Monday, April 23, 2007

Provincial Championships Day Three

Another early start to the day. Since I ended yesterday’s post with some off-subject commentary I figure I’ll start today with some more for editorial balance. When I showed up at the pool yesterday I lined up at what I thought were the registration tables with the others already there but then saw they were merely handing out the preordered official t-shirts and other memorabilia all these events hawk. Having a dozen or so commemorative t-shirts still left over from my running days I turned around and headed into the locker room. No long afterwards I was looking for the place where I could pick up my copy of the meet’s schedule of events and discovered they were with the grab bags being handed out with the shirts, memorabilia, etc when registering. Back I went to pick up my bag and register. It turns out the bag had lots of stuff other than just the schedule of events. Some bottled water, hard candy, an energy bar, a commemorative latex swim cap, and ... a trophy. It was clearly a trophy. I recall it was rather a nice one with a roundel showing this year’s Championship’s logo with a medallion of our provincial association at the bottom of the circle, the combination backed by a coppery stylized maple leaf (we’re Canadians, eh?) all on a short squat stand. The only thing missing was the inscribed plaque on the stand telling what marvelous accomplishment this keepsake was awarded for. But every participant got one. Now I understand in today’s society we feel it’s important to give our children a sense of self-worth and therefore ensure everyone gets a prize, but I figure by the time they reach twelve or thereabouts they should start realizing hard work and talent are going to have an impact on their life and unfortunately God didn’t hand out the latter on anything like an equal basis (hint: work harder!). Are we now doing this for adults? Is anybody deluded by all this? Don’t we have enough junk cluttering up our homes as it is? If anyone reading this enjoys collecting these things please tell me why. I’m not criticising anyone (well, not much), I just don’t understand the attraction.

Anyways back to the swim meet. For Day Three I had three events lined up: the 50 and 100 back and, trying to fit in another event since 100 free wasn’t possible due to scheduling conflicts, I was swimming 100 breast for the second time this season. I led off with 50 back which was nice because even I can swim a fifty without worrying about running out of steam. No pacing decisions and with these Championships being short course meters only one turn to deal with. The race itself went well. After an OK start I quickly settled into the sprint concentrating on my stroke’s turnover rate and underwater technique. A good turn at the midway point left me with just having to bring it home. Other than a horrible finish where I touched with my elbow I was happy with the result as my time came in the lower end of my target range. Coach was pleased with the swim too (aside from my finish) so we were both looking forward to what I could accomplish in the 100 back. In between these two, however, was my 100 breaststroke. Breaststroke is far and away my worst stroke, even beating out butterfly which I’ve only just started to learn how to swim properly. It’s so bad I’m embarrassed about it. I swam this event last December (again due to scheduling problems) and I surprised myself with a time that, while not atrocious was ... well, it wasn’t atrocious. I figured if I could chop a few more seconds off I’d end up with a PB that I could actually verbalize. Course I didn’t want to go all out and possibly jeopardize my back race following only two events later. So my plan was to swim at a strong pace for the first three laps concentrating on technique and only in the last length go all out. The idea was with my now better technique and overall conditioning I’d be able to take off three or four seconds off my December time without exerting myself overmuch. The race itself didn’t quite go as planned though. First thing I almost broke into some dolphins off my dive, only realizing barely in time what I was about to do, and actually ended up coasting to the surface before I started swimming. I’ve been training really hard on my free and back starts/turns to incorporate a couple of dolphin kicks before breaking into my flutter kick and by rote just instinctively went there. I’ll blame this on my failure to ever actually work on my breaststroke start in practice. I’ll have to add that to my “when all those other higher priorities are dealt with and I’m not too concerned about all those other lower priorities either” list I use before deciding to practice breaststroke. A little discombobulated from the narrowness of my escape from disqualification (and starting from almost a full stop in the middle of the pool) I collected myself and by the third length had my technique in hand enough to finish off the last lap as planned. Of course I finished well over my target range, but still saw my time better December’s by a third of a second (which says volumes about the quality of my first swim).

