Saturday, August 15, 2015

Beach to Beacon 10k

There's no event in 2015 I was looking forward to more heading into the season than the iconic Beach to Beacon 10k. While it wasn't necessarily the most important race of the year it was the one that excited me the most. I'm a huge fan of large running events. They aren't always conducive to running super fast times, but they're fun. In Maine, nothing is bigger than B2B. With 6500 runners, it's by far the largest road race in the state and it consistently sells out within 5 minutes. And it's not only large, but it's incredibly well attended by exceptional runners form all over the globe. The paring of gold medalist and American running legend, Joan Benoit Samuelson and Boston Marathon race director, Dave McGillivray draws an amazing field of athletes. Some of the best runners in the world toe the line on what's considered a fast course with one of the most picturesque finishes anywhere in the world.

Both my dad and I were able to secure spots to this year's race. Given the logistics involved in the point-to-point race, Eileen and Kellan stayed home for this one. Generally, I'm a fan of races that allow me to park right next to the start/finish area. It simplifies things and allows me to have the warm up and cool down I want without any hassle. That just wasn't an option at B2B, but we managed. In retrospect, the only real pre-race mistake I made was warming up too early. We were able to hop on the first shuttle bus out of Cape Elizabeth High School and arrived at the race start about 6:20am. By 6:30 the start area was already starting to fill up and I began to get nervous about my ability to get in a proper warm up due to the bathroom lines and how quickly the starting corrals were filling. So I took off for a 2 mile warm up. I felt great during warm up, but it simply ended too long before the start of the race. While I tried my best to do running drills and strides in the time remaining before the race, my legs were not where I wanted them as the start neared. Now that I've seen how things go I know that I can put off that warm up next year and still be to the starting line on time. Lesson learned.

With about 10 minutes to go before the start I made my way into the sub 6:00 mile corral and found my buddy Isaac who I knew would be running about the same time. As we chatted, I looked around at the competition and suddenly felt overweight and too muscular - which marks the second time this has ever happened to me, the first being in Kona 2013. I was not surrounded by triathletes who have developed some level of upper body strength through swimming and massive quads from all the hours on a bike. I was surrounded by twigs. I'm use to being the twig! But here I felt like I stuck out for not looking the part of a real runner.

After months of anticipation ahead of race day and hours of waiting the morning of, the gun went off. A massive wave of runners spilled onto the roadway. Even starting in the first 150 runners was chaotic. With the first few bends in the road being to the left it seemed as though everyone wanted to share the same exact space. I felt trapped for about a half mile and couldn't seem to find my way out of the crowd. As we neared the first aid station, though, I found an opening and broke to the right side of the road. While it required running a few extra feet it was worth having a bit of room to breathe. After the aid station I veered back to my left so I could take a shorter route around the course, but I stayed on the outside of the pack so I always had room to move if I wanted it. With all the jostling and with a lack of any real rhythm I went through the first mile in a pedestrian 5:42. Given the course layout I knew that was not a good sign as I expended far too much energy to run the first mile that slowly. I figured I needed to run between 5:32-5:35 for the first mile.

A few minutes into the race with Isaac stocking me in the background

I ran the second mile reasonably well. With the first mile being a bit slower than planned, the second was right where I needed it to be. However, with the first two and a half miles being downhill to flat the first real test of the race came near the halfway point with the first climb.

Running an open 10k is nothing like running 10k off the bike...

The hill at the 2.5(ish) mile point isn't a particularly long or steep one, but it hits hard. It hits really hard. After running a gradual downhill for miles any sort of incline makes your legs feel as though you're scaling a cliff face. It was rough and it's the place where my hopes of a sub 36 minute race ended. I scurried over the top of the "climb" and hit the 5k mark in 18:02. With the final mile of the course containing a number of rolling hills I knew a negative split was out of the question. Making matters worse was the fact that I suffered for a solid 3 minutes after that hill. It wasn't until I neared the 4 mile mark that I started to feel okay.

This is what happens to your form when the wheels start to come off...
I plodded along in the 5:50 range until I hit mile five. In every course preview I'd read the 6th mile of the race is by far the most difficult due to the rolling hills. While it was my slowest mile (at a pathetic 6:16) I didn't find it to be that painful. Perhaps I just wasn't able to push myself hard enough for it to hurt, but I found the one climb at mile 3 to be worse than anything in the final mile.

