Jumat, 13 April 2012

Lesson 10: Four to the floor

So FINALLY i managed to get what Luis has been trying to tell me about the 4-beat kick all this time. Being a mathematician, I just couldn't understand how a 4-beat kick could make sense. If you have to coordinate the arms and the legs such that the pulling arm is on the same side as the kicking leg to facilitate rotation, then the only way to achieve a symmetrical 4-beat kick is to kick right-left-left-right, which doesn't make much sense. Luis showed me an incredible video of Sun Yang breaking the 1500m freestyle World Record, in which you can clearly see a 4-beat kick:

What is clear from the video is that it is NOT symmetrical. It is a combination of a half a cycle of a 6-beat kick on the side which he breathes to and half a cycle of a 2-beat ("Total Immersion style") kick to the other side. It means that there is a slight pause between each cycle of 4 kicks. It seems like it could be a good compromise for these kind of distances. According to a book I have on swimming, it says that studies show that taller swimmers tend to prefer a 2-beat kick as their longer legs would lead them to have too low a cadence if they were to employ a 6-beat kick, while more powerful swimmers with floatability issues tend to prefer a 6-beat kick in order to keep their legs up.

I think the point here is to have a kind of "toolbox" of different kicking patterns which you can reach into and use as appropriate depending on how tired you are or how fast you need to go to catch the feet of the guy in front. Even in a supposedly optimal performance like the one by Sun Yang in the video, you can see him seamlessly switching from one type of kick to another. He makes it look like second nature.

Senin, 09 April 2012

Change of plans

...and after
Thanks to the R souls who operate the AP-7 motorway, who decided allegedly at the last minute not to allow the ICAN Half Ironman to use their road this year, the bike route has had to be radically changed, as you can see above, from a relatively flat course to a very hilly one. This would be akin to changing a rowing regatta from taking place in a lake to the sea or moving a formula 1 race off-road. It may not seem like a big deal, but given that folks are willing to spend thousands on bikes that are specially set up to go on the flat (triathlon or time trial bikes) it would seem that it is for some. And that is not to mention the need to adapt your training to a more mountainous route and one that will take longer to complete.

Enough of my complaining. Hats off to those of you who are still competing. I just don't think I would enjoy it and I would feel silly riding my triathlon bike with a disc wheel up those hills. And, let's face it, my heart hasn't been in this competition since the beginning. I chose Marbella so my parents (who live in Malaga) would be able to come and watch and even they are not sure that they would be able to make it. Also, I think I have been following a strict structured training programme for too long. I'm fed up of having to do 99% of my training on my own, much of it indoors, and having to pass up the opportunities as they arise to go on a ride or a run with friends.

I was able to get my money back from ICAN and from the car hire (just) but ended up losing about 100 euros on the train. To be honest, I would have been happy for those 100 euros to have gone to ICAN, as I think they have been the losers in this story. Who knows? Perhaps there is more demand for hilly triathlons as most people have road bikes better suited for that kind of terrain. It's also a more Mediterranean style of cycling (although remember that drafting or riding in packs are still not allowed).

My first thought was to sign up for another Half Ironman: the agreement with my family had been to do one a year after all. I looked into the new 70.3 Ironman in Norway that looks great if not a bit remote. But then my wife reminded me that it wasn't the race itself that was the problem, just the training, and she wasn't happy about me spending another couple of months preparing. Then I got a brainwave: why not do the Lisbon International Triathlon again this year? That was nice and flat and around this time. In fact, I felt stupid for not having thought of doing it earlier. Then I found out that registrations had already closed. To be honest, it's a bit of a relief. I can't face doing any more 3-4 hour "brick" (bike-run) sessions.

So what now?

I've got the 10K race on the 22nd of April, that runs alongside the Madrid Marathon, and is my chance to qualify for the International San Silvestre. It's also the first race I will run in the 40+ age group. I'll focus these last two weeks on getting some speed in my legs. Although I have just come back from Asturias* and found that all the sea food, cider and wine has tipped me over 90 kilos... Then I'll have to see how I feel about things. I'm thinking of continuing to work on my swimming but to use running and cycling just to keep fit, at least until I start to prepare for another triathlon. I'll probably keep up some kind of weights programme as I do think this is important. Right now I'm not feeling the bug to compete, maybe I won't again, maybe I will... Whatever happens I want to keep on enjoying being fit.

