Thursday, December 29, 2011

One Is the Loneliest Number

Date: Thursday, December 29, 2011
Time: 5.50 a.m.
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Long Course Meters
179 days to Olympic Trials

400 warmup

1000 free on 15:00 (13:30)

450 back on 7:30 (6:30)

250 breast kick on 7:30

8x100 on 1:50, 25 back/25 breast
(averaged 1:24)

500 meters:
25 scull/25 swim/25 kick

Total: 3,400 meters (70 minutes)

The pool has been pretty empty this week, as most of my teammates are elsewhere for the holidays. I was totally fine with it ... until today. When I saw the 1000 free on the board, I naturally groaned, but I agreed to do it. I had initially planned to do a 450 breast where the 250 breast kick took place, but my body needed a little recovery. The 1000 free wasn't fast, but it was about aerobic pace (1:20 per 100). The backstroke was in the 1:25 pace range, which isn't fast, either, but by then my muscles didn't want to do a distance breaststroke swim.

The last set of 100s were more difficult than they should have been. I was physically drained from the distance swimming, and with no one around to push me or give me confidence that someone was there suffering through the set as well, it was mentally challenging, too. The folks in adjacent lanes were doing 100s on different intervals. If someone had been doing 100s on 1:50, I might have found some solace in that. On the upside, those who were doing freestyle on 1:30 interval were getting about five seconds rest, so at least I was resting more (though one of those freestylers is a triathlete, and she probably doesn't mind the lack of rest).

The workout would have been just fine if I had company. I would have trudged through it with little grumbling. But it took so much mental willpower to keep me from stopping in the middle of those 100s, taking a break and finishing the set. I wanted to do that very badly, but I forced myself to continue. Obviously, that's a major accomplishment, and I'm happy I did it. After the sixth 100, I felt myself pushing through the wall a little bit, but it still took a lot of effort to finish. On the upside again, my heart rate got down to normal very fast after that, so my ability to recover is good.

That's three tough workouts in a row. Usually there is the ability to work in recovery on Thursday, but the intervals didn't really allow it. I wanted to get plenty of rest on the 1000, and wanted to push the 100s more than aerobic pace. Again, I'm glad I did.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Morning After

Date: Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Time: 5:45 a.m.
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Long Course Meters
180 days to Olympic Trials

500 warmup

6x100 free on 1:40 descend 1-6 (1:08 on #6)

4x(4x50 on 1:00)
Round 1: descend free to 90% (:34)
Round 2: build 50
Round 3: 15m breakouts
Round 4: 25 free or breast underwater no breath/25 swim

Three rounds:
25 fast/175 easy on 4:00
50 breast fast from push/150 easy on 4:00 (34.3, 34.1, 33.5)
100 fast free from push/100 easy on 4:00 (descended effort: 1:10, 1:07, 1:02)

100 warmdown (with stretching)

Total: 3,800 meters (75 minutes)

I'm over the moon about going 33.5 on the last 50 breast! I hadn't been feeling like a sprinter as far as my breaststroke is concerned, and on the first two rounds, I felt strong, but there was no real snap to the stroke. I'm sure yesterday's 400 IM had a little bit to do with that, but the goal of each workout is to swim strong through the pain.

On the third round, I told myself to not hold back on the effort. My arm strokes felt controlled but powerful. I had a little trouble keeping my kick technically sound. A few times, I felt my knees drop too far out of the body line, and in my rush to get to the next stroke, I didn't finish the kick. That gives me a lot of optimism about my stroke, that things are turning a corner. Today was the first day of real breaststroke sprinting since the short course meters meet three weeks ago. I won't go as far to say that I'm ready for Olympic Trials, or even the Austin Grand Prix in two weeks, but I'm getting there.

Today's workout with JR Rosania was pretty tough. We did more volume than before, and my upper body could feel the additional work, as did my abs. Today, we worked on a lot of breaststroke-specific exercises, such as putting a strap around one ankle, and emulating the finish of my kick with about 60 pounds of weight. It's a very good exercise.

I didn't get much sleep last night, but physically I didn't have a lot of trouble getting through the day. One of the smoke detectors started beeping at 1:30 to let me know the battery was low. By the time I got up to replace the battery, I was wide awake, with the sound of that high-pitched beep ringing in my ears. I got up to watch TV for an hour, and finally tried to sleep again at 3:30. All told, I was asleep for less than six hours. I didn't feel it in the pool or in my dryland, but I was dragging most of the afternoon at work. Add in the drama of the heater in my house breaking on Monday, and sleep has not been easy this week. At least I don't live in a very cold environment, and I have an electric blanket to keep me warm!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

House of Pain

Date: Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Time: 5:50 a.m.
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Long Course Meters
181 days to Olympic Trials

600 warmup

Five rounds:
100 back on 2:00 (1:19)
200 IM on 3:00 descend (2:58, 2:52, 2:46, 2:38)
Round five: 200 IM is 400 IM (6:03)

100 easy

10x50 on 1:00
Odd: stroke/free
Even: free/stroke

200 warm down (with stretching)

Total: 3,100 meters (70 minutes)

Wow! What a difficult workout!

