Archive for February, 2010

Swimming Downhill

Downhill swimming is the holy grail.  In my search for swimming techniques I read that term hundreds of times.  I, on the other hand, mostly felt like I was swimming uphill, both ways.  There are a number of things that people have said you need to do to get that downhill feeling.  Almost all of them, however, are related to head position.

Keeping your head down is key, at least that’s what they say.  I have been working hard at keeping my head down, so hard in fact, that at times my whole body is underwater making it impossible to come up for air quickly.   That’s not going to work.  Well, near the end of my session last night, as always, (why do I always make breakthroughs at the end of the night) I got my first real experience with swimming downhill.

The sensation was incredible.  I would pull and push with one arm and my body would glide effortlessly as I started the recovery stroke.   It was magical.  Before I knew it I was at the end of the lane and heading back.  I couldn’t believe it.  So how did I accomplish this magical task?  Well it was a few things all coming together at once I think.  Most of these things I already had down, I added one new thing yesterday that sealed the deal.  Hopefully I can get that down so that it becomes the norm.  As it stands, I am not achieving it consistently.  So here are the things I have done to help me get to that great feeling:

  1. Breathing correctly, I previously wrote a post on breathing while swimming that illustrates the important points.  In summary, don’t lift your head, and turn as little as possible to ensure that you are staying streamlined.
  2. Head position.  Not too high, not too low, you want your head to be a straight extension of the spine and the water to be hitting you right on the crown of your head, not your forehead.  This keeps your body in one streamlined plane.
  3. Patient lead arm.  You don’t want to swim like a windmill.  You want the arm that is extended in front of you to wait until your recovery arm swings out in front of your face.  This will allow you to stay streamlined and glide as soon as possible, and for as long as possible.
  4. Arm extension.  This is the part that pulled it together for me.  I had been doing all of the above, at least to some extent, but this last one was the final key to getting that downhill feeling.  Timing here is everything.  As I pull with one hand, I simultaneously stretch the lead hand out in the water which forces my body to rotate a bit more.  It is really all one motion.  When I do this, the shoulder of my lead arm actually pushes in against my face.  If you sleep on your side that is kind of the same feeling you get.  This position makes a streamlined shape that leads from the tips of the fingers of your lead hand, over your head and then over your shoulder.

If you read carefully you will see a common theme emerge–ok, fine I highlighted it so you don’t have to read so carefully.  Downhill swimming has nothing to do with your body pointing down.  It has more to do with keeping your body as streamlined as possible to minimize friction in the water.  You take the shape of an arrow, or a rocket, and you glide through the water almost effortlessly.  That is where the money is!  OK fine, no money but at least the swimming will be fast and easy, that’s something right?

Week in review

Last Thursday I had a group swim session for the triathlon training group at the Y.  The instructor told me that I was wasting energy lifting my right arm up.  Everything that I had heard until then was that I should be lifting the elbow high on recovery.  This swim coach had some very unorthodox ideas about swimming, but he was also pretty pragmatic.  He feels that swimming for a triathlon is all about energy conservation.  That is something that makes a lot of sense to me.  I gave it a try and it felt really good.

I focused on pushing my arm out in front of me to lengthen my stroke, and I focused on pulling from this longer position.  It was the end of the night for me, so I didn’t get to try it for more than just a lap or so.  I was anxious to try it again during my next swim session.

On Saturday I did the P90X chest and back workout.  I am really enjoying these workouts.  It is a dead basic but killer workout.  I have really been pushing myself lately and I can really notice a difference in the max reps and weight.

