Saturday, March 31, 2007

Leaving Practice Early

Last night I did something I’ve never done before – I quit my first practice. I’m becoming a little frustrated with how long my recovery is taking. It has been three weeks now since I’ve dropped my training efforts to a bare minimum after seeing my performance collapse and I’m not seeing any improvement in my endurance and overall speed. There are bright spots however. My swimming technique this past month continues its slow but steady progress as does my overall feel for the water. I’ve also been working on my flip turns which seems to be laying in a good foundation for further continued improvement later on. Unfortunately my endurance has disappeared and doesn't appear to be returning for the foreseeable future. Wednesday's practice went reasonably well, good enough for me to actually sprint the workout’s last 50 as called for, but the result was over a second slower than what I feel it should have been, even after making allowances for my conditioning. Overall though my technique, especially for backstroke, has been feeling good lately so I had some expectations for this Friday’s workout. I used our warm up last night to continue working on my back, the warm up comprising 3x25 @ 0:40 plus a single 25 @ 0:20, all repeated five times (free in the sprint portion). Right now I’ve been using these short distances to improve my backstroke’s turnover rate and so avoid running into the endurance problem the more typical distances presently pose. Even so warm up turned out to be quite the effort for me towards the end. By the time I had finished the next short set of 100 IMs I knew it wasn’t going to be a good night, and midway through the first rep in the main set I hit the ‘wall’ endurance-wise. I swam for another 700 meters, having Ian lap me twice and sitting out a 50, but when it came to completing a 400 free breathing every five strokes I called it a day. No sense in beating a dead horse. On Sunday I do my body fat measurements and calculate my muscle gain for the quarter, something I’ve been very curious about every since my collapse in the beginning of March. Just what is the impact of all this on my overall conditioning? Stay tuned for the upcoming results.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Just How Fast is Fast Enough? Part 2

Since Part 1 touched upon Olympic ‘C’ qualifying it would seem only right to discuss the more traditional way of gaining entry into the Olympics – that of earning it. The second level of qualification is achieved by meeting the ‘B’ standard as set out by the IOC. For example the upcoming 2008 Beijing Games has set the ‘B’ qualification time for the men’s 100 free at 0:50.95. I don’t know exactly how this standard is calculated but normally in major competitions it’s arrived at by adding some percentage to prior finals averages. More importantly these ‘B’ standards appear to limit the field to roughly the top 100 in the world (admittedly based upon the very small sample I've checked). The catch to ‘B’ qualification is the qualification only allows countries one athlete per event. Much better is to meet ‘A’ standards which enable a country to enter two competitors. This third and highest level of qualification requires both potential Olympians to achieve a time which lies roughly in the world’s top 25. For the men’s 100 free in Beijing this translates to a rather quick 0:49.23. Some may remember in the past a country could qualify three for an event (medal sweeps did occur on a few occasions) but no longer. The rule change has unfortunately meant some unfairness for any sport superpowers who can qualify three or more ‘A’ athletes (read USA for swimming). Because of this every Olympics now sees some not in attendance who are significantly better than most of those actually participating in the Games. It just makes all those frivolous ‘C’ category swimmers even harder to take.

Apparently I’m not alone in condemning the lack of at least some sort of qualification standards for these 12th FINA World Championships. The numerous complaints have caused FINA’s executive director Cornel Marculescu to announce FINA will analyze this question when they return to Switzerland, though he defends the current open door policy as he feels the participation from typically non-swimming nations shows the international “strength” of the sport. Personally I think his stance is profoundly racist, coming as it surely must from a belief the citizens of countries with only ‘C’ qualifying swimmers will be encouraged by the mere presence of one of their own at these championships and will overlook their actual performance. But maybe I’m saying this because my country has gone the exact opposite route with its Olympic athletes. Not for Canada to use national rankings or even IOC’s qualification standards to select its athletes. No, my country instead requires its athletes to be ranked top 12 in the world before being allowed to compete internationally. While in main this policy has come about because of long standing budget constraints I think there’s little doubt it continues in part to avoid having to report Canadian athletes placing in the thirties or forties. It’s grossly unfair to our athletes and a topic to which I’ll return at some later date to deal with in depth.

