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

Sunday, February 22, 2015

February swim challenge week 4 - rhythm and pacing

Each week in February we have been challenging you to swim a little more than the week before, try a new drill and complete an endurance challenge during one of your workouts. If you don't have time to do all three challenges each week, don't let that stop you from doing one of them, or perhaps two!

This week we bring all the pieces together with a terrific drill for nailing your breathing timing - UNCO. We also get you started on knowing how to pace yourself on long interval sets that have short  rest intervals by showing you how to determine and use your "critical swim speed". These sets should be your bread and butter as you train your swimming "diesel engine" (as the guys at Swim Smooth say) for long triathlon swims.

Whether you've been following the swim challenge from week 1, or you've just discovered us now, it's not too late to be entered in the drawing for a pair of Agility Paddles, a Tempo Trainer Pro, 50% off a swim video analysis session or $50 in nutrition. Four prizes will be awarded! All you have to do is share about what you've been doing in the pool on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #GTDCSwimChallenge.

Week 4 of the #GTDCSwimChallenge starts now!

Last week we encouraged you to try out the scull #1 drill to start to harness more propulsive power and pace yourself through a long swim of 500y or more. If you have the stamina  and pacing ability to finish a 500y swim, you are ready to step up to this week's challenges! This week we use the Unco drill to improve your breathing timing so you can get a great catch and pull on every stroke, not just the ones when you're not inhaling. And we also determine your critical swim speed, a very useful tool for programming tough aerobic interval sets of your own going forward and learning the pace you should be able to hold for a 1 mile open water swim. Here are your challenges for Week 4 (Feb 23-Mar 1):
1. Swim 3x for 45-60 minutes each.
2. Try the Unco drill. This is a one-arm drill that is performed with fins, and it isolates the stroke that most swimmers don't do well -- the one when you're inhaling. Even if you have successfully used sculling drills to get a solid catch and pull for most of your arm strokes, chances are that your forward arm slips down through the water while you inhale with engaging it like it should. If you breathe every third arm stroke, that means you're only 66% efficient. If you breathe every time on the same side, you're only 50% efficient!

Typically a swimmer will fail to catch the water properly on the inhale stroke because she turns her head too late. As you do the Unco drill, focus on rotating your body and your head as soon as your fingertips go into the water so that you inhale as your arm is still entending and then catching the water instead of after that.

Swim Smooth explain the Unco drill well on their website, and I highly encourage you to find all the details there. You can also see an excellent demonstration on YouTube. Briefly, while wearing fins, swim with one arm staying at your hip and one arm stroking. Each time the stroking arm goes into the water, take a breath to the OPPOSITE side so that you are inhaling as the arm extends forward and then catches the water. Then rotate your non-moving shoulder (and hip) down toward the bottom of the pool. This will help you recover your moving arm over the top of the water. Practice breathing on time on one side with the drill all the way up the pool, and then swim freestyle back the other way, still breathing only on that same side. Then repeat the sequence breathing on the other side. If it is difficult for you to breathe on one side or the other, it is likely because you don't rotate your body enough into that breath and/or it is happening quite late. The Unco drill can help you make that "off-side" breath happen more easily so you can become a more symmetrical, bilateral breathing swimmer!

3. Determine your critical swim speed. Whether you are a born sprinter or seem to go the same slow and steady speed regardless of the length of the interval, you will benefit from learning to swim near the top of your aerobic range for long intervals with short rest between them. This type of swimming trains your body to give you its best when you head down to the lake to start a triathlon with a 750m or 1 mile swim. The critical swim speed test will show you what pace per 100 you should be using for these sets as you get started with them. If you're a sprinter, it will give you what you feel is a quite slow pace goal, but I highly encourage you to stick with the recommendation so that you can swim much farther than you usually can! If you're a one-speed swimmer, your pace may feel tougher than you think you can do, but you may just surprise yourself by finding a gear you didn't think you had!

To start the test, pick a day when you are well rested and the pool is not crowded so you have your own side of a lane to work in. Warm up well with some easy swimming, some drill work that helps you swim your best (perhaps some sculling or unco?), and then a set or two of 3 x 50y descending (1st one easy, 2nd one moderate, 3rd one hard, 15 sec rest between each) to get your engine revved and ready to go hard.