With 36:00 out of the question I was doing everything I could to finish in a somewhat respectable time. As I entered Fort Williams Park I did my best to surge and make up any lost time I could. I ran reasonably well during the closing stretch but I couldn't help but being somewhat disappointed in my race. I never imagined running north of 36 minutes. I was convinced due to all the training and racing I'd done in the build up to the race that anything short of that time was a let down. That said, I was able to keep things in perspective as I was happy to just be experiencing the race. As I made my way through the park and toward the famed Portland Head Light I kept in mind that I'd learned some valuable lessons about this course and would put them to good use in the future. 
Just .2 mile left to run

The view from my side of the finish line is amazing. I've never crossed a finish line with a view so spectacular as the one presented by the Portland Headlight and the Atlantic Ocean. The finish alone was worth the pain brought on by the 6.2 mile journey.

An amazing view to cap off one of the top 10k races in the world
Officially, I ran 36.34. And a week later I ran 36:28 off the bike for 6 miles... So clearly I've developed as a decent runner off the bike but have a way to go as a pure road racer. I do find my run off the bike training for Olympic distance triathlon to look much more like open half marathon training than like open 10k work. 

With one race over, another started. I wanted a post race massage but knew that the tent would overflow fast! Fortunately, I made it there to be in the first grouping of athletes to receive treatment. That was more of a relief than the actual finish of the race. For 10 minutes I closed my eyes and tried to allow my muscles to begin the recovery process. 

With 6500 finishers, the post race festivities were overwhelming. My dad and I had not planned accordingly and never set a meeting point other than "somewhere by the food tent". Well, about 6300 people were mingling in that area which made it pretty hard to connect with each other. I reverted to the old "if you're lost just stay in one place and I'll find you" tactic that my parents taught me when I was young. It worked! Before long we were reconnected and in line for the shuttle back to the parking area. 

Time aside, I loved everything about this race. It completely lived up to the hype and I will be online ready to register the second it opens for 2016. As an athlete, they took care of everything I could have needed. As a race director, I was in awe of the production value and precision of execution. Everything was perfect. Beach to Beacon is a must do race!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Capitol City: A frightening title defense

This past weekend I race in Concord at the Capitol City Triathlon. Since finishing I've debated what, if anything, I wanted to post about the event. For the most part the race reports on this blog have been fairly straight forward recaps of the event and how the race unfolded from a competition standpoint. I tend to avoid commenting on anything from a race organization standpoint. Being a race director myself I often see things at races that could and should be improved. However, this is not really the forum for that sort of commentary. Some race directors do ask for my honest input after the events and I always provide that when it's requested. All that said, I'm going to break my own rules in this post because, as you'll see, safety was an issue. 

I won this event last year so I was aware that it was a small race with low entry fees. I was under no illusions when I registered this year that I was signing up for a high-budget event. I did check to see if some of the more sketchy points from 2014 had been remedied this year. That being the case, I went ahead with my small-scale title defense. 

On race morning I almost pulled the plug. The weather was looking iffy and knowing the course I was a bit uncomfortable racing in those conditions. But I went ahead and made the drive with the understanding that I would make a last minute call whether to actually race or not. As it turned out, the weather wasn't a factor so I am happy I didn't preemptively end my day. 

The swim - for the first time this season - went well. I felt much more powerful in the water and was able to break away at the gun and exit the water by myself in the lead. Granted, it was only 500 meters and it's hard to really judge your swimming over that distance in the open water. We'll see if some of the new stuff I've been working on in training translates to the Olympic distance in August when I cover that distance a few times. 

Before the race started I ran into up and coming athlete, Rob Hollinger. Rob was a runner in college (up until last May) and he's really making an impression on the triathlon scene this year. In June he won the well attended Patriot Half, so he's got a solid background and I knew he'd be a real test. I've actually been working with Rob on his swim so I was really aware of how well he is racing. I also knew that I had to have a big gap starting the run in order to win. He's got very good run speed- like 1:16 in a half ironman. 

