Monday, February 13, 2017

What type of swimmer are you?

Happy Feb! 

Maybe you've been swimming all winter (congrats, die-hard!). Maybe like me, you've been avoiding swimming in the winter (getting into cold water is bad enough - why get out of the water into really cold air??). Or maybe for you, no time is a good time for you to be thinking about swimming? 

I thought it might be fun to do a little "visualization" - it's supposed to be good for personal growth after all. And seeing as how we're in the month of "love" with Valentine's Day, I want you to close your eyes and think of the type of water that you LOVE to be in the most. 

OK, eyes are closed? 

Got your visual? 

OK, which of the images below looks most like what you imagined? 

The open water swimmer -- you love to swim long, usually with no agenda other than a time or distance to cover. You might work on technique as you swim, and appreciate the uninterrupted time you can spend focusing on working on an aspect of your stroke. With no good way to measure your pace, you swim by feel and not by numbers, maybe slower than you could if you worked on it more. But, hey, you don't smell like chlorine when you finish a session. 

The pool swimmer -- you may have grown up doing swim team (even if just for a year or two as a little kid), and you feel comfortable swimming with a line on the bottom to follow. Without a coach on the side, you may not really know what you should be doing when you come to swim, though. "Clock skills" come easy to you, so you probably know how long it takes you to swim every 100 of a set of 10 x 100 on 15 sec rest. Chances are you've still got that one stroke flaw that you don't take time to work on between sprint sets. And your open water navigation and confidence could use some work. 

The non-swimmer -- you get in the water now and then so you can survive a triathlon, but maybe with a bit of loathing or trepidation. Not yet a fan of open water, not yet a "fish" in the pool either. When you are in the mood to think about swimming, you have a tight relationship with YouTube and devour swimming videos. Masters swim lingo is indecipherable, and you're not really sure where you're at with your technique development. Hot tub is calling... 

Seriously though, no matter what your type, unless you're training hard for Ironman Texas or Galveston 70.3 right now, you're likely only just starting to think about getting any serious swimming done. If the hot tub is sounding like a great option, but you know you should be in the pool working on your technique and conditioning, here's a good blog from Paul Newsome of Swim Smooth to help you get your mojo back for a good triathlon swimming season -- get started, set a mini goal or two, commit to swimming, and track your progress. 

Go read it! And then pack up your swim bag and get ready to get wet!


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Casey Arendt of Go the Distance Coaching specializes in freestyle stroke mastery for triathletes.
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Monday, December 12, 2016

So long Miami, and thanks for the cortiditos!

At long last, my very long racing season has ended - my "A" race was the half-distance aquabike at MiamiMan on Nov. 13th. This event also served as the USAT national aquabike championship and special qualifier for the very first ITU Worlds Aquabike Championships ever, which will be held next August in Penticton, B.C. As a swim/bike specialist, I was very excited to see what I could do against some of the best aquabike women in the country, and given our small numbers, to hopefully easily grab one of 18 Worlds slots in my age group as well.

If you're interested in qualifying for Worlds in Aquabike in 2017, here's my experience with the MiamiMan race for your reference.


I am not a seasoned traveler as far as traveling with a bike goes. 2015 was the first time I did a race I couldn't drive to, and I was fortunate that massive numbers of folks were also headed to USAT Age Group Nationals in Milwaukee, so it was easy for my bike to hitch a ride on a Raceday Transport truck to get there, no disassembly required. When we arrived at the venue the morning before the race, I just grabbed my bike at the company's area across the street from transition, took a quick ride to make sure everything was working, and checked into transition. After the race, it was a short walk to drop the bike off again, and it never had to go into the rental car at all. Yes, it wasn't cheap, but boy was it convenient!

No such luck at this race. Mack Cycle Shop is the named sponsor of the MiamiMan, and they offer an assembly service, but none of the big names in bike transport were going to be there. So I paid for boxing and box rental at my local shop, AMS Tri-Cyclery, Fedex shipping via BikeFlights (responsive customer service!), and then reassembly and reboxing at Mack Cycle. Cost about the same as Raceday Transport, but felt more stressful (mostly because I was afraid Fedex would lose my baby). But the bike made it to the race just fine, and also got home more quickly than I expected, so it worked out.


While the bike was slowly making its way over the roads, we humans (me and my husband) flew into Miami airport and spent day 1 in South Beach. The race is inland just south of the Miami Zoo (which is the site of the run course - I bet it's great), so I wanted to make sure I got some beach time in pre- and post-race. I didn't realize that all the beaches up north near Orlando where we traveled post-race would be private, so getting this day in Miami Beach was really great! We toured the Art Deco section of town around dinner time, crashed into bed early because of our very early flight, and then got up early to hit the beach before breakfast. I did a bit of body surfing while Mike practiced his photography skills.

