Thursday, January 18, 2018

Useful swimming tips: Part 2

This is the second part of a blog about useful swimming tips. Please see my previous post for more basic swim technique tips. Once you perfect your streamline, body position and front quadrant swimming you are ready to progress to more advanced concepts like hand entry, catch, pull and recovery.

Technique Tip #5: Hand Entry

Your hand should enter the water about a forearm's length in front of you and directly in front of your shoulders. It is a common mistake to enter the water with your hand too far in front or too close to your head. It is also very common for your hand to enter too narrow, so that it crosses over to the other side of your body. Keep your fingertips facing forward (don't enter the water thumb or pinky first) with a slight spread to your fingers (not tightly closed or widely spread). Lastly, upon hand entry, don't point your fingers upwards to the surface of the water, point them slightly angled toward the bottom of the pool.

A few useful drills/videos to help you practice hand entry are: salute drill and preventing the crossover

Technique Tip #6: The Pull

Your pull should direct the water straight back towards your feet and your finger tips point down toward the bottom of the pool (forget what you learned about an S-pull). A common mistake is to let your arm cross the center line of your body (especially when you breathe). Another common mistake is to pull the water too deep with a straight arm, so bend your arm at the elbow so that your hand passes about a forearm's depth beneath your body.

Technique Tip #7: The Recovery

There are some swimmers that prefer a shoulder driven/straight arm recovery stroke and others that prefer a elbow driven/bend arm recovery stroke. This video shows some various recovery styles. How do you know what's best for you? Typically, swimmers with a higher stroke rate prefer a straight arm recovery and swimmers with a slower stroke rate do better with a bent arm recovery. Also, swimmers with less mobility in their shoulders would benefit from an elbow driven recovery (yet, I commonly see the opposite which leads to injury). Key points are that the elbow should be higher than the finger tips during recovery.

If you have shoulder problems and want to switch to a elbow driven recovery, a few drills to try are: finger tip drag drill/zipper drill, salute drill, slow motion recovery

Technique Tip #8: The High Elbow Catch

This is the most difficult skill to grasp in freestyle and I recommend perfecting all the other aspects of your stroke before attempting to work on this.

To start to learn the high elbow catch, I suggest a specific progression:

1. Practice the high elbow catch in the mirror

2. Practice with swim tubing

3. Practice on the side of the pool deck

4. In water high elbow catch drills (best with fins, snorkel and less desirable is a pull buoy)

5. Picture yourself swimming over a ladder that is parallel to the surface of the water and using your high elbow technique to pull yourself over top of it.

The next part of my swim technique posts will be an open water skills specific post. Stay tuned!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Useful swimming tips: Part 1

I have been swim coaching since 2003. I started as a volunteer coach for the Granite Gators Swim Team, helping introduce kids aged 8 - 10 to competitive swimming. Since then, I have worked with the most beginner child and adult swimmers, to very fast adult swimmers/triathletes. I have learned that fast swimming is a combination of good technique and good fitness. Spending weeks and months perfecting technique and swimming slow will not make you fast. Just like spending weeks and months building mileage with poor technique will not make you fast. There is a balance between the two and the correct time to work on technique, and the correct time to work on fitness. Today's blog post addresses a few common technique errors that I see all the time, and links to a few YouTube videos about how to correct them.

First off, I would recommend visiting the MR SMOOTH website. This website shows an animated view of perfect technique. Although this animation assumes perfect proportions, flexibility and that swim stroke doesn't change when you are swimming short events (50s), longer events (1500s) or in the open water or in a pool, it is a pretty good example of good technique.

While you read below, keep in mind the simple notion that having good technique means you swim in a way that reduces drag and increases propulsion. If you remind yourself of this, the following tips will be easier to grasp.

Technique tip #1: Breathing

This is one of the most difficult concepts to grasp for a non-swimmer. Proper breathing in freestyle is achieved by inhaling when you turn your head to breath and exhaling your air when your face is in the water. Don't try to exhale then inhale when you turn your head to breath. To exhale with your face in the water, try to use both your nose and your mouth. The action is almost like you are sighing into the water, with a more forceful exhale just before you turn your head to breathe. You exhale about 80% of your air before rotating your head to inhale. Do not lift your head up when you breath.

