Sunday, December 31, 2006
By fifty the average person will have lost 10% of his or her muscle mass along with a corresponding decrease in strength, and by seventy this loss will have risen to 40%. The resulting decline in strength is the primary cause of the high incidence of accidental falls seen among the elderly. It also contributes to our institutionalization when motor skills become insufficient to deal with normal day-to-day living requirements. Furthermore sarcopenia is linked to increased tendencies towards obesity, glucose intolerance, osteoporosis, and the inability to regulate body temperature; all effects of having less muscle – the body’s most metabolically active tissue – present.
There are likely several factors contributing to sarcopenia: loss of nerve cells from aging or HIV causing the associated muscle cells to be lost as well, diminished hormone levels, an impaired immune system, or diets with insufficient protein, all inhibit muscle growth and contribute to its loss. But by consensus the primary cause of muscle loss is simply not using them. The old saying “if you don’t use it you lose it” applies here in spades. Even more alarming for women studies have shown there's a strong
correlation between sarcopenia and those who have lower levels of musculature to begin with. So the trick is to ‘bank’ some muscle when young and then maintain it by regular exercise as you grow older. Study after study has shown physical activity, with weight training of sufficient intensity being cited as particularly effective regardless of one’s age, is the key to reducing the rate of inevitable muscle loss as we grow older.
For me this subject is very relevant. Always skinny as a boy I gradually built up my body until by my early thirties I topped out at around 88 kilos or about 195 lbs. For me it was how my body moved and handled physical challenges which justified the extra work in its maintenance, though it clearly paid for itself in my social life. By my early forties, however, work and a decreased emphasis on dating resulted in my paying less attention to my training. Then my recent back problems. When I finally got back on track and recommenced regular exercise I was shocked to discover in five or six short years I’d lost all the extra musculature I had built up over the prior fifteen plus. I was right back at square one at the age of forty six. It is not a good feeling. In one of my life’s great ironies I’m back in the same sport where as a child I told myself, “wait until I get some muscle” and find myself nearly four decades later still saying the very same thing. Life, unfortunately, sometimes does come full circle.
Saturday, December 30, 2006
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
In a quick perusal of the internet it seems the standard recommendation is to aim for forty to fifty klicks a week. That’s quite a bit of running. If you run an average of 10k every time out it means running four or five times a week and, at least for me, that’s more than just fitness. Besides, running that much means you can’t do valuable cross-training in other areas. I even see articles which point out our bodies will start to burn stored fat after running more than ninety minutes, though it’s hard to see how that particular fact is applicable to people looking to lose weight. Trust me here, if you can schedule a 1½ to 2 hour run you don’t have a weight problem! Every kilometer run means about 60 calories burned (100 calories/mile). With around 3,500 calories in a pound of fat it’ll take sixty klicks running to burn away one of them away. If you ran a more reasonable thirty klicks a week you’d lose about a kilo a month, or over twenty pounds a year. For most people this amount of weight loss would make for a great year. Also don’t forget the other half of the equation is diet, which is another complete topic on its own. But for now consider just excluding soda pop, potato chips/fries, and candy bars from your diet. At roughly 150 calories each serving the average American consumes over 1,000 calories weekly from these three ‘foods’ or another pound of fat a month. That’s well over thirty pounds a year from some running and cutting out junk food. A final note for everyone to remember to walk. Walk instead of drive to the convenience store, take the stairs over the elevator, go for a walk around the block before going to bed; the extra kilometer or two each time will add up over a month to some real calorie consumption. It’ll save some gas too!
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Sunday, December 24, 2006
The objective of swolf is to reduce your stroke count (think of your drives), or your time (think of your puts), or even better reduce both at the same time; and this similarity to golf is the reason for the name. The book uses a 50 meter free as an example so I adopted a slower version of it as my ‘par’ (imagine a local pitch & put course rather than Pebble Beach). I did nine ‘holes’ (reps) because, well because at this stage of my conditioning I’m not going to do eighteen of anything. My results for my first game of swolf were:
Golf's own version of swolf, and just as ugly.
