Friday, February 28, 2014

Many Measures of Swim Development

Yesterday morning I had a particularly good swim session in our group with Coach Tom. I generally wear my Garmin 910 and beyond being trusty lap counter, it tracks strokes, distance and time. Like always, I uploaded the data, but for the first time, I happened to notice that Garmin Connect showed my average stroke count per length over the course of the entire workout. I hadn't paid attention before, but that number was 11. The workout included a mix of everything from aerobic sets to full-out fast 50s.

Curious, I went back through my swims from April, when I got the watch, and noticed that most of my swims had been averaging 12 or 13 strokes per length prior to January. Since January, that number has been 10 or 11. And in the last few weeks my fast 50s and 100s have been at the "faster" end of the spectrum for me.

Since I started with the group in December, Tom has had me working on developing a more complete stroke through to the finish. I know that quicker arm turnover and cadence are often emphasized for open water triathlon swims, but at some point it just becomes inefficient churn. There's a tradeoff there. And better to crank up the cadence on a more effective stroke.

I can only speak from my own perspective, in my clumsy I-didn't-grow-up-swimming words, but in my case taking a step back right now and working to get more out of my stroke has felt like the right thing. When challenged to lengthen and finish it, I have to get as much power and distance as I can. With that shift in focus, awareness of my interaction with the water has changed. I seek the pressure of the water rather than just seeing how fast I can move my arm through it. (I'm back on the Vasa Swim Ergometer weekly, and I also find that contributes to the ability to generate and sustain power. The Power Meter tells the tale! See my latest blog post on the Vasa Swim Ergometer.)

Now, I'm not just gliding along in the pool with dead spots. And when I ramp up the speed the goal is to maintain the mechanics and stroke length/count, but just do it all a little more quickly. I play around with the stroke length vs cadence tradeoff.  So yeah, the word on the street is "high swim cadence" but ideally not at the expense of too much distance per stroke.

I have always said that triathlon training is a multi-factorial experiment with a sample size of one...which would be "me" in my situation. I like to try new approaches and see what happens. Working on stroke effectiveness, I feel a little faster, more confident, more relaxed, and stronger. That's worth a lot!

After noticing the stroke count change, I went back and re-read a recent article in Triathlete Europe by Dan Bullock on Swim Development. In it, he shared ten indicators of swim progress in addition to the clock. The one that stuck out for me when reading it the second time:
"At a more advanced level the ability to swim slow, medium and fast, yet still take a similar number of strokes per length."
Upon further investigation of my Garmin files, I have noted a smaller range of stroke counts and more consistency. (BTW, I'm an open-turner and not a flip-turner for whatever that is worth.)

February 27, 2014 - this was warmup, then 2x300 aerobic, 2x100 pace, 2x50 fast, repeated

December 3, 2013 - higher stroke rate and less consistent
Bullock acknowledges what many of us know -- it is a BIG challenge to improve the swim. He likened it to learning a musical instrument or language.

We typically measure swim progress against the clock, which can be frustrating.
"Water complicates our ability to measure things because it makes exact 100 per cent repeatable movements unlikely. Purely measuring time, laps and heart rate may not always be conclusive. I am sure that many of you have experienced those hard sprints where the effort went in but no reduction in time was found. This is notorious and sometimes swimming feels unfair because it does not always reward effort."
I have certainly had those sets where I'm thinking "YEAH!!! Nailed it!" until I look at the clock.

If you are feeling a bit frustrated with the swim, maybe it's time to look at some of these other metrics. Read through the list of ten indicators and recognize that even if you swim the same speed, but with less stress or effort, you will likely fare better on the bike and run!

Sorry for the slightly rambling blog post, this one just has not come together like some do. I guess my message is just try new things like a coached group swim or different focus point for your stroke. Experiment a little with finding your way and enjoy the triathlon experiment with sample size of one....YOU!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"Skills & Endorsements"

I've been on Linked In a while, but only recently paid attention to it, as it's beginning to be used more as a social media outlet for companies. I am coming around to the potential value for the individual, and at the very least it's interesting to see people's job histories and where they have landed, especially former students and colleagues.

One thing I still find odd on there is the idea of "endorsing" people for "Skills and Expertise". Doesn't my job history cover most of that? Maybe it's just the collection of particular skills I have amassed that is odd. To think I am good at things like "Higher Education" and "Academia". That feels like saying I am good at "Blue" and "Envelope".

What would I want it to say?

Well, I discovered I could add my own skills...and naturally, I took FULL advantage. There is an upper limit of 50 skills, but lucky for me I have exactly 50 skills and not one more! This collection of work/life/triathlon skills (using a very liberal interpretation of "skill")  is meaningful  and unique to me. I entered the ones without numbers:

Now I have made my peace with the Skills and Endorsements part of Linked In and I can feel good about these, whether or not they get "Endorsed" or not.

