Swimming at Your Own Risk


I went for a long lunch time walk this afternoon at the Carpinteria Bluffs and came across this sign:

20120816-205526.jpg

What amazed me most about this was simply the somewhat melodramatic let down of the words “swim at your own risk.”

Don’t our government officials realize that we are swimming at our own risk everyday, not just shark days?

Oceans contain sharks and I know that I have a chance of meeting one every time I get in the water. As a triathlete, sharks are small potatoes compared to the toe nibbling sea lions, the risk of rip current and even the risk of sudden heart attack.

What would be a better caption for this sign, something that piqué the interest of a triathlete?

Keeping the Flame Alive


Fire.  It is inside every triathlete. It is what makes us jump into freezing water.  It is what makes us ride 112 miles and then run a marathon!

As strong as the Fire can be, it is also quite delicate.  The Fire can spit, cough and even die out.  When it does, we don’t do the crazy things that triathletes should do.

Here are some quick tips on keeping the Fire alive and well inside you:

  • Track your workouts closely, paying attention to intensity
  • Listen to your body and giving yourself a day off
  • Have a regular yoga session in your weekly routine
  • Hang out with the right people and DON’T listen the over competitive professional wanna-bes out there
  • Eat the right food when you need it, if that means a few bits of ice cream on occasion, so be it
  • Never be afraid to question your coach, sometimes they are driven by testosterone than the good of their athlete
  • Spice up the routine, switch cycling and swimming days
  • Try a new route, services like Endomondo and MapMyTri have libraries of route submitted by users
  • Sleep, and get lots of it.  10-12 hours a night might just what your body needs
  • Set long-term, reasonable goals; if you have never done a 5k, you certainly won’t be running a marathon next month

Keeping that fire alive isn’t that hard. It takes patience, awareness and the long term vision of your goal.   Keep your on the prize and never forget where you have been.

Tips for Ocean Swimming


Swimming in the ocean is a really difficult thing for a lot of people.  As a triathlete, it is my least favorite sport to do and something I’ve struggled with for many years. Fear of death, discomfort in cold water, and nausea from rolling waves, it all adds up to a nightmare.

This weekend’s Carpinteria Triathlon represents a milestone in my journey of ocean swimming. This weekend’s event was the first event where I swam freestyle for 99% of the course. In celebration of my milestone, I thought I would share a few tips for ocean swimming that I’ve picked up over my journey:

  • Relax!  Sure there are sea monsters that might eat you and you might actually get caught in seaweed and drowned, but you are far more likely to get run over by a truck crossing the street.  Take a deep breathe and visualize calming thoughts and focus.
  • Time you entry with the waves!  If you can, time your entry just after a large wave.  Waves come in cycles with a few smaller ones and one big one.  If you wait until just after the big one to enter, you can clear the wave break before the next big one hits.
  • Focus on your stroke! Feel the water move around your body, watch your arms move in front and below you.  Make sure to rotate fully on each side.
  • Reach wide for stability! I learned this from a swim clinic I took a while back, in rough water, instead of reaching your hand to the center of the body line, let the hand reach out from the shoulder. The wider stroke will help stabilize.
  • Sight frequently! Especially if you are new to this.  I tend to swim in circles, so I need to make sure I am heading in the right direction. Sighting frequently (every dozen strokes or so) allows me to correct.
  • Roll to your back! If you need a break for a moment to refocus or catch your breathe, its okay, do it!  Rolling to your back and taking a moment to regroup is much better than panicking and dropping out of the race.
  • It’s okay to hit someone (accidentally)!  Swimming in a triathlon, particularly in a group can mean full contact.  You will be punched and you will punch someone by mistake.  Don’t panic, just refocus and keep going.
  • Bi-lateral breathing is best!  Breathing strictly to one side can be problematic if waves are crashing into your face, so learn to breathe on both sides so you can adjust.  Bi-lateral breathing will also help you fully rotate and help you swim straighter.
  • Swim as long as you can before standing up! Many people tend to stand up in water that is waist high or so when exiting the water.  It is far more efficient to swim onto your belly, so get as close to shore as you can before standing up.

With these tips you will be swimming better than ever in the ocean and you might actually look forward to it.  Relaxing, focusing, and breathing will help you get through your next oceanic adventure!