Friday, December 22, 2006
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Years ago I took up running competitively precisely because I had nothing on my hands. Articling finished I was casting about for a new challenge and eventually settled on running, inspired by my father’s ability. So at twenty three years of age I started running competitively; well, not at first, as it takes time to get up to the mileage necessary for someone to compete in track. It took about a year for me to reach a hundred kilometers a week, a process much more difficult and prolonged than swimming, which likely will take less than half that time to reach a similar starting point. My original intentions were to compete in my father’s events; the 800 through to the mile, but unfortunately my talents were insufficient for this. I never came close to approaching four minutes for the 1,500 much less this magical time for the mile, and failing a sufficiency of pure speed I consequently found myself dabbling in the longer distance steeplechase and 5,000 meters. Later on, in an effort to improve my tactics for these same events, coach entered me into the only 10,000 meter event I’ve ever raced. I felt a little out of place there warming up on the track. At a hulking 6’4” and almost 170 lbs I rather stood out amongst the typical 10,000 meter man, even discounting at twenty six I was now noticeably older than my average competitor there. As I warmed up a young crew cut man, probably a freshman from the local university, started conversing with me. I’m not really sure why he did so. Perhaps because of his inexperience he mistook my age for ability, perhaps being new to track outside of a school setting he was simply trying to be sociable, but he did and we exchanged a few words which continued as the race was called and we headed to the start line. As a ‘no time’ I stopped in the second alley and the boy threw me a quizzical glance as he continued to his seeded position. I couldn’t help myself, his unasked question was so evident I had to blurt out, “my 10k time is 33:23” and here the reader needs to understand: in men’s 10,000 meters the world starts at thirty something and goes down from there. The 10k being a road race means times will invariably be slower, but not that much slower! He literally did a double take with eyes wide. It wasn’t hard to read what he was thinking, because written all over his face was “G*d are you slow! Why are you even running?” In the race itself my new acquaintance kept right up with the race leaders until about the final thousand meters, where he faded badly lacking the strength to compete with the more mature males at that level. But he was young and he would get stronger and better. As for myself I finished more than a minute faster than my 10k best, a better time being somewhat expected of course. But it did little to assuage the damage his shocked look had done to my ego. All my time and the effort spent, and for what – expressions of sympathy? If the race I had just run had included the world’s best 10,000 meter runners the leaders would have been crossed the line with me over two kilometers behind, two kilometers! The next week at practice I told my coach I was leaving track and thanked him for his efforts. As much as I wanted to run like my father I had to face the truth – I just couldn’t. I simply had no talent for it and there were clearly better things to do with my life.
Of course balance has two sides. If this particular post is about first looking after the priorities in your life: your spouse, family, friends and career; it’s also about not letting all those little pieces of yourself you dole out to everyone else add up to everything you are. Set aside some time to train, take along some of your favourite music, and for an hour or so take care of yourself … each and every day.
A great example of the physique of an international 10k runner
Sunday, December 17, 2006
With an intention of swimming a 100 meter fly this coming February my attention has been fixated on trying to learn the stroke before I actually dive in on race day. There is still a question mark behind my ability to do so, but I’m gaining some confidence progress is being made. In the last stroke clinic we concentrated on one of my major fly weaknesses – coordination between my kick and pull; and then spent a little time on my weak dolphin kick (my second major fly weakness). So last night I devised and swam a workout which had fly as my main set.
Warm up: 300 free (3 strokes/breath)
100 kick (breast)
200 free (4 strokes/breath)
200 kick (breast/dolphin w/fins)
300 kick (free/dolphin/back all w/fins)
Sup set: 4x100 back on
Friday, December 15, 2006
Picture shows Amanda Beard modeling a Speedo Fastskin FSII. I’m not sure what’s more intimidating, the suit or Amanda Beard inside it. I’ll have to study it some more.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Luckily I had a massage session scheduled only a couple of days after my clinic. When I came in we exchanged the usual pleasantries and I told her about some minor soreness in my neck and shoulders but especially about my hips. A new complaint about something other than my back! After sizing me up on the table she dealt with my neck for a few minutes, and then ignoring my shoulders went straight to my hips. To assess them Carolyn “rolled” me at the pelvis, in a motion very similar to kneading bread, first one side and then the other. Once she had a gauge of my hip flexibility she decided my problem was best addressed by going to, where else, my lower back.
