Breakthrough Swim

I wanted to share a quick post about how important it is to engage others, group up, and find mutual support in your training.  As triathletes, this sport is widely an individual endeavor, however the preparation for this individual pursuit can (and I would argue SHOULD) be undertaken with others.

There is safety in numbers, you know...

There is safety in numbers, you know…

Last summer, soon after my friend Derek inspired me to consider taking my running for fitness’ sake to a new level via triathlon, I learned that there was a Northern Delaware triathlon team locally called the Delaware Swim and Fitness TriDawgs.  While we have over 250 members, the team is really comprised of a smaller group of very active and dedicated age-group athletes.  Several members are 140.6 multi-time finishers, and some have qualified and raced Kona, in addition to shorter course distances as well.  I participated in some Open Water Swim sessions last summer in preparation for my September and October sprints – but this spring I’ve been taking part in some organized masters swim sessions with the team.  These sessions have been by “invite only”, since we only have 6 lanes and 90 minutes of time, but I’ve learned that not only can I hang with the team, but I’m also pretty fast – or faster than I thought I was anyway!

This past week, I pressed myself hard and did a speed/power session that was shared by one of my Twitter friends:


I did this same workout, but I pushed HARD!  I maxxed it out, to the point where between the 3rd and 4th sprint I puked in the pool gutter, and then kept going.

Thursday and Friday were recovery days – my upper body really felt sore, especially with all the pulling with paddles.  One thing to know – be careful about technique when doing pull drills with paddles, since the added resistance could cause undue pressure on your shoulders.

When we show up for Saturday practice, we do not know what to expect specifically.  When I saw “XX x XXX on X:XX” I knew something was up.  Once I heard the “Aw crap” mutterings, I thought “This can’t be good…”

We did our warmup, then some drills, then the coach split us up evenly across all 6 lanes. When I say “evenly”, I immediately sensed that each lane had a balance of top, middle tier, and developing swimmers.  I was the low man on the proverbial totem pole in my lane.

Our mission – (10) 100 yard sprints FULL OUT – balls to the wall – on 5 minutes.  I initially thought “On five minutes – this shouldn’t be too bad”, but I was mistaken.  For the first couple of 100s, everything was fine – I was breathing hard coming into the last 25, but I was OK.  Then in the 3rd and 4th repeat, the wall smacked in the face.  My arms didn’t want to move, and my pace went from 1:20 to 1:32-ish.  I felt like quitting, but the swimmers were cheering each other on and making a big deal of it.  Every minute a new swimmer left, and when they came into the wall to turn for the back-50 we raised the roof.

At that point, all I could do is just go with it.  It hurt like a mother-effer, but it wasn’t going to get worse, I wasn’t going to die, and if I push through it, I’ll have accomplished something.

My 100s dropped back down into the low 1:20s.  I was suddenly swimming at a level and intensity I’ve never approached before, and I was in some pain and suffering but I was dealing.

The thought crossed my mind that if I can become comfortable with finding that limit, and pushing slightly beyond while living on the edge of the suffering, I might learn how to manage that pain and find it within myself to win.  When I mean “win” I mean just winning against myself.

So my average was 1:25 over the (10) 100s.  As a point of comparison, I averaged 1:36 in my last five intervals on Wednesday night (when I puked in the gutter).

Sad but a little true.

Sad but a little true.

This drives the point home to me – I need to start running and biking with others.  If my level is actually this much higher than I thought it was in the pool, then I’m assuming that similar gains in the other segments may be found.

When you have had the opportunity to work out with a team or group, have you found another level?  After going back “solo” were you able to maintain?


Training updates – getting fitter and stronger

I had a couple of encouraging things happen this week…

First, I’ve had zero bites on the sale of my road bike.  I’ve got it posted on Craigslist, but not even a tire-kicker.  I think with three days-worth of snow and flurries it’s just a bad time to be trying to sell a bike.

Second, I’ve had a great time using a new iOS app LoseIt!  I’m just using the free version and it’s fantastic.  The food library is extensive for food tracking, and the barcode scanner is excellent.  I have it on my iPad but the app is really designed for the iPhone.  I’ve eaten extremely clean this week, and I can feel it.  My wife has upgraded to premium and there are some enhanced diet metrics that can be tracked, in addition to WiFi scale capabilities.

I really had a good week training.  I want to get my bike situation straightened out so I can really begin pounding out the miles, and since I am now aware that my current equipment is ill-fitting, it makes me less enthused about jumping on the trainer.  I was able to get two good long runs in keeping my HR down in my desired range, and my swims have been excellent.  I was really hoping to grab big gains on the bike during these cold months, but I’ll take the swim improvement too!

