a course was long or short?  Can we just say that we did not run the most efficient race we could have?  At 70.3 Austin I swam the 1.2 mile course in 40:08 which was 29 seconds faster than my time at 70.3 Oceanside but about 5-6 minutes slower than I had anticipated.  Guess how many miles I swam that day?  You are correct if you guessed 1.4 miles.  Now this is the perfect example of not swimming a straight line.  I had to pass people and I sometimes swam around them.  Other times (most of the time) I was not sighting well and thus was all over the swim course.  I did not get out of the water and say that the RDs created a long swim but instead took my medicine for not swimming a straight line.

Did You Know About The Jones-Oerth Counter?

Published in Race
Thursday, 01 December 2011 15:44

Are You Dynamic?

When I first hired Coach C to train me I was of the school of static stretching.  You know what static stretching is.  Stand with your feet next to each other and then bend over and touch your toes and hold for 12-15 seconds.  No bouncing or risk injury.  You do this twice and then move onto the next one and keep going.  I thought I was doing it right, and in fact I was but I was doing it at the wrong time.  I should have been doing that after the run. Coach C taught me that before I run or bike or swim that I need to do dynamic stretches.  She gave me a list of walking lunges, skipping, karaoke, butt kicks and high knees.  After doing these exercises prior to a run I noticed that my legs felt fresher and ready to run.  I also started to notice that my heart rate was up to 121 bpm when I was done.  It was then that I started to do the dynamic stretching just prior to the gun going off in a race, when I could.  Those races always seemed to have great starts and I figure it has to do with my heart rate being slightly elevated before I took off running.  I guess it is like warming up a car before you put it in drive and take off down the street. I have also noticed that I have a lot less pings and dings to my legs when I do it.  By that I mean that those hip flexor issues that I hear other runners/triathletes suffer from don't exist for me.  I will say that I have had some calf issues in the past two weeks and have addressed it with ART but believe that part of the problem is that my static stretching after my workouts became non-existent.  If I want to get to Ironman Texas in May in great health and shape I need to incorporate static stretching back into my routine along with the dynamic stretching.  My plan is to keep getting ART treatments as well as adding in Bikram Yoga for flexibility purposes. Here are some examples of dynamic and static stretching from Competitor.com.  Find the post written by Nathan Koch P.T., A.T.C [HERE] [caption id="attachment_4797" align="alignright" width="255" caption="Side Leg Raises To Do Prior To Exercise"]dynamic_stretching_leg_raises_running[/caption]

Do these before

Inchworms: Start in pushup position and walk your feet as close to your hands as possible. When you can’t go farther, stop and walk your hands out in front to return to pushup. Come down on stomach and arch your back up for a spine stretch. Leg swings: Stand sideways next to a wall, and swing outside leg forward and back, increasing height each time. Walking lunge with twist: Perform deep walking lunges to stretch the hips, twisting torso away from the back leg. Static sustained stretches are designed to hold a position for a joint/muscle that is minimally challenging. The focus is on relaxing the body part being stretched and letting it go farther on its own. Research suggests that holding the position for 30–60 seconds will increase flexibility in the tissue; conversely, done prior to activity, static stretching may actually inhibit the muscle’s ability to fire.

Do these after

Frog stretch: Stand with feet about shoulder-width apart. Turn toes out and squat down as low as possible, keeping heels flat on the floor. Press knees open with elbows. Quad stretch: While standing, grab the top of your right foot and bring it closer to your glutes, while pushing hips forward. Pigeon: On the ground, bring a bent right leg in front of your body with your left leg behind you to stretch your glutes.

Do You Stretch Before and After You Workout?

Do You Practice Dynamic Stretching?

