Saturday, October 28, 2006

Stroke Camp

Today I attended stroke camp at the City Centre Aquatic Complex in Coquitlam, only about a twenty minute drive from home (so I guess that’s about fifty plus minutes in rush hour). Didn’t want to be late and so got there about half an hour early giving me plenty of time to study the place (as unfortunately there was no place for me to lie down and catch some sleep). A new “state-of-the-art” fifty meter pool it’s only slightly longer than fifty meters, just long enough to accommodate the width of two bulkheads, and of Olympic depth throughout. I’ve never before seen such a short fifty meter pool in a public facility. Rather than simply extending the length of the pool to achieve a shallow end the pool is designed to allow a bulkhead to be pulled out and the floor raised at one end to create the desired shallow water (a grill drops down to prevent anyone from swimming underneath the raised floor). It also has a separate wave pool with a beach entrance (sloping entry), a sauna and hot tub, and a gimmicky beach d├ęcor. I really liked the set up. Finally a few minutes before the scheduled start people started trickling in and I met up with Suzanne, one of the clinic’s coaches, who introduced herself and asked a couple of questions about my swimming background. Interestingly, when Suzanne heard I was in Brad’s Bonsor group she asked if Joe was still swimming with the club. After answering in the affirmative she told me she and Joe had been grade one schoolmates and played together in Nanaimo, BC before he moved away, only to meet once again when Joe joined the Club last year. So I’ll have to say hello to Joe from her. It really is a small world isn’t it? When the clinic started I was placed in Suzanne’s group and we started the freestyle drills which would continue for over an hour. I was initially a little disappointed – for some reason I had expected we would cover all four strokes in the clinic (always thinking of my deficient breaststroke and of course, my near non-existent fly). However, now that I’ve actually been through a clinic I understand why only the one stroke was taught. A good number of points Suzanne made had already been told me by Brad either directly or by general instruction to the whole team, but it was only the constant drilling which built on and reinforced earlier points which finally made the light go on. And it took pretty well the entire session for me to understand the basic concepts which were being taught. Personally speaking I take a lot of comfort that with over half-a-dozen techniques to correct and/or improve swimming faster is clearly in the cards for me (and just wait for my upcoming new improved body!). The coaches also provided a written, individually tailored stroke analysis and feedback at the end of the clinic for future reference, listing the priorities for each swimmer – and all for the token fee of $5, less than the price of pool admission. An embarrassingly good deal! So based on my own experience if you’re given the opportunity to attend a stroke clinic, regardless of whether you’re nationally ranked in your age group, or just a triathlete/masters participant, grab it! Your stroke efficiency and speed are virtually guaranteed to improve from improvements introduced in your first few clinics. Now Suzanne, can we arrange some clinics for the other three strokes? Fly perhaps?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Swimming Weight Program

I’ve decided to stop my general fitness weight program and switch over to a specialized weight program for swimming. It means a significant change in training for me, as for the first time in my life I’ll be taking up weight training in a serious way. I was introduced to weights when I was running, something necessary to keep from burning off all my upper body musculature (the saying “if you don’t use it, you lose it” quite literally applies when one starts running extensive mileage). It was a basic maintenance weight program for the entire body using relatively light weights and high reps twice a week – as a middle distance runner I just wanted a ‘balanced’ physique, not build one (definitely not at 168 lbs!). A while after I had finished with track I added another day of the same program and this, along with dropping my weekly mileage to about 30k, enabled me to actually build myself up by around a kilogram a month. And I’ve been on this very same program off and (mostly) on ever since. I’ve grown rather attached to it. This new swimming program employs ‘splits’ and I’m to train four times a week instead. This means I have to drop a day of running (down to only one day of running a week!) and extend dry land training to every day. I’m also to change every exercise’s weight based on my estimated one rep max for each one, instead of using standard weights for multiple exercises as I do now. Sounds complicated and time consuming to me. Another problem is there are three distinct training cycles with this program: off season, preseason, and maintenance. So where am I to start? Looking it over I’ve decided to not be overly concerned about my swimming times this first season and so I’ll begin November with the off season cycle. That means I can finish the preseason cycle in March – in time to swim the Provincial Masters in April in maintenance cycle (oh joy, tax season!). But it should be very good at building muscles and, lets admit it, even at six practices per week my schedule will be basically off season for a competitive swimmer. Yea, I know, I’m not a competitive swimmer.

