Saturday, July 31, 2010

An Open Water Swimmer's Pool Workout

Here's the set I left on the board today for my pool swimmers, just before heading up to the lake with the open-water swimmers. This is a great set for preparing for open-water swimming, including triathlon
swimming. Tough main set!

Skill of the Day: Vertical Arm Catch (high elbow)
Drill: Vertical Arm Scull (great video of this drill here)

250 Swim
4 x 50 Vertical Arm Scull/Catchup by 25s
250 Pull, focus on high elbow catch
4 x 50 Vertical Arm Scull/Swim by 25s
6 x 50 Kick, IM order no flutter

Main Set:

36 x 75:

1 - 12 @ 1:15 interval
13 - 24 @ 1:10 interval
25 - 36 @ 1:05 interval

You can adjust these intervals as needed, the ideal is to have your first twelve 75s with about 15 seconds rest, 2nd twelve with 10 seconds rest, and 3rd set of twelve with only 5 seconds rest. You should keep your pace consistent throughout, with no rounders after each subset.

Workout Total: 4000 yards

Monday, July 26, 2010

Dumber Than a Sheep

Picture a pasture full of grass with dozens of sheep. A set of power lines marches across the field, with tall poles throwing shadows onto the dry brown grass. It's so hot that the sheep are standing nose to tail in the thin shadow of the power line poles. Across the pasture, there are lines of sheep standing, head down, not moving in the heat, just keeping their bodies as still as possible in the only bit of shade in their entire field. That's what I saw as I was biking by in the heat. So I guess that makes me dumber than a sheep!

What I would love to see would be a time lapse video of the sheep in that field as the power pole shadows move with the sun. I wonder if the sheep just keep shuffling to stay in the shadows? It would be an amazing image.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

What Doesn't Kill You.... Makes You Cry??

It didn't seem like it was going to be that hard of a bike ride today: 42 miles, a lot of hills (but what bike ride around here doesn't have hills??) not a ton of wind (the usual 12 mph afternoon perpetual headwind, no matter which direction you're biking it's there). I knew it was going to be warm, temps have been in the low 90s all week. Who knew it would be almost 100 today? I guess that serves me right for not looking at the weather forecast.

We set out at 12:30, and hit the first hill at 12:35, the second at 1:15, and by 1:45 we were on the biggest ascent: a 700 foot climb of exposed piece of blacktop that was baking under our wheels. This is the point where I should point out that I don't sweat. Also that hubby in his kindness got both of our bikes ready this morning while I was coaching, and he happened to fill both of my bottles with Gatorade. I usually keep one with water to douse myself with since.... I don't sweat. Somewhere along the switchbacking broiler rack of a road, I went from just plain hot to truly hot, then ridiculously hot then dangerously hot. By the time hubby looked back and noticed me struggling and pulled into some shade, I was close to dropping over. Once in the shade, I proceeded to break out in big sobbing ridiculous tears, and then hyperventilate. Good thing hubby keeps a cool head on his shoulders and got me breathing right and poured some water on me.

A long shade break later and I was ready to keep rolling. A stop at a little store later and I had a stock of water to dump on myself. The rest of the climbs (all 1700 feet of them) seemed easy by comparison. It's funny, but I remembered that the only time I've ever cried in a triathlon was (no, not getting my toe dislocated at Ironman Florida) when I did this race in a hellishly hot and windy location in the Columbia River gorge. It was 104 degrees with winds up to 30 mph. The 38 mile bike course took me three hours instead of my planned two, and when I hit the run in that blowdrier I just started crying uncontrollably. Then some lady rescued me with a lawn sprinkler and I managed to finish. I have never DNF'd a race, but that was the closest I've ever come. And I've never not finished a bike ride but I came damn close today. I wonder why I cry when I'm overcome with heat? Panic maybe? I'm not usually a crybaby, but that sure got to me!