Published in Train
Friday, 07 October 2011 11:44

Triathlon Swimming....No Black Line

open_water_swim_sighting_triathlonWe all know that swimming in a pool is nothing like swimming in the open water of a triathlon.  First off there are no walls to push off of.  And those walls also don't exist to hang off the edge of.  There is no stopping every 25-50 yards or meters.  Lastly, there certainly is no black line to follow. Yesterday I went open water swimming with Greg Larsen to get in a new training session that my coach wanted me to do.  The set did not call for any type of distance but was a fartlek style swim session.  Go hard for a short distance then recover then start again.  We waded into Lake Lewisville right around 7am and I was immediately cold so it was time to start swimming. The warm-up went well as we swam nearly a tenth of a mile.  As we were standing on the edge of the lake we noticed a boat float into the area we normally swim so we decided to wait.  After 15 minutes Greg told me to swim and he would watch me and help me understand how my sighting was.  If you remember my Toyota Race Report I started on the outside and stayed there until the first turn buoy.  Well, maybe I did not actually stay there because I was swimming straight but more because that is where my stroke takes me due to some poor sighting skills.  I only breathe to my left so there is only one eye (left eye) coming out of the water and so I am most likely turning my body right so that my sight can see straight. Right now you are saying well bi-lateral breathe and this won't happen.  Maybe, maybe not but I recently read an article about breathing more often compared to breathing less.  With a breathe on every stroke I am breathing more often than a bi-lateral swimmer does because they are going every third stroke.  I have read that breathing more often brings oxygen to your muscles which allows them to not tire as much.  Makes sense. I then read an article on Beginner Triathlete about how world champion swimmers breathe and what triathletes can learn from it.  The details discuss hip driven swimming versus shoulder driven swimming.  Constant kick and head position.  This was all playing in my head when we went out yesterday. As I went out for my first fartlek I tried to create the adrenaline rush I felt at Toyota and went out very fast.  It worked as my heart rate spiked and I swam the .10 miles to the other side as fast as I could.  I noticed a number of times that I was off course.  On the way back I was slower as this was recovery but Greg told me about my situation of course correcting and so I went at it again.  Each time I got better but not perfect. When I was putting my data into Training Peaks I noticed that each speed set was in the 26 to 28 minute per mile pace.  This is fast for me and would establish a pace of 36:30 for 1.2 miles, beating my California time by nearly 4 minutes.  I would gladly accept a 4 minute improvement from April to October in a half-ironman race.  Imagine how much faster that could be if I could swim a straight line. open_water_swim_triathlon_finishAs I sat down to write this post I thought about how I was able to improve, but more importantly how I am going to continue to improve. These are the lessons I'll be applying to each swim session from here on out, regardless of pool or open water: 6 tips to help you improve your balance in the water (this is written by David Bertran on USA Triathlon [HERE])
  1. Keep a neutral head position. Look down (not forward or back towards your feet). In the pool I had been practicing looking forward.
  2. Maintain a small and continuous (constant) kick. I always kick as I don't believe that you waste your legs/energy in the swim portion of a triathlon.
  3. Keep your arms from crossing over to the opposite side. I have been practicing placing my thumbs in the water first and point palms toward the outside walls and this helps me from crossing over.
  4. Feel your hips on top of the water by engaging your core muscles. My core has become an area of concentration in all three facets.
  5. Add weights to your training program. Focus on core strength and rotational movements. I have been weight training 2x/week since I began and 1/3rd of the time is core focused.  I am always squeezing my belly button in toward my back as well.
  6. Just relax. “The water is your friend. You don’t have to fight with water; just share the same spirit as the water, and it will help you move.” – Alexander Popov, Olympic Gold Medalist Has Alexander ever raced a triathlon?  Relaxation doesn't happen until about 300-400m out.
Gary Hall Sr wrote in Beginner Triathlete (article can be found [HERE]):

Just remember to breathe more than every cycle and definitely more than every 3rd stroke (alternate pattern)...preferably the 2:3 pattern if you can.

I will be attempting this breathing pattern at the next open water swim practice that I do.  It may not be perfected by 70.3 Austin on October 23rd but it certainly will be by 70.3 San Juan on March 18, 2012.

What are your tips and tricks for sighting in the open water?

