Monthly Archives: September 2011

Alcatraz Invitational 2011: A New PR and GPS Fun

Yesterday, I swam the Alcatraz Invitational 2011, one of the many Alcatraz swims that are held each year. This one is held by the South End Rowing Club and is a favorite.
Alcatraz swims can generally be held in two conditions, either starting with a flood or ebb. Then there is a slack where it changes direction and the current is zero or very low for some time, and then it fully switches to the other direction. Depending on which current it starts with determines what landmarks you sight on, and therefore, what direction you swim to work with the current and not against it in reaching Aquatic Park.
For this swim, I stuffed my Garmin 305 GPS watch under my swim cap to track the results. I am always curious on my actual track – did I go off course? How far did the current take me? Was I fast enough to get across or was I too conservative? Here is the track:

Disregard the track around Alcatraz Island; I turned on the tracking before I hopped off the boat as I wanted to make sure the timer was on before I stuffed it under my swim cap. The swim started at that little jog in the track, to the right and slightly lower than Alcatraz Island in the image.
In this case, it started with a flood, and a very mild one at that. Faster swimmers always can go directly for the opening at Aquatic Park; I thought it best that I should point slightly off from the opening in case I could not get across before the flood would start coming in and sweep me past the opening (this happened to me once; it was a tiring trick to achieve the opening when the current is going against you). So I sighted on Fort Mason and you can see the my initial track was slightly left of the opening.
As I swam across and got closer and closer to Aquatic Park, I began to steer towards the opening. But given that my track was pretty straight to Fort Mason, the current was nearly nil and I probably could have gone directly for the opening and gotten to the finish line faster.
I steered to the opening of Aquatic Park, and then made a beeline for the beach where the finish line was. By my personal watch, I made it from leap off the ship to beach timing mat in 33:43, a new personal record! (NOTE: the results say 35:09 which is probably total clock time).
I was very ecstatic – If I did not count incorrectly, this was my 15th crossing and I have been frustrated to not be able to lower my time from the usual 42-45 minutes that it takes me. Finally, I was able to come in below 42 minutes.
In future swims, I think I will be confident and go directly for the opening. I think that rebuilding my stroke via Total Immersion has helped a lot, and I shouldn’t be fearful that I will mistime the currents, although given the varying conditions of the San Francisco Bay, I am sure it will happen more than once still in the future!

NYC Marathon 2011: Two Month Build from Zero to Race

Right before Labor Day, I got word that there was an entry available to the NYC Marathon. Of course I jumped on it and now I’m entered. The only hitch was…I had only two months to prepare for the race!
Normally, I like at least 4 months to prepare for a marathon. It gives me plenty of time to build, and also use periodization to rest between 3 week build blocks (I use 3 weeks, the usual number is 4 weeks; this is 2 weeks of heavy work and then followed by 1 week of lighter effort to recover). I also like to spend more time at longer distances/longer times (ie. 18-20 miles) building my tolerance to maintain tempo speeds.
But this time, I have only two months to get to marathon shape! The last marathon I ran was back in April: the LA Marathon. But since then, I have not run distance but focused on strength building with deadlifting (see Deadlifting is HARD (and Dangerous)), short distance speed ( Ultimate Speed Training), and swimming as I am going for Total Immersion coach certification soon.
Looking at the calendar, I planned out my next 2 months. For my long run, I knew from past experience that I could build about 15 min/week relatively safely. If I could get up to 3 hours of running at least once, preferably twice, I knew at least I could finish the race.
Thankfully, the calendar looks like there are enough weeks to start at 1 hour for my long run and then building each week by 15 min and then right before the marathon, I should have time for 2 weeks of 3 hour runs. However, I would get no rest via normal periodization training blocks. Thus, I would have to be careful in my build.
Next, I would need to build up my anaerobic speed capacity at the low end. These would fill out the other 2 workouts of the week. One would be a neuromuscular workout on the treadmill, focused on training my nervous system to move my legs as fast as possible. The second would be a track workout, starting gingerly with 400s and hopefully moving to 800s and then a few mile repeats by race day.
For injury prevention during this build, I planned to use my TPMassageBall QuadRoller at least once, preferably twice a day to keep my calves and flexor halicus pliable and not tight. Those muscles seem to get tight very easily and I must make sure they do not get too tight for too long. Otherwise, that might wreck a training week and I don’t have time for that. To help further, I am making sure I take Sportlegs supplements and Acid Zappers to keep lactic acid from collecting in my legs and causing further tightness and soreness.
I would continue my deadlift/bench press/weight lifting but drop that back to once a week and maintain my strength.
As of this week, I have run up to 1:45 and things seem OK. I am running conservatively out and then pick it up for a gentle negative split on the way back.
It was painful running 400s. The first day I tried to run 10×400 but ended up only running two laps, even if those my fastest ever 400s. The next week was much better, running 8×400 at slightly slower, but still faster than my fastest, 400s. The speed increase here was definitely gratifing. However, my “stirrup” muscle chain, running from the inside of my left lower leg around the bottom of my foot and back along the outside of my lower leg, was very sore. I had to give time to let that recover.
It will be interesting to see how fast I race NYC marathon on only a two month build. I hope that my LA marathon fitness comes back, and that all my swimming and weight training has paid off.