Marilyn showing perfect form

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Running the Millennium Trail

Sunday morning in bright sunshine I was again out in Queen’s Park with my dog at my side jogging the Millennium Trail. For some reason I was very heavy in my gait and wasn’t moving at all well for the first three or so kilometers until I started to loosen up. By the end of an eight k run I was starting to stretch out and move with some rhythm and fluidity. It’s beginning to get cold (not surprising as it is nearly November) so I must dig out my running gloves. One very nice thing about swimming is you don’t have to worry about cold and rain, slipping on ice or worse yet, being run down by a car in the dark. Who would have thought I’m starting to look forward to my swims?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

A Short But Good Workout for Me

My plan this weekend, since the Canada Games Pool (CGP) was set up short course, was to work on my butterfly through the use of a supplemental set of short, well rested swims concentrating on technique. So after a 3x200 free and a 50 free/breast kick warm up I started with the first of three 4x25 fly on 1:00 with a 50m dolphin kick on 2:00 to begin and follow each set, a total of 500 meters devoted to fly. The set went well as I was able to maintain the proper rhythm integrating pull and kick for most of my swims. Only the last couple of laps showed deterioration back towards a single kick. Still, even when my kick was working it had no power, so that’s something I’m going to have to concentrate on in the coming months. Next came an easy 200 free and then for my main set I swam 4x100 backstroke fast (90% effort) on three minutes (down from the planned 6x as I was getting tired). My first 100 timed in several seconds faster than I was expecting, something which came as a pleasant surprise and, more importantly, the remaining 100s showed only slight slowing which held consistently throughout the set. A good result after only five weeks training, but I’m still having real breathing problems with my back turns from trying to clear my sinuses of water. Most unpleasant to say the least. I finished with an easy 200 free and left the pool feeling pleasantly tired. A short but good workout for me.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Running Again

Today was the occasion of a successful return to running. My attempt started out rather tentatively but, when my knee didn’t act up in the first 100 or so meters I picked up the pace a bit from shuffle to jog. Never went much faster than that, especially when climbing up my first hill the knee complained after I placed more weight on it than was perhaps desirable. Still, I went on to complete 5k and then decided to call it a day. No sense pushing it when the run isn’t part of your core exercise program right?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Panic Time!!

Last night Coach Brad had us do some IM (individual medley) work and included in the main set was a fast 200 IM. I finished over three minutes and, even making adjustments for stopping a couple seconds after my first 25 meters of fly for a much needed breather, and then having to stop again mid-length for another couple of seconds to allow the wake from Ian’s passage to die down enough for me to resume my fly, I’m in real trouble with my IM. With only one month to go before I’m to race the 200 IM the number of technical problems I face exceeds my fingers, my endurance is non-existent, and right now swimming fifty meters fly – just swimming it mind you, not racing, exhausts me. I’m using my 12&U personal best as my qualifying time for the upcoming UBC meet and it would be devastating not to be at least close (forget that – I want to be under it! Who wants to come second to some scrawny 95 lb twelve year old in anything?). To add to my sense of panic my schedule to build up my practices to six per week had a flaw in it. I planned to have two weeks of four practices a week before moving up to five but adding Tuesday morning in week three effectively means I’m swimming five a week starting in the second week (it sounds confusing I know but schedule four practices in one week and then five practices the following week with the extra practice being slotted in the first available day in week 2 and you’ll see what I mean).

Saturday, October 14, 2006

First Morning Practice Long Course

So today I swam on my own at Canada Games Pool. Let me describe to you my local pool. The pool is conveniently located only twenty minutes away by foot from my home if I cut through Queens Park, which makes for a pleasant walk in good weather. While most of the time the long course pool is split by bulkheads creating two short course 25 meter pools plus a wading pool the arrangement is adjusted to allow the swimming of 50 meter laps every weekday morning by moving the center bulkhead.

Clearly I’m not quickly bouncing back after last night’s workout. Still lethargic and swimming long course seems to make everything a little more difficult. I’m sharing the pool with other length swimmers in two lanes while the other six lanes are taken up by one of the Senior Hyack teams and our Masters Hyack Triathlon team (CGP). Strangely Canada Games Pool has the public double lane set up for traffic to go up one side and down the other side, with passing in the middle. This is different from everywhere else (including the adjoining Hyack lanes) where traffic goes up the sides and down the middle. I see a Japanese lady start off up the pool on the far side and a moment later almost collide with someone coming down the other way. Later on she’s in a talk with one of the lifeguards complaining and I don’t blame her. Everywhere else in the world has the same lane organization except for CGP. I’m not sure why they’ve set up their lanes this particular way – I do know it makes turns very awkward since you have to traverse a full lane to bring yourself over to the other side, something that takes two or three strokes to accomplish.

