Thursday, May 31, 2007

More Griping About Outdoor Pools

It didn’t take long for me to remember still more reasons why I don’t like swimming outdoors – the biggest being I’m all over the pool swimming backstroke. If it wasn’t for lane lines I’d end up three lanes over after a single fifty meter lap. My childhood memories have me bouncing from one side of the lane to the other in outdoor backstroke races which isn’t exactly conducive to best times. So I have to learn how to swim straight without following a ceiling. Does anyone out there know of some drill which improves how straight one swims? That is other than swimming several million meters; an alternative to that would be nice. The other complaint isn’t really fair to blame on outdoor pools per se, being an architectural faux pas, but most of the outdoor pools I’ve swum in this city are orientated East-West. Now I thought it was a well known axiom you build North – South and so avoid the rising and setting sun, but at least here in Vancouver this doesn’t seem to hold sway (no snide comments about those living in the Pacific Northwest not having enough sun to worry about such mundane things). Central Pool is almost bang on an East – West axis and as our practices are 7:00 to 8:00 PM we have to deal with the setting sun. I’m going to have to buy some coloured goggles just to see the clock. On second thought this is probably the very reason why we have tinted goggles. Jeez, almost fifty and still learning basics.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Moving Outdoors

With the 2006 – 2007 season over Hyack Masters bid farewell to Bonsor and this Monday show up at our summer digs at Central Park, an outdoor fifty meter pool. I’m not a big fan of outdoor pools in this part of the world since the weather isn’t good enough for most of the year. I include outdoors in June as less than perfect since the weather can still see the occasional cold front bringing rain come off the North Pacific. Admittedly I’m a rather delicate creature. As a boy we had only one outdoor meet each season, our end of year B.C. Open Championships, which was always held in the middle of June at the University of British Columbia because apparently some wag at our provincial swimming association thought it would be clever to take ‘Open’ literally. Every year the weekend of the Championships seemed to be marked by cloudy, cold weather and, on at least one occasion, heavy rains. The one which has stuck in my memory and I remember whenever I swim outdoors occurred when I was ten. That year it was particularly cold and occasional sprinkles outside had chased me into the showers inside. Not that I needed much chasing. As a skinny stick of a lad without an ounce of padding to keep warm I naturally had a tendency to warm up in the showers at meets – often for hours at a time. My coach, deciding he didn’t want me to race ‘well boiled’, sent in a senior National to fetch me out well ahead of my race. Clearly ticked off at being sent to baby sit and unwilling to have me hang around him to ensure I kept away from the showers Bill dropped me off directly at the heat assembly benches with dire threats not to leave before heading off to attend to his own affairs. This left me shivering in my sweats on the corner of the last bench waiting for my own event to be called. The worst part was fending off first officials then seniors asking why I was sitting there, and then suffering the questioning glances (and worse yet the giggles of the girls) of the 8&Us and 10&Us whose heats preceded mine. All somewhat interesting I suppose, but the real subject of this post is the first boy from my event to join me. After four years I knew virtually all my fellow competitors by sight, including most of those from Washington State and even a few from our neighbouring province Alberta. This swim meet was a reunion of sorts – an end of year championships all the top swimmers typically attended. But this kid I’d never seen before and he came straight to me, a big smile on his face, and the introduction, “My name is _____, what’s yours?” That actually threw me because in the small world of competitive swimming everybody knew my name, but I didn’t need to respond because he followed up his greeting with an immediate “Just kidding, I know who you are” and then plunked himself down beside me and proceeded to talk. And he kept talking. These Championships were, in fact, his first ‘A’ meet ever, having qualified because of a great swim meet the previous month where he improved in virtually all his strokes by leaps and bounds. He was as pleased as punch to just be in the Championships with no further expectations other than perhaps improving a little bit more on his times. This was one upbeat guy! Without more than a grunt or two of acknowledgment coming from me he happily babbled away until the progression of the heats meant he was a couple of benches away, and only then did he finally turn around and start conversing with his fellow swimmers in the first heat. I was seeded second and thus Lane 4 of the penultimate heat and so it took a few more minutes before I too started moving forward with my now familiar rivals. Our event finally called he trooped off but as he left he turned and actually waved at me, his big smile still plastered all over his face. The wave understandably brought some ribbing and teasing about my ‘boyfriend’ which I easily ignored. Frankly I was deep in thought trying to figure out what world he had come from. You would have thought he’d just set a national record the way he was acting.

Though not aware of it at the time this swim meet represented an important turning point in my swimming career. With most of my major rivals already gone to the next age group this was the meet I was supposed to shine in, and though I medaled in all the events I expected to I didn’t win even once. Thus this meet began what would be two years of sub par performances which, combined with other factors, would eventually chase me off the stage. A partial case of if I couldn’t win I didn’t want to swim anymore syndrome. I have no reason to recant this attitude now because it remains with me to this day, but if change were possible I’d be tempted to acquire the ‘sunshine’ nature of that boy who was so happy to be simply participating in the Championships those so many years ago. And if you share his outlook, if you are one of those who takes pleasure in working hard and doing your best regardless of where you actually rank in the end, then please allow me to say to you what I would like to have said to him if I could do it all over again, “Well done, you must be very pleased.” I just know he would have responded, “I am!!”