I have not done a 400 IM long course in a very long time, and to have it come after four 200 IMs was not fun. I probably should have backed off on the fourth 200 IM more than I did. My best 200 IM long course from a push in Masters is 2:28, but today, going a 2:38 was extremely hard. Maybe it's because the 100 back was not supposed to be a warm down. Holding 1:19 is above aerobic pace for me, so I was not resting on those.

The 400 IM was brutal. It took all of my energy to finish the 100 fly legally. I knew Mark was watching, so I willed myself to get my arms out of the water those final 15 meters. On backstroke, I probably swam a 1:40 just because my body was in such agony. I felt a little better on the second 100 of breaststroke, but there was no way I was going to reach my goal time of 5:45. I didn't try to push the freestyle. I just wanted to finish.

I wasn't upset that I couldn't break six minutes on a 400 IM. I'm not training for a 400 IM, though to see that I could at least average 1:30 per 100 is encouraging. As I type this nine hours later, I still feel the wrenching pain from that 100 fly. I might not be able to lift my arms tomorrow.
If the fifth round had been a 200 IM instead of a 400 IM, I might have been OK. I probably could have really pushed it to maybe 2:35.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Christmas Song

Date: December 25, 2011
Time: 12:15 p.m.
Location: Tucson, AZ
Short Course Yards
183 days to Olympic Trials

300 warmup

Four rounds, all swum with short fins and descended by rounds:
200 free on 3:00
150 back on 2:15
100 breast on 1:45
50 fly on 1:30
(Last round: 2:08, 1:42, 1:08. :29)

200 easy

4x15 breast breakouts on :45

8x50 free on 1:00, breathe every 6

100 easy

2x50 breast fast from push (29.5 on both)

8x50 back on 1:00 recovery

Total: 3,600 yards (70 minutes)

The following is sung in the tune of "The Christmas Song":

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Sunblock slathered on my nose
Backstroke flags blowing hard on a wire
I stretch my arms and say "Well, here it goes."
Everybody knows
A pace clock and a sun that glows
Help to make a workout bright
Judging by my workout I know,
I won't find it hard to sleep tonight
I know that Olympic Trials is on its way
That's why I needed to swim hard on Christmas Day
And every swimming coach is gonna spy
To see if this breaststroker really does butterfly
And so I'm offering this simple phrase
To kids from 1 to 92
Don't know if it's been said many times, but anyways
Swim on Christmas

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ice Ice Baby

Date: Saturday, December 24, 2011
Time: 7:45 a.m.
Location: Tucson, AZ
Short Course Meters
184 days to Olympic Trials

1400 warmup

4x50 free on :45
100 kick on 2:20
4x50 back on :50
100 back on 2:20
4x50 breast on :55
100 kick on 2:20

3x100 kick breast no board on 2:00, 1:50, 1:40

4x50 free on :45
100 easy on 2:20
4x50 back/breast on :55
100 easy on 2:20

3x100 on 2:00
50 breast pull fast/ 50 easy
(averaged :38 0n fast 50s)

4x50 back on :50
100 easy (with stretching)

Total: 3,800 meters (80 minutes)

I swam with the Ford Aquatics Masters group today, and the workout was held in the University of Arizona's diving well. The water was 84 degrees, which was very, very hot. My arms felt rubbery for the first 40 minutes, and it was difficult to swim fast. The air temperature when I dove in was 35 degrees, and that was evident by the small patches of ice on the deck. By the end of workout, around 8:45, I got a little acclimated to the pool temperature, but not enough to do anything super fast.

After swimming in the stew for 80 minutes, the air temperature felt quite comfortable when I got out. I did wrap myself in my parks for a little bit, but it felt good to bring my core body temperature back down. I probably should have wrapped up as soon as I got out of the pool, in order to keep from getting sick. I had the sniffles for an hour after workout.

I had to force myself to do the 50s breast on :55. I didn't want to swim breaststroke in these conditions, but I wanted to do some work on my stroke. Things felt good, though I could only manage to go as fast as :38 on those 50s.

Time for a nap!