As I headed out on the bike I went hard early. The course has a ton of turns and bends in the road and my goal was to stay out of sight. Long story short, I was successful in doing that. I rode very well and came into the second transition with a rather large lead. 

HOWEVER... the fact that I survived the bike at all is a miracle. Every single intersection for the first half of the course was uncontrolled, as was one of the final turns. I honestly thought I was going to die. There were police and volunteers at each station, but they were all in their cars.  It's certainly not their fault. It's standard practice for the race director to have a car pre-drive the course and notify the intersections that the first bike will be arriving soon. Clearly that didn't happen. As a result, there was lots of slowing and accelerating on my part as I tried to navigate downtown Concord without being run over. It was a disaster. I understand not paying for a lead car/motorcycle, but it is totally unacceptable not to notify the police and volunteers that the race is underway. It's dangerous and irresponsible. As a race director I can not even imagine how this was not dealt with properly. Safety - especially on the swim and bike - are priorities 1 and 1a. Had I not been paying attention to what was happening out there, or rather not happening, there's a serious possibility I could have been run over. Fortunately, I had enough sense to slow down through town and defer to vehicular traffic so I didn't become road kill. 

Back to racing. As I left transition on the run I was enjoying a big lead. But I knew that no lead was really safe when the guy chasing me down could run in the 16:30 range over the mostly off-road course. I ran really hard for the first mile and a half hoping to stay out of sight. I was successful in doing this, but I was starting to pay a toll by mile 2. Things started to really hurt as I entered the final trail section of the course. By that time I was within Rob's sights and I could tell that he was closing. I was on pace to run in the low 18 minute range for 5k - which probably would have been in the 17:45 range on roads - but he was gaining fast. All I wanted was for the finish line to show up. With about 200 meters left to go it was still out of sight and I could see that Rob was only about 10 seconds behind me. I mustered up about 100 meters of hard running and then cruised into the finishing chute as Rob came barreling in three seconds later. For never really seeing each other during the race, it turned out to be a pretty exciting finish.

As we cooled down on some of the roads surrounding the course the two of us noticed that athletes were using a different trail than we had. Not only were they using the wrong one but they were being directed by a volunteer to do so. I knew we'd gone the right way - both because of the course maps and because I'd done the race the year before. It turned out to be a huge mess for the RD after the race, but it could have been avoided. The VERY AREA where this happened was something I brought up to the race director after last year's race. He'd asked what he could improve and both Stephen and I commented that he needed markings in the grass and signage on that trail as it can be a confusing area. I was really disappointed to see that he hand't made that improvement this year. It caused an unnecessary headache for the race organizers and a lot of disappointment and frustration for those athletes. What concerns me isn't so much that people got lost on the course it's that two experienced racers (and an experienced RD) had brought this to the race's attention last year and it wasn't remedied. That's not a good sign. And it's part of the reason I don't think I'll return next year. I can't go back knowing that things might be just as unsafe in 2016 as they were this year. 

I've been around long enough to expereince all sorts of courses and race organizers. I've seen the best of the best as well as some super sketchy situations. What happened this past weekend was on the concerning side of that spectrum. I really hope things get turned around in the future. It's a small race, but it gets some decent attendance from the local area. It's a beginner friendly race in that it's not intimidating and very low key. That said, the fact that it's beginner friendly is even more reason to go above and beyond with safety and course set up. If corrected, this could be a really fun race for people. If not, I'm afraid to go back. 

While I was disappointed in the way the race was set up I was actually really happy with the way I raced. I took away a number of positives and can see that I'm headed in a good direction for my bigger races this year. And regardless of where it happens, it's fun to be on the top step of the podium.