Published in Train
Yesterday I had a conversation with my boy Juanito about swimming and what is the ideal situation to train in.  The point to the discussion was swimming in a 50 meter pool versus the 25 yard pool that I use.  His point was that you don't flip turn or make all those stops and starts when you are in an open water swim and he had a valid point.  I then raised the point that he shouldn't swim in a pool at all then and go the lake everyday for his swim training to which he scoffed at and came up with another point about swimming which was about breathing. [caption id="attachment_3382" align="alignright" width="300" caption="My boy Juanito trying to make sure the sun is still in the sky."]TWU_Pioneer_Sprint_Triathlon_Swim[/caption] I told him that my breathing is every two strokes and only to one side.  To this he laughed again and said I MUST learn to swim bilaterally.  I asked him why he thought that?  I told him that I had been in a few Olympic distance open water swims and that 70.3 Ironman California was an open water swim and I did those based on my current stroke of breathing to my left every other stroke.  To this he truly had no answer other than avoiding injury.  Another valid point but I explained that I do quite a bit of strength training and focus on my shoulders more than any other body part when I am doing my strength training. In our conversation I pointed out that through training and practice I have been able to knock minutes off of my swim times to the point that I believe I can swim the 1.2 miles at 70.3 Ironman Longhorn in October in 33 to 35 minutes.  This is a 5 minute improvement over the 40 minutes I posted at 70.3 Ironman California. I have not seen a single post or argument that says that I would be faster with bilateral breathing so the idea of focusing on that versus improving my form while breathing only to one side just did not make any sense to me. I have also exchanged emails with Nora Mancuso of Tri-Living regarding this exact question.  My email went right to my point about getting faster and if bi-lateral breathing would get me to finish a distance at a faster pace.  Nora's response to that question was that she wasn't sure it would make me faster since her times of breathing to one side or every third stroke were about the same.  She did point out the benefits of avoiding injury and strengthening the muscles in your back and shoulder area from bi-lateral breathing.  I don't doubt all of these points but I have not seen a real use to bi-lateral breathing AS OF YET. [caption id="attachment_3383" align="alignright" width="278" caption="Proper Head Alignment In Water"]swimming_bilateral_breathing[/caption] My coach has had me working on breathing as well.  Her training sometimes calls for breathing every other stroke, every 3 strokes, every 5 strokes and every 7 strokes.  Needless to say I have no clue what it would feel like to breath every 7 strokes because I can't hold my breathe that long.  I was able to get to every 4 strokes and that felt OK.  My biggest issue was that I was over rotating to the point of having both eyes out of the water.  If you swim then you know that proper head alignment includes one eye piece out of the water, one eye piece in the water and breathing as if you had a cigar in your mouth.  When breathing to my right (weak side) I would rotate to the point that both eyes were looking at the ceiling and this form would cause me to slow down.  I know that practice makes perfect and I need to keep attempting this technique but I find that if I concentrate most on the form I have now that I am able to get faster.  Focusing on breathing to my weak side causes my form to get out of whack and slows me down. Today, while I was on Twitter and getting ready to publish this post I noticed a tweet about bi-lateral breathing and clicked on the link.  The article is from Triathlete's World and asks why the person swims faster when breathing to their weaker side.  Simon Murie (founder of SwimTrek - swimtrek.com) answered the question with a lot of the same rationale that was given above but he ended it with something that I had not thought of or been told and that is:

Bear in mind the main disadvantage of bilateral breathing, which is the reduction in oxygen supply - if you're taking more strokes per breath you may become tired more quickly.

When I swim to my weak side I always feel like I am short of breathe and thus tire much more quickly than normal.  I also notice this when I do one arm swim drills.  My breathing to my left feels great and no issue, then when I breath to my right I am dropping my legs and have labored breathing.

Here are the other points that Simon Murie makes about bilateral breathing:

1 The stroke will become more symmetrical because breathing to both sides encourages you to roll equally to both sides. 2 The chance of shoulder injury is reduced because both arms are doing the same amount of work. 3 If you are changing from a pattern of breathing on just one side every two strokes to a bilateral pattern of breathing every three strokes, you are breathing less and therefore lifting your head out of the water less frequently. This results in a more streamlined and efficient stroke. 4 Both sides of your environment are now visible, so in a race you can see how your competitors are doing.

What do you think of bilateral breathing?  Do You Practice Bilateral Breathing?

