Two Disciplines, One Race

I started swimming competitively when I was 6 years old. My best friend at the time was joining the swim team at our local pool and asked if I would join with her. And since little kids are so courteous and respectful of our parents (HA) my friend asked this question in front of my mom, which, I learned later, was a great way to get your parents to say yes to things they normally would balk at. Not that my mom wouldn’t want me to swim, but this tactic came in handy pretty much any time I wanted a friend to come over and knew my mom would say no. Instead of being polite and asking my mom in private, I would beg and plead with my friend at my side, creating that oh so wonderful guilt in the bottom of her heart that would always result in an impromptu play date. But anyway, the point here. I started swimming when I was 6 and I never picked up another sport or joined another type of team from then forward. Because of this, working out was always one thing: swimming.

Fast forward to my Aquathlon training and all of the sudden the race I’m training for is made up of two things, not just the one I’m used to. Nothing crazy, considering triathlons and decathlons are made up of three-ten things, two should be a piece of cake. But training for a race with two different disciplines? That’s something I’m still getting used to.

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When I started this training it was a lot more than what I had been doing for my typical workouts. Now, believe me when I say I like to workout since I grew up with crazy amounts of physical activity being normal, but this training seemed to be taking up a lot more time than I thought it would. Talking to a bunch of our triathlete clients, they told me they tend to break up their workouts throughout the day so they’re not taking 2-3 hours at a time to get their training in. So? I started to do the same. But what I didn’t realize was that this could actually be detrimental to me come race day.

So this past Friday I switched things up. Instead of doing my planned 45 minute treadmill run and 800M on the SwimErg, I combined them. My workout consisted of:

  • 10 minutes running (at a moderate pace & with an incline)

  • 5 minutes slow and steady on the SwimErg

  • 10 minutes running

  • 5 minutes on the SwimErg

  • 10 minutes running

  • 5 minutes on the SwimErg

The planned pace on the treadmill was supposed to be around a 9-9:10/mile, but my legs were DEAD when I started, so my pace hovered between a 9:30-9:50/mile for my runs. Not what I wanted, but better than not running at all. That being said, this workout was KILLER. Combining the run with the swim without any breaks in between is something I’ve never done before. And even though I didn’t do either of them fast and furious, I kept my heart rate up for the entire 45 minute workout, the only relief being when I jumped off the treadmill and hopped onto the SwimErg.

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I’m not trying to say that breaking up your workouts throughout the day is bad, and I’m still going to do that some days of the week. But since the races I’m used to have never lasted more than two and a half minutes of all out effort, I need to get used to keeping my heart rate up, throughout multiples disciplines, for over 45 minutes. For most of our triathlon clients this is just a blink of an eye, but to me this is over twenty times my standard race length. So I need to buckle down and work on making this my new normal.

Yikes, over twenty times? Typing that out makes it even more exciting…

Drills Have a Purpose, Trust me

During my swim practices back in high school there was nothing I hated seeing on the board more than a giant set full of freestyle drills. Well, except maybe an entire workout made up of butterfly sets, those were the worst. 3000-5000 yards of 80% butterfly? No thank you. And yes, this happened, unfortunately there’s no exaggeration here. Those dreaded drill sets just bored me to tears. If you’ve never been a teenage girl doing thousands of yards of slow, monotonous, freestyle drills at 4:15am before going to school and having to actually pay attention to things (and apparently “learn”), give yourself a pat on the back, because that was the actual worst. All of those drills would never get me to my goal times and make the champs meets.

Or would they?

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One thing that has finally gotten through this thick skull of mine is that the very drills my coaches had me do over and over...and over again, had a purpose. AND that I actually needed to be paying attention whilst doing them, not just daydreaming and thinking about how excited I was for breakfast (my mom got up with me EVERY MORNING at 3:45am to make me a fried egg and cheese sandwich before practice, that woman is a saint) in order for them to have the desired impact. Huh, who knew?