If you're interested I’ve located a video clip on Youtube showing 'C' qualifier Eric Moussambani’s 2000 Sydney Games race which Damien referred to in his comments on Part 1. Interestingly the Youtube viewers are more indignant over the audience's hilarity than Mr. Moussambani’s performance. If they can’t see the humour this swim occurred in the Olympics (and the fact he was swimming alone as the two other ‘C’ qualifiers were DQ’d for false starts) they really shouldn’t go into Youtube’s comedy section.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Just How Fast is Fast Enough? Part 1

Today in Melbourne is the start of swimming in the 12th FINA World Championships. I was curious about the qualifying times needed to swim in such an august event and how they compared to the Olympics and looked for them on FINA’s website. Found it difficult to find them, mostly because they don’t have any. That’s right, anybody can swim at swimming’s world championships – no different from your local masters swimming meet. OK that’s not exactly true, because you do have to be sponsored by your country and if your country is any sort of power in swimming being selected becomes problematical¹. But apparently there are plenty of countries where actual competition for the available spots isn’t a concern. Take the men’s 100 meter free – the premier event in swimming. The Olympics next year will see a little over sixty swimming the event. In this year’s world championships an amazing one hundred seventy six are entered. The first heat is populated entirely by swimmers with no times. Yes no joke, take a look for yourselves. Apparently they’ve never raced a 100 meter free before now. And not just this event, this is happening across the board for both men and women's events. To me the concept of starting out one's competitive swimming career by competing in a FINA world championship borders on the absurd but it’s true. The first appearance by a swimmer who can at least swim a hundred meters under a minute is the third heat. The Canadian men’s senior national qualifying time is 0:53.05 which would see you seeded no worse than the twelfth heat. Why is this happening? If anything shows just how important the Olympic Games are to our sport it’s the reason behind all this. For the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have made attending these world championships a requirement to be eligible for ‘C’ qualifying time consideration. You see every country wants to have Olympians but there just aren't enough Olympic calibre athletes to go around. So, because the Olympic Games is all about participation, the IOC has created a special category for athletes whose performance would never, ever allow them to see the insides of the Olympic Village but are the best their countries can send. The ‘C’ qualifier. I remember watching what I recall was either the 1988 Seoul Games or the 1992 Barcelona Games, whichever one was the first Games to have them, when CBC showed a ‘C’ qualifying swimmer almost not finishing the race. One of those, “hey guess what happened at the Games today?” spots. The TV announcers were laughing during the race, what with spectators crowding the pool side watching the man’s struggles and a dozen or so swimmers taking off their sweats just in case they needed to go in, that we might be witnessing the first Olympic swimmer requiring a lifeguard to save him. It was not, however, amusing to me when I thought of all those swimmers who worked so hard for so many years only to fall short of achieving their dream to swim in the Olympics. Clearly the IOC thought so too because they’ve made it much more difficult to qualify even under the ‘C’ category. I think, though, they have a ways to go.

¹Unless you’re Eric Shanteau, who finding Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte blocking his way in his favorites the 200 and 400 IM decided to concentrate instead on the 200 breast. Three weeks ago he qualified for these world championships in that event, even beating out world record holder Brendan Hansen in the process. You can read more about his remarkable accomplishment here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Recently Joe and I have been discussing whether Ian is aware of our blogs and what we write about him. For those who may have only recently, obviously very recently, started reading either of our two blogs Ian is our club’s best active swimmer. Even with a gimpy shoulder. The Hyack Masters do have a couple of still better swimmers in the persons of Vladimir and Doug but they don’t practice with the club (our hour-long practices being too short and slow for them) so for the purposes of this post Ian stands alone. Joe is curious about Ian’s thoughts on what we blog about him. From what little I know of him I don’t think he’s particularly interested in what we say assuming he even bothers to read our blogs. My opinion. But every swim club, whether masters, competitive, or triathlon, should have someone, someone like Ian, who has real swimming talent because they provide the inspiration for the rest of us to try harder and to swim better. Watching an individual in the pool next to you who has not only swims faster but works harder in practice leaves little excuse for personal indulgences. So often in life we see where one extraordinary talent leads others soon follow and swimming is no different. Having that person in the pool allows us to measure ourselves and discover we’re not all that different, which in turn provides the motivation to work harder to make ourselves into the person we’re capable of becoming. Now Joe, just how do we get Vlad to swim with us?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A New Swimming Blog