Fortunately, I'm headed to one of the best organized races in the country this weekend at the Beach to Beacon 10k! It's a race I've been looking forward to for months and I can't wait to experience it and hopefully throw down a solid time. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A finish to remember

I'm often asked how being a new father impacts my ability to train and race at a high level. The answer to the training portion of that has been an easy one to answer. I missed two days of training while we were in the hospital after Kellan's birth. Since then I have not missed a session. In the first few weeks the quality of a handful of sessions suffered due to a lack of sleep, but aside from those few days I've continued to train at a high level. In fact, I could argue that the level of quality has risen since the day we brought Kellan home. There's a new level of focus during every training session. When I step outside the house to work out, I do so with an increased sense of purpose. I understand completely that my training has an impact on the rest of my family and that's not something I take lightly; I make the most of those moments I am away. There's no sense in simply going through the motions. If that were the case, I might as well stay at home with Kellan and Eileen. Rather, when I step out the door I do so with the mindset that I am going to work. There's something to be accomplished in every session and I dedicate myself fully to that mission each time I step through the door. When I step back inside, regardless of how the session went, I'm back to being a dad and a husband. Training is over. I leave it at the door. It's made me a better athlete and allows be to be the best father and husband I can be. 

The question to how the new addition to our family would impact my racing has been a more difficult question to answer simply because I haven't raced much. In my one attempt, a half marathon in May, things went exceptionally well. However, one instance doesn't make a trend. So heading into the Sebago Lake Olympic I wasn't exactly sure how I would hold up to the demands of racing. My training indicated that I was ready for a fantastic season, but transforming that into actual race results is a difficult task. 

My biggest concern about racing with Kellan in tow was simply getting out the door on time. This race, in particular, caused some stress in that regard. We needed to depart by 4:15am which was a potentially tricky situation given that 12 week olds aren't always thrilled to be woken in the middle of the night (despite their willingness to wake others...). Fortunately, things worked out and we were in the car by 4:20. The hardest part of the day was over and the race didn't even begin for three hours. 

Once at the race I started to get a bit nervous as I could not get myself warmed up. I felt sluggish and out of sync. My legs were unresponsive and I tried every trick in my book to change that, but nothing seemed to get me on track. It's not the first time this has happened so I wasn't panicked, but I was certainly aware of what was happening. I was fairly confident that when the gun sounded I would be fine, but it's always an unnerving feeling when this happens.

When the cannon sounded to signal the start of the race my concerns were not immediately eliminated. I quickly made my way into the second spot and began to pull away from the chase pack, but I was still not feeling as sharp as I'd hoped. I didn't feel bad, I just didn't feel quite right. Fortunately, I got glimpses of that elusive feeling throughout the swim so I knew it was there beneath the surface and I just had to access it. Despite my ongoing inner battle, I was putting big time into most of the field and exited the water in second place. By the time we'd made our way though transition I was within a few seconds of the leader.

Exiting the swim with the lead in sight
During the first two miles I made my way to the front of the race where I would stay for the duration of the 24.3 mile ride. The course at Sebago is one of the trickiest around. There's absolutely no way to get into a rhythm due to the topography. It's impossible to get comfortable or to establish any sort of consistency. This didn't bode well for me given that I was already feeling out of sorts. But I did my best to remain composed and set myself up for a solid run as it became apparent by the second half of the ride that this was going to be a two man foot race for the win. 

Riding my Parlee TTiR in the lead 
I rode hard, but not irresponsibly; I made sure to keep the pace honest, knowing that I had a solid run in my pocket. I didn't feel pressure to extend my lead on the bike and I felt I simply needed to get to transition within sight of the lead in order to take control on the run. That's an amazing feeling to have and it's not something I could have said a few years ago. Years of work and many thousands of miles working on my run have put me in a place I never could have imagined a few years ago. 

The pieces started to fall into place in the late stages of the bike
While I wasn't feeling amazing in the early and middle stages of the race I was feeling something more important: in control. I was both in control of myself and everyone else in the race. I was in charge. As if I was playing chess, I had the board set up to my liking and was ready to attack when the moment was right. 

Exiting transition I had a gap of 15 seconds to second place. The gap beyond that was measured in minutes, though there were some very talented athletes in that group. I was a bit surprised to have broken the race so wide open on the swim and bike, but I was happy to be in that position. 

Following with the theme set earlier in the day, I felt so-so during mile one of the run. But I wasn't concerned. I still turned in a sub 6:10 mile and was just cruising along. I did have company by that point, though. Second place, who I had an idea was a slightly slower runner than I, had caught me at around the half mile point, but he didn't make a pass. Again, I knew I was in control.