The first part of the test is a 400y all-out swim. You will need to pace yourself! Go out at a "cruise" pace for the first 100, and then give a little more effort each 100 until the last 100 is taking more than you think you can give! Make sure to write down exactly how long it takes you to finish. Then fully recover with some rest and some very easy swimming for 5-10 minutes.

The second part of the test is a 200y all-out swim. Pace yourself like you did on the 400, but this time each 50 will feel tougher and tougher. Make sure you give it everything you have! Then take the two times from your two swims, and go to Swim Smooth's CSS calculator at to find your CSS pace. The same page will tell you more about how to use it in your future swim sets.
4. Bonus challenge! Complete a CSS set of 5-8 x 200y at your CSS pace with 20-25 sec rest between them. Make sure that you don't go too fast on the first one! It's always better to get quicker as you go through a set than to get slower and slower. Learning to even-pace or negative split a set (or long continuous swim like in a race) is a terrific skill for an endurance athlete to have at their disposal!

I hope this challenge has been an encouragement to you to get a solid start on your swimming fitness for the 2015. Now keep up the good work and encourage your triathlete friends to do the same! Happy swimming!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

February Swim Challenge Week 3 - Harness your propulsive potential

Each week in February we have been challenging you to swim a little more than the week before, try a new drill and complete an endurance challenge during one of your workouts. If you don't have time to do all three challenges each week, don't let that stop you from doing one of them, or perhaps two!
Big thanks to all those who have been sharing your success on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #GTDCSwimChallenge. Each use of the hashtag enters you to win your choice of a pair of Agility Paddles, a Tempo Trainer Pro, 50% off a swim video analysis session or $50 in nutrition. Four prizes will be awarded! Haven't posted yet? It's not too late! Pick a favorite photo from our Facebook page to share on your page or post about what you've been doing in the pool to encourage all your triathlete friends to get in and get wet too!

Last week we encouraged you to swim 3x/week for a little longer, try out the 6/1/6 drill, and do a 500y set of short intervals. This week your endurance challenge is a little tougher, but most excitingly, we are going to help you improve your "feel for the water" with a sculling drill so you can start to propel yourself more effectively. Here are your challenges for Week 3 (Feb 16-22):

1. Swim 3x for 45 minutes (or more) each.
2. Swim a continuous 500y. Make sure to pace yourself if you haven't swum this far in one chunk before! The first 100 or so should feel pretty easy. Make sure to breathe plenty (this is not the time to impress anyone with your ability to exhale half way down the pool), and consider adding a length of backstroke or breaststroke here and there if you need to take a break.
If you managed to swim this 500 with no problems, you might consider signing up for the adult swim meet at the Northwest Family YMCA on Sunday morning, March 1st! All proceeds from your $15 entry will benefit the Y's Annual Campaign (a great cause), and you can enter any or all of the events: 50, 100, 200 and 500y, your choice of stroke at each distance. Email me at casey at for a copy of the entry form. All entries are due at the end of this week!
3. Try the scull #1 drill. This drill, even though it just feels like floating, helps you gain the elusive “feel for the water” at the front of your stroke. If you are able to push against the water with good power in both directions in scull #1, you can also grab water in your catch and press it smoothly behind you, greatly increasing your propulsive power.
How to do it: Use a pull buoy to hold your hips up (don’t kick). With your head above or below the water, reach out in front of you with a slight bend to your elbows. Keep wrists below elbows and fingers a bit below wrist (if you don’t move forward, likely you are not doing one of these things). Think of reaching “over a barrel” or over a big gym/Swiss ball. Press the water inwards and outwards with the palms of your hands to move gently forwards. After half a length of the pool of sculling, transition directly into freestyle, and make sure to “feel the water” at your catch, and press it smoothly behind you as you do.

Paul Newsome of Swim Smooth demonstrates this drill here:
Note what happens when he drops his wrists!

Don't forget to share your success with your friends and use our hashtag #GTDCSwimChallenge when you do to increase your chance of winning! Happy swimming!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

February Swim Challenge Week 2

Get an early jump on your swimming form and fitness this triathlon season, and have a shot at winning a swimming-related prize from GTDC! Each week in February we will challenge you to swim a little more than the week before, try a new drill and complete an endurance challenge during one of your workouts.

