Saturday, November 24, 2007

2007 UBC Masters Swim Meet Observations

While I could make a few quick observations about the goings on at the 2007 UBC Masters Swim Meet I’m instead going to comment at length on only two subjects: the first about one particular competitor at the meet, and the second ... well actually the second also ends up being about another swimmer I saw at the meet.

In my 50 meter back sprint I was seeded Lane Two with the heat’s only woman seeded next to me in Lane One. I had actually raced beside her in the 100 back at last year’s Provincials where she had had a disappointing swim. Well this time was different because when the water settled she had wupped me by a full second. As I toweled off afterwards I heard her telling a friend standing close by she’d just done a ‘best’ and resolved to watch her remaining backstroke events to see if her good 50 carried over. In the 100 she finished in a time I’d be pleased to take home myself as it would have given me my longed for AAA qualification. There were whispers about it being a record and when I checked our provincial masters website yesterday for this write up I discovered her time was in fact a new Canadian masters record. No wonder she looked pleased. I also discovered she already held an earlier provincial backstroke record in the 30-34 age group which no doubt explains why, while we’ve roughly comparable times in the fifty and one hundred (well not so much now in the 100) she’s at a different level in the 200 where I struggle with my endurance. I watched her 200 back from behind the blocks waiting to swim my 100 fly and once again she went several seconds under her listed psyche time, setting what turned out to be a provincial masters record. It was a great afternoon for Cindy. As an added plus I learned something about the near legendary Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen after she came up during my fact checking holding all the 35-39 women's backstroke records plus literally dozens of other world masters records spread over fifteen years of competition. If you think she’s fast now Pipes-Neilsen was seriously fast back then. Her world masters 200 backstroke record, an amazing 2:14.10 for 35-39 year olds, was achieved almost ten years ago and is less than eight seconds off Krisztina Egerszegi’s current world record. As I said, Pipes-Neilsen is seriously fast!

My second observation of the day comes from a game pretty well all men play when they’re out at a large public function – the “Spot the Prettiest Girl Here” contest. Saying all men maybe an exaggeration, but if not all men play it or its equivalent then at least it’s a very, very popular game among us guys. My first exposure to the game was as a young boy car pooling to a swim practice one morning when two older boys started a discussion about the prettiest girl in my school. I remember thinking both their choices were good when my father, who was driving, interjected to remind us as we matured and became more experienced we would discover a woman’s true beauty lies within. His comment was received with rolling eyes by all three of us because, while I pretty well ignored girls entirely at the age of eight or so, I certainly knew a good looking girl when I saw one. Of course time proved my father right; and now older, wiser, and infinitely more experienced I find it necessary to utilize multiple categories to fit in my ever expanding definition of even physical beauty when playing the game. The first both in age for the girl and in game experience for the boy (think novice level) is ‘Most Sexy’. For boys just gaining their first introduction to a world having sexes the category is all encompassing. If you’re a female and walk up right on two legs then you’re in the running, regardless if you’re thirteen or in your late forties, and sexy has the further advantage of being loosely defined by adolescent boys (which in my case at least was pretty well determined by availability). Yet Most Sexy is limited with its strong ties to youth and the biological imperative. Invariably as the male matures a second category is added which boils down to the category of ‘Most Beautiful’. The candidates are generally found somewhere between their middle twenties to late thirties, a time when Nature turns a woman’s attractiveness up in intensity to incandescent. You’ll find most of our entertainment industry’s stars here. Then comes my long time favorite – the ‘Mature Beauty’ – a carryover without doubt from ‘Most Beautiful’ but with more experience they also project a good deal of their character via their face and mannerisms: the laugh lines around the mouth and those wrinkles at the corners of the eyes reflecting an understanding of the world gained with some sacrifice: but more than compensated for overall by possessing a sureness of their place in the world exceeding that held by their younger selves. To me they are like a favorite sweater, comfortable and cozy, as opposed to the dressier business suit of more youthful beauty, something I wear to make a good impression and never quite at ease in. As I entered my thirties I added still more categories. One of the rarest is ‘Elegant Beauty’ – a face having certain features perhaps a touch too strong or too aquiline for universal acceptance as beautiful – but with a character that dazzles and dominates all around her. A woman who confirms the high status of her man by the very fact she has chosen him; as an equal rather than a possession to be flaunted she's the Bentley or Aston Martin of the feminine world. Definitely a world apart from the typical trophy wife, a girl who with dull regularity is recruited from the youngest, flashiest category and a choice comparable to aspiring to a Chevrolet Corvette: a neophyte’s idea of success. Rarer still, and the objective of this long winded lead in, is spotting an ‘Older Beauty’, a woman who is still considered beautiful even though she qualifies for senior citizen discounts. Good examples today would be Sophia Loren or Rachel Welch, exceptionally rare flowers indeed. Excluding these two famous examples and their kin I’ve only actually known or seen two other such women after forty years of watching. But this Sunday I spotted my third. Even more unusual it was not her face which first called my attention to her, it was her body. Her face while pleasant and attractive wasn’t noteworthy enough to be singled out from a crowd, but her body was phenomenal, a figure which would have been striking even if she was in her early twenties. Don’t get me wrong, in all my categories a good, trim body is an absolute must but hers was superb. Now when I meet up with a woman whom I find striking; be it for a beautiful smile, a wonderful outfit, or simply being particularly radiant on that day, I try to compliment her if I can do so without being obtrusive, and this was definitely one such occasion. But you can see my dilemma here. I certainly couldn’t go up to a strange woman and compliment her on a great body, especially with her in a bathing suit at the time. I decided instead to try to find out her identity and then locate her coach and give to him (or her) the compliment of looking wonderful to pass along in a less threatening way. Alas I didn’t discover her identity so her compliment has gone undelivered. Perhaps in some future meet I’ll see her again and be successful in passing along my approval of whatever she’s done over the past twenty or thirty years. I rather doubt she attends many meets though as I’d surely have noticed her before now. On the bright side, however, it’s nice to know as I get older there are still prizes out there worth shooting for.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

