Friday, February 6, 2015

My Top 3 Swimming Tools For the Beginner and Struggling Swimmer.

There are a number or swimming accessories available to help you improve your swimming technique, speed and efficiency. But not all swim gear is created equal and not every swimmer will benefit the same from all of the products. Not to mention, it can be less than enjoyable packing like you're going on an adventure race to swim laps for hour at your local pool. Having worked extensively with adult triathletes and beginning swimmers who didn't benefit from learning proper stroke mechanics as a kid, there tends to be common areas that need to be focused on to improve the fundamentals of their swimming form. So that brings us to the short list of three critical items that will help all swimmers struggling with their swim mechanics, and a great starter tool bag for intermediate swimmers looking to make the next leap in their swimming performance.

Triathlon is already a fairly expensive sport, so I've written this list in order of importance. So if you can only get one item at a time, I suggest purchasing in this order.

Number 1: Swimming Fins

Not all fins are created equal, so if you happen to run across a pair at a yard sale or Craigslist, be sure they are the right style. And notice I said "swimming" fins. Believe it or not there are several styles of fins, but the type that works best for beginners (and triathletes in general) is what's called a Zoomer Fin. This style of fins has a very short, slightly wide blade. The advantage of this style of fin is that it is large enough to help you get a lot more propulsion from your kick, but it's not so large that you don't still need to use your arms to swim efficiently and thus won't overpower your arm stroke. So the idea is to use a fin that helps your stoke, not propel you across the pool in spite of it. I suggest using the fins more if you can't keep your feet up and body line horizontal (ask someone to watch or video you), if your kick is extremely weak, and if you have difficulty maintaining forward moment when taking a breath. As you improve in these areas, alternate swimming sets with and without the fins to help improve your feel for correct body line and speed while breathing.

Number 2: Swimming Snorkel

The most common issue beginning to intermediate level swimmers have with their swim stroke is a breakdown of their form when they take a breathe. So if that's the case, why not make the snorkel the number 1 item on the list? Good question! It's not more important than the fins, because just having the snorkel alone won't improve your body position in the water and the most common form breakdown while breathing is not creating enough forward momentum. The key advantage of the snorkel is the removal of the biggest fear and cause of tension while swimming: The Need To Breathe! Having your face submerged in water can cause you to hold your breathe (instead of exhaling) giving you less time to inhale when you do take a breathe and consequently you slow down to give yourself enough time to do both when you mouth finally reaches the surface. This slowing down almost always results in a break down of your form. The snorkel removes this anxiety (since air is readily available) and the form breaks, allowing you to focus on your stroke mechanics and letting you improving the synchronicity of breathing and your stroke.


Number 3: Swimming Metronome

A metronome is a small digital piece of equipment placed under your swim cap or attached to your goggles that provides an audible beep to guide the timing of your swim stroke. This last item is that final piece of the puzzle when you're looking to make those key improvements in your basic stroke technique. Not unlike beginning runners, who train at the same speed no matter what distance they run, swimmers can benefit drastically by changing the intensity and pacing of their workouts. Additionally, finding the optimal stroke rate that result in your fastest and most efficient stroke will rapidly improve your race results and not leave you feeling completely exhausted after the first leg of your triathlon. And not all swimmers are created equal. Just as some cyclist are more effective at a higher cadence (or pedal stroke rate), others perform better at a lower one. The same goes for swimmers. Your body type, muscular strength, and natural stroke type all contribute to determine what stroke rate is optimal for you. Of course you can spend hours and hours trying to modify your stroke style, but that is an uphill battle that won't benefit the beginning to intermediate level swimmer. Using the metronome to test your optimal stroke rate and well as challenge you beyond your comfort zone, it one of the fastest ways to build your swim fitness and improve your stroke efficiency.


Friday, August 8, 2014

Miwok 100K Race Report

First let me say this is one of the most beautiful, well run, yet challenging courses I’ve ever run. If you like lots of big sweeping views of land and ocean, mile + long climbs and bomber descents with the best volunteers in the world (even the folks directing course turns knew AS mileage) all with a home town vibe, this should be on your to do list.