We walked to breakfast at a little Cuban place tucked away next to a hotel that we ended up having all to ourselves with the staff. And there I had my first cortidito ever. It was a moment I will always remember...

Cuban coffee involves pulling a shot of espresso into a cup that contains raw brown sugar (and lots of it), causing the sugar to caramelize and imparting a unique flavor. The cortidito is the macchiato version of a Cuban coffee – a little creamier, but still really tiny, and really sweet. Delicious!! Apparently these coffees are traditionally consumed throughout the afternoon and evening in Cuba – they must be much less sensitive to the caffeine than I am!

Any sadness I felt about missing Austin’s Tour de Donut because I’d be in Miami racing on that same day melted away with cortidito #2.

The rest of the day was a blur: check out of the hotel, drive to race site, explore race site, eat Caribbean food for lunch, drive to Y to try to swim, find out pool is closed on Fridays (what???), check into new hotel, pick up bike from Mack Cycle, grab dinner, crash again. Phew!


Saturday was a comedy of errors. Little did I know that I had booked a different Best Western than my friend Rena. We planned to meet downstairs for breakfast and then go for a short ride on the course, but somehow didn’t see each other. That’s when we figured out we were actually 5 miles away from each other. Oops!! Our tour of the loop section of the bike course was a nice ride, made somewhat more stressful by the fact that my antique Garmin 310XT couldn’t get past the start-up screen. Thankfully I was able to get it working once I plugged it in back at the hotel, and we didn’t have any mishaps out on the road.

But I miscalculated the amount of time required to take a shower, get lunch somewhere interesting and get back to the race site in time for the 1pm athlete meeting and bike check-in. So we missed out on Cuban lunch (and another cortidito) to my husband’s great chagrin and got crappy Chinese take-out near the zoo instead (note to self – don’t try to find food near Miami Zoo again! Just buy pizza at the expo!). 

On the way to crappy Chinese food a really high-pitched whine started coming from the back seat – my front tire had just sprung a leak on the way to bike check in. Really??? Fortunately everything I needed to fix it was back at the hotel. That included a spare tire and not just a spare tube, but turned out the flat wasn’t from road debris – the seam on the inside end of the latex tube had just given out. If it had done so just two hours later, I might be writing a different ending to this story!

Find friends and take their bike pump, get packet, go to athlete meeting, back to hotel, struggle to get tight tire back on rim, back to race site, check bike in. Phew!

The rest of the evening was more low-key: a bit of (fabulous) Italian dinner with friends at Osteria Vecchio Piemonte, Tats on, bags packed, and off to bed.


After a night tossing and turning worrying that a flat tire (or two) would end my dreams of going to Worlds, the good news just didn’t stop rolling in. As we rolled into the race site with zero traffic and an amazing parking spot, we were greeted by cool morning air, a 2 degree temperature drop of the water guaranteeing that I would be comfortable racing in my fullsuit, and news that the aquabike “finish line” would now be at the entrance to T2 rather than all the way out at the regular finish line. Hooray!!

Ready to race!!

There was plenty of time and space to warm up before our wave start time and get oriented to the environment. The start area is a sandy beach. The sand gets softer (and more mossy) as you walk into the water. The lake is spring-fed, which is why it was 76 degrees even when the weather was in the mid-80s by afternoon. There was a starting arch on the beach, but we were not required to enter through it, just to stand behind a line even with the front of it. At the starting horn, everyone ran into the water, meaning only the people in the very front were able to get a good dolphin dive and fast start to their swimming. I should have been more aggressive, but instead waded in slowly in the heavy, mossy sand until there was at least a little space to swim in, and swam head up until things thinned out a bit in the swimmer soup.

The water was clear enough that I was able to easily see feet and legs of slower swimmers in front of me throughout the race, allowing me to navigate through them without having to sight too frequently. The course was set up as two 0.6 mile clockwise loops with a short run through the finishing arch, and then back into the water. I wasn’t sure how standing up and running would affect my breathing and heart rate, but it was actually not a big deal. I just wished my feet were tougher – the gravel on the path back into the water was a bit rough on them. The two loop arrangement actually helped the swim feel shorter, and I am definitely a fan!

Swim course -- start is to the left, finish to the right.

Enter on the far side, through the arch, then back in on the near side for loop 2

I didn’t manage to find any drafting partners at any point in the race, and the first part of the second loop I was actually completely alone to the first turn buoy, requiring me to sight more carefully than I had been. I cruised to a faster time than anticipated, got two plucky wetsuit strippers to help me get free of my Roka, and then ran through the grass of the (very long) transition area to my bike.