2007 UBC Results

Those who read my blog know there were some misgivings about what I’d be able to achieve this swim meet because of my inability to get up to speed the past few weeks. I cheated a bit last week and cut back on training to rest up but it seems I was right to be apprehensive. Not that I had a bad meet, I just didn’t have any good races. Take my first race of the afternoon – the 50 back sprint. This was almost a gimme for a personal best. Not only am I swimming backstroke faster than back in April but I haven’t put together a good sprint yet, so I had two ways of improving – pure speed and/or better technique. Unfortunately this weekend’s sprint was also the first one where I cared about the result, and that was enough for me to tense up and swim a really horrible race. By the last ten meters my breathing was so out of whack (along with pretty well everything else about my stroke) I gave up and just held my breath until the end for fear of breathing out of turn and choking on some water. As a small consolation, however, the time was only a couple of tenths off last season’s best so I know the speed will be there sometime, just I have to figure out a way to get it done in a race. My second time out was the dreaded 200 IM, dreaded because I’ve already bonked twice in this event, the only times it’s happened to me swimming. Starting out with a decent opening fly I held it together on back, struggled with my breast, and then brought it home, albeit very slowly, with a cautious free. I had real problems with my turns, likely because by the time my backstroke rolled around I had decided I really didn’t want to make any more turns (i.e. would rather make an open turn instead of putting my head under in a flip) and each time the momentary delay as I considered what to do meant I was flipping far too close to the wall. Worse, in my haste to surface to resume breathing that beautiful, oxygenated air, I was pushing off without regard to my body position. Combined with the pool’s slippery walls I was popping up everywhere except the middle of the lane, including one time I almost swerved underwater into a neighbouring lane. So bouncing from lane line to lane line I made my way through the medley, finally finishing with a time a few tenths slower than my personal best, tired but on a slightly upbeat note not totally exhausted. Really nothing to be pleased about except for a strong belief it surely will be impossible to swim as badly the next time. Finishing my individual medley meant I was left with two more events – the 100 breast and 100 fly, neither one close to my heart. On the contrary, if breastroke had a throat I’d gleefully knife it. Of course if my race events really did come to life then I’d have to flee for my life when 100 fly came looking for me! Bizarrely I was seeded lane five in the second to last heat; a great example of how few people can swim proper breastroke and I cannot express how strange it was to lead in a breastroke race knowing I wasn’t swimming well. Of course this is, after all, just masters where anything can happen. Once again my time was a little off my personal best, and breast finished I was left with 100 fly as my last event of the day. Now I have really poor fly technique that has always spelled my doom when trying to race. For me judgment comes like clockwork just a little after my first fifty, when the effort to get out of the water finally grinds me down to a spastic lurch followed only a few meters afterwards by my dolphin kick reverting to a child's single beat, and then my rear goes down and I’m trying to finish the final few meters from a seemingly vertical position. Brad says I’m working far too hard and getting too high out of the water. I can’t agree more about the working too hard part, but my clearly unnatural mania for breathing seems to be working against me in perfecting my fly. I suppose more practice is called for.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Update on the Dara Torres Post “When Less Doesn’t Mean More”