Reminder to self: you don't sweat. Take water (plain water) and dump on self repeatedly until normal temperatures have been achieved. Also, don't go out on a hilly ride on the hottest day of the summer in the middle of the afternoon! As I write this at 11:30 at night, it's still 78 degrees outside according to I think tomorrow's long run better be at 6:00 am, so I should be going to bed now...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tri Coach: Transition Area

One of the most confusing things for new triathletes is the transition area. Since this question came up this week, I thought I'd break down a typical transition area here and give some pointers.

The first thing to know about transition areas is that the space you have will be small. It's best not to make it look like a garage sale with gear and clothing sprawling all over the place. Even if you get to the transition area early and set up with plenty of room, chances are that the racks will get progressively more crowded as the start of the race nears, and your spacious area will shrink to about the size of a decent hand towel. So just bring what you need, and leave the rest in your gear bag. Apply your sunscreen and your glide, your lip balm, hair tyes, and anything else you might need, put them away and just bring the basics to transition.

This is a photo of how I set up my own transition area at most races. I bring my nice bright green towel, and fold it until it's just about as wide as my bike's handlebars. This ensures that it takes up the same amount of space as the bike racked on the opposite side of the bike rack from me. If everyone racks their bikes on alternating sides of the rack, that's as much space as you will probably get.

My cap and goggles obviously go with me to the swim start, so I lay them out right in front. Next are my biking shoes, with velcro straps opened and loose. Note that bike shoes can also be clipped onto your pedals, but new triathletes probably don't need to worry about giving that a try right off the bat. If I choose to wear socks in a longer race, I will scrunch them all the way up until they are very compressed, and lay each one carefully inside a shoe. That way when I get to the shoes I can just stick my toes inside the sock and pull it up quickly over the foot.My helmet is beside the shoes, and I like to keep my sunglasses inside the helmet with the earpieces open and pointing up. That way I grab the sunglasses and put them on, smash the helmet on my head, buckle the strap and I'm off.

In the back of the transition towel is the running gear. My shoes have lace locks on them, and they are pulled open and ready to jam my feet into. On top of the shoes is my running hat, with the bill facing toward me, ready to just pop onto my head. On top of that I've placed a race number belt with my race number already clipped into it. Note that in some races (not very many any more) you may be required to wear a race number on the bike. In that case, I lay this on top of my bike shoes, and put it on with the number on my back. When I get to the run, the number is required to be in front so I just spin it around. In most races though you only need the number for the run. So you can pin it to your shirt or singlet, or you can use a number belt and just put it on for the run. My number belt happens to have some little elastic loops for sticking gels into, so for a longer race I can load it up with a couple of gels ahead of time.

That's it! There's not a lot of stuff in this transition area, which means no fumbling around when I'm in a hurry in T1 and T2 of the race. Before I go to the start line in my wetsuit, I stop and look at the transition area. I go to the chute where I'll be entering from the water and walk towards my rack, noting where it is in the area (it's five racks to the right from the entrance, or it's seven racks on the left). Though you will see it recommended frequently, please resist the notion of bringing a helium balloon and tying it to your rack so that you can find your bike. I was at a windy race this June where several people on my rack had done this. The balloons where all blowing horizontally, getting tangled in other peoples' bikes and gear, and bopping other triathletes in the face as they tried to transition. Trust me, you can remember that you are five racks on the left without a balloon.

As I do my run-through, I mentally see myself running in from the swim. I see myself unzipping my wetsuit as I run (not taking off my cap and goggles first, as that ties up your hands). Once the wetsuit is unzipped and stripped down to the waist, then I take off my cap and goggles and have them in hand as I approach the transition area. Now I approach my own area, and I see myself stripping off my wetsuit, putting on my bike shoes, my sunglasses and helmet, and unracking my bike and taking off.

