1000 Yard TT

I swam my 1000 yard TT for the Dark Star ePostal Swim Meet today.  To give a little background, I typically swim about 8000-15000 yards per week.  In the swimming world, that's not much volume.  In fact, for elite swimmers that's one day of swimming.  

So, with my plan of improving my swim this winter, I ramped up my volume to about 25,000 yards per week.  It was a big jump, and put a hurting on my left shoulder so I decided to make this week a very low volume easy week to make sure I don't injure myself.  Prior to this week, I had put in a little more than 90,000 yards in 28 days.  Big volume for me.

So with this being an easy week, I was well rested and in the best swim shape of my life going into this TT.  Needless to say, I was expecting a PR.  Not hoping.  Expecting.

My previous best for 1000 yards was 14:00.

I started out somewhat conservative hoping I could pace myself well enough to negative split the TT and finish strong and fast.  I didn't check all of my splits, but I did see that I started out with a 1:22 then a 1:20. I hit the halfway point at 6:46, a 1:21 pace.  This had me on target to break 13:30, so that became my new goal.  I was feeling strong so breaking 14 was a given in my mind. I needed to completely fall apart not to break 14 at this point.

So I bumped up the effort on the second half trying to continue building my pace little by little so that I was swimming all out for the last 100 yards.  I finished in a time of 13:23, a 1:20 per 100/yard average pace and a PR by 37 seconds.  

Best of all, I finished feeling like there's more in the tank.  I think I could have pushed a little harder early on, but I was already swimming a PR pace and didn't want to blow up.  I wasn't sure what I was capable of, so I don't feel like I didn't pace it well.  I just think there's another PR coming down the road.

First half = 6:46  (1:21 pace)
Second half = 6:37 (1:19 pace)
Total = 13:23 (1:20 pace)


Mental Barriers

Everyone has mental barriers.  It might be the fear of open water swimming or swimming in a group.  It might be running a certain distance or pace.  For me, I have different barriers for each discipline and they've developed over years.  They came from plateaus, failures, poor training, etc.  But regardless of how they developed, they exist and need to be addressed.  

Devil's Lake swim last summer.


Swimming is a tough one.  I can't really define my mental barrier easily, but it appears to be somewhat fitness related.  I don't have confidence in the water.  I don't believe I can swim hard for 2.4 miles (by hard, I mean a good solid Ironman pace, not all out).  My form has always fallen apart after about 30 minutes of swimming and because of that I've gone out too easy in the past couple of Ironmans and had slow swims.  I've also lost confidence through failure in swimming.  I've set out several times to set a PR and come up short.  This has hurt my confidence and left me questioning my ability to swim well.  A lot of this has come from me not putting in enough time in the pool.  If I ever skip a workout, it's swimming.  It's the sport I feel I can't master, but to be brutally honest with myself I've never put in the time or effort required.

No more!

This winter I'm committed to improving my swimming, and I'm doing it the way I've improved in the other two disciplines:  volume.  I'm going to swim and swim and swim.  More is more.  In the last 28 days I've logged more than 90,000 yards in the pool (more than 52 miles).  I have my 1000 yard time trial coming up this Friday so hopefully I'll see some improvement and set a new PR.  14 minutes flat is my current PR so I'm looking to break that mark on Friday.

Taken during the 24-hour indoor TT.  Feb 2011.


300 watts.  That's the barrier, and it drives me crazy.  When I started cycling in 2006, it didn't take that long to get my threshold* up to 280 watts.  That's where it was when I raced my first Ironman in 2008 (IMWI).  Since it grew so quickly, I figured it keep on going for a while.  I knew there would be a plateau, but I didn't think I was so close to it.  The following year I improved my threshold a bit and have more or less been stuck around that 300 mark for a couple of years.  My endurance has improved, but my threshold has been a sticking point.

Sometimes it's physical and I'm not strong enough to break 300, but many times it's mental.  I see a number in the 300s and I subconsciously back off because I don't believe I can hold it for an hour.  I've tried to hit 300+ and failed in the past many times.

In the 24 hour TT a few weeks ago I put out 295 watts for an hour.  That's a good place to be for November, but again I was short of 300.  

To address this, I'm doing plenty of threshold work and going back to what I did when I started cycling - weightlifting.  I know a lot of people claim it doesn't help, but I'm going to try it out for myself.  I'm pretty old school when it comes to weights.  No fancy schmancy machines for me (except leg extensions and leg curls, but that's only because of my knee injury).  I prefer a dusty old squat rack.  I'm working my way up gradually.  I've made progress, but still I'm squatting 50 lbs less than I did in high school.  I've got a ways to go.