This video shows a few drills to follow to teach yourself how to breath properly.

Technique tip #2: Streamline

Adults often make the mistake of having 'lazy streamline position.' That is that they push off the wall on the surface of the water, arms spread apart, eyes looking forward. They then continue this lazy, loose body position when they swim. Focus when swimming should be being as streamline/hydrodynamic as possible. Think of yourself as a torpedo or a pencil. When you push off the wall, arms should squeeze your head, look down towards the bottom of the pool, arms reaching far forward, legs behind you performing fast, tight kicks (I will talk more about proper kicking later). YouTube Video Link 1 and YouTube Video Link 2

Technique tip #3: Body Position and Rotation

Before you focus on the arms, it's important to focus on your body position in the water. Your head, hips and feet should all be in a horizonal line, at the surface of the water. Your eyes should look down and only slightly forward along the bottom of the pool. The top of your head should point in the direction you are swimming towards. Your hairline should be submerged, but your whole head should not be underwater. A good head position will help raise the hips and legs closer to the surface. Other tricks to getting your hips and feet up are to press your chest into the water, to feel your heels breaking the surface of the water and to have a tight and fast kick that is initiated from the hips, not with the knees.

Also, it is important that the body rotates about 30-45 degrees on your longitudinal axis when you swim, even when you aren't breathing. To do this, think about initiating the rotation with the hips.

A few drills that can be used to work on body position are: 6-kick or 12-kick switch drill, corkscrew drill and backstroke kicking.

Technique tip #4: Front Quadrant Swimming

There are two main styles of swimming. One is more of a windmill style stroke, during which arms move directly opposite from one another. The other is a style that is called front quadrant swimming. While there is a time and a place for windmill style swimming (usually great for sprinting), it is a lot harder to develop endurance and a good catch and pull for this type of stroke. It doesn't usually work too well for triathletes, either, as it often leads to breathing late (see this video). I like to teach front quadrant swimming to my adult swimmers. This style means that one arm passes by the goggles as the other arm begins to take a stroke. It also requires a more steady or 6-beat kick.

A few drills to try include are one arm freestyle (breath every 2 strokes, variation 1 in this video) and catch-up freestyle (breath every 3 strokes). Important to note is that drills used to develop a good front quadrant style stroke often require you to swim flat in the water, so always balance out these drills with good body rotation drills.

Look for Useful Swimming Tips: Part 2, still to come!

Miranda coaches from the Toronto Triathlon Club, runs clinics, does swim analysis and swim lessons for triathletes of all abilities. Book a privates session online or join the Toronto Triathlon Club.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Thank you to my supporters

Earlier today, I wrote a formal email to each of my supporters to thank them for their support this season. I thought I would share with you, my readers, how incredibly important their support was to my 2017 triathlon season. Below I have included some of what I wrote to them:

Bill (The Urban Athlete): Thank you for everything. I seem to battle through injury after injury, and this past year was no different. Yet, I was still able to achieve good results because you keep me going.

Scott Judges (Fitt1st Bike Fitting): Thank you. I feel aero and fast on my TT bike. My power numbers aren’t too impressive, but my position is (thanks to you) and that allows me to race at the top of the sport. In fact, I had the second fastest female bike split in Barrelman this past year.

John Salt (Multisport Canada): Thank you for such a wonderful race series and for naming me to the Ambassador Team. It truly has been awesome to spread the word about your series and race as much as did. I got into this sport because of local races, I re-entered the sport after injury because of your local races and I continue to strive in the sport because of your local races.

Rob Milligan (Blade Carbon Wheels): Thank you for introducing me to your fast wheels. They are both durable and aero (and good looking) and I absolutely loved racing on them this year. Without your generous deal on the wheels I wouldn't even have had race wheels and my season would not have been the same.

Don (One Capital): Thank you for giving me a place to stay when I train in the winter and for supporting me with new kits! I started the race season in top shape, partly because I was able to get a couple great weeks of training in Southern California. I wish I could train and race more with the One Capital team. Hopefully in the future.

