Blogs tagged with "coaching"
|I thought I'd never see a book chapter like this again after
I scrapped my engineering degree for an art career.
As I was saying in my last post, I recently went back to my swimming roots and became both a swim coach and a student of the sport once again. I've learned a lot about swimming while coaching, but I found that I wasn't learning enough, and I wasn't sure what I was learning was going to help me become a better swimmer. It might work for kids who are new and still learning the ropes, but I've been through all the ropes of the past, and I'm well aware that theories about swimming and swim training must change and evolve. If they didn't, then we would rarely see world records fall.
|Once a swimmer:
1980 OH Platt High School Girls Medley Relay
(yes, I'm the one in the hat)
As you know, I recently became a recovering triathlete. After 15 years of chasing some kind of redemption for every unsuccessful race, I got tired of comparing myself to everyone else (EVERYONE is a triathlete these days) and always coming up short - in speed, strength, body image, and gear. I had become the very thing I hated: a slave to consumerism - especially involving the Ironman brand - and a very unhappy person who no longer enjoyed anything about the sport that had become so important to me that it was a part-time job.
Thankfully, my wake-up call didn't turn me into a non-athlete, but instead sent me back to the sport that started it all: swimming. It was my first competitive athletic pursuit, and after 30 years of denial, it finally came back around to offer me joy in its purest form. But I struggle to write something new about swimming. I'll never be an expert. Everything I know about swimming has been said, so what could I possibly pass on as knowledge in my blog? I kept coming up empty-handed until yesterday's swim.
While I was doing laps in the pool, I realized that the way I'm swimming now is both completely different and, at the same time, exactly the same as I did 30 years ago.
Let me explain.
First, I need to add that I've become a swim coach - yep, a certified USA Swimming coach. I've been assistant-coaching a Cleveland-area team - the Westside Waves - for six months now, and I'm hooked. I've already learned a great deal about swimming from a coaching perspective, and it has had a profound effect on both my love of swimming and my love of mentoring a younger generation of swimmers.
|Geeking out with Theoretical Hydrodynamics|
The rules and practice of competitive swimming have evolved quite a bit from when I was in a racing suit on the start blocks (coincidentally, even starts are different). But one fundamental idea has not changed. The fastest swimmer in any race is the one who is most efficient in the water. The race will never go to the strongest swimmer. The race will go to the swimmer who is the most hydrodynamic. Show me a swimmer that can bench-press 200 pounds, and I will find you a swimmer who can only bench-press 50 but can beat your guy in the water.
This is swimming in a nutshell.
What does this have to do with me? Well, funny you should ask....
I was never an efficient swimmer. I started swimming competitively at the age of 14. Most of my cohorts had been doing it for eight years by then. The only reason I was any good was a hard-work ethic, my genetics, and my natural ability [to float fast]. Because I grew up in the water, swimming came naturally and water wasn't scary. I eventually gravitated toward longer distance swimming because I never learned how to kick efficiently or with propulsion. (I dragged my body through the water, and I had the football-player shoulders to prove it.)
My natural kick in freestyle was what they call a "two-beat" kick, i.e., I kick twice for every stoke revolution. Today's swimmers do not know that term. They are taught a six-beat kick whether they swim 50 yards in competition or the mile. It was one of the first thing I learned as a coach.
After a few more "lessons," I made a conscious decision to start using my new tools in my own training. I couldn't advocate one type of swimming to my swimmers then get in the water and demonstrate something else. I wanted to be an example to my swimmers as well as a coach. And, as a former triathlete, I always said that to train for triathlon, you need to swim with swimmers, bike with bikers, and run with runners. I denounced any triathlon-style swimming and would often rant about the way I saw triathletes training in the pool or being coached differently than what works for competitive swimmers. I repeat: the best swimmers are the ones who are most efficient in the water. End of story. Similarly, I also rant about running shoes marketed to triathletes as though they different from running shoes made for runners. It's genius marketing as triathletes are willing to shovel out twice as much cash for them. (Even more if they sport the Ironman logo.)
But I digress.
In trying to embrace new breakthroughs that science has given us about swim speed (and what I'm teaching my swimmers), I've struggled like a first-year swimmer. I've had to teach my body to dolphin-kick off the walls (we never did that in the early 80s), take full arm-strokes underwater, and - *choke* - do massive amounts of backstroke (because if anything makes you a better freestyler, it's becoming a better backstroker, and the kids learn backstroke almost as early as they learn the crawl). And, I've had to learn - *gasp* - to six-beat kick.