Likely with a lot more words though.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Hyack Festival Musings

Over the three days of the meet I saw heard or experienced many things which were either note worthy from the viewpoint of a Masters swimmer or different from the typical experiences I would have seen and heard when I swam as a child:
  • If I thought my age would create some fuss among the children I was wrong. The only ‘difficulty’ my age caused was when I went to register and the Clerk of the Course told me I needed to give the meet fees to my son’s coach rather than to her. I understand her confusion.
  • Amongst the race officials and Hyack coaches it was common knowledge I was there to acquire qualifying times for this year's USMS Long Course National Championships. There was some curiosity about what times were considered good and what times I needed to qualify. Generally there was good humor about my participation and a couple of parents even talked to me about joining Hyack Masters after watching me swim (probably a case of “surely I can do better than that!”).
  • Seattle’s King Aquatics had neat swimsuits, navy blue with widely spaced white lateral pinstripes. When I swam we only had monotone/single pattern swimsuits with the occasional side stripe. I thought the best suits at the meet, however, were the Killarney Gator’s who sport dark green suits with stylized scales outlined in light green. Cool!
  • We should require all masters swimmers to do one warm up at a regular meet before complaining how crowded the lanes are in practice. Not only do the kids swim every stroke in warm up but they actually pass! Swimming three abreast in a single lane is something I hadn’t even considered possible. Of course they are thinner. No wonder everyone looks up when they race – it’s a habit ingrained from long hours in practice where it’s a matter of self preservation. I quickly learned to swim right on the lane lines, though not without some painful lessons to my fingers when I forgot to place my hands in front and instead caught the lines.
  • As the Hyack Festival was a development meet numbers were small enough to justify the open seeding done routinely in masters swimming except the girls still swam separately from boys. Normally the participants became older and larger as the heats progressed and sped up but not always. In the 200 backstroke heat before mine a thirteen year old boy was in lane three and finished second with a time of 2:30.31. He wouldn’t have been pleased with that though – he was seeded nearly four seconds faster (as an aside he made the 13 & 14 finals but didn’t win; the eventual winner of his age group, who must have swum in my heat, swam 2:22.22). This is a development meet? I really have to work harder.
  • Living only blocks away meant I could come and go as circumstances dictated rather than stuck sitting in the stands for hours at a time until the day was over. The only adjustment I had to make was to drive between my home and the pool (four minutes driveway to parking lot) instead of walking as I usually do and I was able to put in a full day’s work while attending the swim meet. If only they could all be this convenient!
  • Swim meets nowadays are computerized and the Hyack Festival had a couple of platforms where individuals stared at LED screens to collect, compile and produce the pages we’ve all seen pasted onto walls from time immemorial, as well as inputting those official results on the web. Back when I swam computers were million dollar affairs (at a time where if your home cost $60,000 you had servants) and kept in large air conditioned rooms supported by dedicated staffs. Consequently meet results were printed off using Edison's mimeograph machines, something which had been done since the beginning of organized sport at the end of the nineteenth century. A mimeograph machine used a ribbon-less typewriter to cut a stencil of the results from special waxed paper which was then wrapped around the mimeograph’s drum. The drum was filled with special ink and operated by hand crank the machine would press ink through the stencil’s openings and so print a copy of the typed form. What made the mimeograph so memorable was the ink had a very distinctive and pleasant smell. It was also highly intoxicating. Children weren’t allowed in the mimeograph room and it wasn’t unusual to hear people laughing about someone who stayed too long and had to be helped from the room to recover. Sometimes progress isn’t always better.
  • My times were enough to qualify me in all my events – even the 200 IM. I had based my initial understanding about their relative difficulty on the Short Course National Championships qualifying times which really impressed me with their tough standards. I failed to realize, however, those standards were based on yards not meters. So when the long course times came out there was quite a difference between what I expected and the actual qualifying times. Competition at the meet itself, of course, will be world-class regardless of what the qualifying times are. I’m just participating this year.
  • Girls' swimsuits must be very tight. They were adjusting their shoulder straps all the time, and when not actually racing many simply dropped the straps off their shoulders. A case of going too small or just reluctance to replace a relatively unused and expensive racing suit too quickly? I’m thinking the former.
  • The water at Canada Games Pool was noticeably colder than normal but perfect for racing. Obviously they had allowed it to cool overnight to bring it into the best temperature range for racing. Only Nanaimo Ebbtides and UBC did the same out of all the Masters scheduled swim meets; the rest just stayed with normal temperatures which were invariably too warm for racing anything more than fifty meters.
  • The spot I selected to watch the meet from also happened to be the location of the team’s video game players where a row of Sony PSPs and Nintendos were passed along from boy to boy as they came and went pool side for their scheduled races. I never saw a girl up there once over the weekend. As I used to occupy myself as a child by sitting in the showers for hours at a time keeping warm this development is probably welcomed by the coaches.
  • Now older and wiser I kept warm by wearing my Hyack hoodie over a team t-shirt and discovered the hoodie pocket was perfect for storing goggles and cap when not swimming (not exactly patting myself on the back here as it took me three meets to realize this).
  • Hyack Festival was an age group meet where I was one of only two open swimmers in attendance. I was surprised to discover the current definition of age groups doesn’t include 10&U’s, for whom Hyack’s held a mini-meet in between the morning heats and the evening finals (which incidentally made for very efficient use of pool time). I understand there are now time limits as to how long 10&U’s can compete each day (much like child actors) which would encourage splitting them off into a completely separate swim meet. Interestingly swimming no longer has the 8&U age group which existed in my generation. Smaller overall numbers, probably due to the ever increasing number of choices today’s generation have to occupy their free time, has apparently meant insufficient participants to justify continuing them as a separate competitive category.
  • Coach Brad kept busy during the three days as he was both the official responsible for the compilation of the meet’s results and the coach of some of Hyack’s Olympic Way 10&U swimmers involved in the mini meet. In every successful amateur sport organization there are a handful of volunteers who carry out the bulk of the work needed for the club to succeed. Add in the fact he’s the coach of Hyack Masters (Bonsor) in addition to his other listed duties and Brad is definitely one of them. A tip of the hat to Brad for his efforts.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Hyack Festival: Lessons Learned