Chris and staff (Enduro Sport): Thank you for getting and building me a REALLY fast bike with all the components I asked for and for always being there when I needed mechanical help.

Nick (Velofix): Thank you for all the tune ups! You can get the bike so clean and make it feel so smooth to pedal. No doubt I saved some time in my races because of your brilliant mechanical skills.

Mamma and Papa (High Rock Capital): You have done nothing but believe in me. You taught me to go after my dreams and you supported me all the way, both financially and emotionally. There is not a chance I would have been able to achieve what I have without you. Thank you, a million times and more, for everything.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Be thankful, even when you are injured

With the US Thanksgiving festivities yesterday, I was, yet again, reminded to be thankful for the things I have. Good family, good friends, good fitness and a job that doesn't feel like work being among them. It is easy to forget what you have, when dealing with the daily stress that comes with just living. Being late for an appointment can seem like the end of the world, missing a workout can make you frustrated, living in a freezing cold place like Toronto can make you wish you were born in southern California. It doesn't do any good to dwell on these details, and yet, I and most people do.

It has been an incredibly frustrating fall season with my training, in particular. With so much to balance, I expected my training time to decrease significantly in November. I was OK with this. I was going to cut back on cycling and swimming in favour of a bit more running. Running takes the least amount of time up for training compared to the other sports (especially when you have a treadmill in your bedroom) so this was expected to work out well. Adam laid out a training plan that looked perfect. I set out a few run specific goals that I wanted to hit in the spring. This was all great on paper, but when I actually started to execute the plan, the hamstring injury that had been nagging at me since after Mont Tremblant came back in full force. I got through my first two weeks of base running, had a decent run test and was feeling pretty good until the third week of training. In that third week I did a set of intervals and, while I felt OK during the set, it was clear afterwards that there was an issue. It hurt to straighten my leg when walking or running, right at the sit bone. While all the self-tests I did for proximal hamstring tendonitis were negative, I still worried. I started seeing my Chiropractor, Bill Wells, and he said I have an enthesopathy of the hamstring attachment. Basically, there is damage to the entheses which is where the hamstring tendons attach to the sit bone/ishial tuberosity.

Bill treated me with a lot of ART and that seemed to fix things. However, after a run the symptoms would come back. After an unending cycle of me running, hurting, Bill fixing me, me running, hurting, Bill fixing me, etc. I decided that enough was enough. My running goals would have to be put on hold until I was over this injury. It has been almost one week since my last run, I've been doing a lot of eccentric hamstring strengthening exercises, getting treatment from Bill, focused more on swimming and cycling because that's completely pain-free and I have an ultrasound booked for Monday to determine how bad this injury is. So, I am thankful that I am able to be proactive about this, that I am swimming really well (2 sets of 4x200 in 2:45 on Wednesday!) and can ride my bike a lot!

So, be thankful for what you can do, don't dwell on what you can't do. Be thankful for what you have, don't dwell on what you don't have. And be thankful for family, friends, love and laughter.

If you are interested, below is my core and glute strengthening routine, that I complete 3 times a week, with hamstring exercises added:

1. 3x60s plank (with 5 straight leg raises during each 60s interval)

2. 3x15 bird dogs/side

3. 3x60s side plank (with 30s per side) with 5 hip abductions during the 30s

4. 3x15 single leg glute bridge per side

5. 3x8 hamstring lifts with focus on the lowering/eccentric component

6. 3x10 push-ups

7. 3x8 single leg deadlifts per leg with 40lbs dumb bells

8. 3x25 theraband side walks per side

9. 3x10 nordic hamstring exercises

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Finding Balance

Just a short post about where things are at...

It's been just over 3 weeks since I finished off my 2017 triathlon season at Ironman Louisville. The race went fairly well, with a solid swim, a strong bike, which followed with a bit of a collapse on the run. The same theme that has plagued all of my long distance racing this season. Not that my running has been terrible, it has just not been at the level that it has been at before and the level that I believe I am capable of. Nonetheless, I finished 13th female pro. My race season this past year (from June to October) consisted of 2 Olympic distance races, 2 Long Course races, 2 half-Ironmans and 2 Ironmans. And it was largely a success. Highlights included being the Multisport Triathlon Series Elite winner, Ontario Provincial Long Course Champ and Elite Long Course Triathlete of the year. This past summer was also one of the most stressful of my life, with lots of other obstacles unrelated to triathlon to overcome. But, I persisted through it all, knowing that triathlon is what I love and nothing (and no one) can stand in the way of me doing what I love.

