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