Friday, December 23, 2011

To the Left, To the Left

Date: Friday, December 23, 2011
Time: 5:45 a.m.
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Long Course Meters
185 days to Olympic Trials

300 warmup

6x150 on 2:30
Flip turn at 25 meters

Twelve minutes:
30 seconds breast kick (no board)
30 seconds back kick
30 seconds breast vertical kick
(about 400 meters, not including vertical kick) 

8x50 breast pull with short fins on 1:10
(averaged :39)

300 easy

Three rounds:
4x50 back on 1:00 descend 1-4 (descended to :37)
150 free on 2:30 descend by rounds (2:00, 1:46, 1:40)

250 easy (with stretching)

Total: 3,600 meters (not including vertical kicking) (80 minutes)

I had planned to swim with Coley Stickel's group at Phoenix Swim Club yesterday, but discovered that because the kids are out of school, the workout was moved to mid-morning, which I couldn't make. It gave me a day of rest, which my left shoulder needs. I really did some tough dryland on Tuesday and Wednesday, and my left arm, shoulder and back are still quite sore. My goal is to make that side stronger in the next month or two, doing plenty of dryland exercises to help that. In addition, I'll do more Power Tower work.

When I work up this morning, I had a desire to do one of the sets today breaststroke pull with short fins. I never know if there will be a set in the workout that will work with that, and I was lucky that it happened today. Instead of kicking the set of 50s (as nearly everyone else did), I did breast pull, working on the catch and insweep. Because of my sore muscles, I didn't feel particularly strong, but I felt like I was holding more water, and that is important. The interval prevented me from going any faster. I have done a 50-meter breast pull with short fins in the 34-second range. Maybe soon I'll go for that. I learned today that we have two more weeks of long course training ahead of us, and that will help me get ready for the Austin Grand Prix.

This afternoon, I went to get some bodywork done with Tod Miller, specifically to increase mobility in my upper left side. Training will be getting tougher in the next few months, and I want to make sure my range of motion in my shoulder and back muscles is close to its best. When Tod stands on my back and puts all of his weight on my muscles, I can feel the nerve endings waking up, which in turn bring more blood flow to those muscles. That helps stretch out the muscles, especially the ones in my shoulder in back that I have not properly been treating since my tendonitis diagnosis in 2009. Following that up with some deep tissue massage really did the trick today, and I'm sure it will only help.

After the massage, Tod suggested some acupuncture, and I agreed to it. Tod had given me some acupuncture therapy once before, just before I made my Olympic Trials cut. I don't have a fear of needles, but don't like the thought of something piercing my skin. About 20 needles went into my shoulders, arms, legs and the space between my toes. Tod puts a cloth over my eyes during the procedure, to keep me from being blinded by the bright lights on the ceiling. I'm glad he does this, because the last thing I want to do is be tempted to look at these needles sticking out of my skin. Once they are in my skin, I don't feel them, but the weird thing is during the 20 minutes or so while I am lying motionless on the table, a few of my muscles start twitching. Tod told me the many reasons why the acupuncture is good for me, but I don't remember them all. I think it's to allow my nervous system to work better with my muscles. The best thing about the acupuncture session was the ability to take a 15-minute nap!

Tomorrow, my muscles might feel a bit achy, but that's what happens when they re-adjust to their elasticity.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hit Me With Your Best (Flu) Shot

Date: Wednesday, December 22, 2011
Time: 5:45 a.m.
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Long Course Meters
187 days to Olympic Trials

300 warmup

4x125 free breathing every 3 on 2:15

12x25 breakouts on :35

1x100 free fast from push (1:03.1)

8x50 free on 1:30, averaging half of fast 100 time (averaged 30.1)

300 easy

1x100 back fast from push (1:06.4)

4x50 back on 1:30, averaging half of fast 100 time (averaged 32.3)

300 easy

4x50 on 1:30: 25 breast fast from dive/25 easy

200 easy (with stretching after each 50)

Total: 2,900 meters (80 minutes)

Very tough sets today. I was a little hesitant to swim all out on the first 100 free, because Mark had hinted that our performance in the next set would be determined by our time in the 100. I went about 95 percent effort, somewhere around the pace I would hold in the middle 100 of a 200 free (I think, since I don't do 200 free very much.) The eight 50s free were tough physically, but I got through them. The rest was long enough to get enough rest hold the pace I went, but if I wanted to go at all out speed (i.e. in the high 28) I would have needed more rest, or only done four.

When it came time for the 100 back, I was still physically aching from the freestyle sprinting, but I wanted to work on my backstroke pull, especially after yesterday's work in the gym with the new exercise. My left arm was giving me trouble -- not because of the exercise at the gym, but because of the flu shot I got on Monday. My left tricep and bicep were on fire near the end of the 100 back, and for all four of the 50s.