< for more swimming tips, checkout my other swimming posts >

Survey: Triathlon Training Solutions


One thing that is near and dear to my heart is analytics.  The second thing that is near and dear to my heart is triathlon.  What happens when you put the two together?  Triathlon analytics that can be applied to race results, triathlon training and nutrition.

It is such a fascinating topic to me that I recently created a solution called TrainingMetrix, which is still under development.  One of the goals of TrainingMetrix is to produce the best triathlon training analysis solution that gives you the feedback to perform.  I call it focused performance.

If you currently track workouts and nutrition via a 3rd party online solution, Excel, or just a simple notebook, please take the following survey (via SurveyMonkey): Triathlon Workout Tracking Survey.  The information will help me create the next generation solution that will help you perform your best.

Cheers!

The Daylight Savings Time Triathlon Checklist


Daylights Savings Time is a little inconvenient in that we lose an hour, but it marks a great time for triathletes to conduct a reality check. With March marking the start of the triathlon season, this is a great time to run through a checklist and get ready to rumble; taking inventory of your planning and gear.  Preparedness is a huge part of a successful triathlon.

Here a few things to check to make sure your season gets off to a good start. The list is not entirely complete, but it covers the most important concepts to help you be prepared:

  • Planning
    • Have you made a list of your races and ranked them by A, B and C?
    • What are your goals?  How many people know about your goals?
    • Do you have the first few weeks of your training plan scheduled?
    • Is your gym membership renewed?  Have you paid your triathlon club dues?
    • If you are using a coach, have you communicated your races and other needs to them?
  • Swim
    • Check your goggles, are they in decent shape?  The lens too scratched? The strap worn? It might be time to replace them.
    • Do you have a skull cap that fits you well?  Skull caps can wear out and be ill-fitting.  Silicon skull caps tend to last longer than latex and have a more comfortable feel.
    • Does your suit fit?  Whether you are wearing a speedo in a pool or a wetsuit in the ocean, does it fit? Poorly fitting suits that are too large can cause access drag in the water and slow you down.
    • Do you have enough anti-chafing gel for your first triathlon? Now is the time to stock up.
    • A small amount of baby shampoo.  When applied to the inner side of the goggles, it will prevent fogging and not sting the eyes.  (Thanks coach for this tip!)
  • Cycling
    • Is your bike clean?  If it is still sitting in the corner yet to come out of winter hibernation, now is the perfect time to dust it off and get it looking sparkling again.
    • Take the bike for a ride around the block; is everything in working order?  Do the brakes work?  Is there any hesitation in shifting gears?  Make note of anything that is abnormal.
    • Take the bike in for a tune-up.  Whether or not there is anything wrong with the bike from your test ride, take it to a good bike shop and have a tune-up performed.  This will help lube bearings and make any minor adjustments.
    • When you pick up the bike, get fitted.  You would be amazed at how minor adjustments to the fit can make a huge difference in your performance and your body can change since last season.
    • Check you helmet and make sure it hasn’t been damaged or shows signs of rot and that it fits properly.  If the helmet is damaged and needs to be replaced, it will be obvious.  Make sure the fit is snug and the straps are appropriately trimmed.
    • Grab your cycling shoes, shorts, and jersey and make sure they still fit.  Again, loose fitting clothes cause drag, so invest in new ones if need be, especially the shoes.
  • Run
    • Since we just took a look at your bike shoes, check your running shoes next.  Running shoes should be replaced about every 300 miles.  If they show the slightest bit of wear on the bottom, go ahead and buy a new pair, your feet with thank you.
    • Check your running shorts and shirt.  Replace if they don’t fit right or perhaps show off more than many people care to see.
    • Are you a FiveFingers wearer of the barefoot running movement?  Ah, okay, so when was the last time you washed your FiveFingers?  Maybe that is why you are running alone?
    • Adjust the fit of your hat and make sure it is snug but not tight.  Also, wash your hat.
    • Grab your running belt and make sure the zippers work and it is in good shape.  If it needs to be washed, wash it.  If it comes with matching water bottles and you’ve lost one, consider buying a new running belt as the bottles need to fit snugly into their holsters.
    • Do you have a number belt?  If so, make sure it too is in working order.  If not, toss some safety pins into your running belt.  You don’t want to arrive at a race and not have a way of securing your number to your clothing.
  • Nutrition
    • Have you made a nutrition plan? Are you going Paleo?
    • Have you documented your race fueling strategy?  If not, makes notes of how long your events are and what your caloric needs are.  You’ll have to experiment, but start by writing down a preliminary strategy and modify as you train.
    • Is your training/race fuel in your workout bag?  Nothing like leaving the house to start a long run to realize you left your fuel at home.  Always put extra bars in your workout bag.
    • Are you near your race weight?  If not, consider losing a few pounds. Your feet will thank you.
  • Transition
    • Do you have a spare towel?
    • Consider purchasing a helium filled balloon to mark your transition area for the upcoming season.  They can be re-used with a helium refill only costing a few bucks at the store.
    • Have you made your transition area checklist?  I’ll post one in coming weeks.
  • Other Stuff
    • Do you have a foam roller?  If not get one as I recommend foam rolling and stretching every night before you go to bed.
    • Purchase a RoadID.  If anything happens to you during training or a race, this simple strap can give emergency personnel much needed information at a glance.
    • Replace the batteries in your heart rate monitors and GPS devices.  I was on a long bike ride (30 miles) when my GPS’s heart rate strap battery gave out and it sucked.