Those that know me, know it’s not all that uncommon for me to be under trained for an event. As they say, better under than over trained and thankfully with age comes wisdom, not only of the mind, but the body too. This was truly the case in my prep for Miwok. But there are a couple of things that made it even remotely possible for me to finish this race.
1. Terrain specific training (Thank you for your hills SoCal!)
2. My ability to run downhill at speed.
3. Speed work. I think it’s critical to have different gears.
4. The weather. It was a sunny day which would have been brutal but for an all day, cool-cold wind that seemed to be almost everywhere on the course.

I, unofficially, finished in 12:56:47, 99th overall. I had my watch in a low gps setting to save battery so I used my time running and AS distances to gauge how fast I was running. My initial goal was between 5 and 6 mph which would have been around an 11hr finish.  But that all changed early on in the race.

The race start was at pitch black 5am and no headlamp due to dead batteries. It made no real difference as the course starts with a switchbacked climb that is full on conga line. This is usually a good thing as starting too fast is the beginning of the end for most. Climbing through the forest in the dark with bridges crossing over rushing streams, gaining elevation with each step and a hundred string of lights above and below, created such an amazing ambiance. The single track didn’t let up as I finally climbed out of the forest almost an hour later. The next section on the Coastal Trail had the most breathtaking views as we skirted the contours of the mountain overlooking the coastline about 1600 ft below. It was also one of the most difficult sections (for me). The trail wasn’t more than 3 feet wide often on loose dirt at a camber. The excessive slow start made me antsy and I slowly began to push past runners when I could and run a more natural pace. This brought me down to the end of the northern most point at 12.9 mi Randall AS and the first drop bag. I had packed a lot of calories to take here as it wouldn’t be until 36 miles at TN Valley AS where I could restock.

It had taken me 2:41 (13min/mi) to get to the AS which is a very conservative pace for me.  I was making my way out of the AS when I noticed things started to go wrong. My right knee cap had a moderate pain, my left hip flexor and hamstring were twinging, and most worrisome was a shooting pain/cramping in my left calf and extreme tenderness in my left forefoot, all of which were areas I hadn't had issues with leading up to the race. In all honesty I was scared. I’ve never had so much go so wrong all at once and I was only about a half marathon into a 62 mile race. I slowed down, which basically meant walking more, tried to take some gels, salt pills and eat and drink but my stomach wasn’t up for it. I had planned to alternate between a sports drink and a recovery drink, but quickly decided to use more plain water. When I’m feeling like crap, I have a tendency to try and find people on course to use as targets to keep moving. It motivates me to keep a pace and not slow down too much. This was my new goal. I found some runners and did everything I could to keep them in site. If I couldn’t keep up on the climb, I picked it up on the downhill, all the while making sure I didn’t redline my body. Nutritionally I shifted to AS fare of PB&J, coke, fruit and alternated water and sports drink.

Making our way to the southern part of the course, I encountered much of the same trails I ran during the Marin Ultra 50K in March. This definitely worked to my advantage as I had a good expectation of what was ahead of me. The body was improving, taking salt often when a twinge of a crap was felt, but I was nowhere close to moving comfortably, especially downhill. The calf, hip flex and hamstring were still acting up and the left foot was getting worse, and so were my energy levels.

It wasn’t until more than halfway at the 36.5 mile TN Valley AS, where I had my second drop bag, that things started to improve. I made a big effort to fix as much as I could. I cleaned my feet and reapplied anti-chafe lubricant, I took about 800mg of ibuprofen, and I filled my spare bottle with recovery drink. I knew the a really long and tough climb (Marincello) left this AS so I had planned to hike and take the recovery drink the whole way up. That was the miracle. Everything I did at that AS worked. I hiked well, catching up to people and I was on familiar terrain from the Marin Ultra. I could RUN! Uphill, downhill it was so emotionally gratifying that I had been smart and found a way to overcome what seemed like what could have become a DNF. From that point on I just plugged away. Took extra time at the aid stations, hiked uphill with pace and ran periodically too and just flew the descents. That is my absolute favorite and I feel blessed to be able to run as fast as I do downhill.

