Thursday, February 26, 2015

The struggle

Posted by Katie

This week my goal was to get at least 8-9 hours of workouts (3 of each sport) in as a sad attempt at one week of base building. Tuesday I did a swim morning, track at night day… easy peasy. Wednesday I had a good interval session on the stationary bike. Today (Thursday) I was attempting to repeat that swim/run combo and it was just… a struggle.

The downhill turn really started wednesday night, getting to bed at 11:15 instead of the goal time of 930? 10? 9pm…?! (a girl can dream). I have realized lately that I am so much better off physically and mentally with 8 hours of sleep. I used to assume that I was one of those 7 hour per night people, but I was just kidding myself… 8, I need 8 (#thisis30).

So onto the morning, waking up at goal time was too much to ask, so by the time I was dipping into the water I only had 45min to workout. I also failed to bring my goggles. I was about to resign to a 1500 of kicking when I decided it might not hurt to ask if they have spares in lost and found. Turns out they did! And turns out I really need to buy new (clear) goggles, my borrowed pair was far superior to the pair that I own.

Full credit goes to Matt for turning this swim into an actual workout, the inner monologue in my head on the way to the pool was something like “hmm maybe I will just swim easy the whole time, maybe some 500s, maybe I will just pull forever” and his was something like “hard 100s! Surprise sprint 50s*!”.   
        *Let the record show that I beat him by 1 sec in the first sprint 50 and we tied in the second 50. He kicked my butt in the 6x100 but no need to count that… :P

I also need to thank Chen and her post about swimming technique from the Total Immersion workshop. I am totally an arm crosser… not too surprising since my arms cross my body when I run as well. The coach at the masters group we used to attend always mentioned this but I didn’t really understand how to correct it (or why you need to). I always assumed that to take a breath I needed to cross wayyyyy over my midpoint to push myself up to the surface. Of course swimmers everywhere are cringing while reading this because the exact opposite is true. Enacting the 10 and 2 strategy I actually felt much better breathing (and not sinking like a stone).

On my way to work I stopped to pickup something to have for lunch later which is when I had the sinking feeling that I had forgotten something (my work computer) at home. Long story short I had to turn around to get it and ended up having a busy day and not fitting the in the run I thought I had time for. So I still have to figure out this whole two-a-day ironman training thing and how to make training no such a struggle.

In other news I have been thinking about food and nutrition a lot lately. So in that spirit I got this new cookbook:

So far I like it a lot, the book has three sections for people who 1-do not cook, 2-cook a little, and 3-love to cook. As far as I can tell those sections also loosely translate to how long a recipe takes to make. So far I've made one dish from the "love to cook" dinner section and it was a big hit. My general goal is not so much to acheive "race weight" whatever that is... but more to eat and fuel better (ie less starbust jelly beans.. more avocado).

Chicken with Peanut Sauce, Broccoli Slaw, and Rice

*Apologies for the weird grey and font changes... apparently today blogging is also a struggle

Running in the rain

Posted by Matt

I'm a bit behind, but I wanted to share my thoughts from a few weeks ago. My training certainly hasn't been nearly as extensive as our fellow bloggers, but  I was already struggling to find out where in my schedule to fit in all the necessary workouts.  But then Katie and I had a great training weekend, and I got reminded why I do events like this to begin with.

It was the rainy weekend of Feb 8th, but Katie and I woke up on Saturday to find relatively clear skies. Immediately, biking became the preferred activity and we headed out on the road. The ride didn't start well - debris from the storm closed the shoulder of our planned route, forcing us into the street and far too close to speeding traffic. Then, the rain restarted much quicker than anticipated. So we detoured,  we found a new route, and we explored our community. We found roads and neighborhoods that we hadn't seen yet in our 3 months in our new apartment. It wasn't a long ride by ironman standards, but it embodied the reasons I love to bike- you can explore places and see things in an intimate way that no other mode of transit allows.

