French Creek Racing Swim Series

It’s hard to believe with the Philadelphia Escape Triathlon coming up on June 24 that this was my first open water swim of the season. Weather rolled in and scheduling changes prevented me from taking the plunge in May and earlier this week, but I’m fortunate to live in an area that offers all kinds of open water swimming opportunities. This is the first year that I’ve tried one of French Creek Racing’s open water swim races: 800 meters in the Schuylkill River north of Philadelphia. I signed up for the whole swim series and plan to go to most of them along with a few at Marsh Creek Lake with Mid Atlantic Multisport. French Creek Racing has some awesome swag though, and after the swim is a BBQ, which I highly recommend.

The water temp was around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the river cast for pollution was green due to a lack of rainfall and runoff, and the current was moving at over 3000 cubic feet per second (cfs). I have a sense of what that means for swimming since I’ve been in the ocean currents before and a few lakes with a current, but I didn’t fully appreciate the power of the Schuylkill that creates world class Olympic rowers from the famed Boathouse Row.

I have a better idea of what 3000 cfs feels like now.

The swim started from a small dock with the course running clockwise around the buoys. Swimmers were told to keep the buoys on the right and to swim on the far left in order to stay out of the strongest part of the current, except for the end when we all had to swim between two buoys before slapping the timing board. Kayakers and lifeguards were out and had to keep paddling to remain in one place. I got worried when I noticed that.

I started my swim with the current for 25 meters and rounded the first two buoys, breaking out ahead of all of the swimmers in my heat except for two men who kept up with me the whole time. As soon as I rounded the second buoy, it was into the current for all three of us. The water was frigid and numbed my hands and feet. I tried to sight the two buoys in front of the 422 bridge, but I couldn’t see them with the setting sun. I looked towards the shore where we started to get some sort of visual and then took about ten to fifteen strokes before glancing to the shore again, but I was in the same spot in the water. What is this? A water treadmill? Am I swimming uphill? I took another fifteen strokes and had the same view on my right. Another fifteen strokes reinforced the fact that I was going nowhere fast–literally. I headed for the opposite shore even farther left and finally hit some warm water, which meant it wasn’t moving as quickly. Then, and only then, did I start making progress after five to eight minutes of swimming in place.

The kayaker and buoy up ahead started to appear closer as I drafted off the feet of the guy in front of me to save some energy. When I rounded the third and fourth buoy, the current helped carry me to the finish.

Wetsuit or not, the power of the Schuylkill is no joke. I plan to swim here again and swim smarter, and I’m relieved that the Philly Escape Triathlon is a point to point swim with the river’s current.

To sign up for any of the French Creek Racing Open Water Swims, click on this link:

Open Water Swim Series

Open Water Swimming Tips

With the Philly Escape Triathlon coming up on June 24, it’s time to get back into the open water for some practice swims. If open water swimming is something new to you, or if you panic at the beginning of each triathlon season in open water, here are some useful tips:

  1. Practice in your wetsuit. Many early triathlons are wetsuit legal, so get used to swimming in it. If it feels like it’s choking you, you can trim your wetsuit, but be careful not to cut any seams.
  2. Go for an open water swim practice. French Creek Racing has practices and races that you can participate in and so does Mid Atlantic Multisport.
  3. Know the swim course and how many times you need to swim around buoys, what direction you’ll be swimming in, and how the swim will start–is it a run in beach entry? Walk in wade, and wait? Tread water and wait for a mass start? Jump or slide off of a dock? Or will you jump off the back of a ferry and swim to shore?
  4. If you can’t practice in open water before your first race, do your best to get into the water for a practice session prior to the event, if allowed. Some races do not have warm up sessions in the water before the race start. For a practice swim, hop in, totally submerge your face, blow some bubbles, and take a few strokes out and back. That is usually enough to settle your nerves; there’s no need to swim a 1600 or anything as a warm up.
  5. If there is no open water practice before an event, when you enter the water for your start, take your time, get your head wet, fix your cap and goggles, stay away from the other swimmers, and start off slowly, gradually building your speed.
  6. When problems occur like goggles filling with water, your cap slides, a cramp strikes, another swimmer swims over you, kicks you, punches you, or pulls you by the ankles, know that you can turn over on your back to fix many of these issues. Except for jerks in the water who try to pull you by the ankles, you can’t fix assholery, but you can kick really hard.  Do breaststroke for sighting when fatigue sets in. If you don’t know how to do breaststroke kick, do a dolphin kick or flutter kick instead, it still works!  And, if you really need it, you are allowed to hold on to the lifeguard’s kayak, paddle board, or rescue tube while you rest, as long as you are not moving forward. You can also swim any stroke in a triathlon, even side stroke.
  7. Practice open water skills in the pool. A few skills I practice with my athletes during our Saturday “group workout” of 600 yards include drafting off of another swimmer’s feet (this works if they are similar in speed to you, but just a bit faster), dock entry off the starting blocks (I teach a stride jump to prevent athletes from going too far under), corkscrew for rounding buoys, sighting 3-6 times per 25 yards, dolphin dives for beach entry, head up freestyle for sighting in high waves, and bilateral breathing to swim straighter and more balanced.
  8. Know what to do if you get a panic attack in the water. In a panic attack, your heart will race, and you’ll have difficulty breathing. Have a plan. I’ve had panic attacks in open water away from the guards and shore. I turn over on my back, focus on breathing in for three and out for three while kicking lightly and sculling with my arms so that I’m still moving. I tell myself that I am a strong swimmer, and that I can do this. After about 30 seconds or more that seems like an eternity, I turn back over and continue swimming freestyle. If you are close to a guard, ask them for help, hold on to the kayak or rescue tube until you can calm down. Whatever you do, do not try to grab onto a guide buoy because there is no way you can hold onto that, and you’ll only wear yourself out trying.