Friday, October 13, 2006

One Month In

Tonight I started off tired and continued to struggle through to the end of practice. I’ve been swimming with the Hyack Masters for a month now and I would have liked this workout to have gone better. Considering everything, however, my progress in conditioning has been satisfactory. If I was to compare myself with my conditioning after my first month’s running when I started into track I’d have to say without hesitation I’m doing better now than then. I think a lot of my relative success in my swimming versus running is the natural therapeutic benefits of swimming make injury very unlikely. You get tired and fatigued, but that’s not like running where it seems steadily increasing mileage in large chunks just adds up to ever increasing discomfort and pain in addition to the fatigue. Tomorrow is my first extra practice – we’ll see how I fare in my first early morning practice in a fifty meter pool.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Limited Overs Swimming

The 2006 UBC Swim Meet is now online. Unlike the two day swim meets most competitive swimmers are used to Masters swim meets are only one day events. In fact they’re really only held over an afternoon. This plays havoc with someone looking to establish official times in a broad range of events. I, for instance, want to establish times in all four 100 events, every 200 event excepting breaststroke (I don’t like breaststroke and, perhaps not surprisingly, I’m not particularly competitive at it so why suffer?), and the 400 free (which will be my sole ‘distance’ event). That makes nine events. Well, really only eight events since 200 fly remains only a distant theoretical concept for me at this time (jeez – no kidding, right now I can barely finish fifty!). Even so, as I’ve noted earlier, I desperately want to be good in fly so both fly events are on my list to race. Ideally I’d like to compete in my best events (which at this time I’m thinking will be the 100 & 200 back and 400 free) once every month or so; and the rest at around three times during the season (excepting the 200 butterfly!). If I was racing over two full days I could expect to swim at least four individual races, maybe up to six with some help from scheduling. But having racing limited to one afternoon my opportunities dwindle to a maximum two or three. With only six meets the entire season the numbers don’t add up. Anyways I think I’m going to be very aggressive and enter three races: the 100 back, the 200 free, and the 200 IM. I had wanted to swim 100 free instead of the 200 but it was back-to-back with the back (no pun intended). Clearly too much ‘distance’ for my first meet but at least the back (the only one with real emotional investment) is the first race.

A reader might be interested to know masters swim meets are very egalitarian; heats are seeded strictly on the basis of time and therefore a single race can see both men and women of widely differing ages racing in the pool at the same time. Must be murder on officiating though (oh this race? Well they’re a bunch of nobodies except for that lane seven swimmer who came in third. Apparently she seems to have set a FINA world record for woman 60 to 64, so I’ll need your signature. Personally I’m surprised you allowed her kick, but then what do I know? Please sign here, and here ... )

Friday, October 06, 2006

Pride Goeth Before the Fall

Today is October picture day, a day where I stomp all over what little pride I have and publish pictures of myself in a swimsuit for the world to see. So here they are.

Judging from my ‘handles’ on the second and third pictures I can’t see any real difference over last month, likewise no apparent changes on my back and side views. Perhaps looking at the picture of my back my spine is slightly straighter and maybe better aligned, but I really would have to say that opinion is heavily influenced by desperate desire rather than reality. Oh well, real change takes time. I wasn’t truly expecting to see anything after only a month – but wait until the beginning of January - then we’ll see something. Oh, by the way, I’m told my handles will disappear when my body fat drops below 15%. The same rule-of-thumb applies to the rest of you men. Now if you’re a woman with a few extra percent of body fat don’t worry – you’re looking great.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I See I Have a Massage Scheduled this Morning …

