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!

When the Dork Run Becomes a Short Run

My last post, When Something Is Wrong, discussed the circumstances around a less than enjoyable endurance run that I have come to nickname the dork run for its awkward pace. In that post, my weekend activities created a chemical imbalance in my body that caused my heart rate to spike easily and my mood to be not so gracious. I also suggested that training with metrics was a great way to keep you focused on your fitness and triathlon training goals.

My most recent dork run on Thursday morning was quite the opposite experience.  In fact, it went so smoothly and at fast enough pace that this dork run became more a Short Run (endurance run but over short distance).  The comfortable pace I found was between 11:30 and 12:00, which produced a heart rate of 149 on the flat surface.  It was so comfortable that it felt like a run and not a dork moment. I was also back in my FiveFingers barefoot running shoes for this run. Data set is below:

Training with Metrics
Much smoother Heart Rate and Pace

If you recall, November 9th’s dork run was plagued with heart rate spikes with a wide range of pace.  It felt far from relaxed and felt more like a burden to maintain.   All of this was caused by my body being out of balance.

On Wednesday, I payed particular attention to detoxification, rest and having fun at the new job.  I ate a very healthy breakfast, had an amazing salad for lunch, and a simple dinner.  No coffee, no sweets, no alcohol, and a good night’s rest prior to Thursday’s run.

There is one additional difference between the two runs that I need to point out.  Stress.  Last week and early this week, I was caught up in changing jobs and my stress level was quite high.  This likely made the weekend’s exhaustion worse.   On Wednesday, after starting the new job, I felt like a ton of weight had been lifted, allowing my body to be in a very relaxed state for Thursday’s run.

Going forward, I will incorporate a stress variable in my training with metrics dashboard.  As much as it is important to track the hard data, there is soft data that surrounds your emotional state that should also be recorded.  Fitness and peak triathlon performance requires not only physical readiness, but mental as well.  If you are stressed out, find a way to de-stress before you workout. Otherwise you are just taxing your body and making yourself suffer.


Triathlon Training Dashboard: Chart One

As an analyst, numbers fascinate me.  After two years of triathlon training, I feel great!  I feel even better when I see my fitness improvements on a chart. This is the one of the reasons why I wanted to create a training dashboard that compliments my 2010 triathlon training plan.

This post is one in a series of posts to discuss the building of the triathlon training dashboard and the relevance of each chart and/or component.  Understanding how I built my dashboard, I hope it will inspire you to take another look at how you track your training.

As a member of Training Peaks, there are things that I like and things I don’t like about their dashboard. One of the things I do like about their dashboard is the Fitness Summary pie chart.  It shows the time and percent training spent on each of the sports like bike, run, swim, strength, etc. Below is my most recent Fitness Summary chart for the past 30 days (October 2009).  You can see that I spent the most time running, the second most time spent on strength training, etc, etc.

My Training Peaks Fitness Summary, October 2009

What I don’t like about this chart is that it lacks trending, which is a problem with all pie charts.  What I really want to know is how have these percentages changed?  While this month (or whatever time period) I spent about 45% on running, how does that compare to my training three or four month ago.  To do this, I have to turn toward an alternative workout tracking solution.

Enter Excel.  Microsoft Excel 2007 is a blank slate just waiting to be nurtured into a masterpiece by an analyst like me.  After looking at the options, I settled on a weekly summary focusing on four sports: bike, run, Swim and strength.   I also decided that not only do I need visibility into the time trained on each sport, but the distance I covered as well.  If time stays the same, yet distance increases, it is a good indication that my ability in the sport is improving.

Below is my version of a Weekly Summary.

Trending My Weekly Triathlon TrainingI use a stacked bar chart by week to indicate the amount of time spent on each sport.  This enables me to:

1) See the overall amount of time each week spent on training.
2) See how much time each sport makes during the week
3) How the time spent on sport changes over time.

Using an area chart placed behind the stacked bar chart allows me to:

1) show the distance covered in each sport.
2) trend the distance over time to identify changes
3) placing it behind the bar chart, I can easily compare time with distance.

When you put it altogether, the number of insights you can get from my combo chart above compared to the TP pie chart at the top is much more.  It is quite fascinating to see the relationships and changes in my actual training performance each week and over time.  Here are some of the interesting things I see in this chart:

1) in the past three weeks, I have almost doubled the run distance compared to week 36 and 37 (time spent running has also increased).
2) the past three weeks, I have not done many bike workouts at all.
3) the amount of time spent on strength training is consistent week over week.
4) swim time has become more consistent, but I need to spend more time in the pool.

Has anyone noticed something missing on the area chart?  Yep, that is right, Swim distance is non-existent.  This is on purpose for two reasons:  1) plotting 975 yards on the graph with these scales would throw off the rest of the data (one solution is to convert yards to miles) and 2) time spent in the pool focuses on technique, not covering distance and I don’t count laps when I practice, meaning distance is irrelevant at the moment.

Seeing your training on a graph is not only a great accountability tool, but it also drives inspiration.  I can see how far my training has come and I want to see how far I can take it!

Can you visualize your training week over week like I outlined here?

Please stay tuned for the next post in this series…

Update:  I started a company called TrainingMetrix, that specializes in fitness dashboards, workout tracking, and focused performance for triathletes based on my frustration for finding a solution.  Please head over to our blog for more information on fitness dashboards and triathlon workout tracking.

If you are a data oriented triathlete like myself, you might also want to read, Triathlon Results and Their Story, where I plot the results of my division for the 2009 Carpinteria Triathlon.

The Power of Rest

Could you imagine that you are making yourself more powerful by not doing anything?  It seems strange, but it is so true.

As we continue to train and stress our bodies, we damage muscle and deplete our energy stores.  Keep up a vigorous training routine for too long and you risk damaging the very muscles that make you perform.

This is why you must take it slow and rest.  Feeling fatigued when you get up in the morning, excessive sore muscles, and even dizziness can be indicators that you need to let your body recover.

Taking an “off” day allows your body to rebuild the damaged muscle tissue and replenish your energy stores.  Here are some additional tips to help your body recover:

1) Taking some additional amino acids, which will help rebuild muscle tissue.

2) Drink lots of fluid. Dehydration can stall the recovery process.

3) If possible, taking frequent naps and getting at least 8.5 hours of sleep each night would be ideal.

4) Eat right.  No fast food during the off day, so eat plenty of high quality, organic vegetables and proteins.

After a day or two of good rest, you feel so much power from your body.  Oh yes, the power of rest.