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