I didn't feel like testing the waters, so to speak, on breaststroke today. I didn't think I could handle a 100 long course today, since I was still making the adjustment to long course. The fast 25s from the blocks felt OK, but not where I'd like my off-the-blocks-speed to be. I'm swimming with Coley's group tomorrow -- breaststroke day -- so we'll see how that goes.

After workout, as I was walking to the locker room wrapped in my USA parka, I noticed the visiting swim team about to swim in the smaller pool. I recognized one of the coaches as Olympic gold medalist Sheila Taormina, and went over to say hello. After a few minutes, she asked if I could do an in-water breaststroke demonstration for the kids on the team, and I obliged. It was great teaching them some of the finer points of breaststroke, and fun to think about those aspects as I was demonstrating. Thanks to Clovis Swim Team for the opportunity!

Here's a photo of me with Clovis coach Vincent de Maio and Sheila:

This evening I returned to work with JR Rosania for more torture. Today was supposed to be about easing back into the rhythm of his exercises, but by the time the hour was over, I was completely shredded. A lot of it had to do with the push-ups. I have never really embraced push-ups, and I don't recall ever doing them seriously as part of my dryland routine ever in my life. Maybe doing more push-ups will help my shoulder and back muscles. They were screaming at me after three rounds of 20. But on the whole, I'm sure the dryland will be a great asset for me in a few months.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning

Date: Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Time: 5:45 a.m.
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Long Course Meters
188 days to Olympic Trials

1600 warmup

Four rounds:
100 back on 1:45
100 IM on 1:45
100 free on 1:45
(all aerobic)

10 minutes:
25 double arm backstroke
25 breaststroke -- 2 strokes, 1 pullout
25 fly kick on stomach with arms at sides
25 free swim
(Did 600 meters)

200 back easy (with stretching)

Total: 3,600 meters (75 minutes)

I didn't sleep very well last night. I woke up once each hour, and remember looking at the clock on the nightstand each time. When I saw "4:45," I groaned. I felt horrible, because I hadn't really gotten much restful sleep. My partner, Geoff Glaser, tosses and turns a lot in his sleep when his lower back hurts, and I think that was the case last night. I think we need to get one of these beds.

When I got to the pool, I was feeling awake and alert mentally, but I wasn't sure how my body would react to the workout. I should have held back on the set of 100s on 1:45. I was averaging 1:21 for the backstroke, 1:20 for the IM and 1:17 for the freestyle. My heart rate at the end was 180, which is a little high for that set. Part of that could be attributed to doing the first long course workout in a month, I suppose. My body needs a few days to adjust to that.

Just a little update on stroke technique: Everything feels better in the water, especially my breaststroke. I feel like I have a better handle on the stroke, particularly at the "turn the corner" part of the stroke, when the hands do the insweep. Pulling wide is something that might be unusual, but it works for me, and I'm sticking to it! As for my backstroke, my left arm felt weak. I need to do lots of strength exercises for those shoulder and back muscles on my left side, and this Friday, I'm getting some body work done in that area to help spread out the muscles and increase range of motion. I can feel like my left arm doesn't want to dig as deep as it should on the backstroke pull, and plenty of stretching and strengthening will help that.

At the gym (5 p.m.)

20 minutes elliptical machine

Sitting bench press (15 @ 110, 12 @ 135, 10 @ 145)

Hamstring curls (15 @ 70, 12 @ 80, 10 @ 100)

Backstroke cable pull (10 @ 15 each arm, 10 @ 20, 10 @ 25)

The backstroke cable pull is a new exercise for me. I saw it in Swimming World Magazine some time ago (can't remember the issue), and had always wanted to include it in my repertoire. The exercise is quite tough. Not only do you have to replicate the backstroke pull with each arm, but since you are laying on your back on a therapy ball, you are using your abs to keep you stable. This exercise will be very good for strengthening my shoulder and back muscles. I just need to get used to the exercise. I would definitely recommend starting light, just to get used to the exercise motion. And plant your feet firmly on the ground, with your knees bent at 90 degrees for better balance.

I didn't do my abdominal exercises today, since I was running late to see the movie "Shame." I had read a lot about the movie, especially that it was rated NC-17. The movie was just OK. The character development was lacking. If I had known nothing about the movie, I would have had a hard time wondering where the conflict lied in the main character. Just so you know, the movie isn't extremely pornographic, though the sex scenes were slightly graphic.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Singin' in the Rain

Date: Sunday, December 18, 2011
Time: 11:40 a.m.
Location: Tucson, AZ
Short Course Yards
190 days to Olympic Trials

400 warmup

10x50 on 1:00
25 back/25 breast

10 minutes free swim aerobic with snorkel (800 yards)

8x25 on :40 breast pull with pull buoy between ankles

100 easy

500 back :30 rest
400 IM (50 drill/50 swim) :30 rest
6x50 breast kick drill on 1:00
200 free breathe every 5 :30 rest
100 scull

Total: 3,500 yards (70 minutes)

Rain fell throughout most of the workout today, which doesn't usually bother me. What bothered me today was the extremely warm water. I had planned to swim in the diving well, which is short course meters, but I got out after 200. The water temperature was extremely warm, about 84 degrees. I moved over to the main pool, which was set up in short course yards. The water there was about 82 degrees, which felt quite warm near the end of the workout.

