Shit Champions Say

Attitude is king. That's what I'm learning, or rather what I learn when I get passed or out performed. I see it in my swimmers, too. Lately it seems that the kings of sport have the attitude. Not an attitude. The attitude.

Champions don't really say a whole lot. They are inquisitive, curious, play-motivated, and not attached to the result on the outset, but very disturbed by the results on the outset of their effort. And let me be clear, I'm a lucky guy. I am surrounded by attitude. State champions, runners up, top notch coaches, top  time trialists, hell, just people at the top! The people that I surround myself with tend to say things that can be summed up with these two examples:

Me: Find something to work on during this set.
Swimmer: I'm tryin' to bust my ass. That's what I'm working on.

Me: How are you gonna swim this?
Swimmer: I'm just gonna go for broke. Just see what happens.

Lebron was asked how he rededicated himself to come back and win the NBA finals. He just replied with- I got back to the basics. Lots of hard work-. Ryan Lochte's espn segment featured him dragging a massive 450lb chain three hundred some yards. Why? Just to figure out how to drag every last piece of energy out of him.  "You get to a certain point in races...where you just start fatiguing...No matter what, there is always something left. You just gotta find it." "Once I beat someone, they don't beat me again."

Attitude seems two-fold. Preparation: establishing a standard of performance before you begin, and then follow-thru: deciding that no matter what, you know the pain is gonna be there, but you can sustain the effort, and endure the feeling. If you don't decide prior that you will continue despite the pain, when the pain thugs knock on your door, you lock yourself in the bathroom.

It has taken me a while to learn this, and I still don't have it down. Want to teach yourself? Put yourself in situations where if you don't perform, you'll feel embarrassed. Nothing like pressure, around those who care, to teach you that its ok to fail, but that you can also avoid failure and find success if you realize that you need to bring it no matter what.

The champions I know grind themselves at the right times, and if challenged, are poised to crush it. They are alert, but before the event they seem unaffected and relaxed. They have already prepared mentally and physically. No improvement bothers them and they don't make conditions for doing so. In the heat or when its cold, windy, certain time of day, training cycle, life cycle - they understand that someone will take them out if they let up.

Your definition of a champion might be different. But I think the great ones have the right attitude to when they don't perform, just to knuckle down and say, "look I didn't have it today - that wasn't good - time to get better."

I'm grateful for the inspirational people around me. Those who pursue challenges, official or self-created, will win in the end. They learn to play the game, the art of effort, and they do so just to see what can happen.

Season results as of 6/29

Results so far:

- Scott -
3rd Overall - Carmel Sprint Tri
1st Age Group, 83rd Overall - St. Anthony's Triathlon
6th Overall - Terre Haute Tri
2nd Overall - Hoosierman Tri

6th Overall - Carmel Sprint Tri
4th Age Group, 127th Overall - St. Anthony's Triathlon
9th Overall - Terre Haute Tri
4th Overall - Hoosierman Tri
DNF- Crash Indy Sprint Triathlon

Scott - Muncie 70.3.....
Alex - Uncertain

Fly or fall: post race recovery wisdom

In my undergrad, I took a graduate class that involved a research project on the topic of my choice. I chose interleukins and cytokines. I knew NOTHING about them at the time. And while it may still seem that I know almost nothing about them, reading studies that showed muscle fiber damage well into the weeks, and maybe months post long distance race (mainly ironman), I got a better idea just how much damage races can do to the system.

I like to picture a race as a bomb to my body. In warfare, when the things that explode are released, there's an anticipation (oh shit!), initial destruction, boom, and then even more destruction as the shrapnel flies and things catch on fire. This season, I have begun to approach racing in the same format. "Oh shit, here comes the race, better prepare," suffices for the heavy anticipation. Then actual event, which seems to be so short that in driving back from a race, I have a hard time recalling events as they seem to all mesh together. Next comes da boom, wherein I am usually quite sore the day of ranging from 20mins to 5 hours post race, and then in many ways what happens next is a bit of a silent catastrophe.

Long term damage is done, and I don't think I ever realized exactly how long. In the past and even now, I can only really feel the damage for a few days, and then that sensation resides. Now, with power tap and a garmin to give me feedback on my output, I can actually see the damage that was done, and how, if I don't address it, long it will persist.

An example: After muncie last year I was sore for maybe 2 days. When the soreness gave way, I figured, time to get back to work! I shouldn't have. Basically, getting back to work 3 days post half ironman is like trying to open a theme park with the entire maintenance and cleaning crew on shift - things can run smoothly while just a few guest are through the gate, but when you try and run the park at full capacity (read as: high intensity), the maintenance staff busts out the dogs and shuts things down. Bottom line is, don't mess with those who have the keys, and in this case, those are your insides trying to bring you back to full power.