Here’s a fun 600 yard set you can do to practice some of these triathlon specific drills mentioned above:

8x75s (600 yards) as

Odds = 25: dolphin dive to the deep end / head up freestyle / 25: get out in the deep end and jump off the starting blocks with a stride jump / sight 3x as you swim to the shallow end with alligator eyes (no need to pick up your whole head) / 25: run to the deep end, dolphin dive 1x / swim breaststroke to the wall. REST. That’s one 75!

Evens=  25: Underwater flutter kick until you pop up / bilateral breathing every 3 strokes / wall kick for 10s / 25: corkscrew 3x in one length / pull up or gutter press or vertical kick in the deep end / 25: fast as possible freestyle. REST. That’s two! 6 more to go just like that!

If you have a friend, practice drafting off of each other for one of the lengths. You can draft off of the feet by swimming in the bubbles, just out of reach of the other swimmer’s feet, or you can swim off the hip of another swimmer.

That’s it! Enjoy the triathlon season already under way!

You Are Not a Before and After

AprilstatsYou are not a before or an after. So many people in the fitness industry are focused on getting clients by promising some awesome “after” version of their bodies all the while, posting pictures of their progress. Why? Because that is exactly what sells. Please. Do yourself a favor and repeat: “My body is not a before or after.”

You will not find happiness in a shake or by cutting out entire food groups or in skipping events because you can’t eat what’s there. For all that is holy: please eat more real food than processed food and find ways to move your body–whether it be swimming, cycling, running, team sports, or fitness classes at your local gym.

You need to eat real food because you are on a journey. I’m not going to call it a fitness journey because even if you are a professional athlete, I’m sure you have a family, other hobbies you love, and places you enjoy. Your overall health and fitness is part of your life. Sure, if you’re a casual athlete you might have goals of qualifying for Boston, completing an Ironman, or competing in your first ever race. Goals are good. But they are not everything. You and the people around you are everything.

In the picture above are my stats for the month of April. Some of those miles were early and tough, some were with friends, and there are more than a few miles missing because I needed rest and time with my family. Do the hard work and do what’s important to you, remembering why you chose triathlon or running in the first place. There will certainly be more miles in May and for years to come.

Last of all when you look at your body in the mirror, thank it for all it does for you. Be grateful that you can still move, compete, and inspire others to do the same. And, if you want to wear that bikini this summer without sipping on any expensive shakes to shed those stubborn pounds, just put it on and be proud. Celebrate the you that you are right now. And, give the whole fitness industry a big middle finger when you do.

Haver Tri at the Haverford Area YMCA

YPoolOh my goodness, people. If you want to start off your triathlon season right or if you’re new to the sport, then I highly recommend the Haver Tri on Sunday, April 29, 2018 at 1pm, hosted by the Haverford Area YMCA in Havertown, PA. And, it’s not because I helped to organize it either.

It’s only $20 to sign up for this race that will award prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, men and women. The first 100 athletes to sign up get a t-shirt too! Here’s what the event is all about:

300 yard serpentine swim (swimmers will be sent off 20 seconds apart)

9 miles on the spin bikes in the cycling studio

1.5 mile run/walk on the Pennsy Trail

Oh, and we won’t be timing transitions, so no worries there!