The next step in my triathlon journey is to try to find the best balance between training, recovery, work, family and everything else. This past summer I tried to do too much of everything. This may have worked out ok in the short term, but I know it won't in the long term. So, I've decided to take a step back from long course racing in 2018. This will allow me more time to work on my running and allow a bit more time for rest, since I won't be cramming in long rides in the morning before I am on my feet for 5hrs or more. While I'm not thrilled about the fact that I won't get to race an Ironman next year, I do believe that this will help me in the long term. Tim Hurson said "We tend to overestimate what we can do in the short term and underestimate what we can do in the long term." If this is true, then I hope that by focusing on the long term and not trying to achieve too much in the near future, I can achieve my goals. If this plan doesn't make me a better triathlete, it will definitely make for a better balanced life.

I will try to post a bit more regularly about how I am going about finding this more balanced life.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Race Report: Barrelman Triathlon

The past weekend I competed in Multisport Canada/Rev3 Barrelman triathlon. After a busy summer of racing, I knew that I was a bit tired for this one. It was one of those days where lots went wrong, but I maintained a positive attitude throughout the race and held on to finish 4th women, 3rd Pro and defend my title of Ontario Long Course Provincial Champion!

The first thing I want to say is that Barrelman is an amazing event that is held at a fantastic venue! The Flatwater Center in Welland is the perfect spot for an open water swim. Beginners will love the calm water and the buoy line underneath the water to sight from. Even experienced swimmers like a nice smooth swim. There is also TONS of room for spectators to cheer on the triathletes. You really do get a boost running from the swim to the bike with all the cheering fans. The bike course is flat and fast! Don't worry, there are enough turns so that it doesn't get boring - there is no stretch of road that seems to go on forever. The bike course is broken into two sections: the loop out and back from the Flatwater Center, then the final stretch from the Flatwater center to Niagara Falls. This makes the time go by pretty quick. When you arrive in T2 after the bike, the volunteers tell you exactly where your run gear is. The two transition zones make people nervous, but the race crew and volunteers have this very well organized. The run is a bit of a beast! It is one of the most challenging half-ironman runs, with almost 400ft of elevation gain, a few steep sections and false flats. The highlights are that it is two loops, which is great for spectators, and that you get to run right by the falls. Not only is it held at a great location, but the race crew, the volunteers, Steve Fleck (the announcer) put on such a great day. Barrelman truly is a fantastic experience.

A little bit about my race:

The Pre-Race: I have been having trouble with my Di2 shifting on my bike, with the battery dying after only about 400-500km (I've been told they should last about 10,000hrs). Sure enough, after making sure my Di2 battery was fully charged on Saturday, I woke up on Sunday to the battery completely dead. Luckily enough I do have a spare battery (that was fully charged) so I switched them out (quite the process, as the battery is stored in the frame of the bike). We were about 15 minutes late getting on the road. Next stop was for a coffee and muffin and, of course, our usual spot was closed for some reason. Not a great start to the morning! We did end up making it on time to Welland for registration (we had to check in race day, because Adam was racing Centurion the day prior). It was an uneventful time from then on. I racked my bike, set up transition and then did my swim warmup.