I hope this list helps.  It is rather comprehensive, but there is no time like the present to give yourself a triathlete reality check and kick off your season right.   Taking a little time now to buy a few new pieces of gear and getting the bike tuned up can save you a major headache and possibly a “DNF” later.

Available at the following link is a triathlon race day equipment checklist to make sure you don’t forget any essential equipment on race day.  <Download our Triathlete_Race_Checklist>

Cheers!

PS If I left anything out, please leave me a comment or send an update to @AricInTraining on Twitter.

Triathlon Training Update – January 2011


It has been a while since I gave an update on my triathlon training.  Seems like after last year’s Carpinteria Triathlon, I went into hibernation.  For one reason or another, it was simply time to slow down, deal with life and do some regrouping.  So, the winter months were not exactly the most productive in terms of triathlon training.

But, it wasn’t like I spent the winter in bed.  In contrast to last winter where I spent quite a bit of time improving my physical side, this winter I focused more on the mental side.  I spent time reflecting on 2009 and 2010 triathlon seasons, studying “the mental edge” and positive visualization.  I learned a lot about what it meant to perform mentally whether during training or during a race.

Studying the Mental Edge

Two books helped me focus and provided some surprise inspiration.  Two of the books, “Zero Regrets” and “Spirit of the Dancing Warrior” are summarized in my post, Some Inspiration: Apolo and a Warrior.  The third book, Dan Millman’s Way of the Peaceful Warrior, is an interesting tale that parallels the other two.  Simply by being focused, in control, and breathing calmly, one can become a warrior at everything they do.

All three books have made me reconsider my approach to everything, but I am learning that becoming a warrior requires discipline, practice and even more discipline.  However, when I achieve the warrior state whether swimming, biking or running, the results are fantastic.  It is like I am transported to a land where gravity works with me, not against me and every step or stroke is pure bliss.  The hard part is getting to that state, which requires one’s mind to let go of all thoughts, step above any muscle pain and focus on breathing.  It takes practice.

C is for Consistency

Speaking of practice, my physical workouts have been sporadic.  Like I said before, life can be quite busy at times, especially during the holidays and end of year.

Daily workout score with moving average.

As you can see in the chart above, my triathlon training is rather inconsistent.  Each marker represents a workout with the value being a function of time and intensity.  Not only has the frequency of workouts dropped off, but also the intensity, starting in mid-January.  In fact, February has been dismal with more zero intensity days since I was an office potato.

The primary workout each week has been a cross training workout that combines strength with cardio training. The workout starts with intervals on the treadmill, then two circuits of strength and usually ending with more intervals on the bike or elliptical.

Weekends would include a long bike, run, swim or combination of the three.  I also started attending a group swim workout at the local pool, which proved to be highly beneficial.  Not only is it a longer pool, at 50m, but very motivational as swimming with other more competent athletes really makes me push harder.  My swim workouts have gone from 500-600 meters to well over 1 kilometer.

