Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Couple of Exhausting Workouts

Last night it was our second practice at Chimo Pool. Again, what with snow falling and extreme driving conditions, only five swimmers (plus Coach Brad) showed up; Ian, Darren, and I the sole holdovers from Monday. It was a workout the club sprinters would be pleased they missed as Brad (formerly an 800 & 1,500 meter specialist) uncorked a workout he’d enjoy doing:

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

Getting Ready

This morning saw the last of my first month’s weight training so now I get a week’s reprieve to allow my muscles to recover before going on to the second month of this training cycle. Good timing as this will give me a little rest before the Ebbtide swim meet in Nanaimo this Saturday. In the same spirit I’m going to schedule an extra practice this Friday morning and skip our regularly scheduled club practice at Chimo Pool on the same night. To get over to Nanaimo I have to catch the 8:30 AM ferry, meaning an early start and I don’t want to be getting to sleep around midnight the night before. The weather is still bitterly cold for these parts and additional snow is being forecast for later today and tonight. Certainly glad I’m not running!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Late Night Practices at Chimo Pool

Last night our practice was held at Chimo Pool in Coquitlam instead of Bonsor Pool in Burnaby as it’s closed for annual maintenance. There must be some serious problems at Bonsor as I’ve never heard of a pool needing to shut down for over two weeks every year. Maybe every five years, but not every year. Perhaps even budget constraints? Anyways, what with the change in venue, the late 9:30 PM start, and the heavy snowfall over the weekend we had only five swimmers in attendance. So we all had a lane each. Interestingly we were all from Lanes Five and Six with the exception of Damien who, like Joe, swims Lane Four as a matter of preference rather than need. Coach Brad must have felt like he was coaching a real swim team. Certainly in my opinion the workout suggested it.

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

Saturday’s Workout

Still more training changes from my lessons learned at the UBC meet. Up to now I’ve been fairly casual about my extra workouts, looking more to simply add more training kilometers and consequently improve my overall conditioning (my ‘base’). The UBC debacle has clearly shown if I’m to improve sufficiently to race anything beyond fifty meters I have to raise the overall pace of all my workouts to over 80% of max, not just my Hyack practices. To achieve this I’m going to adhere more closely to given intervals and not just add more time when I’m out of breath, falling back on the excuse I simply set too fast an interval time. No more.In another resolution I intend to increase distance in my personal workouts over the next month to between 2,500 and 3,000 meters per practice and so work harder on my endurance. As a consequence for this morning I gave myself the following workout to do:

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

Signed Up For Nanaimo Ebbtides Swim Meet

I originally had planned to go to Nanaimo for the scheduled meet but after my experience at UBC I’d struck it from consideration, deciding my lack of conditioning didn’t warrant a second swim meet only two weeks later. Now, after coming to the decision there was likely a medical reason for my poor performance, I’m resuming my original plan and attending the Ebbtides Meet. This time, however, I have two objectives. The first objective is the same, to gather some official times to work with, and to that effect I’m swimming the 100 breaststroke (ugh) and 100 free. But, in yet another change resulting from UBC, instead of swimming a third new event I’m repeating 100 back. If my hypothesis about my tachycardia is correct then I should expect to shave several seconds off my time, especially if I can pull off some reasonable turns. If successful I’ll be half way towards starting on my primary goal, that of meeting the provincial AAA qualifying times for 15&Os in my chosen events. As an added bonus I’d also be the fastest backstroker on the team.

A lot to do outdoors in Nanaimo – whale watching is a popular choice.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Moving Back to Lane Six

One of the several changes I’m making after the UBC swim meet is increasing the tempo of my workouts. Since my self-imposed exile from Lane Six I’ve gradually worked my way up next door to Lane Five and have now decided in order to get into proper race condition I need to get back there. It’s not absolutely necessary for everyone though. Joe, one of our club’s best sprinters, heads Lane Four (it’s strange to sometimes look over at supposedly a slower lane and see Joe a full body length ahead on some 50 meter sets). One night on seeing Joe dash off on a sprint set Ian said, “Oh, there goes Joe” prompting a response from Lane Five about Vladimir’s prowess with his kick sets; let me tell you, when somebody associates your swimming with Vladimir’s that’s a rare compliment indeed. But for me I need more distance and average pace to build up sufficient endurance to handle racing up to 400 meters, and that means Lane Six.