After my narrow escape came the 100 back where I intended to follow Semiahmoo coach Dennis Caldwell’s recommendation of going out a little slower the first fifty to ensure my third turn’s quality and bringing it home as fast as possible in the last fifty. Unfortunately my pacing isn’t yet on the mark and I ended up going out too slowly and consequently negative split the race. No real problem here, difficulties in setting the right pace were and are expected because of my lack of race experience so I’ll simply take note and make changes the next time around. All in all the race went very well. My turns were decent and because of my slower opening I went into the last lap having some reserves in hand which was very nice. Coach noted my technique fell off from the form shown in my 50 back sprint which caused some wandering from side to side in my lane but nothing which can’t be addressed. Even better my time was on target, albeit on the high side. Better still the several seconds I took off indicates I have lot more speed left in me to find. And that’s why I’m in masters swimming after all.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Provincial Championships Day Two

I took a break from work and went swimming today. Day one of the meet was yesterday when they swam the 1500 heats along with the 200 breast in the evening. As I have difficulty swimming 200 meters at one go I wasn't there. Day Two started early Saturday with warm up commencing at 7:00 AM sharp – evidently to avoid conflict with the Stanley Cup Playoffs games being played later on in the afternoon (a good example of the fanaticism with which ice hockey is followed in Canada). I had entered two events this day: the 100 fly and the 200 back. The fly came first. Several Hyacks were swimming this event but I was one of a group of four, none of us having ever swum the event in competition before, who decided we’d swim this together. And I do mean together: we all entered three minutes as our time to make sure and it ended up we had the first heat just to ourselves! Tired and not expecting much from this meet I started out at an easy pace and then just tried to keep it together the last couple of pool lengths. The first fifty meters went just fine except perhaps for the fact my easy pace had instinctively morphed into something more like race pace. By sixty five meters I started to tire and my technique started to slip, and by the time I hit the wall for the final turn I could also say the same for my endurance. And then things got progressively worse. No technique whatsoever in my final length when just getting my arms out of the water became my first priority. My time, however, was actually better than I thought practicable (I received a sarcastic comment about my three minute entry time from a seventy year old waiting for the next heat) even with a last fifty split seven seconds slower than my first. Beyond the satisfaction of completing our first 100 fly race the other Hyacks in my heat were pleased with their efforts too. Mike even ended up winning his age group as the only competitor in his 20 – 24 age category. Now there’s talk about some of us swimming the 200 fly in next year’s Provincials! I’m certainly game for it. But if you think we’re just out for fun and games you’d be wrong. There were Hyacks who were serious about racing the event. One was Jimmy who, racing six events this morning including 400 IM (4:54) and 100 free (0:54), came in at 0:58.89 to easily win the 100 fly for his 30 – 35 age bracket. Even better was learning later on from Coach Brad Jimmy trained four or five sessions a week with one of the Hyack senior groups. So it’s possible for a Master swimmer to practice part time with a proper Hyack team, something I’ve hoped would be possible so I could eventually to do the same myself. The fly in the ointment will be Jimmy’s long time association with Hyacks and his successful career probably has much to with his privileges. But if Brad begs and I throw money at them, especially lots of money, practicing with a proper competitive team is definitely in the cards given the right times in hand.

