Monthly Archives: February 2011

Running Off the Edge of the Cliff

Last week, I went out on the track to run a workout that combines 800s and 200s. The workout looked like this:
2×800 RI 1.5″
2×200 RI Jog 200
2×800 RI 1.5″
2×200 RI Jog 200
800 RI 1.5″
200 RI Jog 200
As I moved my way through the workout, I was recording lap times on my watch and feeling like my times were so dismal. In previous years, I had been able to run 800s and 200s so much faster than that morning, but for some reason I just could not make those speeds in recent weeks. I tried cycling my legs faster, but this just made me hit my aerobic limit that much faster and I risked flaming out before I could hit the end of an interval.
Then towards the last few intervals, I remembered that body positioning can enhance speed. If I lean too far back, I need to exert more energy in my legs to drive my body forward. Leaning forward by bending at the waist puts me off balance which is bad also, and I waste energy trying to maintain my balance. But leaning forward while upright, presenting chest, with shoulders slightly back and head upright as well, then gravity can add its acceleration to the body and create forward speed without expending muscle energy.
On every 200, I was running them at 43-45 seconds. Then on the 2nd to last 200, I decided to run it with more aggressive body lean forward. Unbelievably, I hit 41 seconds, and without addition of effort. I then ran the next 800 and it was faster than any preceding 800.
On the last 200, I maintained not only aggressive forward lean, but also cycled my legs a bit faster, pushing my aerobic capacity. I made it to 200 in only 39 seconds!!
But the whole time I was leaning my body forward in that upright manner, and leaning as far as I could, feeling like my upper body was pushing forward beyond my cycling legs, it felt like my body was sliding off my hips/legs and about to fall off a cliff the entire time I was running – what a weird sensation this was!
Now I will strive to maintain that “upper body is flying off a cliff” feeling during running, which I know is giving me free, effortless speed that requires minimal leg energy. It does give me an immense mental challenge, however; for some reason, focusing on keeping my body in that position is mentally taxing. With training, I know I can increase my mental endurance on maintaining optimal body lean over race distance.

Total Immersion: Tempo/SPL Matrix for Goal Setting

I once started focusing on getting my Strokes Per Length (SPL) down as far as possible. I once did 7 strokes many times for 25y. But it was a very, very slow 25y. As I tried to up my speed and stroke rate, I lost the 7 strokes almost immediately. I asked Coach Shinji about this, and he told me that while low SPL is a great goal, it’s probably not something to obsess about at least not in that way.
He then told me that constructing a tempo vs. SPL matrix on a spreadsheet would be a better idea. You establish baseline SPLs at a given stroke rate using the tempo trainer, and then that would set goals for you to try to beat at each tempo. Speed would then come naturally, or else how would you do a length with one less stroke at a given tempo?
Earlier last year, mine looked like (tempo in seconds, SPL for 25y):

Tempo (sec)   SPL 25y
2.6 9
2.5 9
2.4 9
2.3 10
2.2 10
2.1 10
2.0 10
1.9 11
1.8 11
1.7 11
1.6 12
1.5 12
1.4 13
1.3 14
1.2 14
1.1 15
1.0 16
0.9 16
0.8 16

If you’ve ever swam at >2.0s tempo, you’ll know that this is quite painful to keep balance but a great practice to show that you have awesome balance in the water.
Each swimmer will have some sort of SPL that is dependent on their swimming skill and body type/shape. Achieving the 4-5 strokes that Michael Phelps reportedly does for 25y probably isn’t possible for guys who aren’t as tall, or as skilled, as he is!
When I practice at these tempos and compare the SPL results to my matrix, I sometimes see efficiency drops. This can happen between days, and between changes in focal points and technique practice, especially if I’m tired or extra tight, or my concentration for some reason isn’t as good on some days as others. When my efficiency drops, I usually go back to drilling basics with single focal points and then move back to whole stroke to see if my efficiency comes back. If not, I may just get out of the pool or else I risk imprinting bad habits.
More matrix notes:
1. Establish your base SPLs and their tempos and record them.
2. You can record more granular tempos if you like but I think the .1 and .05 steps provide enough granularity for this exercise, even as .01 steps can have positive effects on neuromuscular adaptation to higher tempos.
It’s just that who has time during a workout to go through all ranges of tempos at .01 steps? But of course you can focus only on a narrow range during any workout and just record that, even at .01 sec tempo increments.
3. Notice where your SPL jumps by 1 or 2 when go down .05/.1 seconds. This is evidence that your form is breaking down. This is also a great tempo point to drill at and around further because you need to get your form better.
4. Record each time you can remember to, your tempos and times. Also record your mental/physical condition. Try to find patterns over time on your physical and mental condition as it affects your swimming.
5. The ultimate goal is to know how fast you’re swimming instinctively due to your swim tempo and to develop gears in which you can shift to, in order to cruise, to rest a bit, to accelerate past others, or to up the effort during the latter part of a race when others are tiring and getting slower.
Terry Laughlin talks about winning races by being able to maintaining speed over long race distances. Remember, Terry isn’t necessarily the fastest on sprints but he can maintain high cruising speed over the length of a race when others start to falter on form due to fatigue!

