Water Running- an under-utilized form of cross-training

Water running is perhaps one of the most under-utilized forms of cross training. As a zero-impact activity, it can be a great way for injured athletes to stay in shape, or a great supplement to a training program for healthy athletes.
i wish this is what i was talking about

Water running is the closest form of cross training that you can get to running, mimicking the same arm and leg movements as you would do running on land.  Also, due to the fact that there is zero-impact (you do this in the deep-end) it is possible to do many interval workouts on successive days, whereas on land this would significantly increase your risk of injury and lead to increased fatigue.
One of the most important things to focus on when pool running is proper form. It is easy to over-stride with a low cadence which won’t raise your heart rate, or to lean forward such that you don’t need to work as hard. It is important to keep the back straight and drive the knee up and then the foot down- it may feel more like cycling than running but that’s okay. Many articles will tell you to use a floatation belt, which is probably a good idea if you are new to water running or don’t find yourself to be particularly buoyant- personally I basically have a built in floatation belt (if you know what I mean 😉 ) so don’t bother, but it is really about what works for you.

One of the key things with water-running is that it is supposed to be hard. Due to the fact that there is no impact, air resistance, hills, etc. it is very easy to get in the water and barely raise your heart rate, which provides little to no training benefit. One of the best things to do is to bring a workout with you. This doesn’t have to be much different than what you would do on land either. You can vary efforts between tempo, hard, and sprints, just as you would on land, although in the water there is not as great a need for long rest periods- your heart rate will be lower while water running than it would be running on land, although very likely close to heart rate levels for cycling. Having a workout helps to keep you focused on what you are doing (as it is easy to lose focus and find yourself not working very hard) and makes the time pass more quickly.
Here are some workouts that I typically do. Since I can only go on my lunch hour, the workouts are 50 minutes or less, although it is possible to do longer workouts if you have the time.
5min WU
6x(2.5min hard/30sec easy)
2-3min easy, repeat intervals
5min WD
5min WU
Ladder intervals (1,2,3,4,5,4,3,2,1) with 1min easy between each
5min WD
5min WU
6x4min tempo, 1min easy
5x1min very hard, 1min easy
5min WD
As a triathlete (as opposed to a pure runner) I found that the best way to institute water running when I was injured was to just replace some of the run sessions I would have done with the water running. Pure runners often find that they will do more water running sessions than they would land running sessions, but then again, they aren’t trying to swim and bike too. Obviously this is also a function of when you can get to the pool. Working at the University of Waterloo right now allows me to go on my lunch hour during the public swim, however those without such easy access to the pool may find it easier to do some pool running immediately following their swim workout.

I can’t sell this form of cross training on how much fun or how interesting it is because, quite frankly, it is BORING. If you can get others to accompany you it might be better, but I wouldn’t know since whenever I ask someone they look at me like I’m crazy, laugh, and go for a run outside. If the pool you’re at plays music it is much more bearable, if not maybe you can bring your own music? Regardless, if you can’t run, this is the best cross training you can do and will likely maintain your run fitness for at least 6 weeks of no running outside. Some athletes even find they are faster after taking time off for an injury and water running (although I’m sure there are several factors at play in these cases). And for those looking to increase their running volume, this can be a great way to log more “miles” without the increased risk of injury.

Magog- Canadian National Championships

I decided I would race in Magog despite my less than desirable performance in Gravenhurst, if only to gain some more experience in preparation for Edmonton. I kept my training as usual up until Wednesday, and started my very short quasi-taper on Thursday. Thursday was the drive to Magog, leaving at 6am from Waterloo, meeting up with C3 members Patricia and Luis Lopez in Toronto, and continuing to Magog, arriving somewhere around 3pm. I spent a lot of time sleeping J

