The Long and Short of It

Today’s workout was my “Sunday Long Run,” although shorter than normal.  This is a “recovery” week, meaning I back off of both distance and intensity in all activities to allow some extended recovery time.  Even when I’m not actively training for an event, I start to look forward to recovery weeks.  They represent mini vacations in what can become a training grind, so I want to enjoy them when they happen.

My normal long run mileage is up to 12 miles each Sunday, gradually building in preparation for the Soaring Wings Half Marathon at the end of October.  There are a number of different philosophies about how long one’s longest run should be prior to a distance race.  Some advocate running the entire distance at least once, others say getting to 2/3 or 3/4 the distance in practice is good enough… adrenaline will carry you through the rest of the way.  Perhaps it’s insecurity, the need to over-engineer things, or my approach to triathlon, but for distances up to a half marathon, I always like to make my longest training run longer than the race itself by a couple of miles.  In triathlon, there’s another leg coming after the first two, and the run usually finishes just as the tank reads empty.  I always like to think I’ve got just a little bit extra left in the tank when I start the run.  That way, if the course is harder than expected or I need to pass someone right at the end, I’ve got something left.

Today was a great example of that principle in practice.  While 7 miles should have been relatively easy when my past runs were 10, 11, and 12, this morning was brutal.  It was already 80+ degrees at 7:30 when I hit the road, with 95% humidity.  I don’t carry a water bottle for anything less than 10 miles, so I intentionally took things a little more slowly to “conserve sweat.”  While I’m sure it helped, there was no conserving sweat after the first mile.  I normally pour the remains of my water bottle over my head as I approach the last water fountain along the river trail (assuming the fountains are working), which means I finish the run drenched.  No water bottle today, but I was as drenched as if I’d doused myself anyway.  That’s the tough thing about training for distance events in Arkansas… spring races mean training through sleet and ice in the winter, while fall races mean doing your long runs in the brutal heat of the summer.  Better than some places, worse than others.

So I’m looking forward to a few easier workouts this week, and trying to keep some rhythm despite a hectic schedule at work.  That, plus the continued Total Immersion Swimming practice.  The next few lessons reintroduce breathing.  Breathing is good.  Always.

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Total Immersion – Weekly Recap

In my quest for a better swimming stroke, I hit the pool five days in a row this week.  I feel like I came about as close to “mastering” lesson one of the Total Immersion “Self-Coached Workouts” as I can without a separate set of eyes to tell me how close I’m coming to textbook performance, and moved on to lesson two.  Lesson one took me four days to get a solid feel for, but I think lesson two will go more quickly.

A little orientation; the TI Self-Coached Workouts consists of 10 lessons.  Each lesson is made up of 4-6 “drills”, each of which has multiple steps to master.  The lessons break the entire swim stroke down into the most basic elements, then recombine the elements once you’ve mastered them.  Think of Daniel-San in “Karate Kid”… wax on, wax off, paint fence; get it?

Perhaps the most challenging aspect for me is not rushing back into “whole stroke” before I’m prepared.  I tried a length or two of the pool after the third day of lesson one, and found I was actually slower.  Not really surprising, considering I’m “unlearning” all the compensating mechanisms I’ve developed over the past three years.  Each lesson ends with only a few “whole stroke” repeats to introduce how relaxed swimming should feel, but not enough to allow the new habits to break down into old patterns.

Lesson one was all about balance.  Lesson two introduces rotation during the stroke sequence, followed by extending each arm in turn for the “catch”.  I thought I had pretty good extension during my stroke, but when I performed the reach as an isolated move, I could feel the stretch in my side.  Interesting feeling.  It was enough of a stretch that my sides were sore by the time the workout was done.  I can see why this would make a difference once I learn to do it right.

One unintended side effect of spending 5 days in a row in the pool is that my hair, already a little stiff from all the gray somebody snuck in, is about the consistency of dried straw.  My skin has also taken on that alluring odor of chlorine that won’t seem to go away no matter how much soap I use.  Ah, the joys of fitness.