This is a tough lesson to learn. Especially if you're inexperienced and have just a touch of ego. I let muncie ruin the rest of my season last year because I did not gather all the papers it sent flying.

A race requires so much that afterwords I think there are two choices: fly or fall. With enough rest, yet easier steady training, a race can boost your fitness to a new level. Without, and a la ego, you can attempt to go hard like I did and get gradually shut down more and more until the lights are so dim you wonder where you are.

This season I have been extra sensitive to that. I want to do my last race in September knowing I'm the stronger than the beginning of the season, not weaker and barely holding on. Pay attention. Let the broken glass get swept before you cut your feet on it, again.

Training joys: 7 Things that are going very well.

Things are going very smoothly right now. Although I nearly burned my house down the other night, I'm happy to report that in training, and soon to discover in racing, I feel very well, and confident. Fast is a by-product and one that comes from enjoying what I'm doing, seeing improvement with a modest schedule, and maintaining a positive attitude.

A few of my favorites/things that are going well right now:

1. Every Tuesday I have been doing the same workout. I trainer it for 15' warmup, then 5' at 80% of my 20minute watts. I follow that up with 2' easy, then 4x1' all out with 4' rest. Follow that with 2-4x30sec full throttle and you step off the bike with a pretty good sense of concrete legs. Interestingly, if you follow that with a 5mi run (1 smooth, 2 race pace, 2 steady state), the race pace miles just seem to flow from the tap. Each week for the last 3 weeks I've done this and had PR watts, and PR race pace miles. Around 530w 1minutes and 650w 30 seconds on average. Race pace miles fall in the 6:15 and lower range. Done on any other day than the day after my rest day and I think this would be counterproductive. It really takes a lot of concentration. That, and a cup of coffee.

2. Coffee has been my source of life lately. I don't drink it in the mornings as I would still like to wake on my own, but a half cup or a few sips before a workout and my CNS is stimulated just enough to wake up and charge up my brain to call on the extra motivation I might need. I'm caffeine naive, though, so too much throws my HR off, but a little goes a long way, and I'm beginning to keep the doses more regular, yet still small.

3. Body maintenance - Ever since the snafu last fall with my hamstring, I have done everything in my power to warmup properly and stretch for at least 5 minutes after each workout. I always reflect on the day with "have I put this joint thru maximum range of motion, i.e. sitting on my heels, doing leg swings, stretching hip flexors (mostly front) and opening up the shoulders." If not, I do so, and it has proven very useful in conjuction with rolling (via, the STICK) to keep me on the wagon and injury free. I still get tweaks everynow and then but it has become much less common and now more manageable.

4. Bike commuting - these are thoughtless miles that get added to my legs. Often this involves short sprints, track stands for balance at stop lights and bike handling while navigating pedestrians and other nonsense. I often wonder how many watts I'm pushing while booking it up the hill in my neighborhood as I'm becoming more and more late to work.

5. A longer, sustained, semi-maximal effort on the bike. Time trialing once a week lately with John Gleason has gone really well. We did 20 miles two weeks ago and the forest 10 mile TT last week. I like this because its a test, something I didn't used to do a whole lot of, and also because I know that it keeps me honest with where I am on TT like rides. This rest week will bring me not only into a race this sunday but the Monrovia 40k TT next week, and I'm looking forward to seeing the benefit of these efforts at these events.

6. High rest, low stress. Having one means having the other. I, now more than ever, begin to realize symptoms of over doing it. Feeling constantly hungry, poor sleep, feeling puffy and inflammed and being hot and then cold from one day to the next are all indicators. I've become more sensitive to them, and by doing so, I allow myself to save up and pound out more productive efforts on the bike, namely.

7. Once a week training with Scott. Words cannot describe what this does for my esteem. I appreciate this sport, and him as a brother more than ever when we are riding or running together. Most of the time its a brutal tough session, but then this last Sunday was an easier 8miles on the B-line easter morning. Pleasant weather, excellent conversation, and all of the sudden, 8 mins a mile when I'm super sore ain't so bad. There is nobody I would rather train with!

Please, find things that you love about this sport and do them at all costs. If you can learn to love what you're doing more than you learn to love the result, I believe you'll find the real reasons you repeatedly test and challenge yourself. Adventure and challenge is the essence of the human spirit. Not results to races. Be good, be careful, be proud of who you are.