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

Further Reflections on 2006 UBC Swim Meet

I realized there was a possible explanation for my difficulties racing at UBC only when I described my races to mother and it dawned on me I was hearing something I’ve heard before. Familiar because during my truncated track career I discovered I suffer from arrhythmia, a medical condition where the heart develops irregular heart beats. My specific problem, something called atrial fibrillation, causes my heart rate to accelerate to several times faster than normal to a point where it no longer pumps blood effectively. It’s a relatively common defect affecting about 1 out of every 150 people. Symptoms include heart palpitations, dizziness, fainting or near fainting, and shortness of breath. For me it’s rather a minor concern – the only time it arises is when three distinct criteria occur at the same time: 1) I’m tired which always means a lot of caffeine in my system; 2) I’m out of shape or in the early part of training; and 3) I’m performing an activity which places considerable stress on the heart without being sufficiently warmed up. The first thing I notice is a slight pressure around my chest, like someone had just tightened a belt already around my chest another notch, and then I literally feel my heart ‘flutter’, as if a small bird is trying to escape my chest. Nothing painful, just a little uncomfortable. Actually the most profound symptom is my inability to breathe properly but, because it always occurs when I’m expecting to be out of breath, struggling to take in air is paradoxically the last symptom normally detected. All not a problem as long as I stop immediately. But if I continue … well it’s like trying to run with a collapsed lung. I need twenty-four hours of recovery before I can safely run again; any attempt before then increases the chance of a reoccurrence exponentially in an inverse relationship with the amount of recovery time allowed. I think my heart went into atrial fibrillation during the last lap of my 100 meter backstroke race. And then an hour later I tried to race another two hundred meters, virtually guaranteeing another attack. It makes sense: all the necessary conditions were present; the only difference from my previous episodes was it happened in water rather than on land. Water that splashed over and pressed in on me so those tell-tales of a tightening chest and fluttering heart I rely upon to flag the onset of tachycardia were masked. So I continued to push myself, unable to breathe, mistakenly cursing my conditioning for my struggles. If my hypothesis is correct then I had a great backstroke race, and the fact I swam over one hundred meters of my 200 IM with my heart in fibrillation was one of my toughest life accomplishments. It does, however, raise some serious questions which will have to be addressed. But that is for another day. Today I can take comfort in the belief I suffered not because of a lack of ability on my part but rather because of a preventable medical condition. I’m still following the script, my ambitions and goals intact.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Ian Thorpe Quits at 24

“I also made a very difficult decision that day that I am actually going to discontinue my professional swimming career”, said Ian Thorpe today in Sydney. Aside from the fact he needs a speech writer it shouldn’t come as a great surprise Ian Thorpe, the Thorpedo, is retiring. First fighting off the effects of glandular fever which kept him out of this year’s Commonwealth Games and then having to deal with a broken wrist, Thorpe had been rehabilitating himself in Los Angeles away from the media glare until the beginning of this month, when he finally came to his decision to retire. It’s been a long career. Starting at age five, swimming internationally since fourteen, he became the youngest male world swimming champion in history at fifteen. A decade later, with eleven World Championships and thirteen individual world records under his belt, he has little to prove to himself or the world.

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

2006 UBC Swim Meet

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

Feeling Good But Unfortunately Not Fast

Last practice before my first swim meet in many, many years. I’m swimming reasonably well for someone who’s just started his third month of serious training, but I’m still not really comfortable with trying to establish personal performance levels by actually racing. These apprehensions are reinforced by my speed work in practices. I’ve definitely slowed down a bit since taking up dedicated weight training (my cold has also had an effect) and it’s showing up everywhere in my training in the form of slower splits. This morning was no different as a series of easy 100 backs turned up times which wouldn’t have been out of place when I was swimming once a week back in August. A little disconcerting. Still, with the restricted swim season available to Master’s swimmers I have to start collecting some times and must ignore any possible damage to my pride. I need to look at my upcoming times as benchmarks for me to evaluate progress rather than definitive statements of my swimming ability. No, that’s not really true. Perhaps I’m not looking for great times but I am looking for indications of talent – a 100 back time, maybe not serious fast, but still fast for my age. So, despite my present conditioning, I have to admit I’m not pulling back from my target times. I’ve always performed my best under pressure and deep down I’m confident I’ll simply swim the times I want regardless of all the factors. One thing for sure; I’m going to find out. For this evening I’ve made the decision not to run and so rest my body that little bit more for the meet. I admit a certain amount of regret over this decision as I’m thinking a run to stretch me out and get the legs flowing again would feel really good.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