With the experience gained from swimming the 100 fly I told Coach I wasn’t going for time in my 200 back to ensure I didn’t blow up in the pool. My plans were to swim an even paced, strong, but not all out race and concentrate on turns to ensure posting a time I could use as a basis for measuring future progress. I think I achieved at least that. My turns of course weren’t good, but this is the first race I’ve gone into where I wasn’t actually worried I’d blow a turn so badly it would ruin my entire race. A couple were half-way decent and with the rest being merely poor, there was not one turn where I took in water and consequently my breathing was never difficult or under a lot of stress. Even allowing for the level of effort the 50 splits were fairly consistent and I was able to finish strongly, all of which bodes well for future near-term improvement. While my time wasn’t particularly good I do know I can shave several seconds off it the next time I swim, something which would bring me close to or under the U.S. national qualifying time for the event. I figure just working on my turns over the next month will save me a half second a turn. It’s a start at least. Finally, to finish off this post, allow me to air a particular gripe of mine. Just prior to my heat a group of us watched a gentleman swim the 200 back in the very old, now illegal style using a double arm backstroke with a frog kick. He was seeded with a 4:20:00 time but ended up a tad over 5:19. I complained this meet was not the place to just participate – arguing you should be at least capable of racing. A teammate pointed out the man was 83 but I remained firm there were better times and places to discover if you can swim a particular event and the Provincial Championships was definitely not one of them. To my shock he actually wasn’t even last in the heat; a woman in her 70’s finished a full minute behind him. I suppose its all relative. If he was doing the same thing in the 100 – 104 age category where just finishing would result in a world masters record I’d be cheering him on (assuming he could swim legally). But he wasn’t. Sheesh! What do you think?

Update: Isis has correctly pointed out a breast kick is legal in backstroke as is the double arm stroke. In fact FINA makes it clear virtually anything is legal in backstroke so long as you do it on your back and most of it on the surface.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Season’s End

This weekend sees the Provincial Championships, which for most master swimmers mark the end of the competitive swim season. It happens to be held right in the middle of my busiest period of work when normally I wouldn’t do anything other than work. Given my back and its history, however, not exercising at all isn’t an option so I’ve continued with my training, albeit in a minimal way. Certainly it hasn’t been enough to race on, and there’s been an unfortunate side effect – I’m exhausted. Though my feel for the water and technical abilities have continued to show improvement during this recent span I’ve discovered my endurance, as well as my top end speed, has suffered. Apparently if you want to swim your best you shouldn’t try to do it in a state of sleep deprivation.

This situation where my life doesn’t match up well with the swimming season is a familiar one though. In competitive swimming you change age groups on your birthday, and with a birthday coinciding with Groundhog’s Day (February 2nd) half the time I was changing right before the major meets of the season. Now actually missing the major swim meets, however, will become an annual event for me. In the future I’m going to skip Victoria and the Provincials, held in March and April respectively, and make my racing season the months from May through to February. That means my first swimming meet would be our Masters National Championships – and there’s a big question mark even there as work doesn’t slow until July. Why travel all that distance to swim tired and unprepared? Yet if I don’t swim at the Canadian Nationals then when do I obtain my qualifying times for the U.S. Long Course Nationals? Thinking this through perhaps I could use my times from the English Bay Swim Meet in February. But to rely on a single afternoon to obtain the necessary three qualifying times I’d have to be really good, good enough to make beating U.S. national qualifying standards a routine matter, and I’m not that good yet. Not to mention my overall problem in trying to race with severely limited training four months of the year. Maybe I should change careers.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

An Update on My Back Rollover Turns

After Semiahmoo coach Dennis Caldwell pointed out how much time I could take off by merely bringing my back turn up to an average level I’ve been concentrating on doing just that. It seems only logical – what with the limited hours I have available for training devoting as much time as possible to my turns clearly provides the best payback. I think my distance to turn has seen significant improvement and my turn initiation also is looking up. At last night’s practice Brad gave me some more coaching on my turns and we saw my time from flag-to-flag (the five meters before and after the turn) drop from 6.1 seconds to a more palatable 5.6 seconds merely by better form in commencing the turn. Of course there are still lots of problems to work on. My foot placement is considerably better but because I’m now visually checking where my feet go my head position during the turn has become a problem. Furthermore I’ve not seen any improvement in the most important part of the back rollover, that of the dolphin kick, as presently my dolphin is only a quick two kick before surfacing. This is necessitated by my poor aerobic conditioning which leaves me just a couple seconds of air because I'm not taking a breath going into the turn (at least when I’m not too tired!). I’m working on extending this mostly by keeping my head down for a few strokes on every start and after every turn I swim, plus doing extensive breathing drills in my non-Hyack practices. Hopefully this will pay off and over time I’ll see my dolphins rise from two, to four, to six, and eventually eight. I’d be happy with eight underwater kicks. But for the present just making sure I get back to the surface is my first priority. I still mess up about one in six turns, and about every third botched turn is a lulu resulting in me lurching to the surface sputtering and coughing out the water I’ve taken in. I’m just going to be screwed swimming the 200 back and its seven turns next week. Damn.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Simply Kicking Myself

