Posts Tagged ‘training’

Day Three: Well, That’s Better

Posted: August 6, 2014 by writingsprint in Triathlon
Tags: , ,
dog swimming

I’m a little faster than this. I think.

I’m going to shorten up the training reports unless something really big, good or bad, happens. Technically these are all “slice of life” posts, but The Daily 400’s meant to be more of a creative writing than a training journal. Rest assured that race day or the day after is going to have one seriously long post about how the day went.

As a public service, I do want to post links to the training program I’m using until I get squared away with a fitness trainer from the YMCA. I found a nine-week “couch to sprint triathlon” training program. I’m jumping in at week two, since I only have eight weeks. It looks like this:

Monday Swim
Tuesday Bike + Run
Wednesday Swim
Thursday Bike + Run
Friday Rest
Saturday Run
Sunday Bike

Time intervals increase as the you get closer to race day, easing off in the last two weeks. Two or three of the workouts can contain some intensity, but the rest are easy to moderate pace. A few years ago I tried using this four-month plan, with a trainer’s support, but my overtime commitments at work got in the way.

I was surprised that the workouts are fairly short. Almost all of them are an hour long or less. Normally I’d dive into the deep end of the pool and work out longer. I think I’m going to play with it instead and see where that puts me. Maybe keep the same amounts of time, but add intensity here and there for endurance.

Okay! So, today’s report:

My thighs are killing me. They feel like stone inserts under my skin. Lucky for me today I swam 50-yard intervals rather than ran. (Ran… yeah right. I’m still jogging. When I get up to running I’ll let you know.) My swim workout was:

10 x 50 yards freestyle
2 x 50 yards kickboard
2 x 50 yards pull buoy
2 x 50 yards breaststroke

Or something like that. One of the last three might have had another 50 yards thrown in. After that I biked on one of the machines at the gym for 30 minutes at a moderate pace. Note to self: find someplace to get the bike tuned up this weekend.

I miss yoga. I love bending myself into a pretzel and doing the balancing act. Nothing spectacular at my 45 years, but it’s a blast. I think I’ll do restorative yoga on my days off. If I can fit it in on the other days it’ll totally rock.

Photo credit: “Kumo swimming laps” by Emilee Rader at Flickr
Photo is unmodified
Shared under Creative Commons license


Day Two: And This Is My Strong Event?

Posted: August 5, 2014 by writingsprint in Triathlon
Tags: , , ,


^ What they said ^

I went for a 30-minute jog today. The good news is that I made it farther than I expected I would. Call it motivation. The bad news is that I’m still woefully out of shape. I putt-putted my way for I don’t know what distance. I didn’t stop, which was my main, moral goal. It sank in: I’m going to be swimming 250 yards, then biking until my legs are jelly, and then jogging three miles on top of that. (Yay?) Those hills looked much longer on the way back than they did on the way out. But I didn’t stop. Like I said with the swimming yesterday: I’ll take it.

My right hip doesn’t seem to want to get in the game. Part of it might be a touch of scoliosis from using an exercise ball for a desk chair for the better part of a year. It improved the heck out of my posture, but over time I think I favored using my left leg to hold myself still, and my right leg just sat there. Part of it involves some personal history. Let’s just say this experience is going to be soul cleansing. It’ll be good for me, but man, it is not fun right now.

Later I biked at the gym for 30 minutes, too. I tried to keep it light but I got fired up chasing the pace biker on the monitor. I tell myself I’m not competitive. Maybe it’s only against humans. I need to get my bike tuned up and get on the road for real.

P.S.: I also need new headphones—for the gym, not the road. The package said “sports” headphones, but it turns out that’s because the cords are short, made to be reaching into an armband rather than your pocket. Not a tragedy. I’ll add it to the training “to do” list.

Photo credit: American Council on Exercise
Used without permission

Time for Sacrifice

Posted: August 4, 2014 by writingsprint in My two cents, Triathlon
Tags: , , , ,

(Hey, that’s a good title for a book. Write that one down…)

Two days ago I received an announcement from my local YMCA that they’re holding a sprint triathlon at the end of September. Doing a tri has been on my bucket list ever since I helped a friend of mine train for one back in 2005. I would have done it by now, but life intervened: overtime. Getting married. Moving. Plantar fasciitis. Writing. Getting yoga certification.

