Friday, January 16, 2015

Swimming 101

Who's ready to swim?
Swimming really fast is really simple.  Start at the age of 6 and stick with it for anywhere from 10 to 30 years and you're set.  Learn from your coaches and peers, largely ignore your parents (despite their best intentions), and accept the fact that 5am is a normal time to start a workout.  I'm not saying everyone is destined to be an Olympian, but with a good amount of dedication you can be pretty damn successful.  There is no real substitute for years of staring at the black line, but that does not mean that learning to swim well is impossible without it.  For those of you who haven't reeked of chlorine for the past few decades, here are my top 3 tips to getting the most out of your swim:

1.  Get Comfortable in the Water
This is the biggest problem I see with swimmers who start later in life or triathletes who come from a bike/run background.  They look (and probably feel) like they will drown at any minute as they thrash around and chase the almighty yardage target.  While we start young kids with simple balance drills and games to create comfort in the water, for some reason adults are unwilling to take the time. Ego and modesty usually get in the way as new swimmers forgo tight suits and games for baggy suits and 'real' training.  My suggestion:  float, scull, dive for pennies, practice front and back flips, blow bubbles, and have fun in the water. If you can't do this, then you'll never be able to swim at your potential.  Learn to move water and move in the water before even thinking about the finer aspects of perfect freestyle.

2.  Be Consistent
Swimming almost every day is another sure-fire way to improve.  Not everyone has that luxury, but frequency does matter.  Join a Masters team (Peluso Open Water in RVA) and be held accountable for your attendance.  Make a point to touch and feel the water as much as possible.  You don't even have to do a structured workout, but developing and maintaining 'feel' for the water is something you will hear top swimmers talk a lot about.  Thirty minutes are better than nothing.  Use a quick drill session as a warm up/cool down from a bike/run/strength workout to increase your frequency.  Keep your BlueSeventy wetsuit in your car and stop by the river/lake on your way home from work.   There are plenty of excuses to keep you out of the water, but find a way to make it happen.  Even using stretch cords as dryland alternatives works if you really are in a time crunch.

3.  Get T.U.F.
Technique and efficiency are huge in swimming.  You can find hundreds of articles on the web about which drill is best and how to improve.  If you're reading this, you may be looking for a few 'secret' drills that will make you swim like a fish... The reality is, most of the time athletes who focus on technique exclusively or yardage exclusively tend to be stagnant in their development.  The reason is in both cases they are not able to carry over proper technique into swimming when fatigue sets in.  What separates great swimmers from the rest is their ability to maintain their Technique Under Fatigue.  Swimmers who forgo technique in favor of yardage tend to develop overuse injuries and poor stroke mechanics.  Swimmers who only do drills look pretty for roughly 100m (or less!) before they fall apart.  Finding the balance between the two takes a bit of experimentation as every swimmer is different.  Developing the strength, endurance, and knowledge to get TUF takes time and plenty of points #1 and #2.  Once you are able to put it all together, you'll be swimming fast in no time.  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Season Planning

Athletes always have questions on training.  Swim technique (post coming soon), strength training, secret bike workouts... etc.  One topic that seems to be forgotten is how to set up a season to take advantage of all that training.  Most endurance athletes tend to look at racing as an all you can eat buffet.   You know the type, where you stuff your plate as full as possible and come away regretting your gluttony.   However, if you were to ask an athlete if they would trade one fantastic race for four moderately successful races, they would (hopefully) choose the one fantastic race.  Everyone brags about a PR, so where is the disconnect between the goal and a typical racing schedule?

The truth is, as I mentioned in an earlier post, athletes can't be at 100% all of the time.  Your season should have "A", "B", and "C" races and you should set your expectations accordingly.  Assuming you do it correctly, your secondary races act as catalysts to produce an amazing "A" race day.  The tricky part is keeping your racing in perspective and keeping the big picture in mind.  What are you willing to sacrifice to have the race of your life?  Six months of work for one race?  How about a year?  If you're on the Olympic cycle, 4 years?  How many of you would be willing to plan for that time frame?  It's not just genetics that self-selects the best athletes in the world...

In the past, I've had an athlete fire me because they were not happy with the results of their "B" race without waiting on their "A" results.  I've had multiple arguments (er, discussions) with parents who were furious that their swimmers weren't swimming well in dual meets only to have the same parents over the moon when taper time produced results that were off the charts.  I've even personally beat myself up with the results weren't exactly what I'd planned, but in the end you can chalk up any challenges along the way as 'experience'.

This time of year, athletes should be looking at their upcoming season and planning the best schedule to succeed in achieving their goals.  Will 3 Ironman races help you to make the Big Island?  Should you be concerned if your numbers are not peaking in January (in reality, it's the opposite...)?  Is that early season Marathon setting you up for success or injury?  Now is the time to sit down with your coach and make a plan.  There is nothing wrong with the goal of racing 20 times this season, but be honest with what that means in terms of your performance.

As a professional, there are some factors that come into play when planning my race schedule.  If my goal is to come away with a profitable season, I have to take into consideration prize money, travel costs, field sizes, sponsor bonuses, and more.  Do I put all of my eggs in one basket and peak for a big payday against a big field and big risk or do I race more often and hope to piece together a living?    The realities of competition make earning a living many times conflict with the pursuit of high performance.  I'm working my way up the ranks, but am not yet at the level where every race is a sure-fire payday.  Nothing like putting in an 8:30 Ironman effort and coming away empty handed, but it's possible with some of the deeper fields at the big races...

My 2015 schedule is in the works and I hope to announce it shortly.  I'm waiting on final details from the Challenge North America series and running the numbers on various race situations.  I'm also trying to merge my goal of breaking 8 hours with the goal of providing diapers for Sidney...  Sometimes the sane person in me wonders why I'm not waiting tables and making real money!

Quit riding your bike and get a job!

Happy Training.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Happy Holidays!

For an endurance athlete, the Holiday season is rife with advice.  How to keep your weight in check.  How to fit in your training around family time.  How to navigate social temptations.  How to stay focused on your upcoming season....  Basically, how to drive yourself crazy.  While it's true that hard work in the winter is generally one of the most sure-fire ways to have a great summer, that doesn't mean that you have be a Grinch this season.

I must admit that I have to fight my inner neurosis to go out and log a few extra miles instead of visiting with out-of-town family.  How can I let myself relax when I have a race coming in 5 months? (sarcasm... but this actually comes into my crazy mind! I've eaten a bit differently, stayed up a bit late, and am not in race shape.. but a few low key (or, gasp, OFF) days will probably do me good in the long run.  The holidays come at a perfect time to allow for a bit of leeway and celebration, so take advantage of it!

Sidney has done more stair work than I have!

For me, this year has been a bit special with Sidney coming into the picture.  She's still too young to really know what's going on, but she gives me a bit of a reality check and a reason to put things in perspective.  She's also given me the present of daycare illness to ensure that I don't go sneaking off to run in the middle of quality family time...  Don't worry, I introduced her to lemons as a thank you for getting me sick!

Have a great holiday season and enjoy the New Year!  Celebrate 2014 and take a step back from the relentless pursuit of fitness.  If you have big goals for 2015, take the time to enjoy the people around you who are going to help you make them happen.  There's plenty of time for training, focus, and stress just around the corner.