On Sunday, we woke up to heavy rain.  I was excited...I had been looking forward to a trail run in the rain fore a long time. Splashing in the muddy puddles with my two favorite running companions (my gorgeous wife Katie and very eager dog Kona) exceeded my already high expectations. nothing too fancy, but a really enjoyable run. After a quick muffin baking session, we headed to the public pool. While not as adventurous as our previous events, we had a new workout book in hand. As a non competitive swimmer, I often struggle on figuring out what exactly to do in the pool. But with a clear plan in place, I had one of my best workouts yet.

While I enjoy following Chen's and Rachel's weekly workouts, you won't see my stats here (I don't even record the details myself). For me, training isn't really about my splits or the miles logged. It is about exploring the world in a new way,  having a little adventure (especially if it is with my wicked awesome wife), and pushing your body (and mind) at the same time. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Total Immersion Workshop Review

Posted by Chen

Crack open an adult beverage, kids – this is going to be a long one.

This past weekend, I attended an all-weekend Total Immersion swim workshop. I stumbled upon this workshop a couple months ago when I was seriously concerned about my ability to not drown at Whistler and was Googling adult swim classes. I liked that this method talked about using gravity to your advantage instead of fighting the water – my form at the time definitely felt a lot more like battling than gliding, so my interest was piqued. I also liked that the workshop schedule included a variety of sessions, including classroom instruction, pool instruction, land drills, and video analysis.

That said, I didn’t immediately sign up for it, because the price tag was quite steep – over $500 when all was said and done. Yikes. I’d already had a minor heart attack when I paid my registration fee for Whistler, and this fee was right in the same ballpark. So, I decided to noodle over it for a few weeks while I continued to practice on my own. While I was making progress on my own, I still felt like I was working a lot harder than I should be, so I decided that finally learning proper form once and for all would be worth it, not just for the Ironman, but also because I’m starting to really like swimming and can see myself swimming once or twice a week even after this race is over. There. I admitted it. I like a sport other than running. WHAT.

In case you haven’t heard of it (I sure hadn’t before discovering the workshop), Total Immersion (TI) is a technique / method that was developed by American swimming coach Terry Laughlin. It emphasizes skill and technique over sheer power, which is pretty counter to what I’ve always thought when it comes to sports and working out. In running, if you want to get faster, you work harder. You put in more miles, and you put in faster miles as well. Brute force can certainly overcome any form flaws. TI is the opposite story – it’s all about working smarter. If you want to learn more, you can read about it here:

These workshops are held all around the country, but the one I attended was held at the College of San Mateo. Our coaches were father-daughter duo Coach Stuart and Coach Mandy, both of whom were really knowledgeable, personable, and funny. A few days before the workshop, Coach Mandy sent us the schedule for the weekend:

8:45 check in classroom
9-10am classroom
10-12 POOL
12-1pm lunch
1-2pm classroom
2-4pm POOL

9-10am Pool deck dry land rehearsals
10-12pm POOL
12-1 lunch
1-2pm classroom
2-3:30 POOL
3:30-4:45pm classroom and wrap

I felt a little bit like I was going to kindergarten again, wondering how big my class would be, who would be in my class, what I should bring for lunch, and whether I’d make any friends. Should I bring snacks to make the other kids like me? Debatable.

Day 1

I showed up on Saturday morning and saw that there were 15 other people enrolled – guess I wasn’t the only one who was crazy enough to fork over 62 Chipotle burritos’ worth of dollars in order to learn proper swimming form. 

At the start of the classroom session, we went around the room and stated our name, city, and what we hoped to get out of the class. We had a nice variety of goals, including others who were also prepping for triathlons, those who needed to get moving for health reasons and thought swimming would be a good sport to pick up, and those who just wanted to feel more comfortable in the water. I think the class decided I had questionable character when I said I was signed up for an Ironman and had not yet done a single tri. There was lots of laughter and some quizzical looks. Weird.

We then went on to review the basics of the TI technique. This was when I learned that you need to focus on balance first, streamlining second, and propulsion last. My form has always been all about the kick, because I know my legs are strong, and I rely on them for balance and speed. Wrong. All wrong.

Next up was our first pool session, during which we shot our first videos – i.e., “the before.” I was curious to see what my video would look like (Washing machine? Drowning goat?), but I would have to wait until after lunch to view it. 

