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 >

Running in the Oven


Summer is here!  Today, Santa Barbara is having the perfect Fourth of July weekend weather with brilliant sunshine, perfect 74 degree temperature and access to parks, waterfront and shopping.

As I was reminded during this morning’s run, running in warmer temperatures can be a challenge.  In fact, running along the waterfront this morning in direct sunlight and light humidity, I really felt like I was running in an oven.

So, I would like to offer some tips to help running in the oven a bit more fun and less likely to do you in.  Here we go:

  • Wear breathable, light colored clothing

    • I would not recommend wearing a black, cotton t-shirt, but I would recommend wearing a moisture wicking white t-shirt and grey shorts.  The idea is to wear clothes that will keep you cool through wicking sweat away from your skin while being light in color to reflect the sun’s rays.  I am a huge fan of Champion’s line of active gear.
  • Drink lots of water

    •  This is a no brainer.  If you dehydrate, your body will shut down and you could probably die.  In addition, the body dehydrates a lot quicker the higher temperature.  So, bring plenty of water with you and consume it regularly.  I run with an Ultimate Direction waist pack which is enough for shorter runs (6k).
  • Don’t over do it!

    • Be realistic, especially for the first few runs of the summer. When running in higher temperatures, run at a slightly slower pace.  This will prevent your body from overheating prematurely and requires less water. The slower pace might mean a longer run, but you will be building endurance as well as giving yourself time to enjoy the summer scenery!
  • Wear sunblock and a light colored hat.

    • Skin cancer sucks.  Avoid it by using a good quality sunscreen of SPF 45+.  You should also wear a light colored hat with a wide brim to keep the sun off your face and neck.  A baseball cap might be preferable by most runners, but it leaves your neck exposed, so use an extender with the baseball cap to protect your neck.

Follow these simple tips and you will be enjoying summer time running without the feeling of running through an oven.   What are you waiting for?  Go for it!

Simple Nutrition for Athletes?


Aric In Training Makes a Tri Tuna SandwichIs there such a thing as simple nutrition for athletes?  Is is possible to break nutrition and the need to fuel properly down to one or two rules?

I am a huge fan of K.I.S.S., not the band, but the saying “Keep It Simple Stupid.”  But, the books I’ve read regarding nutrition for athletes, endurance or otherwise, talk a lot about what type of nutrients are needed and when.  Reading these books was a lot like reading  science experiment written by someone who had forgotten what English was, replaced with technical garble.

So, I was overwhelmed with the thought of getting the exact amount of protein for my body at just the right time.  Let’s not forget that I am an overworked Analyst by day and I don’t have much time to spend buying food, cooking, and eating in addition to the job, triathlon training, and rest of life.  As much as I tried to make it work, it was just too complicated for this triathlete.

I even tried the paleo diet for a while and have to say that it made life a lot worse.  While it was simple, the complexity in carrying out the diet while at work and with busy weekends just couldn’t work for me.   The paleo diet eliminated some foods that were okay by some diets and were convenient for busy people like me.

So, is there such a thing as simple nutrition for athletes?  If we strip away the metabolic typing, the protein and carb calculators, and even the calorie counting bank recording calories in versus out, what is left?  In my opinion, there is a lot left that can be considered simple nutrition for athletes.   Let’s take a look, but keep in mind that if you are going to get technical on me, please don’t send me hate mail.

This is what simple nutrition for athletes is in my mind:

  1. Avoid the sweets: Sure you can have a little cake and ice cream at the neighbor’s kids birthday, but don’t have a small amount of sweets more than once a week.
  2. Avoid processed foods: Processed foods are anything that doesn’t resemble its natural counterpart any longer, such as anything made with flour, those frozen chicken nuggets, and anything that comes out of a drive through window.  This is the paleo influence on my simple nutrition for athletes.  Don’t eat white breads, processed sausage, cakes, or pastries.
  3. Eat lean protein:  Protein is what helps build muscles and aids in recovery post-workout.  Having a small amount of protein with every meal and a little before and after workout will help you recover and build muscles.  Eggs, chicken breasts, lean pork, salmon, and buffalo burgers are great choices.
  4. Consume fresh vegetables and fruits: Salads, greens, citrus, and berries are a great source of fiber and provide much needed energy for your workouts.
  5. Cook with the intention of creating leftovers:  Cooking four chicken breasts even though you are only going to eat two gives you two extra to eat during the rest of the week.  Package up some salad mix into tupperware and toss on some cheese and other veggies while making a salad for your weekend lunch.  Consume a salad right after a workout to help recover as well.

So, simple nutrition for athletes broken down to five rules.  It is not all inclusive list, but is a great place to start when getting a handle on what you eat.   You might be surprised just how simple this can be while achieving race weight and feeling great about yourself.  There is such a thing as simple nutrition for athletes after all.

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.

