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.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Swim of the Week: 4x500

If you've been following this swim of the week series you know that I am a huge advocate of basing the majority of swims on short intervals. You can accomplish a massive amount swimming 50s, 75s, 100s, 200s, and everything in-between. As you've seen in previous workouts, adjusting the rest intervals and intensities for shorter reps allows you to target different energy systems while still training their efficiency in the water. There is, however, still a place in your program for swims with longer reps. This is one of those sessions. I go back to some variation of this session for my athletes approximately once per month this time of year in order to do some quality work over slightly longer reps.

Warm Up
- 3x100 choice
- 4x50 kick
- 200 cruise
- 4x75 build, 10" rest
- 100 cruise

Drill Set

- 3x200 as 25 drill / 25 cruise
- 100 easy

Main Set

- 4x500 descend 1-4 from cruise to high steady / low strong
*Intervals: #1: cruise pace + 10", drop 5" each for the rest intervals following #2 and 3.
** Example: Intervals of 6:45, 6:40, 6:35, 6:30

Cool Down

- 3x100 choice

To be done well, swimmers should attempt to get ~15 seconds of rest following each swim during the main set. 

It seems like a simple, straight-forward swim. And it is. Not everything has to be overly complicated in order to be effective. Doing it properly, though, is not so easy. Descending through this main set takes focus and pace control. It requires awareness and execution. It is more than simply getting in the pool and doing the yardage. Athletes who do that miss the larger point. They miss the opportunity to experiment with and take ownership of their effort level and pace over the course of the set. They miss the chance to learn something about their skill in judging and managing effort.

Beginners: Just because this swim measures 4000 yards/meters doesn't mean it can't be adjusted to meet your needs. Start with something manageable. Perhaps that's 3x250 for the main set. Maybe it's 2x500. Or 3x500. I also encourage newer or less comfortable swimmers to drop the descending nature of the swim and rest intervals and attempt to work on pace control by finishing each swim within 5-10 seconds of the others. It can work for you of you make it! If you're not sure how to make it work, let me know and I can help you find some direction. I'm always happy to answer questions!

Do you have questions about what drills you should be performing? I'll never post a specific drill in one of these drill sets. I haven't seen you swim so how can I tell which areas of your stroke need work? If you have questions about your strengths and weaknesses, get some quality video analysis done by a coach. It's something you should do at least once or twice a year. I'd be to work with you myself or I can help you find a qualified coach in your area. But whatever you do, do your homework before heading in for a session. Your coach should be able to give you references and provide you with examples of the work they've done with others. Never just assume that a coach is equipped to help you become a better swimmer because they write training plans. Writing plans and actually analyzing a stroke are massively different things. Before booking a session, talk to the coach about their philosophy, expereince, and process. Ask what they've done with others and if you can speak to those athletes personally. Before you make an investment, do your homework and make sure it'll be a positive experience.

If you're enjoying this series of weekly swims please share them with your friends, teammates, and training partners! Also make sure to leave comments or send me messages letting me know how you're incorporating these swims into your training plan.

Happy Swimming!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Swim of the Week: 3x (6x50, 200)

When I originally designed this swim I did so with the intent to hold a consistent pace throughout the main set under conditions of descending rest intervals. The original is a solid swim. It's not easy and certainly does the job in helping to develop an aerobic base. It also keeps the intervals short - something that I believe strongly in - allowing athletes to maintain focus and form. However, I occasionally revisit the original set and make alterations in order to achieve different goals. Here, in this swim, I've done just that. In order to allow athletes to go through stages of both aerobic and anaerobic work during the main set I have made adjustments to the rest intervals and to the intensities at which each rep is completed. The result is a challenging but attainable swim that has benefits for athletes specializing in all distances.

Warm Up:
- 6x100: choice (free, back, kick...)
- 2x150 as 2x75 build (continuous), 20" rest
- 100 cruise

Drill Set:
- 4x150 as 2x(50 drill, 25 cruise)
- 2x100 cruise

Main Set:
- 6x50 steady on 20" rest
- 200 steady on 20" rest
- 6x50 strong on 20" rest
- 200 steady/strong on 20" rest
- 6x50 hard on 20" rest
- 200 strong/hard

Cool Down:
- 4x100 choice

As you see, you swim at a progressively faster pace throughout the main set but hold the rest interval steady. For more information on just how hard you should be going, check out the basic descriptions of the zones:

Steady: A solid, though aerobic effort. It's sort of your normal, comfortable pace. It gets used for longer swims or when working on technique/aerobic development. It's a pace the athlete should have little trouble sustaining for longer sets - there shouldn't be a drop off toward the end of a set at this effort level. Roughly Ironman pace. Strong: This is right around anaerobic threshold pace. This is considered pretty fast swimming, though not at all a sprint or all out effort. It's slightly uncomfortable, but bearable for medium stretches of time.You might see some slight drop off toward the end of an interval with this zone, but it shouldn't be dramatic. The middle of this zone is Olympic distance race pace. The upper end is closer to sprint race pace and the low end is like half iron race pace.