I stayed at a quaint little B&B just 600m or so from the race site. The host was lovely and provided delicious breakfasts in the morning. A couple of LPC members, Helen and Josette, were also staying there and we got to know each other well over the few days- they are lovely people! 😀
Friday I went to check out the course, riding a good portion of the bike leg (the scenery was spectacular), did my usual run on Friday (I decided not to taper my run at all), and swam a loop of the course. The water was lovely although the lake was shallow so I had to practice some dolphin diving as the first (and last) 40-50m were too shallow to swim.
On Saturday I did a little bit of training but spent the majority of the day watching the elite races and the age group sprint race in the afternoon. I was feeling pretty lethargic the entire time since Thursday so was unsure how this “taper” was going to work for me and was feeling pretty nervous going to bed on Saturday night.
After a night of little sleeping I was awake well before my alarm was to go off on Sunday morning, but I was excited to race! I went to get my coffee from McD’s and ate breakfast back at the B&B before heading to the race site. I made sure to eat far more than I did before the Gravenhurst race so that I didn’t run out of energy and have a repeat of that performance.
When walking to the race site I heard the announcer saying it was a no-wetsuit swim!! I did a little happy dance and knew this was going to be a good day. My copious amounts of swim training pay off a little more if we aren’t wearing wetsuits, plus I feel better swimming without them. Fingers are doubly-crossed that Edmonton is also no-wetsuits (although this is probably very wishful thinking). I did my swim warm-up about an hour before the race (my bike was racked the night before so couldn’t do that, and I felt I needed to save my legs as much as possible for the running in the race). Thankfully being on the varsity swim team at Waterloo got me used to doing a warm-up well before the event so this didn’t seem that strange to me.
I was in the fourth wave to go off, with each wave being 10 minutes apart (3 waves of men started before us, and the women 35+ were after). At the start of the horn we all rushed into the water and started to swim. I was prepared to swim on the inside of the buoys going out to avoid people, but that wasn’t necessary as most people were way to the outside. So I swam straight up the buoys, quickly catching those who had a faster start than I. Soon there was only one person ahead of me, whom I caught and swam beside for a bit and then decided to draft off her feet and basically did no work on the way back to shore. 😀 This is the first time I have ever drafted off someone in a race and it was fun! We had to weave our way through the men but eventually we reached shore and were off to transition.
I was nervous about the bike leg as it contained copious amounts of hills (mountains actually) but everything seemed to be working perfectly. I kept my effort steady, adjusting the gearing as necessary and felt like I was moving at a good pace, but keeping my heart rate fairly low (I don’t have data, just going by feel). Passing all the men was just so much fun, and motivating. Coming towards the turn-around we go up a very big hill and then down, and down, and down, and down, and then down a little bit more, before turning around to go back up. All I was thinking about on the way down was “oh no, I am going to have to ride back up this!!” (this section was not part of my ride on Friday).  So then we go up, and up, and up (I think you get the point now 😉 ) but it wasn’t too bad. I saw I had a decent lead on the other females in the race so didn’t increase the effort on the way back. It was very exciting for me to start passing people from the second wave too (so yes, I was looking at the age on their legs).
I was extremely nervous about the run, given last weekend’s disaster. My goal for the entire race was basically to just not fall apart on the run. It took me about 2.5km to find my stride and start to feel somewhat comfortable. The run course was two loops, with only one large, but gradual, hill about mid-way through each lap. Lucky for us, some of the residents of Magog were out not only cheering us on, but they had hoses!! 😀 So a nice little cool down every so often- there were even a couple kids with Supersoakers who seemed to be having a blast. I gratefully accepted any water they wanted to spray on me. Towards the finish line/ where we turn to go to our second loop, not only Helen and Josette but the entire LPC crew as well as C3 members were gathered at the same spot so I got some loud cheers which was totally awesome. Finishing my first lap I could see Hans Porten, a fast moving 55-59 C3 member, heading out on his second lap. It then became my personal goal to chase him down, although it took until about the 8km mark for me to catch him. After that it was smooth going to the finish line, finishing in a respectable 2:14:15. I’m telling myself that T2 was included in the run time (it may have been in the bike time) so I was satisfied with the run. Still plenty of room to go until I get back to last year’s fitness, but I’m going in the right direction.
In hindsight I feel I could have been faster on all three legs, as I wasn’t super tired at the end of the race, however I was very worried about the run so consciously held back on the swim and bike legs and didn’t try to push it too early on the run. However, it is all in the learning experience and I am (knock on wood) remaining injury free so far.
All in all I felt like the entire weekend was well run- events went off on time, there were tons of athletes and spectators, the town really seemed to embrace the triathlon, and the setting was spectacular. Another thing I really appreciated was that there was plenty of space on the bike racks.
I had a great weekend, made some new friends, and got to see a new part of the country.