This view didn't change for four miles

We ticked off another mile at 6:10 but nothing eventful happened. It was too early to start messing around. We had reached the first turnaround by that point and knew we had approximately 3:30-4 minutes on third place meaning the winner would come from our little duo. The sharpness I was seeking early in the race had finally arrived and I was sure I was going to win. My legs were responsive and I had plenty of gas in the tank to make a decisive move later in the race.

With 5k to go it was time to race
We went through mile 3 in 6:03, though a portion was downhill. As we hit the turnaround to start lap two of the 2-loop out-and-back course I knew it was time to start racing. 

We plodded along to a 6:20 partially uphill fourth mile, but this time it was eventful. Every time the road tilted upward I increased the pace slightly. Not much, just enough to do two things: first, I established control. I was making the moves. People generally break down mentally long before their body gives out and that was my desired outcome. I wanted him to know that I had him beat long before we ever saw the finishing chute. Establishing control did that for me. I also got to see just how responsive my running mate was. Should this thing come down to a sprint finish I wanted to know just how long it might take him to respond to any move. The result of these mini surges - if you can even call them surges - was exactly what I'd hoped for. I'd open a small gap with 10 strides and then settle back into our 6:10-6:15 baseline pace. Slowly he'd reel his way back to me. About the time he reestablished contact I would take 10 or so more strides at a pace closer to 5:40 than 6:10. Each time I pried the gap open a bit more. But I didn't put a final nail in the coffin right away. When I made that final move I wanted it to be decisive. I wanted his mind to know the race was over even if his body still had something to give. 

Opening a small gap a few minutes before making one final move
That final move came at the aid station around the 4 mile marker. Aid stations are a personal favorite in terms of launching points for attacks. People are generally off guard and less likely to respond to moves at aid stations and I like to take advantage of that. So I grabbed a cup, but I didn't actually drink from it. Rather, I increased the tempo and dropped the drink on the road. At the same time I heard my running mate call out for water. This time the move wasn't 10 strides, it was 2 minutes. I didn't do anything crazy, but I did drop the pace to about 6:00/mile. All it took was that slight shift in pace to change the landscape or the race. Suddenly, I was alone and back to running those 6:10s I started the day with. I cruised through mile 5 feeling fantastic. The gap was large now - about 20 seconds - and continuing to grow. Mile 6 also felt good as I continued to put one foot in front of the other, extending my lead with every stride. Soon, with nobody in sight, I turned the the final corner, trading pavement for the beach.

As I neared the finish line I looked desperately for Eileen and Kellan. Since learning Eileen was pregnant I've wanted to win a race with my son in my arms and now I had the opportunity. Fortunately, they were at the start of the finishing chute and I had plenty of time to stop and make the handoff. I quickly found that running with a baby in my arms is more difficult that I'd imagined. So my celebratory stroll to the finish was more of a walk than a run. But I didn't care. The time on the clock didn't matter. I'd crossed first and I'd done so with my little buddy in my arms. 

The slowest, but sweetest finish line crossing of my career
Finally got him to his preferred spot on my shoulder
I've been fortunate to win a decent number of races in my career, but none was as special as this. To be able to share the moment with my son, even though he'll never remember it, was an amazing experience and one that I will never forget. 

Thank you to my sponsors, Fit Werx, Parlee, Honey Stinger, XX2i, Nootca, and Rudy Project all of whom helped make this moment possible. Without their support, I would not be able to train and race at this level. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Maine Coast Half Marathon

So Blogger has done me a massive disservice today (well more like a minor inconvenience, but still...). After approximately an hour and a half of typing a masterpiece of a blog post, it somehow all managed to be erased. Apparently auto save even failed me this time and a lot of time and effort were lost. A year ago I would have just gone ahead and retyped all of it. I'd go in to great detail about the six weeks I lost to a calf and achilles injury. I'd go on and on about how I rehabbed and the doubts I had about my season during that layoff. I would have rambled about how great Shawn Crotto is and how his massage work saved my season. And I would have told you all about how I developed my race plan for this event given the challenges I faced in the lead up to it.

But now this guy is in my life and he's more important than my retelling that story...

So let me dive right in.

I showed up on race day with loosely constructed plan to run 6:20/mi for the first 7 and then see where my body took me between there and the finish. I doubted the finishing time would be impressive, but I just wanted a solid result given that I'd missed so much training.