On Sunday I had my spin class.  It was tough but doable.  I did about 16 miles and felt pretty good.  I met my wife at the pool and tried my new stroke.  It felt like I was moving pretty slow, but at the same time it felt much more comfortable.  I timed a lap and it worked out to about 1 minute.  That wasn’t as fast as I had been swimming before, but it wasn’t that much slower either.  After a few warm up laps I decided to go for 11.  I noticed right away that I wasn’t as winded when I got to the end of a length or a lap.  I didn’t need much time to catch my breath.  I kept plugging away at it and eventually I finished the 11 laps.  I checked that time and it took me exactly 13:30 to do the 11 laps.  I couldn’t believe it.  I had shaved 3 minutes off of my best time ever!  I wasn’t even that tired.  I can’t tell if it was my new stroke or just an increase in fitness.  I actually had enough gas in the tank to sprint the last length, it felt great.  This despite the fact that I was sore from a killer chest and back workout the night before.  And, to top things off, when I got out of the pool my legs were fresh as daisies.  Note to self, find something more masculine to compare yourself to going forward.  Things are looking up, if not linguistically, at least athletically.

On Monday I did the P90X arms and shoulder workout.  That is a really great workout too.  I love how it makes my muscles burn and my arms feel tight right after the workout.  I know that I’m going to be feeling it for days.

I am ramping up for this weekend’s big race.  I’m really excited to bring it on Sunday.  My goal for the week is to get another swim workout in and do the P90X Yoga and stretch DVD’s just to get myself nice and loose.  After this Tri my wife and I are going to put together some training plans.  I would like to start working on my running.  I would really like to do a half marathon this year, but I know I can’t do that without some focused, and planned training.  I have been researching training techniques for some time and I plan to post some of the information that I’ve learned just to keep it all in one place.

Swim Swim Swimerie

You know, like that Mary Poppins song?  No?  Fine!  Tonight I had a nice swim session.  My goal was to try to get to 11 laps and see if I could actually do it.  I had met a friend for dinner and had a huge salad and soup so I was pretty stuffed before starting the swim.  My dinner hung in my stomach like a brick.  Ugh.

I started with a few laps just as a warm up.   About a month ago I could barely do a length, it’s kind of funny now to think that I could knock two laps off just to warm up.  At any rate, I then tried to do my laps.  I just couldn’t pull it together long enough to do more than 2 or 3 in a row.  It was disappointing.  After a while of thrashing it out, I decided that I should go to the bathroom.  Why do I always have to pee within 5 minutes of getting in the pool?

When I got back I felt better and ready to go, and go I did.  I started swimming and didn’t stop.  I pushed past 6 laps and thought “I can do 9.”  Then I got to 9 and thought, sheesh it’s only two more I can do this.  By the time I started lap 10 my arms were like lead.  They were somehow both numb and super-sensitive.  I can’t really explain it other than to say, I felt like they were cutting through the water like it was air, it felt like your mouth feels with novocaine, except that I had a heightened perception of the air bubbles running over my arms.  It was such a strange feeling.  I slugged it out though, and I got all 11 laps, 550 yards.  When I got out my legs were fresh and ready to go.  I think I have may figured this whole swim thing out.

I managed to hit the lap timer as I ended the 9th lap so I can compare my swim to the triathlon times from January.  Here they are:

9 laps:  January Tri – 17:53  || Today: 13:09

11 lap total:  16:18

That’s right, I shaved nearly 5 minutes off of my previous swim time, and finished the 11 laps a minute and a half faster than my 9 lap time.  I am certainly improving, but I have a long way to go before I can reach my goal of 9 laps in 9 minutes.

Tomorrow I have another swim session, but I think I will work on drills instead of going for distance.  I need to work on breathing every 4 strokes rather than every 2.  That will help me stay streamlined for longer.  By my next tri in April I want to be able to get to bilateral breathing, but I am not going to mess with my stroke so close to the next tri.

Weekend Review

This weekend was supposed to be our 5K race, the Cupid Run, however that was canceled mid-week so we ended up with a downer for the weekend.  We were really looking forward to our first real race.  We decided to register for theO’Hartford 5K which really seems like it is going to be a lot of fun.

All I did on Saturday was my P90X workout.  It was Chest and Back and it was a bear.  Really tough workout for me.  Of course that was capped off by Ab Ripper FU.  I can’t believe how tough that ab workout is.  I can’t even imagine a day when I will be able to make it all the way through.  I did a bit better than last time, but that doesn’t say much.  Needless to say, my whole upper body was sore the next day.

