What's In My Swim Bag?

Ever wonder why some swimmers seem to tote around mesh bags filled with "toys" to swim with?  Wonder what's in those bags?  Wonder why it looks like a garage sale at the end of some lanes?  Here is what I carry to the pool with me.

This is what happens when Jason and I
share a lane.  Stuff everywhere.

The kick board isn't mine, I pick those up at the pool.  Pretty much every pool, everywhere, has them.  I did go to one pool - the Palm Desert Aquatic Center - that rented them.  So I didn't use one that day.

Most of the time I use a pre-written workout.  I have a notebook with a bunch of workouts from Noa, and I also have a book of "swim workouts for triathletes".  I prefer Noa's - they are really challenging!  Some days I do my own workout, but that's not the norm.

Something I use all the time: my pull buoy.  I do a few hundred meters of pull in my warm up.  I also occasionally use my pull buoy when I use my snorkel (which admittedly I don't use often, but I should use it more).  I see a lot of triathletes over-relying on a pull buoy to compensate for poor body position, so don't use it as a crutch.  Use it as a tool to focus on your pull, not to fix dragging your legs (if you're carrying your legs really low in the water, work on recruiting your abs more.  See band swimming below).

Jason using his front-mounted snorkel.
Great for really concentrating on form, and
some hypoxic training to boot!

Some of my warm ups also include some "band only" 50's, where I use a band around my ankles to prevent me from kicking.  The band is simply a strip of tire inner tube.  Used without a pull buoy is really difficult, and forces you to recruit your abs and have a strong pull if you want to get anywhere.

Ankle band = no kicking!

One of my favourite things that I include in almost every main set I do is some "full gear" work: pull buoy, paddles, and band.  Really helps me focus on my stroke.

When I do kick sets, I often use fins.  Especially if I'm swimming with Jason, as then we can kick side-by-side and chat.  Swimming is not a particularly social workout, so sometimes it's nice to be able to talk while training!

You don't need all of this stuff to get a good swim workout in.  However, all of these toys really are great tools to help improve your swimming.  Good luck!

Signs of Spring

Here on the island we can ride outdoors year-round, but I am counting today as the first ride of the season.  It was full of all sorts of signs of spring.  The plan was an easy three-hour spin, and I pretty much didn't stop smiling the entire time as it was the perfect day for a ride.  I followed it up with a short run with Jason on some of my fave running trails, shopping for new puppy supplies (two weeks until the new pup!), a yummy healthy dinner, and some Netflix & couch time.  What could be a better way to spend a Saturday?

Here are some reasons I know it's officially spring:

- Cherry blossoms blowing all over the place, it kind of looks like it's snowing

Our back yard.  The cherry tree is bursting with blossoms!
- The non-stop sound of lawn mowing

- Flowers everywhere

- Cyclists riding in shorts (I was still wearing knickers although I didn't really need to be. And a fleece lined jersey, toe covers, and thick gloves.  Oops.)

Smiling! Despite being over dressed.
- Motorcycles and convertibles with the top down are the most common vehicles on the road

- Roadside stands
Something tells me an "artisanal bread" stand
would not be a good idea in the winter here.

- Green grass, before it turns brown for the summer

- Sailboats out on the ocean

The Cascade Mountains on the mainland
make a gorgeous backdrop.

Won't be long until summer's here!

Random Hawaii Pics

We've been home for several weeks now, and the weather's warming up (helllloooo cherry blossoms!) and summer is right around the corner.  But still, we miss the warm air of the Big Island.  So while we anxiously wait for summer here on our even bigger island, I thought I'd post some random pictures from Hawaii.  Just to tie us over until it heats up here.


Swimming Faster

My introduction to swimming was pretty simple.  I grew up with a backyard pool and a summer cottage on a lake, guaranteeing I was always in the water for several months of the year.  No swimming lessons (besides Bronze Medallion and Bronze Cross programs while in high school in case I wanted the glamorous life of a lifeguard), I’m self-taught.  I played waterpolo for four years in high school, and then joined a masters swim team in my mid-20’s (where the coach – rightfully so for the thinking at the time) undid everything from my wide, choppy, waterpolo stroke.

I’ve always done ok in the swims in triathlons.  At the 2012 Ironman Arizona I was in the top 10 in the swim in my AG, and this year at the Boise 70.3 I was 3rd in my AG coming out of the water.  But like everything, improvement is always around the corner if you want it… so I decided this year I’d work on my swim.