All of the drills your coaches put into your practices have a point, and a purpose, and are there to help you build a proper foundation for your swimming. And that proper foundation? That’s what’s going to keep you injury free throughout the years. And the reasons you have to keep going back to them? So you can stay injury free. Swimming can be monotonous, even mind-numbingly boring at times, trust me, I’m aware (and don’t worry, I say that with love). But you have to focus on the technique of your stroke. You need to focus on the drills that help you perfect that technique. Doing so will help you be able to make improvements to your stroke faster and understand the purpose behind making the changes that lead to those improvements. And all of this will lead to a stronger, safer, and more efficient stroke.

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The next time you head to the pool and see a laundry list of freestyle drills, don’t start singing songs from your favorite Disney movie and trying to figure out the math on how many cookies you can eat after this workout. Focus on each drill, take your time, and try not to fall asleep in the water. The more you focus, the more you’ll want to practice these drills over and over. Because you know what happens when you focus? Progress.

PS the drill I’m working on in these pictures is Triangle Drill, which helps you focus on proper catch position and the movement of your shoulder blades. Check out our instructional video and try adding it to your next swim workout!

Training Through the Tears

Let’s take a minute to be extremely honest here. My training has ramped up recently, and yesterday I started crying in the middle of my swim workout. I’m exhausted, my legs seem to constantly hurt, not to mention my knees seem to be akin to that of a 90 year olds, and all I want to do is sit on my couch and eat bread. Maybe some bagels too, but mostly bread. I want to relax, stop working out so much, and lick my metaphorical wounds. So? I cried in my goggles while I was swimming. My stroke felt like garbage, my right arm seemed like it had completely forgotten what it was supposed to be doing, and the water felt like syrup against my attempts to get through it. Ugh.

But I pushed through, I stopped crying (although it went on for longer than it should have to be truthful), and I finished my workout. Not only that, but I didn’t skip my third workout of the day later that afternoon. And after that third workout? I put on my largest sweatpants, took out my contacts, and sat on my couch with a giant bowl of baked ziti and two donuts for dessert. And it was incredible. It was everything I wanted it to be.

What am I driving at here besides using my blog as a place to vent and daydream about meals past? That feeling this way, like signing up for this Aquathlon was the last thing I wish I had done, and letting myself be upset, is perfectly okay. In fact, it’s more than okay, it’s normal, and it’s part of the many ups and downs you’ll experience when training for any race or event on your calendar.

No, I don’t have tips to get through this, and I’m not going to tell you how to avoid it, because I don’t think you should. I think you should let it happen. Let yourself get upset, complain to anyone who will listen, and get your frustration, sadness, anger, whatever it is, out of your system. Feel your emotions, don’t push them down and try to ignore them, that will only make them worse and could hurt you mentally in the long run.

I’m going to keep it short and sweet. If you’re having a tough go of it with your training right now, that’s okay! Talk about your feelings, get upset for a bit, and then move on.

Why Bananas Don't Belong in the Pool

“Swimming is a sport of centimeters.” This is something my favorite swim coach likes to tell me over and over again, especially when I’m having trouble making a small adjustment to my stroke. This might seem like a depressing thing to focus on, but it’s really not. Think of the Olympics and the famous finish Michael Phelps had when he out-touched Milorad Cavic by only one one-hundredth of a second to win gold. One one-hundredth of a second. It takes ten times that long to blink to put things into perspective.

The small movements you work to correct over and over again, that sometimes make you want to pull your hair out in frustration, are the movements that will put you ahead that one one-hundredth of a second to beat out your competition. And in this case, the movement I want to talk about is keeping your ribs down and closed while you swim. What does that mean? The best way to understand it is to first think of the opposite, what you look like when you swim with your ribs open. Think of when you arch your back, and how it turns your torso into a "U" shape, or - and this one's my favorite - a banana in the water. Swimming like a banana through the water clearly would not be beneficial for your efficiency and power. This body position takes you out of streamline and, unlike a banana, causes your hips and legs to sink downward toward the bottom of the pool. Swimming with your hips and legs not at the surface of the water means you're causing unnecessary drag that you have to fight hard against to propel yourself forward through the water.

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The position you want needs to be driven from your ribs, and is, in actuality, a very small movement. When people tell you to arch your back most people create an extreme exaggeration, forming that “U” shape with their bodies. Here, you want a slight crunch inwards, driven from your ribs, which will result in a flat back. Think of it like the position you make when you exhale. When you blow your air out, your ribs go down and move inwards. Not the exact opposite of an arched back, you don’t want a hunchback either. You want to straighten our your back with this downward movement of your ribs in order to prevent swimming like a banana.