What I have learned though is that apparently I come across as very serious and intimidating? 

I swear I’m not, but pre-race I am fairly focused and not very smiley. But post-race I am usually happy and very willing to chat!

A huge thanks goes out to C3 and especially Luis and Patricia Lopez for doing the driving to and from Magog, as well as the support I received from all members at the race, and for my new friends Helen and Josette from LPC for creating another cheering section for me. And a very special thanks to Ziggy’s Cycle for helping me out with a new helmet so that my head didn’t heat up like an oven.

Gravenhurst- Olympic Distance

Gravenhurst was triathlon #2 for me this year and I was excited to do it. I had never raced here before due to trouble fitting it into my schedule, but had heard great things about it. And it certainly did not disappoint. I would say that this is the best course I have ever done a triathlon on, ever. If you haven’t raced here it is a must-do race.
A little course preview before my race recap: The swim starts in the middle of the lake, with athletes being taken out by steamboat. It speaks volumes about John Salt (the race director), his crew, and the athletes, that we all managed to get organized onto the two boats and out to the course on time. Truly spectacular event management. Athletes jump off the boat and swim over to the start, with the start of the race indicated by a blast from the horn of the steamship. Swimming in an L-shape, athletes make their way to shore.
The bike course is absolutely spectacular. I don’t usually take time to notice what the course is like in a race, but this was hard to pass up. Although described as hilly, the course really rolls through the hills and you can take the momentum of one downhill into the next uphill. I would say that 98% of the course is extremely well-paved, just a couple of spots that could use a bucket-full of tar.
The run course is hard, with lots of hills and little wind. Definitely a challenge but nice to mix it up from the usual flat run courses. I can’t say much more about it because I was so tired that I was basically looking at the ground the whole time.
My race:
I was excited that we were starting from the middle of the lake because by not being able to push off the ground at the beginning there is basically an immediate separation swimmers. We were also more spread out to begin with, so I only had one person hit me really hard near the beginning but apart from that had a nice clear swim. (huge sigh of relief). Many people had commented that the sun could be a problem but I had no trouble sighting the orange buoys on the way back to shore and exited the water in third position. It was super awesome to run up the dock to the large crowd that had gathered there and was cheering loudly, kind of made me feel like a pro. 😛
I passed one person in transition and the other almost immediately onto the bike. So here I was leading the entire race for the first time in my life. It was so cool!!! This lasted about 24km, when Steve Vandermolen blew by me with apparent ease (his total bike time was 6 minutes faster than mine so he was moving considerably faster).  I remained in second position for the rest of the bike leg and received cheers from many people heading out in the other direction, which was awesome 😀 Overall I was pretty happy with the bike split, same pace as last week except double the distance and I felt much less fatigued. I was very conscious of my gearing over the hills and managed to keep the cadence high.
As soon as I started to run I knew this was going to be tough. I was hoping that my legs would loosen up in the first couple hundred meters the way they usually do, but I had no such luck. Things went from bad to worse to horrible quite quickly and I struggled through in a sort of daze. I am not proud to admit it but for the first time in my life I walked during the run (and more than once or twice), even coming to a complete stop a couple of times. I have literally never felt so terrible. I usually take the stance that you can’t let your competitors see you struggling as it gives them far more motivation to catch you. However, this was abandoned and all I could focus on was getting to the finish line. At about 8.5km I could hear someone closing in on me (race winner Jim Sunners) so I really started to push, but didn’t have enough in the tank to make it and basically stumbled through the last couple hundred meters to the finish line. Thankfully there were some volunteers there to douse us in cold water. I could make up a plethora of excuses for the shoddy performance but the fact is that I am nowhere near race weight and seriously lack the run fitness to do a 10km. Unfortunately I can’t push the running or I will re-injure myself so I must remind myself that Edmonton is the goal and it is still several weeks away (but closer than I’d like).

I would like to once again thank John Salt and his crew with Multisport Canada for their support and a truly spectacular event, C3, and my swim coaches Jeff Slater and Miguel Vadillo.