In the military they have a process called “lessons learned” whereby they study the mistakes and errors which occur in every engagement, often at great cost, so the same mistakes are not repeated in the future. I too made several errors in my races at the Hyack Festival which caused me grief. Here are my lessons learned:
  1. I need better conditioning. It's difficult to race seriously on less than 20k training a week. Especially in order to race anything over 100 meters. The greater the distance raced the more kilometrage you need under your belt, but practically speaking 20,000 meters a week is a reasonable target. Forty is better and sixty best, but most world-class masters have pegged the minimum at somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 meters a week depending on the race distance if you want to compete seriously. There’s a reason why the kids are so good – they have the time to put in all those meters;
  2. The smaller your conditioning base the less time you can stay away from the pool. I had reached a level of 15,000 meters a week by the end of January and had started towards a target of 25,000 meters when work commitments intervened. By the middle of March my average had dipped to a little more than 10,000 and from there continued downward towards the roughly 5,000 a week I’ve managed over recent weeks. Despite the decline I had good results at April’s Provincial Championships which led to a mistaken belief I would see continued improvement a month later at Hyack Festival. I didn’t because I had only just enough conditioning to make it into April and no further. Two months minimal training is simply too little to race on, especially when you’re racing tired and have trained only a few months;
  3. Finding the right pace in a race is critical to achieving your best time, especially in the longer, endurance orientated events, and in order to set the right pace you need to know how fast you’re swimming. Excitement, desire, and competition will cloud your judgment in the crucial opening lap. You go out too fast, or overcompensate and go out too slowly, either of which will guarantee a less than efficient race. The only way to prevent this is to know your speed and this comes from understanding what times varying stroke rates give. I’ve been rather blasé about noting splits or stroke rates during workouts which has meant I’m still nowhere near making a connection between the two. This ignorance resulted in a lot of pain on the weekend. In future I’ll pay close attention to this relationship during practices and so hopefully learn to better read my actual speed and effort;
  4. An inefficient swimming technique will result in a disproportionate expenditure of energy. I blew up in my 200 IM mostly because I didn’t realize how hard I had to work just to swim fly, and I was working hard because my stroke is inefficient. My breaststroke isn’t very good either and together the two of them were more than sufficient to drain my slender reserve of endurance to nothing. My free and back techniques are better and it shows not only in my times for those events but in the fact I can better manage my races when swimming those strokes. A problem I was aware of well before this swim meet but one I clearly underestimated. I must put special emphasis in improving my fly and breast technique before my next individual medley if I want to improve significantly; and finally my last lesson learned was
  5. Swimming long course is harder than swimming short course. Most readers who’ve raced in a long course pool will think I was an idiot, but going into this meet I was anticipating no real impact on my expected times from the change. My misplaced confidence was based in part on the fact there would be fewer turns in a fifty meter pool (turns being a particular vulnerability of mine) and I’d be able to handle the switch from racing short course with relative ease because much of the training I’ve done on my own has been in a fifty meter pool. It turned out neither assumption was correct. I might have poor turns but I underestimated the value of the two or three seconds of physical rest a turn gives even while holding your breath. It’s not a lot but a couple of extra turns are enough to noticeably reduce the minimum effort required to swim the distance. Without the break at twenty five meters muscles start feeling the ‘burn’ sooner and worse yet, if you are really fatigued, the longer distance gives fewer chances to pause that extra second at the wall when absolutely required. The simple answer in dealing effectively with these small differences is better physical conditioning and this observation completes the chain. I know what I need to do; all that remains is to put it into practice.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Hyack Festival Report

