Category Archives: General Coach Tidbit

Life is not a spectator sport!

“Like those in the valley behind us, most people stand in sight of the spiritual mountains all their lives and never enter them, being content to listen to others who have been there and thus avoid the hardships.”

– From Zen and the Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance

Don’t be content to just listen or talk about doing something. The real hardships are inactivity and immobility. Remember, life is not a spectator sport. If you are just going to watch what’s going on, you are wasting your life. Get active! Everyday, do something new, get involved, make life real.

But make no mistake…whether we choose to spectate or participate, life still goes on. We can either listen to the stories of what life is like, or we can be the one telling the story. Simply put, the choice is ours!

Rotation is the key to open water breathing

One of the biggest problems I witness with group open water swims is in breathing. Athletes will swim very “flat”, with no real rotation, and then they struggle with breathing – they have to force the breath. When they do so, they don’t get a solid breath, or most importantly, don’t rotate on their long axis.

Without a proper rotation, they will not be able to swim straight. If you tilt your head too far “back” during your breath, you will curve towards your non-breathing side. If you don’t get enough rotation when breathing, you’ll curve towards your non-breathing side. Remember, “freestyle” is not swam on your stomach, but rather supposed to be swum from side to side, only passing over your stomach – this will help you have better rotation.

Here’s a great video about breathing in open water swimming with Coach Leslie Thomas.

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Critical Pieces of Advice

I was recently asked, “As a coach and mentor for athletes, in helping them be successful in this sport, what is the most critical pieces of advice you would give them?”    Here’s my answer:

We should be pretty established in our careers, and should know how to balance work/family. Throwing a hobby as intensive as triathlon into the mix tends to confuse issues, as we are all Type-A personalities, and all have addictive personalities.

Sometimes we tend to forget there are things far more important than that brick workout on Saturday morning. Remember, Family #1, Work #2 and Triathlon #3 – you may even have other things that rank much higher than triathlon.

1) Don’t forget about your family/loved ones. They are affected by your training schedule as well. If family life is crazy/hectic, it may not be the best time to do a long course triathlon – save it for next year or the year after. Triathlons will always be around, they are not going anywhere.

2) Training is about being consistent. Set a consistent schedule and try to stick to it.  By being consistent, we turn a hobby, into a habit and into a good healthy lifestyle.

3) You get faster swimming by swimming faster each and every time you are in the water.  You will get faster cycling by spending time in the saddle.  If you are not riding 100 miles a week, you have plenty of room for improvement.  You can get faster running by just running more frequently.  You would be surprised what 2-4 weeks of running each day would do to your fitness.

By following these three simple things, we tend to stay centered, focus on the important aspects of training, and live a healthy lifestyle.  That’s what this is all about anyways…

Do I really need a wetsuit?

The following was borrowed from the XTERRA Wetsuit website, and it does a very good job of answering the question, “Why do I need/want a wetsuit?”

We have all seen the hordes of athletes gathered at the banks of a lake in the early morning for a swim start, and in the ranks of swimmers one thing stands out: A sleek X on the front and the word XTERRA around the neck of most athletes – most athletes are wearing wetsuits! But why are so many triathletes out there in wetsuits? Why does anyone need a wetsuit and not just a swimsuit for races or open water swimming events like these anyway? Worry not, here’s an explainaton. There are many reasons why you should look into that wetsuit before your upcoming event:

– SAFETY –

There is no denying that the swim portion can be a bit intimidating for some, but it doesn’t have to be. Here in lies the main reason why everyone needs a wetsuit: piece of mind. A wetsuit provides important advantages that all contribute to safety, including warmth and buoyancy. Although many of these benefits are discussed below in further detail, let’s keep it simple for now, a wetsuit facilitates a safer swim, period. There is no sense stressing over the swim when you approach it with safety in mind. And don’t worry, we’re not going to recommend swim floaties next.

– WARMTH –

This one is easy, everyone benefits from swimming in colder water with a wetsuit. But if you live in a warmer climate, don’t write that wetsuit off just yet. There are plenty of other reasons why you’ll need a wetsuit.

– BUOYANCY –

Buoyancy plays into many factors of the swim as well as the rest of the race. The more buoyant you are the higher your body floats in the water, and the higher you are in the water, the less effort you expell with each stroke. Attack the swim portion with a wetsuit and your body will thank you during the run portion. A little extra gas in the tank near the end of a race never hurt anyone.