Huronia Sprint

YAY to being back at triathlons!!! This was the start of what is to be a very short season for me (less than 2 months) but I am excited nevertheless to be back racing! I only started running a couple of weeks ago and it hasn’t been easy- there is still a fair bit of pain throughout the shin, but in all likelihood is just the tendons so I will continue to run through it (fingers crossed that this isn’t a bad decision).
I am going to preface this race report by saying that my helmet was taken from transition after the race by someone, and I am pleading for its safe return. It is a Specialized road helmet, and is red/black, and a silver/white colour. Same helmet that I am wearing in the background pic of my blog. It bothers me greatly that someone would take what isn’t theirs and I am sincerely hoping that this was just a mistake. (I am a destitute student and can’t actually afford a new helmet right now, so I am pretty screwed if it isn’t returned). Please contact Multisport if you have information as to its whereabouts.
Back to the race. I kind of liked the later start as it meant that I could sleep in (til 6:30) and still get to the race in plenty of time. I headed up from my parents’ house in Newmarket and arrived ~9:15. After the usual race warm-up (bit of biking and swimming) I was good to go. I was in the middle of the start line this time so had to deal with lots of people around me at the start of the swim, something I don’t think I will ever be entirely comfortable with. It really is a matter of mental strength to keep calm when someone dunks my head or grabs onto my legs. Evidently though, I did survive, and after about 200m was swimming clear of the pack. I continued to catch people until there were only two visible people ahead of me (there was one superstar swimmer ahead of them, I found out later). So all in all it felt like a good swim- the times are slow but they always are at this course as the water is rougher than usual.
Transition was pretty standard- I tried not putting socks on before the bike this time, and on before the run (I have tried running without socks but it results in a bloody mess in less than 3 minutes). I don’t think it really makes any difference in the end when I put them on.
The bike course in Huronia is definitely one of the tougher ones. There are a few hills to contend with and there was a decent wind as well on Sunday. My legs felt pretty sore on the ride and I held back just a touch because I wasn’t sure how the running was going to go. I had an okay time for the bike split, but nothing spectacular. My favourite part was definitely the downhill on the way back 😀 And a bonus was that only one person passed me on the bike! (I guess when the distance is half what I am used to the men have less time to catch up)
T2- nothing eventful, put shoes and socks on.
So onto the run. Running does not feel great right now as I am just getting back into it, so I had little expectations going in. The plan was to “just keep going.” I set out at a pace that I thought I would be able to sustain for the 5km. On the way out I slowly reeled in the third place male and caught him at the turn-around. He picked up the pace when I got to him and basically I ran one step behind him on the way back. This was really good for me as I was getting very tired so I just focused on staying with him. I did try to pass him a couple times but he responded with a short increase in pace each time. I passed him on the uphill in the last kilometer but this was short-lived. Coming down the hill a spectator was waving at me with the “what are you doing?” type of wave. As I got closer she was yelling “Stop! Stop! You’re going the wrong way!” I got confused and did stop as she started to tell me I had to go back. This is when the guy I had just passed flew by me, at which point I ignored this spectator (who clearly did not know what was going on) and gave chase. He was too far ahead for me to catch and I don’t think this brief interruption by the spectator changed the result, but I have certainly learned my lesson- Don’t listen to spectators. (Unless they are cheering you on of course). Overall the run was okay. Certainly much slower than I was running last year but maybe I shouldn’t be expecting too much at this point. Hopefully the running legs come back sooner rather than later.
I want to thank Multisport Canada for supporting the athletes of the Ambassador Team as it makes it much easier for us young folks to get into the sport of triathlon, as well as their continued professional organization and execution of events. This is a great location for a race and provides a challenging course every year. Thanks also to C3 and their sponsors, Kinetico, Benson Steel, Royal Containers, Cervelo, and Nineteen wetsuits- I couldn’t do this without your support.

See you in Gravenhurst!