Let us get right to it. On Friday I swam the 200 IM and the 100 back (my worst and best events of the meet respectively). If things went poorly with the individual medley hopefully my back could redeem the day. The 200 medley came first and I had my race tactics all laid out. I’d take the opening fifty fly relatively easily, gradually work my backstroke from an easy recovery pace in the first quarter up to my normal 200 rate by the end, and then still reasonably fresh, go hard on my breast bringing it in as best I could on my free. Didn’t quite go that way though. Stroking smoothly the fly went well and more than a little pleased I was right with the leaders to touch the wall only somewhat fatigued. Came off on my back, took a few strokes to settle into a rhythm and recover my breath before picking up the tempo, thinking things were going apace. Famous last thoughts! Strangely rather than steadying my breathing started becoming more ragged and by the time I finished the back leg I was exhausted. Stick a fork in me, I was done. I’ve been close to death a couple of times but in both instances the moment passed in a flash of realization, reaction, and adrenalin. Running on empty with still another hundred meters to race was like knowing you were about to drown – sheer terror. I watched the rest of the field move away from me in breast all the while concentrating on not going into hyperventilation and then barely managed to swim the last lap without swimming heads up (I considered it but decided I preferred to die, quite literally in fact, and give those lazy ass lifeguards something to do). So exhausted were my muscles after already over a full minute of anaerobic work I had a hard time lifting them out of the water, and that damn pool seemed to go on forever. Don’t ever run out of steam in a fifty meter pool! Well I didn’t come close to my target time of course, being over eleven seconds off, and so hard was the race I was still sore the next day even with warm downs and stretching. Coach Brad met me at the warm down pool after the race to go over my splits with the interesting ones the fly and free. I took out the fly over four seconds faster than my fastest planned split; I didn’t know I could swim a 50 butterfly that fast! Why I thought I was going out easy is beyond me but perhaps because of my exceedingly poor fly I mistook a smooth stroke for easy despite knowing I have to swim fly basically all out or swim it like an old man. And this day and in front of this crowd I was not going to confirm everyone’s opinion of me my very first lap! My hubris cost me big time. How big? My final split was over fifty seconds for the free. I truly suffered. Well as I was jumping into the pool for my 100 back still a little weak from my 200 IM ordeal I knew I couldn’t risk another burnout. My first lap was cautious and accordingly slow but after my turn (actually such a decent turn I spent a couple of seconds congratulating myself before remembering I still had another forty odd meters racing left) I turned up the throttle. Ran out of gas some ten meters from the end but that was close enough, and with a good finish at least ended the race under the meet qualifying standard. I’ll take the fact my second fifty was almost two seconds faster than the first as a positive sign for future times.

Saturday was a rest day of sorts because I had only my 50 back and 100 free to race. Almost back to back but with the fifty first up both Brad and I agreed I’d have plenty of time to recover from such a short race. About a third way through the fifty I realized my butt was too low and in trying to correct my position took in a good gulp of water and then followed it up a couple of strokes later with another dose of self-induced water boarding. G*d I love competitive swimming! To end it off properly I took my final lunge at the finish and discovered I was about ten centimeters short, apparently having not yet learned to continue kicking right to the end despite my practicing to do just that. But since I didn’t die and was within a few tenths of my seeded time I wasn’t going to complain too much. There’s always the next time. Slightly buoyed by this I reverted to my premeet race plan for the 100 free whereby I would swim almost all out the first length and then bring it back as best as I could, figuring if I couldn’t handle a 200 I could deal with a 100. Double dang! I was wrong again! And need I remind you those fifty meter pools are really long? In open water at the turn (supposedly intelligent I should have realized my being with the leaders meant I had gone out too fast) by midpoint on the return lap the now familiar feeling of anaerobic weakened muscles became more and more apparent while all the while the wall seemed to actually recede – likely some form of tunnel vision one gets when oxygen deprivation starts taking hold. My time was over three seconds slower than meet qualifying time, a bitter pill to swallow given I had every expectation of bettering it or at least coming close.