I was in a yoga session doing a floor exercise and having some difficulty with a tight calf muscle as I tried to point a foot back up towards the ceiling. Since this foot position is the same one sought by every swimmer, a foot pointed back to create a straight continuation of the leg, I snuck a look back to see how well I was doing and discovered I wasn’t doing very well at all. In fact, instead of what I had thought was a decent ‘half-way’ back angle, my foot was barely past vertical. With flexibility like that it’s not surprising I still have real difficulties doing any kicking set over fifty meters without fins. I’m going to blame years of running for this problem. When I was a child I most definitely had an excellent swimming kick and running was where my problem lay. Not the running part directly, I was always a good runner – it was with the extraordinary number of ankle sprains I suffered. Only a few years back did I discover the flexibility so highly desired in swimming creates a highly unstable platform for running. With much of my life spent on rugby fields, roads, trails, and ovals the thousands of kilometers I’ve run has understandably given me ‘runner’s ankles’, stiff strong ankles almost impervious to sprain, but unfortunately ankles which don’t take being bent backwards well. If I want to swim my fastest it’s something I need to change, yet knowing this doesn’t displease me a bit. If I already had a perfect swimming technique then there would be no room for improvement, and as it stands now it seems I have a lot of improvement to look forward to.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Team Practice at Canada Games Pool

For most the season Hyack Masters (Burnaby) trains at Bonsor Pool. It’s a rather old six lane 25m pool but for us Master swimmers it’s plenty adequate unless too many of us show up for practice. But this long Easter weekend showing up became a problem because we weren’t booked for our normal Friday and Monday evenings – some sort of scheduling glitch apparently. Coach Brad was very apologetic about it, though obviously there was little he could do. He did, however, promise to see if he could arrange for us to swim instead at the Hyack’s main training facility at the Canada Games Pool. Friday evening I checked my email and discovered Brad had indeed succeeded in arranging a Saturday morning practice, and so the next morning about a half dozen of us showed up to put in some laps. Both Joe and Damien were there so we bloggers were well represented. Practice started out with a warm up and supplementary set:

Warm up: 12 x 25 reverse IM in sets of four split 2 sw/2 dr @ 0:45
200 K
First set (x 2): 4 x 100 fr @ 1:40
200 fr pull @ 3:10
50 choice sw @ 1:30

Joe was in good form swimming beside me in the next lane. On the 200 pulls we swam side-by-side, except that on each turn he’d pull a third to a half body length ahead. For the first 200 I closed the gap each time and finished just behind, but for the second 200 I decided to conserve my energies for the next set and ended seeing Joe finish a full two body lengths ahead. Reflecting on this I think my biggest problem is a tendency to flop over side-wise, rather than bringing my legs straight over a proper turn calls for, and consequently I lose a lot of momentum going into the wall (not to mention the problems with setting up for the push off). It’s a combination of laziness and a certain lack of flexibility. Damien noted the problem he’s had with turns was keeping hold of his pull buoy during the pull sets, which sounds as if he’s doing exactly the same thing as me and was experiencing the effects of his less-than-vertical flip forcing the buoy loose. After an easy 100 to rest for the main set we had a choice between a sprint or middle distance set. Damien and I went for doing the middle distance set in backstroke, while Joe went for the sprint set. No big surprise there. For me and Damien our choice meant our practice finished with:

Main set: 7 x 50 on 200m PB pace +2,+1, 0,-1,+2,+1, 0 @ 1:20
100 @ 2:30
3 x 50 on 200m PB pace +4,+2, 0 @ 1:00