 
Published in Train
When I first started this journey into triathlon I would have labeled myself a runner who can bike fairly well and is a horrible swimmer.  If you are a long time reader of this site then you know that I started working with Coach C because of my horrible swimming (read post here.) In my first triathlon I walked the last 50 yards of the pool swim.  I was gassed and it did not matter how much I had swam before event I was not good, nor was I getting better.  I used to dread Sunday nights when I knew that Monday would bring a swim session, but also because that is the day that Coach updates my training for the following week.  I would look at the schedule with dread knowing that Monday and Wednesday were swim days.  Thankfully there were no other swim days involved in my training. The dread didn't end with seeing the swim icon in the schedule though.  It continued when I would open the schedule to see fist drill, 300 yard swim, 100 yard kick....all these sessions scared me and I hated them.  I just hated driving to the gym every morning in the dark to put myself in the water which I knew would be cold.  There was nothing fun about this sport, but thankfully I had the bike and the swim to keep me going. I also never once skipped a swim session, no matter how much I hated them.  No matter how cold the water was, no matter how much water I swallowed, no matter how much water went up my nose I kept on going.  I kept plugging away.  Fist drills, finger-tip drills, 100y kick, catch-up drills, high elbows, swim over a barrel, scull....it was drilled into me every Monday and Wednesday. Then it happened.  My first open water swim.  I went into it thinking I am ready.  I will be golden.  I have trained and I am prepared.  The gun went off and with reckless abandon I ran into the water with everybody else only to be kicked and punched and white washed to the point that my heart rate was close to 1,000,000bpm.  I quickly flipped on my back and backstroked approximately 400 out of 500 meters.  There were times I wanted to grab that kayak and pull myself into it.  I chose not to and chose to finish what I started.  I got out of the water 2nd to last in my age group but went on to a decent finish in the top half of the pack. Then the competitor in me came out.  I started analyzing my performance and how I could improve my overall time if I were to knock 5 minutes off of my 14+ minute time at the 500 meter swim I just did.  Well the focus also changed and instead of dreading and fearing the Mon/Wed schedule I was excited about it and couldn't wait to do fist drills and 100s on the :10 and feel the burn in my shoulders grow.  I didn't have a choice as my first Olympic distance Triathlon was just around the corner.  I wanted to go into the Toyota US Open Championships primed and not scared of the swim.  I began loving everything about the swim.  When I finished the 1500 meters in 37 minutes I felt on top of the world and knew that my next race in the open water at 70.3 IMCA would be easier to do because it is not far from 1500 meters to 1.2 miles. I went to California fully prepared to swim those 1.2 miles and be ready to ride the bike and kill it on the run.  I was so sure of my ability to swim the distance that I positioned myself right in the middle of the pack.  I was doing this and I was not going to back down from my fears.  I swam and I swam and I finished the distance in 40 minutes.  I felt awesome exiting the water and I knew that every drill I did was what led me to that point. Then it really happened.  My confidence soared and I couldn't get enough swimming.  I not only wanted to swim the sessions that Coach set for me but without me telling her I went and started doing a weekly open water swim of 1.2 miles.  I wanted to know that I was getting better and that all the hard work was paying off.  I was swimming 3-4 times per week now and loving every moment of it all.  The results of this hard work showed up at the CapTexTri Olympic Distance when I covered the 1500 meters in 31 minutes.  A 6 minute improvement over Toyota and the one thing that lingers in my head is that I could have gone sub-:30 in that race as I felt great and never really pushed myself. I now consider swimming to be my 2nd best discipline.  I work hard at it because it is the one piece of triathlon that you cannot muscle through.  Your form has to be spot on otherwise it will be harder than it should be.  I work on my form when I warm-up and followed by yard after yard after yard of drills.  I work on my form when I am doing interval work, when I am going at threshold pace, when I am doing negative splits.  My form has been improved because of all these drills and I can't get enough of them because I know they work. I read an article by Marty Gael for US Triathlon on Active.com (read entire article here) but what stood out to me were the three main points.

Swimming Technique

Without at least decent swimming technique, you will always be limited in your ability to go fast for longer distances. This is an absolute. By decent technique, I mean that more of your energy is directed to moving you forward rather then pushing you backward, to the side, underwater, etc.

Volume

Don't be scared, I am not going to suggest you start swimming twice a day, five days a week. Not unless you're planning to swim in college, that is. For triathlons, and to see improvement in most working adult age-group triathletes, three times a week is what it really takes. Four or five swim sessions per week are even better if you are serious about becoming a faster swimmer.