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What does this position do? It brings your hips and legs up to the surface of the water, AND helps to tilt your head into proper position at the same time. Try both of these movements standing up on land before trying them out in the pool. In the beginning, make them as exaggerated as you can. To make your banana, take in a really big breath and hold it. Now watch as your body turns into that “U” shape/banana. To feel the opposite, the position we’re looking for, exhale that really big breath and you’ll feel your body straighten back out, as well as the weight of your body falling back onto your heels. This will show you the extreme differences and help you find what we’re looking for in the water.

I know this probably sounds weird, but this minor change to your posture is one of the centimeters that’s going to help you get that much closer to your goal times. It’s going to improve your streamline, power, and efficiency by allowing you to move through the water with less effort and more smoothly than before. If you want to work on this more intensely make sure to take a look at our Foundational Breathing Method online course!

Maybe One Day I'll Like Running...

Oof, I’m beat. I really don’t know how you guys train for these super long races that take hours to complete, I really don’t. My aquathlon should, in theory, take me no longer than 45 minutes to complete, and my training is still taking over my life. Is this normal? I’m told it is, but still, yeesh. And this is coming from someone who spent her formidable years waking up at 3:45am to jump into an icy cold hole in the ground and swim back and forth in it for two hours, and THEN spend 7 hours at school. Trust me, I’m no stranger to working out, but for some reason this training is really taking it out of me.

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All of our SwimBox clients keep telling me to spread my workouts out throughout the day, but to be honest that sounds like the exact opposite of how I want to spend my time. I enjoy waking up early (sometimes too early, sorry Dominic), getting my workouts in and out of the way, then starting the rest of my day. I hate the feeling of having a training session loom over my head when it’s not the first thing I do when I get out of bed in the morning. If I have to workout after lunch, you better believe I’m going to be complaining about it. After dinner? Forget it, it’s not going to happen. Well, okay no, that’s not true. Back when our gym wasn’t flooded and out of commission (don’t get me started) it never bothered me to walk out of my door, take three steps and go to the gym. But when I have to drive somewhere, it somehow becomes the bane of my existence when the workout isn’t at o’dark thirty in the morning.

RUN WORKOUTS

Anyshways, my run workouts. Not a swimming specific post, I know, but what can you do about it. I’ve been trying my best to run at least 3-4 times a week, but more often than not lately it’s been three runs per week. The heat was my initial enemy, but lately it’s been the rain, and I’m sorry but I’m just not going to run in the rain if it’s more than a mist. Klutz is my middle name and I just know I’d slip on a leaf and break 578493 bones in the process. So, I stay inside. My long runs, which I try to do twice a week, are sitting pretty at about 40 minutes right now. Eventually I’d like to get up to 45 minutes, but for some reason these mentally kill me. It’s not that they’re incredibly taxing in a physical sense - probably on the upper-side of moderate pace - but the words “40 minute run” bury down into the depths of my brain and weasel around in there scaring the donuts out of me. I don’t know why, since my swim practices were always at a minimum 90 minutes long, but those came with built in breaks. I’m having to work very hard to keep my thoughts positive during these runs and not chicken out.

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The other runs I do every week are a mix of fartlek style and walk-sprint combos. The hardest workout I’ve had yet was a 40 minute swim workout (made up of the interval training I wrote about in my first aquathlon post) immediately followed by a 30 minute walk-sprint. The sprint was one minute and the walk was two minutes, repeated over again until the 30 minute mark. My legs were DEAD after that. Completely dead. Thankfully I was treated to a cinnamon roll the size of my head after this, but still, that was a tough one.

I know this post has been a bit complainy, I’m sorry about that, but I’m always going to be honest about these things. And since this has been hard on me, that’s what you’re going to get to read about. And hey, just think, no food jokes this time! Well okay, not no food jokes, but one per post is probably the least you’ll ever get from me.

Come back in a few weeks to read about the progression of my swim workouts and what I’m doing for strength training!