Because of the foggy morning, my sunglasses were completely fogged up when I got to my transition spot. Dealing with that, and a lack of practice on my transitioning, slowed me down about a minute compared to the faster gals – something to work on for 2017. It was a long run to the end of the transition area and then out to the road to the mount line, and then we were off!

Yeah, that was a really, really long transition run!
The bike route is an out and back section that heads south and west on the way out, followed by a 15 mile loop ridden twice and then back north and east. Miami can be quite windy – some race reviews I read said there can be 30 mph winds for this race – but race day was sunny and nearly windless as we headed out on the road. Elevation gain for the entire 54 miles (yes, it was a slightly short course) was 50 feet. Yep, that is one FLAT course!!

As a fast swimmer and less fast cyclist, I got passed more than I passed others on the outbound stretch. I watched out for potholes and the occasional passing rider who cut in in front of me just a LITTLE too close for the first 13 miles. Once we hit the loop, we had to contend with big packs of fast riders coming around for the second time (our wave was the last of the morning) and water station volunteers standing really far out into the road. USAT officials zoomed by on motorcycles pretty frequently, but I still saw quite a bit of intentional drafting going on. I practiced my “slingshot” passing method as taught to me by my coach, and got pretty good at it – come right up behind a slower rider taking in just a few seconds of their draft before swinging out and completing the pass within the 15 seconds allowed, all without altering goal watt output. 

The bike aid station was at the end of the loop, at 28 and 43 miles. I picked up a bottle of water there the 2nd time around. The blue "cap" was still attached by a little bit of plastic on the side. It was totally possible to drink from the bottle with it there, but it was annoying. Unfortunately I wasted a lot of water trying to pull it off with my teeth. After the race I found I could get rid of it by twisting it around several times until it broke free. Here is what the bottles on the bike course looked like:

Squishy bottles with open top, blue cap attached to ring that is REALLY hard to get off.

There were a fair number of 90 degree corners throughout the course, but keeping my accelerations out of those corners and around riders to a minimum meant that I still had quite a bit in the tank near the end of the race when the east wind really started to kick up. The last north stretch of the bike course was less windy, so I picked up my effort, slipped out of my shoes, hit the ground running, and got across the line in just over 3:20. 

After racking my bike and organizing my stuff, I spotted Mike by the fence near the results trailer – he already had my results (7th place in my AG) – awesome! I handed him some stuff, and should have taken my shoes from him – the jog to the finish line was a little tough on my tender feet. But I managed to run in over the finish line for a decent finisher pic! After that there was plenty of time to get some arroz con pollo and pizza, check out results, take photos and hang out with my friends as they finished, drink a LOT of water, and hit the road for Cocoa Beach and a little more vacation after dropping the bike back with Mack.

Done! See you in Penticton!

Austin Y-Tri aquabikers!

My long-suffering husband/photographer

My client Rena crushed the bike course!

MiamiMan race schwag
After the race I got this photo from one of my Austin friends:

Cortidito J

To see a bit more of what MiamiMan is like, check out this promo video of the 2016 race from Vantage Point Aerials:

Thursday, October 27, 2016

By the numbers -- a quick test that will reveal your future IronSwim potential

Start of Ironman World Championships 2016 reposted from ironmantri Instagram site

What's your Ironman dream? 

Hearing Mike Riley call your name for the first time?
Running the whole marathon? 
Finishing in a certain time? 
Qualifying for Kona?

Whatever form your dream takes, killing it on Ironman race day requires bringing a lot of elements together - 
  • Efficient form that keeps you injury-free as you prepare
  • The fitness and speed to finish each leg in the desired time
  • An effective taper that energizes you
  • A nutrition plan that keeps you going and your tummy happy from start to finish
  • A terrific sense of pacing that keeps your desire to "race" through the swim and bike legs effectively in check
What if you could get through your swim leg as fast or faster than you have in the past with perhaps less training time during your preparation and with less effort on race day? That would put you back on land with a lot more in the tank, both mentally and physically, and make for a great beginning to your epic, PR day.

Three elements to a swimming breakthrough

Over the next three posts, I'll examine how you can get a breakthrough in your swimming:

  • Build a "diesel engine" that goes hard for a long time (this post)
  • Optimize your technique for greater efficiency and propulsion
  • Change your mindset to get out your mind out of your body's way

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    Element One: Building your diesel engine

    Triathlon swims of a mile or more require development of muscular endurance - taking endurance (the ability to complete a long distance), and adding in the ability to complete that distance at 80-95% of your lactate threshold effort. You want to become not a sports car, and not a jalopy, but a semi truck that can pull loads over long distances. 
    be a diesel engine swimmer
    Build your swimming diesel engine!

