Sunday, April 16, 2017

Freestyle Kicking Drills

I first wrote an article about Freestyle Kick Drills A and B in 2008, during the years I have been asked many times if there was a Kick Drill C. As of 2015 or so, I added one that allows us to work on the full breathing cycle. Here is the updated article.

Most of the drills I tend to use in my coaching come in the form of progressions, one drill leads to the next drill which leads to the next and usually they end up with swimming. This Freestyle Kick Drill progression is one we use often. The key aspect that these drills do for you that others don't is that breathing is part of the drills. For new swimmers, particularly those who learned as adults, lifting your head to breathe is a huge issue. The goal is to breathe with your head low in the water, lifting your head means you are pressing down into the water to lift it. Action - reaction. These should help eliminate those issues.

But there are several other aspects of the swim stroke that we work on using these drills. We use it to work on:
  • rotation when breathing
  • the length of your pull
  • the position of your extended arm when breathing (arm angled down from your shoulder)
We pick one particular emphasis for any time that we are doing one of these drills.

And that in itself is a good point. There is no drill that is so good that you don't need to think while doing it. Nothing that you can turn your brain off and go and then think it will help. Every drill, including these, needs to have a focus point for the swimmer to work on as they do it. So naturally I encourage swimmers and coaches to use these drills with a specific emphasis point in mind when they start them.

Lastly, these drills can be used in place of normal kicking. If a coach wants the swimmer to do some kicking but also perhaps work on technique while doing it, these drills can be used for the same distance as normal kicking but have the swimmers kick harder while doing them. Also, for a swimmer, you might be looking at a workout or workout plan that includes a lot of kicking and you want to work on the kick but also want to work some of your technique too, you can do the same thing. Perform these drills with a stronger kick than normal to get a bit of both benefits.
The first drill is used for basic leg conditioning, helps you keep your head low when stroking and when breathing, and helps with skeedaddle legs.

FS Kick Drill A


Push off the wall in a prone glide position and use a fast flutter kick. When you need to breathe, take one arm pull and breathe to the side of that arm. Breathe whenever you need to, there's no real need to hold your breath on this drill.

At first you will need to do 25s with about 20 seconds rest to keep from tiring out. If you tire out you won't be able to perform the drill well and won't get the full benefit.

Points of emphasis

  • Note that in the video, the swimmer's extended arm is out, angled down, and doesn't move as the swimmer breathes. This is absolutely key.
  • Look straight down as you kick. This is proper head position when swimming distance freestyle and importantly this is the position that helps you stay horizontal without having to kick your legs back to the surface.
  • Don't lift your head to breathe. If your body sinks underwater after you breathe, then that means you lifted yourself up and pushed water down toward the bottom of the pool. Point your belly button to the side of the pool as you breathe to help you get air by rotating your whole body rather than by lifting your head.
  • Your non-stroking arm needs to keep pointing forward and slightly downward. A common error is to angle your hand up in the “stop in the name of love” position as you breathe.
  • Keep kicking as you breathe, don't stop your feet. Scissoring your legs out wide and holding them there in a desperate attempt to keep them from sinking is called skeedaddle legs. Keep the overkicking rhythm up through the breathing stroke. 


The goal of the Freestyle Kick Drill A drill is to keep your body in a horizontal line when kicking and breathing

Freestyle Kick Drill B

Once you think you have your head looking straight down and are breathing by looking to the side rather than lifting your head out of the water, it's time to move on. Or more likely, when you are tired of doing the first drill. Either way it's time to move on.


Same motion and rhythm as Freestyle Kick Drill B except that you look forward underwater to watch your hands. Breathe when you need to.

Points of emphasis

  • Note that your elbows are below your shoulders and your wrist is below your elbow. in the end your fingers would be a foot or so below the surface.
  • Before you start your pull, internally rotate your shoulders putting your arms into a good catch position. This will allow you to make sure you are moving water backwards and not down.

  • Watch your hands enter the water after you breathe to make sure they enter flat and move straight forward from your shoulder. Lots of folks put their hands in in front of their head or sometimes even across the other side of their head.  Since you are looking forward you should see your hands enter the water off the the side, not in the center of your vision.


Perfect hand entry, catch and pull.

FS Kick Drill C


In this drill, instead of starting and stopping in a flat, face-down position; you start and finish in a long side-lying position. When you need to breathe, take one complete stroke cycle and breathe to the side of the arm that is extended.

Points of emphasis

  • Note that in the video, the swimmer's extended arm is out, angled down, and doesn't move as the swimmer breathes. This is absolutely key.
  • Stay in a long position on your side as if you are at full extension in freestyle. If you are having to look around your arm to see the bottom of the pool, you are too far on your side.

Slide Crawl

The slide crawl takes you closer to freestyle swimming. Helping to transfer the skills you have gained here into your freestyle stroke.


The action of this drill is the same as that of the kicking drill except that you first use one arm, then the other, and repeat the movements over and over again. Keep up the overkicking for this drill.

Points of Emphasis

  • Pull, recovery, and catch up on each side, starting the next stroke as soon as the preceeding arm finishes a stroke.
  • Breathe whenever necessary, but keep up your overkicking.


Maintain the kick rhythm, body position and hand action of the previous drills while swimming almost-freestyle.

 Implementing into your training

You can substitute any of these drills anytime your workout plan says kicking, as part of your warmup, or whenever it is your choice of drill.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Hydration Basics

I have recently put together a training plan for my nieces who are getting ready for a half marathon run in March, one is a newlywed and her husband has also joined in. What follows here is the answer to some hydration questions that come up. This is a bit different than the discussions I usually have that get deep into technical details.

I hope some other new athletes find this informative, I'll try to make it simple.

Should we be drinking during workouts?

This week was the first long run on the schedule, called for 6.3 miles. So the run was from 50 minutes to a little over an hour. And the first one where water might have been useful. Personally, I have water with me on anything over 20 minutes or so. Do I NEED water for 30 minute runs or rides? probably not, but it's just a habit, and if I get thirsty I have something to drink. In general I say that for workouts over 30 minutes, it would be handy to have some water available. Not that you'll necessarily need it, but if you get thirsty you'll have it.