Now, I’m off to the kitchen to make a couple of Super Bowl indulgences.  We have a Mexican 7 Layer Dip that is awesome (I call it “Mexican Lasagna”), and I’m making some New Orleans BBQ Shrimp.  We’re going to enjoy ourselves today, and then bust our asses tomorrow.

How Did Tuba Fix My Swim?

So ever since my difficult swim at the Marshman Triathlon, I’ve been battling what I’ll call a confidence problem.  I’ve been feeling “bleh” on the topic of swimming, and I know myself well enough that this is a temporary funk – nothing more.

I’m still astounded that my body has responded to triathlon training.  My weight is now in the mid-220s (back in June when I bought my bike I was in the high 230s) and my borderline ADHD transfers well-enough to the multi-modal training required by triathlon events (swim, run, bike, weights, yoga/flexibility, etc).

So I’ve been going through this uncomfortable period following my rough swim.  I know you’re thinking “WAAAAH!  SUCK IT UP!”, and that’s exactly what I’m saying to myself.  The brain is a weird and complex thing, and in a quiet moment I remembered back to something an old brass instructor I had in college told me (* note – my degree is in Music Education with an instrumental concentration on Tuba Performance).

I was having a rough time with a particular piece one semester, and my professor sensed that most of the issues were “between the ears in the squishy grey stuff”.  He asked if I still had my old original 8th grade mouthpiece – something entry-level that I could use instead of my professional-grade custom designed mouthpiece.  I did in fact still have it in a drawer since I’m a pack rat!  He told me to use that mouthpiece for exactly one week, and took my new one so I wouldn’t cheat during the week (I had a duplicate, but I didn’t cheat).

My dad and I – Chesapeake Brass XMAS Concert 2008

So I headed off on a week’s worth of practice studio time with the old mouthpiece – which normally saw lots of 8th grade-level “OOM-PAH” concert band parts (middle school and high school tuba parts are not very sexy!).  It felt off to go back to something that was once so familiar, but in a weeks time I returned to my professor and played the piece on the old mouthpiece.  He then asked me to play through the first movement of the piece on the old mouthpiece, which I slogged through – grade of performance approximately a B-minus.  He then handed me my good mouthpiece and had me play it again – grade of performance an A-minus (keep in mind one week prior I was a solid C, so both were marked improvements).

This is me – summer of 1990 marching with the Crossmen Drum and Bugle Corps – Franklin Field Univ of Penn

Why did this happen?  By giving my brain something else to focus on, I got out of my own way and allowed things to naturally happen.  Sometimes the brain just needs a little bit of interference to focus on so that the good outcomes can rise up to the top.

OK – so how does this translate to swimming, and getting over my issues?  On the way to my workout yesterday, I stopped of and bought three things:

  1. New goggles with a brighter tint (contrast to my dark smoke goggles I’ve been using)
  2. Nose clip
  3. Swim Paddles

You can guess the rest.  Everything FELT different.  The world was brighter underwater.  I could focus on breathing JUST through my mouth (believe it or not really helps me), and I broke up the workout a bit by adding a couple of 100s with the paddles (never used before).

End result – I had a good swim experience for the first time in a month.

Back in the Pool – Technology Woes (aka “First World Problems”)

So it was back in the pool this morning and I can say that I still feel quite uncomfortable.  I gutted out an 850 yd effort, broken up into 100s and 200s with some rest intervals.  I’m going to head over to the local swim shop (where my tri team receives a nice discount) to grap a set of fins and a nose plug.  I’m wondering if my breathing might actually IMPROVE with the noseplugs – forcing me to become more economical.

My technique breaks down when I begin to feel physical duress.  I know my hips drop, my breathing becomes shallow, and my head comes up as I think I subconsciously fear “swimming downhill” like the coaches teach you.

Here is the video I try to visualize in the water – this guy is a goof but it’s legit advice and helpful:


Here is another I find to be good to watch pre-swim:


Also notable – my Garmin 910XT has been wonky lately in that it wasn’t capturing swim metrics at all.  I worked with tech support for the better part of a week trying to sort it all out, and it all came down to a master reset of the watch.  No loss of data, since I had everything backed up on GarminConnect.  It’s funny since I found myself bitching about a rather small inconvenience, and I have to smile thinking of the original triathletes and endurance athletes training with little to zero technology back in the day.  All in all, this was a very first world problem, so this is my smiling and not complaining anymore!  🙂