Her targets were my two quadratus lumborum muscles, flat sheet muscles anchored by the pelvis and the twelfth rib and extending like four fingers (quad meaning four) to the L1 through L4 transverse processes on each side of the spine. It’s a remarkably versatile muscle, as it acts as a prime mover (hips), a postural muscle (spine), and a respiratory muscle (lower rib for exhalation). If somebody before this had told me flexible hips mean better breathing I wouldn’t have believed them. My hips felt much more relaxed and the soreness was clearly reduced when I got off the table. It’s becoming an adventure to see where Carolyn will go to next – so many muscles needing work, so little time.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Saturday, December 09, 2006
A short anecdote from my life related to this topic. In an earlier blog My Early Swimming Career & Crystal Gardens I mentioned several names of swimmers I personally competed against as a boy, some of whom went on to represent Canada, including winning Olympic medals; but anyone who knew us back then would have immediately noted my leaving out the name of one of the best and brightest – Dale Long. Dale’s story is tragic. One of the top age-group backstrokers in the country he was warming up before a swimming meet in Port Alberni when he ran into the wall, literally cracked his skull and nearly drowned. One of the country’s elite junior swimmers nearly drowning in a pool crammed full with competitive swimmers – what irony! I, like always, was at my usual station during a swimming meet (in the showers keeping warm), and wasn’t there to see him being rushed away to hospital but I do have a vivid imagination. Dale never returned to competitive swimming, his career over at eleven, and this was the reason why I didn’t mention him when I wrote about quitting at twelve. But this particular anecdote is about an earlier time, when Dale was my teammate and holder of the Canadian records for 10&U backstroke over both long and short course.
Shortly after Dale set his records his parents requested he be given the same stroke instruction our club gave to our elite seniors, the ‘Nationals’, as befitting one of Canada’s top age group swimmers. This created quite a stir in our community. I really didn’t understand the controversy at the time. I did know Dale held a couple of Canadian records and swimming isn’t egalitarian – those who do well get more. Then again, my logic went, he wasn’t that much better, and wondered why this special instruction couldn’t extend to me, perhaps even to my sister and some of my teammates. Personally speaking the idea of getting stroke instruction was appealing, since it would be like belonging to the Nationals group, but it wasn’t a high priority for me. After all I was one of the best 10&U backstrokers in the country so I had to have a good stroke didn’t I? In the end the Club decided personal stroke analysis could not be extended to age group swimmers, and that included Dale. In response the Longs did something shocking … they left the team! Dale joined a small club only recently formed, the Juan de Fuca Coho. There was great animosity and bitterness over the defection, but in retrospect there’s little question I’d have done the same if faced with the Longs’ choice. The Coho’s had a professional coach with no national caliber seniors to train and therefore Alyward had the time to spend coaching his more promising age group swimmers. Our head coach at the time Gary Blondin had his hands full with the Nationals and Senior groups. The fracas left me with an indelible impression stroke analysis was reserved for elite senior swimmers of national caliber or above. Now thirty seven years later I’m finally getting the high level of coaching in these stroke clinics I was denied as a youth, and have been absolutely delighted by the results. Which for me raises a question: if a natural swimmer like me is attending every stroke clinic he can and asking for more, why aren’t all the other swimmers in Hyack Masters doing the same? Life holds many mysteries doesn’t it?
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Well, first thing I see are my shoulders are almost level with each other, a distinct and obvious improvement. This was something I had thought I was seeing in the mirror and it’s most gratifying to see it show up in a formal pose. There does, however, seem to be a new problem as my left shoulder seems to be ‘compressed’ – as if I was holding it close to my body. This may be in part because my nephew taking the pictures was standing slightly off centre when doing so, but there’s definitely a problem there. Looking at it more closely the left shoulder also seems to be pulled back a little too. No apparent improvement in my lower back though. Based on my handles I still have a pronounced bend at the base of my spine.
Now looking at my back picture my problems aren’t just limited to my left shoulder, the entire left side seems to be twisted. The left scapula is very prominent, and you can see skin folds below the scapula on the left side. Apparently releasing my right shoulder has caused my entire left side to tighten up and pull/twist back towards the spine. I suppose something like this is to be expected after years of the body holding itself one particular way is changed over the relatively short space of a single month. I’ll have to discuss this with my massage therapist Carolyn and see what she says. In so far as my lower back the expected ‘jog’ doesn’t seem to be as pronounced as it was in the past. It’s excellent news if that, in fact, is what has truly transpired. Since I’ve definitely felt movement in my lower spine a positive outlook may be justified. The bulge on my right hand side seen on my front picture could be partly the result of my left side pulling back and twisting, rather than entirely due to a warped spine. Time will tell I suppose.