All good reasons to get sidetracked, but the time has come. It’s one thing to see an opportunity. It’s another to have fate smack you in the face with one. The race is happening less than thirty minutes away from my house, and the swim leg is only 250 yards. Even out of shape and a few years removed from regular swim workouts, I should be able to handle that.

All that’s the good news. The bad news is that I have a very busy job, and I only have two months to get from the couch to the starting line. As I see it, I need to get my ass up early in the morning every morning between now and race day and whip my butt into shape. (I’m not helping myself any by staying up until 10:30 to make a blog post.)

This morning I did my first training swim. Here’s how it went:

250 yards freestyle: I made it! It wasn’t pretty, but I made it! I flipped over and kicked on my back for about ten yards near the end because my breathing technique has never been as good as I wanted it to be. Otherwise I did “fine.” The time doesn’t even matter to me. I’m glad I was able to finish! In case you really want to know, it was seven minutes and change.

I was shocked by how much yoga helps! All that body awareness is improving my reach and balance. My body feels lighter in the water than it ever has before. I think it’s because I have less tension sitting in my body.

250 yards kickboard: Ugh. Can I doing something besides kick for a while? That would be no, young man. Your kick is the only thing that keeps you from dropping like a rock when you’re trying to breathe during freestyle as it is. Make friends with the kickboard. Sleep with it under your pillow.

200 yards pull buoy: It should have been 250 yards but I was so discombobulated by it that I lost count. These things are just weird. My legs flip back and forth like I’m a six-foot tadpole. And what’s with that knot in my back? There’s a muscle between my right shoulder blade and my spine that doesn’t want to relax. It’s keeping me from stretching as far on the right as I do on the left. My swim teacher used to tell me, “I wish I could cut off your right arm and give you two lefts. Your left is perfect. Your right just doesn’t want to stretch.”

150 yards breaststroke: I was rounding out my 30 minutes at this point. Take it easy and work some other muscles.

As I changed in the locker room, I saw that finding my way to the gym and getting squared away at the front desk took me longer than planned. I didn’t have time to get my bike workout in. I still considered the day a win. I got my ass out of bed at 5 a.m. and succeeded in getting a good start in my hardest event. I’ll take it.

When opportunity hits you like this, go with it.

More on Open Water

Posted: August 2, 2012 by writingsprint in Triathlon
Tags: , , , ,

Today was my second try at open water swimming, and it went much better than the first. The first wasn’t necessarily bad, it just scared the crap out of me, and I had no idea how to gauge how much energy I had left and what to do with it. I also wasn’t sure how far I’d gone.

If you’re anything like me, here’s a comparison between what your first time in open water will be like versus your second:

The First Time The Second Time
This water keeps moving every time a boat goes by. I just got a mouthful of water! Damn! Look on the bright side: at least the water tastes better than chlorine.
I can’t put my feet down! I have to swim where it’s shallow! Hey, this is kind of cool. It’s like I’m weightless. I bet this is what it feels like to be an astronaut doing a spacewalk.
The water’s getting dark. I can’t see the bottom. Now I can’t touch bottom and I can’t see bottom. This is too much like Dante’s Inferno. Get me the hell out of here! Hmm. Not seeing the bottom is kind of creepy. I’m going to skirt the edge of it this time, and I’ll work on swimming over it more next time.
My arms are tired. I mean, not exhausted tired, but I don’t know how much gas I have left in the tank. What if I make a mistake, take in a mouthful of water and lose it? My arms are tired. Let’s work stretching out farther. In a few minutes I may roll over and just kick for a bit.

Feeling like I could play with not touching bottom and the dark edge of the water below me took about eighty pounds of the pressure off. I actually had fun with it. I am more glad than I can put into words that I’m doing this for the first time now, and not with a month or two to go before the triathlon.

Hmm. I need to get more open water swimming in. I need to look into where I can do that in Philly.