How much should we be drinking during our runs?

Easy answer, for new athletes who are doing workouts and a run that will take less than 2.25 hours, you should drink enough that you lose between 0 and 2% of your body weight.


Well yeah, that's the answer but figuring that out takes a little doing.

How much water do you sweat out?

So the idea is you want to replace much but not all of the water you lose. But how do you figure out how much water you sweat out during a workout?

The training plan I wrote for them already has some long workouts in which the runners weigh themselves with no clothes on before and after the run to see how much weight they lost. For a run in the neighborhood of 1 - 2 hours, you can assume that all the water lost is from sweat. So you simply weigh yourself before the run and after with no clothes on. No clothes because your clothes can actually hold a fair bit of sweat in them. You see what the difference is and you can get an idea if you drank too much, too little, or pretty much right. There's no harm in starting these types of runs immediately.

So if our imaginary niece went out and did her long run starting at 125 pounds and finished at 120 pounds, she netted 5 pounds of water loss. Remember that we want to keep it to 2% of weight loss in the workout. 2% of 125 is 2.5 pounds. She should have kept we weight loss to less than 2.5 pounds. In losing 5 pounds she lost 2.5 pounds too much. 

So next time she runs, assuming the same temperatures, she would need to drink 2.5 more pounds of water than she did today. Remember that's 2.5 MORE pounds, meaning that when you do this during your next run - you need to know how much you drank during the run. It won't help you to know that next time you need drink 2.5 more pounds unless you know how much you drank today.

Luckily for us there's another salient point to know.

1 pint of fluid is roughly 1 pound. So our niece needs to drink 2.5 more points of liquid next time.

Does this change with conditions?

Notice that I said assuming the same temperatures. Different temperatures change the liquid required drastically. A run in 80 degree temperatures will require much more liquid replacement than a run in 45 degree temperatures. Just because you went out last week and found that sweated out 32 ounces per hour - it doesn't mean that it will be the same at the next run if it is much hotter or cooler.

But more importantly, you'll actually be training yourself to have a sense of how much water you need. You'll be getting better at reading your body's cues to how much water you need to get by. So after you have done 4 or 5 of these runs checking your sweat loss, you'll start to have a pretty good sense of how much water you need as you run and be able to read your body's signals.

Can't I just trust my body?

Largely yes, after you have been doing long runs for a while you will probably get a sense of how much water you need. BUT, if you are brand new to endurance training, you might not yet recognize what it feels like when you are a little dehydrated. You might be accustomed to being thirsty in every run and not realize how much of a performance improvement you will get by staying more hydrated during the run. This process of weighing yourself before and after will help educate yourself more quickly and refine your innate sense.

And one other wrinkle. Experiments have shown that athletes naturally drink enough to maximize performance IF THEY HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO SO. Put a person on a treadmill in a hot environment and have a graduate assistant constantly refilling their water bottles and they will probably drink the proper amount. But who runs with a graduate assistant next to them?

So you have to carry some water with you to give yourself the opportunity to drink. Seems simple in retrospect, but if you take off on a run without enough water to maximize performance - you obviously won't drink enough! 

Does this ever not work?

Actually if your workouts are getting closer to 4 hours than 2 hours then more weight loss is acceptable, it has to do with water being liberated into the bloodstream as you burn your carbohydrate reserves. And a few other things, but as I said these are new half marathon runners so the rules of thumb above will apply.

Is there a way to know if I was dehydrated on a run as compared to anything else?

Actually yes, if you are out there struggling on a run and wondering what is going wrong AND you have a heart rate monitor on. If you are out struggling to hold your normal 8 minute pace and your heart rate is much higher than normal, the first thing you should be suspecting is dehydration. Though if it is much hotter today than your last run it could be simply heat - though heat and dehydration often go together.

On the other hand if you are struggling and your heart rate is much lower than normal then a lack of energy reserves would be your first guess. And that's a discussion for another day.

What do you use to carry water?

There are any number of things to use. I like the ones that strap to your waist. If you search amazon for "2 bottle lumbar pack" you will see several examples starting at about $20. I am writing this in January, so your local discount store like Walmart or Target might have something in stock - they have more exercise stuff around the new year.

Though, I have done many runs with a normal water bottle from the store shoved into the back of the waist band of my shorts, it stays in there pretty well.

I hope this answers some basic hydration questions.

Monday, June 15, 2015

An Ironman Story

This is a fictionalized account, some of these things have happened to me and others were in stories I heard from others. I think something very similar plays out for a few dozen people at every Iron distance race. I wrote it in 2009 for a post on a triathlon forum. I still like it, hopefully you do too.

He hits the button on his watch and the face glows bright bluish green, allowing him to see that it’s 9:23 PM, just about his normal bed time.  It’s late summer and the kids just started school.  It’s been a long day, a 2.4 mile swim that included lots of jellyfish; a hot long 112 mile bike ride that took close to 7 hours, and now he’s been out here on the run course for close to 6 hours already, and there’s still a long way to go.
The reason why varies, sometimes it’s a training plan that is simply not enough or sometimes flat out misguided. The two young children at home certainly don’t make it easy to get in the required training hours. Throw in the two months away from training due to the bike accident and prospects for a fast time were not all that high in the first place. Certainly the mechanical problem and the injury that developed during the race made it harder. Whatever the reason, today is definitely not his day. He’s been at this for 14 hours now, and if he is honest with himself he has at best an hour and a half to go, more likely two hours. There was an article once that said people still on the course of Ironman after 9 PM are playing high stakes with a bad hand, all the cards are dealt and the Aces are gone.

It was probably around mile 50 of the bike that he started questioning what he was doing out here, “Why am I doing this?” and “Can I even make it?” It was at mile 80 of the bike that he first decided to quit. “Next aid station, I am out of this, they can call the sag wagon and take me home.”
But when considering it, the sag wagon might take an hour and a half to get to him out on the course, that's a long time to wait so he figured he might as well ride the bike in and then stop.