The Vitamins and Supplements I Take Every Day

I thought I’d post all the pills, vitamins, and supplements I take every day. Here they are:
Moxxor Omega-3s (4) – Highly concentrated Omega-3s with no fish burps, made from shellfish.
New Chapter Probiotic All Flora (2) – Proper care of friendly bacteria in the digestive tract is supposed to ward off diseases of all sorts.
Vitamin D3 2000IU (1) – Doctors say we’re low on D in general.
Solgar Gentle Iron 25mg (1) – Blood tests showed me low on iron, and important for oxygen transport for us athletes.
Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega+CoQ10 (2) – More Omega-3s, but with CoQ10 which helps performance and recovery.
Whole Foods Vitamin C 1000mg (1) – Sickness prevention FTW!
Whole Foods Ginkgo Biloba 60mg (1) – I’m not getting any younger, my brain can use any help at all!
Whole Foods High Potency Multi (1) – A whole lot of all vitamins.
Whole Foods B Complex (1) – Supposedly helps the fat metabolizers (see below).
First Endurance Multi-V (3) – A special mix for athletes, plus some herbs to enhance performance.
First Endurance Optygen (3) – Tibetan monks nibble on these herbs to increase their ability to endure the high altitudes, supposedly increasing oxygen utilization.
In addition to that daily cocktail, I started supplementing based on Tim Ferriss’s book, 4-Hour Body, which are supposed to enhance one’s fat metabolism. With every meal, I take:
365 Garlic 500mg (1)
365 Alpha Lipoic Acid 100mg (1)
Now Green Tea Extract 400mg (2)
And then, at night before I go to sleep:
Jarrow Policosanol 10mg 2 (2)
365 Garlic 500mg (1)
365 Alpha Lipoic Acid 100mg (1)
Does all this stuff work? Who knows for sure. I do know that the 4 Hour Body supplements have been making my fat content drop because I do measure it. But as for the other stuff – “that which does not kill me, must make me stronger”…right?