Getting the Garmin 220 all set before the starting gun - which turned out to be a conch shell

Mile 1 went exactly to plan. One guy took off from the start, but a solid little pack formed behind him  and ran 6:19 for mile one. With temps in the high 40s and no wind, the running felt easy. I hadn't felt very good during my pre race warm up, but I seemed to be gliding along early in the race and felt I might have to get a bit more aggressive than planned. Now, this is not something I'd typically advise. Mile 1 of a 13 mile race is not really the time to start tossing a plan out the window and coming up with one on the fly.

Leading the chase pack at mile 1
My little pack thinned out a bit by mile 2, but I had relinquished my spot as it's leader. I was fine with running a bit harder than planned, but did the smart thing and tucked in the group to conserve a bit of energy. We ended up with a 6:10 mile, though it was almost entirely downhill. 

I swear, I eventually found my way into the slipstream and picked up a bit of a draft

The Maine Coast course is amazing. It starts and finishes at the University of New England and takes runners along the coast of Biddeford Pool. While I wasn't doing too much looking around, it was hard to ignore the surrounding views. As we cruised along the coastline, two half runners and a relay participant broke from the pack and I made the decision not to go with them. It was my attempt at being smart. I'd already crumpled up my plan and was going a bit heavier on the gas than anticipated. Following moves at mile 3 didn't seem like the place to push my luck. 

I'm REALLY bad at running behind people. As you can see, I've managed to find my way back to the front
Miles 4-8 were pretty uneventful. I was just cruising along at what felt like a natural pace. When I attempted to PR last fall at Newburyport, the pace never felt comfortable. I was never able to settle in and just get through a few minutes without needing to adjust the pace. That wasn't the case last week. for miles 3-7 I ran 6:17, 6:10, 6:11, 6:15, 6:14, 6:13. One other guy - the one in the Tufts singlet - and I had shed everyone else by this point and were running in 4th and 5th place. As I found out, he was a former collegiate runner at Tufts. He was a cool guy and we ran a lot of miles together. However, around mile 9 I was feeling much better than he was and I decided to see just how fast I could finish. 

About 9 miles in and really starting to feel good.
I went through miles 9 and 10 in 6:10 and 6:08 respectively. Somewhere during that stretch I realized I didn't quite have the top end speed I was looking for. That came as no surprise given the challenges that preceded the race. Without having done any speed work and doing a lot of sower miles in training I just didn't have that next gear though my lungs and head were certainly willing to go faster. Still, I managed to run 6:06, 6:04, 6:06 for the final 3 miles and finished in forth place overall in a time of 1:21:11. 

Still running strong around mile 11 or 12
I was both happy with and a bit surprised by my performance. Doubt certainly existed heading into this race and I wasn't sure what I would be able to produce. Having set a PR by over a minute, I am more encouraged than ever about my upcoming season (and the years to come). My run is really starting to develop and I can't wait to see where it takes me both in road racing and triathlon.

Feeling as good as one can in the late stages of 13 mile footrace
Finishing my first race as a dad!
I was really impressed with the Maine Coast Half and will certainly be back in the future. It was a no hassle event with an awesome course. If you're looking for a solid half or full marathon, this race is worth considering.
One last Kellan picture as photos of him are much cuter than photos of me.
Thank you, as always, for reading!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Swim of the Week Presented by Nootca: Broken 500s

Before diving into the details of this week's swim I want to fill you in on the latest development in this blog series. My long time sponsor, Nootca, has become the title sponsor for the Swim of the Week posts. They've been a tremendous supporter of mine the last few seasons and I'm excited to expand the relationship to include these workouts! Make sure to take look at their goggles and ask me any questions you might have.

There are times during training in the pool that things can get stale. While standard sets like 15x100, 20x200, 3x400, can all yield positive results they can also get boring. Even when they are structured with varying speeds and rest intervals, things can get monotonous. At times, I like to accomplish things by getting a bit more creative. This week I bring you one such set. I've broken 500s into small chunks with very short rests (5 seconds). I've also injected builds and harder efforts both to keep things interesting and to incorporate a bit of speed. This isn't speed work that will make you a better 100 or 200 swimmer, but it will help you in developing your distance paces. 