My side picture is also showing progress, clearly the result of losing four kilos of fat this past month. One can actually see some abdominal definition starting to show. Still, I’m about four to five kilos from my intended fat percentage and apparently it’s virtually all in my waist, likely most being intra-abdominal (visceral) fat located beneath my stomach muscles. In my opinion the rest of my body is fairly fat-free now, as mid-section fat is always the last to go. And go it will. Terrific progress, I’m very pleased with these results in just three months and look forward to continued gains in the coming year.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Warm up: 400 free pull
200 kick (100 board & 100 without)
Main set: 5x200 free on 4:00
Sup set: 4x200 back on 4:30
Current plans for my next meet this coming February (the English Bay Swim Club Meet) are to swim the 200 back plus the 100 butterfly and freestyle races. Of course this is entirely dependent on the event scheduling and how I progress, but my training over the next couple of months will be targeted at racing these three events.
And lastly, a snide comment on observing an unattended minivan in a no parking area as I left the Canada Games pool this morning. Apparently someone decided to save a few steps in an otherwise open parking lot before heading into the facility to exercise. I just don’t get some people.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Entering Nanaimo Harbour on the Horseshoe ferry run
My first race was the 100 breast, for me a throw-away event, so no real pressure on me other than a natural desire to do well. Even so, the time I set for this race is going to be around for a long time as I’m extremely unlikely to race this event again during this season. All I was hoping to do was come close to my target time and then rest up for my free and back races. Not helping was the discovery my psych time on the meet program was three seconds faster than I thought I had put down. Now I was concerned about embarrassing myself (again) by swimming too slowly. Yet the race itself went pretty well to plan, my intention to set a strong pace at the beginning (i.e. not fast!) and hang on to the end concentrating on technique. Started getting tired around the sixty five meter mark but by pushing the last twenty five I finished in reasonable shape. My time, surprisingly enough, was a couple of seconds better than my posted psych time. An excellent start to my day!
My second race was the 100 free. Here my plan was to swim a negative split – go out under control and then let it out the last fifty. The first fifty was fair though my swimming technique, especially my body’s streamlining, was poor. My head was bobbing up and down like a cork as I first looked ahead towards the wall and then tried correcting myself to look down at the lane line, only once there to wonder where that damn wall was and take a quick peek! I know my turns are atrocious so they tend to distract me inordinately. Of course ever so concerned about my turns, I almost missed my first, thereby ensuring I’d race absolutely paranoid about the remaining two. Swimming down the lane I wasn’t thinking about breathing, hand placement, my pull, or even about my kick; I was just thinking to myself, “DON’T MISS THE TURN! DON’T MISS THE TURN!” In the second fifty, abetted by increasing fatigue, my technique just disintegrated – my last lap seeing me throw out any pretense of style and efficiency and simply flailing as fast as I could. It wasn’t pretty. My time, however, was in the upper range of my target time, and I can take some very real comfort I have so very, very many things to improve.
My last race was the 100 back, the race to redeem my UBC fiasco. No little pressure here – getting ready to jump in I was wondering what someone must feel like getting on the starting block in the Olympics. Really, who needs competitors when I can do just fine psyching myself out! The race? Well, I didn’t butcher a turn at least (my teammates apparently beg to differ) but, like my freestyle, my backstroke technique was simply awful and I ran into the rope once. Ending really tired, actually surprisingly tired, my time was only a little more than a second faster than my UBC result so a very disappointing finish. Just not missing a turn should have meant more time off so I was actually slower in Nanaimo than at UBC. Later upon reflection I realized my lack of conditioning was partly at fault as I had swum two races in the preceding two and a half hours before, clearly adversely impacting my time. Plus I didn’t have Ian to bring me out in the first fifty at the right pace and so held back too much. Rather than beat myself up for not improving enough over two weeks I should take some solace my result was in range of my original UBC target time. If I had performed this well just two weeks ago at UBC I’d have been very pleased with the result. I just have to work harder and concentrate on my swimming technique more. I must push Brad for another stroke clinic soon.
As for my two teammates Damien had given himself the ambitious itinerary of 100 fly and the 200 IM, more of an exploration as he hadn’t raced these two events in years, and acquitted himself well. Joe, who had actually come down with a bad cold the evening before, did even better and set a personal best (Masters) in his favourite event the 50 free, as well as putting in good times in the 50 back and breast. All in all a good meet. The pool is fast and the meet was very well managed. I’ll be sure to go next year.