That’s ALL! This event will also kick off our Ironman in a Month Challenge in May–more on that soon! I’ll be on the pool deck volunteering as a timer, so I hope to see you there!

Click on the link below to sign up. All proceeds go to the YMCA’s annual fund campaign so that everyone has access to a great place to workout.

Sign up for the Haver Tri

Swimming Lexicon

You’re in the pool, your workout is printed, but you have no idea what all of the abbreviations are that your coach wrote to actually complete the workout. What should you do? You need a swim dictionary of sorts, and below, you’ll find some common abbreviations, words, and everything else you need to know to read a swim workout. Dive in!

If you are new to swimming, workouts are written in yards or meters. Most pools in the United States are 25 yards in length, so a 100 is four lengths of the pool. If you are lucky enough to swim in an Olympic size pool, that would be 50 meters one way, so a 100 would be two lengths of the pool.

swim

Common Swimming Terms and Abbreviations

B 3/4/5– this refers to breathing. So, you would breath every 3 strokes for one length, every 4 strokes for the second length, and every 5 strokes for the 3rd length, and then repeat.

Build– means that you will get faster within a swim distance that is within a set. For example: 4x100s BUILD means you get faster with each 25 yards of each 100, and then you repeat that BUILD for your next 100.

Catch up– hands are out in front of you for freestyle and you swim with one arm at a time while kicking. When one hand catches up to the other out in front, take a stroke with your other arm.

Claw–short-arm freestyle drill

DESC–means “descending”. This is when you get faster in a swim set. For example 4x100s DESC means that each 100 is FASTER than the one before.

DPS- distance per stroke. Focus on decreasing the number of strokes it takes you to swim one length of the pool.

DR- drill. You will be asked to do a drill for your stroke, like the fingertip drag, catch-up free, etc.

E -even. For example for a set written as 8x75s O=stroke, E=Free, you would swim the odd numbers a stroke of your choice and the even numbers freestyle.

FAP- fast as possible. You better sprint your butt off!

Flip Turn–one way to turn off the wall. Count your strokes from the top of the “T”, tuck, dolphin kick your legs over in a half somersault, push off, turn over on your stomach, streamline, kick, break the surface, and swim.

Free–swim freestyle or front crawl

IM– Individual Medley. The order for the IM is butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle.

KOB or KOS–kick on back or kick on side, without the kick board

Lap– two lengths of the pool.

Length– one length of the pool

Long Course Pool– 50 meters in length

N/S– negative split. This is when the second half of a swim is faster than the first half. For example, in a 200 N/S the first 100 is slower than the second 100.

O — odd. For example for a set written as 8x75s O=stroke, E=Free, you would swim the odd numbers a stroke of your choice and the even numbers freestyle.

Open Turn–one way to turn on the wall, grab the wall, tuck yourself into a ball, throw one arm over your head, and push off.

OWS– open water swim. Swimming that’s done in a natural body of water and not a pool.

Perfect– concentrate on good form and not speed

Pull– use a pull buoy, paddles are optional, but not necessary

Repeat– repeat the preceding set as specified. No extra rest unless noted.

RI– rest interval or the amount of time to rest. Sometimes this is written as :30 RI or 30s rest.

RLR- red line run. Swimming drill where your run from the wall in the shallow end to the line that divides the shallow end from the deep end.

Short Course Meters Pool (SCM)– 25 meters in length (slightly longer than a 25 yard pool)

Short Course Yards Pool (SCY)– 25 yards in length

SI– swim interval, usually a slow, recovery swim in between sets.

SKIDS– stands for swim, kick, individual medley, drills, stroke. An example would be 300 SKIDS, so you would do a 300 of each: swim, kick, IM, drill, swim for a total of 1500 yards.

SKIPS- stands for swim, kick, individual medley, pull, stroke

Streamline– arms over your head, and you are as straight as an arrow leaving the wall.

Stroke–any stroke such as butterfly, backstroke, or breaststroke, but NO Freestyle

Times– written as :30 (30 seconds) or 1:30 (for 1 minute, 30 seconds). Some sets are written as 4x100s on 1:30. That means that you need to swim each 100 of the set FASTER than one minute thirty seconds if you want to get any rest.

T-pace– this is the pace per 100 that you swam in your time trial.

TT- time trial. This is when you swim for time. It’s like a test.

W/D or sometimes C/D– warm down or sometimes cool down, depends on where you live. This is at the end of the workout to slow your heart rate down.