Knowing I was returning to TN Valley AS at 48.6 mi, I wanted to make sure I recreated the plan that worked so well before. I was eager to keep pushing as hard as my body would let me. But my eagerness was almost my undoing. I rushed the aid station a little, didn’t pocket some ibuprofen I wanted to and decided to run the slight downhill to the next climb instead of walking and drinking my second recovery bottle. That climb was really steep and my muscles were stealing all the blood away from my stomach as I took in my recovery drink. I started to feel nauseous. I played it smart and slowed down, drank water instead and tried to relax. The end result was a much longer stay at the 53.4 mi Muir Beach AS, where I sat down and ate a bunch of pineapple and left there walking. Not really looking at my watch for distance, I was surprised to hear I had only 5.8 to the finish. It put quite the smile on my face.

For anyone that’s done an ultra or any long distance race for that matter, you often find yourself running or yo-yoing back and forth with a handful of racers. It is a competition after all, and I was finding it a little frustrating that a few of the people I would catch and pass on the course kept leap frogging me at the aid stations. But I made the right choice, so if you ever find yourself in similar circumstances, please take your time at aid, because it will pay off in the end. The last major climb was Cardiac Hill and it was long and steep. But the mini recovery I had a Muir let me hike and run up and catch all the racers I’d spent most of the day around. At the top of Cardiac (~1300 ft) it was 2.8 to the finished and having climbed for about 3 miles I anticipated a fast hard descent. There was a mini AS there and Jorge Maravilla in a cowboy hat and Western States 100 belt buckle filled my bottle and got me pumped for the finish.

My watch read 12:45 as I left Cardiac. I had less than 15 minutes to run 2.8 if I wanted to break 13 hours. Now I can’t speak to the absolute accuracy of the distance but let’s say something around 6 min/mi pace was needed to come in under 13. I wasn’t exactly sure what the finishing miles were like, but if it was the reverse of the start, I knew it would be fast. It was, but not without a few curveballs. I have never seen so many stairs in my life but I pushed as hard as I could. I even got lost momentarily when two hikers were blocking the trail marker at a trail intersection and I went about 30 yards the wrong way. Not a lot, but the adrenaline was flowing and I wanted to finish under 13hrs bad. To add insult to injury, there were two mini climbs, I could hear faint cheers in the distance and I got quotes of 0.5 to 0.25 mi as I neared the finish with 13:00 fast approaching. Thankfully both were wrong and as I hopped down the last stairs out onto Pacific Coast Highway, I was at a full sprint for the last 100 ft to the finish.

I doubled over as Tia, the race director, placed the finishers metal around my neck and all I could say was “did I make it?” She knew exactly what I meant and hearing her say “Yeah, you’re in at 12:56”, was music to my ears.

In life we all face obstacles. Unfortunately some have them put upon them without choice and others are fortunate enough to be able to seek them out. I feel fortunate in my life to be one of the latter and I try to take every opportunity to experience what I’m physically and emotionally capable of. If you can, I hope you do too.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

My Review of Sense Mantra Trail Running Shoe - Men's

Originally submitted at

Salomon's Sense Mantra trail running shoe is a light weight training shoe for midfoot strikers who want natural motion, protection and neutral cushioning for high mileage training.

Great door to trail shoe

By Trailrunner from Missouri on 4/10/2013


4out of 5

Sizing: Feels half size too big

Width: Feels true to width

Arch Type: Average Arch

Pros: Comfortable, Firm, Lightweight, Responsive, Good Traction, Ample toebox, Snug midfoot, Great lacing system, Rugged

Cons: Little Loose In Heel

Best Uses: Trail Running, Door To Trail, Mixed Terrain

Describe Yourself: Avid Athlete

Was this a gift?: No

First salomon shoes ever and I'm very impressed. The fit is a little long but the laces grip the midfoot well. It's possible to go down a half size if run barefoot or with thin socks. Light weight feel that's great on street and dirt paths. Haven't tried technical trails yet, but looks to be good except wet or muddy conditions.