Tour de Waterloo- Cycling race- 76km

So this past weekend I competed in a cycling race in Waterloo, mainly just to see what it was like. I spent the majority of my time over the winter focusing on the bike, so was curious to see how I would stack up against pure cyclists.
I was pretty nervous before the race, with my arms shaking as I waited to start. We lined up in the corral much the way a marathon or half-marathon would work, with signs for “racers”, “serious enthusiasts”, and “recreational riders.” I had signed up as a racer, so situated myself towards the front. We started with a ~2km rolling start which was pretty chill before the race officially began. To be honest, I didn’t even know when the race began, and this was pretty much how it was the entire race. With a large peloton and not any overly large hills to break it up, we remained as a large group for basically the entire race. About 50km in the pack split into two, but I made sure to remain with the front group. A few times I found myself at the front, leading the peloton, but was by no means capable of breaking away, and there didn’t seem to be any incentive from any riders to do so. This was very unusual for me- I was expecting a hard 2 hour race, instead it was a bit of a snooze-fest until we rounded the corner to the finish line with about 200m to go. I sprinted to the line and did surprisingly well, placing 2nd. The top 3 females were within a second of each other. All in all, this was a totally different experience from anything I have done before. In triathlons, swimming, and running, every athlete has to work hard the whole time, and those who work the hardest typically win, while this race seemed to be about doing as little work as possible. Indeed, the girl who won, and her teammate who came 4th, never once moved to the front of the peloton to take a turn. A similar situation occurred on the men’s side, with the men who did the most work not coming in first. I understand that not doing any work is probably considered good tactics but to me it is mind-boggling. Why would I want to chill out on my bike for two hours and have everything come down to the last few seconds? But I digress…

Last night I was thinking about how this was just totally different, the mentality of the cyclists, the culture of cycling, the race itself etc, and it strikes me as not surprising that doping is so common in the sport. As I said above, it seemed to be about who could do the least work yet still remain near the front. Drugs would certainly work well with this mentality; eg. “Take this pill, get faster without having to do anything.” I’m not looking to start arguments; this is simply what I observed. I can certainly say I prefer to race where everyone has to do their own work so that the best, fittest, and hardest working athlete comes out on top. Triathlons FTW.

Binbrook- Swim-Bike-Stop

Binbrook marked the start of race season for me, although I’m still recovering from the stress fracture so can’t run. It definitely felt good to get back to it, experiencing the race atmosphere and among fellow triathletes! J

My alarm went off at 4:50am after a restless night listening to my neighbours play their terrible music late into the night (one thin wall between us does little to block the sound). I immediately rolled over and hit the snooze button, but 5 minutes later was re-awoken and forced to get up and make some coffee. Forty-five minutes later I was packing the car and ready to hit the road, sleepy but still looking forward to the race (this contrasts to the usual pre-race anxiety that has me wide awake, usually before the alarm goes off- apparently when I know I’m not running I don’t get nervous?)
I arrived at the race site at about 7:15, checked in, got my stuff set up in transition, and was off to warm up on the bike. I headed to the water about 8:00am to warm up in the water a bit, but was feeling fairly sluggish. I knew this would likely happen as there was no taper into this race and I have been feeling kind of tired for the past couple of days- however Sunday was spent volunteering at the Caledon KOS race so I should be rested and ready to get back at it on Monday.
A few minutes to race start I found a position near the outside of the start line, hoping that it would prove to be calmer waters. Apparently most people thought this would be a great place to start too, so a couple minutes to go I decided to go over to the other side near Lionel Sanders, my C3 team mate and someone I knew was about my speed. The horn went off and as usual, people started out way too fast. I was in the mix of things but was able to stay calm despite the flailing arms and legs around me. I don’t really have a top speed, just one race pace, so I didn’t go with the front group, but by 200m in I was catching and passing those who didn’t start at a reasonable race pace (I don’t really understand the mentality behind starting way faster than you know you can swim for 750m, but to each their own I guess).  By the first buoy there were few people around and fairly calm waters, so I just concentrated on swimming in a straight line (towards the buoy) and maintaining proper form as I know when I am tired my swim form completely falls apart.
I exited the water and commenced the run up to transition. This was by far the hardest part of my day- having not run for several months my body was kind of shocked at this particular movement (technically I shouldn’t be running yet, but soon, so I figured my leg would hold up to 100m of running). I guess a taste of what is in store for getting back into shape K