Even though I always had a good stroke, doing these things in combo with my scrawny running arms made it very difficult to get my daily yardage in the pool up over 4500 yards. It took about two months and everything hurt every day. But by the time I was comfortable at 5000, my whole view of the process had changed, and I could talk to my swimmers with a better understanding of what I was asking them to do. And I found that, unlike coaches who didn't swim regularly, many of my sentences were starting to begin with "I know this isn't easy, but it will make you a better swimmer...." Yep, I KNEW of which I spoke.
And, it paid off. I got faster. I got more comfortable and I stopped hating backstroke. Some of it was due to strength. Most of it was technique. My husband Jim took video recently of me swimming, and the first thing he said to me was: "your stroke is mostly the same, but you look stronger and you're kicking [more]." I'll take it!
Here are two videos for comparing the difference four months makes (unfortunately, it's not a huge improvement): the first one is from December 2015, showing my horrible [non-]kick, and the second one is from March 2016 showing a slightly improved, noticeable kick (and it's more streamlined too).
I guess it's all about problem-solving. I've once again learned to embrace my first love without judging myself. I'm far from perfect, but I also found I'm not too old - or set in my ways - to learn and apply new lessons. And that may be the most important lesson of all.
I'll attempt to share more of my trials as both an old and new swimmer and any upcoming open water swim races that I do. Hopefully it won't be too boring to my readers.
|This is how bad I look like when I'm
feeling GOOD in the Ironman run.
As a self-coached triathlete, I am never more confused and frustrated than when I read two opposing training articles by so-called "experts" both claiming to have the definitive method of accomplishing the same goal.
Case in point: how to run your fastest Ironman marathon. The two articles are the following:
- How to Run a Sub 3-Hour (or YOUR PR) Ironman Marathon by Coach Troy Jacobson
- How to Nail the Ironman Marathon by Matt Fitzgerald
Before I look at these two articles that appear in direct conflict with one another, I will say this: YES, I understand that everyone is different and responds to different types of training, and YES, I understand that Coach Troy's article is mostly tips on what HE did that worked for HIM, as opposed to a blanket statement "this is what you should do" to PR in the marathon. And YES, it is entirely possible that they're both right.
However, when trying to put together a training cycle that would hopefully include an Ironman (and Ironman marathon) PR, these are the types of articles I read and give more weight to, i.e., articles by respected coaches and athletes. And in this particular case, I'm left with more questions than answers and a lot more confusion. Despite having coached myself as a runner and triathlete for 20 years - mostly because of lack of funds to afford a coach and bad experiences with actual paid coaches - I have not uncovered or constructed the perfect training plan to maximize what I believe is my potential (on and off the bike).
I have spent the last two years training mostly by tips from Joe Friel and my own personal experience. The things that seem to work for running off the bike (from these tips and from experience) is to have superior bike fitness and to be conservative on the bike leg. That makes perfect sense, and the problems with the above two articles is not necessarily a disagreement on this tenet of triathlon.
But while Fitzgerald rams home the importance of superior bike fitness:
"Riding too hard can affect subsequent run performance, but fitness trumps pacing. The less fit you are, the less your run will benefit from holding back on the bike. You could go 95, 90 or 85 percent on the bike and be shot for the marathon in any case. And the fitter you are, the less pacing matters. Craig Alexander would not run a 2:35 marathon in Hawaii instead of a 2:45 if he rode the bike leg in 4:55 instead of 4:37."
Jacobson merely mentions the importance of taking it easy in the bike leg on race day:
"In triathlon, you need to have good riding legs in order to run well. This means committing to building your muscular and aerobic endurance in training with several long rides, as well as your strength and power with interval work. On race day, the bike will either make or break your overall race result. Riding just 2-5% too hard on the bike, a difference of just a few minutes on your bike split can mean the difference between running well in the marathon or walking the last 10K to the finish line."
A little disagreement, but the importance of bike fitness and the bike leg is duly noted.