Before leaving I would be remiss, what with Christmas season in full play, if I didn’t give everybody who reads this the opportunity to experience the town of Nanaimo’s namesake treat, the Nanaimo Bar. This is truly one of the finest cookies you can make; the treat has an almost universal appeal, and taste is so good you can almost ignore the calories. In the Pacific Northwest it’s referred to as the ‘legendary’ Nanaimo Bar and you find it everywhere, wrapped in its ubiquitous plastic wrap, right next to the chocolate bars and other desserts. Simple to make too, be sure to try the recipe out!
Friday, December 01, 2006
Regards to my weight I’ve dropped 3½ kgs over the past month. I’m now down to 81 kg (178 lbs). Not particularly surprising as I was ill for a couple of weeks and have been working out nearly twice every day. Even so some regret as my fat did cover up my present paucity of muscle, some necessary camouflage I’m rapidly losing. It would appear I’m going to approach running weight before leveling out (shudder). Luckily Christmas is fast approaching! My two inch loss around my waist this month translates into a new body fat percentage of 15%, meaning four kilos of fat lost. Doing the calculations it means I gained roughly ½ a kilo in muscle; a worthy gain but after last month’s estimated 800 gram gain nothing to preen about. All estimates of course, it’ll take a few more months to establish my muscle growth in more accurate terms. Still, I am putting on muscle however slowly.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Warm up: 2x100 free on 1:50
2x100 free on 1:40
2x100 free on 1:30
Main set: 400 pull on 7:00 (1:45/100)
200 pull on 3:20 (1:40/100)
300 pull on 5:15 (1:45/100)
100 pull on 1:30
Repeat above in reverse order
Sup. Set: 6x50 back on 0:50
Warm down: 100 easy
Our first 3,000 meter practice this season! Coming on top of my weight training the same morning this became quite the workout for my shoulders. Warming up I started out too fast, a speed which at the time seemed easy enough, until fatigue and the warmth of the pool started working on me. By the time the last 2x100 came up I barely kept within the interval times, but only at a cost of working at a pace which was certainly unseemly for a warm up. In future I promise myself I’ll take warm up literally and use the provided intervals as a guide to the desired pace. In the main set I threw in some backstroke for some variety, pulling 200 meters at a time for a total of 600, but swam just free in the 200 and 100 distances to keep within interval times. My rollover turn seems to be progressing nicely. I wonder if the pull buoy has anything to do with my improved surfacing I saw last night? Didn’t have much problem meeting the back set, though my times rose steadily over the six fifties. The final 100 warm down I spent kicking and was rewarded with a couple of cramps. A very tiring workout I enjoyed but not something I’d want as a regular diet. Practice rating: 7/10.
I was very ambitious yesterday afternoon in designing my workout for this morning. The plan was to complete 2,600 meters in the hour allotted, including 900 meters of 90% speed work covering the three strokes I’ll be swimming this Saturday; breast, free, and back. Overly ambitious it turns out; as my body cried foul for trying to having two hard practices only eight hours apart. I ended my practice after doing only 4x50 free instead of the planned 2x50 and 2x100 of my free workout, the preceding breast and back portions also being chopped, the workout taking everything I had to achieve only marginal times. I quit the pool without warming down after only 1,800 meters feeling absolutely exhausted. Practice rating: 5/10.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Warm up: 10x50 swim on 0:50
Kick/fins set: 250 on 5:00 (1:00/50)
200 on 3.40 (0:55/50)
150 on 2:30 (0:50/50)
100 on 1:30 (0:45/50)
30 sec rest
2x50 on 0:40
IM set: 16x25 on 0:40 drill / swim
Main set: 4x100 IM (declining 1-4) on 2:30
Warm down: 200 drill / swim
Total distance: 2,300 meters.