This is a good time to practice taking your bike off of the rack and make sure that all goes smoothly. Make sure you don't have any brake levers or shift levers that will catch on the rack, make sure you've racked it in such a way that you can get it off easily. I was at a race recently where the woman on the rack next to me had racked her bike by rolling it under the rack and hanging her seat on the rack, but facing the wrong way (away from her own transition area). So she would have to roll it out backwards, catching her handlebars on the rack to get it out. Unfortunately, she could only get it off the rack by turning it almost sideways, a feat that was not possible once everyone else's bikes were racked. I pointed this out to her in the transition area before the race and thankfully she had time to change it. But she would've had an unpleasant surprise if she'd run up from the swim only to find she couldn't get her bike out without knocking over everyone else's!

After I take my bike off the rack, I make sure I know which direction I'm going out of the transition area to get to the bike course. Then I come back and re-rack the bike. I visualize myself making the bike to run transition. I mentally put on my race belt, my hat, and my running shoes. Again, I make sure I know which way I'm running out of the transition area to get to the run course. Learning these things ahead of time saves confusion in the middle of the race (you will almost always see race volunteers having to re-direct some hapless athlete who has tried to bike onto the run course or run the wrong way out of transition).

Phew! That seems like a lot, but by laying out a simple transition area, by making sure your bike is racked safely in a position that you can easily remove it from the rack, and by mentally practicing your transition and knowing where you'll be going, you will be on your way to having smooth and effective transitions in your race with a minimum of panic and confusion.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My Fashionista

I have to admit, my taste in clothing typically runs to the latest in swimwear (I love Tyr's plaid two-pieces, Must. Have.!!!) and biking shorts. Dressing up is not something I do often, and I'm sure my fashion-conscious daughter rolls her eyes behind my back more than I'd care to notice.

So I let her pick my outfits, and she loves to do us up as "matchies", do my hair, and paint my nails too. All the girly-girl stuff I don't always have time for. Lucky me!

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Rake Mystery Solved

So the woman with the rake on the running path was my friend Carrie. We ran down to the local sand volleyball courts in the morning to do some technique work. After raking a swath of sand smooth, we ran down the smooth part so that we could take a look at our footprints and analyze our foot strike patterns and running gait. This technique of evaluation is suggested in the book Chi Running, and I've done it before and found it very useful. I think it would've been more helpful if the sand had been damp as you get a better footprint impression, so maybe next time we decide to do this, we'll wait for the morning after a light sprinkling of rain.

One thing I noticed from the last time I did this is that I have definitely moved to a mid-foot strike. I can thank Chi Running and my years of running in the Vibram Five Fingers for that I guess.

So here is what we were looking for in evaluating our footprints:

This is a midfoot strike. Thankfully most of our footprints looked like this!

Then, we deliberately tried to run with a heel strike for comparison's sake. This was surprisingly difficult now that I've trained myself out of doing it. It's hard to believe I used to run this way all the time, it feels so clunky and heavy now. You can definitely see where the heel leaves a much deeper impression and a push-off on the back end of the heel.

We also looked at whether our feet were tracking straight, and discovered that each of us has a foot that points slightly out, which spells future knee trouble if you don't address it. All in all, it's a good diagnostic tool to use!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Why Is This Woman Running With a Rake??

No, it's not just another crazy person on the bike paths of Eugene! When the kids were younger, I kept a small notebook with me that contained our "List Of Silly Things". Whenever the kids saw something they thought was silly, we'd write it in the notebook: shoes hanging over power lines, a porta-potty going down the road on the back of a truck, a man skateboarding with a cat on his shoulder. It was just one of our fun little things we did whenever we were out, and it also served as a reminder to me that the world is fresh and new to kids. They don't have pre-conceived notions of what is ordinary or not, so while we might see a port-a-potty on the back of a truck and know instantly it's being transported somewhere (maybe to a long line of port-a-potties at a triathlon!), to a kid it's just downright funny to see a potty driving down the road.

But the woman running with the rake doesn't belong on that list of silly things. Wanna know why? Stay tuned!