Heading into this new season, what would you like to have recognized, or endorsed? What characteristics would you like to bring more to the forefront? It's not too late to make changes.

Food for thought!

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Perfect (Snow) Storm

All winter I've been saying I just wanted ONE good snow storm, as defined by the following characteristics:
  1. at least 8" of snow in a 24 hour period
  2. sled-able (not too cold, no wind)
  3. good for snowmen, snowballs, snow structures
  4. one or two days off of school
  5. and THE most important: no disruption of power or Internet
Here in southwest Virginia, we got that, and more, with somewhere around 18-20" of snow, 2-1/2 days of school missed, and no power or Internet outages! We couldn't get out for two days, but that was fine by me.

Once I saw all that white powdery goodness, I got stuck on the idea of doing a snow-version of the polar plunge. So, why not? Really, it was not such a big deal for a quick bit of quirky fun (and my long-sleeve Calavera suit came in handy)

I was not the only one who had some different ideas for celebrating the snow.

Bryan took the bike trainer outside. He also tried the bike in the snow and advised me against doing the same.

This speedy triathlete friend caught a nice snowbank wave! (thank you for letting me use your picture!)

The family got a lot of cross-training in - shoveling, giant snowball making, sledding, and building.

Friends enjoyed winter hikes, snow shoeing, skiing, snow boarding and skiing. We had impromptu neighborhood movie nights. It was like a giant holiday.

In the midst, I kept up with training, it kept me sane. Here's a sample of what I've been up to lately:
  • Wednesday 
    • 55 minute bike trainer ride with 2x15 min tempo sections
    • 6-Minute 6-Pack workout
  • Thursday
    • 52 minute Vasa Swim Ergometer (for missed group swim) with 3x1000m
    • Gym workout (improvised at home with stretch cord, set up dumbbells, rings, pullup bar)
    • 6-Minute 6-Pack workout
  • Friday - OFF
  • Saturday
    • 1 hour easy run with friend Carla at Weight Club track :-)
    • Gym session with DeWayne
  • Sunday
    • 32 minute Vasa Swim Ergometer (with 5 x [2min@56 watts + 2min@64 + 1 min@72])
    • 2 hour easy ride on bike trainer with 20s spinups every 5 minutes (I love a pretty graph!)
    • 6-Minute 6-Pack workout

I'm glad for our ONE big, record-setting snowstorm. 
Now I am ready for spring!!! 32 days...but who's counting?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

6-Minute 6-Pack: 4 weeks in!

I tend to be a skeptic and not exactly a big joiner or follower. I don't take classes at the gym. I don't "spin." I've never done P-90X or Insanity. Even the new swim group was a bit of a departure for me.

So it was in a moment of great impulsivity that I reached out to tri pro and multi-XTERRA World Champion Lesley Paterson after I heard her interview on Competitor Radio. It amounted to, "HEY do you want someone to try your new 6-Minute 6-Pack workouts and write about it?" And she was like "SURE!" So that is my disclosure.

Alright, so you know how it's really easy to be excited about something for a day, or two...then it kind of wanes? I was wondering if that would be the case with this program. But in fact, four weeks in (I started January 20) I've found more reasons than I expected to stick with it and enjoy it.
  1. I learn new core exercises in sets of six (six sets of six, thirty-six in all). That's manageable, and I love that nearly all of these are new to me.
  2. I do this at home in front of my computer so it could not be any more convenient (other than the fact that the dog sometimes likes to join in too). 

  3. During this insanely cold winter where I'm usually wearing a hat and coat to work at my computer, this is a full-body heat-up in 6-minutes. It's cheaper than turning up the thermostat.
  4. Because I do it at home, it's easy to do six days a week. If I only did core at the gym, it would only be 2-3 times a week. It doesn't take much equipment either, I am using what I had.
  5. I do enough thinking all day long. I don't have to think about what to do for core, I just follow along.
  6. Because I do the same set of exercises nearly every day for at least a week, I see quick progress on each exercise and that motivates me to want to do more.
  7. With beginner, intermediate, and advanced options for every exercise, I can feel successful at some level. I am better at some of these than others, but I never feel like a failure as I have with some exercises at the gym (the Ab roller comes to mind). 
  8. I can see how to do each exercise correctly and Lesley provides tips and reminders. Each series has two videos - one is the demos and instruction, and the other is the workout. When I start a new series, I watch the demo, do the workout, and re-watch the demo once more to make corrections and review. Then I'm good to go after that.