And why IS he doing this? there’s nothing to prove. This is Ironman number five for him. None of them particularly spectacular, there was that Lake Placid finish in the low 12 hour range. But other than that they have been 13 to 14.5 hours. At this point he is looking at a mid 15 hour finish, absolutely no one will be impressed that he trudges through another finish.  
So that’s it, at the next run aid station, he is packing it in. He has thought it about a dozen times before during the day, but this time it's for real, done. They can radio the race staff to come pick him up at mile 18 of the run, he’s had enough.

Even though the bike had not gone particularly well, to say the least, when he got to the transition area and went into the changing tent, he felt better, people always do after they are off the bike for a bit. The bike had included some gastric issues, neck pain, a flat tire, and even a broken seatpost binder bolt that meant he rode that last 8 miles standing up on his pedals, unable to sit down. At least you can’t get a flat on the run, so he decided to give the run a try.
While he was never going to smoke the run, it started OK; he ran the first three miles and felt pretty good, his pace was solid and he started to think he might still manage a decent time.  Then things got a little tougher. He started walking a minute every mile. It quickly grew to two minutes, then three.  Now, at mile 18 he’s been walking for the past six minutes according to his watch and is pretty well done with running. His feet are shot, thighs are totally blown apart, there are blisters on his feet and as for his knees – well imagine sandpaper rubbing against sandpaper. Every step is deep grinding pain.

Even so, it was feeling like he was going to faint that made him first seriously think about stopping. It’s dark out here, running through farm fields mostly. If a person were to pass out on the course and fall into the ditch, who knows how long it might be until someone found him. The only lights are at the aid stations a mile apart. You never really realize how far a mile is until you are all alone, in the dark, on foot and heading toward portable klieg lights that seem impossibly far off. To make it worse, he'll have to run to eight more sets of lights if he wants to finish this thing, yep going to walk to the next aid station and then that is it.
It’s not like anyone cares. If he thought that anyone cared about his triathlons, or would be impressed or would change their opinion of him, he was disabused of that notion long ago. The people that were his friends liked him whether he did it or not. To the people who disliked him, doing the race is all the more confirmation of how stupid, self absorbed, or crazy he is.

Meanwhile, half a continent away, there’s a 67 year old lady hitting refresh on the results page of the race he is in. She’s not exactly sure how long the race is or what all was involved.  Just getting to the right webpage and learning what “reloading” a webpage means took a thirty minute lesson. But these are the things a mom does; she knows this is important to her son so she’s checking to see when he will finish.
At the finish line there’s a tired four year old boy who keeps asking when daddy will be back, his current frequency of asking is about every 3 minutes. Chasing fireflies was fun for a bit but even the fireflies are sleeping now. There’s also a nine year old girl sleeping in a Hannah Montana sleeping bag who brought pom poms for dad but just couldn’t hang in there until he came back around. There’s also a wife there, she was up at 4 AM when he left the hotel room. Fed the kids, got them to the swim start, back to the hotel for breakfast and some time in the hotel pool. Convinced them to take a nap (one of them slept) and has now been here for four hours waiting. She saw him as he started the last loop, he didn’t look good. and it’s been a while.
She’s standing on the curb near the kids, peering in to the darkness hoping that the next glow-in-the-dark necklace she sees come bobbing out of the night is around her husband’s neck.
A few people DO care, these folks care, the 67 year old lady, the kids, the wife; they don’t care what the time on the clock is, just that he’s OK and happy and safe.

He’s got about a half mile to the aid station, and it the darkness is complete.  Darkness gives time and mental space to consider how an Ironman run strips a person down. Every pretense, every psychological self-defense mechanism, every artifice you construct around yourself to get through life is stripped away. The machismo, the smartass jokes, the big smile, they all drain away at the same time as your blood sugar. What you are left with is your true inner soul. It’s a sports cliché to say that you dig deep and find strength. Some do find strength, but certainly not everyone; others look deep inside and see fear, pain, weakness, or despair. Sometimes they see those things and keep going, sometimes they stop.

Just another half mile and that will be it for him, he'll walk to the aid station and then pack it in.
But then he thinks about the 67 year old half a country away, the kids in the parking lot at the finish and the lady standing on the curb. He dips his head a bit, leans his body forward, and gingerly
Starts to Run.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Half Iron Fueling Example and Logistics, how you actually do it in real life

I started this in A race season when I was fielding questions on how to actually accomplish carrying your nutrition and hydration during a race and in training. So, the athlete knows how many calories they want to get in, but how do you actually make it happen.

It's an interesting question, the solution sits at the confluence of metabolic needs, effort during the race, aerodynamics and comfort. This is what seems to work well for me and the athletes I work with.

What follows is largely based off of an email I sent to one of my athletes a few weeks before the big race.

The first thing to consider is how many calories should be used during the race. There are a few different ways to figure it, for the bike we use 1.75 calories per pound of body weight per hour. This is actually a little light and when I look at race reports from pros and top amateurs who say what they took in, it is usually a little higher than 1.75 cals / lb / hour. On the other hand, new athletes who maybe haven't cracked the nut of a high quality run at half iron or maybe haven't done it before usually balk when I first say they need to take in that much, claiming it to be too high. But to set yourself up for a good run, this seems to work well. For the people I coach this is where we start with our race simulations, if an athlete can uses this fueling plan for a race simulation brick and executes a good run then it might be prudent to consider lower calories. In my experience that has never happened, if any changes are made it is to a higher calorie intake.

So 1.75 cals/lb/hour.
(See note 1 below for information on contrary thoughts)

How to get your calories in.

Firstly, you want to split your hydration and calories to the degree you can. This means in practical terms you want to have a water source, an overconcentrated calorie source and maybe a supplemental drink.

Here's how I recommend it.

1. Aero bottle
2. Bare frame (aerodynamics, worth a minute or so for half iron)
3. Behind the seat water bottle holder, setup lower than the saddle or as low as possible. (worth real time savings over frame bottles.