Hint: It has something to do with this:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Those Cute Little 650 Wheels

A friend of mine sent me this great link on 650 vs. 700 wheels. It seems like I'm one of the few triathletes out there still riding 650 wheels, and it's true that sometimes it's harder to find tubes and tires for them. For me, it's a real bonus because I have almost no torso whatsoever. No really, I'm not kidding. I look so ridiculous in my white karate gi because the belt is about an inch below my boobs. I have to tug the belt down to my hips just to look normal. And you're supposed to chamber your non-punching hand several inches above your belt, which puts mine somewhere in the vicinity of my armpit. When I was pregnant with each of the kids, I looked like I was carrying a torpedo because my torso is so short. I'm 5/7" and have a 34 inch inseam. All legs. Buying jeans is a nightmare too, but that's another story.

So anyways, I had to buy a bike with a top tube sized for a 10 year old, and then I had to get the absolute shortest possible stem ever made. This is all so that I can reach my aerobars. This is most easily facilitated with 650 wheels, and then I just have to put my seat up ridiculously high because of those legs. In any case, it was cool to read this article, which gives a good techie description of the differences in wheel sizes, why tri bikes were originally switched to mostly 650 and why many of them have switched back to 700. Just thought I'd share.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Violating the Ten Percent Rule

Normally I try to follow that tried and true rule of thumb: don't increase your long workout by more than ten percent each week. Although I don't follow a specific triathlon training plan most of the time, I know that by this time of year I'm building up my mileage toward a fall half-Ironman, and that means for three weeks I build up my longest bike and run distance, and then every fourth week I cut my volume in half for a rest week. By August, I'll be ready to fine-tune everything and will have a good base of endurance built up.

This year I got a late start with the broken arm and didn't really start building up my bike mileage until May. Then it rained all of June, not just rained but poured buckets of water from the sky. It only stopped at moments when I couldn't possibly get out on my bike. The net result is that my longest ride so far has been a measly 38 miles.

So when hubby asked me on Saturday if I'd do a sixty-five miler with him, I of course said no. Really? No, silly of course I said yes. On the hottest day of a heat wave, and throw in some hills to boot. Surprisingly, I can actually walk today and dare I say I feel just fine? I was definitely fatigued by the end of it, but that was offset by getting to spend four hours with my hubby doing something we both love in such a beautiful part of the world. This ride goes through forested hills, winds by a river, heads out into the broad valley past wheat fields and pastoral sheep, through quaint towns and rolling countryside. Though it violated my ten percent rule, it was one-hundred percent worth it.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Gigantic Swimmer Boy

I took my 13 y.o. son with me to the pool today to swim some laps. Gosh I wish this kid had a competitive bone in his body because he can swim like a fish. No like a dolphin. Like his mama, he was born to be an aquatic mammal. Gosh he's good! And he hasn't swam since last year, yet I had to work to keep up with him. Some of it is that, like me, he has enormous hands and feet (size 13 and counting). Great paddles and flippers. And he's grown an inch in less than a month, making him even with me at 5'7", a fact he is very excited about. All that growing of course makes for a very clumsy land mammal and about every time he moves around the house he knocks something over, breaks something, stubs a toe or knocks a knee or elbow (many of you taller guys can probably remember the awkwardness of the teenage growth spurts).

Since he's hoping to get into a great college and go to med school (I about faint if I allow myself to think about what that will cost), I am encouraging him to think of the word Scholarship. Swimming or water polo would be good, and with hands the size of small snow shovels, I think he'd be great at water polo, a sport I wish had been around when I was a teen (much more fun than just swimming boring laps). If there's one thing I regret I think it's that I didn't start swimming competitively before college. I really struggled my way financially through college, working more than one job at a time and cobbling together whatever academic scholarships I could get my hands on. But those don't touch the kind of scholarships that athletes can land, and I probably would've been better set if I'd focused on swimming in high school. Unfortunately, the swimming coach was a Jerk with a capital J (you hear that Mr. Freeman???) who once famously told me just how "unathletic"  he thought I was. If there's one thing I've done in my life, maybe it's that I proved that one wrong, LOL.