    I'd like to discuss two numerical models that are useful for defining swimming muscular endurance and pacing yourself on muscular endurance swims to better develop your "diesel engine": SDI and CSS. We'll cover how to diagnose the current state of your swimming engine with SDI, and teach you how to make it better using CSS in your swim sets.

    THE TOOL: Use SDI to diagnose your diesel engine status

    First up is SDI - Sprint-Distance Index, developed in the 1970s and 80s by Pete Riegel and Jean-Marie DeKonick. The VDOT model from running coach Jack Daniels is similar in concept. It is a "time predictor" model -- if you know your time for a certain distance (for example, an all-out 100y swim), then you can predict your time for a 1500m (or 2.4 mile) swim using a decay constant (SDI) of 1.06 and the following equation:

    Time to be predicted = Time known * (Distance to be predicted/Distance known) ^ SDI

    The SDI constant is the "decay" in your speed as the distance increases. 1.06 is the ideal value for a triathlete who is well-balanced between sprint and endurance capabilities. 

    Where this model gets even more interesting is if you have the results of TWO all-out swims, which allows you to find out how close to 1.06 your SDI is (in addition to predicting swim times for other distances). 

    If your SDI is greater than 1.06, you are in need of more endurance and muscular endurance work - you slow down more than expected as the distance swum gets longer.

    If your SDI is less than 1.06, then you are a more distance-oriented swimmer and on your way to becoming a "one-speed" swimmer who can't really sprint. If your speed is also fast, this is a good place to be. If your overall speed is slow (>2:00/100y), then you will want to work on your technique and fitness at short distances to improve your speed while keeping an SDI around 1.06 or less.

    THE TEST: Let's put this into practice, shall we?

    First, warm up well at the pool, and then complete two time trials with 5-8 minutes of very easy swimming/stretching in between. I recommend doing the longer one first since its intensity is lower, but you can do them however you prefer (or do them on separate days). You might do a 100y and a 500y swim, or perhaps a 200y and a 400y swim. If you're highly motivated, you could do a 100m and a 1500m swim to really get an idea of your range. 

    If you've done your time trials in a 25y pool (short-course yards, SCY), get your short-course meters (SCM) time conversions here.
    Then take your two times and plug them into the SDI calculator here:

    Example -- Swimmer 1 completed time trials of 100y and 500y in 1:55 and 10:50 respectively.
    • 1:55 in SCY converts to 2:07.9 in SCM
    • 10:50 in SCY converts to 12:01.5 in SCM
    Then plug these numbers into the SDI calculator like so:
      Use SDI to predict your Ironman swim time
        • The SDI calculator gives a value of 1.07 for SDI (a little higher than optimal). More work on the diesel engine is needed.
        • Predicted Ironman swim time of 1:46:27 (2:48/100m) at current fitness
        • Predicted Ironman swim time at TDF = 1.06 is 1:40:50 (~5 min faster)
        In the case of this swimmer, improving fitness to an SDI of 1.06 could result in a 5 minute faster swim at Ironman. If he or she has a real affinity for muscular endurance training and is able to achieve a 1.05 SDI, this predicts an Ironman swim time of 1:37:14 (3.5 minutes faster). Working on more efficient technique in tandem could lead to an even bigger improvement by race day, getting this mid-pack swimmer closer to a 1:20 finish.

        What does it take to swim 3800m (2.4 miles) in 1:20?

        We can use the calculator for this also:  

        Plugging in 3800m in 1:20 with an SDI of 1.06 gives 1:42 for a 100m all out swim.
        Plugging in SDI = 1.0 shows that you need to average 2:06/100m (or 1:53.5/100y) for 3800m to get 1:20.

        Use Critical Swim Speed (CSS) training to develop your diesel engine in the pool

        Even older than SDI is the CSS (critical swim speed) model for muscular endurance training. To get your CSS, you can use your 800m pace prediction from the SDI calculator (currently 2:30/100m in the example above), or you can complete 200m/y and 400m/y time trials and use the CSS calculator from Swim Smooth.

        CSS pace is your goal average pace for hard but aerobic sets of 200s, 300s and 400s with short rest (~10 sec per 100), with a total main set yardage of up to ~2000y. For example, you might start out doing 5 x 200 with 25 sec rest, and work your way up over 8-12 weeks to doing 5 x 400y on 30 sec rest at your CSS pace (add 1-2 sec per 100 for 300s and 400s).