I saw a notice for a “Faster Freestyle” swim clinic at Commonwealth Pool at the end of February, so I signed Jason and I up for it.  It was given by Karlyn Pipes (of Aquatic Edge in Kona).  Karlyn is incredible – she has set over 200 masters records (and over 40 of them are still standing), and can take the swim stroke changes made in Australia in the early 2000’s (and think of the swim successes coming out of that country then!), break them down and make them understandable to anyone.  Immediately after the clinic we made plans to meet Karlyn in Hawaii since we’d be there on vacation shortly after.

Our first day in Kona meant some private instruction for Jason and I in Karlyn’s endless pool.  Never before has one hour in the pool been so productive for us!  Immediately Karlyn had me widen my stroke, swim more extended and use a “catch-up” stroke, and finally helped me figure out the high-elbow pull underwater that had been eluding me for so long!  It was basically back to my waterpolo stroke from the 1980’s with more glide!

Swimming at Karlyn's - early on and I've
not yet got high elbows underwater.

We spent an hour working on different bits and pieces – wider spacing, flat hand entry, getting rid of extra rotation, pulsing power, reaching, high elbow pull, recovery – and then putting them all together.  She has one of those pool noodle things that she taps you with if your hand, head, etc is not in the right position.  Talk about instant response!  The really cool thing about taking a lesson in Karlyn’s pool is you can tell right away if a change you made is faster or slower… if it’s faster you end up hitting the motor creating the current, and if it’s slower you end up getting shot out towards the back of the pool.  There are also mirrors on the bottom so you can see exactly what you’re doing.  She videos you in short segments then has you watch it.  Individual instruction and real-time feedback are exactly what works for me!

Once we put it all together and practiced for awhile, Karlyn had me go back to my old stroke… and immediately the current shot me backwards.  Changing back to my new stroke had me swimming faster again!  Then it was Jason’s turn, and same deal for him.

Jason watching a bit of video and
debriefing it with Karlyn.

We spent every day of our Kona vacation practicing our new stroke, mostly in the ocean.  I could hear Karlyn’s enthusiastic voice in my head as I swam, yelling and laughing with me as I worked on my stroke.

Back at home and back to my regular training schedule.  I had a swim test set scheduled for this past week, six weeks after the last one I did.  I was a bit nervous because of course I wanted to be faster after working with Karlyn, but I really didn’t know how all those changes would translate once I was back swimming in my hometown pool.  Plus I’d done a tough TRX workout the day before and was really feeling it.  Six weeks ago I averaged 5:06 on my 300’s in the 3x300 meter test, so I was really hoping I’d swim this test in under 5:05 for all three.  That would be the measure of success for me.

I pushed off the wall and concentrated on what Karlyn and I were working on.  I was swimming my tempo pace and honestly it didn’t feel any faster than my old stroke.  When I hit the wall at 300m, I looked at the clock and I’d just swam a 4:58!  I was so excited that I wanted to jump out and call Jason, but my next interval was coming up.  The next 300m was 4:57, and the third was 4:59!   So I went from a base of 1:42/100m to 1:39!  My goal for the whole SEASON was to get to 1:40 pace!  New goal: be able to hold this pace for 4 kilometres - full Vineman aquabike coming up...

Jason and I have already decided that every time we go back to Kona, we will do another lesson with Karlyn.  You should too – and check her schedule (www.aquaticedge.org) in case she’s doing a clinic in your town to start there!

Kona Winds

While we were lucky the day we rode the Ironman course to get some wind but nothing crazy, the next day we rode out on the Queen K the winds were insane!  They were 40 miles per hour with gusts to 60 - and riding out was straight into a headwind.  I was in my small chainring, pushing hard, riding downhill!  Cranking out even 15 km/h was difficult.  Then once we turned around, I was coasting and accelerating past 35 km/h; once I started pedaling man we flew back to town!  It was pretty fun, but honestly I can't imagine having to race in headwinds like that.  I thought Boise was bad enough.  But for every headwind, there's a tailwind, right?

Here's some video Jason shot of the wind that day:


Riding the Ironman Course

We just got back from a vacation to Kona.  Of course we brought bikes, and of course I wanted to ride the Ironman bike course.  Of course it was hot, so we started early.  Crack of dawn early, which actually isn't that bad when you're coming from the west coast and there's a three-hour time change.