Going Forward

So, what’s next? Keep moving forward.  My first triathlon is the Ventura Triathlon at the end of June.  This gives me plenty of time to build my competitive spirit and get back into shape.  With the goal of completing the olympic course at the Carpinteria Triathlon in September, it is clearly time to come of hibernation and get going.  Bears can spend an entire year in their caves!

A Very Long Swim Workout


Another first.  My first group swim workout.  It kicked my ass, but in an absolutely wonderful way.

The Surprise

Arriving at the pool with the group, I was shocked, the pool was huge!   Up until this point, my swim workouts have been in a 25m pool, so the 50m pool looked pretty scary.  “I am going to swim all the way across that?”  Then it got worse!  Our instructor stated that we would start with 350m warm-up, swimming one length, moving to the next lane, and so on, zigzaging to the opposite end of the pool.  “Woh.. that’s like one swim workout in itself, this is going to be interesting.”

But it wasn’t that bad. I was last into the pool and found the water to be pleasant, but heavily chlorinated. I followed the group as I got into my rhythm, reaching the end of the first 50m quickly and easily.  It was at this point I realized that I was pushing too hard as I really wanted to keep up, but it was unrealistic.  As I started the second 50m, I could see the person in front of my was now nearly a full lap ahead and the first swimmer was starting their last lap.  “Oh well, this will be fun, just do your best and focus on moving,” I thought. I ended up swimming about 2/3 the distance before I cut across to join the group at the end.

Drill What?

Then came the diving drills.  Dive down, touch the bottom, come up, over the lane marker and back down, repeating across the lanes of the pool.  Hmmm…  getting to the bottom of a 10’6″ pool is hard, especially when you are not relaxed and short on breathe.  I never made it to the bottom, but did get across the pool.

Then we started the other drills and much of the instruction were like another to me.  This group was intense, many of them have done long course triathlons such as the Santa Barbara Triathlon.  I felt out of place, but I too want to go long, so I felt like I needed to push hard to stick with this group.  I knew that over time, I too would rise to their level and I would look back on this workout and laugh.

Even though the drills didn’t make much sense, I kept moving as much as possible.  In the end my arms, shoulders, and abs were worn out. Still, I felt awesome.  I came into this not knowing what to expect, was blown away at the level of intensity (given my abilities), but stared the challenge in the face and did my best.

That’s Odd

One thing about the pool was it variable depth. It started at 3’6″ but ended at 10’6″ at the far end of the 50m length.  As you are swimming along the lane, you literally see the tiles below falling away. I couldn’t get used to this sensation, it toyed with my mind as swam back and forth in the lanes.  In fact, this sensation helped me bump up my visualization and mental edge skills to fight the odd sensation.

“Long Distance” Swimming Tips

Since this was my longest swim ever, I learned a few things that can really help out over the long distance.

  1. Relax.  Don’t push hard, don’t panic, don’t forget to breathe. Simply relax and be in the moment.  You will use less oxygen, therefore swim farther.
  2. Swim from the hip.  Many people think that power from the stroke comes from the arms and shoulders, but it does not.  The power should come from the hip and the arm should extend forward from the hip.  The arms are mainly for stabilization.
  3. Be in the moment.  Don’t panic about getting to the finish line or how fast or slow you are swimming.  Know your comfort zone and stay there.  Triathlons are rarely won in the water.  In fact, the more you are in the moment, the less energy you will require.  Use positive visualization skills.
  4. Smile.  When the swimming gets rough, just smile.  The power of the smile will brighten your mood and help you refocus.
  5. Perseverance. Keep going and find a pace you can comfortably maintain.  The brain is trained to make you stop before you physically have to stop.  As much as the muscles hurt, push just a little more.

While this workout kicked my ass, I am looking forward to getting my ass kicked at the next workout.  The more my ass is kicked, the more I grow and the more I become a better swimmer.  Just like my journey from office potato to triathlete was slow, I know it will take time to rise to the level of the long distance triathlete.

The next time you get in the pool, keep the five tips above in mind. Before you know it, you will be swimming longer and faster than ever before.