        The level of effort required to maintain CSS pace over long distances is at the far upper end of your aerobic range - it's hard, but it's not sprinting. These are challenging sets, but the payoff is tremendous if you incorporate one into every week instead of just doing long, easy swims to work on endurance only. 

        You will find that you must really concentrate on your technique to maintain the desired pace as you tire, and knowing what points of technique help you do this can be quite valuable information - you will want to keep these in mind when racing as well! 

        Make sure to pace yourself well from the very beginning of the set and stick slavishly to the rest interval for best results. If you have an SDI that is greater than 1.06, you will be tempted to swim faster than the assigned pace at the beginning of a set (or interval), but resist this temptation! Your goal is to finish a long distance at this pace, not to sprint faster than it at the beginning and slow down as you go through the set. Don't worry if it seems too easy for the first couple intervals. If it feels too easy by the end of the set, though, try a quicker pace the next time. 

        If you have difficulty pacing yourself within an interval (you set off too fast in the first 25 or 50 and then slow down at the end) or difficulty pacing yourself through a set (interval times get slower and slower as you go), then try using a Tempo Trainer set to 1/4 of your CSS pace in mode 1. Your goal is to make every turn right with the beep to learn how to pace very evenly.

        To learn more about training with CSS, check out this page from Swim Smooth.
        Check out this thread in the Total Immersion forum to learn more about SDI.

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        Casey Arendt is CEO of Go the Distance Coaching, and is a USA Triathlon and Slowtwitch Coaching certified swim coach who specializes in freestyle technique development and conditioning for triathletes. She offers private swim lessons and swim video analysis in Central Texas. You can reach her at

        Saturday, September 5, 2015

        Spring Lake Triathlon 2015 - swim/run/bike course preview


        This September I will do the Spring Lake Triathlon for the first time, after hearing lots of good things about it from friends since I moved to Austin four years ago. This event is a fundraiser for the San Marcos Rotary Club, and is one of only two events in which people are allowed to swim in Spring Lake, an environmentally protected spring-fed lake that usually is traversed only by glass-bottom boats. This year, 2015, the course is different due to construction between Spring Lake and the usual bike course. The race director has solved this problem by changing the format to a swim to run to bike event - I'm not even sure what to call this! Overall I think this order of events will favor strong cyclists over strong runners, so I'm eager to try it.
        Spring Lake and its glass bottom boats
        The swim is 500m in Spring Lake. The spring water is about 68 degrees, which in Texas is considered icy cold. Some folks will wear wetsuits. I'm going to brave it without one, so I'll be prepared for a sharp intake of breath when I first get in, and maybe a little difficulty breathing easily for the first minute of the swim. Should be good to go after that. I find that goose bumps on my arms give me excellent feel for the water! Spring Lake has some other interesting quirks besides the cold temperature - the reason the glass bottom boats are a hit is because the water is crystal clear, allowing viewers to see the towering aquatic plants growing up toward the surface AND abundant fish. I don't know about you, but most triathletes don't really want to see water plants reaching up toward them and giant fish. I haven't swum in anything like these conditions, so I'm really not sure how I will respond.
        No black line to follow here!

        Swimmers will encounter a grassy exit area that leads to a decomposed granite trail leading to the T1 parking lot where their shoes will be waiting. I am hoping that the race director will have carpet down on the trail for my tender feet. I will have to decide if I want to carry my cap and goggles with me on the run or come back for them later.
        The run begins on asphalt, and is mostly uphill for the first mile as it winds upward into the neighborhood above the spring. About 1.33 miles in, it enters the Spring Lake Preserve. Since what goes up must come down, this gravel section starts with a nice downhill.
        I did not preview the park section of the run course, but imagine that there is a bit of shade available. Overall having the run second in the morning should mean somewhat lower temperatures, which will be welcome. After winding through the park, the run course finishes on Lime Kiln Rd, which is flat or downhill on this section, and then winds around the parking lot of the Travis Elementary School to T2.