Nothing was done very fast today. I'm still working on my aerobic training for another week before attempting to ramp up the speed work in preparation for the Austin Grand Prix. My breaststroke felt better today, though my timing was a little off. I am certain that I was pulling too narrow at the meet last weekend, which means I wasn't grabbing enough water and not using all my muscles to swim. I am a power swimmer, and I have to always rely on that as an asset. I think the shoulder problems I was having a couple of months ago also came into play. I was taking shortcuts to prevent my shoulder from hurting more than it did, and that may have entailed changing my stroke a bit. When the shoulder pain went away around Thanksgiving, I went back to my old stroke, before being barraged with a lot of suggestions in the two weeks before the meet.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Colors of the Wind

Date: Friday, December 16, 2011
Time: 5:50 a.m.
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Short Course Meters

4x(3x75 on 1:20)
1. 75 swim
2. 50 swim/25 kick
3. 25 kick/50 swim

Four rounds:
4x50 kick on 1:00 (25 stroke/25 free)
250 swim on 4:00 (100 back/150 free)

6x125 on 2:15 (100 free/25 stroke)

100 warm down (with stretching)

Total: 3,550 meters (75 minutes)

This morning featured blustery winds for the entire workout. Luckily, the wind didn't become too fierce until the end of workout, when a couple of the tarps blew into the pool. The wind blew the backstroke flags out of alignment, and fortunately they were blown away from the wall instead of toward it. It would have been horrible too see people miscounting their strokes and hitting some body part on the wall!

I didn't swim particularly fast this morning. The goal was to get my feel for the water back after four days away, and I did feel pretty good. My legs however, were sore after logging time on the treadmill this week. I will probably continue to do that for the next few weeks as I build up to my regular gym routine.

I worked on regaining my breaststroke a little bit. The thing I think I lacked last weekend was a good grasp on the water during the beginning of the pull, when the hands turn inward after the outsweep. This morning, I felt the difference physiologically, as if my muscles hadn't been swimming that way for a few weeks. It was a great feeling to find that again. It will take a few more workouts before I'm comfortable in my "old" stroke again.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Count With Me

Date: Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Time: 4:45 p.m.
Location: Phoenix, AZ
194 days to Olympic Trials

At the gym:

20 minutes on elliptical machine

Five minutes shoulder warmup exercises

Sitting chest press (2x15 @ 110)

Seated row (2x15 @ 95)

Fifteen minutes abdominal exercises and stretching

My original plan was to get back into exercise on Thursday. Starting a day early is not typical of me, but with my next swim meet a month away, I couldn't afford any more time away from physical improvement. I'm in no rush to get back into shape, since doing so is usually a path to injury, but I do hope to be doing my normal stuff before Christmas. That's 11 days from now!

In the 72 hours since the end of the Arizona state meet, I've thought endlessly of my performances there. I continue to be thrilled about my times in the 100 back and both IMs. I'm especially excited about my IM times, knowing that my breaststroke was not at its best last weekend. I might even ditch my plan to take an extended break after Masters nationals next summer and go for some short course meters times next fall. That's a very tentative plan; we'll have to see how the next seven months pan out.

Something else I thought about was how I'm going to work on deconstructing then reconstructing my breaststroke. One thing I am going to do is not get too attached to my stroke count. It can be very deceptive. During my 100 breast on Sunday, I took seven strokes on the first 25, eight on the next two 25s and nine on the last 25. That's a very good stroke count, but the time was not good. Tying performance to stroke count can be dangerous. I could do eight strokes for 25 meters at any speed. If someone asked me to go 25 meters breast taking eight strokes, provided I do it in 20 seconds (instead of 15, which was my goal split per 25), I could do it. If someone asked me to go 25 meters breast taking eight strokes, provided I do it in 15 seconds, I could do it. See what I mean? Hitting your seemingly preferred stroke count means nothing when the speed isn't there.

I'm not sure what I'll use to gauge speed now. Maybe I'll let my conscience be my guide, and just know based on feel how fast I'm going. It's served me well before.

I was planning on swimming tomorrow morning, but I have a doctor's appointment at 7:30 a.m., and I need to fast for a blood draw. I can't go into a swimming workout with absolutely nothing in my stomach. So, my next pool workout will be on Friday. I might go to the gym tomorrow. We'll see how my day goes.