125 pound cyclist * 3 hours * 1.75 calories per pound per hour = 650 calories
A 24 ounce bottle of gatorade has 150 calories in it, so you need an extra 500 calories in it. You can easily get 500 calories of maltodextrin into a 24 ounce gatorade squirt bottle.

Mixing the Maltodextrin
Empty half of the gatorade bottle, put the maltodextrin in it, cover and shake the ever living snot out of it. Then fill it back up with gatorade, you'll only have a little gatorade left over.

We pretty much know how many calories you need but hydration needs vary widely with temperature. Drinking when thirsty works BUT, you need to have water available. If there is any question of whether you will run out, you will subconsciously not drink as much. Also, if it is a pain to get to your drink, you won't drink it, so you need a hydration source accessible. Since you are using a concentrated calorie source, straight water is the best choice for hydration. You use the straight water to chase the calorie source. A very concentrated calorie source in your stomach is trouble, so you chase with water to help make the molecular concentration of the solution in your stomach pretty close to that in your blood.

The other thing to have would be sports drink, whatever is on the course of your a race so you can practice with it. What I recommend is having one bottle of straight water and one of sports drink. The calories go in on a schedule ad are chased with straight water. At any other time during the race if you are thirsty, then use the water or sports drink as you feel the need for it. Sometimes you will want just water and other times the sports drink.

So what goes where:
You need three bottles
1. Sport drink goes in the aero bottle. This is your default drink when thirsty, has some electrolytes and some calories in it.
2. A high concentration calorie source, for half iron this usually can go in a single 24 ounce bike bottle carried on a behind the seat bottle carrier.
3. One bottle of straight water, also on the behind the seat bottle holder.

How to do it:
Your calorie source should last the entire ride, so you schedule it. Every 15 minutes you take a small swig of your drink. In 18 miles you should have drank 1/3rd of the bottle, after 36 miles 2/3rds and so on. Every sip of the calorie source you chase with a drink of straight water.

In between, when you are just thirsty, take a drink of whatever you are thirsty for. If thirsty for the gatorade, then drink that, thirsty for the straight water, then drink that. When your water or sports drink bottles run out during the race, you replace from the course.

And what about training:
On long training days, you leave the water bottle cages on your frame and use your jersey pockets. Each of your three jersey pockets can hold one of the 20 ounce cycling bottles, that should get you though the day.That helps it go down.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Associating and Dissociating in Endurance Events

In my experience coaching, there are a few different mental skills I have found immensely helpful. The ability to associate or dissociate at will when in long races is one of those things that I and my athletes rely on frequently. Typically, in shorter races or early on in a race we use the associating skills to zone in on an aspect of technique and stay on track. However, for long workouts and races pain or discomfort gets so intense that all you can think of is how much it hurts or how uncomfortable you are, That is the time to deploy dissociating as a skill to get past the pain. It seems that in that circumstance, dissociating is a better technique in order to stop thinking about how much things hurt. The dissociating usually comes up in races that last 4 hours or over, though it might work for you in other situations as well.

Association and Dissociation are definitions of different attentional states. In 2004, Baghurt had this to say about Association and Dissociation.

"Association is a cognitive strategy in which the individual attends to the body’s internal related cues such as muscle tension and breathing and/or external performance information such as distance completed, stroke rate and race position. This strategy allows individuals to alter their movement pattern according to body awareness, racing strategy, and muscular tension. Dissociation, on the other hand, is a cognitive strategy in which the performer focuses on external cues, such as daydreaming, admiring the view, and problem solving; thereby restricting the influence of sensory information from the body."

Early research into these styles seemed to show that associating led to better performances but later research has shown a more complex relationship. Further research showed that an athlete's predilection affects which strategy seems to work the best. That is to say someone with a natural external focus will do better following an external dissociating focus; so it is good to know what one's natural type of attention is. 

Also, research has shown that in endurance events, people switch from one strategy to another throughout the race. More specifically, successful athletes tend to switch from associating at the beginning of the race to more dissociating at the end of the race. In the beginning, the association strategy allows the athlete to keep track of effort, heart rate, hydration and other cues necessary to make sure that he doesn't later run out of fuel or otherwise overdo it. Toward the end of the race, dissociating can help distract the athlete from the pain and fatigue that may be intruding during the race. (Burton, 2008)

Switching strategies is something that needs to be practiced if you want to control how you deploy it on race day.

How to do It

In practice, I almost always recommend this to be done as ascending intervals and or descending intervals. Where the length of each repeat gets longer until a peak and then drops back down. Much like speed or physical techniques, practicing these mental techniques in bite-sized chunks helps in the beginning. Since many of us are relatively unpracticed at this sort of thing, we start with very short intervals and build up the distance. 

Associating Practice

To practice associating, pick a single, simple aspect of your technique and focus totally on that one thing. In most cases, I pick one side as well. One arm or one leg for example. If your technique focus is too broad, it is much more easy to get distracted from what you are working on.

If you get distracted, bring your attention back to the original focus you were working on. As you practice more and more you will find it easier to keep your focus and what some people call your monkey mind (it jumps all around) will calm down.

Example focuses:

Swimming - focus on the hand entry of a single hand. At the very simplest level, a swimmer can work on having their fingers and thumb together at entry rather than spread open, it's very simple but can keep one's focus. Or, I teach hand entries when swimming to be angled down and forward and ends at a point below your shoulder after extending. There should be no swoops on your entry, it should be straight, down and forward. But you can use whatever particular focus point works for you best. 

Biking - Focus on keeping your head looking downward at an angle, with your back and neck as straight as possible in the aerobar position. Looking forward out of the top of your eyes. Focusing on this early will help avoid neck pain later on.

Running - Focus on a short contact time when running. Land lightly with your foot underneath you and allow the elastic recoil of your muscles to work for you.

Dissociating Practice

It doesn't seem so, but this is an important skill as well. It isn't just a matter of letting your mind drift, it is a matter of intentionally excluding internal information. The situation where this might be appropriate is the 2nd half of a long bike ride when your neck is very sore and you do not want to get into your aerobars because of it. But you need to be in your aerobars to go faster. So use your dissociating skill to listen to something besides your neck telling you to sit up. 