An Unusual Bikram’s Night

Life just gets better and better. The Bikram’s studio was plenty hot tonight! There’s a standard temperature range it’s supposed to be (around 38 Celsius or roughly 105 Fahrenheit) but tonight it was definitely hotter than that, which means humidity also soars. After five minutes lying down in this sauna our instructor called for the class to commence and I was immediately hit by a dizzy spell getting up. It eventually dissipated as we did the first stretches but for some reason (likely the heat, I don’t take dramatic changes in temperature well) a residual ‘buzz’ remained for quite a time. Given my overall muscle fatigue and this buzz for all practical purposes I was pretty well stoned and you really don’t want to be stoned at a Bikram’s Yoga class (however for a cheap high it was great). Unfortunately all good things come to an end, and in this case the end meant I was faced with close to an hour more yoga in killing heat without the benefit of significant disorientation. I did struggle towards the end but made it through the class, though the credit really has to go to the fact our instructor that night was pretty and I would have died rather than have her think I couldn’t hack it. Not really the way you want to end your day, but I’m going to sleep well tonight for sure.

Maybe I Should Have Tapered

I got tied up at work and so arrived a few minutes late for practice Wednesday night and warm up was already underway. Coach Brad quickly gave me the set’s instructions as I walked to my lane and let me know the pool was closing for two weeks maintenance starting the last week of November (déjà vu all over again?) and we’d be swimming at another pool but at later times (later than a 9:00 PM start?). Like last practice the main set was broken up into three categories depending on what each individual was racing this coming Sunday, and like last practice I slotted myself in with the non-racers and ended up doing some easy 250s with some paced 50s thrown in. Felt sluggish throughout the workout but very comfortable – like one does waking up after a good night’s sleep in a warm bed.

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

Back to Swimming

With my cold rapidly receding I ventured back into the pool for Monday night’s practice. It may seem strange to those who’ve swam competitively but Coach Brad has the team tapering for the UBC swim meet, and for a team whose typical practices have amounted to about 2,000 meters this means our mileage dropping down to about 1,500 meters or less. Don’t laugh, we’re master swimmers (surely an oxymoron if there ever was one). Another interesting factoid: Coach assigned different sets for three categories after the warm up – those who aren’t participating in the meet get a normal workout (but as virtually all the better swimmers are going to the meet ‘normal’ was pretty easy); sprinters (those racing the 50 meter distances); and ‘middle’ and ‘distance’ swimmers (those racing 100 & 200 distances). I’m sure Brad gets a good laugh designing these practices; I certainly find the concept of a 200 meter event considered ‘distance’ highly amusing myself even if entirely cognizant of the fact 200 meters is exactly that for me (it’s so sad). I’m definitely not tapering only two months after I started training so I’m swimming with the remnants of the team not going to the meet. Good thing too because this workout actually pushed me effort-wise. Racing the 25 and 50 meter sprints Coach Brad has the rest of the team doing would have finished me off.

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

Talent, God’s Gift

One bright, sunny autumn Saturday in September, in the same week as my father’s forty-fifth birthday, I was standing on the roof of my old YMCA watching dad stride around the banked 100 meter track they had laid out there, holding on to his watch and calling out times as he flashed by. Every year my father raced the mile. His ultimate objective - to run it when he was sixty in under five minutes or, looking at the challenge another way, to finish the distance in less than four minutes plus his age in seconds every year. Previously he had a coach or co-runner time him but he apparently judged me old enough for the responsibility and brought me along. So there I was practicing counting his laps and calling out splits while he circled several kilometers around in track warming up. Every four laps I called out his split, and every once and a while he’d shout, “Ring the bell!” and I’d jump up and down giving the signal for what would be his final lap in the actual race by shouting like some demented fight bell, “Bing! Bing! Bing! Bing! Bing!” It was great fun. And when he was finished warming up, had done his final stretching, he lined up for the start. Running the mile meant sixteen laps starting from a specially colored line about one quarter of the way down the track from the finish line where I was standing, a double wide white stripe set among a rainbow of different colored lines marking the paths. I gave the “On your mark” warning, waited for him to settle, and then sent him off with a high pitched “Go!”.