* By the way, in some tiny village in Asturias a guy stopped his car and got out to ask me something... He said, "I saw you running the other day - who makes those shoes you were running in?"

Selasa, 03 April 2012


Guess where I am? Yep, waiting for my delayed flight home this time - hopefully it won't be as bad as last night's five hour delay... Got to the hotel at 4am so I'm feeling a bit worse for wear today.

This morning I received an email announcing the last minute unforeseen and unavoidable change to the bike circuit in the ICAN Marbella triathlon next week. If before it was slightly borderline as to whether a tri bike was the thing to pack now, at least, it's patently clear that a road bike wouldbe much better suited to the two 560m climbs which have been added to the route. Given that my only motivation for doing this event in the first place was to give my tri bike and wheels a spin, I am now feeling extremely lazy about going. In fact, the only reason I am still thinking about taking part is because I've spent 500 euros on train tickets for the whole family

After my meeting this morning (during which I had to put all triathlon related disappointment out of my mind) I went in search of a gym where I could change from Clark Kent into, well, TriMan. For 17.50 euros I got access to the changing rooms and gym but no towel; in the end I had to use a roll of paper towels to dry myself off after the shower. In spite of being tired and grumpy, I did as the Doctor Jonathan Esteve said and completed two sets of 8, 7 and 5 minute runs at 16.5-17 kph. At least my speed is still there in spite of all this triathlon training.

Senin, 02 April 2012

Week 5 / 7

I'm writing this in the airport, waiting for my very delayed plane (thanks to strikes in France, again). I'm off to Brussels for the day - thanks to minimalist running shoes I'm able to pack a spare shirt, toiletries and full running equipe in my briefcase.

Workouts this week worthy of mention, in no particular order except the order I did them in... On Friday I did series of 4 minutes hard on the spinning bike. The last one I really went for it and finished at over 170 bpm, which is very high for a bike workout. Amazingly, after just two minutes (my watch measures this automatically), my heart rate had fallen to 60 bpm! Normally my heart rate stays around 80-100 bpm for some time after a hard workout. This is due to a phenomena called EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption). I've seen one workout programme designed to give you a "six pack" based entirely on maximizing tho effect.

On Sunday I went for a long ride (120 km) in Ciudad Real on my triathlon bike. Without too much effort I was able to average 32 km without being sheltered by the peloton of a group ride. It was fairly flat and I managed to stay in the aero position most of the time. At one point I ended up going through a village - the one that Pedro Amoldovar is from, in fact (Calzada de Calatrava) - and almost collided with a bunch of people in cloaks and pointed hoods getting ready for the Semana Santa procession.

Normally I cut the week there, but the brick (bike-run) I did today was a left over from last week, which I had to jiggle around because of my trip o London the week before. As I took today off, I could afford to spend 3 and a half hours training although, to be honest, I would have rather spent more time with the kids. It was a pretty tough one with lots of medium and some high intensity, most of which I did inside. It's left me struggling I replace the fluids I lost in sweat and with a bit of a headache, which isn't predisposing me well towards the French and their plight right now.

If I'm up to it, I'll try to find a decent gym tomorrow and do my hard workout. If not, I'll run around Brussels a bit and see what I can see. I can always do the hard workout another day and better to do it when I can be sure to do it well.

Kamis, 29 Maret 2012

Lesson 9: Putting it all together

I had a great lesson today, even though it was straight after doing a mega weights session (300 kg leg press!!). We worked again on all of the aspects from the last few weeks (high elbows, the roll, the kick). Now I am using my legs more it doesn't feel such a hard slog through the water and, perhaps more importantly, I feel I have a more stable "platform" so I don't end up losing balance, compensating, compensating for the compensation etc.