Warm up consisted of 4x50 swim free plus a 50 swim swimmer’s choice repeated twice at what for me was a fairly fast tempo of fifty seconds per fifty. That should be obvious looking at Saturday’s workout when I complained about my difficulties dealing with 8x50 on 1:00 at the end of my workout. This is a warm up? We then proceeded to a massive kick set w/fins totaling 800 meters ending with us having to sprint kick two fifties on forty seconds. I knew right away fins or no fins I wasn’t going to be able to do those last two fifties, especially since I’d be coming in about 15 seconds late from the 100. True to form I ended up just turning around and continuing on with the last fifty for basically another 100 kick. I did get to practice my rollover turn though, which was good. But along with Darren, who like me has just started Masters Swimming this September and is still working on basic conditioning, we were well behind the rest. Next came a new drill: in reverse IM order we did four twenty-fives of each stroke with the first and third fifty exchanging the normal kick for another stroke’s kick (i.e. on back we used the dolphin kick and for fly we used flutter kick). Coach said this works on improving the coordination between arm and kick and I certainly found my second attempt in all four stroke drills did improve over my first try. For the main set Brad admitted his original plans had us doing only three 100 IMs but he decided on the spot since they were on 2:30 we could do an extra one for four. I was pretty tuckered out by this point but surprisingly discovered it was Damien, in fine form, who was the person against whom I pushed myself. At the end of every 100 medley after swimming hard the whole way I’d look over and, aside from the always present Ian lounging about, there was Damien looking right back at me. Warm down was a simple scull/swim set which I split equally between free and back. Just the sort of workout I’m looking for. Practice rating: 8/10
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Warm up: 200 free concentrating on technique
200 IM kick w/fins
200 free w/paddles
Main set: 4x50 fly w/fins on 1:30
100 kick (50 dolphin & 50 flutter kick on back) on 3:00
6x50 breast on 1:30
100 breast kick on 3:00
6x50 back on 1:20
100 back flutter kick on 3:00
8x50 free on 1:00
100 kick (50 dolphin & 50 flutter kick w/board) on 3:00
Warm down: 200 free breathing 5/7 on alternate 50
2,400 meters in total, plus this workout has a lot of kicking in it (at least for me)! Fly went as expected, the first 50 going smoothly and my last leaving me wheezing and weak armed barely able to keep them out of the water on the return. I only need to look at my pictures to see how much muscle mass I’ve lost due to my back injury; it’ll take a few more months just to gain sufficient strength to complete a 100 fly so I grudgingly accept my failings for now. My breaststroke times are horrible – no wonder it’s my least competitive stroke, but there’s no reason for it to be this bad. First thing to give were my legs. Thankfully backstroke followed and went pretty well. My rollover turns continue to improve so I’m gaining some confidence I’ll do better with them in Nanaimo. I think next time I do 50 back sets I’ll drop the interval down to 1:15. Free came next, and if I was thinking before practice a full minute interval for a fifty was being generous I wasn’t by the time I actually started and mid way through the set found myself leaving before having fully recovered from the last run. The warm down with its restricted breathing really messed me up, as I needed a 30 second rest after the first 100 to continue, and eventually giving up and going back to breathing every other stroke on my final lap. Yet another problem I’ll have deal with by scheduling additional breathing drills into my program. Practice rating: 7/10
Friday, November 24, 2006
A lot to do outdoors in Nanaimo – whale watching is a popular choice.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
So I’ve rejoined Lane Six, at the end of the line of course. I mentioned way back in September the order of swimming in a lane in a competitive team is highly contested, but I’ve found this didn’t really apply when swimming Hyack Masters. That’s maybe true for the other lanes, but last night I found to my chagrin Lane Six definitely follows competition protocols. My mistake was honest: we had a set with two choices; either 5x100 free pull on 1:35, or 6x100 swim with fins on 1:25. I opted for the swim with fins because I wanted to work on my kick and the extra hundred would be good for my mileage. Both Ian and Darcy opted for the pull set. A moment of confusion about whether we should split the sets between different lanes (i.e. do the pull set in Lane Six and the swim w/fins in Lane 5) understandably didn’t gain ground as Lane Five swimmers weren’t going to use the same interval times. So I spoke up and told Ian I would swim first because I was swimming on 1:25 and he and Darcy were pulling on 1:35. Yes, stupid me. I complete the first 100 in 1:10, set off on my second 100, and then coming out of the first turn realized with a shock Ian was right behind me. Ian was pulling on 1:25 too, and at that moment I wasn’t going to bet I could swim faster with fins than Ian could only pulling, especially if Ian wasn’t pleased with me leading his lane. Finished the second 100 on 1:12, getting a little tired, and with only a few seconds rest set off again, now with Ian in hot pursuit (I’m sure Ian smelled blood when I slowed on the second 100). I finish the third 100 on 1:14, tired now, with Ian hitting the wall right behind me. I gasped out if he wanted he could go ahead on 15 and off he went; leaving on my time for a 1:15 interval for him, while giving me another ten seconds (so I was now on 1:35) for my fourth 100. For my remaining two 100s I stayed with 1:35 while Ian, of course, finished off his remaining 100 pull on 1:25. Ian’s a machine. Lesson learned.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
A world class athlete works hard to reach such exalted status, and has to continue to work hard to stay there. Swimming is no different. A typical world ranked swimmer will schedule ten to twelve 1½- 2 hour swim practices a week, plus weight sessions, running workouts, physio and massage appointments, perhaps psych & strategy sessions, flexibility training, stroke analysis clinics, diet analysis, etc. Add up all the time plus commuting and prep time for three workouts/sessions a day and the world class athlete is putting in nearly the same hours as required by a full-time job, with the considerable disadvantage much of his or her ‘work’ is designed to physically exhaust. Ian Thorpe had been doing this for more than ten years. But is he retiring because of physical exhaustion, was his recent illness and injury symptomatic of a creeping physical breakdown? I don’t think so - he says he’s in the best physical shape he’s ever been. Besides, it is estimated he’s earning about 3.5 million U.S. annually in endorsements, a powerful inducement to continue regardless of how tired he is. With only two more years to Beijing and a possible historic gold medal in the 400 free for three consecutive Olympics why then did he retired?