Transition went well enough, faster than last year but still slow- it seems so easy to get my wetsuit off in training, but as soon as I am in a race it doesn’t seem to want to come off so easily. 🙁 
On to the bike course I was feeling good. A nice flat course such as this one is conducive to fast times, so my plan was to just go hard for the 30km and see what kind of time I could achieve. I passed a couple of guys, one of whom passed me later, as well as a few other men that flew past me like I wasn’t moving.
Back at transition I looked at my watch and figured I had taken about an hour, which is what I was aiming for. Overall, the swim was about a minute faster than last year (largely due to me swimming in a straight line this time), transition was moderately faster, and the bike was slightly faster as well. I can certainly say that I am looking forward to when I can run again.
I’d like to thank a lot of people for contributing to my training and putting on races, I couldn’t do it without you. Thanks to Jeff Slater, the Waterloo Varsity Swim coach who has (for some reason) not given up on trying to teach me how to swim, Nineteen Wetsuits for making my swimming so much easier, C3, their sponsors, and all my training teammates, and Multisport Canada, for putting on amazing races and giving everyone the opportunity to race at beautiful locations.

Next up is a bike race in Waterloo later in June, because, well, why not? (I am mentally preparing myself to have my ass kicked)

C3 fundraising day

So as my race uniform indicates, I am part of C3 (Canadian Cross Training Club) under the guidance of Barrie Shepley. This has allowed me to excel in the sport of triathlon and I am truly grateful. Running a club is not a cheap endeavour though and so we hold a fundraising day every year to try and bring in some funds for the athletes. This year the day will be on June 11th and structured as a bike (50km) in the morning, lunch, round of golf at Caledon Golf and Country Club, followed by an AMAZING (i cannot stress this enough- literally outstanding food) dinner.
See the poster below for costs- as you can see, you do not need to participate in the whole day (you could just come for the AMAZING dinner if you want).
If you choose to participate in the bike ride also I should let you know that you will get to ride alongside some of the pros such as Lionel Saunders (i’m sure he’ll slow down for us), Taylor Reid and John Rasmussen (ITU athletes). (and myself, if that counts for anything)
There is the chance to win some prizes if you’re good at golf (or at least on a good team since it’s best ball).

I urge you to consider coming out to join us for a fun day and to help support our athletes. 🙂

Thanks in advance!!

the frustration continues

well this pic pretty much sums it up. In March I woke up one day and my leg didn’t feel quite right, but having been very careful with my running I convinced myself that there was no way it could be a stress fracture- probably just the tendinitis acting up again right? A few days later the pain was unbearable so I decided to take some time off- I even went to the sports doc and got a bone scan- unfortunately it took about a month to get the results, but I decided after two weeks I would start running again. BAD IDEA. (will I ever learn?) When I eventually got the results they concluded that I “probably” had a stress fracture- couldn’t be certain because of the two previous stress fractures in the same spot… 🙁  not knowing what to do I decided to call Waterloo Sports Med, where I had had a bone scan done last October under the suspicion of a stress fracture- there was no stress fracture that time, in fact, there was absolutely no increased bone activity on the bone scan. damn. That means that what is on the current bone scan really is a stress fracture. After some angry ranting and a few tears I accepted that running was not happening any time soon and will do what I can in the meantime- my season isn’t looking too fantastic at the moment but will take each race as it comes. Some hard swim/bikes will probably do me some good anyways

Training without the gadgets

So I am going against the grain here with this post since these days it takes no effort at all to find someone touting the benefits of using some sort of gadget to make your training better. Power meters seem to be all the rage these days- I couldn’t count the number of times I have heard someone say “I/you NEED a power meter!” Now, if anyone looks at my race wheels this year, they will see that I have a power meter- but it doesn’t work. It simply came with the race wheels I got second-hand, the battery lasted about 5 rides, and when it died I a) didn’t care very much and b) discovered that not many people (none that I found- although I didn’t look very hard) carry the tool that would be required to take the cap off and put in a new battery. So I am leaving the power tap there just to make myself look super cool.

I also don’t train with a HR monitor (once in a blue moon I’ll wear it just to see what it is- but I never look at it until after I finish the workout). I will wear a GPS in the summer when I ride my bike on a new route, but again, that is just out of curiosity to see how far I have ridden, not really used for training purposes.