In any case, my real goal with the kids is that they're both proficient swimmers and that they both love the water. I think that should be every parents' goal. As a coach who frequently works with adults who have traumatic experiences with water (sometimes at the hand of well-meaning adults when they were children), I know that the most important thing is that kids are comfortable and safe in and around the water. In my family, not swimming is not an option (my son calls this part of my "tough shit" policy). So whether or not he swims for his supper, at least he'll swim for fun.

Saturday, July 03, 2010


Happy Independence Day tomorrow, to those of you who are Americans. I wore this suit swimming to the lake this morning, just for fun. It was a gorgeous day, the water was smooth as silk. And though I've had a major knot in my shoulder this week that kept me from swimming on Tuesday and Thursday, the wetsuit provided enough extra support that I could cruise along through the open water without any discomfort whatsoever, a pleasant surprise for the morning.

This afternoon we went to a BBQ at some friends' house and I had one of those "small world" experiences. I met a triathlete that lives not a mile from my house, we have tons of mutual friends, we've been apparently swimming in the lane next to each other at the outdoor pool on Tuesday mornings, but we'd never met. We chatted about races, trails, rides, and the Ironman. One thing about having done the Ironman is that when you meet another Ironman it's like you both just know what the other is made of. To have done that distance, that says something about a person, about their ability to dig deep and to persevere. I guess I'd never really thought of that before.

Speaking of digging deep, I did a ride yesterday with my hubby, about 40 miles of hills that he kicked my booty up and down and all over town. I can make an excuse for some of that, I had done a really killer Crossfit track workout that morning that absolutely blew me up for the day (see below for details) but the other half of the equation is that hubby has gotten to be a killer cyclist. He's been mountain biking like crazy, training for some nutty 55 mile mountain bike race with like a million feet of elevation gain. So his pedal stroke has gotten very efficient and smooth. He's also lost 10 pounds since starting the Paleo eating plan, and is now at 10% body fat, which is pretty lean. This means he climbs hills like a madman and while I can still take a turn letting him draft me into the headwind, he pretty much dropped me on every hill. Still, after eighteen years of being together, it's just plain awesome that we can go out and do stuff like this. Our relationship has always been glued together by mutual interests and just enjoying each other's company.

So here's the killer workout I devised for Friday morning. Any old time that you feel like you haven't beaten yourself up enough for the week, give this one a try. This is done for total time at a track:

1600 meter run
40 squats (quads below parallel)
1200 meter run
30 situps (arms folded across chest, no kipping with arms, shoulders to ground and then breaking vertical plane)
800 meter run
20 pushups (chest to ground and full extension)
400 meter run
10 Burpees (including jump to full hip extension)

This took me 23:52 and like I said, it was a killer workout. After the first round of squats, you can really feel your legs on the run. After the round of situps, it makes you very aware of your core on the run. After the pushups, you even get a good feel for how engaged your arms are on the run. So it really lets you zero in on all of your major muscle groupings as you run.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Herding Cats

I got to try my hand today at something new: coaching kids! I have worked with a few younger swimmers before, mostly teens who want one-on-one stroke instruction. But I've never tried to give stroke instruction to an entire kids' swim team before. Let me just say that I have a whole NEW level of respect for kids' coaches in general, and my daughter's swim coaches in particular. That is some hard work. It's difficult to explain complicated stroke mechanics in a way that kids can understand, and more importantly will want to try to do. It's actually hard enough just to be heard with 30 or 40 kids, many of whom are bobbing up and down in the water and some of whom are chattering. My voice is very hoarse now.

The one thing that went over well was having them count strokes and try to reduce their stroke count. After doing the catch-up drill, most of them were able to reduce their stroke count and they were all excited to tell me their numbers. Coaching them is not something I'll be doing on a regular basis (this was just a one-hour stroke clinic), but it was cool to have the opportunity to work with them today. More than anything, I love how excited they are to be swimming and how hard they're willing to work at it. In a way, I can picture them as the Master's swimmers of the future, decades from now I hope they'll still be loving it the way I do.