Now come the big disagreements - in how these two authors suggest we train for and execute the Ironman run. Fitzgerald's recommendations seem to be based on analysis of statistics and coaching experience (I hope), and Coach Troy's appear to be mostly based on his own personal experience and background. For clarity, I've put together a seasonally-colored table of their points of agreement (green) and disagreement (red) - and the gray areas (gray.. duh!).
|Perform only three independent runs per week. The most important of these is the weekend long run.||Build base with frequency: run often but not necessarily far each workout. Frequency is the key. If you can run 5-6 days per week, do it.|
|Complete at least four runs of 18 miles or more, and feel free to go as long as 26.2 miles in training to cement a solid reserve of running endurance.||Don't run too long - for me, a 2-hour run was my longest on my way to my Ironman marathon PR. I did a couple 1:45-hour runs too, but that was it.|
|Do frequent transition runs: short runs frequently off the bike in training is more beneficial than doing occasional longer runs off the bike - it’s the transition from cycling to running that you are trying to train.||Do bricks (bike-run) 1-2 times a week, if not more (typical: 1.5 hour bike followed by a 30-40 minute run)|
|Resist the temptation to do any more running during the rest of the week than is required to support your progress in long runs, as it will only increase your risk of injury and burnout and take away from your cycling.||During build weeks (5-10 weeks from race day), do one or two double runs each week, make these short 30-40 minute aerobic paced runs with one in the morning and one in the evening. But don't over run: there are points of diminishing returns (especially for masters athletes).|
|No mention of racing.||Race often - there's no better way to build race fitness than to actually race. Race early in the season and then give yourself plenty of time to focus on your Ironman prep.|
|Don't waste energy on speed work. I am not suggesting that you avoid fast running altogether, but I am suggesting that you strictly limit it.||Add some speed, but not too much - enough quality to boost V02max and economy, but not too much to cause down time and injury.|
|Many Ironman marathons are ruined by nutritional issues, and 9 times out of 10 it's consuming too much rather than too little - the body can absorb a lot more fluid and carbohydrate during cycling than running, so competitors take in as much nutrition as their bodies can handle on the bike, then hop off and start running only to be hit with nausea, bloating and worse.||Nutrition comes first: I've had severe cramping problems, so I've corrected those by super dosing with electrolyte supplements. I sat up a ton on the bike in AZ, took my time to eat and drink and was cramp free all day.|
|The Ironman marathon is run at a relatively low intensity - about 60 percent of VO2max.||Pace on the run: I really didn't know what I had in store for me on race day, so I went out on the run conservatively. Once I felt good, I worked to establish a rhythm on the run, focusing on my foot strike cadence and breathing rhythm.|
|Elite triathletes actually ride the Ironman bike leg at something closer to 98 percent of their maximum capacity (meaning they would ride only five to 10 minutes faster in a pure 112-mile time trial).||I rode very conservatively for the first loop with a low heart rate and my cadence in my 'sweet spot' of around 85 rpms.|
So, what am I supposed to do now?
I have decided to consult my first, best expert - my rocket-scientist (i.e., aerospace engineer) husband Jim - who has lived through 20 years of marathon, Ironman, and pre-event melt-downs (and successes) and probably has more insight on what works and what doesn't just from listening to me talk, watching me train and race both smart and stupid, and analyzing the results. His goals for me (yes, he does have them in order to maintain sanity in the household) have usually involved keeping me injury-free (after five stress fractures, two bike crashes and numerous other falls and fall-outs) and helping me figure out out what is going on with my nutrition (my Ironman bugaboo).
Here are Jim's recommendations and reasons why I am likely to follow them:
- "It seems that running more often is what makes you have a better run." This always sounded like a no-brainer until I read the Fitzgerald article. When I backed off on my running frequency (the thing I am arguably best at), I stopped having fast run legs in triathlon. This was especially noticeable in my half-Ironman races where I ran 1:26 in 2008 and have barely broken 1:35 since. It can't possibly only be aging (which was what I had been attributing it to).
- "If you want to be fast, you should add speedwork." Again, a no-brainer, but this is an additional burden (both mentally and physically) in Ironman training because of the increased speed sessions and hard days on the bike. Getting mentally "up" for hard sessions every day seems like it would lead to burnout, but my plan is to look at possibly doing bike and run hard sessions all in one day. However, both authors above agree that running speed work doesn't have to be nearly as extensive as my marathon training used to be in order to work.
- "Get massages." This may be the one thing that keeps my quads from losing their spring after all the hard bike miles. I tend to skimp on stuff like this because of cost, but when I get deep-tissue massages more often, I have much better muscle recovery and less physical breakdown and soreness.