W/U — warm up. Gets your heart rate up before the main set.

U/W– underwater recovery. The recovery phase of your stroke is done underwater instead of bringing your arm out of the water. This helps with your arm turnover and speed.

Pool Toys 

Fins–help develop your kick. I recommend short fins that will help you flex your ankles for more effective kicking.

Kick board–use this floating board for kicking and other drills

Paddles–help you catch the water, but are not necessary

Pull Buoy– goes in between your legs so you can focus on your pull. They also make pull buoys that will lock your ankles in place so you don’t have to focus on squeezing your legs to hold the buoy.

Snorkel–when you are concentrating on your stroke and head position while swimming. This way, you don’t have to turn your head to the side to breathe.

If you know of any other swimming terms or abbreviations, please add them in the comments below. Thank you! 

Between Training and Jet Lag

luggage

As you might already know, I just returned from a week long trip to London with my family. Because of Daylight Savings Time, England is only four hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. That doesn’t sound like a lot and should make for an easy adjustment to the new time zone: all you have to do is try to sleep a little on the red eye flight, and then do your best to stay up until about eight o’clock the next day thereby giving you a full day awake so you can sleep the next night. Presto! You’ve adjusted to the time change.

Well, none of that happened. We had over two hours of really terrible turbulence that shook me awake whenever I tried to sleep, so I stayed awake on the plane for the entire flight until ten minutes before landing. Yes, the landing gear touching the ground woke me up with a snort. I stumbled around the train stations to our flat and promptly went to bed for three hours, starting at 8am. That was not my intent, but I simply couldn’t function without some sleep.

I did pack one pair of running clothes and wore my running shoes in the hopes that I would go for a run around Battersea Park, but that didn’t happen. For the entire week we were there, I couldn’t fall asleep before 2am and wanted to sleep until noon (although I begrudgingly woke up at 8am with my alarm).

So, if you are planning a race abroad or in a different time zone, plan to arrive to the location early, preferably a week prior to the event to allow your body time to adjust. I know I didn’t feel like getting up and going for a training run until the Friday we were leaving. And, if you can’t arrive that early, give yourself a break. Same goes for any training while traveling. If you are simply too tired, rest. A much needed break from your workouts may be in order. The same rules apply upon your return home: sleep and rest.

Why You Should Join Masters Swimming

masterspool

Upper Dublin High School Pool in Fort Washington, PA 

Into the the great wide open. / Under them skies of blue.  That’s what open water swimming is like–no walls, no lane lines, no cold tile, no chlorine, no flip turns, nobody around. Just you and the open water. There may be a shark or two lurking near the dolphins, but that doesn’t bother you. Jellyfish? Smellyfish. You’ve got vinegar in your swim bag. Tangled up in seaweed? Whatever. It’s the great wide open water. You’re a rebel with a clue and a swim buoy. Maybe you’ve got a few friends nearby as you wave to the fish nibbling your feet.

Open water swimming makes you feel invincible and vulnerable at the same time. I know I don’t belong in the ocean or lake because I have lungs, but I swim there anyway to prove that I can enter that wide open world–and that’s when I feel vulnerable. I’m a tiny human barely breaking the surface of the vast ocean as I swim, tossed aside by waves and pushed off course by currents larger than my understanding. It’s awesome. But, you can’t swim in open water year round if you live in a colder climate.

So, instead of hitting the pool by yourself, which can be incredibly boring, I highly recommend you jump in with a US Masters swim team. Here’s why:

  1. You will get faster. In the few months I’ve been swimming with the masters group, my 100 yard repeats have dropped by 15 seconds! Crazy, right? I’m not too far off of the times from my competitive swimming days either.
  2. You’ll befriend like-minded swimming buddies. Maybe on the days you don’t have practice, you can meet your swim friends at the local pool?
  3. You can compete in swim meets. Even if you love the open water, there’s something about going fast, really fast. All you do is enter a meet, enter times for your events (or not), and swim! Heck, you’ll even get a t-shirt just like in running. You’ll be inspired by all of the different ages and levels of swimmers at a meet.
  4. You will be a better all around swimmer by swimming all of the strokes in a structured workout: butterfly, backstroke, breast stroke, and of course, freestyle. If all you ever swim is freestyle, you’re missing out on being an all-around strong swimmer.
  5. You’ll have fun. Group workouts with red line runs, jumping jacks in the pool, fun stroke drills, diving off the blocks, practicing drafting (which you’ll use in an open water race)–you’ll feel like a kid again.
  6. You’ll realize that this is truly a sport you can do for the rest of your life. In the video below for the 50 yard freestyle, I’m in lane 5, but look at lane 4–that guy is 72 years old, and he almost beat me! He is on my team and kicks my butt on most days for our masters swim workouts, but still. He’s not stopping, so I won’t either.