On Sunday I only had my 200 back to deal with but by now I was pretty leery of anything in a fifty meter pool much less something 200 meters in distance. Throwing out what little pride remained I decided to revert to my Provincial Masters strategy of going easy the first 100 and then simply trying to hold the pace for the rest of the race until picking it up at the end. It worked once so it would work a second time and far better to miss the meet qualifying time by several seconds than blow up and suffer horribly while taking even longer to finish. To my great surprise the race was my best of the meet, almost beating my April 200 short course time. Yes, the last fifty was rough but everyone can take pretty well anything for a fifty. It’s only a fifty right? So that was my first long course swim meet in thirty three years. The next time will be at The Woodlands, Texas for the National Championships in three months time where I will, hopefully, be better prepared.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Hyack Festival Looming

Tomorrow is my first long course meet since my return to swimming. It’s also my first non-Masters swim meet since my return to swimming and that fact is a little unsettling – not because there will be a bunch a kids running around who could clean my clock in the pool (there will be lots of those) but because right now only my 50 and 100 back times qualify. I’ve entered in three further races where I have to set ‘personal bests’ in order to meet qualifying times, and in long course to boot! Luckily this competition is one of the first in the long course season, a combined AA/AAA swim meet intended to provide an opportunity to move up to the much more plentiful AAA swim meets from the development ranks, and consequently has rather lax time standards (for real competitive swimmers that is). I should achieve the meet standard in my 100 free, but my concerns are with the 200 back and 200 IM. The fact they’re both 200 meter events isn’t coincidental; my endurance needs much more work before it starts coming back (or at least some of it). I can now race a hundred meters and be fairly confident I will finish, but 200 meters is still well beyond my comfort level. How well I do, and what pace I should go out in, are all big question marks for me right now. Now normally I wouldn’t be really concerned about my times because I’m still in ‘pre-race condition mode’ where I discount anything I do in the belief with further training I’m certain to be swimming faster later on. This phase ends with my first full season in March, 2008 (when I either quit or continue on with swimming for swimming’s sake and not for rehabilitation purposes which ostensibly I’m doing now). My problem here is Coach Brad has vouched for me to get me in and I don’t want to embarrass him by blowing up in the pool in front of all the senior coaches. That, unfortunately, is a possibility in my 200 races as I have to swim hard in order to meet the qualifying standards and could flame out before the end. Complicating matters work is still hectic and I've missed many workouts because of it, plus I’m on pretty heavy duty meds now because it's hay fever season. Not the best run up to a swim meet where I need to show significant improvement. My first 200 is the IM this Friday so cross your fingers for me (and Brad).

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Cool Workout!

I thought Monday’s workout was really interesting, though likely because I’m easily amused and I tend to enjoy anything that even looks like a contest. Again, consistent with what we’ve been seeing for a couple of weeks, the practice was centered on intervals. What was novel to me was how the interval set was designed. First things first, the warm up and a short supplementary set were given out:

Warm up: 400 choice + 400 split 100 bk, 200 IM, 50 fly, 50 fr

Sup. set: 12 x 25 IM order in sets of three (1st counting strokes; 2nd aiming for 8 strokes/lap for fly, 12 for bk, 8 for br, and 12 for fr;3rd same # strokes but 4-5 sec faster than 2nd rep).

The main set was a varying amount of 50s @ 1:01. The set’s twist is the swimmer has to finish the fifty before his or her original start time (i.e. if the swimmer leaves on the top to start the set, and twenty 50s into the set is now leaving on the 20 the swimmer is still aiming to finish before the top). Once the swimmer fails to finish within the limit he or she is out. It’s a contest for the swimmers, with the winners and losers all too apparent. The first fifties are just putting in mileage, but it starts getting tougher the longer you go. Brad set aside half an hour for this set meaning he was expecting some of us to at least get close to swimming sub-30 fifties after 1,500 meters (I have told you sometimes he coaches us as if we were real swimmers haven’t I?) but because we started late and were running out of time he shortened it by having us start on the eighth fifty (+ 0:08). You’re trying to swim the first fifties only a few seconds faster than elimination time and so conserve energy for the later runs. Pacing is critical because if you make the round you’re looking at doing the next a second faster and continuing so ad infinitum. You certainly don’t want to go too fast but you must make the cut off. In the set itself I figured I had two more fifties in me but cut it too close and touched just outside my start time and so had to drop out. I felt a curious mixture of dismay I failed to continue on and relief I didn’t need to go again. In retrospect I should have gone one more time just to show myself I could have made the next one. This set is well known (notorious?) in the Hyack Swim Club and is traditionally seen at the close of the short course season. Next year I’ll be better prepared. I give this workout my first 10 of the year.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Marathon Post Script