Since I was more composed I did a better job counting my strokes this time. I’m very sure that I went at least 600 yards, and possibly 800. Most of it was freestyle, some of it was breaststroke and a little bit of it was kicking on my back. Other than learning that open water isn’t the antigravity well of terror, I learned that I really, really need to build up my lung capacity so that I’m getting more air with each breath. My rhythm is good, but I need more air in order to pull as strongly as I want to. I breathe much better on my right than my left, meaning that my right side ties up because it doesn’t get a break. Need to work on that too.

My sister-in-law’s dogs didn’t know what to make of this strange guy swimming up to the dock from way out on the lake. I popped out of the water with two very curious faces staring down at me :).

I’m up in New Hampshire with my wife and her family, up by the Great East Lake. It’s a lovely day, quiet and softly raining, temperature in the mid to high 70’s. Other than relaxing and having a good time… and getting some Maine lobster… visiting Kennebunkport, watching some Olympics… anyway, other than a bunch of things, I wanted to have the guts to do some open water swimming while I’m here. I’ve never done open water swimming, and if I’m going to do the triathlon next year, it’s high time I get used to it. I wanted to get used to what it looks like under water, how dark it is, how it feels. How it feels is a big question for me: it has to be colder than pool water, so again, I’d better get used to it. I also wanted to learn what the water tastes like, and how I’ll react when the water’s choppy and I get a mouthful of it. I won’t have the chaos of a thousand other swimmers around me, but a start’s a start.

There were more than a few butterflies and excuses knocking around in my head. Oh, it’s a rainy day, don’t bother. There are some boats out, you should be careful. It’s your first day of vacation! Relax! Yammer yammer yammer. Get in the water, dude. It’ll be cold! Yammer. If I listen to the excuses today it’ll be harder not to listen to them later. I’m still going.

Speaking of starts, We drove up at oh-dark-thirty yesterday, so I slept in today and got off to a late start. I made it down to the water’s edge in swim trunks a little after noon. The thermometer that we keep in the lake said the water temperature was about 77 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s pretty good. High 70’s, 80 max, is a good pool temperature for me. My wife told me the lake’s been warm this year. That means the river back home is going to be colder next July. Okay, that’s good to know. I put my goggles on and flopped backwards off the dock into the water. Then I started kicking and settled into my fingertip drills.

Let’s start by saying that the bottom of a lake looks nothing like the bottom of a pool. It’s green, it’s rocky or it’s muddy, and it’s dark. Visibility was maybe about 10 yards. Bits of plants blown off from nearby trees floated here and there. No doubt any fish in the area bolted as soon as I started swimming.

It’s hard to see where you’re going. Holly, my trainer, already told me to relax my neck and not look so much at where I’m going, to keep from bunching up the muscles in my shoulders. I’m here to tell you that even when you’re looking, you’re really not seeing enough to help anyway. Three times I was almost on top of a neighbor’s boat dock before I knew it, and had to swim around. It was all the more reason to just look straight down and swim far enough away from the docks for it not to matter.

Fresh water tastes much, much better than pool water. They don’t call it “fresh” for nothing. I’m sure there’s some algae, leafy bits, and boat fuel or polish in it, but it’s not like I was drinking it.

It’s easy to get disoriented. Other than my close encounters with the docks, twice I found myself in shallower water than I expected. I figure this won’t be such a problem when I’m surrounded by all the other swimmers. That’s my master plan not to get lost: follow someone else’s feet.

And, for those of you who’ve been following this adventure, the next part won’t surprise you. The biggest problem I had was in my head. As soon as I got tired, at all, I got worried. Let’s face it, I really don’t know how tired I’m going to feel before there’s a problem. That dark water and not always being able to just stand up and breathe scared the crap out of me.

First I swam through the fear. Fear happens. It’s what you do with it when you’re in the middle of it that matters. I didn’t ignore it and I didn’t push it down, but I recognized that my arms weren’t lead weights, my legs weren’t either, and I could still breathe. It didn’t make it go away but thinking at all is a good thing. After a while, I did what my trainer taught me to do: I rolled over onto my back and kicked, but kept going. When I got my breath back, I rolled back over and kept going. A few times I breaststroked, too, but that’s boring, so I went back to freestyle and worked on my breathing. The big thing was that not to stop, at all.