Strength and Sensibility

Here in 3 weeks, it's start of race season for Scott and I with the Carmel Sprint Tri. It will serve as a warmup and perhaps a wake up (hopefully not!) as to where our winter training has brought us.
Being stronger than last year is always the goal, and I think at least in certain areas, I've made some improvements. My approach has been eyed a little differently - more focus on olympic distance and shorter on the main front, and a sharper effort towards upping the bike fitness and really being able to legitimately ride under 60mins for 40k. Unless I find massive amounts of time on my hands, I think its a wise choice to forego the half ironman distance. Running 13.1 just isn't a productive course of action for me, especially if I want to hold up and stay successful toward the end of the season. 210lbs of luggage doesn't travel lightly and after chugging a 10k as fast as possible, I can feel the screws coming loose. Shorter runs for increased longevity and a whole lot of fun.
Second order of business is being a bit more sensible in choosing my races. On the roll is no or very little racing in July/most of August. If trends prove anything, (winter this season has been on average 4 degrees warmer), this time of the year will be a scorch, and heat racing doesn't put me in the mood. It's not so much the bike, but when the water's so warm I would like to bathe, and my breath on the run provides a personal sauna, I lose a generator and my A/C shuts off. I simply am not that great at racing when it's 90+.

Currently, I think my swim and bike are the best they've ever been. I can do 2 sets of 10x100 on 1:15 in the pool (working my way to 1:10) and my wattage in aero position is where my watts began Eddie Merckx style last fall. I am riding Scott's old Cervelo P2 which is heaps of fun and has a lot less give than the old Equinox.

This season's going to be a good ol' time. Happy to be in Bloomington and sharing another season of triathlon with my brother and all the great athletes in town!

Swimming Faster - Part 2 - Quality workouts

I love swimming much more than biking (well, training for the cycling leg), and especially running because I can go hard whenever I want with little to no consequence except that it hurts a lot. The good hurt. And that aspect of swimming is very valuable, both for time management purposes and also for dropping your race times.

In my experience, my upper body recovers a lot quicker than my lower body. Good news.

Yours might not, but I definitely argue that for 1/2 Ironman or Olympic/Sprint swims, going hard in practice is highly underrated.

There are few different kinds of hard, some of which might be termed fast in lieu of hard, but each type has a really important role in your workout.

1. Short rest intervals. With these, you can only go so fast. Going faster in this scenario would require more rest or else you wouldn't be able to do very many. It would be pointless for me to recommend a number of these for someone reading - I have no idea what you're capable of. But, Scott and I generally do Short Rest intervals as 100s on the 1:15 - maybe 10 of them. If we're really feeling good, it's 5 on 1:10. To make the latter, its a lot like splitting one of our better straight 500s. In general you're looking to get about 5-10 seconds rest. If you're feeling on point, 5 seconds is your best bet.
BEST TRAINING BENEFIT - the punchy sections of any distance, Sprint distance swims, and for holding it together during an olympic or 1/2 Ironman swim. You could call this threshold swimming.

2. Another kind of interval is relaxed interval training. I like to think of relaxed intervals as relaxed fit pants - they still resemble tight fit, but you have some wiggle room as to what you'd like to do. For Scott and I, it'd be any number of hundreds on the 1:20 or 1:30 depending on what kind of day we're having. Ideally, this interval is one where you should be able to go all day long, feeling just challenged enough to keep in interesting, without it being too slow that you could consistently do stroke or IM. With these it's fun to descend your time (not interval) or alternate fast/ez. I will argue that even though the interval is slower, you should still be somewhat aggressive. If on the 1:20 or 1:30, Scott and I will hover around 1:05 or 1:10 for our 100 times. Don't do less than 8x100 at this interval.
BEST TRAINING BENEFIT: Any - this is kind of the sweetspot. It will increase aerobic enzymes, "burn out the gunk", and generally make me feel more confident in my fitness. For those doing masters swimming, this is where most of the time is spent. Unfortunately, sometimes too much.

3. Fast Interval Training is next, and should be used for raising your top end, working on Lactate Tolerance, and getting yourself familiar with pushing your limits. Doing this every once in a while will keep your edge for when you need to surge in a race or training. For Scott and I, this is usually done as 100s on the 3 minutes. Yikes! Lots of rest. Yeah, because you're supposed to lay the hammer. Generally, Scott and I will aim for completing these in less than 1 minute. Done in numbers from 6-12, you're looking for best average here, and to feel the pain. Not intended to feel relaxed. About the last length of the 100, you should have doubts as to whether this is healthy.
BEST TRAINING BENEFIT: Beginning of a race, broadening your comfort zone and shifting your entire swimming speed capabilities upward. Sometimes you gotta throw gas on the fire. Lou Hollander, an 80 something year old ironman said the key to his longevity in the sport is doing something anaerobic everyday. That's what this is.