Each time you share your success on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #GTDCSwimChallenge you’ll be entered to win your choice of a pair of Agility Paddles, a Tempo Trainer Pro, 50% off a swim video analysis session or $50 in nutrition. Four prizes will be awarded!
Last week we encouraged you to swim 3x/week and focus on some basic kicking and exhaling/inhaling skills. This week we up the ante with more swimming, a new drill, and a pacing set. Here are your challenges for Week 2 (Feb 9-15):

1.      Swim 3 times this week for at least 30 minutes each.  If you want to make quick progress with your swim technique or fitness, frequent swimming (no more than a 2 day lay-off between swim sessions) will be a great benefit!

2.      Try the6/1/6 drill”, ideally using the hip-driven kick you learned last week and a pair of mid-length flexible fins. Kick on your side with bottom arm outstretched, top arm on your hip and exhaling down toward the bottom of the pool. Take an arm stroke, switch to the other side, and then take a breath without moving your forward arm or your body. Kick on this new side until you need a breath, and then stroke & breathe again, etc.

Visit YouTube to see how to do this drill properly with or without fins:

Why do this drill? There are many ways you can use 6/1/6 to boost your freestyle technique:
(a) Perfect your alignment through your upper and lower core (square shoulders with shoulder blades tucked into opposite back pockets; abs engaged with belly button pulled in to spine and low back flat)
(b) Learn proper “catch” position of your forward arm – elbow slightly lower than shoulder, wrist slightly lower still, fingertips relaxed, palm facing downward
(c) Practice inhaling with a stable arm out front to support your breath instead of pushing down with your forward arm
(d) Add finger-tip drag drill to your strokes forward to practice keeping your recovering arm very relaxed, with all motion coming from the shoulder only.

3.    Swim 10 x 50y, 10-15 sec rest between intervals. All interval times should be within 3 sec of each other. Learn to pace yourself by starting the set off "easy", and building your effort as you go. Learn to recognize how much your perceived exertion changes even though your pace is staying nearly the same as you go through the set. If you are an advanced swimmer, substitute 10 x 100y on 10-15 sec rest instead, aiming for the best possible average speed you can. You should be tired when you finish, just like these guys:
(photo credit: Richard Lautens;
Remember to post your progress to your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram network and include the hashtag #GTDCSwimChallenge as often as you like!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

GTDC February swim challenge kicks off today!

Get an early jump on your swimming form and fitness this triathlon season, and have a shot at winning a swimming-related prize from GTDC! Each week in February we will challenge you to swim a little more than the week before, try a new drill and complete an endurance challenge during one or more of your workouts.

Each time you share your success on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #GTDCSwimChallenge you’ll be entered to win your choice of a pair of Agility Paddles, a Tempo Trainer Pro, 50% off a swim video analysis session or $50 in nutrition. Up to four prizes will be awarded!

Here are your challenges for Week 1 (Feb 2-8):

1.      Swim 3 times this week for at least 20 minutes each. If you are just getting started, it's ok to stick to 20 minutes. If you've been swimming 2 x 1hr already, then add an additional 20 minute session, but don't shorten what you've already been doing! Ideally you will not have more than a 2 day lay-off between swim sessions (especially if your technique needs a lot of work), so make sure to space your sessions out throughout the week!

2.      Try theballet leg kick drill”. This drill helps you learn to kick from your hips rather than your knees as you swim freestyle, which both reduces drag and the amount of energy burned by your large leg muscles as you swim. That adds up to more speed and energy!
      To learn how to do the ballet leg kick drill, watch this short video from Paul Newsome of Swim Smooth (the best portion is from 0:50 to 1:45):

Now go kick with your hips as you swim freestyle. Remember, the point of a drill is not just to do the drill well, but to improve your swimming with what it teaches you.

3.     Swim thinking “bubble-bubble-breathe” to yourself (one word per hand entry) for 4 lengths of the pool without stopping. This drill encourages you to exhale continuously (“bubble”) while your face is in the water instead of holding your breath and then exhaling all at once just before you turn your head to inhale. It also forces you to breathe bilaterally (“breathe” comes every third arm stroke), which may be uncomfortable now, but is a valuable skill for every open water swimmer.
I hope these challenges help you on your journey to better swimming this season! If you have questions or comments about these items or the swimming challenge, you can post them here or email them to me at info at
Don't forget to share your success with your friends and use our hashtag #GTDCSwimChallenge when you do to increase your chance of winning!