The 17thman discovered another swimming blog titled Southern California Aquatics and linked to it. After a week reading it I can definitely say I find it excellent. The posting is maintained by Tony and he’s given me a lot more topics to write about (unfortunately no time to do anything about it right now). Tony also has linked to still another swimming blog by the name of Timed Finals. Both spend extensive time on current goings on in the swimming world with particular emphasis on the international elites and the American NCAA (there’s obviously some overlap there). What I really like about Southern California Aquatics is Tony puts in a lot of information about what he’s being coached on and his swim club (from which the name of his blog was taken) has excellent coaching headed by Clay Evans and Bonnie Adair. I’ve already taken some of the coaching he’s received about his turns and started trying to apply them to my own swimming. Next time I’m in LA I must see if I can arrange a private turn lesson from Bonnie Adair because wow, her girls can really turn! Take a look at this backstroke race on Youtube.

The day before yesterday Timed Finals published an article about the retirement of 33 year old Inge De Bruijn, the Dutch four time Olympic gold medalist and multiple world record holder which you can find here. The issue was raised about some believing her times were drug assisted and not wanting to be left out I added my own two cents to the discussion. Commentary is now closed but I’d be interested in finding out what opinions any readers might have about De Bruijn. Please note there are two Scotts commenting but I’m the one without an Olympic medal (I don’t want people to be confused).

Friday, March 09, 2007

Clearly I Need to Go on a Diet

Getting rid of these handles of mine is becoming something of a bother. Beyond ensuring I eat a proper balanced diet and studiously avoiding junk food and soft drinks I haven’t actually set out to lose weight, preferring to rely on my exercise regime to do it for me. This has worked up to recently but with the decrease in my activity my fat loss seems to have stalled. Now having been chronically underweight for my entire childhood the idea of going on a proper restricted calorie diet is very hard to accept,
though it’s becoming more and more likely I’m going to have to at least restrict the size of my serving portions if I’m to reach my target 30” waist. I’ll first try to start by eliminating my late evening snacks and see what that does. If it doesn’t have any appreciable impact I’ll move on to harsher methods. On a positive note getting away from my middle aged spread I think this month has seen improvement in my upper back deportment as exhibited in the leveling of my shoulders from prior months.

Perhaps the soreness in my neck and shoulders is not entirely due to poor fly technique? Of course my lower back is as twisted as ever but one must stay hopeful.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

It’s Time to Ease Up

Last night’s practice was tailor-made for me, a workout devoted to prepping for a 200 race and I don’t think it was a coincidence either. I’m very flattered Coach has been giving me my own specialized sets in the middle of regular training, but designing a full practice around me is going way beyond what I deserve. Unfortunately I could provide little payback as a reward for Brad’s efforts. The workout was planned to be:

3 x [200 (100 fr & 100 ch) @ 3:30 + 4 x 25 K @ 0:30]
100 ch easy
5 x 200 ch @ PB 200 + 0:26 declining 0:04 (negative 100 splits)
2 x 400 free;

but we never got to the 400s as we started out a little late and then dawdled around for several minutes before beginning the main set. To substitute for the 400s Coach had us do 8 x 25 instead, with the choice of doing them either as sprints or as tiger sprints (number of breaths declining 3/2/1/0 per lap). We in Lane Six went with the tiger sprints and so finished what seemed like a dismal night’s performance for pretty well everyone.