– HYDRODYNAMICS –

Yes, we are going to get all scientific on you for a second. Wetsuits are coated with special finishes commonly referred to as SCS (Super Composite Skin) coatings. These coatings do more than just keep you warm, they repell water. If you wear a wetsuit for a race, you are more than just a docile swimmer enjoying the sights; you are a torpedo shooting past the competition. Halfway through the swim you’ll completely forget what the person that started next to you looks like. Don’t worry, after the race they’ll be shopping for their wetsuit as well.

– LOOKING COOL –

We’re not going to pretend we know fashion, but have you ever seen a triathlete sprinting out of a lake, water beads cascading in every direction? Trust us, it is cool…just saying.

– WHEN? –

Ok, so now you know why you need a wetsuit, but when do you need a wetsuit? Well, there are several situations merit a wetsuit. First of all, if your event is going to take place in colder water, colder climates, or at higher altitude, then a wetsuit is a must, no doubt about it. Also, if the swim is over 100 yards or more, we highly recommend a wetsuit. Several factors listed above play into the need for a wetsuit in longer distance swims, but the three most important are safety, buoyancy, and hydrodynamics.

– LEGALITY –

Are all races wetsuit legal? The answer is no, not all races and open water swimming events allow wetsuits. The main reason is that some events the water temperature is too warm. For example, a summer race held in Miami is going to be too hot for a wetsuit, hands down. That being said, in any race where you can wear a wetsuit, do so, as you are always safer and faster in one!

Open Water means Cold Water in early season!

This past Saturday, the Prairie Creek water temperature was hovering between frigid and frozen.  I saw several people hit the water completely unprepared for the shock this would put their body in, and I did see several athletes panic, when the mammalian dive reflex kicked into full gear, robbing them of their ability to breathe like a normal human should.

With the constant rain and cold temperatures we have had the past few weeks, Morse Lake has cooled back off to a chilly 58* over the weekend.  Unfortunately, we are a victim of Mother Nature showing off, and I’m not happy about it – it’s time to start swimming already!

Once the water hits 61*, we will finally be able to get in the water.  Just because it’s 61*, doesn’t mean that it’s going to be warm, as a matter of fact, it’s still downright brutally cold until the mid-to-upper 60* range.  Here is a list of tips to minimize the negative affects and the uncomfortable feelings that can result from cold water swimming.

  • Wear two caps. You lose most of your heat through your head, and doubling up your “capage” helps you to keep your heat in.
  • Wear a neoprene cap. Neoprene is better suited for cold water than standard latex.  That said, I’m not a huge fan of neoprene caps, but they do work.
  • Wear a wetsuit—but more specifically, a full suit. The sleeveless suits allow heat to escape through your armpits.
  • Put in earplugs. When the water drops below 60 degrees, I think earplugs become necessary—and they do work well in keeping your core temperature up. Additionally, this will help you from developing nystagmus from cold water getting into your ears.
  • Blow bubbles before taking off on your swim. When the cold water hits your face, the shock (mammalian dive reflex) causes your lungs to contract, causing breathing problems – and panic from unsuspecting athletes. Go waist deep into the water and submerge your face to blow bubbles. This helps alleviate the shock of the cold water.

Use these tips not only to help your body tolerate cold water swimming, but to use it to your advantage and gain a leg up on your competition.

Shin Splint Misery – Part 1

OK, OK, OK, I give up!  It appears that I have shin splints.  This is just crazy talk, as I don’t even believe in shin splints!  I’m so not happy, a week post-Carmel Half-Marathon, and a week pre-500 Mini-Marathon, I have found myself struggling to be able to run a couple miles without crippling pain.  All this from an infliction that, until now, I have swore up and down does not exist…

There is a lot of good information online, and there is a bunch of  “myth” as well.  The good information seems to be based on the RIICE approach, and include some great stretches.  I’m going to rest my shins the next few days and ice 3-4 times a day.  As far as icing, I remember a trick from back in my cross country days, freeze water in Dixie cups, and just tear off the paper as you are icing. Ibuprofen, compression and liberal elevation will hopefully help.  In addition, I am going to try some stretches that have been suggested, as well as follow the advice in this video. I’ll check back at the end of the week to let you know how things look as far as the Mini-Marathon.