The goal was to do at least a quarter mile today. If I felt dynamite, I’d do a half mile. I have no idea how far I went; I lost count after 200+ strokes, so I definitely made the quarter mile. I swam as far as I had the nerve to go, then turned around and came back. My wife said that she didn’t know when I left, but it went past 12:30 while I was out, and it was about 1:00 when I came in. Assuming I was swimming the whole time, fast or slow, breaststroke or freestyle, that’s pretty darned good for a first try.

The next swim is in three days. I’ve got two days of solid put-your-feet-up-and-enjoy-it time coming in Kennebunkport tomorrow and the day after. That’s a working port and there’s no way I’m swimming in *that* water! After that, we’re back at the lake house, and if there’s no lightning, I’ll be swimming open water again.

We Have to Work on Mind Training

Posted: July 25, 2012 by writingsprint in Triathlon
Tags: , , ,

Tonight’s going to be a short post. I’m inundated with work as I get ready to go on vacation, but tonight I made time for one more training session before I go away on vacation. We’re going up to New Hampshire, where we’ll spend a week by a lake and hopefully I’ll get some open water swimming in!

Anyway. First Holly had me swim ten strokes, as fast as I could.

Huh? 10 strokes?


Then she had me swim eight. The eight strokes were almost as far as the ten. Huh! That was a surprise.

Then she had me swim six. Those were almost as far as the eight.

“This is exactly what I wanted to show you,” she said.

“What the heck is going on?”

“You’re reaching farther and pulling harder when you have less strokes to do. Every stroke you do should be like this. We have to work on mind training for you. You need to think about doing one stroke at a time, not 40 laps.”

I half-coughed as I kept from protesting. I have to make sure I have enough gas left in the tank! I’m not good enough! I don’t know… I mean… pffft….

A wiser part of me knew that everything I wanted to say was everything I had to get past. I knew that what she was saying made sense. I would love to have a longer, smoother stroke and a looser rhythm when I swim. If this is what it takes, I’ll trust her.

The next part of the workout was to swim a series of laps that way. If I became too winded, I was allowed to flip over on my back and kick until my breath came back, but the important thing was not to stop. One of the highlights of the night was when during my second round of kicks, when I got fed up, rolled over and started swimming freestyle again; I thought I heard Holly say, “Attaboy!”

Then I repeated the whole thing.

The last, strangest swim of the night was an exercise in building lung capacity. I took a deep breath and kicked as far along the bottom as I could. The first time I flopped between the top and bottom like a fish out of water. Every time I came up, I came to a dead stop. Holly eventually stopped me and emphasized along the bottom of the pool. Something clicked and I got my inner fish on. I made it half the length of the pool and probably could have gone farther!

I don’t know how I’m going to swim 800 yards when I’m reaching as far as I can, pulling as hard as I can. I’m trusting that it all makes sense. Maybe the only difference between a marathon swim and a sprint swim is how fast you stroke, but it’s all the same stroke in the end.


I’ll figure it out. In the meantime, it was a really good night at the pool.

swim paddlesMonth 3 Week 2
30 minutes swimming
60 minutes biking

The campaign to end my fears and just enjoy the triathlon experience has begun. On Saturday I was just supposed to swim, and Sunday was supposed to be biking only. On Saturday I threw in light weightlifting (because I’m not ready for heavy weightlifting, yet), and Sunday I both swam and biked. Why? Because I love exercise! I’m addicted to video games, but I truly love getting out there and feeling my muscles moving and my blood pumping.

The pool was empty when I arrived, calm and flat, the swimmer’s equivalent of a skier coming to the top of a mountain and seeing nothing but fresh powder sweeping out below him. It was all I could do not to scream for joy like a five-year-old and leap into the water flailing my arms and legs. There were white Christmas lights strung all over the roof from the Black and White Ball fundraiser for animals that was held here the night before. I wondered if people had been literally twistin’ by the pool.

My trainer encouraged me to keep working on my fingertip drills. To mix things up, I did just that, with paddles to build up my shoulders and back. I admit: my main motivation is that I would love to have Michael Phelps’ shoulders and Jeremy Renner’s biceps in a few years. Well, we’ll see what happens with that, but I have to say that the paddles did more for my stroke than I thought they would. Paddles encourage you to push all the way through your stroke. When you put all that work into pushing the water behind you, then just yank your arm out without finishing, you feel a bit like you just spun your partner in a dance move, then didn’t pull her back in. The move just isn’t done! I liked the pinch I felt in my triceps when I made full extension.