On November 18, 2007, three weeks after my post titled “When Less Doesn’t Mean More” came out, the New York Times published an article “Torres Is Getting Older, but Swimming Faster” interviewing Dara Torres and her coach Michael Lohberg among others. The piece goes into some detail about her current training practices and there are some differences from what I had disclosed in my post. She's training only ninety minutes a practice, not the normal two hour workouts I had assumed based on her statements about averaging between five to six thousand meters a workout. In addition the article makes it clear in the opening paragraph Torres is training differently from the rest of the elite swimmers at Coral Springs Swim Club, one much more in keeping with the needs of a pure sprinter, and accordingly she’s putting in considerably less kilometrage than originally reported. It now appears Torres may be swimming a third or even less the kilometers an Olympian would typically swim, but at least she's training as a sprinter. The article also delves into the uniqueness of her accomplishments and the rumours and accusations of doping being leveled at her. Not surprisingly it does not concern itself about any changes to her training regime in the past few months. Consequently this new information may reflect recent changes to her program rather than provide a better description of her training from the beginning of her comeback in late 2005. Though the New York Times archives their articles after only a few days (available subsequently for a small fee) to read the article please go here.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Race Program for UBC

I’m down for four races at UBC: the 50 back, the 200 IM, the 100 breast and the 100 fly. Maybe some relays. None are particularly important as I’ve deferred those races which really do count (i.e. my back and free events) to the Nanaimo meet (another fast pool) in December. Every extra week counts right now. I've scheduled breast and fly only to provide benchmarks for evaluating future progress and, as I’m not ready to seriously swim the 200 IM at this stage in training, the sole focus for UBC is my 50 back. Now I’m not a sprinter and normally wouldn’t be overly concerned with this race either if it wasn’t for the importance of my upcoming 100 back in two short weeks. I’m seeking a ‘good’ time in the back sprint to buoy my confidence about achieving a more tangible result later on. All this angst because I’d like to attend an open seniors long course meet in February to prep for our season’s only long course masters swim meet in Victoria and need an AAA time to be eligible. My AAA qualifying was supposed to come from attending the 2007 USMS Long Course Championships but other obligations in August regrettably ruled that out. Frankly right now my only real chance at qualification is in 100 back, something I felt was well within my capabilities in August but recent training has allowed a certain uncertainty to creep in about achieving even this rather common target, a level all serious competitive swimmers pass early on in their careers. So I’ve hedged and tapered a little to try to get some oomph back in my swims, doing things this week such as reducing the amount of kicking in my workouts as well as cutting back on my kilometrage, all in an effort to give my muscles some extra recovery time. Whether this abbreviated taper works or is even the right thing to do for my overall program is questionable but it seems prudent form me to make the attempt. I’ll find out either way, won’t I?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Long Time Coming

With the UBC meet closing in fast Wednesday’s workout became a test for how well I can expect to do this weekend. All in all it went OK – my times in a 6 x 50 test set were middling fair; Coach Brad mistakenly adding five seconds to my times because Ian had changed our normal ten second interval to seven so he could swim breast last and not get run over by Damon who had chosen free/fly to lead our lane. I didn’t bother to correct Brad’s mistake. I did confirm my top speed is definitely compromised however, as when I start increasing my stroke turnover my tired muscles tighten up: a reality which not only slows turnover but also impedes stroke efficiency. Nothing unexpected here of course as my training aims for March ‘08, not November ‘07, and made worse by the fact my overall progress hasn’t been what I envisioned over a year ago. Back then I figured it would take around six years to complete a transformation from Joe Average to swimming guru, calculating it would take six months to get into enough shape to begin proper low kilometer training and then another year before I could race off the admittedly minuscule training base so created. A year and a half before being race ready. Actual experience has shown I was considerably off the mark – it’s taken me a full year just to get fit enough to tackle low kilometer training, and at present only two months into the low kilometer phase I’m thinking trying to base a proper race program on several months of 20,000 meter weeks isn’t really feasible. I now believe a further step of a year’s worth of mid-kilometrage training (around 30,000 + a week) is needed to provide the necessary technique, strength and endurance necessary to race up to 200 meters. At least race at a consistency and quality which would allow proper evaluation of my performance. That’s three years of training; two if I want to cut corners and compromise, before I can reasonably extrapolate my race results ahead a further three or four years to find out what six years of hard work would likely achieve. Why six years? Well the average muscle cell lives for around seven years, so to completely rebuild a body would take something close to the same amount of time. Then studies have shown aerobic performance as measured by an individual’s VO² max can be improved upon with strenuous exercise for up to five years. That leads to a six year compromise. It may well be low. For instance Bill Sweetenham considers ten years of training as an appropriate base to race off – though admittedly we’re talking racing at the elite level where Sweetenham is concerned. I’ll have to be very, very good to race for six years. Forget about training for ten – that’s something for the young or the clinically obsessed to explore.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Preparing For the First Meet of the Season