Map of our ride - doesn't look all that
amazing or anything...
Early morning sunshine.

We loaded up our cages with bottles and pockets with food.  We rolled down Ali'i Drive from the condo we were staying in and out of town (we skipped the out-and-back up Kuakini, so ended up riding "only" 175 km (107 miles) instead of the whole 180 (112)).  It started as a really nice morning with fairly calm winds.  We rode and chatted with Bree Wee for a bit, who was doing a recovery spin after Ironman New Zealand.  Overall, the ride to Kawaihae was pretty effortless, fun, and uneventful.

Jason on the Queen K - not much besides lava!

Once you turn towards Hawi off the Queen K, we ripped down a short but steep descent around mile 38 - unlike the gradual 15 mile grind to come.  It was pretty much uphill to Hawi, and a headwind the whole way (Jason said it was always like that - the wind I mean, pretty sure the elevation never changes.  Substantially anyway...).  I watched our average speed plummet on my Garmin.  But the scenery was beautiful; shimmering blue ocean on one side and actual vegetation on the other!  No more stark lava fields of the Queen K, plants had a strong foothold on this part of the island.  

Hawi itself is a quaint little town, and it was actually cooler and even rained a bit.  We stopped for a quick drink and turned around, and of course flew back to Kawaihae downhill with the wind at our backs.  By the time we stopped to refuel in town, our average speed was back where we left it.

Ride back from Hawi - notice actual trees and grass and stuff.

We stopped at a gas station and bought Cokes, chips, and other general crap food that tastes sooo good when you're 4+ hours into a ride.  We also slathered on a bunch more sunscreen as it was really hot (duh), refilled our bottles, then back on the bikes for the ride back to Kona.  For some reason Jason sat on my wheel for the climb out to Kawaihae to the Queen K, which always unnerves me because I know he climbs light-years faster than I do, so I'm never sure why he just doesn't wait for me at the top.  It was probably only a mile, but felt like it was straight up.

Once again on the Queen K, and it was hot and windy.  Of course the wind was a headwind, what else would it be?  One thing I will say about that road - there is a lot of traffic.  The shoulder is great, wide and smooth so it's not an unsafe ride, but I am just not used to cars going by ALL THE TIME (I rarely ride on the highways at home when there are so many sweet back roads to ride), and I was getting tired of the noise.  It would drive me bonkers if I always had to listen to cars going by me.

Anyway, I was getting tired.  It's March, and generally a long ride for me in March is in the 4 hour range.  Not the 6+ hour range.  Plus, I had to stop for a bathroom break, so we rode into Waikoloa and gaped at "fake Hawai'i" for a bit... fancy cookie-cutter resorts and golf courses.  But nice bathrooms, so thanks.

I would have been pretty happy to end my ride there, but there was still a matter of about 40 km back to our condo, so there was still some pedaling to do.  Jason was letting me draft him as best he could (I wasn't really at the point anymore of being able to sprint if I lost his wheel).  I was pretty psyched when we hit Kona again and could basically coast downhill to our condo.  A long ride, but a classic one for sure.

Something Old, Something New

I'm mixing things up a bit yesterday and adding a couple of things to my schedule.  Something old, and something new.  In many senses of the word.  The old is yoga.  I used to do yoga several years ago (and of course as a discipline it's quite old).  Doing yoga doesn't work well for me when I have a high run volume.  But this year I'm not running as much, and I'm really enjoying my yoga routine again.  I don't particularly enjoy group yoga, but I have a tried-and-true routine I do at home that I'm happy to be reunited with.

The new is TRX.  I've never done it before, and it's kinda new as a thing anyway.  So far I'm not sold on it.  So far, I'm terrible at it.  I'm all wobbly and frankly I feel quite goofy.  I think it's going to be one of those things you really have to stick with to get.  I'm not sure if I'll stick with it long term, but I feel like I should really give it a good go at this point to be fair.  I really like strength training, so may go back to a routine of free weights, bosu, swedish ball, etc., instead of TRX. But I'm working on it.

In addition to our basement room full of bikes for trainer riding, we have a third bedroom upstairs that we can use for a workout room.  Lots of space to try something old, and something new.

How are you mixing things up this year?