Warm Up

- 2x200 choice
- 8x50 IM Order
- 2x200, 1. drill/swim by 25, 2. choice
- 100 cruise

Main Set

- 2x Broken 500 as 75/25/50/25/75/25/50/25/75/25/50, 5" rest at each /, 25s = cruise, 50 = hard, 75 = build, 30" rest between 500s. 
- 200 cruise
- 300 Strong
- 50 cruise
- 8x75 @ cruise pace - 10", on cruise pace sendoff
*Sendoff example (cruise pace: 1:30, swim at a 1:20 pace -1:00 for 75, leave on 1:30)

Cool Down

- 100 cruise
- 4x75 choice

While entertaining, this set is a bit complicated. It's essentially 2.5 times through 75/25/50/25. To do this set well, it's important not too slack too much during the cruise portions. While it is true that you are swimming easier during these 25s, you are not completely taking them off. You should be swimming a comfortable pace but not a full recovery pace. Settle into whatever pace you'd swim for a longer interval like a straight 1000. 

After getting through the 500s, there are a few other challenging elements to this swim. The 300 and the 75s can be very taxing but they are great for distance pace work. Remember, if you want to swim fast, you have to swim fast!

Happy swimming!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Swim of the Week: 1-2-3-4-5

Assistant Coach Kellan, who turns one month old tomorrow, has granted me a small window of time to write up this week's Swim of the Week. He's a pretty high maintenance assistant, though, so the swim of the week has turned more into the Swim of Whenever Kellan Takes A Nap.

This week I bring you a ladder set that involves a lot of hard swimming. There's really nowhere to hide in this set. The idea behind this swim is that you'll begin with your shortest, but fastest swimming. From there, the pace will drop off as the distances increase, but not drastically. Rather, you should be holding your effort steady and allowing your pace to slow by roughly 1-2 seconds per 100 on each step of the ladder. Swimming this set will help triathletes navigate race day more effectively. For most, the pace slows as the race progresses. But that does not have to mean that you completely collapse and give away minutes to the clock before ever reaching your bike. Rather than totally imploding, as many do, after the initial surge at the start of the race, you'll learn to manage your effort. You'll swim hard, but reasonably, in the initial stages and from there you will be able to settle into a sustainable, but solid, pace

While no step is more important to each other as they all function together, the 500 is worth paying attention to. As you'll see, you get a bit of extra rest after the 400, but the 500 is done at a harder effort than the 400. Pay attention to that. It's difficult, but worthwhile.

This swim forces you to work hard. Know going in that it will be taxing. It takes a good deal of focus and commitment to really do this swim well. However, if done correctly, it's rewarding both in terms of the actual gains and in the confidence boost you'll receive.

Warm Up

- 500 choice (free, kick, back, etc.)
- 400 cruise
- 2x150 as 50 hard, 100 steady, 20" rest
- 4x50 hard on 15" rest
- 100 easy choice

Drill Set

- 3x150 as 100 drill, 50 cruise
- 150 cruise

Ladder Set

- 100 strong on cruise +10"
- 200 strong on cruise + 5"
- 300 strong  on cruise + 5"
- 400 steady/strong on cruise + 20"
- 500 strong

Cool Down

- 8x50 choice

As noted other times in my workouts, the sendoff interval is your cruise pace per 100 plus a certain number of seconds on top of that. It is not a certain number of seconds added to your cruise pace. A cruise pace of 1:30 gets you to a sendoff of 3:05 on the 200 if calculated correctly (1:30x2 + 5"). If done incorrectly you come up with 3:10 (1:30 + 5" = 1:35 x 2). The difference may seem small, but over the course of the session it adds up and undermines some of the work you are doing.

Looking to make this even more challenging? Make it a pyramid rather than a ladder. Work your way back down to the 100, either swimming on the same interval or a faster one.

Enjoy this swim and let me know how it goes!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Swim of the Week: Mid Distance Discipline

This week's swim is a special one to me. It's a good swim and a challenging one if done honestly, but it's not some magical set. In terms of the details, it's just a solid set. The reason it's special is that it's the last swim I did just hours before heading to the hospital for the birth of my son, Kellan, just about two weeks ago. Being the last swim I did before becoming a dad means it will always be a memorable one.