We moved immediately into our drills, which consisted of breaking the freestyle stroke down into its key components, starting with keeping a neutral head. I would later learn that this is one of my focal points – I tend to look slightly forward, mainly because I really like knowing where I’m going. Just with that simple adjustment, I could already tell that I was gliding further with each stroke. Solid start.

Other drills included:
  • Skating (not of the roller or ice variety), where you swim with your lead arm out and the other tucked closely to your body. Depending on which arm you’re leading with, the focus is on staying on either your left or right edge. In freestyle, you’re either on one edge or the other; never flat.
  • Wide tracks, where you focus on entering into the water wide on either side to ensure you never cross over the center of your body. Crossing over (which often happens when breathing) leads to “stacking,” where one shoulder is directly above the other, which turns you into a sinking anchor (I realized this happens to me all the time while breathing!). In order to do this drill, our coaches had us envisioning entering the water at 10 and 2 on a clock, sometimes even 9 and 3 if we weren’t entering wide enough. This was also my second key focal point.
  • Fingertip drag, where you maintain continuous contact with the water as you take your stroke. This ensures that you lead with your elbow rather than your hand and that you don’t swing your arm/hand upwards in the air.
  • Mail slot entry, where you envision your hand entering the water as if it’s entering into a mail slot in a smooth fashion. This ensures that your hand is in the same plane as your forearm, and you’re slicing through the water, rather than reaching out, and then pulling down with a flat arm and clawed hand.
  • The wall, where you envision that there’s a wall about a foot in front of your head, and your hand needs to enter the water before it hits that wall. This ensures again that you’re not over-reaching forward with your hand before it enters the water
  • Hood of car, where after your hand enters the water, you envision your hand reaching down over the hood of the car. This ensures that your arm is in the position that best helps you maintain balance – if your hand is below your lungs, your hips will naturally stay high.
  • Patient lead arm, where you don’t pull your lead arm back until your other arm enters the water. This ensures proper front quadrant timing. This was another one of my key focal points.

We ended the morning session by using the tempo trainer, which I had never even heard of before. It’s a little device that you put under your swim cap, and you set it to beep at a defined interval (e.g., 1.3 seconds). You then time your stroke to match the beep. It can help you figure out what your ideal tempo is, and ultimately, it can help you get faster as you lower the interval between beeps while keeping your stroke count per length low as well.

One amusing thing about the morning session was that they wanted us to completely ignore breathing for the time being, because that was another set of drills that they would be teaching us later. We were supposed to stop and completely stand up if we needed to breathe as we did our drills, which felt really awkward. So instead, I started swimming every length without taking a single breath. I never knew I could make it the full length without oxygen, so… cool!

We then broke for lunch, and then after lunch, it was time to watch our “before” videos. We all viewed everyone’s video as a group, while Coach Mandy pointed out where we could improve and what our three main focal points would be. As I mentioned above, for me, it was neutral head, wide tracks, and patient lead arm.

Troublesome form, but not nearly as horrifying to watch as I was expecting :-P

Because we had just learned and practiced all of the aforementioned drills all morning, it was easier for me to see what my weaknesses were – I’m looking slightly forward; my arms are like a windmill; I reach towards the center of my body, and I kick way the hell too much. It was cool to watch everyone else’s videos as well, as we each had different strengths and weaknesses, and we were able to learn from each other.

The afternoon pool session included more practicing of the drills we had just learned, plus learning how to breathe properly. Things that you should do while breathing:
  • Pivot your head / follow your non-lead shoulder as soon as your lead arm drives forward. I was often pausing and taking my breath way too late.
  • Make sure you keep your lead arm wide in order to avoid stacking – also a big revelation for me
  • Keep your head neutral (rather than lifting the top of it up out of the water more) in order to naturally create a “pocket” of air near your mouth. This enables you to minimize the amount you need to pivot in order to get a breath, and you can quickly go back to resuming your stroke
  • The breath should really be short and sweet – you drive your lead arm forward and immediately pivot your head, and then you immediately pivot back to neutral. I often hang out for a while to ensure I’m getting enough oxygen. I like oxygen.