I’m not enthralled by the Marathon, because the event is too extreme (even too long to comfortably watch). Still I’m in awe of the world’s elite marathoners for what they can do, how fast they can run for such a long distance. They’re machines. The best of them have run the marathon at a sub-30 10k pace which is absolutely mind boggling. Even the women, in an event that must be the most unsuitable for females barring blood sports, are amazing. But my reverence for the elite fades quickly to mockery for the masses who attempt the marathon and for two good reasons – aesthetic and practical. First things first – the Marathon must be run, not walked or a combination thereof. The legend of Pheidippides and his race against time which led to his dying is what the marathon is all about. Traveling twenty six miles by foot is not an accomplishment for a human being, entire nomadic tribes do that and more every day when they’re on the move, but running it (meaning at one point in your stride both feet are off the ground) certainly is. How many people can really do a Marathon? Damn few, which is why at first only Olympians ran it before the general public adopted the race as something they wanted to do too. An easy three to four mile jog is done at around seven minutes a mile, a pace which if held would result in a three hour marathon. Things which are easy become hard over the marathon distance. The first Olympic gold medal winner, a Greek goat herder, finished the distance in just a little over that pace and that’s about as slow as you can run the marathon. Yet despite this hard held opinion I wouldn’t ever deny to someone’s face their claim to have done a marathon even if the time was over five hours. What do I care? My real antagonism to the marathon for Joe Average lies in believing people should be trying to establish a long term exercise regime for their health rather than attempting the distance. Even people wanting to just finish are typically recommended to build their runs up over a few months from 25 to 60 kilometers per week, with ½ to ¾ of each week’s distance to be done in one run on the weekend. All training like that does is build up tolerance to pain. The fact the programs are only weeks in length says volumes about the average participant’s intentions. What happens after? Surely it would be better to begin running three times a week for thirty minutes and gradually build up your runs over the following years? Going out on a warm summer morning or a crisp fall day for a short run can be a lot of fun. Running over 20k rarely so. After the first hour any pleasures initially felt start to bleed away (those who’ve experienced blistering will know what I mean). Novices training for the marathon in one suggested program are supposed to put in a 30k run (20 miles) three months into training! So I can’t help but believe attempting the marathon is only going to associate running with pain - and that can’t be good motivation to run for the rest of your life. So don’t do it. Racing 5k is plenty to begin with, and in two or three years if you like the racing part then graduate to the 10k. But for heaven’s sake stop there. There is a life outside of running.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

American Sis and the Marathon

My fellow Hyack Masters teammate Joe ran his first half marathon a week ago and has written up a series of posts about his adventure on his blog See Joe Run. See Joe Swim. His experience strongly paralleled those of my youngest sister when she ran the LA Marathon back in ’94 or ’95, and since I’ve always intended to do a post about American Sis’s own particular talent I think this would be as good a time as any to write it.

If I can presume to say Canadian Sis and I could swim in our youth then I can also presume to say American Sis could run. Certainly her physical appearance screams runner even today. Both Canadian Sis and I ran as well, both of us competed in cross country, and we both enjoyed some moderate success. American Sis, on the other hand, was not a swimmer (though not so long ago when we were laughing at her swimming ability she told us defensively, “You know, when I go swimming people think I’m a good swimmer”), but whatever her deficiencies in swimming she more than made up for it running. She does have one other quirk which separates her from her older sister and me – she hasn’t a shred of competitiveness in her. As a child in elementary school she won everything, any and all distances and often against children years older, a true phenom. Yet after moving up to Junior High School she abruptly stopped running. I asked American Sis why she stopped preparatory to writing this post and she told me the story. It turns out in her first PE class at junior high the track coach dropped by to take a look at my sister and he and the PE teacher started discussing what events and distances the school would have her run right there in class. Now I’m sure this happens all the time when a new prospect comes in but to my sister this talk about what races she would enter smacked of ownership and impulsively she decided right then and there she wouldn’t run for them at all. And she didn’t. She waited until high school before edging back into competitive running by rejoining the track team. With her running reputation apparently still very much intact she was entered into a cross country the next week but did badly. Afterwards the coach rounded into her in front of the team for failing to put in an effort and not trying. To this day my sister is indignant about that. “I’ve never run any other race in my life harder than I did that one” she told me, and personally I think the fact she actually said ‘harder’ points to her having one of those rare off days all athletes experience once in a while, because with Sis the words hard and running just aren’t used in conjunction with each other. The pressure to win meant she quit running again. The following year, however, the school principal convinced her to help a rugby player train by running with him, and then encouraged Sis to run a little on her own. At the end of her senior year the principal approached her again, this time to run the 1,500 for the school at the high school regionals and Sis accepted. At first not taking the race very seriously she found herself with the trailing pack well behind the leaders until she decided on a whim to try to catch up. Whenever I meet up with her former high school classmates they still bring up how exciting it was to watch her move from a third of a lap behind on the final bell to second place and Provincials qualification after catching and passing one runner after another. At the Provincial High School Championships she decided to pace herself by staying with the girl who had beaten her before going into her final kick. A reasonable strategy but ultimately a failure as her chosen ‘rabbit’ wasn’t particularly competitive. Once again she found herself too far back, this time behind a quality field, and even with her now trademark closing kick she failed to medal. She did however go under five minutes, an excellent time considering her lack of training and poor tactics. And that was the end of her limited competitive career.