Structure

Jumping into the pool and swimming laps until you're tired or bored just became how you used to swim. You're now going to graduate to structured workouts, like real swimmers use. Almost every swim workout you do should be structured, and each week should include workouts that target various systems like an aerobic workout (longer), a muscular endurance workout (mid-distance and moderate hard). The exceptions to pure structured workouts are steady open water endurance swims or non-stop simulation swims in the pool, and those are structured in the sense that they're included in the top-level organization of your training. A typical swim workout should include the following components (example provided)
  • 10-15 percent easy warming up (4x100 easy on 20 seconds rest)
  • 10-20 percent drills and kicking (8x50s as alternating 1 drill, 1 kick on 15 seconds rest)
  • 40-70 percent main set (6x200 on 30 seconds rest or 12x100 on 15 seconds rest)
  • Optional additional drills
  • 5-10 percent cool down (100 easy)
Everything I had been doing with Coach's instruction is exactly what you see here and the proof is in the pudding.  I swam 1.2 miles at IMCA in 40 minutes, but since I have picked up my volume I can now do an open water swim of 1.2 miles in 34 minutes, and I recently swam just over 2 miles in 1 hour and 10 minutes.  My improvement is not just in the numbers but also in my psyche as I know I can go faster which means dropped times and the confidence that I can do anything.  My goal of hitting sub-5:30 at 70.3 Austin is in the works.  By saving a minimum of 6 minutes in the swim alone I am halfway to where I need to be.  3 minutes on the bike and 3 minutes on the run and I am going sub-5:30. I will now be transferring my learned lessons from the water to the bike as I now have a personal competition going on in my life.  I am allowing my swim and bike to battle it out for 2nd place, but my run had better be careful and keep working because that can easily be replaced by one or both of the other disciplines.  

What Part Of Your Endurance Lifestyle Did You Despise But Learn to Love?

Are You Doing Everything You Can To Improve?

     
Published in Train
Tuesday, 03 May 2011 15:17

Performance Anxiety?

[caption id="attachment_1955" align="alignleft" width="276" caption="Source"][/caption] This type of performance will not be helped with a little blue pill that's for sure.  What I am talking about is the swim start of a triathlon.  We all know it is called a white wash, a swim scrum, pure craziness and lots of other items.  Well it's all true but there are ways that you can prepare yourself for it. You could have friends beat you with noodles while swimming in the pool.  You could toss yourself into a washing machine.  Heck you could have a shark chase you round and round but those all sound like a lot of work to me. It was this type of conversation I was having with a participant in Marathon Makeover when the idea of how I could help her hit me.  I invited her to our newest open water training sessions that Greg (Twitter: @tri2live) and I are going to be doing each Thursday.  Show her how to not be afraid of the water.  How you can learn to swim in the open water without having all of that anxiety attached to it.  So much can be learned by actually swimming in the open water that cannot be taught through words alone. On that path I received an email today from ESPN that was perfect.  The title of the article is:  Seven Ways To Get Over Open Water Anxiety.  Well that made it easy for me didn't it?  Well I figured I would share those ways with you as well in case you were facing your first open water triathlon this year or you are a veteran like Hillary Biscay (who is quoted in the article.) Here is the article with my thoughts in red: ====================================