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

Remembrance/Veteran’s/Armistice Day & Still Sick

On this day when we remember all those wasted lives, the suffering, and wonder at our continuing futility in human relations I always think of one of the most profound sayings I've come across in my extensive readings,“War results from the triumph of hope over reality”. Never have I heard truer words about such a devastating subject. Meanwhile I slouch around my place pitying my pathetic person. No improvement in my condition – could I possibly have an infection in my lungs?

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Yesterday’s Wednesday practice was so-so as I was tired and still nursing a cough. Overextending myself on a 2x100 choice sprint forced me to bail out on my second 100 half way through; and then for the last set, a 4x75 fly swim/drill I cheated and used fins. Earlier I noticed Ian steaming past me in a kick set doing dolphin at twice my speed, so much faster I checked to see if he was wearing fins (he wasn’t). No wonder he’s good at fly! If I could kick like that I’d be good at fly too (and if wishes were horses beggars would ride).

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!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Working the Neck

Today when Carolyn asked if I had anything I wanted her to deal with I requested a general massage in addition to the time on my back. What actually ended up happening was she spent the last half hour working on my neck, or more scientifically, my trapezius muscles. Apparently they’ve been overworked. In my mind I can hear Coach Suzanne’s “Aha! What did I tell you about maintaining a neutral head position when swimming?” In a strange way it’s comforting to know our coaches actually know what they’re talking about even as I’m suffering the evident consequences of them not scheduling the stroke clinic soon enough. Afterwards Carolyn sent me home with instructions to ice my neck for a while to help bring down the inflammation. In an update on my health my sore throat has unfortunately developed a cough.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Gimps, Gays and Gurus

For the first year after my back gave out I made the rounds from doctor to specialist and back again looking for a solution to the crippling pain I was in. Deteriorating spine? Know that, tell me how I can go on with my life! Surgery was ruled out early on and the only answer the doctors seemed to have been prescribing more painkillers, more anti-inflammatories. Finally, acting out of a need to do something other than to just passively accept my situation, I decided to go to a chiropractor. Being Saturday my weekend choices were limited - the first clinic I called was fully booked, but my second try was more successful, and that was how I connected with my chiropractor Dr. Madahar. I should be upfront about my attitude towards chiropractics: I consider it more therapy than ‘medicine’, a practice/procedure which addresses symptoms rather than treats underlying problems. Yet one of the first things Dr. Madahar did after making some adjustments was give me a set of stretching exercises to perform each day to reestablish my core muscles and so support and stabilize my spine. After a few weeks my back seemed to show improvement so when Dr. Madahar offered to take me to a Bikram’s Yoga class, and despite his caution my doctors would not approve, I accepted. He was absolutely right; my doctors did not approve, and I’m now in my third year of Bikram’s Yoga.

Bikram’s Yoga is the creation of Bikram Choudhury, a former four-time national yoga champion of India who severely injured himself in a weight-lifting accident later on in life. With the injury diagnosed as irreparable he returned to his guru Bishnu Ghosh and his yoga roots and in a matter of months was totally recovered (yet another example of my own physical inferiority). His subsequent creation, Bikram’s Yoga, is derivative of Hatha Yoga but with refinements sufficient enough for him to have his copyright on Bikram's Yoga upheld by a U.S. court. It is essentially rehabilitative yoga, using a limited number of postures rigidly organized to provide a complete and logically progressive workout for the entire body, all while being conducted in a hot house like environment to both minimize risk of injury and to cleanse the body of toxins. For today’s repetitive, dysfunctional modern world, Bikram’s Yoga is relevant for practically everyone. It isn’t easy the first few times, what with the heat and trying to hold poses designed to challenge your muscles’ natural tendencies, yet the immense good the postures did for me was hard to ignore and so I soldiered on. There were setbacks. One day I failed to properly concentrate and threw out my back, something which stalled me at least two months in my recovery, but even so my progress back after being introduced to Bikram’s Yoga was never in doubt. It is to yoga I credit the extent of my recovery. Swimming is only a test to see just how far I can come.