One day in 1994 or 1995 she called and told me she was going to run the Los Angeles Marathon, more than a little tentatively because she knows of my negative attitude about the masses’ fixation with the marathon. After asking a rather perfunctory “Why?” and then listening to the typical gibberish people spout off when they want to run the distance I inquired about her training and when she was planning to race. “Well this year’s marathon is in (whatever month it runs)”, she said, which was about six weeks off. “That’s not too bad”, I replied, my interest perking momentarily, “it’ll give you a full year of training to prepare”. “Actually”, American Sis conceded, “I’m planning to run this year’s marathon”. Well I don’t swear, especially at family, but let us just say our conversation after that was short. My mother went down to provide race support and afterwards Sis called me to fill me in on her experience. It went OK, nothing eventful happened, and though she was happy she did it she likely wouldn’t do it again. I, of course, was more interested in her time, which turned out was a couple minutes over four hours. Surprisingly slow for my sister, even taking into account she didn’t train. Some further discussion and it turned out the time was actually the official time she crossed the finish line because she didn’t bring a watch with her (so typical!). We had to adjust her time for the several minutes after the start a non-seeded runner actually takes to cross the start line to begin the race. So her ‘real’ time was closer to 3:50, marginally better but still slow given Sis’ typical running pace. Never having run a marathon I figured she must have done a lot of shuffling and left it at that. It was only when mother came home did I learn American Sis had to stop and walk for four or five miles at the 20 mile mark of the race because of severe leg cramps. That explained her time, and of course she was never going to admit her problems to me knowing my attitude about inadequate training and the marathon itself. But a sub 3:30 would have been more what I would have expected from American Sis for her first marathon ... assuming she ran the distance without breaking down, something which wasn’t possible because she sought the accomplishment of running a marathon without putting in the necessary work. That’s what happens to people who don’t prepare for a distance like the marathon properly, even those with prodigious talent like my sister. And for those readers out there who are actually still considering running a marathon some advice. Take a look at a map of your planned marathon and think if there isn’t a more reasonable distance on which to test yourself. A member of my old running club always liked saying, “If God had intended us to run more than 400 meters he wouldn’t have given us cars.” A sprinter of course. But as I grow older and wiser the common sense of that statement becomes clearer every year.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Speed + Endurance is the Trick!

Coach Brad continued with his theme of speed with endurance employing another workout utilizing the combination. Last night’s practice was the most like a track workout I’ve had yet at Hyack Masters.

Warm up: 200 easy
16 x 25 sw/k/p/sw @ 0:45 in sets of four (I did it IM)

Main set(repeated twice):
4 x 25 sprint @ 0:50
100 easy @ 2:30
4 x 25 sprint @ 0:45
100 easy @ 2:30
8 x 25 sprint @ 0:40
100 easy @ 2:30
The 25s to be maintained at the same fast pace throughout the set (i.e. 17 sec/25)

Warm down

This is classic interval training. You set a fast pace on an easy interval and pound away until you gradually transition from pure speed, move through technique (keeping up the pace by concentrating on efficiency), and finally go to endurance where to maintain speed you need to force stroke turnover and kick. Now in a track workout you wouldn’t have any easy breaks, rather you’d just do a block all together such as 20 x 400 @ 3:00 with a 1:15 target. Personally I don’t think swimming is any different so I suspect Brad threw the easy hundreds in to provide breathers and so reduce the stress for us oldsters. An adjustment I’m most grateful for because towards the end I was just swimming to avoid the stigma of quitting before finishing the set. Not only does interval training help establish overall speed but it also trains the athlete to recognize the tempo of certain paces, something which I sadly lack at the present, and a deficiency which makes establishing the correct turnover rate during a race difficult if not impossible. Of course an elite athlete knows what his or her time will be if the present tempo is maintained and consequently can make adjustments during a race for time or to conform to a pre-race strategy. If you’re a masters swimmer you’ve no doubt come across coaches like Coach Reid more used to dealing with real swimmers (Brad was a national caliber swimmer not so long ago) who will occasionally slip into giving instructions such as “start at one twenty and decline each of the next five by one second, then hold at one fifteen for the remaining reps until the last when I want you go best time plus five” Quite impossible for us masters to follow of course. A workout which brought back the memories from my running days – I’m giving this one a 9 too.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Back in the Pool