The Food Cloud Goes Paleo


The Paleo Diet is the latest and greatest of fads in the realm of diets.  We have gone from Weight Watchers to Atkins to South Beach only to realize that what our ancient ancestors ate is probably what we should be eating too.

After all, homo erectus didn’t have the convenience of grabbing a burger and fries from the local fast food joint while looking for a new cave.  No sir or maam, the diet that the human race survived on is no joke.

So, with all of the hype about eating paleo and reading paleo blogs like Mark’s Daily Apple and Son of Grok, I decided to try the paleo diet.  It was time to cut out the processed foods and consume fresh vegetables, fruit, lean proteins, nuts and good fats with a little luck thrown in.

I expected to do well on the paleo as I did quite well with the No Flour, No Sugar diet in 2009.  It really isn’t that much different, although it is much more strict about what you can eat (no potatoes, no vinegar and no grains).  So what could happen?

Well, I found out just how hard it is to eat paleo consistently.

  1. For me, I need to have each meal prepared ahead of time or else I will settle for something more convenient than paleo.
  2. The somewhat limited food items get boring after a while, so creativity in the kitchen is soon to be expanded.
  3. The diet requires a lot of preparation ahead of time, so squeezing in time in the kitchen is hard with my already packed schedule.
  4. The grouchiness is a little like giving up coffee as the body is adjusting to life without an abundance of refined foods.
My paleo food cloud for the past week

Well the word cloud to the left shows exactly what I have been eating.  While I haven’t been sticking to the diet per se (burritos and mochas aren’t paleo!), I do see the beginnings of ridding processed foods from my diet.  Getting rid of the tortillas and buying a coffee versus a mocha will be the next steps. I’d also like to see more lean proteins in the cloud as it appears that chicken and bacon are the primary meats I’ve eaten.  What is good are the nuts, fruits and vegetables, but those too can use a bit more variety.

What are the initial results of going more paleo?  I feel like I have increased energy and clarity of mind.  My weight has only dropped three pounds, which is within a normal fluctuation so I can’t say I’ve lost weight.  Also, my kitchen is being used more and my stove is happy to see me, if for a limited time on the weekends. My grocery bill has also gone up, but my fast food bill has dropped significantly.  So there are pluses and minuses involved, but overall I think the changes have been positive.

However, Before coming to further conclusion, I’d like to gather more data, both physical and workout data.  Theoretically, the paleo diet will help me improve my fitness performance and if its true, the results should be clear in my triathlon training dashboard.   Only time will show.

Have you tried the paleo diet?  What are your experiences?

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.

Some Inspiration: Apolo and a Warrior


Reading is one thing I really enjoy doing right before bed time.  Spending a few minutes with a great book gives me an opportunity to wind down and focus on something more inspirational.

Apolo’s Dedication From the Heart

While I am reading a few books at the moment, one of them is Apolo Ohno’s “Zero Regrets.”  Apolo is a very inspirational person and I find his story quite motivating for both life in general and the sport of triathlon.  Here is a segment of his book that really caught my attention:

He was teaching me right then and there the most fundamental thing: You have to dedicate your heart and soul to something.  Then you go forward; you don’t look back.  And you don’t hold back.  You go after whatever that thing is without being afraid to fail.

After reading this segment, I really wanted to yell out “Yeah, go Apolo!”  But then it was late at night and I didn’t want to wake anyone up.   To me, dedicating your heart and soul to something is, perhaps, one of the hardest things to do.   It means maintaining focus, avoiding distractions, and implementing a dream that comes straight from the heart!

My dream from the heart was to finish a sprint triathlon.  In fact, I finished seven! During this journey I faced a lot of hurdles, snuck by distractions and learned so much about life, fitness, and the sport of triathlon that reflecting back on it, makes me want to cry with joy.

The Commitment of the Dancing Warrior

I have also been reading the “Spirit of the Dancing Warrior,” which uses zen exercises to help the athlete perform to a new level.  With a new focus each week, the book helps the athlete focus on connecting with the inner soul.  Starting with Emptyness (being ready to learn) and Gratefulness (take things for granted), I have now moved on to the Commitment focus.   The segment below grabbed my attention:

Consider whether your lack of commitment is simple complacency or whether you might want to look deeper to see if there is another sport or activity that will engender a higher level of commitment.  In other words, lack of commitment may be a sign that it’s time to move on to something else that’s more appropriate to your development at this particular time.

After reading this segment shortly after reading the segment from Apolo’s book above, it sent a chill down my spine.  What if my struggles during the winter are really an indication that I need to do something completely different for the winter months?

I am not sure what that would be and I would have to do some more research, but it is something to think about.  Instead of triathlon training (swim, bike, run, strength, yoga), maybe I should take up karate or kayaking.

Whatever I choose, it has to come from the heart and once selected, I must be committed to it.  Are you committed from your heart?