Finally, when you don’t give your fullest reach at the beginning of a stroke, the paddle will let you know: the front end will stick in the water like a spade in sand. HINT! Reach farther, dude! Or at least flatter. There were a few times I reached out, then slid my hand along the top of the water until I couldn’t go farther. Hopefully that’s “close enough.”

The next 75 minutes were spent biking through Philly, then along the banks of the Schuylkill River. It was a gorgeous, cool summer day, high 70’s, with the sun glittering on the river and a breeze giving me some sweet relief and a little challenge as I rode. I cranked up the resistance on my gears to give my legs the same treatment I gave my shoulders with the paddles. I shared the path with joggers, other bikers, skateboarders (including a father who was doing a great job keeping up with his two sons), and dog walkers, not to mention geese.

Ahhh. That’s more like it.

ocean texture“I always wanted to be Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up. I can’t fly, but swimming is the next best thing. It’s harmony and balance. The water is my sky.” Clayton Jones

One day, I’ll swim like this. The water is Clayton’s sky but it’s my ballroom, and I’m dancing with the shoes that don’t fit.

So buy new shoes!

I’m making my own shoes, and they’re fitting better every time.

Okay, enough with the overstretched metaphors.

Month 2, Week 4
Thursday: Long swim (17 minutes)

When I’m not in training sessions, long swim day is nothing but as many laps as I can swim in the amount of time I have. I made it to the gym around 1 p.m., and was surprised how full the pool was. The staff told me that they built the pool for office workers who would use it on their lunch hours or just after work. The first lane looked like a student; the second lane looked like a gentleman my age; the third lane was empty and I jumped on it; the fourth lane was taken by another guy, younger than I am.

Lessons for the day:

  • Control your fear. Or, to bring back the metaphor, learn to dance with it. I actually found myself panicking over not having enough air, which is bloody annoying, because I’m an experienced swimmer and have gone for 45 minutes without stopping in the past. (To the *really* experienced swimmers in the back row, please laugh more quietly. Thanks.). I was cheating by popping up at the end of each lap and getting a gulp of air rather than doing flip turns, which I know how to do. (But I need to breathe! I’m not getting enough air!) I indulged myself with a stop in the short end of the pool and gave myself a gut check. This is a problem I had to fix, now, because I couldn’t keep swimming like this. I deliberately slowed down, breathed more easily, and kept swimming with good form. Everything else must come in time. I can’t swim like a fast nut job and cheat on the ends. Certainly not on race day, when I’m in open water surrounded by a hundred other swimmers.
  • Fear is an opportunity to exercise courage.
  • Swimming is constant movement. I’ve already mentioned that I have a bad habit of “locking” my form. Today I dealt with it by looking at my arms and legs as opposite ends of the same pole. When my left hand was reaching, I pulled my right hand back even harder and made my shoulder roll, to make my left reach even farther. Keep them rolling constantly, like an engine. I fought to get my hips into the kick. I’ve read that’s the key, but I’m only beginning to feel it.

Weight lifting was steady and careful. I’m over 40 and just getting back into it, and as fired up as I may be… one step at a time.

Tomorrow we’re heading down to Washington, DC, to see The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Our train doesn’t leave until just after noon, so I have the morning to get one more day of exercise in. Saturday will be the second rest day for this week, and Sunday we’ll be back to hard training.

I needed a plan for how to train. If you don’t have a plan you wind up in a situation like this. In the best of all possible worlds I would’ve found someone who’s trained for multiple sprint triathlons, picked their brains, read whatever books they told me to read and followed any plans they put in front of me. I considered signing up with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training, but they weren’t taking applications for triathlons when I was getting started, and I wasn’t sure they would take someone at my novice level.

A few hours of Google searches later, I settled on a basic program that I found at — the swim-focused sprint training plan. I liked the simplicity; even I could follow it. I also liked how it mandated taking two days off a week to recover and prevent injuries. I was brought up in school of hard days / light days as a runner, where the light day meant doing long distance rather than interval work — a different kind of “hard,” if you ask me — and no days off. The plan also encourages you to tailor it to your schedule. Emergencies and deadlines crop up in my job at a moment’s notice, so that was right up my alley. I would put in the time that the program described, and along the way, I would sign up with a personal trainer to build up my swimming and tailor the program as needed.