Monday, December 12, 2011

What a Difference a Day Makes

Date: Monday, December 12, 2011
Location: Phoenix, AZ
196 days to Olympic Trials

I've been doing a lot of examination, both inward and outward, since yesterday's despicable swims in the 50 and 100 breaststrokes. It wasn’t until late last night that the pieces of the puzzle started coming together.

During one of many emotional discussions with my partner, we figured that the issue wasn’t my training, my diet, the weather or funky planetary alignments. To paraphrase Occam’s Razor: All things being equal, something must be wrong with my breaststroke. Since I qualified for Trials, more than a few people have offered up tweaks to my stroke in order to be faster. Those who have followed my blog since the beginning will know those names well. I took all the advice to heart, and plowed ahead in my training. Some of these people have reached the pinnacle of this sport, either in the pool or on deck. I was not going to question them, even when my in-season times weren’t as fast as they should have been.

Does this sound familiar? It should, if you’ve read my autobiography. I am following the same path I took in college, when I took the advice of my highly-accomplished coach, only to find that the stroke change was not effective. The only difference between then and now is I am aware that the changes aren’t working, and that I should return to the stroke that has worked for me. Back then, I trusted that the change would eventually make me faster. It didn’t.

I’m confident that all the other new things I’ve embraced in the past few months are working, especially my dryland training with J.R. Rosania.

The slow swims still sting today, but not as much as they did yesterday. Twenty-four hours ago, I couldn’t find my way out of that haystack of emotions. Today, I have a little better sense of optimism. I’m getting back in the pool on Thursday, and almost immediately I’m going to deconstruct my breaststroke and re-assemble it. I know the strengths and weaknesses of my stroke, and I think it’s best to make my strengths stronger (through dryland and time in the pool) in order to hide most of my weaknesses. I’m going to be extra vigilant about any changes to my stroke in the next 196 days, but not so much that I lose the enjoyment of this journey.

I hope to have things back in working order before mid-January, when I compete at the Austin Grand Prix. If you see me on deck and want to give me stroke pointers, feel free to do so.

Just don’t be hurt if I decide not to take your advice.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Bad Day

Date: Sunday, December 11, 2011
Time: 11:15 a.m.
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Short Course Yards/Meters
197 days to Olympic Trials

1400 yards warmup

Short Course Meters:

50 breast: 28.78

100 IM: 57.34

100 breast: 1:03.02

No, the times for the breaststrokes are not typos. I actually swam that slow.

It's amazing how things can shift in less than 24 hours. Yesterday, I was on cloud nine (or pretty close to it) after swimming so well in the meet. Today, things took a nasty turn somewhere, and I've been sitting here for a long time trying to figure out when it happened. Every question and answer I provide leads to the same question each time: But how did I swim so well yesterday?

Did I overtaper? Probably, but how did I swim so fast yesterday? (Tapers don't radically end after one day)

Did I not sleep well last night? Yes, but I didn't sleep that great the night before, either, so how did I swim so fast yesterday?

Was the weather too cold? Maybe, but it was a little chilly near the end of yesterday's session, so how did I swim so fast yesterday?

Did changing my dryland routine adversely affect my strength in the water? It felt like that on breaststroke, but why not the other strokes?

The bottom line is that I have never swum this slow in my breaststrokes in Masters. I have never, ever swum 1:03 in short course meters when shaved and tapered. And the 50 is also my slowest ever. It was extremely difficult to put a smile on my face after both races when people congratulated me on a good swim, saying my stroke looked awesome and other words of adulation. I knew the truth, and I didn't sugar coat it with most people. I didn't have the energy to do so.

After the meet, I spent a long time retracing the steps of the past four months. I have raced the 100 breast three times since qualifying for Trials last July, and all three swims (which includes today) were terrible. Remember the 1:05 I swam at the meet in Mesa last month? That should have been the writing on the wall. Even worse, my broken 100 that I did on Tuesday should have been a big sign. Usually I am within a few tenths of the actual time I swim when I do broken swims during taper. I went a 1:03 in the broken 100, and Coach Mark said it was just because it was near freezing, and I was doing it at 6:45 a.m. Obviously, those were not good reasons.

If I didn't have this major meet looming on the horizon in 197 days, I wouldn't put too much thought into today's swim. I would just move on to the next season. But I have to seriously think about why my breaststroke hasn't been on par when I race. I was doing some very good race pace breaststroke throughout the season, but it did not translate when it mattered. Mentally, my body was ready, as is evident in the 100 IM time. But even during the IM swims (both the 100 and 200) I sensed that my breaststroke wasn't feeling extremely natural. A teammate filmed today's races, and I will reluctantly look at them. I'm too ashamed of the times to post them online, so I hope you'll forgive me.