At one point we did a quick test to see how fast I would swim 100m at what I perceived to be a "Half Ironman effort". Even with my crappy way of changing direction in the 20m pool, I did 100m in 1:32 which is not bad. Imagine if I were able to maintain that for 1,900m! Of course, as I keep saying, in the sea everything will be a different kettle of fish altogether. Probably the single most important thing I can focus on is simply looking where I am going.

Rabu, 28 Maret 2012

Lesson 8: Can I kick it?

Yes I can.

In the end we built up the 6 beat kick by going through a 4 beat kick, although it wasn't a "real" 4 beat kick. The exercise we did was to immobilize one leg (with a fin) and to kick twice with the other leg on the catch of the hand on the same side and on the "push". There are three phases in the underwater stroke: the catch, the pull and the push - the idea is to synchronize a kick with each of these, the most important one being the catch (this is the Total Immersion kick which initiates the rotation of the hips). Then we moved to doing the same with the other leg and then with both legs (right right left left). The last stage was to insert an extra kick from the opposite leg in between these two:

1 .right arm catch: right leg kick
2. right arm pull: left leg kick
3. right arm push: right leg kick
4. left arm catch: left leg kick
5. left arm pull: left leg kick
6. left arm push: left leg kick

At first I was a bit wooden and my legs started to get tense and tired but, after relaxing into it, it became almost second nature. It reminded me a bit of learning to juggle where you start combining sequences of coordinated movements and then there is suddenly an "aha moment" when it all begins to flow of its own accord. Another thing altogether is whether I can do this in open water with hundreds of other people in race conditions!

Luis still reckons that my kick is much less propulsive than it can be. The next step is to try to kick from the hips.

Selasa, 27 Maret 2012

Week 4 / 7

This week I was again in London which meant no swimming (except for the lesson I had on Tuesday) and no biking (I don't think riding 3 hours on a Boris Bike would be a good idea).

I did my hard run (8 lots of 5 minutes at 17-16 kph) on the hotel treadmill. Luckily they let me open the door which let in a bit of a cooling breeze, otherwise it would have been intolerable. In fact, even the easy run of an hour and a half which I planned to do the next day - while watching "Tremé" on my portable - I cut short to an hour because it was getting far too hot and sweaty. I noticed from looking at my reflection in the mirror while running, that I run with my head ever so slightly tilted to the right. I think this must be to compensate for my shoulder (grade 3 ACL separation): it's no wonder that I get more blisters on one foot than another and so on. All it takes is a slight asymmetry and everything goes out of whack.

On the Friday, I managed to get in a nice 80 minute run outside. As I have said before, my favourite kind of run is a random run through the city, preferably one in which I don't live. All the distractions - shops, people, avoiding cyclists and pedestrians - keep me entertained and I enjoy discovering new places or revisiting old haunts.

On Saturday I was "supposed" to do a 3 hour bike ride but there was just no way that I was going to get straight off the plane from London and do that after not seeing my family for most of the week. Instead I went for a 3 and a half hour ride the next day with my coach, Jonathan, followed by an hour long run. He said that we could leave from his house and follow a fairly flat course; when I realized that he lived in the Sierra mountains of Madrid, I was a bit skeptical but it was, indeed, quite flat. In fact, I felt the benefit of the aero bike for the first time since I bought it at the end of lat year. There was a nice long flat stretch along which we cruised at about 35 kph. Jonathan is in the process of moving from being a very successful and fast runner to a (hopefully fast) triathlete but he still has to get some more kilometers under his belt on the bike. As you will know from reading this blog, his approach is for the majority of the training load to be performed at below the aerobic threshold, the idea being that you train your body to rely more on the fat burning metabolism, but it does mean that you have to go slow at the beginning until your body makes the necessary adaptations. On the run I expected him to find my pace too untaxing but it turned out that we were both at or slightly above our aerobic threshold in spite of the fact that, were we to run flat out, he would absolutely trounce me. Anyway, a very enjoyable outing. I didn't eat anything during the whole time and didn't feel any the worse for it until I got in the car to drive home. I felt my eyes closing against my will and had to open the windows to keep myself from nodding off. Even then, at one point I drifted into another lane and another driver "beeped" me. Next time I will keep a Red Bull handy!