Friday, December 11, 2015

Swim Training is Important for the Ironman Athlete. Here's Why.

When I was trying to come up with a catchy title for this post I had a number of thoughts. The experts will tell you that is what you need to do. Well, if you know me, you know my initial thought was exactly what you might expect to come out of my mouth, and was basically this: "Shut the f$*k up and get your a$$ in the pool."

I was so sure that wouldn't cut it I continued to think it through. Eventually I came up with the much more PC title you see above. Sounds very diplomatic, right? Swimming is important for the triathlete. Let me tell you why.

But seriously, it IS important. Swimming is a part of triathlon. If you don't want to swim become a duathlete ... or a runner ... or a cyclist.

Look, I'm a good but not great swimmer. Like many of us I came late to the swimming game. Yes, I learned how to swim when I was a kid, but swimming back then involved jumping in the local lake and having a good time. I only starting to swim laps when I was 33 years old. That puts me a big disadvantage to the person who started to swim at age four.

Now that we have established that I am no Andy Potts, I'm not bad. On a fair course (one that is pretty close to accurate with normal conditions) I can go 22ish for the Olympic distance, 30ish at a 70.3 and have a 1:05 best time at the 2.4 mile Ironman-distance swim. Like I said, good but not great.

I put this out there to you not to boost my ego but to show you what can come from putting in the pool time. When I started out in triathlon I had been in the pool swimming laps for a few years as cross training for my annual marathon prep. I attended a masters class once a week at a local college with friends. I was impressed with myself because I could swim a mile broken up into intervals over the course of 45 minutes ... Seriously.

Once I started to get serious about triathlon I began to get more serious about the swim for one basic reason - swimming is a part of triathlon. Yes it is the "shortest" part of any race, but it is part of triathlon. Maybe its because I started basically training for this sport alone, but I never really thought about blowing off the swim. Now that I have been around the scene for many years I have seen the other side.

Ask yourself this question: How many triathletes do you know who have a "reason" for blowing off their swim training in favor of  other training or no training at all? A lot of very good swimmers will tell you they don't have to do it because of their background while the bad swimmers, usually out of fear, will say they are just looking to survive the swim so they don't need to "waste all that time" in the pool. More bang for the buck spinning or running, or so they say.

Whatever the excuse you (or someone you may know) has for not taking swim training serious, I'm here to call bulls$!t. Especially if you race long distance. Here are five reason why every triathlete should take swim training serious:

Swimming develops aerobic fitness without negatively effecting your joints - Triathlon is an aerobic sport at its core. Just to make the distance you need a huge about aerobic capacity. You need sport specific endurance, for sure, but aerobic capacity developed in any of the three disciplines has a direct effect on the size of your overall aerobic engine. This is why single-sport athletes cross train.The beauty of swimming is it is non-impact and can build your capacity without breaking down your legs.

Low swim fitness has a big impact on your bike and run - You know that feeling of not having your legs under you on the run after you have blown yourself up on the bike (I know this way to well)? Now imagine that feeling at mile 35 of 112 on the bike? If you don't have the swim fitness you will not only take more time getting through the first part of your day, but you will have also burned a lot of energy that could have been useful over the next 9 to 15 hours. Does it make sense to log all those hours biking and running to not be able to express your fitness on race day because you slacked off on your swim training?

If you go anaerobic on the swim you have screwed yourself. Your eating plan is useless - This goes hand in hand with my previous point. If your swim-specific fitness is low, if your technique is for crap, you will work harder than the swim-fit athlete who gets out of the water right next to you. If your low level of fitness causes you to go anaerobic in the water I can almost guarantee the rest of your day will not go as you dreamed it would. I don't care how much visualization you have done or what a bad-ass runner you happen to be, once you go anaerobic you are screwed. After spending 60 or 90 or 120 minutes burning through your glycogen your energy systems are too out of wack to recover from. Don't believe me? Try this: Go run a marathon, but instead of even pacing it, go out 30 seconds per mile faster for the first two miles before settling into you race pace. That horrible feeling/slowing down over the final 10k ... That's what happens if you go anaerobic early on.

Long course racing is about fighting through fatigue - We train to keep the body going and going. The swim is only one to two hours of a very long day but the energy you expend here directly effects the energy you have for the bike and run. With just a minimum of 3 hours per week you can keep this from happening. Do you really want to be exhausted by 8am?

Swimming builds upper body and core strength - Swimming is a full body exercise and when done correctly can be physically taxing. Take a look at a swimmer's body and you will notice the muscular size of their backs and shoulders. And those core muscles are insanely strong. All that strength helps maintain form when you are is the saddle for six hours or running for another four or five.