This main set take discipline. Doing this set as I've laid out is very different than just swimming the distances. Being able to swim each rep at the appropriate pace is key to making this swim a success. The 300 and 200 should be fairly difficult. They should be done at about the effort level you'd exert during the beginning of a race. The 600 and 400 in isolation are not so tough. However, in the context of this set they will be. In fact, I sometimes find them more difficult than the shorter but faster swims. The challenge is not slowing too much on these. It's tempting, after the harder efforts, to back the pace off too much in the longer stuff. However, that's not how the swim is designed. Really, there should only be roughly 5 seconds per 100 difference in the paces between your strong and steady efforts. I like to do the 300 and 200 at ~1:11-1:12/100 and the 600 and 400 at ~1:15-1:16/100. The key here is to be able to maintain the steady pace after having already done a stronger effort. It's as much a mental exercise as a physical one (though by the end of the set it's also a physical challenge!).

Swimming this set the proper way is great practice for executing on race day. The first 300 simulates the start of the race where the effort level is higher than ultimately hold. Once through that surge you'll settle in and swim a more reasonable pace. Again, the trick here (and during a race), is to avoid backing off too much. Your pace should settle, but not sag so much that you're just cruising along. The second strong effort, the 200, can simulate a turn buoy or a surge by the competition. And, finally, the 400 at the end allows you to settle in again after that surge without letting the pace drop off too much. Awareness and execution are key. Go into this workout with a plan and stick to it. It if doesn't work, attempt to figure out why. It's much better to evaluate why it didn't work now than it is following a race. I'm always happy to help troubleshoot should you find this a tough set to manage.

Warm Up

- 300 cruise
- 300 as 100 back, 100 kick, 100 back
- 4x75 strong on 15" rest
- 100 choice

Drill Set

- 2x200 as 25 drill/25 cruise
- 2x100 cruise

Main Set

- 300 strong on cruise pace sendoff
- 600 steady on cruise pace +15"
- 200 strong on cruise pace sendoff + 5"
- 400 steady on cruise pace + 10"
- 100 recovery
- 10 x 50 strong on cruise pace + 5"

Cool Down

- 100 choice
- 4x50 choice

* Sendoffs: To calculate your sendoffs use your cruise pace/100 and add any time where it is noted. Remember, your cruise pace is the pace you can swim all day without issue.

Here is an example of how I would calculate my sendoffs for this set. My cruise pace is roughly 1:20. Therefore, my 300 sendoff would be 4:00 (3x1:20). My 600 sendoff would be 8:15 (6x1:20 + 15"). The 200 is 2:45 (2x1:20 + 5") and the 400 is 5:30 (4x1:20 + 10"). For the 50s I would halve my 100 pace of 1:20 to get :40 and add 5 seconds for a sendoff of :45. A common mistake is for athletes attempting to calculate these sendoffs is to add 15" to each 100 and end up with an incredibly long recovery. If I were to do that with the 600 I would get 9:30 which is 1:15 more than the appropriate sendoff. That's a massive difference and using the wrong sendoff voids a lot of the work being done in a set like this. It is important to just add the set amount of time on top of the calculation made with your cruise pace.

Beginners or developing swimmers: This is a difficult set for beginning swimmers to execute. I wouldn't prescribe this workout to a swimmer who didn't have the ability to change paces and hold those paces over longer distances. If you do not believe you have more than one gear in the water it would be more beneficial to you to just swim the distances with ~20-30 seconds rest between. If the distances seem unmanageable you can also break them up. For example, you might do 2x150, 2x300, 2x100, 2x200, 100, 10x50. You'll still cover the distance, but you have the benefit of more manageable distances with an increase in overall rest. As I say each week, if you are having trouble fitting this into your training plan simply let me know and I will point you in the right direction.

I always encourage comments on and the sharing of these workouts. Post them on Facebook, tweet them on Twitter, take them to your master's team, email them to your training partners. I want people to see and use these sessions!

Finally, if you have something you want to see in the swim of the week please let me know. If there's something you are struggling with in racing or training I would love to try to help by designing a session or two to help! Simply reach out with your ideas and I'll see what I can come up with.