Total Immersion: Single and Multiple Focal Points

Total Immersion uses focal points and incessant drilling of focal points to imprint the correct movement habits for better swimming.
In the last few months, I focused on these focal points:
1. Upon recovery, my elbow lead needs to come more forward. In my videos I see that sometimes my recovery is messy and my hand comes forward first.
2. Dave ran us through a lap focusing on a slight hip drive with the spear. This really added some power to my spear.
3. We worked on the spear-kick-stroke back timing. Dave had a great drill where he made us wait until the last possible moment to kick, with the recovering arm entering the water up to the elbow by the time the kick happens. When the spear was almost extended, then the other lead arm catches and strokes back.
4. Shinji has shown me how to generate a flat back. Now I need to drill with this focal point to figure out how to maintain a flat back while swimming.
My workouts would look like this:
200 W/U
4×50 with RI to full recovery ~20-40 seconds with each 4×50 on a single focal point:
1. Bringing the elbow all the way forward into true elbow led recovery.
2. Modified catch up, per focal point 3 above.
3. Adding the hip drive to spear
4. Relax the forward shoulder as recovering arm comes forward to about shoulder point, before spear.
5. Practice swimming with flat back
It would only be about 800-1000 yards and that’s it. I would do this quality swim 3-5 times a week in order to work solely on imprinting the right habits without wiping myself out so that I would get too tired to swim properly.
Then I started thinking about how I could swim with better technique overall, so I started playing with doing drills with more than one focal point.
So I began my drill sequences as above, but then I would challenge myself with focusing not only on the current focal point, but also on every preceding focal point too. For example, after doing focal point 1 for 4×50 alone, for the next 4×50, I would focus on both focal points 1 and 2. Then the next set of 4×50, I would focus on three focal points: 1, 2, AND 3.
This was succeedingly harder as I added one and then 2 more focal points. At about 3 was my limit of how many focal points I could focus on during any one lap of the pool. But through practice, I was able to segment my brain to be able to focus on more than one and juggle them together and make sure I was performing each well, but all during a given swim.
Of course, this was also an expression of my mastery of those focal points, so adding focal points as I became more proficient at performing them became easier because they were imprinting. For totally new focal points, I would most likely have to go back to focusing on that one particular point in order to begin imprinting it.
I queried the Total Immersion forums on this issue, and Terry answered my post. I also liked his version of the successive addition of focal points, which was to grab a few focal points for a given swim set, and then focus on one point for a given set of laps, and then switch to the next point and so on.
Still I think there is value in both Terry’s method and mine, although I think that mine is tougher on the brain at least initially. Most people I meet don’t have the mental ability (yet) to maintain a single focal point for any length of time! But as I’ve found, ingraining new habits even requires practice of ingraining/imprinting, as well as the actual imprinting itself.
To add to my fun, I’m now working on even more focal points:
4. Slip through the hole made in the water by my spear.
5. On the stroke back, exit my arm at an angle forward, and no swiping the water backward.
6. Complete a catch with completely vertical forearm and forward of the head.
7. Let the body rotation pull arm back and make less of a conscious effort to stroke back the arm strongly.
I’m looking forward to my next coaching session with Coach Shinji, and also the next Total Immersion Tune-Up!

Resting Heart Rate, Recovery, and Subsequent Performance on that Day

3 weeks ago I purchased a Finger Pulse Oximeter OLED Display to use in the mornings to record my resting heart rate. I have found that using this little device is a lot easier than lifting up my shirt and putting my normal HR strap on and then taking a look at my watch. I just slip this on my fingertip and turn it on, and then try to relax as much as I can and take the lowest reading that maintains some steady state. Minimal movement is key here, because once you start moving around, your base HR increases. So I want the lowest HR reading possible, which I can achieve my slipping this pulse oximeter on my finger and taking a reading.
A while back, I had learned about taking resting heart rate readings in the morning and using that as a measure of how recovered I was. I’ve been doing this for about 3 weeks now and the results have been enlightening.
My usual, fully recovered resting HR is about 58. If I can get a reading that low, then usually that day I can have a pretty decent workout. On the days after my long runs, I can usually only get a reading of 62. I also know, by the soreness in my legs, that I am not fully recovered. So a mere increase of about 4 beats per minute is enough to signal that I am not fully recovered.
These last few days have been really interesting. Yesterday, I measured my resting HR and found it was 66! No matter what I did, trying to relax all tension in my body, breath slower, etc., I could not get it lower than that. Then I went out to run an 18 miler, but pooped out only after 12 miles: my effort to maintain pace was increasing, my mind’s focus was dwindling, my thighs were also getting more tighter than usual. So I finally stopped on my 2nd 6 mile loop and called it day.
In analyzing what could have caused this, I looked back to the day before. I had an ART session, which I have seen in the past can hamper a workout because ART does cause actual trauma to the muscles and vigorous ART sessions can have a detrimental effect on performance in the short term, even as it helps healing and recovery in the long term. I also had an extra large glass of red wine, and these days I’m not drinking much so alcohol has been hard to purge from my system, even at amounts as low as one glass. Perhaps the biggest issue was that my son had trouble sleeping, and I’m pretty sure I woke 4-5 times in the night due to his crying. Interrupted sleep does not have a good effect on recovery!
This morning, my resting HR was 68 – even higher than yesterday! Looking back at the night before, I had a large glass of beer at dinner, I was wiped out from running 12 of the 18 miles I wanted to run, and then last night my son would not sleep from 130a to 400a and of course my sleep was disturbed multiple times. I was going to go for a swim, but just decided to take the day off.
Very interesting results tracking my morning resting heart rate. Now that I’ve started, I’m not going to stop as I’ve seen the useful data it provides.