If this weekend was a bust all around, I could devise a concrete reason why things didn't work out. But it appears that every stroke but breaststroke was good this weekend. That has never happened, which is why the answers aren't coming to me. 

My breaststroke stroke didn't feel strong. During the 50 and 100, the strokes felt a little forced. When I am swimming well, I can swim on autopilot. I kind of was able to do that last July when I made the Trials cut, and today, I had to put all of my concentration on each stroke. Coach Mark said my 50 split was 29.9, which is despicable for me. I know, I know. There are many, many people who would love to have a 50 split like that for freestyle, but knowing what I am capable of doing, it makes me upset, frustrated and a little depressed. This taper was supposed to be a gauge on my training progress toward Trials. I have to believe, at least right now in this emotional state, that no progress was made. I think if there were some steps forward made, I took twice as many steps backward. But what were those backward steps, and why did it only affect my breaststroke??!!!!????!!?!?! 


I am going to take a few days off. Maybe the answers will come in that time. I'll be back in the pool Thursday.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Happy Happy Joy Joy

Date: December 10, 2011
Time: 1:45 p.m.
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Short Course Meters
198 days to Olympic Trials

Today was the first day of the Arizona state short course meters championships. As I have mentioned before, this was to be a barometer of how training is going as I head toward the Olympic Trials. Here's how I did:

100 backstroke: 57.20

200 IM: 2:07.29

Two awesome times! The 100 back is the third-fastest time I've swum in Masters. My fastest is 56.85, done in 2003, and my second-fastest is 57.19, done in 2009 (in a rubber suit). I had a great race with teammate Alan Carter, who was ahead through 75 meters. He said afterward that he had a bad final turn, which is unfortunate. I grazed the lane rope on the second 25, but didn't let it deter me. That final 25 was painful, but it was good to get my hand on the wall first (six tenths ahead of Alan). It would have been great to go under 57 seconds, but I won't complain!

As for the 200 IM, I was happy to have about two hours rest after the 100 back, not only to recover, but to visualize the IM. I knew the first half would be tough. I would need to be at least a body length behind Alan in order to continue to be competitive in the final 50, but when I touched first after the backstroke, I felt a wave of confidence rush over me. Alan is not a breaststroker, and that made me feel good when he was more than a body length behind after that. But I didn't back down. Knowing that he is an awesome freestyler kept me motivated through that 50, even though the pain was excruciating. I was so happy to see that time on the scoreboard. I haven't gone 2:07 since 2009 in a rubber suit. My best Masters time is 2:06.44, done in 2008 (in a rubber suit). I didn't think I could go 2:06 today, but it was great to have competition in the event. I have been racing the clock in the 200 IM for the past two years, and it's not easy. I can race the clock in a 50 and a 100, but in a 200, my mind wonders why I'm swimming so hard, and my mind usually wins. When I'm in a race, my mind is only thinking about getting to the finish first, and usually I'm racing very accomplished freestylers in the 200 IM (Olympians Josh Davis and Erik Hochstein among them). That makes strategy very important, so I have enough energy to hold them off on freestyle.

I don't have the splits from the races, but things felt like they were swum smart. I did see my 150 split on the 200 IM (1:36.5), and that pushed me harder to go 2:07. It felt like my 100 back was split almost evenly, and that is always the goal.

I'm beyond ecstatic about today's swims. Tomorrow will be a big day: 50 breast, 100 IM, 100 breast. I'll only have about an hour between races, so recovery will be important. First up: a good night's sleep!

Friday, December 9, 2011

High Noon

Date: Friday, December 9, 2011
Time: 11:50 a.m.
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Short CourseYards/Meters
199 days to Olympic Trials

The day before a swim meet I have a ritual of sorts. I always do my usual meet warmup, take a little break and get a timed 25 from a dive. Here's how that went:

Short Course Yards:
400: 200 free/100 back/50 breast/50 free

Reverse 400 IM: 25 scull/25 kick/25 drill/25 swim

4x50 breast kick drill on 1:00

100 easy

6x15 breakouts on :45

150 easy

Ten minute break

Short Course Meters:
25 breast from a dive (13.5)

125 easy

Total: 1550 yards/meters (50 minutes)

I started doing this type of day-before-meet workout in 2009, and it's worked out well for me since then. It's good to do something from the blocks the day before a meet, just to get your mind and body into racing gear. Sometimes, my first race has been not too good, so I decided to avert that by doing some kind of race the day before. I was thinking of doing a 50 today, but I thought it would be best to do only a 25, if it turned out I wasn't feeling good today. Going 13-mid is good, and when I shave and put on a racing suit (I wore a brief today), I should be able to get a 12-second opening 25, which will give me a great start to my 100 breast.