Yesterday was my “long bike” day of the week. I told Holly I was getting bored with the gym, so she encouraged me to get out of the gym and get on outdoors. It sure feels a lot different from the stationary bike. It was 80 degrees when I left the house, around 7:30 at night. The sun was still up pretty high. It’s late June in Philly and the sun doesn’t completely set until about 8:30.

Balmy! I was groping for a good word to describe how it felt. Balmy for me is what most people would describe as just barely too warm and just barely too humid. Like a light sauna. That’s a balm for me. I wore the poor man’s version of training clothes: T shirt, gym shorts, and a backpack that carried my house keys.

The ride took me back to night running when I was in high school. I forgot what grass smelled like; I live downtown and work in an office all day. Fairmount Park is a green, lovely oasis down by the Schuylkill river. The heat embraced everything. People were out walking their dogs, hanging with their friends by the river, or just doing nothing at all. And here and there, the runners and bicyclists. Here was my view :):

Fairmount Park

There are two elements that riding outside gives you that a stationary bike can’t: hills and wind. I can deal with hills. That’s what gears are for, and I faced some monster hills as a runner. Hills come to an end. You can attack them and get the hell off them, or just shorten your stride and wait until it’s over. If you’re lucky, they’re rolling hills, and you get a nice downhill on the other side. There isn’t much you can do about wind besides enjoy the breeze and the added exercise. It’s subtle, and it doesn’t go away. You might settle in behind someone bigger than you, and let them push through the wind, but that’s about it. There’s also wildlife: last night I also dodged a flock of geese that was crossing from one side of the path to the other, and today I shared the path with college crew teams, their boats, and children running to see their brothers and sisters.

Side note: I’m watching the 2012 Olympic Trials in Omaha as I type this. The women are doing the 800 meter freestyle in 8 1/2 minutes. It takes me 26. Just… wow.


Posted: June 27, 2012 by writingsprint in Health, Triathlon
Tags: , , , , , ,

Around this time next year, I’m going to do a sprint triathlon. This is the first in a series of who knows how many posts about how the training’s going. There’ll be some more background later, but for now I’m just going to jump in. Today was my third session with the personal trainer, so I’m a couple weeks behind with sharing this as it is.

Today’s workout was speed work in the pool. Holly, my trainer, had me swim with the kickboard for a few laps, sprint one lap; swim with the kickboard a few more laps, sprint one lap; and so on, until the first part of the workout was done. That was when the real workout started. I sprinted a few laps, then did one with the kickboard; you get the idea.

I am exhausted and I feel like crap. Maybe “crap” is a strong word. I felt bloody discouraged as I slogged my way through those laps, and I don’t feel like I had a good workout. Compared to what, though? We identified my weak spot. All things considered, I toughed through it, and that’s a good thing. The good news is I’m mature enough to only tell myself that once. I reserve the right to roll my eyes, wish I were stronger, and move on. I do have that warm, flushed-out feeling that you get from a good workout, and I know I’m going to sleep well tonight. I can still feel like I’m floating in the water.

The best part of tonight was when I learned how much of swimming is about rhythm. (The experienced swimmers may say that I don’t know what the f&*k I’m talking about.) Seriously. I’ve always been working on perfecting my form. Reach. Pull. Breathe. Reach. Pull. Breathe. What was happening was more more like, reach, [lock], pull, [lock], reach, [lock], pull…. At one point I heard Holly say “Keep those kicks smooth,” and it clicked with my stroke, too. On my last sprint lap, when I should have been the most tired, I had the best flowing movement I’d ever had, and I had the same time as I did with my first lap.

Holly high-fived me at the end. (Encouragement’s a good thing.) To wrap up, she said, “Okay, so here’s what we learned today. You’ve shown you have endurance. Not a problem. You’ve got speed over short distances. Good to go. We need to work on maintaining that speed. All our workouts are going to focus on that from now on.” I can now look forward to a lot more interval training from now through next year.