Sunday morning I did spin.  I used my HR monitor and calculated a burn of 560 calories over 50 minutes.  I think my legs were still burning a little from the P90X leg and back workout earlier in the week.  It was a really great workout.

After spin we went to the pool and did laps.  I started right out of the gate to try to get some laps in.  Before my wife even got to the pool from the locker room I had finished 4 laps in a row and felt good.  I tooled around a little more trying to help my wife with her form (like the blind leading the blind) and wrapped up the day with an attepmt to max out my laps.  My goal was to go for as many laps as I could before needing to stop.  I had cycles where I felt I couldn’t go any longer, but then I would get a rhythm and I would feel perfectly fine.  I got all the way to 6 laps and then I notice a couple of people trying to find a lane.  I stopped to let them in, but I think I could have squeaked out another lap or two.  I did the 6 laps in about 7:22.  That’s about 1:14 a lap. That isn’t quite at my goal of 1 minute per lap or better, but I have until May to get to that.  My early laps are all sub 1 minute, so I know I am slowing down as I get tired.

The first thing to go for me now is my arms and shoulders.  They just start getting fatigued.  That is a big difference from my last race where my legs nearly fell off and I couldn’t keep my heart rate and breath regulated.  I’m wondering too if the P90X chest and back workout isn’t causing some of the fatigue.  As silly as it sounds, I will probably taper before the next tri, at least by not doing the chest and back workout on the Saturday before the race.

Tonight I did the P90X arms and shoulders workout.  My arms and shoulders are really mad at me about it.  I gave it all I had and I don’t think I have ever felt my triceps as sore as they are right now.  Tomorrow will be another swim session, it won’t be pretty if my shoulders and arms feel anything like they feel right now.  Ouch!

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Horton Hurt My Hoo Hoo

Last night I did the legs and back workout.  It was a tough workout, just like all the rest of them.  This morning, however, I felt the workout in an area that I really wasn’t expecting.  I have just one question.  Mr. Tony Horton, what have you done to my butt?

I could barely sit down today.  When I did, I struggled to stand up.  Ouchy!  I muddled through the day, but man, that was unexpected!

I then went for a swim tonight.  I realized the last few times that I have been in the pool that I think I am getting winded because I am not fully exhaling underwater.  That is an issue because, if you don’t get all the air out, you can’t get enough fresh air in your lungs to help fuel your muscles.  Before long you are gasping for air.  So, tonight, I threw my form to the wind and focused exclusively on breathing.  I let my body do what it wanted, and just made sure to exhale out and get a good breath in.  I also focused on turning my head just enough.  I tried to make sure that I always left one goggle in the water.  Guess what happened?  Before I knew it I was at the other side of the pool and headed back.  I was trucking along like a well oiled machine.  Breathing like I was on dry land!  I finished the first lap, finished the second lap, and before I knew it I had finished 5 laps.  I didn’t time myself, but I’m pretty sure I was really trucking along!

I do have to make a slight disclaimer here.  When I say I go straight through, that isn’t exactly true.  I do cling to the edge of the pool, and take a few breaths, maybe 5 seconds worth, before heading back.  However, compared to my previous 30-60 seconds of standing stop, this is close enough for me to consider a non-stop lap.  Even with those pauses I am doing sub 1 minute laps.  I think that is fabulous, especially if I can get to the point where I am doing all of them like that.  I could get my 9 laps in 9 minutes which is my goal!!

All in all I’m proud of my progress.  I am hoping to continue concentrating on breathing until it becomes rote, and then go back to working on my form.

Breathing while swimming, or Why is it so hard to breathe when I swim?


A couple of things about breathing while swimming.  I think this is the most difficult part of learning how to swim.  It took me some time to figure out how to breathe at all while I swum.  It took tons and tons of research and effort to finally get to a point where I am more comfortable with it.  But like the rest of the swim, there are so many moving parts to think about that it can get overwhelming.