Seven ways to get over open water anxiety

By Selene Yeager Getting kicked in the face. Having a panic attack. Umm ... drowning?! If the thought of freestyling through open, unlined, even murky water with 800 other athletes makes you queasy, rest assured: You're not alone. Heck, even the pros get nervous. Just ask Ironman champion Hillary Biscay, who recently blogged about her "yearly panic attack." "Two minutes into the swim, I found myself treading water, undoing my wetsuit, trying to get my breathing under control ... I spent the rest of the swim catching up," said Biscay, whose bouts of open water anxiety began with a bad mass swim start in a freezing lake in l'Alpe d'Huez in 2006. The good news is that bad starts, bad experiences and bad fears all can be overcome, said marathon swimmer Erica Sheckler. As head swim coach for Endurance Multisport, she helps swimphobics (like Biscay) overcome their anxieties. "About 90 percent of my nervous newcomers end up loving the swim," she said. More than just offering reassuring words, Sheckler has a game plan for conquering your H2O-phobia: Warm up. You always start pool sessions with kicking drills and warm up sets to elevate your heart rate, warm your muscles, and get a feel for the water. Doing the same before an open water swim will prepare your body and calm your nerves. I did exactly this prior to my first olympic distance race last October and it was perfect.  It was perfect because my first open water swim went exactly as most people expect it to.  Getting kicked, punched, hit, panic attack....all of the above.  I did not let it stop me but I was fearful of what was to come at the Olympic distance.  The warm-up was perfect as my body was ready to swim. Think efficient, not fast. "Often athletes will focus so much on going fast they don't realize how much effort they're wasting. Wasted energy means higher heart rate and higher likelihood for panic," said Sheckler. "Focus on your swim form and being smooth and controlled. You'll swim better ... and calmer." I have said this one million times and will continue to say it. Swimming is about form and not about turning your arms faster.  You will get nowhere that way, but with the proper form comes speed.  It has proven to be true time and time again and if I could give anybody one piece of advice about swimming it is just that.  Swim with better form and you will be faster. Breathe. High nerves lead to shallow breaths, which lead to panicky sensations. Take deep breaths before you get in the water and continue during the swim, blowing out and emptying your lungs each time, so you can draw a deep breath when you turn for air. And if you end up with a giant mouthful of water because of a wave or swimmer's wake, relax. Do a breaststroke or two to catch your breath and keep going. I have a technique that I use.  I blow out my nose as I turn to breathe.  I take in as much air as possible and breathe out with my face in the water and then as I turn I breathe out again using my nose.  I helps keep me in tune with my body. It provides me a rythym and I know when I don't do it I get thrown off.  Find a rhythym for yourself and practice it over and over. [caption id="attachment_1958" align="alignright" width="260" caption="Source"][/caption] Establish Plan P. Panic happens. Have a plan so you're prepared to handle it. Rule number one: ease up on the pace, said Biscay. "If you feel panic coming on, just slow down. It calms your breathing and allows you to continue." My plan P involved the catch-up drill and the finger tip drag drill combined.  This automatically slows me down and allows me to catch my breathe and eleviate any sense of panic.  It has taken me some time to get to that point and it didn't happen over night but with more and more practice I am now able to control myself better. Pick your position. Stay out of the swim start scrum by positioning yourself to the side or back of the pack. Really nervous? Stay in place and let the pack thin before starting out. Then enjoy swimming in the draft. This one I am not so sure about other than just hang back.  I started on the left hand side of a beach start and got trampled.  I have been involved in a drop in off a dock start and while you don't have tons of people on top of you there will be times when you hit arms and legs and when arms and legs hit you.  It happens and you need to be prepared for it.  I started 70.3 IMCA right at the front and had no issues with being run over.  I think it is just a matter of the race and it's participants. Watch your wetsuit. Wetsuits make you more buoyant, but can feel claustrophobic on land (and raise anxiety). Pull the suit high on your body, so it's not pressing on your neck, shoulders, and chest. "Add lubricant like Sportslick around the neck, so it moves freely," Sheckler said. I will say I have never heard of this one before but it makes total sense.  Without that added pressure you are capable of breathing more freely.  I use tri-slide and spray that everywhere but will remember this tip the next time I feel a panic attack coming on before I am in the water. Easy on the Starbucks. Java is a performance enhancer ... until you overdo it. "Limiting my caffeine helps me avoid the onset of panicky feelings," said Biscay. Skip anything with the word "Grande," "Venti" or, heaven forbid, "Trenta" attached to it. This goes without say in my world.  Never mind the nerve rattling, but what about the porto-potty rattling that could happen.  Enough said about this one. And because life has a way of being so kind to you sometimes I came across an article by Susan Lacke (Twitter:  @susanlacke --> follow her as she is a great source of motivation and inspiration) on the No Meat Athlete site titled 'How to Survice Your First Open Water Swim: 8 Tips for the New Triathlete' Susan attacks her topics with a great sense of humor and this article is no different but it is very helpful for not only those first time triathletes but for those of us who have been through the white was a few times as well. Here are Susan's 8 tips, and if you are interested in reading more then please do yourself a favor and click on the link above and read the entire article.  It will help you out.  

1) There is no such thing as a lake zombie.

2) There are, however, other creatures in the water. Deal with it.

3) Get the right gear.

4) Have a strategy.

5) Keep calm. When you're surrounded by other swimmers, especially during the mass start, you'll feel like you're in a washing machine with 700 ninjas. (Had to leave this here because of the Ninja factor.)

6) Breathe & blow.

7) Watch where you're going.

8 ) Make a smooth exit.

 

What are your tips and tricks for the open water swim?  How do you train for an open water swim?

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