  9. 6-Minute 6-Pack is the perfect warmup before I hit the bike trainer, swim ergometer, or treadmill, or head out for a bike or run. It gets the blood pumping and has improved my mood/mindset on many occasions. When I am feeling overwhelmed or grumpy about starting a swim/bike/run session, I think, well I can handle 6 minutes, I'll just start with that. At the end of the 6 minutes I am warmed up,  ready to go, and positive! I have better workouts because of it.
  10. Instead of floundering with my goal of "improving my core" this winter, I have guidance and direction from an endurance athlete who knows what works. I am definitely improving and that's exciting!
Few people could really pull off quality videos like this. Most of us would look stiff and awkward in front of the camera, leaving our audience feeling awkward, but not Lesley. She's funny, relaxed, and very motivating. Her husband and another couple do the workouts, showing beginner/intermediate/advanced options all at once and she interacts with them and teases them some which adds to the charm.

I am obviously a very big fan of the program and plan to continue on and keep cycling through the weeks. I've gone through Challenger, Contender, and now Fighter, with Warrior, Champion, and Braveheart left to come.

A year's access to the video series is $24.95. You can see a few sample exercises from the program at I am a cheapskate in a lot of ways, but I would not hesitate with this. It's half the price of a session with a personal trainer.

So anyway, if "core" is on your 2014 list of goals, I would highly recommend 6-Minute 6-Pack. The program is on Twitter (@6min6pack) so post if you come on board!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Indoor Tri + Gym * ( Math + Birthday) = Very Full Day

Yesterday was pretty crazy. It was Grant's 12th birthday, the day of the 6-hour long "Math Counts" competition for both kids at Virginia Tech, and then we hosted six for a sleepover bday party. I had a two-hour indoor triathlon on the training schedule and wanted to get to the gym as well. I figured with some planning and efficiency I could *just* squeeze everything in!

We started the day with Grant's requested breakfast of biscuits, eggs, and bacon then the hubs drove kids to the math competition. I loaded workouts on the Garmin and commenced with the at-home workout:

SWIM: 30 min on Vasa Swim Ergometer including 3 x 5 minutes @ 90% of 400m TT wattage with 45s rest between. I don't really like what my HR had to do to maintain that power level, but I kept it up.

BIKE: 60 min on bike trainer
with 2 x 15 minute pyramids at specified cadences (build from aerobic to threshold and back down again while maintaining same cadence) and a 10 min upper tempo section. The pyramids could be cleaner. I sort of died after the first threshold then realized I was coming back down too quickly, thus the bump.

pyramids need a little work

RUN: 30 min easy aerobic run on treadmill

Afterward I ate some leftover eggs and a banana, quickly showered off, and headed to the gym, determined to keep up my 3x a week commitment to the routines DeWayne puts together. This week's workout includes pullups, reverse rows, one-leg pushups, lunges with kettlebells, very fun step-ups that incorporate a one-arm dumbbell bicep curl and shoulder-press (done on one leg at the top, not putting the other down), and more rolling, stretching, and core work.

I saw Coach Jim and his family as I left the gym and stopped for a quick chat but then I cut it a weeee bit close getting to the awards ceremony for Math Counts.

Spencer was Skyping me as I started the car, so I drove to campus and RAN to the ceremony just in case (good I was still in my gym clothes), and made it with about 10 minutes to spare before it began.

It was a very proud moment to see their school take first place and Spencer announced as one of six individual qualifiers for states.

mine are back right

We headed home at 3:00 and prepared for the sleepover party which involved, among other things, transforming the training half of the playroom to an indoor campground. At 5:00 it was time to party, which meant providing food but otherwise staying out of the way!

temporarily relocated equipment... make way for indoor camping

Time to party ;-)

Days like that are gratifying - when you feel like you can do a pretty good job as both an athlete and as a mom (or dad). And to have happy kids with happy friends, that is simply the best!!!

It was an awfully good day!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Fish(es) out of water

Swim Coach Tom arranged a breakfast meet-up for our new group. I mean, how much can you really get to know your lane mates when conversations are squeezed into that precious brief time between sets. It was neat to hear more about family and work life for everyone and what swimming means for each of us. (And of course that led naturally into talk of injuries and we have had, are having, or might have, LOL!)

I think one of great unacknowledged benefits of involvement in sports/fitness as an adult is that it expands your "people horizons" beyond what the rest of life affords. The swim/bike/run community spans so many age groups, professions, states of life, and interest areas. It's fun too in our little college town because there are always ways to connect the dots from one person to another. Someone always knows someone you know.

We all looked quite a bit different out of our suits, caps, and goggles and it took a few minutes for everyone to re-identify each other out of water.

This is a great time of year for these kinds of get-togethers. If you are part of a group, formal or informal, consider getting together without bikes, running shoes, or goggles.