The first part to remember is that you need to stay balanced in the water.  If you raise your head to get air, your legs will fall back into the water causing you to kick to get back into balance.  That makes you inefficient, and in triathlon it also tires your legs before you get out of the pool.  Your goal in the water is to reserve your legs for later, so these are both trouble.

Therefore, the best way to  keep yourself balanced is to just turn your head as little as possible and let your body roll bring you up to the water.  There are a couple of tips for that.  One is to put your chin on the shoulder that is rolling up.  That way you can control how far your head turns and let your body do the work.  The other option is to put the back of your head against the shoulder of the opposite arm.  Same effect different focus.

This is how I started, and now I don’t even think about it.

The other issue that I have been working on lately is exhaling.  I have realized that I haven’t been exhaling completely underwater.  It seems counter-intuitive,  but that is really key.  If you don’t get all of the air out of your lungs, when you turn for air, you will either stay up too long, or not get enough air.  If you stay up too long your balance and efficiency is effected, if you don’t get enough air you get winded prematurely.

Lately I have been focusing exclusively on breathing.  I focus on exhaling while underwater, and then on rotating up leaving one goggle in the water.  I forget about form, and I focus on rhythm.  Almost automatically, my stroke began matching my breath.  Before I knew it I had finished a length, then a lap and then 5 laps.  Nice easy strokes with a focus on breathing.  It is really the key.

Once this becomes second nature I will focus on perfecting my form.  Until then, slow steady breathing.  Phew!

Cupid’s Run Canceled

Just got a notice that the Cupid 5K we were training for this weekend has been canceled :(.  We are now planning on doing a St. Patrick’s Day 5K in Hartford in March.  Looks like our first race will have to wait.

P90X: Yoga X

I have been progressing through the P90X program.  Not really religiously, I have left out a lot of the aerobics pieces because I get a ton of that in my Tri training, but today was Yoga day.

Tony Horton, the MC on the DVD workouts, (who is absolutely ripped btw) says that the X in P90X is for extreme.  Well I say the X in Yoga X is for excruciating.  It is a 90 minute workout.  I would have to say that for about 60 of those minutes I was in pain.  Don’t take that the wrong way.  The other 30 weren’t a cake walk, those were just minutes spent falling over and taking a break.  At about the 45 minute point I thought, that’s it I’m out, but then he said, ok kids the hard part is over.  I thought, oh good, I’ll keep going.  Just so you know, he said that again about 3 times in the next 45 minutes.  I think I sweat about as much doing Yoga as I had in any of the other workouts.  Brutal!

All in all it was a good workout, however, and my muscles felt really stretched.   I’m pretty happy with the program!

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Sunday Run

With my first 5K right around the corner (2/13) my wife thought it would be a good idea to actually try to run for that long out on the open road.  I have been so focused on swimming that I haven’t run almost at all so doing at least one run at this distance sounded like a good idea.

We mapped out a route using map my run in the hills of Torrington.  I wrote all of the turns on a little sheet of paper and marked the points where each mile ended.

The first mile was up a steady long grade.  It was nice because it helped to get everything warmed up.  I have been reading about Pose running, more on that in a future post, and focused on landing softly on my mid sole.  about 3/4 of the way through the first mile we turned down a hill.  The first mile flew by effortlessly.  I watched my heart-rate monitor and tried to keep my HR at 160.  As it moved higher I slowed my pace down.  I just picked 160 more or less randomly.  It felt like a comfortable pace.  My goal was to do an 11 minute mile.  When I hit my stop watch at the mile marker I noticed that I had done a 10 minute mile!  I was psyched.