The Swim: I started the swim right on the buoy line, which was great. So, when the gun went off, I put my head down and just followed the line. Unfortunately, this meant I missed catching a pack of fast swimmers that started far to my left. It's hard to know whether I could have swum with them or not, but because I hadn't made that front pack I was swimming solo for the whole swim. I did feel good though! I've been doing a lot of pull paddles work since Ironman and I could feel the strength in my back and arms during this swim. At one point I let my mind wander and lost the buoy line. I looked up and noticed I was way to the left of the course! Oops. I got back on track and eventually I found myself at the swim exit, about 2 minutes or so behind the female leader, and super strong swimmer, Sheila. I was happy with my swim :)

Stats: 28:42 (1:26/100m) Garmin says: 2.08km, 28:42 (1:23/100m)

The Bike: After a relatively fast transition, I headed out onto the bike course. Legs were feeling good, headspace was good, but my front aerobar shifters didn't want to work :( I was cursing electronic shifting at that point! I fiddled with the junction box a bit and they started working again, but they were sporadic the entire race. Sometimes they worked and sometimes they didn't. Luckily I could still shift from my bullhorns, but I would have to break aero to do so. Even with this issue I was able to catch and pass Sheila and finish the bike as the lead female. I may have biked too hard. My heart rate was higher than it should have been, but my legs felt good. I didn't know whether to go by feel or by my, I went by feel. This may have been a mistake I would pay for on the run.

Stats: 86km (2:18:25, 37.3kph), Garmin says 196W NP (193W avg power), 162bpm avg HR, 82rpm avg

The Run: I started the run, and, within the first few strides, I knew it was going to be a struggle. This seems to be the theme this year in my longer distance races. Is it fatigue from spending about 30-40hrs on my feet each week? Is it that I'm biking too hard? Is it poor nutrition? Is it just lack of fitness? Am I still tired from Ironman 4 weeks ago? I have struggled this year on the run and I don't know what I am doing wrong in comparison to previous years. Anyway, I focused on running at a steady heart rate. I knew I could sustain a 165-169bpm heart rate for 1hr40mins so I just focused on staying in that zone, regardless of whether the pace was slow (which it was!). When Sheila passed me I was happy for her, she looked so strong! Next I was passed by Jennie Hansen, who I have so much respect for. She went through countless surgeries in the past few years and is back to competing and stronger than ever. Yes, I was upset that I wasn't running faster. But, yes, I was running as fast as I could. So, I stayed positive and, one step at a time, I made it through two loops of the gruelling course. I even re-passed Sheila in the last 3km of the run. I finished 4th female, 1st Ontario female. I had nothing left at the end. I even started hyperventilating after I crossed the finish line, reminiscent of a similar experience I had after my first ever 100m breast stroke race when I was 11.

Stats: 1:39:45 (4:45/km), 173bpm

Finishing time: 4:30:07

What's next for me? I may do one more race this year. Then, next year, I plan to take a break from long course racing and race a few of the races on the Multisport circuit (I'd love to be able to do Barrelman again). Working 4 jobs and trying to train for longer triathlons really took a toll on me this past year. When I can work less, and train more, that's when I plan to tackle the long course events again. Competing in Kona is still my dream. Sometimes, the reality is that you have to put your dreams on hold.

Thank you:

- The Multisport crew, volunteers and Tri Ontario officials
- High Rock Capital Management, my title sponsor. Check out the video about what they do
- My parents for their continued love and support throughout this crazy adventure of mine.
- My sisters for being my inspiration to work hard and never give up.
- Adam for coaching me again!
- My health care team of Dr. Mark Schofield, David Lamy (RMT), Bill Wells (Chiro) and Michael Hong (Acupuncture). A high stress life makes you more prone to injuries. I am so fortunate to have these guys!
- All my readers for their support and for following me in my triathlon endeavours
- Fellow athletes at the race and training partners, especially Sara and everyone at WattsUp and TTC!
- Endurosport for building me the perfect bike and all your mechanical help
- My sponsors: Title Sponsor:High Rock Capital Management, WattsUp Cycling, MultiSport Canada, Blade Wheels, The Urban Athlete, Fitt1st Bike Fitting

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Race Report: Multisport Canada Lakeside Triathlon

This past weekend I raced in the Lakeside Olympic triathlon, the final event of the Multisport Canada triathlon series. I had done this race once before (in 2015). It was a memorable event that year, because it was my longest race after surgery. I had done a few sprints that year, but completing this event was what gave me hope that I would get back to long course racing again! So, Lakeside triathlon holds a special place in my heart.