Warm down: 200 fr (br 3/5 by 50) @ 4:00
200 non fr @ 4:00
200 choice

I started out well but found myself tiring towards the end of the main set. The shorter recovery at the end also had an impact, so by the time it came to swimming the 200 free breathing drill I was completely knackered and had to let Damien go ahead midway through. I finished up with a 200 back and left out the last 200 for a total distance of 3,000 meters. Damien finished the full practice – I'm going to be churlish and credit his efforts to the benefits of youth. All-in-all a pretty good work out, one I’d grade a 7.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Coaching Courtesy of Semiahmoo Swim Club

Because of my dismal Friday practice I decided to go for a make up workout Sunday morning. After completing my warm up I opened practice with a backstroke set, only to be interrupted midway through by a gentleman offering advice on my rollover turns. He said he didn’t see any glaring deficiencies in my backstroke but thought my turns really, really needed improvement. Well join the rest of the swimming community! Turns out he was Dennis Caldwell, coach of the Semiahmoo Swim Club, and he proceeded to spend the next forty minutes going over my various stroke techniques. No sooner did I thank him for all his help critiquing a stroke and switch over to my next set than he would be back with pointers on how to correct the most egregious of the new stroke’s defects. Whether it was my back turn or breaststroke or fly, my flawed technique proved to be an irresistible lure to him. By now I’m sure every coach who watches me swim thinks, “there someone who could really swim well if only he got some coaching!” This isn’t a negative reflection on the coaching I receive from Hyack Masters, far from it – just with so many bad habits carried over from my youth and with less than seven months training in hand an experienced eye can pick out the flaws in my technique without even concentrating. It will take time for me to deal with them all, if indeed I ever do.

Coach Caldwell pointed out if I could just get out to the flags on my rollover turns I’d save ¾ a second every lap or, if my races typically include a turn like the one he saw me blow just before hastening to my aid (for when I truly butcher a turn it is absolutely cringe worthy), he’d up his estimate to a full three seconds for my 100. He demonstrated the turn (Dennis is also a nationally ranked Masters swimmer himself) and over the course of about twenty minutes identified my distance to turn, tumble initiation, foot placement, dolphin kick, body posture, exhale, and breakout as problem areas for me. That, I believe, is the entire turn. The gist of his coaching was for the time being not to concern myself with trying to swim faster but instead to focus my efforts entirely on improving my turns. He does seem to have a point. We also discussed my pacing and he even recommended I consider easing up a second or so my first outward leg in the 100 and so be sufficiently rested enough to ensure at least a decent last turn. When I think of missing Victoria’s long course swim meet with those one turn 100s and three turn 200s! For the rest of my impromptu clinic the breast and butterfly errors he picked up on had for the most part already been identified, but his critiques were still very much appreciated as they confirmed others’ stroke assessments and pinpointed where I continue to be technically weak. One important observation I wasn’t aware of and therefore found to be a real added bonus was the need to narrow my breast kick, which should not only improve my kick’s power but make me easier to swim with during practice. So it turned out to be a much more productive practice than I ever had the right to expect when I left home.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

First Quarter’s Results

Aaah, the cherry trees are in blossom, the daffodils are out, hay season is here, and 2007’s first quarter of training is complete. Armed with tape measure and scale I can reveal to a completely indifferent world nothing has changed (let the trumpets sound!). March has seen me add half a kilo of which 300 grams is muscle. The quarter to quarter results, however, are a little more negative. The more accurate measure of the past three months have seen a net gain of 100 grams (virtually no change given the inherent measurement error involved) and only a 200 gram increase in muscle mass (less than half a pound). Not only am I treading water literally but figuratively too! I can’t say I’m surprised at these results seeing what’s happening to me in the pool and am taking the pause in stride as something to be expected. It will take my body a while to get used to the idea I’m actually serious about wanting to swim fast. I can only hope my slump is short and I come out of it in time for the Provincials. In another decision I’ve decided not to publish my monthly pictures (yes I know, sighs of relief all around) but rather will keep them around for future comparisons. Instead I’ll go to quarterly pictures which will hopefully show more improvement from one set to the other and thus give me something to write about.