The second mile was about the same.  Nice comfortable pace, everything went smoothly.  Even the traffic lights cooperated.  I had plenty of energy reserves, and as I heard my sister-in-law closing in on me, I just leaned forward and opened up the gap.  Once again, as I got to the end of the second mile, I noted a slightly slower pace, but still sub 11 min/mile.  The third mile was up a long slow grade.  this is where the heat started kicking in and, for the first time, I start to feel it.  I was really struggling to make it up some of the steeper parts of the hill.  I finally made it to the top and started a really steep descent.  As I made it down the hill I felt a really strong wind blow over me, it felt amazing!  I let myself build some speed down the hill and then used that momentum to sprint the last half mile.  I crossed the three mile mark averaging about 10:20.  The sprint lasted me almost all the way through the half mile.  The last .2 miles (we ran 3.3 miles) were up another steep hill.  I ran out of gas half way up the hill and had to go back to a slow jog.  I also hit a few patches of ice, and walked for the first time.  Not because I was tired (though I was) but because I didn’t want to risk falling.  All in all I averaged 10:27 which I’m very happy with!

Heart Rate Info:

Max: 179

Min: 130

Average: 163

Pace: 10:02

Distance: 3.3 miles

Elevation Change: 1170 ft

Total Time: 33:56

The route.

I’ve decided to track what I wear and how I feel at various temperatures and conditions to help me figure out what worked best.

Weather Dress Info:

Temperature: 20°F

Wind:  12MPH


Lower Body:

Polypropylene base layer by Duofold

Layer 8 pants over the base layer

Two pairs of Bridgedale Speed Deamon Socks.

Upper Body:

An Under Armour cold gear compression shirt.

A Layer 8 cold gear shirt.

A pair of warm insulated leather gloves.

A Nike reversable knitted cap.


I started out pretty chilly.  We jogged a little to warm up, but I felt cold before getting going.  Not uncomfortably cold, but chilly.  As I started to run the wind bit into my face and my ears felt cold.  I pulled down my hat to cover as much of my head and ears as I could.

By the end of the first mile, I felt fine.  Perfect actually.  By the second mile I started to get warm.  The sun was beating on me, and my head and hands were very hot.  I could feel the sweat coming down my forehead.  There was a big hill at the beginning of the third mile and as I made the turn to start down the hill I felt a huge gust of wind.  If I had been standing there, that wind would have been horrible, but as I ran down that hill the wind felt like such relief.  I just turned up the speed and hoped the wind would continue.  After that I sprinted and when I got to the end I was pretty warm, especially my head and hands.

Lessons Learned

I think for windy weather in the 20’s this setup was pretty spot on.  I think the only changes would be a lighter hat and gloves.  I have another hat, and I picked up lighter cotton gloves so I should be ready for whatever this weekend race brings.

Weather info from

Elevation and distance info from:

Spin, Swim and P90X = Busy workout day

I did 16 miles in my spin class today.  It was incredibly hard…I have no idea why.   I’m not sure if the lack of fans was an issue, most of them were off today, or if I was beat, but I am putting my money on it just being a really tough class.

After spin I jumped in the pool.  My goal was to continue my forward progress on the contiguous laps.  I was hoping to get to 4!  I started out strong.  I felt like I had a groove going, and I got to the end of the 5th length and notice a large group of little girls and a swim instructor at the end of the lane looking down at me disapprovingly.  The instructor then proceeded to kicked me out of the lane so that she could have her swim class.  I had felt so good!!!

I moved over to share a lane with someone, but I just couldn’t get the groove going again.  I was beat from spin class so I just didn’t have it in me.  I gave up and went home.

Later that night, my wife and I decided to do our first P90X workout.  My wife thought it would be a good workout to incorporate into our training.  We haven’t been doing much strength training, and this seemed like a good product for that.  We just received it on Friday, so we thought it would be a good idea to give it a go.  We did the first workout in the plan Chest and Back X and all I have to say is WOW!

I absolutely got my butt kicked.  I had no idea there were so many different kinds of pushups, and had I known that there were that many, I would have had no idea that I could suck at them all.  Of course I did great on the pushups compared to the chin-ups.  I feel like such a wimp!

Once we got through the 1 hour chest and back workout, we had to do the ab workout called Ab Ripper X.  I couldn’t believe that workout.  It took me all of one minute to rename the workout Ab Ripper FU.  Absolutely brutal. I have to say that P90X is the epitome of no pain no gain.

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