Next Sunday is our first swim meet of the season, held as always at the University of British Columbia’s Aquatic Centre. Although this year it may be sparsely attended as the Canadian Football League’s Western Final is playing at the same time and the BC Lions, our local team, are in it. The scheduling conflict between game and meet wasn’t known early on and there were quite a few changed plans when Joe announced in the locker room he had obtained tickets to the game and so wouldn’t be racing at UBC after all. Tough luck for the swim meet’s organizers because ordinarily this isn’t something you’d plan around: the present level of interest almost entirely due to the Lions’ participation. Originally my own plans placed little importance on this meet and Nanaimo’s as I will be training right through these months aiming for Victoria’s long course meet in March. Unfortunately missing the U.S. Long Course Championships in August has meant most of my times this year are pretty stale; it would be nice to record in 2007 something more reflective of my present abilities. Now I’d like to do well at UBC, and even more so at Nanaimo two weeks later when I swim my free and back events (trying to have my cake and eat it too I know).

This might be hard to do as I’m pretty well bogged down smack in the middle of training. It hasn’t helped Coach Brad has been handing out some crippling fast workouts recently. Take this past Friday’s practice. He started out with a warm up consisting of:
200 free @ 4:00
4 x 50 breast @ 1:00
12 x 25 fly @ 0:45 (4 single arm drill/8 swim which we swam @ 0:40)
4 x 50 breast @ 0:55

There are those damn breast ‘sprints’ in a warm up again! True, Brad has slowed the first four fifties down a full ten seconds from the disastrous night I experienced a month ago, but then he compromises on the second round and reduces the required splits by five seconds; and you should note they follow after 300 fly. I was so perturbed I actually openly questioned the warm up, noting the beginning pace for breast was the same as our opening free – an observation which Brad dismissed as something which would only trouble those who had difficulties with breaststroke. Fully recognizing my inadequacies as a swimmer I can honestly say his rationale is distressingly correct and unfortunately applicable to me. That's why I was complaining. Well I survived the warm up but success there only meant having to deal with our main set – an absolute killer:
300 back @ 5:30
2 x 50 free @ 0:35
200 back @ 4:00
4 x 50 free @ 0:40
100 back @ 2:30
6 x 50 free @ 0:40

This is not a backstroke set, it’s an anaerobic free set with some back thrown in as filler. But it’s still way too fast for most masters despite being short course meters. A 0:35 interval means swimming thirty flat unless you touch-n-go, a practice which pretty well defeats calling for fifties. Even a 0:40 interval means swimming 0:34 or 0:35, still too fast for me over an extended number at least – and the set calls for ten of them. Looks like Brad’s been dipping into the Hyack Senior Nationals and National 2:30’s workouts again (the National 2:30’s being Hyacks’ elite group) and didn’t adjust enough. Regardless of the extensive backstroke I didn’t want anything to do with this set so I said I’d start the 300 back after Damon but afterwards would drop behind everyone and boy, did I call it right. To make this truly the set from hell Damon then jumped the gun and started our 2 x 50 free a full minute early on 4:30. This is the second or third time he’s gone early; perhaps because only recently retired from competition he’s just not used to our middle of set rests and when doubts creep in about when to leave he naturally goes at an interval more in keeping with his old workouts. No big deal of course but unfortunately it’s hard on the rest of us old geezers. I do the old touch-n-go for the two fifties, and no sooner than I finish my hundred, take three breaths, and get my feet on the ledge that the clock shows I’m a second late leaving for the 200 and have to push off. I arrive back in time to hear Ian complaining we had left a minute early after the 300, add my bleating whine to his for a few seconds, and then save my breath for the 4 x 50 free coming up. Practically speaking for me it’s a 200 free on 2:40 and a 300 free on 4:00 because I’m not going to come close to those intervals. In fact, no one met them in Lane Six as everyone went touch-n-go by the end. Unlike the rest of my teammates, however, I had to skip a couple of fifties to finish the set, which is a miserable feeling. It’s far better to swim in a slower lane and do the set properly than punish yourself and fail by trying to swim in a lane beyond your capabilities. To close out the workout we had a 100 choice easy and then 6 x 50 kicks on 1:10. The way things were going for me it was inevitable I suppose – the leg cramps started on the first fifty kick and by the fourth fifty I had to get out of the pool to deal with them, generally disgusted with the world and everything in it. Trying to do workouts like this now at my current conditioning level is just too much. If they continue to be this tough I’ll have to seriously consider moving down a lane or two.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