Now that I have my running plan, the next assessment will be my approach to solving my nutrition issues in Ironman. But before that, I will be visiting my friend Jody Herzog, the self-proclaimed shoe geek at Fleet Feet Sports, to tackle the following question: "Is the New Balance 890 really going to be my new favorite running shoe? And if not, what will it be?"
|Enjoying the third day of the off-season surfing in Maui|
It's been a while since I had a real off-season, but the planets have aligned this year to provide me with a little post-season, holiday, do-nothing block of time. Even though I ran the New York City Marathon two weeks ago, my post season off-time began the day after Ironman Kona. It started with a trip to Maui and ends right about now, in my kitchen, in front of my computer.
Why now, you ask? Because six weeks is enough! I've realized that there is still nothing interesting to watch on TV. I've fallen victim to the Halloween-candy-at-the-office five-pound weight gain (which, at my advanced age's metabolic slowdown, will no doubt take the next six months to eradicate). And I'm ready to stop looking at the past and now look at the future - a.k.a., my 2012 triathlon season.
To go forward, though, I feel the need to contemplate the past so that I can learn from it. The first mistake I ALWAYS make in reviewing the past is the one I'm going to try to avoid this time: remembering only the failures. In looking at years past, I usually only remember the things I want to change, like my poor performances. That's all well and good if I logically analyze what caused the poor performances. But I always forget to review what went right.
Why do we do that? Maybe the question should be: am I the only one who does that? Why does the negative emotional impact of my bad races outweigh the positive impact of my good ones? In other words: why do we dwell?
I don't have the answer to that. (All the psychologists of the world just breathed a collective sigh of relief.)
So, to focus on a positive review of last season, I will not mention the disasters that were two of my biggest races of the year: the USAT National Championship and Ironman Hawaii. Instead, I will review what went right:
- I won my age group in Ironman St. George by more than an hour, came in tenth overall and fifth amateur. (Who cares if it was with an embarrassingly-slow marathon?)
- I won my age group and set the age group course record in Ironman Lake Placid.
- I won my age group in Ironman 70.3 Muncie.
- I became the 2011 world champ in my age group at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas.
- I ran two marathons - Walt Disney World and New York City - just for fun, both with respectable times (and won my age group at Disney).
|Punks, me and Ron in Vegas|
|Elking around in up-state New York|
- Training with power is what works for my biking (thanks to the CompuTrainer). I don't think I can afford a power meter on the bike, so I will stick with the trainer for power workouts, and work hard during the winter months when I can't ride outside.
- I still need to figure out what is going on with my nutrition in the heat. Apparently, more sodium isn't enough and maybe it should be "lots more, even more than you think after you've taken more" sodium. I will be consulting a trusted nutritionist. I will also look into having these things (like sweat rate and sweat composition) tested. This is where I think my money will be best spent.
- My swim training this year reached a sort of plateau, but I'm confident I can get through this one because I managed to do the same time in my three Ironman races this year no matter how hard or how easy I trained for the swim. I broke a rib and lost two weeks leading up to Lake Placid and still did a 1:02. I trained mostly two days a week, sometimes three - so, if I consistently get that third day in, I have high hopes to break that one-hour barrier again. I know I'm capable of going well under it, but so much depends on what happens in the race (i.e., if I get clobbered).
- If I want to race well in short distances, I should not train for Ironman. ('nuff said.)
- Sleeping the night before a race fully depends on how confident I am that I can sleep before a race. It has nothing to do with how confident I am in my training. (I am NOT making this up.)
- More on nutrition: the paleo diet works (and I don't even follow it religiously)
- Even more on nutrition: despite what the guy from Infinit Nutrition told me in Kona, I do believe that protein is detrimental for me during a race. Once I switched to products without a complete protein (
Closing the book on 2011, in KonaI'm sure there are many more lessons I will dig up in the next few months as I review my training from last year to revamp my training for this year. I still have not been able to justify getting a coach because of the expense and also because I feel like I know myself very well and I've been able to coach myself pretty well. I am considering it now because my one issue is knowing when enough is enough and learning to take it easy to let the hard work pay off. I read a great article about self coaching in Lava Magazine recently: The Self Coaching Conundrum featuring recommendations from pro triathletes Amanda Lovato and James Cunnama.Thus, there is a lot to consider. But first things first. Get back into training. Build that base. Avoid the pitfalls of eating too much at Thanksgiving. Yikes, that's THIS WEEK! Y'all have a great one!
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