In a long swim, soreness in a person's upper shoulder muscles can prove to be intense and slowly build up, deploying your dissociating skills to stop concentrating on the pain can help you push through.

To practice this, you need to find something that can wholly absorb your focus, away from what your body is telling you. Sometimes this is the scenery at the race although in my own experience, scenery is rarely engaging enough to dissociate me from internal body cues. But it may be different for you. By far the most common is a song. The MAJOR thing I will let you know is that you will want to have a song you know from front to back. Not one that you know two lines from, the two lines probably won't work for you, or might drive you crazy! So it is worth planning ahead, figure out in the days leading to the race what you will sing, maybe even listen to those songs on the way to the race.

Sample Intervals

Swimming - 100 / 200 / 300 / 200 / 100 (:20) - Concentrate on your entry for each repeat of the ascending part. Start with your breathing side hand. That is the easier side to work on, then move on to your non-breathing side. Another one you can try is to not hesitate at the end of your stroke, while you don't need to speed up, make sure there is no lag between the end of your pull and the start of your recovery. These are both small and simple enough to concentrate on while swimming, although you are encouraged to get your own focuses.

On the descending distance intervals, practice your dissociating with a song you plan to use on race day.

Biking - 1:00 / 2:00 / 3:00 / 2:00 / 1:00 with 1:00 of relaxation in between. Focus on staying in your aerobars with a straight back and relaxed neck for the ascending intervals. Do the descending parts as above.

Running - 1:00 / 2:00 / 3:00 / 2:00 / 1:00 with 1:00 of relaxation in between. Focus on short foot contact time when running. Do the descending parts as above.


As a coach and an athlete I practice these techniques as part of the training plan. These sets are put into the workouts just like a threshold set might be put in. I don't have any controlled trials, can only give the reader reports from athletes that have found the ability to change attention strategies very helpful. We have used it in 50k runs, ultra distance swims from 4.4 miles to 27 miles, and a couple of dozen triathlons of half iron or longer. I think you will find that with this practice, mentally you can get through long events in a much better place mentally able to keep up a strong effort for the entire race. 


Baghurt, T., Thierry, G., Holder, T., (2004). Evidence for a Relationship Between Attentional Styles and Effective Cognitive Strategies During Performance. Athletic Insight, 6, 1, 36 - 50
Burton, T., Raedecke, T., (2008). Sport Psychology for Coaches. (164)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Kingdom Swim 2013

Kingdom Swim 10 Miler 2013 

M route around the lake, up the left side, down the right side.
Race reports are an interesting thing. I think they started as a report on the race for other people considering the race, but now they have morphed and seem to serve a purpose that is part education, part vanity, and part remembrance for the athlete. The education part is not just the race itself, but particularly in long races, how did you actually get it done, how did you pace yourself, what did you use for calories, did that saltstick thingy everyone talks about work? The vanity is obvious, "Hey everyone look what I did." The remembrance is similar to the education, you can look back and say. "Oh yeah, THAT's what I did there."

This was my 5th time doing the Kingdom Swim Ten Miler in Newport, VT. I have done it every year they have had it, and really enjoy it.

Anyone who goes to New England in the summer will tell you how beautiful it is and I am no different. This is a lovely race in a lovely little town and in a beautiful lake for the swim. I recommend it highly.

The race has distances from 100 and 400 yards for the kiddos to 6 miles and ten miles for adults. This year, the ten miler was slated to be the US Masters Swimming ten mile nationals. Due to some changes in sanctioning that nobody likes, that part didn't work out. The Kingdom Swim was the newly formed World Open Water Swim Association's ten mile world championship.

Newport is a lovely little town and the night before the swim was the Aquafest parade. The only swim I know of where the athletes walk in a parade the day before. We grouped up with our state flags, put on viking hats and off we went. It's a solid 7 block long parade, quite nice. Leading our group in the parade was Memphre, the legendary monster that lives in the lake. Though I didn't have them with me this year, in years past my kids have walked with me in the parade, it's a grand time. <My wife and kids were vacationing on the Delaware beaches while I was at this swim.

Immediately after the parade is the carbo dinner right on the water, a pretty good meal as far as carbo meals go. This is also where you meet your volunteer escort kayaker if you hadn't done so already. This race uses escort kayakers for the 3, 6, and 10 mile versions of the race. My kayaker this year was Pam, a veteran kayaker who paddles the lake often. We discussed feeding strategy and staying on course in the wind and we were set. I went back to the hotel to mix my nutrition for the following day.

All my Supplies
I use a similar solution for open water swims as I do for triathlon. Maltodextrin mixed into full strength gatorade with a separate bottle of water. The way this is done is that the two bottles are tied to a rope of 20 feet or so. That way the kayaker can hand or throw me the bottle and then just pull it back in when I am done. My calorie intake is 1.3 cals / lb / hour in the first 3 hours and then 2.0 for the rest of the way. It comes out this way because in the first three hours I feed every 30 minutes and every 20 thereafter. This solution has worked relatively well for me. I have used half strength gatorade in the past and seemed much thicker, maybe some of the additives in the gatorade make the maltodextrin thinner in solution - or maybe it is in my head. But I prefer the full strength. I take in 8 ounces per stop and the math all works out. Though I may consider going to a slightly higher concentration so that I need maybe 6 ounces of mix and then chase with water.

Having that done,I made some channel grease. Channel grease is a 50/50 mix of vaseline and lanolin. While it took me time to find, lanolin is available at your neighborhood pharmacy in 2 oz tubes with the breast feeding supplies. I showed it to my wife and she said "Oh yeah, I remember this stuff." There HAS to be a less expensive way to buy lanolin btw. But for the purposes it worked well, lasted much longer than the vaseline usually does.

Channel grease ready, calories ready, other things set up. Time for bed.

Got down to the race start in the morning and get everything packed up in the kayak with Pam, put in sunscreen, put on channel grease and ready to go.