News Flash!

FINA has announced on Monday they've dropped the investigation into Ian Thorpe's possible use of performance enhancing drugs due to lack of evidence. Swimming can give a big sigh of relief as a doping conviction of one of our greatest athletes would have been a disaster. Timed Finals has the story on FINA's press statement and the possibility Thorpe may sue L'Equipe for damages from their releasing the confidential information that he was under investigation. In completely unrelated news (other than the fact it was also reported by Timed Finals and involves another great swimmer) Michael Phelps has had a pin inserted into his wrist after breaking it when he slipped getting out of a car. Phelps freely admits to being a fish out of water and a little clumsy on land. Here's an idea - maybe Michael should just stay safe and not get out of the pool until Beijing rolls around?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Long, Slow Road Ahead

Even pulling back from scheduled training – dropping my weight program entirely and holding my meters to between fifteen and eighteen thousand a week, my sense of fatigue has only moderated rather than abated. I’m still always physically aware, especially when I move, but my muscle soreness has slowly changed into one of heaviness and lethargy. Rather like that comfortable feeling you discover waking up in the morning after a well deserved night’s sleep. But other than the need for longer and slower warm ups the overall quality of my swimming hasn’t deteriorated much. That is until a couple weeks ago when my top end speed seemed to disappear. I was trying to do 10 x 50 back on 0:50 at a pace matching my best 200 back and then follow it up with 3 x 200 easy backstrokes concentrating on technique and turns. Given my 200 back at the end of last season didn’t exactly set the world on fire I thought it was a reasonable speed + endurance set to build on. Yet I had to increase my interval up to a full minute after only the fourth rep, and switched over to the 200s a couple of fifties early as I was finding the effort far harder than anticipated. And from that date I’ve not been able to refind that zone where I can raise my stroke rate without putting in an inordinate amount of effort. It hasn’t helped I’ve had a low grade cold for the last three weeks, a sure sign of being over trained. In another classic sign Brad has had to correct flaws which should never need correction, and every time I was taking the ‘easy’ way in my stroke or kick. That gets embarrassing. My first swim meet of the season is in less than two weeks and I want to start off with some good times. I’m not admitting defeat in this, my third attempt to scale 30,000 meters a week, but I’m now setting up base camp at 18,000 before pushing on.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Let’s Get This Over With

Right at the start of my adventure in rehabilitation and return to competitive swimming I took pictures and measurements to create a pictorial history of my progress back to being an athlete again. Initially this was done every month but, as my physical development lagged behind optimistic hopes and I started running out of different ways to say no change each month, the pictures eventually stopped. Well this November I’ve returned to documenting my rehabilitation’s progress despite the fact nothing significant has occurred since my last post on this subject.

Overall I feel stronger, fitter, and think my lower back and hip flexibility continue to show real improvement – just they don’t seem to translate into visible evidence. No matter. Accordingly my intentions are by the end of this season (March) to reduce my body fat percentage down to 12% from its present 17-19%. I’ve been loath up to this point to start a formal reduced calorie diet as for most of my life I’ve always struggled to put on weight. Years of effort had me close to 90 kg (198 lbs) for a time, but that was when I was younger and the extra kilos were all muscle. The image I present now at 84½ kilos is completely different and discouraging and it must change.

Practically speaking I’m now aiming for the body I had when I ran rather than the much heavier and more muscular body I possessed in my mid-thirties – a very bitter pill to accept. So my primary goal these next four months is to lose a further five or six kilos (between ten and fifteen pounds) of fat and finally come up with some pictures which will show some noticeable improvement. Hopefully I’ll add a little muscle which will complement the visual impact of a trimmer body, but the weight must come off regardless. I might even give myself take some lessons in Alexander Technique for a Christmas present and try to improve my absolutely atrocious posture. Where did that come from?