The first reason I feel that all these gadgets are unnecessary is $$$$$$$$$$$. In case that isn’t clear- they are EXPENSIVE!! I have not bought a GPS, I won it at a race (I actually have 2- anyone want one? [POLAR RCX5- needs a new battery but otherwise works fine]) The un-used power tap on my wheel also really did just come with the race wheels- I got a good price for the wheels alone and the power tap was an added bonus. The HR monitor (that came with the GPS) would be a more justifiable purchase if someone really wanted to get one (as they are less expensive) but there are certainly flaws to training based on it.

I do all my training based on perceived effort. This is a “flawless” tool- it never runs out of battery and is always accurate. If I feel I am giving 100% then that is what 100% is for that day. I know that the actual output may vary from day to day, but so what? If I am tired one day I don’t need a power meter giving me raw data in my face to tell me that I feel like shit. I know I would just get super pissed off and would not enjoy the workout if I couldn’t hit the numbers that I wanted to. By the same token, if I feel great, I know I feel great and I don’t need a power meter or HR monitor or any other gadget to tell me so. Although this post is mainly referring to cycling, the same principle applies to swimming and running. I train by effort- I know when I feel crappy and tired and when I feel great, I don’t need any gadget to tell me that. (I wear a simple watch- it’s all I need)
Another benefit of training based on perceived effort is that this helps me to stay happy and positive when I am training. I don’t like to be given unquestionable evidence that I am not performing at a 10/10 on a given day. I just get annoyed and don’t enjoy the workout. By training based on perceived effort I can acknowledge that yes, maybe I wasn’t feeling particular fantastic or going particularly fast for a particular workout, but if I gave it the effort that was required then I can be satisfied with the training session and eager to come back the next day.

The next benefit is that this translates to race day. I am attuned to how my body is feeling and can gauge my effort during the race to pace myself appropriately. I don’t attend every race in a rested state, some races I simply train through- by being aware of how I am feeling I am able to pace appropriately for the day.
A conversation I recently had with a swim coach also highlights some other reasons I don’t see the necessity of using gadgets while racing. When I race, I am racing the other people– that’s what a race is supposed to be about. I don’t need to go to a race thinking “I’m going to cycle at exactly this power so that I can run the best.” Where is the fun in that? There is no risk or thrill in going to a race knowing that you won’t blow up because you’re cycling at a pre-determined effort. One race that sticks out in my mind is Multisport’s Binbrook triathlon last year. Racing Leanna Lee (http://leannastriathlonjourney.blogspot.ca/) on the bike I gave it everything- I was cycling at a much higher effort than I have ever done in a race- and I suffered dearly on the run. But it was a great learning experience (and I still won the race :P). After that race I knew that if I wanted to run well, I couldn’t go that hard on the bike. It also actually felt like a race. Had I been racing with a power meter I would have held back on the bike, done my own thing, and played catch-up on the run- in other words, not really raced. Racing is fun, so I want to actually do that.

Another reason to not use these gadgets is that I don’t want it to be “about the bike.” Unfortunately I feel that this is the direction that triathlon is heading at the moment. Someone with more money to spend and therefore a better bike with more bells and whistles could place better in a race, without being a better athlete. Had I not had a TT bike last year and instead been using my road bike I wouldn’t have won the races I did. For example, at Worlds, even with a TT bike it was still one of the least expensive/ upgraded (ie. Fancy race wheels) bikes in the field. With a road bike I could not have competed. In other words, I could have been a better athlete than others, but not won because someone else had more cash to spend. And on that note, I don’t want to win a race but have a nagging feeling that I wouldn’t have if someone right behind me had been racing with “poorer” equipment than myself. I want the best athlete to win, not the richest or the one with the better equipment. (but hey, that’s the way it is going to be in many situations, so what can I do).

But back to my original point- there are many benefits to training with perceived effort, and it is possible to be good without forking out the cash for power meters, GPS’s, and heart rate monitors. If you are an athlete just getting into the sport (or been competing for years) there is no need to be intimidated by others who have these gadgets. Train using your own personal and mental motivation and not the numbers in front of you (other than a watch to tell you the time). It does wonders for your athletic capacity, and can help in other areas of life. Developing your own motivation to push yourself in a workout when it hurts isn’t always easy, but the pay-off is huge. Try it.