While it took me four days to get through lesson one, I was able to accomplish all the drills in lesson two on the first day I tried it.  I can’t say I mastered them, but I did make it through all four.  I could still feel the balance learned in lesson one, so that seems positive.  I’m taking a day off today, but will hit the pool again tomorrow to pick up where I left off.  My schedule looks a bit hectic this week, so I may not be able to achieve the consistency I did last week.

The proof will come once I get to put everything back together, but I feel good about the program so far.  Having a focus has made me look forward to getting into the pool.  I’m pretty sure I look a bit silly to anyone else in the pool, pushing my way up and down the lane for an hour or so without actually swimming.  Come to think of it, I probably don’t look much more silly than when I’m actually swimming…

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Total Immersion – Day 2

I normally don’t swim two days in a row, but I’m determined to master the drills associated with the Total Immersion method.  To that end, I hit the pool again today to reinforce what I hope I learned yesterday.  At least today I made it all the way through the five drills in lesson one.

The first few drills deal primarily with finding balance in the water, and I was surprised to not feel my legs sinking, even without kicking.  I often fight the sensation of sinking legs, which can lead to much thrashing in a vain attempt to stay afloat.  Balance is a key element in the TI method, and the drills are as much about mental connection as mechanics.  I develop training material for a living, and one of the most successful methods I’ve found to teaching anything is to break it down into the simplest components, teach them one at a time, and then combine the parts… part task training.  TI follows this approach, which seemed nearly impossible to do in the water.  How can you focus only on kicking and not worry about breathing?  By practicing only in short segments so you don’t need to breath or do anything else.  That allows you to focus on how the action feels when you do it right.  As soon as you feel it start to fall apart, or you get distracted, you stop for a breath and start again.  Surprisingly, it works well.

As I said, I made it through all five drills that comprise the first lesson… a marked improvement over yesterday.  The balance drills went well, and the flutter drills were no problem.  I’ll definitely by repeating the “whole stroke” drills tomorrow, though.  As soon as I started incorporating the whole stroke, I could feel myself twist out of alignment.  Thrashing.  The amazing part, though, is that I could feel it.  The first few drills were so effective at helping me feel what balance should feel like that I recognized it as soon as I lost it.  That was a victory in itself.

I’m always a bit leery of the “miracle cure” for anything, but the difference in feel with this focus on balance and streamlining is pretty dramatic.  I’ll try to get into the pool each day this week and see if I can master lesson one.  The literature says expect to spend at least 2 hours in the pool on every one of the 10 lessons.  My pool sessions tend to be about 30-40 minutes over lunch, so each lesson will be a 3-4 day experience.  That’s okay, I’m in no hurry.  Right is better than fast.  And better is always better.

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You Know The Drill

I taught myself to swim a few years ago in preparation for my first triathlon.  I’d tried, and failed, to learn a number of times throughout my life.  Even though I’d decided long ago that I just “couldn’t” swim, the challenge of an impending triathlon renewed my motivation.  For anyone who read my writing during those early days, the stumbling and fumbling must have been pretty amusing.  I did eventually learn well enough to complete the triathlon, and continued to swim, albeit pretty badly.

I took a few months off from the pool starting last fall, and have recently returned.  While I have no real reason to strive for great improvement in the pool, there is something about knowing that I could do better.  To that end, I’ve decided to give my “Total Immersion” swimming program another try.  I bought the DVDs quite a while ago, but never really felt like I could afford the time needed to rebuild what I’d already learned.  Since I’m not really training for anything with a swim portion right now, this seemed as good a time as any.  So, I’ve devoted my next few weeks to nothing but the Total Immersion drills and exercises to see how much improvement I can generate with a concentrated effort.