When you think of a massage do you envision being wrapped up in fleecy towels on a cushioned table, soft music in the background and muted lights, while warming aromatic oils are rubbed into your body? Do you recall the glowing, relaxed feeling as your muscles are kneaded and stretched as strong, supple hands gradually work to remove all your tension and stress? Well, the memory I’ll always associate with massage is listening to an absolutely horribly low pitched, gurgling cry of pain coming through a masseuse’s closed door; then my turning and, upon seeing the stricken face of a rugby teammate lying beside me, smiling and giving him a big double thumbs up saying, “I’m up next!” Lots of laughs. I’ll admit they were stressful laughs –gallows humour and all – but we were laughing. Welcome to the world of therapeutic massage. Massage has always been present in my life as my father was a great proponent of its use for physical well being. My two sisters and I were taught the basics and even today, when two of us siblings come together, a sign of physical stress or discomfort often results in a massage. But working out a muscle knot isn’t always pleasant, even if the end result is. A little digression here - I told my first girlfriend I could give a massage and she was delighted. So at thirteen I dug right in … and discovered her concept of massage was very much different than mine! How could I have known a good massage could be pleasurable in a sexy way? I also learned girls can bruise easily. Not good at all. So now I have two versions of massage – your choice . I, too, have preferences as I’m slightly more comfortable with a male versus female masseuse for two practical reasons: 1) my upbringing forbids my swearing in front of a woman; and 2) my male pride makes me reluctant to show pain in their presence (and not indicating pain during a massage is plain stupid). Still, I’m not at all biased against using female massage therapists; in fact my current therapist is a she. Today Carolyn concentrated on working my lower back (surprised?), specifically my right erector spinae muscles. How do I know the name of those very muscles she was working? Is my understanding of anatomy that advanced? No it isn’t - I know because I asked her, and I asked her because she was hurting the bejezus out of me! It felt like she was digging her elbow up and down the right side of my spine, and it was causing my right glute and hamstrings to completely lock up. Clearly the pain said this was doing me a world of good, but it just went on and on. She didn’t stop. Oh how I prayed for her to stop! Finally I surrendered, shifted my position on the table away from that murderous elbow, and gave a big grunt. Carolyn, being a consummate professional, immediately ceased and made the obvious and inevitable observation, “boy, really tight there”. But the next thing she started to manipulate was the same right leg and hip, something which threw my leg into one massive cramp (hey, it was beaten up and tired!) which brought me completely off the table and elicited a gasp of pain. Well, it might have been a little louder than a gasp. And the gasp might have been an intelligible word, but I honestly can’t remember what it was; clearly something short and to the point. Whatever it was, my lower back and right hamstring did feel a lot better and looser respectively walking out afterwards. Those readers who may be somewhat unsettled by my experience should rest assured your local massage therapist will start out nice and easy, but you too can eventually work your way up to the pleasures of a full and vigorous massage like the ones I enjoy. I highly recommend massage as part of your overall program if you’re doing any extensive training, or even just seeing a period of radically increased exercise. Heck, have one for no reason whatsoever. Professional and elite amateur athletes always employ massage therapists and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t gain the same benefits either (well, cost can rear its ugly head).

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Navy Weigh

It’s the day of my monthly weighing and the scales tell the story – bang on 85 kg (187 lbs) or a loss of nearly four pounds in the past month. A somewhat pleasing development but when I measure my waist I don’t see the expected improvement so questions arise. I could have incorrectly measured my waist (a definite possibility I’ll get to later) or my weight loss was perhaps only the result of the temporary weight fluctuations which happens to everyone, sometimes up to as much as 1% of total body weight, each and every day. But you can avoid most of this fluctuation by weighing yourself at the same time of day (which I did) so I must believe the 1½ kg loss is fairly accurate of my true mass. The problem is clearly my earlier waist measurement. Whereas in September I took my waist measurement around my girth’s smallest circumference (belt level) this time I measured myself at the level of my navel, and the different location resulted in no change in waist measurement month to month. Why the change in location? Well, I’ve found a new way of calculating body fat. I wasn’t really happy with my first BFM site I used last month as it only took measurements in whole inches. Given the estimates involved in these calculations such ‘coarse’ inputs are perfectly reasonable, but I wasn’t happy about having to wait around for an entire inch to be lost before I could record progress, so I went back the internet to find another method. And I found a great one. At the US Military’s method of calculating body fat is explained (the preamble to the tables sets out the history of the methodology from its Navy origins to adoption by DoD for all five services as well as the algorithms employed) and the necessary tables to calculate body fat based on tape measurements are provided. Simply put the Navy discovered using the neck circumference as the base for body type showed a very high coefficient to actual variability in body fat in large populations. Therefore subtracting the neck measurements from those which best assess overall fat levels gives very accurate body fat percentages. For men this requires only two measurements – neck and waist (measured at the belly button level); and for women three measurements – the neck, hips (at the greatest circumference around the hips) plus the waist (determined by measuring the smallest circumference). The net measurement is then looked up in the tables at the individual’s height to give their body fat percentage. Some caveats apply however; because these tables are derived from a military population the database does not adequately provide for individuals under military age and post-menopausal women. For me neither applies, so after plugging in my October measurements, the tables say my body fat is basically unchanged at 21%. Clearly my September reading was off. Can’t wait until next month when I can make an accurate evaluation of my progress.