I also tell myself, when I do threshold work, that I belong in the 300s.  If my wattage isn't 300+, I'm slacking and not reaching my potential.  I'm convincing myself I belong in the 300s, not below.  It's a mind game.  I have a one-hour TT coming up in early Jan so I'll have a chance to test myself.  300+ or bust.

This is from a threshold workout I did a little over a week ago - 287w for 20 minutes, 301w for 15 minutes, 316w for 10 minutes and 342w for 5 minutes.  I finished it off with some Ironman-paced work.  It was a solid workout.

I dug up an old pic.  This is the halfway point of the run at IMWI '08.


6 minute miles.  I set a 5K PR of 19:19 in 2008 and since then have only brought it down to 18:55.  That's a 6:05 pace. I know I have it in me to run a sub-6 pace for a 5K.  It's mental, just like my 300 watt barrier.  I see numbers that start with a 5 and I start thinking I need to pace myself because I can't hold it.  I've tried many times and come up short on this one.

One thing I've discovered is that I'm not running enough 5K paced work.  I put in a lot of time doing solid distance work, but I'm not putting in enough sub-7 minute miles to really develop the endurance and confidence I need to run a sub-6 5K pace.  

Unfortunately, my knee has been giving me a lot of problems again so running is on the back burner.  I need to get these tendons healed before I can address this barrier, and it may not happen until late in 2012.  

Until then, my focus will be on smashing my swim and bike barriers.  Hopefully, I can break through those this year and then I'll work on my run barrier for 2013.

Barriers can be frustrating, and they definitely hold us back, but without them the reward isn't as great.  PRs are fun, but smashing through a long-time mental barrier is incredibly rewarding....or so I hear.  I've yet to crack these.  

My first opportunity will by my cycling TT.  Swimming will be the Galveston 70.3 in April.  I can set all the PRs I want in the pool until then, but it's race day that counts.  That's my real barrier.  My goal will be to break 30 minutes in the swim.

*threshold is the max power you can hold for one hour. 


Big Swim Set

I want to do the classic swim set 100x100 on 100.  For those unfamiliar, that means you swim 100 yards 100 times leaving every 100 seconds (one minute and forty seconds). 

Since I've been swimming a lot lately, I decided to do a bit of a test set Sunday morning.  I swam 60x100 on 100.  I wasn't sure what to expect.  It sounds like a tough swim because that's a lot of 100s, but when you think about the total time it takes (one hour and forty minutes) it doesn't sound that bad. I work out for two hours or more all the time, so an hour forty shouldn't be so bad, right?


As it turns out, this wasn't tough at all.  In fact, it was kind of easy.  I started out pretty easy and swam the first 5 as a warm up swimming about a 1:30 per 100 yard pace. From then on, I swam the rest of them between 1:23 and 1:30 with the large majority of them being 1:26-1:28.  I felt comfortable the whole time and the pace was easy.  I don't even think my heart rate hit 130 at all.  

So I'm feeling confident about the 100x100 on 100.  That workout will take nearly 3 hours (you can do 36 100s on 1:40 in an hour) so I'll try to get some people to join me, at least for part of it, to keep things interesting.  

A look at my weekly swim volume for the year shows why I had a bad swim in Kona.  It also shows why my shoulders are so tired and sore right now.

2011 Swim Volume by Week

I swam just under 24,000 yards this week which put me back in the lead in the December swim challenge on Slowtwitch.  Luckily for me, the competition is based on volume and not speed.  There are some very fast swimmers in the competition.  

I'm Supersquid. 

I don't have a lot of time left to do my 1000 yard TT for the Dark Star ePostal swim meet.  I'm thinking I'll do that this week, maybe over the weekend.  The goal is to break 14 minutes.  That's my current PR.  Coming off two weeks of my highest volume ever, I'm feeling good about my chances.  


Later in the day, I got out for what could be my last outdoor ride of the year.  Hopefully not, but I'm not counting on more outdoor miles.  It was 43 and sunny, and in December in Wisconsin....that's riding weather.  

About to head out for what may be my last outdoor ride of 2011.