        The bike course begins on Post Road, heading north. In general north = more uphill than downhill and south = more headwind on this bike course. Post Rd. starts out as very smooth asphalt with a marked bike lane. I'm assuming this bike lane will be swept ahead of the race, but was a bit junky during my preview ride. The first 1.25 miles are very nice, with just two manhole covers to watch out for just after the brightly painted apartment complex. As the road leaves town, the surface changes over to chip seal, but there continues to be shoulder the full distance (3 miles to the turn around). Riders will pass a few "road closed ahead" warning signs - presumably due to May flooding of the Blanco River - but the turnaround is well before this point (went a bit farther to see where the road was closed, but not far enough to see any damage). There is a hill near mile 3. I'm not certain if this hill is included in the course or if the turnaround will come before it.
        Riders will not go far enough on Post Rd to see THIS sign.
        On the way back into town, there is a section of new asphalt that provides a nice ride for a little while, and then the good asphalt picks up again after mile 5. Just before the course takes a right turn onto Lime Kiln Rd., be on the look out for a rough patch near a chainlink fence. This patch may be in better shape by race day, but as of now, if you're not an amazing bike handler who can skirt it on the right and avoid hitting the curb, I recommend moving left into the traffic lane (after checking for cars behind you of course!) where the surface is packed down rather than loose with large gravel.

        The course takes a 90 degree right turn onto Lime Kiln Rd right after the Texaco station (watch for traffic!).

        Lime Kiln Rd is all chip seal, so expect a bumpy ride. There aren't many holes, and no large cracks. There's a bit more traffic here than on Post Rd, at least close to town, so stay vigilant. As you get close to the Spring Lake Preserve trail head where the run course emptied out onto this same road, you'll notice a very large "shoulder" to your right, but don't be fooled! It's really a very badly paved parking lot for the trailhead, and you will not want to ride on it unless you brought a knobby-tire bike. Stick close to the white line, and stay aware of your surroundings. Like Post Rd, this road is rolling but generally uphill on the way out. Watch for a "crashed" rocket and Big Foot on the right between miles 9 and 10.
        When you see a sign for the Thousand Oaks neighborhood, the beginning of the loop that serves as the turnaround is getting close.
        You will want to be prepared for a hard right turn just before the loop starts. I want to say very clearly that you MUST SLOW DOWN FOR THIS TURN. I suspect there will be volunteers there to remind you, and you will see the big yellow road signs with black right turn arrows in front of as well. There will be fellow riders coming the other way, and if you swing wide, you run the risk of colliding head-on with someone. Do NOT trick yourself into thinking you can take this corner at 15-20 mph. (And remember when you are heading back down around this corner to watch for idiots on the way up who might kill you!)
        Just after the sharp turn is an uphill, so you might want to back off by a couple gears as you slow down into the turn, and then get out of the saddle for the uphill. It's not particularly steep or long (not as hard as the hill on Blue Bluff from Lindell near Decker Lake), but it's nice to know it's there. After the hill you go straight ahead to start the loop, and make three 90 degree left turns to complete the loop. When you get back to the start of the loop there is a stop sign. This time you'll want to turn right instead of left to head back to town.
        The pavement is pretty bumpy heading back to the finish line, but there are more downhills than uphills. You will have to decide how much bumpiness you are willing to take as you speed down to the finish. I may choose to coast some of the faster sections slightly out of the saddle vs. pushing my speed hard. When you are close to the finish, you will see the train tracks ahead of you. If the finish line is near bike out, then you will turn right on Post. Rd and then right again to come back to the school parking lot to finish. Remember that you will need to safely dismount your bike to run across the finish, so don't forget to slow down instead of sprinting!
        Please visit the Spring Lake Triathlon official website for maps of the course and a link to registration. I hope you enjoy the race and found this preview of the 2015 bike course helpful!

        Friday, May 29, 2015

        RaceRx Advanced Endurance Fuel - proving that gas and bloating are not a necessary part of triathlon fueling

        Recently I was contacted by RaceRx, a new fueling company in San Diego, about trying out their cassava-based sports drink. It's pretty unusual in its formulation, and given my fairly strict adherence to a FODMAP diet, which has me avoiding the fructose and sugar alcohols found in 99% of the sports drinks and gels out there, I was quite eager to try it.

        Their RaceRx advanced endurance fuel uses a proprietary ultra-long-chain carbohydrate called HDA which is derived from cassava starch as a slow-acting glucose source, and contains no grain-derived sugars (it is sweetened with stevia). This makes it great for the fructose-sensitive like me, those avoiding corn due to a food allergy (which is what maltodextrin is derived from), and others who are sensitive to or avoiding high sugar (perhaps diabetics?). In fact I tested it out on two friends with gluten/corn and sugar issues, and both have had good results with it.

        Unlike maltodextrin, which is composed of relatively short chains of 3-17 glucose molecules and breaks down pretty fast, their cassava-based amylopectin molecules contain millions of glucoses that are slowly released during digestion in the small intestine. You can learn more about amylopectin here. While the really long glucose chains are key to the great digestive and energy-producing properties of the drink, they also have the effect of limiting the solubility of the solution. It stays cloudy, and you will need to mix it up each time you take a sip to resuspend it. Overall the drink goes down easy and is not thick or chalky, and the powder suspends in water very easily.