Personally I think he retired for the same reason most people leave the sport, he’s not improving anymore. It’s one thing to work hard and receive a tangible reward for your work in the form of faster times in the pool, but Thorpe hasn’t set a new world record in over four years. Four years of working hard and achieving nothing is bound to wear on the strongest of psyche. There must come a time when a person asks the big question, isn’t there a better way to live my life? For Ian Thorpe that question was finally answered in the affirmative, it was time for him to move on and explore life outside the pool, rather than stare at that black line day after day after endless day.
Monday, November 20, 2006
Wow, a meet which surely emerged from the Twilight Zone, or perhaps a nightmare. I arrived at UBC (University of British Columbia) Aquatics Center in plenty of time, a good thing as I had to park several blocks away. There seemed to be a big run going on in the concourse what with hundreds of runners and their numbers milling about. Miserable weather for it, lots of cold rain and a slight breeze make for difficult running. Couldn’t help but smile as I turned into the confines of the heated pool building. Met up with my team, did a little warm up of about 400 meters and readied myself for my first race.
My first race was the big one, the 100 back. The entry time I submitted placed me in lane one of the final heat, with Ian right alongside of me in lane two. I was pleased with this as Ian could provide the necessary pacing and there was no disadvantage to being in lane one because of the pool design. The UBC Aquatic Centre is noted for being a ‘fast’ pool (Brian Johns set a 400 IM world record here in 2003) and for this short course meet the races were held in the middle of the 50m pool running width-wise, so I had open pool next to me for close to twenty meters. It started out fine and my first turn was OK, but half way down the second lap I began to hurt. Shaken, and becoming concerned about my pace, I lost concentration in turn two and came up about a foot short of the end! With a stroke judge peering down at me I had to back up under water until I touched with the lightest of pushes and finally surfaced literally gasping for air. Figuring my race was shot I didn’t push too hard on the third lap, instead just tried to gather my breath, establish my stroke, and finish the race; but coming out of my final turn I saw Joe jumping up and down waving his arms shouting GO, GO, GO! Not wanting such sterling cheering to go to waste I went all out and finished the race in agony having barely breathed the last fifteen meters. Never have I felt so tired after such a short race. As a reward my time was only a second and a half over my target – perfectly acceptable considering I completely missed a turn. Still, it took several minutes until I finally had my breathing under control and could walk without holding on to something.