Personally in the main set I only achieved the required splits and declines for just the first two reps, failing to continue the decline in the third and subsequent repeats. I was simply dead in the water, my arms and legs heavy and weak by the end of the first lap with the feeling only getting worse each progressive 25. Nothing better exemplifies the degree of my lethargy than my heart rate, which peaked at a pathetic 120 beats per minute. Clearly I’m over trained. This doesn’t really come as a surprise with a training schedule virtually guaranteeing I hit the wall at some point, having decided when I first started out it would be better in the long run to over train as opposed to under in the beginning. Consequently I went with a full weight program running parallel with my training (an absolute no-no during racing season) while seeing my weekly kilometrage increase threefold (more than fivefold for a short while) at the same time. Logically there was no way I could avoid reaching the point where my body would say enough. Still I did entertain hopes I might be able to slip past and continue training in a way which would allow at least some progression. Endeavoring to continue both strength and endurance training I gradually cut back as overall fatigue mounted but, alas, this has proven to be insufficient. As a result I’m pulling out of the Victoria swim meet. I won’t be able to swim the 200 back anyways and any times I can achieve in my other races wouldn’t be anywhere close to reflecting my ‘true’ state. It’s not worth the time and effort to spend a day in Victoria for a couple of poor races. Most regrettable. So what do I do now? Well I’m going to skip my final weight cycle, the preseason phase, which was scheduled for the rest of March and the beginning of April and after taking a week off go straight into the much easier maintenance program. I also intend to increase my swimming back up to four sessions, or about 10,000 meters a week, for the next month but will restrict myself to working on technique and aerobic endurance. This means dropping down a couple of lanes in Hyack practices which will leave a bitter taste; it also means I’ll be going into our Provincial Championships with little or no speed work. With only a month of proper practice before the Canadian Masters National Championships the following month my entire 2006 – 2007 season is going to have to rest on my results at the U.S. Masters LC Championships in August. Since this provides the starting point for next season, where my real racing will occur, there’s little slack to take up. It’s coming down to just one meet.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

More Miscellaneous Ramblings

I’m supposed to be working on my next post regarding free weights and home gyms but find myself at the stage where the various pros and cons concerning the subject matter need to be discussed and its construction too taxing in my present mental state. Neither is there much desire to write about the extraordinary talent of Michael Phelps’ and his ilk given my present swimming struggles. This normally means I simply go on to start writing about the next planned topic, my sister American Sis and her particular athletic talent, but here again the subject’s a touch too similar to Phelps’ situation so she’s not going to be written about either right now. I’ll just ramble on a bit instead. The past couple of practices Coach Brad has given me some individually timed distances at race pace and followed up with some pointers on my technique which has helped a lot. I’ve developed a psychological block about my swimming because of the real uncertainty regarding my speed and endurance and these timed runs are helping establish a reference point for better pacing and thereby faster times while still (most importantly) leaving enough to finish. For certain my present endurance is clearly not ready for racing beyond 100 meters. Unfortunately equally certain is my swimming the 200 back this weekend in Victoria as this meet is the first of only two opportunities to swim long course this entire season. After observing my sprints Brad has instructed me to put more shoulder roll into my backstroke while reminding me at the same time to take a shallower stroke and concentrate on my pull technique, all things I haven’t been working on because of the precipitous drop in my swimming kilometrage. Wanting to put his coaching into practice I showed up at the Canada Games Pool this Saturday and put in a short workout, my first weekend practice in a month. In addition to doing a backstroke ladder for my main set I threw in a quick set of 6 x 50 fly to try out Ian’s advice to stop breathing every stroke. The shoulders are still sore. I think there must be something about swimming fly flatter which impedes a body’s undulation and consequently creates additional stress on the shoulder, but perhaps it’s just my body mechanics which are off. Regardless a lot more practice is going to be required to better integrate the single breath/double pull into my fly. Despite the gloom there are some good things happening. I’m finding my wind is coming back however slowly, as is my ‘feel’ for the water. Together the two are like a warm, well-worn blanket I can hold on to. Like the “Little Engine that Could” I have to keep on saying to myself, “I think I can, I think I can” and maybe one of these days it’ll come true.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Nothing! Nada! Zip!

I’ve always known during tax season my life goes on hold, but it seems fitness also goes on hold too. Weighed and measured myself this morning and pretty well drew blanks across the board. No change in weight and no net change in my measurements make for a pretty dull month’s results. Actually I added half an inch around my waist but this was offset by an equal increase around my neck, which by the body fat measurement system I use, gets deducted from my waist measurement before consulting the tables for my height to determine my body fat percentage. This is a very poor return on the considerable effort I expended over the last month to continue at least some training despite the increase in my working hours. The past couple of months’ evidence points to being over trained, something which calls for a break and reduction in training to get out of the slump. But I can’t really see how I can do that given I’ve already reduced my exercising to a bare minimum - virtually a maintenance level of training. I hypothesize my problem isn’t too much exercise but rather too little sleep, averaging as I am about five hours a night for the past couple of months. The hours actually aren’t bad for this time of year but apparently not enough to support a strenuous swimming program. I’ll wait and see what my March results are before deciding on whether I need to further reduce my training levels.