        Other things to know about RaceRx Advanced Endurance Fuel: It contains 120 mg sodium per 120 calorie, 16 ounce, serving as well as potassium, calcium, and magnesium for a well-rounded electrolyte profile. It also contains 25% of all B vitamins, which isn't totally necessary, but probably doesn't hurt since these vitamins tend to get used up during fuel metabolism on a very long or hard ride. Bromelain is also included as a digestive agent and anti-inflammatory (derived from pineapple). Citric acid and "natural flavors" give it a very welcome citric taste. While the fact that it doesn't dissolve makes it taste just a little powdery, I really like the citrus flavor.

        I used this product for my training and racing for Ironman 70.3 Texas (Galveston) in spring 2015 at 120 calories/12 oz (three 4oz doses per hour, each chased with water), and noted a lot less gas and good energy while using it. It was also more convenient than mixing up the maltodextrin/Endurolyte/Crystal Light powders I had used previously, and tasted better. I believe it would work very well for Ironman and other long bike training and racing as well, and testimonials on the website indicate that ultra runners are also using it. For shorter, more intense efforts, purely from a biochemical point of view, a faster acting carbohydrate source like maltodextrin, glucose or sucrose might be a better choice. However, I plan to test ATF in my late season short-course events and see if it is effective there as well.

        RaceRx is available in tubs of 1 kg (2.2 lbs, 27 servings) directly from RaceRx on their website for $39.99, and shipping appears to be free to Texas at the moment (no sales tax either). You can also use the coupon code "TrainerCasey" to get 5% off your order (you're welcome!). I highly recommend trying it if you have a history of GI or food-allergy issues with other sports products!
        Side note: if you tend to be a bit more gassy than the average person, might be worth your while to look into the FODMAP diet to see if it might help you. Eliminating onions, cruciferous veggies, whole wheat and certain fruits has been a sad undertaking (they used to be the base of my diet), but I experience far less bloating and gas on a day-to-day basis now.

        Sunday, March 1, 2015

        Three stroke flaws that ruin your propulsion

        stroke flaws

        Three Stroke Flaws That Ruin Your Propulsion

        A Swim Coaching Article By Swim Smooth
        reproduced with permission (see here)


        One of the reasons an elite swimmer is able to swim so quickly is that they have a very good catch on the water during the underwater phase of the stroke. Developing a truly great catch can be technically very difficult to achieve but if you can make even small improvements to this part of your stroke you'll notice the benefits straight away and start to move more quickly and efficiently through the water.

        For most swimmers getting a good purchase or hold on the water is a very elusive experience and working on this area of the freestyle stroke can be very frustrating. Perhaps you've been told to 'keep your elbows high' or tried to 'reach over a barrel' and struggled to get these concepts into your freestyle? In this article we're going to take a step backwards and look at what happens immediately before the catch – as your hand enters the water and extends forwards.

        Setting Up For A Better Catch

        The catch setup phase is very important in freestyle - if you don't take the time to develop this part of your stroke then the catch itself will be heavily compromised and working on it will be frustrating and largely fruitless. However, take a step back and work on getting your body, arm and hand into the right position prior to the catch and your feel for the water will take a big step forwards, helping you generate much more effective propulsion.

        We're going to look at three very common problems you may have in this 'catch setup' phase of the stroke and in each case give you a simple drill centred on fixing it. Try each drill and stroke focus, even if you don't think you have that issue in your stroke – you may be surprised what benefits it brings!

        Catch Setup Problem 1: Crossover

        On the last Swim Smooth Clinic Series in the UK, 76 of the 108 attendees had some level of crossover in their stroke. A crossover is where the hand crosses the centre line in front of the head. A crossover does a lot of harm to your stroke but in terms of your catch it causes you to collapse on the elbow and lean on it. This dropped elbow position in the water will then stay put for the rest of the catch and pull through – ruining your propulsion.


        To overcome this in your stroke, focus on entering the water straighter without crossing the centre line. You may be tempted to think about going wider with your hand entry but we don't recommend this, it tends to make you flatter in the water and harms your body roll. Instead of thinking about going wider, think in terms of going straighter, entering the water and extending arrow straight forwards in front of the same shoulder:

        great posture and alignment

        A great way to work on this is the 'on your side' drill. This is one of the simplest drills possible but is fantastic for getting you straighter and more aligned in the water. With a pair of fins (flippers) on, simply kick on your side with your bottom arm out in front of you and your top arm by your side. Try to get perfectly on your side with your hips at 90° to the bottom of the pool. Look down at the bottom of the pool and turn your head to the side when you need a breath before returning to look at the bottom.

        kick on sidekick on side overhead

        If you feel like you're drifting from one side of the lane to the other or struggling to support yourself to breathe, then chances are you are crossing over and dropping that lead arm in the water. To remove the crossover, think about pushing your chest out and drawing your shoulder blades back. In doing so visualise going straighter, not wider. Perform this drill as 25m on one side before swapping to 25m on the other side, all the time thinking about improving your swimming posture and becoming straighter in the water.