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Replace your bike’s brake pads in 5 minutes for safe stopping!

It’s spring! It’s time to put that dusty bike off your bike trainer or out of the garage, perform some maintenance, and start racking up the “outside” miles.  One of the common maintenance items is to replace the brake pads every year, or when switching from your aluminum wheels to your carbon wheels.  I know guys who take their bike to the shop to perform this simple maintenance, that shouldn’t take 5 minutes – here’s a quick primer explaining how.  As you pull your bike off the trainer or out of the garage, be sure to change your brake pads to ensure you will be able to safely stop this spring!

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Donkey in the Well

Many of you may have heard this story, but I was thinking of it recently and wanted to share this time old tale as a reminder for us to “take a step up”, with your family, in your life, your career, in your training, in your attitude, and in all you do!  Life is not easy, you are not entitled.  You need to take what life gives you, be creative, and work to get yourself out of the hole.

Once upon a time, a farmer’s donkey fell down into a well that the farmer had accidentally left uncovered. The donkey cried and cried, and the farmer tried to figure out a way to get the donkey out of the deep hole, however, the sides were too unstable to lower someone down with a rope to tie around the donkey, and as the donkey was panicky and thrashing about, he was concerned he or one of his farm hands might be injured and stuck down the hole too.

The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, he decided the animal was old, and the well needed to be covered up anyway, so it just wasn’t worth it to retrieve the donkey. He invited his neighbors to come and help, so they all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well.

As he felt the dirt falling on him, the donkey, being a donkey, kicked and kicked. When that didn’t seem to help, he brayed and brayed. Once the piles of dirt hit the donkey, the animal found renewed energy, and brayed even louder than he had before. The men turned their eyes from one another and pretended not to hear the donkey’s pleadings. The donkey kicked up a fuss and made a terrible commotion, but no one came to help. The donkey cried, but as he tired and began to understand the hopelessness of its situation, he began to give up, and got quiet, and then he realized something amazing was happening.

The donkey realized that the dirt was a gift. With each scoop of dirt that fell into the well, the donkey shook off any that landed on it and then took a step up onto the top of the pile of dirt forming at the bottom of the well. More dirt, another shake and another step up.

The men kept shoveling; certain that they were burying the poor donkey. But as they were shoveling, the donkey was shaking off the dirt and stomping it into the ground below him. With every shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey shook the dirt off and took a step up.  As the men continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, the donkey would shake it off and take a step up. The men were busy shoveling so they didn’t notice what was happening.

A few shovel loads later, the farmer and neighbors finally looked down the well and was astonished at what they saw. The men were quite surprised to see the donkey, looking right straight at them. It was standing on top of all that dirt that had been dropped on it. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and trotted off!

This story of the donkey in the well is timeless, and has circulated for a while.

Its message is timeless to all, including triathletes, as many of us have found ourselves stuck in a training rut, unmotivated, or in situation where we just didn’t know to get through. The metaphorical dirt was poured over our heads, including overuse injuries, lack of motivation, maybe work or life got in the way, and we got buried by these problems. Be more like the little donkey, shake the dirt to the ground, step up and rise above the circumstances.

We always have the choice to be victim or victor. So if it feels as if you are in that well with no chance of being freed, think of the donkey who refused to accept that his circumstances were beyond his control; he didn’t give up and he didn’t give in. As triathletes, we are all used to suffering, and taking steps to persevere.

Life is going to shovel dirt on you, all kinds of dirt.  The trick to getting out of the well is to shake it off and take a step up.  Each of our troubles is a stepping stone.  We can get out of the deepest wells just by not giving up.

Shake it off and take a step up!

Surviving a Pool Swim Triathlon

The Location:  Carmel Sprint Triathlon this coming weekend

Race Announcer:  “This is a RACE.  If you catch the person swimming in front of you, tap their toes and pass at the wall.  If someone touches your toes, let them pass.  I can promise you that if you don’t let them pass, they will swim over top of you. That is why we ask that you submit an accurate swim time.”