My next race was the 200 individual medley about an hour later. It was not an auspicious start however; I felt so weak getting up on the blocks I nearly lost my balance and fell in. Despite my now serious misgivings about the wisdom of this race the fly portion went well and the changeover to backstroke was completed in reasonable shape. First leg of my backstroke went as expected too (I had dedicated this lap to recovering from fly prior to the race), but early in the return leg instead of accelerating I suddenly could barely breathe again. Upon reaching breaststroke I tried without success to catch my breath and saw my pre-race plan quickly devolved into just holding on and getting to the freestyle leg, where I expected I could make a recovery. Barely made it (Coach Brad said my split for the fifty breast was close to a minute) but I still couldn’t breathe! Only half-a-dozen strokes later, with chest burning and my hyperventilating body refusing to stop trying to take in air, I was forced to swim heads up crawl, only to be slapped in the face with a wave. Choosing between the unbelievable choices of either treading water or swimming on my back I opted for the latter and ended the last lap of my race doing the backstroke. Unbelievable!! A devastating result for me, the stuff nightmares are made of. I scratched from my scheduled 200 free of course, and had the rest of the swim meet to ponder what happened.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Today’s morning practice wasn’t much different. I ended up only doing 1,500 meters rather than the planned 2,200 simply because my muscles told me they’d worked hard enough. If that wasn’t sufficiently explicit my split times would have driven the point home. In a set of 4x100 back on 2 minutes to be swum at 90% I was several seconds off from my expected time on my first 100, and the second 100 I managed to be on target but frankly to do so meant I had to swim all out. Fairly knackered I rested for an extra two minutes and swam my next 100 at nearly the same pace as my first 100 but, again, to do it meant I was putting nearly 100% effort into the swim. Now completely exhausted I called it a day and did an abbreviated warm down consisting of 100 breast and 100 crawl. I can clearly point the finger at my new weight program as the cause of this fatigue, where I’m now in the third week of the off season program. In my ignorance I thought I’d be able to accommodate the increased weight training because of my low swimming mileage, at least to the point where my racing speed would only be moderately impacted. Obviously I was wrong – hence the reason the designation ‘off season’ was given to this weight cycle. Not that I’d change anything, it’s just when I swim my 100 back at UBC slower than times I’ve swum in training Coach Brad is going to disappointedly surprised! I’ll have to prepare him for Sunday’s likely ‘disaster’.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Side note: Ian has left the selection of which races he is going to race up to Brad. This had me puzzled as I personally would want to have some input into what races I was going to do. In the locker room we joked Brad would have him swimming the 200 fly, the 400 IM, and the 400 free (something we could do only because Ian can actually swim those races; if Brad gave them to anyone of us we’d simply laugh in his face). I think the reason Ian gave Coach Brad carte blanche became clear tonight when I learned he moves up to my age bracket in 2007. Likely he doesn’t really care about his 2006 results; 2007 will bring some of his best opportunities to set some new records and I think that’s what he’s working towards. I wish him luck.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
In my family talent is not considered something like a trophy one can hold aloft as a personal prize. Rather, because we’re all equal under God, there is no inherent superiority of any one individual over any other. We merely possess different gifts others do not share. What we can laud and take personal credit for is the effort and dedication which goes into doing your very best whether or not you’re gifted. The actual level of achievement reached is of little concern; the key is to do your very best. As my former coach Archie McKinnon said, “… the real thing of value is the sweat and work that went into it”. Certainly we all take vicarious pleasure in the accomplishments of the rare elite, for we share a common father: Paul Tergat running the marathon in under 2:05, a sub-30 10k pace the entire way; Gary Kasparov moving chess pieces with a 2851 rating; Halil Mutlu at 56 kg lifting 168 kg over his head; or Einstein publishing papers on the Theory of Relativity out of a patent office – all accomplishments reflecting the tremendous potential of the human race. All wonderful and inspiring. With achievements like these how can we be prideful of our own individual petty exploits? So my parents taught not to focus on winning but instead to take pleasure in the personal act of improving oneself. That, surely, is a goal everyone should be striving for.
Foremost among my father’s physical talents was running. While he was also an excellent swimmer (amongst my mother’s papers is a certificate proclaiming him to be the 1938 Leeds Schoolboy Swimming Champion) he had a still stronger God-given gift for running. What he could have accomplished on the track had the war not intervened won’t ever be known. World War II intervened, he flew, survived, and his life took on a new course with new challenges – but running was always a part of his life. Oh, his time that September day? He made it with several seconds to spare, a result that at the time I had no doubt at all would happen. After all he was my dad.
Update: Subsequent to writing this it was learned Halil Mutlu was banned from competition in 2005 for steroid use. Just recently he announced withdrawing from his planned Beijing Olympics comeback because "he's missing his lifts". It seems that if I want to write about extraordinary human accomplishment it would probably be for the best if I just avoided athletic performance entirely.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Unfortunately this morning I woke up with a very sore throat and a rough, hacking cough which brings up thick phlegm. Okay, now I really am sick! I decided not to swim this morning and to sleep in instead, and then cancelled yoga this evening as it’s quite possible I’m contagious. I’ll also likely have to miss Friday and Saturday swim practices – only two months and I’m breaking down already? Damn!