Aerobic Swimming (More is More)

Aerobic vs. anaerobic.  Intensity vs. Long Slow Distance (LSD - which should be called Long Steady Distance in my opinion, maybe then it wouldn't be so misunderstood).  High volume vs. low volume.  The debates go on and on with no end or resolution in sight.  

But I'm not writing this post to start a debate.  I'm writing about my swimming plan this winter, and how I intend to improve my swimming once and for all.  I'm sure you can guess by the subject line that my plan is going to include a lot of aerobic swimming.  A LOT.  I can see you cringing and crying out, "you have to swim fast to swim fast."  I hear you, and don't disagree.  Let me explain my position, and hopefully you'll see my logic.  Unfortunately, we'll have to wait a while to see the results.

Before I begin explaining myself, I'll apologize for the length of this post.  I have a feeling it's going to be a long one.  I get wordy when writing about training methods.  I love this stuff.

Let me begin by defining a term that I feel is often misinterpreted.  Aerobic exercise means "with oxygen." It does not mean "easy."  Yes, aerobic exercise can be easy, but that is not the definition of the word aerobic.  Anaerobic exercise means "without oxygen."   Anaerobic workouts include very short, very intense efforts.  Those efforts are difficult, and since aerobic exercise is the opposite of anaerobic exercise, I believe people think aerobic exercise must be easy since it's the opposite.  Not true.

As for it being slow, well, that's relative.  Yes, it's slow when you compare it to your top end speed.  And your aerobic speed may in fact be a pace that you consider slow in the grand scheme of things if you're not aerobically fit.  All the more reason to address and improve your aerobic fitness.

Plus, triathlon is an aerobic sport so it makes sense to be aerobically fit.  One of the biggest limiters for most triathletes is their inability to hold steady efforts for sustained durations.  Endurance, not top end speed.  I discovered this was my limiter a few years ago and have been working on it since, and continue to work on it.

I'm aerobically fit on the bike.  I can ride forever at 80% of max HR and, if I'm on my tri bike, that's usually 20+ mph.  Not "fast" when compared to my top end speed but not so slow that I think it qualifies at Long Slow Distance.  Steady, yes.  

I can hold 80% of max HR on the run for hours, and in training runs that's usually a 7:30 pace or better.  I've yet to hold that pace in an Ironman.  Hopefully, I will someday.  

I am not, however, an aerobically fit swimmer.

How do I know this?

My form falls apart on long intervals and I can't hold even splits.  I can do 50s and 100s, but make me do 200 and above and I'm a disaster.  I've focused on short intervals for so long that I have a terrible time pacing myself.  I start out too hard and fade.  The end result is a swimmer that isn't aerobically fit who lacks confidence in his ability to swim hard for any real distance (ironman). 

So my plan is to log a lot of time in the pool, and most of it being aerobic (90% or more).  I've tried several things to improve my swimming, but this is the one I haven't really tried yet.  I haven't done big volume yet and built a base.

The Plan:

1. Rebuild my swim fitness after several weeks away from the pool after Kona.  This is done.  I swam a little before Thanksgiving, and since Thanksgiving I've been in the pool 13 days straight and logged 45,350 yards (25 miles).  

2. Threshold test to determine anaerobic threshold speed.  USA Swimming has a test and so does Swim Smooth.  I haven't decided which one I'll do yet.  Possibly both and see how they compare.  This is something I will continue to test periodically so I can adjust my pace as necessary. 

3.  Log A LOT of yards at and below threshold speed.  90% or more of my training will be at aerobic speeds.  It may be slower than I want to swim, but that means I need to improve my aerobic conditioning if I want to swim faster.  The goal is to improve my threshold speed, much like the goal with cycling is to improve your threshold power. 

4.  Long sets.  4x1000, 6x500, 10x400, 10x200, etc.  Aerobic speeds, steady pacing, little rest.  I'll do some sprints here and there, but very little.  I need endurance.  These long sets will also teach me to hold my form for long durations.

5. Continue with my 1000 yard time trials to monitor progress.  Here are last year's times:

 1/9 – 17:13

2/13 – 15:37

3/12 – 15:08

4/10 – 15:15

 5/7 – 14:52
 6/2 - 14:37
8/13 - 14:00

I was in terrible shape for the first one, so I improved about 90 seconds, not 3 minutes.  I signed up for the Finding Freestyle Dark Star ePostal Swim Meet.  That's a postal swim meet (epostal since it's online and you don't actually mail in your results) where you have until 12/23 to swim a 1000 yard TT and send in your results. So I'll be swimming my 1000 yard TT soon to see where I'm starting off my 2012 training. 