Becoming a Swimmer (or at least someone who can swim)

So I have been thinking about my progression through swimming, as it was 2 years ago that I did my first flip turn. I reported in my training log that I “almost died cuz I had to hold my breath so long.” Can’t say a whole lot has changed in that regard 😛 but it does make me think about my progression towards joining the varsity swim team- which I absolutely love.
Originally I started swimming because I had a stress fracture and swimming was just about the only thing I could do that wasn’t painful. This was beginning of December 2011. Every day I went to the pool and swam continuously for 60-75 minutes. There was no plan, no workout, just lap, after lap, after lap. I decided that flip turns would probably be quicker than open turns, so gradually began my progression towards doing them. The first time I did them, I think I managed about 7 flip turns in 75 minutes of swimming. It wasn’t fun, but it was something to work on, so I kept at it. I continued with my endless lap swimming until about April of 2012, by which time it was getting pretty boring. I thought maybe I’ mix it up a bit. So I found a workout that I did twice a week (the other days continued to be my lap swimming). The workout was anything but exciting. It was warm-up (which I did as freestyle) then 5X500- 1 and 3 were free, 2 and 4 were pull, and the last one was 2×250, with the 2nd and 4th 50’s as fast. So not really much different to just swimming laps. That summer I was back in school (after being on a co-op term) and was swimming from 8-9am at the university pool. My initial intention was to continue what I was doing, however there was a large group who were there every morning, taking up both the fast lanes and doing a workout, making me swimming laps rather difficult. They asked if I wanted to join them. I did not- why on earth would I want to do a workout??? But a couple more days of getting in each other’s way and I decided, why not, I’ll give it a try and decide from there. Turns out it wasn’t too bad and I stayed with them throughout the summer, and remarkably, improved my swimming 😛 I guess it was by this point that I was starting to enjoy swimming, not to mention that I this is when I started doing triathlons and absolutely loved them, which gave my swim training a purpose. So I had progressed from “I am only doing this because I can’t run” to “I actually kinda like swimming.” Some of the people I was swimming with in the morning asked if I would ever consider joining varsity, to which I scoffed “of course not, I’m a runner, and there is no way I’d be fast enough.” Little did I know….
I was back on co-op in the fall, but kept up doing workouts in the morning and was very dedicated to actually becoming a better swimmer. I had talked to a couple of people at the triathlon club at Waterloo and they suggested that I ask the swim coach if I could train with the team a couple times a week when I was back in school. By this point in time I was fully committed to becoming a triathlete and was looking for any way to get the best training possible.  I contacted the coach and it was arranged that come January, I could train with the team twice a week until their season was over, at which point I could come more often.  As Facebook kindly reminded me at the end of 2013, my first varsity swim workout on January 10th was apparently a highlight of the year for me- probably fairly accurate. I loved it. It is so much nicer begin able to swim with other people and gives me much more motivation to actually try really hard. Over the semester I got better and better- I went from 1:12 for 100 yards in January to 1:07 by April. Pretty remarkable. I was asked many times throughout the semester whether I would join the swim team in September. Initially I just laughed and said “there is no way I will be fast enough to join.” Everyone assured me I would be, but I had serious doubts. However, as my swimming improved the idea of actually being on the team became more enticing, and more realistic. By this time I was completely enjoying the swimming and loved the people on the team.
The summer certainly did not help my swimming. I was on my own and initially the motivation was high to train hard, but then I started working and could only swim for an hour at a time, in a shitty pool, and the motivation waned. Needless to say, I got slower, and truth be told, my swimming in London was abysmal.
However, I still wanted to join the swim team in September, so when I got back from London I started training with them. This was agony. I was frustratingly slow and unfit (in terms of swimming). The swim coach (Jeff Slater) is fantastic though and I kept working hard, and eventually things started to come together.  Now I can hit 1:05 for 100 yards, which is still slower than anyone else on the team, but long-distance is more my thing- 100 yards and I’m still warming up 😛

So there you have it- two years ago I couldn’t do a flip turn, and now I’m swimming with the varsity swim team. So I believe anyone can learn to swim- and the same principles apply for any other sport. Stay dedicated, do the work, set your goals high, and you can achieve whatever you want.