        Once you've performed the kick-on-side drill, try some full stroke swimming and simply think about the middle finger on each hand as you enter the water and extend forwards. Thinking solely about your middle finger pointing straight down the pool, this helps you focus on keep that lead arm straight as it enters the water and extends forwards.

        Catch Setup Problem 2: Thumb First Entry

        Many of us were taught to enter the water thumb first with the palm facing outwards when we learnt to swim. This method used to be taught because coaches believed it created a smoother hand entry into the water - this might be true to some extent but a thumb first entry puts stress on the shoulder, causing most swimming shoulder injuries. It also harms your catch because by entering thumb first there's a tendency for the lead hand to slice down in the water without getting any purchase on it.

        thumb first entrythumb first entry

        Instead of entering thumb first with hand pitched vertically, we need to enter more naturally with a flatter hand and slight downward angle. This creates a nice clean hand entry whilst setting your hand position up for a great catch as soon as you enter into the water:

        fingertip hand entry1fingertip hand entry2

        Catch Setup Problem 3: Dropping your wrist and over-reaching

        In an effort to make their strokes long, many swimmers over-reach at the front of the stroke, this causes their wrist to drop and show the palm of the hand forwards:

        over reachover reach

        This dropped wrist position can feel good when you swim because as the water flow hits the palm it creates a pressure on the hand and many swimmers perceive this as a good catch. Of course, dropping your wrist creates drag and it also tends to cause your elbow to drop down low in the water, which harms your catch. Instead of doing this you should extend forwards in the water but all the time keeping your elbow higher than the wrist and your wrist higher than your fingertips:

        doggy paddle

        (see more of our animated swimmer Mr Smooth on the swim smooth website here)

        A great drill for developing a better extension forwards in the water is Doggy Paddle. Perform Doggy Paddle with a pull buoy between your legs, don't kick and keep your head high - eyes either just above the surface or just below. Extend forwards underwater and focus on keeping your fingertips very slightly downwards as you do so. When you reach the front of the stroke, tip your fingertips further downwards to initiate the catch and bend the elbow to press the water backwards:

        doggy paddledoggy paddledoggy paddledoggy paddle

        Imagine a rope about 50cm directly under your body and that you are pulling yourself along that rope as you do the drill. This visualisation can help you perfect the movement of the drill.

        Tip: Try using more body rotation than with children's Doggy Paddle - say to yourself 'reach and roll' as you extend forwards and catch the water. In some parts of the world this form of Doggy Paddle is known as 'Long Dog'.

        You can also work on developing a better hand and wrist position whilst performing the kicking-on-your-side drill described earlier. Whilst your lead arm is outstretched keep your elbow higher than the wrist and your hand flexed so it points just very slightly downwards:

        doggy paddle

        If you are used to feeling the water striking your palm then you will feel less pressure from the water in this improved hand position. Expect this to feel strange at first.


        Setting up for a good catch within your freestyle stroke is very important. Many swimmers make the mistake of jumping straight to developing their catch action itself and pay no attention to what happens before. Developing your catch will be a frustrating and largely fruitless experience without first working on becoming straight in the water with your hand and arm in the correct setup position.

        If you take the time to develop this key area of your stroke then the catch itself often falls naturally into place and starts to give you the propulsion you need in your stroke. It's very much cause and effect!

        One last tip: When you make changes such as this to your stroke it can feel strange at first or in some cases it can even feel wrong to begin with. Give yourself a little time to adapt to the changes above and get used to the feel of your modified stroke. We recommend around six sessions focusing on your catch setup before deciding whether these changes are beneficial to you. Give it a go – we're sure they'll help you and have you moving more quickly and easily through the water!

        more about your authors: Swim Smooth

        Swim Smooth is a swimming coaching company based in the UK and Australia. We're famous for our straightforward approach to improving your swimming. On our website you'll find a wealth of easy to read articles to improve your swimming. We offer swimming DVDs, swimming training plans and training tools to improve your stroke technique. Also don't miss our animated swimmer "Mr Smooth" showing you an ideal freestyle stroke in action. Yes he really does move! :

        mr smooth

        Article © Swim Smooth 2011