Are you still with me or have you moved on to some other blog? If you are still with me I hope I have convinced you to take the swim a bit more serious than you may have in the past. For some reason it bothers me when I see triathletes not taking the swim seriously. Sometimes it's the excuses. Other times it is watching someone in the next lane just wasting their time while I'm busting my a$$ to get through a set of 200s. I don't know exactly why it bothers me like it does. It just does.

Triathlon consists of three disciplines - swimming, cycling, and running - and one of them is swimming. If you do not like to swim or don't want to train the swim, fine, become a duathlete.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Related Posts:

Why Swim Training is Important for Triathletes - What I had to say about this in early 2014

Rule #5 - That's right, I said it. Harden the f@$k up!

Rule #2 - Want to get better in the drink? Can't happen if you aren't consistent.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Off-Season Cycling - A Different Kind of Plan

Jon Soden - Quintana Roo Bicycle

The other week I stumbled upon, and joined, the Ironman Lake Placid 2016 Group on Facebook. I figured what the heck, a little voyeurism might be fun, as I am always interested to see what others are doing. I wasn't sure what exactly to expect. Worse case I simply ignore it. What I did find has been interesting.

For those of you who might not know, IMLP is a July event, meaning we are 9 months from race day. If you have read any of my recent posts you know that I have been doing more exercise than training for more than a month now. Realistically, my only goal these days is to get in good enough shape to start training on January 4th without fear of injuring myself. The bar has not been set very high around these parts.

Back to the Facebook group. What I have found is an interesting group of people who appear to be training much different than I am right now. For example, On Sunday I saw a post from someone who did a 90 minute session on his bike trainer. This morning I read from more than one person who ran outside, pre-dawn, in the rain. And while I have no idea where the rain runners are located, for December I find that to be pretty darn hardcore and worthy of a Rule #7 shout out.

(For the record, it was raining and 38 degrees when I woke up this morning. I did workout. Inside. One of my long standing rules is I will not run outside in the rain in December when I am training for nothing. Running this time of year is purely for pleasure.)

For the past 8 weeks (and the next 5) I have been following what has become my fairly simple off-season bicycle protocol. I came to this about the time I started to get serious about triathlon based on two simple conclusions. First, I quickly recognized that being able to have a better than average bike split without over cooking the legs was one of the keys to putting up fast times. Our sport is swim/bike/run, not swimming and biking and running. Nobody gets a trophy for the best swim split or the fastest mile run. You get a trophy for crossing the finish line faster than the next guy.

The other conclusion I have come to is you cannot just go full throttle year round. On the bike I dial it back after my last triathlon of the season, then take a month or so of very little riding.

So here's how it has laid out on the back half of 2015:

October - My last "real" ride of the year was with the LWM Monday Night A-ride on September 28. I had planned on making it out to Kenny's last ride of the year the following week but work obligations kept that from being possible. The rest of the month consisted of five rides outside and a few short, easy spins on the trainer, mostly to just loosen up the legs. In a very real sense October was an off month.

November - The weather was warmer than normal this year allowing me to get outside to ride every weekend. The longest ride was 23 miles and I stayed on flat terrain and kept the heart rate low. Riding outside had more to do with enjoyment of being on two wheels not gaining fitness. What differed from October is the number of times I jumped on my trainer. After two weeks of almost no exercise at all, the final two weeks of the month saw me not only on the trainer, but actually putting in some work. A nice transition to what I have planned for December.

I have a number of go to workouts and decided to use the 10 x (1 min hard + 1 min recovery) as the perfect transitional workout to getting back into training again. Just enough work to feel like I did something, but not so much to kill my mojo. Best of all, with warm up and cool down the workouts were only 40 minutes long!!!

December - This month is really about getting some bike fitness back into my legs. Weekends will be spent outside (weather permitting) on either the road bike or the mountain bike with the simple goal of logging saddle time. One day a week - then eventually twice a week - I will get a short, high intensity session in on the trainer. The goal here is to start rebuilding my high end during the week as I regain some of my endurance base on the weekends.

Like I said, pretty simple but very different from what I have done in the past. After months of hard riding the body needs a break as does the mind. With early fall running races on my schedule I backed off the bike, riding for pleasure and recovery, before taking some real downtime from triathlon training. From there I am/will be slowly rebuilding bike fitness and strength in a way that keeps me from burning out or spending too many mind-numbing hours on the trainer.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.