I’ve had mixed results with “self-coaching” efforts in the past, so I was a little hesitant to try a highly technical approach to something as complex as swimming without any live expert assistance.  I watched the first of ten lessons a few times through before hitting the pool today, and felt well-prepared.  I was/am determined not to rush through the lessons… I’m going to take my time with each exercise to get the most benefit.  This is a very important aspect to the “TI” program, as it’s based on developing a feel for the right balance in the water to “let speed come to you.”

While I didn’t make it all the way through the first lesson in the pool today, I did see some progress.  The first exercise involves streamlining your body in the pool to glide as far as possible without using arms or legs for propulsion.  My first few attempts took 3.5 to 4 tries to make the length of the pool.  By the end of the session I was gliding across in 2.5 to 3.  The lesson gradually adds arm strokes and kicking separately, building on the streamlined position from the first exercise.  What amazed my was that I actually traveled less distance while kicking and using my arms than while simply gliding.  Guess there’s some inefficiency there, eh?

If it takes as long to finish the other lessons as it will the first one, I’ll be done by Christmas  While that’s a bit disheartening, it’s not like I’ve got a real deadline.  So the choice is actually pretty simple; I can focus on the drills for a few months and be a better swimmer by Christmas, or keep doing what I’ve been doing and be as clunky in the water as I am now.  Better seems better.

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Fun Flies

“Fun flies when you’re doing time.” Author Unknown

The past week was the type you survive more than anything else, so I can truly say I’m glad it’s over.  Training was mostly successful, with only a couple of workouts lost to weather and random chaos.  While I don’t mind running in the rain, I won’t run or ride in thunderstorms.  Rain and lightening cost me a long ride on Saturday, which I was able to do on Sunday instead.  I’d already planned to shift my long run from Sunday morning to later in the week due to travel commitments, so the scheduling worked out.

I decided last week to put some more structure to my swim training.  I swim on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and my swim sessions have historically just been lots of laps to build endurance.  As I’m returning to swimming, I’m hoping to undo some bad habits and learn some better technique.  Mondays will be dedicated mostly to drills.  Mondays are recovery days for me after a long ride on Saturday and a long run on Sunday, so a shorter swim focused on technique makes sense.  Wednesdays are speed work, with lots of 25 and 50 yard intervals.  Fridays are supposed to be the endurance day, with longer sets and more total mileage.

Last week’s swimming stuck to that plan, but the Friday workout was a bit of a bust.  The day had been #5 in a week full of Mondays, and I just couldn’t get any kind of rhythm.  I felt like I was thrashing through the water in the way I had when I first learned to swim.  If you train very often, a clunky workout is inevitable.  My basic rule is to push through the funk for at least the first third and see how it goes.  Most of the time, things will settle down and I can finish the run, swim, or ride.  Friday’s swim just never got any better.  Finally, at about the half way point, I decided all I was doing was reinforcing bad habits and getting frustrated.  Instead of simply quitting, I fell back to some basic Total Immersion drills.  I did a few lengths of the “Superman glide”, pushing off the bottom of the pool to see how far you can glide without kicking or pulling.  While it wasn’t as satisfying as finishing the entire workout, it did help clear the sense of frustration with the preceding work (mostly).

This is a travel week, with lots of customer meetings.  That means my training will be at the mercy of someone else’s schedule.  I’ve found a pool not far from the hotel, so I hope to salvage a couple of workouts there.  I won’t have a bike with me, so I’ll do all of my running early in the week and finish the rides when I get home.  Just call me Gumby… the epitome of flexibility.

Here’s to a better week than the last.

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Weekend Training Recap

I couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather this weekend.  My ride on Saturday was only 20 miles (last workout of an easy week), and I was very tempted to just keep going.  However, I knew I had a date with a heavy duty rototiller in the afternoon, and a long run scheduled for Sunday, so I made the wise choice and stuck with the plan.

This morning was my weekly long run, the first workout of a “hard” week.  I was on the trail by 7:15 a.m., and the temp was still in the mid 60s.  Humidity made up for the perfect temps, though.  I’m pretty sure I felt every bit of the 93% humidity through the entire run.  I learned from my last long run on the river trail and carried a bottle of water with me.  For some reason, all of the water fountains along the trail have been shut off for a few weeks.  11 miles with no water makes an old guy feel even older by the end of the run.