6.  Work on stroke rate.  I recently bought a Finis Tempo Trainer and I love it.  I've read in several places that a higher stroke rate is crucial to open water success (here's one of them), and my stroke rate is too slow.  The one and only time I worked on increasing my stroke rate I set my half ironman PR.  I'll be putting in a lot of work on that this year.  I've also been using the Tempo Trainer to help with pacing on long sets.  I've been doing 4x1000 at a 1:30 per 100/yard pace.  I set the tempo trainer to beep every 45 seconds so I get feedback every 50 yards.  Then I let it beep twice between sets so I get 90 seconds rest.  I don't even need a pace clock.  (side note: if you're thinking of getting a Tempo Trainer, do it.  They're great tools, but get the Tempo Trainer Pro.  I'll probably upgrade.  I didn't know about it when I bought mine).

7.  Form work. As always, I will continue to work on form, but it's not going to be the focus this time around.  I personally think form is over-emphasized in swimming. I'm not saying it's not important, and if your form is horrible that's definitely the place to start (if you swim about 2:00 per 100 yards, work on your form).  By over-emphasized, I think there's so much talk about how much swimming is all about form that it gets triathletes (me included) thinking  that there's a magical fix to our stoke that will suddenly have us swimming a 1:15 pace effortlessly.  Form matters, but so does fitness.  It's time for me to address fitness, which I believe will also improve my form.  

8. Swim A LOT.  Did I already say that?  

Before I wrap this up, I want to address one more thing:  what about swimming faster to swim faster?  

Yes, I agree you have to swim fast to swim fast.  However, I don't need to swim fast.  A one hour Ironman swim is a 1:24 per 100 yard pace.  That's not fast.  That's steady..  1:00 per 100 is fast.  

Yes, I will do some speed work and swim fast sometimes, but that will not be the foundation of my program. First I need a base.  I've been so focused on swim speed the past few years that I've never really taken the time to build a base.  

Swim long and taper.


An Update

The past couple of weeks have been kind of busy with work and the holidays so I haven't had much time to write.  So I thought I'd write up a quick update.

Gluten Free Month

My gluten free month went well.  I didn't really write much about it, but it was good.  I actually enjoyed it.  It was difficult at times, but I think I developed some new habits.  I got used to eating salads for lunch, and now I prefer them over the sandwiches I was eating.  Going gluten free is a great way to clean up your eating because a lot of the processed bad foods have gluten so you have to avoid them.  You're forced to eat real foods.

I didn't quite make it the whole month, though.  My boss found a new job and November 30 was his last day we had a going away pizza party for lunch so I decided to end my streak a day early.  Since then, I've had some gluten to test things out and have found that I definitely have a threshold.  A little bit and I don't really notice it, but a little more and I feel like crap.  Mini Wheats put me over my threshold.  I don't know how I used to eat those for breakfast all the time.  

I felt better not eating gluten, so I'll probably stick with a gluten free diet but I won't be super strict.  If I want to go out for a burger and fries, I will.  If I want a sandwich, I'll eat one.  But I think, for the most part, I'll try to stick with the diet I ate last month because I felt a lot better and was eating much healthier.  


I haven't officially begun my 2012 training program yet so I'm still in the "train as I feel like it" stage.  That stage, believe it or not, has included lots of swimming.  I am determined to improve my swim for next year.  So I'm swimming a lot.  Since Thanksgiving, I've swam more than 30,000 yards (this is as of Sunday morning, and I'll be swimming about 4,000 yards today).  Volume.  More is more.  I'm also going to be working on my increasing my stroke rate (more on that in a future blog post).

My knee

I was hoping I wouldn't have to write about my knee anymore, but the pain has returned.  I did a track workout to prepare for some turkey trots and an upcoming alumni indoor track meet.  I felt fine during the workout, but the day after the tendons in my knee were stiff and sore.  I don't think I tore them again, but I definitely did some damage so I haven't been doing much running in the past two weeks to play it smart and make sure it heals so I don't have another major setback like earlier this year.  I've also hit the weight room again.  Doing one-legged hamstring curls, I noticed my right hamstring is still much weaker than my left which either caused the injury or is a result of the injury.  Either way, I will be hitting the weight room this winter to balance out those muscles and build more strength in the muscles that support my knee.  


I've read a couple of really good books lately that I'm planning on writing about so I'll try to get that done soon.  


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