This was one of the more frustrating parts of the class, mainly because I thought I had learned how to breathe effectively and wasn’t even really thinking about it prior to the workshop. Now, breathing is a struggle as I focus on doing it correctly, and I find myself panicking for air again. Needless to say, proper breathing is going to take a LOT of practice.

Day 2

On Sunday morning, we started on the pool deck as we learned some dry land drills that we can do to practice proper form, even if we don’t have access to a pool. We then got in the water again to practice all of our drills that we had already learned, and then we took our second videos. 

We were told to focus on patient lead arm here. The changes between this and my starting video may be subtle, but I can already see improvements!

After shooting the videos, we finally learned how to kick. As much as I rely on my kick, it turns out that I’m really bad at coordinating my kick with my stroke. With TI, the ideal kick is a 2-beat kick, meaning you basically kick once per stroke. Your left kick drives you towards your right edge, while your right kick does the opposite. You simply rotate from edge to edge with each stroke. Sounds simple, but felt impossible. And judging by my videos, I’m pretty sure I have like a 10-beat kick. 

For a good example of what this 2-beat kick looks like, take a look at the “after” portions of TI coach Shinji Takeuchi’s video: Shinji is my hero.

After lunch, we again reviewed our videos as a group, and then we got back in the pool for our last session of the day. In this session, we did some drill work and then paired off in order to watch each other swim and provide feedback. It was enlightening to realize just how much we’d learned over the past 24 hours. If you had asked me to critique anyone’s form prior to the weekend, I wouldn’t have known where to start, but now I knew what to look out for.

After coaching each other, we did more work with the tempo trainer and also counted our strokes per length under various tempos. We would later use this information to calculate our average speed.

We then took our final videos of the workshop:

We were told to focus on one focal point for this video. I actually can’t remember what I was thinking about, but I think I focused on some combination of wide tracks and patient lead arm. I clearly didn’t focus on kicking less.

We concluded the pool session with some open water lessons, which I was really curious about. 

Things we learned about sighting:
  • Don’t try to combine taking a breath with sighting – you’ll end up sinking
  • When sighting, come up just enough for your goggles to be out of the water, and then quickly go back down to keep your stroke as uninterrupted as possible. While I like this concept, it always takes me a few seconds to register what I’m looking at, so this will take practice
  • Just as when you’re breathing, make sure you sight right when your lead arm drives forward to maintain balance

Things we learned about what to do if you start panicking:
  • DON’T start to breaststroke – this will just expend more energy, and you’ll only panic more.
  • Instead, as you drive your lead arm forward, flip onto your back, and keep moving with your lead arm forward. This is also a good way to fix your goggles if you ever need to. When you’ve calmed down, you simply roll back onto your stomach and resume your stroke

Finally, we regrouped one last time in the classroom to watch our final videos and discuss what we can do moving forward (Coach Stuart and Coach Mandy provided us with training guides afterwards that will help us practice what we learned).

All in all, I’m really glad I took this workshop. As you can tell by my “after” video, I obviously didn’t magically come away with a super efficient and elegant form in two days, but I did learn the drills and techniques that are necessary in order to inch closer to a form like Shinji’s (one can dream).

The one downside to taking this workshop is that my swimming now feels somewhat foreign again, which is frustrating given that I’ve spent the past several weeks getting comfortable in the water and had made some solid progress. It seems a bit like I’m starting over, which in some respects, I am, but I know these next few weeks of feeling awkward will pay off in the end.

In fact, I’ve already seen some progress this week – I focused on my TI drills during my swim yesterday, and my pull times came way down and I could feel myself gliding further with each stroke. I also swam my fastest 500 to-date with the same (or maybe even less) effort than before in 8:43. I’m not shattering any records here, but when I think about where I’ve been, swimming an 11:54 500 just two months ago, I’m A-OK with where I’m at. 

OK, this post has gotten waaaaaaaaay too long. Congrats if you’ve made it this far. I hope this review is helpful to anyone considering this workshop, and feel free to ask any other questions you might have in the comments section!