Swim on and swim happy on a masters team! Here’s the link to find a masters team near you in the US. Keep in mind that there are masters teams all over the world.

Click here to find a US Masters Team by you.

 

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Tri it Forward

TriSwim

The 2018 Triathlon Race Season is almost here! If you have friends who are interested in the sport of triathlon, or if you are new to the sport yourself, click on the link at the bottom of this post and tri it forward!

And, if you’re like me, you like free stuff. Who doesn’t? To get two free weeks of triathlon training, message, email, or call me at 610-241-4164 to get started. You have to be brand new to the sport of triathlon or have competed in a few races at the sprint distance and want to improve.


Tri It Forward

 

Training for the Swim in Triathlon

 

Swimming is the shortest segment of the triathlon and typically the weakest for most triathletes. Many athletes only want to survive the swim so they can move on to the bike and run; however, if they spend a little more time on the swim in training, they can greatly improve their overall time and maybe even make it on the podium for their age group.

A structured workout is key every time you enter the pool and even for open water. Whatever workout you choose to do, it’s important to remember to train like a distance swimmer. As a triathlete, you are a distance swimmer. Got it? Good. By that I don’t mean to hop in the pool and swim 2000-3000 yards continuously because that will only make you good at swimming long and slow.

Distance swimmers train the all of the body’s systems by doing different workouts and sets within the workouts: endurance (aerobic), speed (mostly aerobic, but some faster paces), form (aerobic with a focus on drills), force (pulling or using paddles with the buoy), muscular endurance (lactate threshold), distance (half IM or IM race pace), and anaerobic endurance (very fast swimming or all out swimming). Source: Swim Workouts for Triathletes by Gale Bernhardt and Nick Hansen.

So, what does all of this mean? It means that each swim workout has multiple moving parts. Here’s an example of a good distance swimmer’s workout for triathletes:

Warm Up: 400 easy, 200 pull, 200 kick, 8x25s 1/2 FAST 1/2 EASY on 30s

This warm up gets the muscles moving and focuses on form with the kick and 25s. The pull is the force part of the workout. 

Main Set:

12x100s descending

#1-4 are on 2 min or less, and for each set of 4x100s, drop 5 seconds from the time you will leave on. So if you start at 2 min, the next set of 4 will be on 1:55… Rest for 30 seconds after these 4x100s.

#5-8 are on 1:55 or 1:50. Rest for 30 seconds after all 4x100s.

#9-12 are on 1:50 or 1:45. Rest for 30s.

This set is all about muscular endurance to anaerobic threshold near the end. Be sure to use the clock to keep track of when you are supposed to leave for the next 100.  

2x300s at IM pace. Rest for 20s in between. This is the distance part of the workout.

Cool Down:

200 stroke, your choice, but NO FREESTYLE

Total Distance: 3000 yards

Each workout should include a warm up of 500-1000 yards of slower swimming, drills, kicks, and pulls, a main set of 1500-2000 yards to focus on speed, endurance, etc., and a cool down of a few hundred yards. Make sure to mix it up and challenge yourself, and you’ll find that you’ll be swimming faster in a few months.

For open water swimming, it’s important to warm up for about 400 yards, sighting every 6-9 strokes. After the warm up, swim the distance you planned, whether it’s 800 or 5000 yards, but vary your stroke like this:

Open Water Swim (OWS) Workout:

5 minutes warm up

10 minutes at T pace (IM or Half IM pace)

5 minutes easy stroke with strong kick

10 minutes increase speed and build

5 minutes easy stroke with strong kick

10 minutes build

5 minutes easy swimming

This is approximately 50 minutes of open water swimming, so increase it as needed. 

 

Happy International Women’s Day!

Many of the runners and triathletes I coach are strong women who work hard to accomplish their goals–whether it’s getting up for a 5am run, training for their first triathlon, or preparing for the Chicago Marathon. These are only a few of the women who inspire me to keep going every day. I’m so glad my mom encouraged me and my sister to pursue sports–she’s the original Greek athlete in the family who played football in the street as a kid and now challenges herself in cycling races today. She’s Sophia’s Yiayia, and she kicks butt every single day.

So, to all of the strong women out there, and that means ALL of you, today is your day. Get out there and show yourself what you’ve got!