Hard: This is where things get uncomfortable. It gets used for shorter swims when adding intensity to the swim. It's about the pace you could hold for a 500 yard time trial. 

*Beginners: Cut out some distance. Shorten the warm up, drill set, and cool down a bit if you're new to swimming or are not yet ready to tackle a 4000 yard session. You can reduce things a bit in the main set. For example, rather than 3x(6x50, 200), do 3x (4x50, 100) to start. By keeping 3 rounds you still gain the benefit of the descending nature of the swim, but do so at manageable distances and with a reasonable number of reps. That said, I am not a big advocate of people swimming at too high an intensity before they have a reasonable level of technical skill. If that's true for you, ask me about the original swim and I can give you more details. There are plenty of options to make this swim accessible to people from all backgrounds. If you need any help making this swim work for you just ask!

As always, comments and questions are welcomed! Happy swimming!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Swim of the Week: 5x100, 20x50, 5x100

This week I bring you lots of repeats with very little rest!

I'm a huge fan of incorporating short reps into longer swim sets. There's a place in a training program for long swims - 800s, 1000s and such - but the bulk of a swimmer's sessions should be based on 50s, 75s, 100s, 200s and everything in-between. The use of shorter intervals allows swimmers, specifically triathletes who don't come from high level swim backgrounds, to be much more productive with their time in the water. Shorter interval lengths allow athletes to add speed to the session and maintain a higher degree of focus throughout. Each rep becomes more purposeful in this way. They're also incredibly versatile. Varying rest intervals allows an athlete (and their coach) to accomplish an incredible amount 50 to 200 yards at a time. 

This week's main set involves only 100s and 50s. While it's relatively straight forward, this set allows swimmers to work at a slightly elevated speed for a long time and build endurance. You get a lot for the yardage involved. At only 3500 yards the value per yard of this session is hard to beat. Take a look and let me know what you think.

Warm Up
- 2x200 - choice
- 100 easy backstroke
- 6x25 strong/hard
- 100 cruise

Drill Set
- 2x200 alternating 25 drill / 25 swim
- 100 cruise

Main Set
- 5x100 steady on cruise pace/100 + 10"
- 4x(5x50) w/ rounds 1/3 on cruise+5" and 2/4 on cruise pace sendoffs. 
- 5x100 steady/strong on cruise pace/100 +10"

Cool Down
- 5x50 easy choice

* How to set your sendoffs: Setting appropriate sendoffs is crucial to getting the most out of this swim. For the 100s, simply take your cruise 100 pace and add 10 seconds to get your sendoff time. Your cruise pace is the pace you can swim pretty easily all day. For me, it's ~1:17. I round that off to 1:20 and add 10 seconds to get a sendoff of 1:30 for the 100s. As for the 50s, the interval will rotate. The 20x50 set is broken into 4 groupings of 50s that will be done without any break between. The reason for the breakdown is simply to distinguish the varying sendoffs. The first and third groups of 5x50 will be done at a cruise pace +5". To find this, take your base pace/100 from the 100s, divide it in half and add 5 seconds. More simply, take the sendoff you used for the 100s and divide it by 2. For example, with my cruise pace of 1:20 I would do the first and third groupings on a  45 second sendoff. The sendoff for the remaining 50s is simply the cruise pace/100 divided in half. For me this works out to 40 second sendoffs. If you need help working out the correct sendoffs simply leave me a comment and I'll give you some guidance. 

How to do the set well: I like to swim this set where I swim the second set of 100s slightly faster than the first. However, the pace should still be controlled. This is not sprint work so remain in the right zone throughout. Generally speaking you should be getting ~15 seconds of rest on these. In addition to the pacing for the 100s,  I like to keep all twenty 50s at the same time regardless of sendoff. Aim for ~5 seconds of rest on the shorter sendoffs and ~10 seconds on the longer sendoffs. When I most recently did this set - keeping in mind a cruise pace of roughly 1:20 - I swam 1:15 for all of the first 100s, 34-35 seconds for all of the 50s and 1:12-1:13 for the final grouping of 100s. 

Beginners: Simply shorten the set and pick a sustainable pace from which to work. For example, cut the set down to 2x100, 12x50, 2x100 for a 1000 yard main set. Or cut the 100s out all together and just work on the 50s. If you have any questions about how this set can be adapted to your current level of ability and fitness just let me know and I will help get you sorted out. 

I realize that the explanation I've laid out is a bit wordy and likely overcomplicated! It can seem overwhelming to those who don't have much experience setting zones and sendoff times. Because of that, please let me know if you have any questions. Get your questions answered before you head to the pool in order to get the most out of your session! Email me at