I suppose this is as good of a time as any to mention that I am due for surgery this month on two herniated discs in my back. Yes, the excuse paragraph. Actually they don't bother me much in open water swims. Sitting, lying down, walking, pool swimming, running, cycling - almost anything else but open water swimming. So I put off surgery until after the swim so I could keep my streak of 5 straight times going. But since pool training hurts, naturally my mileage wasn't what it had been in the past. I also put on a fair chunk of pounds, but out here in the cool water, it shouldn't slow me down much.

When we set off for this race, I always intentionally start at the back; my biggest fear is going out too fast in these and crapping out. So I intentionally make myself wait. I made my way in slowly and started swimming. As another pacing device I usually swim the first mile breathing every third stroke. Similar idea, you can only swim so fast when breathing every third stroke. Actually I tried that for a bit and found that I couldn't, so i went to a 2/2/3 rhythm. Still holding back.

We headed west across the lake for the first mile and tried to find our kayakers. I didn't see mine at all until after the first turn buoy, it's hard for them to see us in the crowd of 75 swimming and pick out who is whom. After the turn I looked up and my kayaker Pam was right in front of me, looking the other way. I got her attention and we were off, her on my right so I could see her when I breathed.

In the race we proceeded North up the west side of the lake. Feeding every 30 minutes was fine. Though one change from previous years was that I didn't drink any extra water unless I felt I needed it. In past years I drank gatorade and watrer at every feeding, but that also meant I needed to pee at every feeding. I can pee while treading water just fine but can't go while swimming so it costs me about 90 seconds for every pee!

After the 2nd feeding I asked Pam to let me know if we were passing or being passed at feeds. Turns out I was passing people the rest of the day.
Headed out to the First Turn Buoy

Also around this time I started feeling some soreness in my chest and arms, muscular soreness basically just like I was pushing hard. The thing was, I wasn't pushing hard, so I was a little put off by that. but it was still early and told myself not to worry about it.

Made the turn across the lake and stayed with the 2/2/3 breathing rhythm. This is always a question for me, when to switch breathing rate, in 2012 I had cramped badly in about 8 miles so I was hesitant and played it conservative here.

I am on the far right and had just passed the two swimmers behind me
On the trip across the lake, I was watching two swimmers who were close together and it seemed like I took forever to get past them, but eventually I did pass them for good though it seems like it took a full mile to get past them.

As we hit the 2.5 hour feed, I was pretty much halfway through, at the far end of the lake. Here I also took some excedrin, the caffeine is helpful and so is the pain relief. I usually use non-aspirin version of excedrin but I had run short on time and i had the regular one. Aspirin is an NSAID and like the other NSAIDS can slow down your kidney function so I avoid those in races. Since this wasn't a terribly hot race I felt relatively safe in using it.

Made that turn and finally changed to 2-stroke breathing to the right, I figured I'd be picking off some swimmers, though I didn't actually really pick up the pace, I just let the somewhat higher turnover take care of that, once again didn't want the repeat of last year.

At 3 hours I ate my kit kat, a little delicious bonus calorie source. Man that was delicious and hit the spot. Very soon thereafter we went past an island and now the full waves from the west side of the lake were hitting us from the right. So I switched to breathing left. Interestingly enough, while my speeds are pretty close on either side, when breathing right I have a little smoother faster turnover and breathing left I have a longer, slower turnover stroke.

At that point in the race, I think it is a 2.5 or 3 mile straight stretch, no turns no nothing just straight heading for a turn buoy you can't even see. You can see it on the map as the long stretch down the east side of the lake. A mind breaking part of the race. People who don't do endurance races will ask, "what do you think about?" I happen to remember that at this point, I was counting strokes. I would breathe normally for 120 strokes and then look up to see if I was catching anyone. Thankfully, I usually was.

Right in this part of the swim I had my second bout of food wanting to come up. I think the first was at 2 miles or so. This was simply an exertion thing, right after the feeding I needed to keep form getting ahead of myself and it would be OK. This is kinda similar to half iron bike nutrition where for me it always seems I am on the edge of my stomach getting backed up.

So I held my pace solid but no heroic through that section. Also on my mind at the time was last year's episode of hamstring cramps that I thought would take me out of the race. My hamstring had cramped up and when I bent forward to try and stretch it out, both quads cramped. Think about how you would go about stretching your hamstring out in the middle of the water with nothing to grab onto, it's pretty difficult. So last year I couldn't stretch the cramps at all and just had to suck it up and wait them out.

Not wanting to repeat that, as I said, I held my pace. Kept breathing left. Somewhere in here I also went to feeding every 20 minutes, 21 minutes actually. Also in here my kayaker Pam was having some difficulty keeping her line. While the swimmer is deaf and blind, the kayaker does get blown by the wind while the swimmer doesn't. So while it is happening I wonder if I am losing my direction or the kayak is. Most of the time it is just me, but in the case of a side wind, it can be both of us. The only difference in swimming was that rather than being 10 feet or so from the kayak, I was 10 or 15 yards away and it got further with every breath.

FINALLY, I made the left turn for home. From there I think it is a solid mile. By my reckoning I was 100 yards behind the nearest kayaks at that point. I went back to breathing right, so my rhythm improved, my feedings had been good and I was smelling the barn so I laid the hammer down, that was good. But as these things tend to go, that last mile was the longest mile in the race. My effort was redlining the whole way, on the rivet as it were, and blowing by people lef and right. Some of them were actually from the 6 mile swim, so I SHOULD have been blowing by them, but a good number were ten milers and I improved several places in the last mile.

All except for the last one, as I made it to the last buoy, which I think is 75 or so yards offshore, I could see another guy had just turned the corner. I figured I had him. Turned and of course I was still hammering away. I thought I saw him breathe left, so I figured I'd pass him on the right and I'd be past him before he realized I was there. Well, maybe I was mistaken but for whatever reason he saw me and he turned it on as well, so after ten miles it was a sprint for the last 50 yards. As we got close to the end I figured, "I can get him on the run in if I don't cramp up!"