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Today’s swim lesson is all about the POOL SWIM triathlon.  Ask a group of experienced triathletes what they think of the pool swim and you will hear lots of cussing and swearing about passing, accurate swim times and cheaters that pad their start time to get in the water earlier.  Call me naive, but I won’t pad my time – I’m still putting the correct 100 swim time that I can sustain over 500 (if that is the distance of the race), that means that I will most likely have to pass folks that either a)put the fastest possible 100 time they ever swam,  b)fast bikers that don’t want to start later and have to pass a bunch of people on the bike, of c) people that just guess at their time and are WAY off.

How hard is it to get in the pool and do 5 x 100 and time yourself?  Give yourself only :10 rest in between each 100 so that you have an accurate time.  Please.  If you took the time to register and pay for the race you can take the time to submit an accurate swim time!

Now, onto pool swim tips.  For the beginner the very first thing you NEED to know (after of course the whole correct swim time thing) is to practice snake swimming.  The picture to the right is what a snake swim will look like.

Choose a time when your pool is not very crowded and be a lane hog.  Take a few friends to snake swim with you, then you won’t feel guilty about taking up 4 lanes!  You might be saying to yourself, self, I swim laps in the pool every day, that’s no different than a snake swim.  Wrong.  Try doing a flip turn under the lane line for the first time – three words:  lane line rash.  Even if you are not flip turning , it’s a little disorienting to switch from lane to lane – practicing will help take that stress off race day.

Next tip:  BE ON TIME!  If you miss your swim start time (this will be posted at packet pick up the day before the race) you mess the timer up.  Please just line up 10 min. before your scheduled start.  Please!  (and no, you can’t switch your time on race day, refer to above comments about entering a correct 100 time when registering!!)

Final thoughts:  To flip or not to flip?  If you are not experienced and proficient at flip turning (and by that I mean you have practiced doing flip turns while changing lanes and can do it without hitting the lane line or missing the wall altogether) don’t do them for the race.  Do you really want to do that while all those people are watching?  I’m just say’n. If you are not flipping, the fastest route is to grab the wall in your current lane and push off under the lane line into the next lane and start swimming.

Now get out there and swim!

Four Things to Do to Your Wetsuit Before Your First Swim

394_1img05[1]Whether you are dusting off a 5-year old wetsuit for another Tri season, or have purchased a new one that just arrived in the mail, there are four things every racer should do to their wetsuit prior to a new season. Following these simple steps takes just a little time but can extend the life of your suit and, more importantly, be sure it works for you on race day.

1. Clean the Wetsuit. Cleaning the wetsuit is an easy process, done by rinsing it off with a garden hose or simply rubbing it down with a wet cloth. Take care to clean it well enough so that you will be able to spot any imperfections (step 2, below). Cleaning a wetsuit is even more important if you stored it in a place where it tends to get dirty or dusty over the winter. If you want to give your wetsuit a deep clean — recommended occasionally — you can buy a wetsuit cleaner specially designed for neoprene wetsuits such as those used in triathlon.

2. Inspect the Wetsuit for Rips or Tears. Hopefully your wetsuit was stored in a place away from sharp objects or other things that could harm it, but sometimes a wetsut thrown in a storage room comes out worse for the wear. Inspect your clean wetsuit from head to toe to be sure no tears are present. Remember to inspect the seams as well as the fabric. If you find a rip or tear, determine if it can be fixed. Much like fixing a bike tire, you can patch neoprene if the rip isn’t too large, and especially if it doesn’t penetrate the fabric all the way through. Wetsuit repair cement such as this one can patch up a wetsuit so you can still get many more swims out of it.

3. Soak it. Yep, run your tub full of water and let your wetsuit soak like a sponge. A wetsuit has many qualities of a sponge, and it can dry out just like one too. Wetsuits are intended to be just a bit moist throughout the neoprene when not in the water. Not wet, but not bone dry either. Giving the wetsuit a good soaking for a few hours will re-hydrate it and will lessen the chances of dry, hard neoprene cracking or ripping when you use it again.

4. Try it On. This should go without saying, but we see many triathletes get to their first race of the year and realize that the wetsuit no longer fits, the zipper broke, or there is another problem to deal with. Trying your wetsuit on a few weeks before race day is easy and takes 10 minutes. Don’t learn that your zipper is busted on the morning of your big race, you only have yourself to blame. Plus, doing this at least a couple weeks before race day still gives you time to find a new suit if for some reason you can’t use the old one anymore.

By performing just a few preparation steps at the outset of your season, you and your wetsuit will both be better off for it.