The Waikiki Rough Water Swim 9-5-11 with Garmin 305 GPS

Today, I got up early and swam the Waikiki Rough Water Swim. It’s my third time swimming it and hoped for a faster time today but it was not to be – I did it in 1:22:46 which is about 2+ minutes slower than my previous time of 1:20. Rebuilding my stroke via Total Immersion has slowed me down but I know it’s for the better as I relearn how to swim with better form and build my speed from there.
This time out, I tried mapping my swim with my Garmin 305 GPS Watch. I’ve heard from numerous people on how they have done it by stuffing under their swim caps. Some put on a swim cap and then they put the watch into a ziploc bag, put it on their head, and then put another swim cap on top. Others put a swim cap on, then duct tape the watch to this swim cap without ziploc bag (it is supposedly water resistant), and then put another cap on top.
Two days ago, I had to make sure that one method would work so that on race day I would not be fiddling with the GPS watch right before race start. I didn’t have duct tape but I did put the watch into a ziploc bag to help reduce its water exposure. I put on a swim cap but I could not put on another swim cap over my watch and my head no matter what I did! I was definitely feeling like I would rip my second swim cap for sure. So I just stuffed the bagged watch under the back of my swim cap, right above my neck. That worked fine – it was a bit bulky but it didn’t bother me.
I then tried to hit the start button but no dice. I could not tell if it was started or not! When I thought I had hit the button and took it out to check, it was not started. So I just decided that I would hit start and then stuff the bagged watch under my swim cap and hope that the swim cap’s tightness wouldn’t re-hit the start button, which stops the timing. After stuffing the bagged watch under the cap, I put on my goggles and adjusted the double strap so that it would loop around the watch face and not put pressure on the start/stop or lap buttons.
Hitting the start button before the actual race start meant I would not get actual race timing this way, but I could GPS location data for the swim course. I had another Timex watch anyways so I would time the race with that.
This morning, I did all this and jumped into the water when the start horn went off. Here are the mapped results, downloaded into the Garmin Training Center and then uploaded to Google Earth application for Mac OS.

According to the GPS track, at least I did not go wandering around the course much; I was pretty much following the buoys closely. I just was slower than the last time I did it and to pour salt on the wound there was a current going in our favor too! Oh well, I got some cool GPS data to show for it and will dig later into the data to see if the speed data is worth looking at. I also look forward to jumping back into the pool to keep fine tuning my technique and hopefully improve my open water speed. Next up: Alcatraz crossing in two weeks.