It's hard to look good with a hamstring cramp
As soon as I stood, I cramped up in my hamstring :-). So I missed another place by 8 seconds as I waddled across the line.

Final time 4:47

In the end I was happy, not my best showing there but not my worst and ten minutes faster than last year. I'll be back next year if it is within my power to do it. And I recommend this race or one of the shorter ones for anyone to do. Lovely race.

My results show I was the 14th male, same as last year and 2nd in my age group, 2 better than last year. So I am happy. Not sure how many men did it, but there were 75 total swimmers in the ten miler.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Training for the Heat, when it's not that hot outside

What follows is an article I sent to USA Triathlon for inclusion in the coaches newsletter this year. A such it is written as if the audience are coaches, but the themes and recommendations would be the same if you are coaching yourself.
To train for the heat when the local temperature is not as hot as the athletes’ key race will be, follow these points.
  1. Check historical temperature data to see what sort of temperatures can be expected at the relevant points of the day.
  2. Have athletes exercise at those same temps using indoor trainer with no fan, treadmill or outdoor workouts with excess clothing.
  3. Verify the skin temperature of the athlete with a non-contact infrared thermometer under their shirt. 
  4. Perform two heat acclimation workouts per week.

Training for the Heat, even if it isn't that hot outside

Specificity is the name of the game. And like everyone, you do everything you can to make the key workouts for your athletes specific to the big race. On those race simulation days, they eat the breakfast they will eat on race day, ride the bike they will ride on race day, practice nutrition just like they will on race day, drink just like they will on race day, pace like they will on race day, and maybe even wear what they will wear on race day; but what about temperature? Are they training in the same temperatures they will face on race day? If you think about it, temperature will affect most of what you are considering above. The race day temperature will affect what food goes down, the race day temperature will affect the hydration needed, temperature will affect the pace or effort that is sustainable for the race. So overlooking temperature in terms of specificity can lead to problems on race day. To be prepared for race day, temperature is something that needs to be looked into. There is also the issue of your day in and day out training. Even if it isn't a specific race simulation day; should EVERY weekday workout be done at temperatures lower than race day? Or perhaps some of those workouts should be done in heat conditions mirroring race day.

The Easy Way

If your race is local and is mid or the end of the summer, then the issue isn’t as big; have the athlete go out and train at the same time of day they will be racing. For most working men and women getting ready for longer races this means training in the later morning or perhaps mid day on the weekend depending on your race. For people with a more flexible schedule this can of course be done any day of the week. For an 8 Am start, at a half iron race the athletes can expect to be riding from 8:45 AM to somewhere close to noon and then running somewhere from noon until 2 PM, depending on the athlete of course.  We often get the word not to train in the heat of the day, yet if those are the conditions of the race, then the athlete needs to do SOME work in those temperatures. After all they will be doing it on race day. Training the same time of the day as the race works if the race is in a similar climate to where the athlete lives. If the race is in August in Washington DC, but the athlete lives and trains in northern Vermont; simply training later in the day might not be enough to get them ready. Or if the athlete is from the continental US and will be racing in Hawaii in October, same issue.

A similar and frequent issue is one of races in the spring or early summer, where even living in the right climate, the athlete might not have enough time to be exposed to race-like temperatures. Here in the Mid-Atlantic a race where this comes up is Eagleman in early June. Temperatures at the race can be expected to be above 90 for the run, not every time but there have been several times where temperatures have been that high. The issue here, for an early June race in the middle of the country is that while race day may be very hot; there probably were not many hot weekends before the race for the athlete to prepare themselves. April can be quite cool, early May can as well and by the end of May many athletes are hitting taper time. Since the vast majority of triathletes are age groupers, most likely working men and women; the weekend is really the only time to get out in the heat of the day. But if we suppose that race day may be 90 degrees for an early June race, how many weekends before that were at those same temps? Not very many, so the opportunities to train for race day heat the easy way (training at times similar to race day) are limited, the athlete needs to create their own heat training opportunities to help get ready.

The Somewhat Harder Way

Just because the race in a hotter area than the athlete’s home doesn't mean they can’t do well but there are some modification to be made. You can still do some relatively easy things to get ready.

How Hot?

The first question to be answered is how hot will the race be? Thanks to the internet this is relatively simple to figure out. I use the history data section of to find historical data for the race day to get an idea of what the athletes need to be prepared for. For example, I can see that in Cambridge, MD, two times in the past 5 years the temperature at 1 PM has been 95 degrees. Also, in Houston Texas once in the past 5 years the temperature at 3 PM (an estimated Ironman run time) the temperature was 93 degrees. The result being that athletes getting ready for Eagleman should be prepared  to run in 95 degree heat and if preparing for Ironman Texas they should be prepared to run in 93 degree heat (and lots of humidity in Houston).

You can do this same analysis for any race. Once you know the high side of what temperatures to expect then you need to try and replicate those situations in training. And remember that the athlete now doesn't have access to that type of heat either due to climate or season. Most coaches have seen the different guidelines for wearing “an extra layer of clothes” but personally I have never really found that approach specific enough for my taste. My own approach grew out of experience with an athlete. This particular athlete owns a Suunto T6 watch which records temperature. And one day in blinding flash of the obvious I realized that I had access to a database of what real temperatures the athlete experienced at a whole host of races here in the area. I already had access to what temperature readings were on race days past, and to better prepare we could use that same temperature reading to guide heat preparation. It all seems so obvious in hindsight. So that’s what we started doing. In training, the athlete wears the extra layer of clothes yes, but has the added advantage of being able to look at the watch and see if the microclimate he is experiencing under his long sleeve shirt (with the watch under the sleeve) is close to what is expected on race day. Initial results were good and so I looked to expand it. But, most athletes don’t use suunto t6 watches.

As of this writing, the garmin watches don’t have temperature readouts and I must admit to not being very well versed in the offerings from Polar but to my knowledge they don’t have temperature readings either. The solution to this is pretty inexpensive and easy to get, an infrared temperature sensor. There are a couple of options, the first is a small waterproof one available at Amazon that can easily be carried during a workout, it is made by a company called Kintrex and this link will take you to the listing.