Again, one thing I like about doing more quality, along with technique in the pool is that there aren't long yards that let your technique break down. And if you're doing really hard efforts or sweetspot efforts and focusing on technique, then you're likely to become strong enough to hold technique (with focus) during the longer events. I would never recommend a set over the distance you're aiming to swim in a race - i.e. 20x100 for Olympic or 2500 for 1/2 Ironman. You have other things to worry about. Besides, if you regularly swim 3000 three or four times/wk, when you get to the 1/2 Ironman swim, the speed you'll hold for 1.2 miles will be slightly slower than you do your intervals. Swimming faster negates the need to prepare for something slower and longer IF swimming faster is making you stronger. Since it is, the effort and strength required to maintain a certain speed is less than it was before you were doing quality training.

Some people don't understand this. If I swim at a 1:30/100yd pace in my race, I should do different types of intervals (seen above) where I am consistently, with short or long rest, going 1:20s or lower. After a while 1:20 pace will become more regular, I'll be able to do more on the 1:20 over time and 1:30 will be easy to hold. And your body can take it, too! Cycling less so, and running even less. Swimming is not contact and its truly awesome. Enjoy.

Faster Swimming - Part 1 - Put Stroke Mechanics First

I find it somewhat unbelievable how long it's been since Scott or I have written on this blog. Lately, while not much training has been done on my part (mostly strength training and swimming), I have been doing quite a bit of coaching. I don't coach triathlon. I honestly don't think I know enough. But I do coach swimming, with a knowledge base of which I owe a great deal to Dave Tanner and from what he learned through Doc Counsilman, 40 years of coaching, and his personal experiences and research. Whether it's been one on one with other local swimmers, delivering practices and dryland workouts to 25 high school boys, or battling with the waves of culture at master's practice, I've had plenty of time and happenings to gather my thoughts and share them with those that care to read.

I'll get right to it.

Swimming is swimming. I promise. Triathlon swimming is no different than pool swimming. The stroke is the same. IF you have a two beat (straight or crossover), turnover is what you will thrive on. Otherwise its the same. And no, you aren't going to be able to learn a two beat crossover. Here are some interesting assertions (and how I feel about them) for how a triathlon freestyle stroke is different than pool swimming stroke:

  • Triathlon swimmers need higher stroke rating than pool swimmers - One of my high school swimmers once told me that the more strokes they took the faster they would go. That's what this is saying. Except, what happens when you can't take any more strokes in a given time? That's what this is insinuating, that you can always move your arms faster. The relationship between stroke rating and speed is a bell curve, provided that your technique remains the same. At a certain point, moving your arms too damn fast will cause you to make a less effective catch, and subsequently, a less(squared) effective finish. Losses upfront at the catch are magnified losses at the finish. And you will lose water at the catch because we've seen it on film. Elites don't really lose a whole lot of water, or if they do, are strong enough to compensate. For the average or even above average age grouper, it's just not worth it. Anecdotally, our best swimmer on our high school team - 45.2 for 100 free and well under 5mins for 500, has the lowest stroke rating on the team. He is wicked fast open water, too.

  • Straight arm recovery is helpful in triathlon - Yeah, physics doesn't agree with this. Your shoulder bears those forces. Besides, if you subscribe to the high stroke rating, this only makes it harder!

  • Techniques/drills are not all that important in triathlon swim training - Wow. Take a look at the best swimmer in triathlon - Andy Potts. His technique is picture perfect, which gives him fitness bonus points in that he can go the same distance with less energy. Factor in his true fitness and he should win every swim leg of every race he competes in. Which....he does.

  • Distance per stroke is not important in triathlon - several coaches claim this. Training as though it IS important will only benefit you. You'll teach yourself a better catch, pull phase, and finish. Is it a little harder? Yes. What about if you find the right stroke rating (bell curve), and try to maintain most of your best distance per stroke? It's faster. Why? Because you are then working off the maxims of both variables. Its an equation. Efficiency, which translates to greater distance per stroke given the same effort is worth more in the long run. Here is an older article which highlights this.

Amazingly, some coaches take one look at the video of Yang Sun setting the 1500m world record, and think that there are better ways to go about it, strokewise. I'm sorry, but the fitness of his heat in that race is likely the same across the board. He simply is the better swimmer with picture perfect technique.

As a assistant coach for a local high school swimming team, I can tell you that we definitely swim less yards than the other teams who accompany us in the team top 10 rankings statewide. But I don't think other teams pay near as much attention to technique. Its how we make improvements all through the season. When a swimmer comes to me after his race and asks me what to work on, would it make sense to say conditioning? Rarely. As long as they've been coming to practice or you've been tripping it to the pool regularly, you probably have some decent fitness. So, no, I say, we have to work on your entry, your finish, your rhythm, your technique.........

You can swim 4-5 grand per session - just hammering out the yards without the needed attention to technique, OR you can swim less, swim faster, and swim better, and have more time for life, or for biking and running if that's your thing. Think about it.