Choudhury doing ... something

You may be curious as to how I came up with today’s title: it’s my reference to the type of men who seem to populate yoga. Today females still easily outnumber males in yoga but the ratio is tightening up as more and more men start to recognize yoga as a legitimate physical activity. By far the greatest number start Bikram’s because of a physical disability like a bad back, gimpy knee or obesity (the “Gimps”); a few join for the same lean, boyish musculature the women join for (the “Gays”); and even fewer are there for the understanding and increased athletic performance yoga brings, plus possibly a desire to teach what they’ve learned (the “Gurus”). Can you guess which category I place myself? By the way, in Vancouver at least, yoga is not a social activity (I’m told in some cities yoga is a place you can go to get dates) – you’d have better luck here picking up women walking down the street. Perhaps though this lack of socialization might be less a result of the enforced silence in yoga class than the natural impact on women of all us gimps collecting in one room. Ya gotta be realistic about these things. But guys, for gimpy knees, a bum back, tight hamstrings, an extra two hundred pounds - whatever ails you, join Bikram’s Yoga. It’s tougher than you think and it’ll work wonders on your body. Try it out.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Oh oh ….

On Saturday morning I woke up with a sore throat and it continues today so I officially consider myself sick. I’ve had the “sniffles” for some days now, a sure sign the body is stressed and the immune system is down, but had hoped since my workout schedule expansion was over I could ride it out until my body adapted. Now I clearly have a bug. I’m hoping this weekend will provide enough rest for my body to recover sufficiently to ward off anything more serious. All I have scheduled for today is one morning weight session and a yoga session tomorrow morning before I swim Monday evening – almost two full days without anything truly stressful. Today I take easy and get lots of sleep.

The possibility of getting sick was not entirely unexpected. In competition the name of the game is pushing yourself to your limits – and you won’t find where they are until you exceed them. In youth one's ability to recuperate allows more aggressive training, and this combined with naturally higher metabolisms means faster times, higher jumps, and farther throws. The advantages an increased ability to recuperate gives to an athlete are enormous, and why steroids play such an insidious role in sports – not for the muscles, for in very few sports are exceptionally large muscles an asset, it’s the increased training loads steroids allow which makes them such exceptional performance enhancers. As someone on the wrong side of forty and recuperating from a serious injury to boot pushing hard will eventually cause some sort of breakdown but I do need to find where my limits lie. The key will be how quickly I can recover once I find them.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Looking Forward to the UBC Swim Meet

This morning’s practice at CGP means I’m up to six practices per week now. I decided to repeat my practice from October 21 and work on my fly and back. The only change was I reduced my 25m fly to be on 45 seconds instead of the full minute I previously used. Did all right, tired and all, but clearly my kick is too weak and it leaves me too deep in the water, altering my stroke more towards lifting rather than propelling myself forward as well as negating any wave propulsion. In backstroke I concentrated primarily on my rollover turns as last night’s turns were a disaster. I’ve decided to simplify my turn so I can use it this coming meet by not trying to swim underwater for any distance; rather I’ll try to surface as quickly as possible. Obviously bringing my rollover turn up to competitive standards will take considerable time and effort. Coming as a pleasant surprise, however, was the fact I’m choking much less on the turns. It seems my sinuses have had enough of the punishment being dealt to them and have started to “close up”. I still have water coming up my nose, it’s just now the water goes down my throat rather than out my nose. Much better - clever body!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Lessons Learned

In applying the lessons learned from stroke camp I have found my shoulders and upper arms and chest are feeling some additional fatigue – from the extra pull I’m getting I suspect. With my head down I’m also seeing the pool bottom lane lines in a new light for the first time. While I was always fully aware of the lines themselves I truly thought until now the “T” at the end of each one was nothing but a stylistic flourish! The concept they were there to indicate the wall coming up never occurred to someone who always looked ahead and watched the wall approach. On the other hand, swimming head down does make things potentially exciting in a crowded lane doesn’t it?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

First of the Month - Taking to the Scales

Hit the scales this morning for my official monthly weigh-in a tad apprehensively as a mid-month weighing had shown me putting on a pound (CGP has a scale on the pool deck which makes it awfully easy to walk over and check) but the scale showed my weight at 84.5 kgs (186 lbs), a drop of a half kilo for the month. Better yet my waist shrunk an inch so according to the BFM tables my body fat is down to 19%, equivalent to a loss of 1.7 kgs (3¾ lbs) fat. This means I’ve put on 1.2 kgs of muscle! Even adjusting for the change in measuring body fat methodologies by allocating a third of the gain to September it means a whopping 800 gram gain for the past month. Compared to my target of 500 grams a month that’s fantastic! I’ll have to see how the muscle gain goes over the next two or three months before presenting any explanation for last month’s large variance between actual and projected gains. Very happy with these results though.