I took the plunge on a new pair of Brooks Ravenna 5 running shoes yesterday afternoon.  My current Asics only have about 250 miles on them, but my long runs are doing damage to my feet and ankles.  I’ve had good luck with the Ravenna shoe in the past, so I’m going back to a trusty favorite.  Plus, if I stick with the plan to run the Soaring Wings Half Marathon at the end of October, my current shoes would be worn out very near race day.  Changing them out now lets me get the new ones broken in well before the race.

I’m trying to put a bit more thought into my return to swimming.  That means establishing a purpose for each workout, and then pursuing that purpose.  I’m going to dedicate on workout to drills, which I’ve never really bothered with before.  I’d also like to try my “Total Immersion” swimming program again (never really stuck with it the first time).  All I’ve got to do is find the CD… not sure I’ve seen it since I moved in December.

Whatever your plans are for this week, make it the best week of the year so far!

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Excess Baggage

Simplicity is making the journey of this life with just baggage enough.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably packed for a vacation, lugged your baggage around with you, and then found you didn’t use or wear about 1/2 of what you brought.  When you’ve got the excess capacity, taking a few extra things with you isn’t a bad idea; better safe than sorry.  But dragging the kitchen sink along can be a big mistake when you need to stay “light, lean, and lethal.”  This is as true in training as in everyday life.


I’ve lived in or near a few “touristy” places in my life, including Washington, DC and Tampa, FL.  What always struck me was that the people who lived there all the time rarely did any of the “fun” stuff that other people went out of their way to do.  Most locals I knew in DC had never been to the monuments downtown.  Many of the locals I knew in Florida never went to the beach.  Why not?  Too much trouble.  Hard to park, too expensive, too crowded… too much baggage.  Often, those who went were discouraged from going back by the negative experience of dragging around coolers, backpacks, lawn chairs… all the stuff you “needed” to make the trip.  Baggage.  It kept them from enjoying the life around them.

Training often has excess baggage, too.  Too many “junk miles” that we think we have to run or ride in order to prepare for a race.  Extra supplements, “nutrition” for the long workout, specialty hydration products… just too much baggage.  In moderation, they probably have their place.  Taken to extreme, they can keep you from enjoying the process of training.  When it becomes too much trouble to go for a long run because of all the preparation it takes, maybe you’ve crossed the line.  This is really a danger for “age groupers” like me, who might lack natural ability and will grasp for anything to get a bit more of an edge.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve read about training, especially for triathlon, came from coach Joe Friel.  He advises his athletes to train the minimum amount necessary to improve with each workout and eventually achieve their goals.  Some might call this lazy… I call it smart.  Whether I’m training for a half marathon, a full, or just running for fitness, I run no more than 4 times per week.  The size of the goal dictates the intensity of the 4 workouts.  Every workout has a specific purpose.  No junk miles.  It’s the same with cycling.  I ride three times a week.  One short recovery ride, one hill workout, and one long ride.  Each one is designed for a purpose.  Any more than that (for me), and it starts to eat into my other priorities and risk injury.

Now that I’m getting back into the pool, I’ve pondered how much to swim.  Honestly, when I had to stop last fall, I was probably swimming more than I needed to.  The result was a hesitancy to invest that much time in going to the pool for the workout.  While most “real” swimmers would scoff at my short workouts now, they fit my current life’s demands.  Less baggage.

So, what’s the key to avoiding excess baggage?  Keep it simple.  As Joe Friel says, do what you need to do to meet your goals… no more, no less.  Don’t pick up someone else’s baggage of excess miles, special formulas, or extreme demands… the challenge may sound enticing, but odds are you’ll wind up burned out or injured by trying to live someone else’s life.  Hmm, I guess that’s not just training advice, is it?

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