You can also use the ones for construction that are available at your local Lowe's or Home Depot, just look for an Infrared Temperature Sensor and you will find them. We use one of these to measure the athlete’s skin temperature under their shirt during the workout to make sure that they are within a couple of degrees of the temps they will face on race day. The goal is to get the athlete’s skin temperature within a couple of degrees of the air temperatures they will deal with on race day. One of the major ways a person loses heat is transfer of heat from their body to the air around them, convection. Since this is the case, a person’s skin temperature will approach and possibly exceed the air temperature when exercising. So on race day if the air is 90 degrees, their skin temperatures are more than likely going to be close to that. That is the rationale for using skin temperature and shooting for the race day air temperature as your target. So now, instead of saying, “Wear an extra layer” you as the coach can give the instruction, “Wear an extra layer and check 40 minutes into the workout that you are close to predicted race day temperature of 90 degrees.”

How to get those temps when it is cool out

Overdressing is the most obvious way and shouldn't need a lot of explanation. The one thing to note is that for some fabrics, once they are wet, and in these cases they may become soaked through, for some fabrics the insulating properties change drastically when wet.  So 20 minutes into it, the athlete may be exposed to target level temperatures, but 20 minutes later when their shirts are soaked their skin temperature may drop again. The best tool though for getting the athlete’s temperatures up is probably already in their basement or garage, the trainer. Once at a triathlon club meeting, our guest speaker was the legend Ken Glah; he was telling us about racing in other countries and the issue of training for the heat for races in South America in January and April came up. His comment at the time pointed out that if you are on your trainer for long rides in Maryland in November without a fan, you are already doing heat training. The experience of my athletes far and wide is very similar. Riding indoors with no fan and a shirt on can quickly get skin temperatures up into the high 80s and with some diligence into the low 90s. A treadmill is also good although fewer people own their own and the athlete is dependent on the situation at the local health club for temperatures and so forth. But even so, a treadmill run over 30 minutes with a long sleeve shirt can get skin temperatures where they need to be for the examples given.

How Long?

In terms of how long before the race, the sooner the better really, once the specific preparation for a given race starts, then heat acclimation should be part of the program. Common heat acclimation protocols previously studied use daily exposure to high heat that lasts from 4 to 13 days and recommendations for maintaining the acclimation is for one day of heat exposure for every two to five days without it (Garett et al, 2011). However, we don’t live in a lab environment and so setting aside 7 solid days for heat acclimation training may be a lot to ask. Our implementation is to do two days per week of workouts dedicated to heat acclimation. Usually that would be one mid-week workout and one of the longer weekend race simulation type workouts. That said, short term heat acclimation has been shown to have profound effects on performance in the heat. In their review from 2011, Garrett et al showed five separate studies with work capacity improvements from 1.5 to 13% with heat acclimation of no more than 7 days. All of these protocols used every day exposures.  So, it’s not necessarily too late if the race is coming up soon.
And how long does a workout need to be? The most recent study on 20 cyclists showing improved performance in hot and cool environments used 90 minute exercise bouts in the heat (Lorenzo et al, 2010). Also, the US Army Ranger and Airborne School Students Heat Acclimatization Guide (USA CHPPM, 2003) recommends a maximum of 100 minutes.  This maximum would be appropriate for mid-week or perhaps some weekend workouts. However, for specific race simulations, depending on the race, this might be inappropriate.


There's one big thing hanging out there still though. The references I cited earlier max out at about 1:40 of training as the top end to beneficial sessions. But I am saying that some of your weekend workouts should be done mimicking race temperatures. Does he really need to do for example a 4-hour ride keeping your skin temps at 92 degrees? Yes. If your athlete is preparing for long or ultra distance racing you need to figure out what sort of execution plan will work for her in 92 degree temperatures. For example, you need to know if your athlete can ride for 56 miles at 210 watts and still get in his 1.75 calories per pound of body weight per hour. You also need to know what sort of range of liquids he might need to take in as well. Yes, you might already have an estimate of those things, but if your estimate came from workouts in 75 degree weather, it will all change. The sustainable power will be different, sustainable heart rate will be different, the amount and types of food will be different as well. That's why you need to practice the long workouts in the heat. Not EVERY time, but some of them. every coach is familiar with the idea of a nutrition or pacing strategy that works for 1 hour or 2 hours or even 5 hours but then falls apart. So for that reason, the time of a heat acclimation session that is also a race simulation should be set with an eye on the length of the race most of all.


Preparing for the heat of an upcoming race is simply another wrinkle to the specificity principle. Overlooking this aspect of training can lead an athlete to be under-prepared and in particular can lead to that athlete’s execution plan to be off base in terms of food, hydration, and pacing – leading to sub optimal results. The usual way to acclimate to hot race conditions is to train in the heat of the day however due to climate differences or early season races, coaches may need to work with athletes to establish other ways to train for the heat. Recommendations for doing so are these:
  1. Determine the likely heat exposure on race day using historical weather data.
  2. Have athletes track skin temperature during key workout.
  3. For heat acclimation, have the athletes’ skin temperature reach the predicted race day temperature.
  4. Perform two heat acclimation workouts per week, possibly including the race simulation workouts.
  5. Max time for normal workouts should be approximately 90 minutes, race simulation workout length should be based on the length of the key race.
I am confident that if you incorporate these strategies into your athletes’ training their experiences in hot race days will improve as has been the case with my own athletes.


Garrett, A T,  Rehrer N J,  Patterson, M J. Induction and Decay of Short-Term Heat Acclimation in Moderately and Highly Trained Athletes. Sports Med. 2011; 41 (9): 757-771

Lorenzo S, Halliwill JR, Sawka MN, Minson CT. Heat Acclimation Improves Exercise Performance. J Appl Physiol. 2010 Oct;109(4):1140-7.

US Army Ranger and Airborne School Students Heat Acclimatization Guide. USA CHPPM. 2003