Friday night I was back in the pool preparing for the upcoming Hyack Festival swim meet. This is quite the change in plans from only three weeks ago when I paid my fees to attend the Canadian Masters Championships taking place in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Several factors influenced the switch. First and foremost taking a long weekend off in May isn’t really practicable for me and with the Hyack Festival being a two day meet within walking distance not only do I save a full day but I can also work a few hours around the meet itself. Secondly the Hyack Festival is long course whereas the Championships are short course. Every meet I’ve swum to this point has been short course and I’m anxious to obtain some times in the ‘true’ distance, the Olympic distance, of fifty meters. I’m completely biased when it comes to course length having trained exclusively long course as a child. Way back then any records achieved in short course races were unofficial – the world’s fastest 25 meter times were only accorded ‘world’s best’ status, and I continue to cherish this prejudice against short course. Don’t ever get me started on the American practice of racing 25 yards! Plus I can use the times achieved here to meet the National Qualifying Times (NQT) for the upcoming USMS Long Course National Championships. My last reason is because the Hyack Festival is classed as a combined AAA/AA competition the meet has its own qualifying times. I’m getting weary of competing in swim meets where anyone can swim, meets which include the Canadian Masters Championships. Watching people take several minutes to swim two hundred of anything makes me feel like I’m participating in a SWAD (swimmers with athletic disabilities) event. At Hyack Festival I’m going to be racing just to show I deserve to be there. Hopefully with some good times my participation will go unnoticed. But that's all in the future. Getting back to last night’s practice Brad continues to pound away at speed work despite the fact Hyack Masters have finished with competitions for the season. Consequently the workout wasn’t much in terms of kilometrage but was punishing if you did it properly:

  • Warm up: 8 x 50 on 1:00 (odd fifties back/breast & even fifties free breathing every four strokes)
  • Sup. Set: 6 x 100 free on 1:25; 1:40; 1:55 repeated twice
  • Main Set: 16 x 75 broken into pairs, the first swum hard on 2:00 and the second easy on 1:30 and done as kick, swim (non-free), pull, and swim (free), all repeated twice;
  • Warm down: Anything as we ran out of time to do the final set Brad had planned for us.
Our target times for the hard 75 swims were based upon our 100 times, with the hard 75 non-free swim to be done at or better than our best time whereas the hard 75 freestyle was to be done at least four seconds faster than best 100 time but aiming to equal it for the 75 meter distance (i.e. 45 seconds or better was the announced target for Lane Six). Ian switched it around and pounded out a couple of mid 50 fly's for the hard non-frees but I really wasn’t up to it and by the second repeat was merely trying to maintain a respectable pace. Despite my off form I really liked the way the practice was designed as it allowed for considerable latitude (lassitude?) in approach. Pedal to the metal it really combined speed work with endurance, something we at the Masters level are in desperate need of, and easing off some, the second easy 75 forces a level of minimum effort on the swim. This is one workout I’m going to do again on my own when I’m better prepared for a hard work out. Workout rating: 9

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

It's Easy to Spot a Freak

This morning, the first of May, I decided to drag myself out to yoga after a near three week absence. I won’t bore you with a position by position description of the hour and a half class. It’s challenging, tiring, relaxing, at times frustrating, and most of all, therapeutic. Though I still have difficulty touching my toes I’m seeing slow and steady improvement in my flexibility and by extension, in my overall body strength, especially that of my core. Yoga’s enjoying ever increasing popularity among elite athletes for its ability to prevent and even rehabilitate repetitive use injuries so it feels good to be doing something both Phelps and Thorpe have used in their training. But the real reason I’ve brought up today’s yoga session was because we had a new face in class. Clearly not a gimp and since he was in his early twenties and without the body of an athlete I dismissed him as a possible guru. In my very narrowly defined world of yoga that left him having to be gay. The possibility I had erred in my assessment was raised when our instructor used one of Kevin’s postures as an example of perfection and then was confirmed when she used later postures he reached as examples for the class a second and then a third time. The second time she did so it was preceded by an exhortation for all of us to strive to do our very best and use Kevin as an inspiration. Now normally I ignore any off topic mutterings of my instructors and continue with my own yoga but after hearing an accolade like that I ceased my efforts and took a look. We were working on a back strengthening floor exercise called the Locust where, lying on your stomach with arms underneath the body palms down and the face ‘kissing’ the floor, you raise your legs together as high as you can while bending only at the hips and lower back. I get my legs up around forty centimeters off the ground and then have a strong tendency to experience cramping in my calves. Kevin was doing a virtual head stand, really world class yoga! It would be like having some unknown drop in for practice and pull off a 1:54 200 meter free! We’ve had guests who were medalists in competitive yoga at the Western Canadian regional level but they had nothing on this guy! After class I asked him if he competed, to which he replied it had been suggested but he was going to attend Bikram’s Instructors Class this summer instead. Not even an instructor? “Then how long have you been practicing yoga?” I asked. “Fifteen months” was his reply, “I guess I have it in the genes”. Only fifteen months - no freaking doubt about that! Bikram is going to just love this guy. Yet another reminder I really have to get working on finishing my freak post.

End Note: Today was also weigh-in day. Based on my measurements being unchanged from last month my nearly one kilogram of additional heft is almost all muscle gain. I’ll just say I’m suspicious about the likelihood of my putting on muscle while sitting at a desk for two weeks straight doing nothing else and leave it at that.