The venue for Lakeside Tri is spectacular. At the site there is lots of parking, the transition area is right at the edge of the lake where we swim, the registration and race expo is just beside transition. On top of that, there is even a park for kids to play at while their parents race! The course at Lakeside it great for a beginner and a seasoned athlete who likes a challenge. The swim is usually calm, the water is warm (but still wetsuit legal!) and it's two loops for the Olympic (so you are never far form shore). The bike is a rectangle so you make mostly only right turns, the terrain is rolling and the roads are mostly well paved. There is a short 5km section near the end that has some steeper pitches, but, for the beginners - you are nearly done by then and for the faster athletes - this is a good chance to make some gains on your competitors. The run is on a half dirt/cement/gravel road, with a bit of a hill at the 2.5km turnaround. The packed dirt is a nice change from the hard gravel roads we usually run on. All in all, you get an enjoyable and fairly fast day at Lakeside Triathlon.

How was my race at Lakeside? It was great! I have to admit that I get cold very easily, so I was a bit chilled to start the swim (even with a good warmup). When the gun went off to signal the start of the race I just tried to move my arms and legs as fast as I could to get the blood circulating to those muscles. I felt a bit like a flailing fish! I used male Pro Dan Clarke as my carrot and just tried to keep up with him. We swam together for most of the race, but I really fell behind on the last 200-300m of the swim. I think that when the water gets shallow the tall people can just run through it, but I have to either swim or dolphin dive as I'm too short to run through that depth of water! I was also experiencing some really bad left calf and hamstring tightness after my 25km run on Friday, so I didn't want to chance running more than I needed to. So, after a slow swim exit, I cautiously ran to my bike, then I put on my windbreaker vest (yes, I did!) and was off on the ride. I didn't know how my legs would feel. I had done a 200km ride on Wednesday, so I knew I wouldn't be fresh. To my surprise, I actually did feel really good. I focused on holding right around my threshold power (210-215W) and pushing a bit harder than I normally do up the hills. I could see a few guys who passed me early on in the ride up ahead and I tried to keep them within my sight. Eventually, I caught up to and passed one near the end of the ride. For the first race this year, I held the same power in the first 5km as I did in the last 5km. Success! Then it was on to the run. I had no idea what to expect. I had not slept much the night prior because I was so worried about my left calf and hamstring! It was hard to descend stairs on Saturday, so I was thinking "how will I get through a race on Sunday?" Somehow, my body knew what to do. I took the first 1km a bit tentatively, but then I realized that I was going to be OK. I pushed hard for the next 6.5km and then realized that I had a good lead, was getting tired and wanted to save my legs a bit for Barrelman this weekend, so I backed off the pace a tiny bit. I crossed the finish line and was ecstatic to take my 4th win of 4 races in the series :)


Swim - Garmin says: 1664m, 22:52 (1:23/100m) - and that I swam on course, SportsStats: 22:51

Bike - Garmin says: 206W (210W NP), 87rpm, 167bpm, SportStats: 1:07:44, 35.4kph *this is my highest power for an Oly*

Run - Garmin says: 42:21, 4:13/km, 174bpm, SportStats: 42:21

Overall - 2:14:53

Thank you:

- The Multisport crew, volunteers and Tri Ontario officials
- High Rock Capital Management, my title sponsor. Check out the video about what they do
- My parents for their continued love and support throughout this crazy adventure of mine.
- My sisters for being my inspiration to work hard and never give up.
- Adam for doing A LOT of driving, for keeping me calm when I get anxious and for making me want to be the best version of myself. It helps so much to have him there on race day.
- My health care team of Dr. Mark Schofield, David Lamy (RMT), Bill Wells (Chiro) and Michael Hong (Acupuncture). A high stress life makes you more prone to injuries. I am so fortunate to have these guys!
- All my readers for their support and for following me in my triathlon endeavours
- Fellow athletes at the race and training partners, especially Sara and everyone at WattsUp and TTC!
- Endurosport for building me the perfect bike and all your mechanical help
- My sponsors: Title Sponsor:High Rock Capital Management, WattsUp Cycling, MultiSport Canada, Blade Wheels, The Urban Athlete, Fitt1st Bike Fitting