I decided to swim at the noon workout to test out the weather that time of day. The sun felt good on my skin, and it was a comfortable 60 degrees! I'll still need to wear my parka this weekend, but it felt much better than 38 degrees at 6 a.m. If I had the opportunity to do so, I would swim at noon every day in the winter.

Shaving tonight was very good. Only one razor cut! Usually, I'm nursing three or more, because I tend to rush through parts of the shave. This time, I cut myself on my clavicle, a ridge of bone that my razor had difficulty getting around.

While shaving today, I thought a little about the first time I ever shaved. It was at the 1991 Pan American Games. I sat in the shower in Havana, Cuba, trying not to swallow the water coming from the shower head. Before that, I had used Nair, because I thought the important part was just removing hair, not the dead skin. No one told me the Nair way of shaving was wrong until I got to Cuba, and my roommates saw me applying the cream the day before my race. While I'm glad they showed me the light, I wish someone had done that for me earlier! How fast would I have swum before August 1991 if I had known to use a razor?

Oh well. Going to kick back and relax tonight. First race is around 2:45 p.m. tomorrow!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Funny How Time Flies (When You're Having Fun)

Date: Thursday, December 8, 2011
Time: 5:45 a.m.
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Short Course Meters
200 days to Olympic Trials

300 warmup

4x200 free on 3:30
Odd: 25 swim/25 drill
Even: focus on turns

1x50 free at 90% effort (28.3)

4x(4x50 on 1:00)
1. 25 breast/25 free
2. free breathe every 3
3. 12.5 scull, rest swim
4. 12.5 kick, rest swim

1x50 breast at 90% effort (34.7)

200 easy

10x50 free on 1:00, four breaths per 50

2x15 breakouts

150 easy

Total: 2,900 meters (75 minutes)

The terrifying thing about taper -- at least for me -- is wondering if I am doing enough to stay in shape, but not swimming so hard that my body isn't recovering well. Today, my body felt great in the water, and when Mark said those tapering for this weekend's meet were done after 2,200 meters, I knew I needed to do more. But what to do? I definitely wasn't going to do the next set on the whiteboard: 4x400 on 6:00! So, I decided to do some breath control work, which got my heart rate up slightly yet didn't require a lot of exertion.

Two days before the start of a meet is when I start to feel good. If I didn't feel good today, I would have been concerned. I'm feeling more confident mentally about this weekend (though concerns about weather are still sticking around), and usually that translates to my body making the proper adjustments. The psych sheet was released yesterday, and I'll have some tough races on Saturday. I'm seeded first in the 100 back, ahead of four fellow Phoenix Swim Club teammates, all of whom were backstrokers in college. One of them, Lauren Rogers, was a finalist in the 100 back at the 2008 Olympic Trials! It would be great if I -- a breaststroker who has been surprisingly successful at backstroke in Masters -- could beat all four of them. And my training partner Alan Carter is going to put up a good fight in the 200 IM, and I am very much looking forward to that. I haven't been able to race anyone in a short course meters 200 IM in years, and that event is difficult to do when I am racing just the clock. When someone is pushing me, the race is actually very fun, as you try to capitalize on your strong strokes and push your weaker ones. Alan is very weak on breaststroke, but I have a feeling he won't just "roll over" on that stroke. And he's vastly superior in freestyle, which will make the final 50 meters interesting!

The most important thing to do during taper is relax. Unfortunately, that means housework goes by the wayside. My house looks like pigsty more and more each day as my dirty clothes pile up and little things get pushed aside for next week. On Sunday afternoon, I'll have no excuse for putting off cleaning, and I'm sure my husband will have a long honey-do list waiting!

Only 200 days until Olympic Trials! It feels like June 25, 2012, is so far away, but it feels like July 10, 2011, the day I qualified for Trials, was nearly a week ago. Time flies when you're having fun!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cold As Ice

Date: Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Time: 5:50 a.m.
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Short Course Yards/Meters
201 days to Olympic Trials

1600 warmup (in short course yards)

Broken 100 breast from  dive (short course meters)
(30.0 for first 50, 20 seconds rest, 33.9 for final 50 = 1:03.9

500 warmdown

This morning, the temperature gauge in my car read 38 degrees when I drove into the parking lot at the pool. Yikes! Obviously, walking from the locker room to the pool when I was dry was tough on my legs (I had a nice parka on), but it was even worse when I finished my warmup and climbed out of the pool. There were little pellets of ice on my deck shoes! That did not make it easy to put those on and walk back to the locker room about 100 yards away to put on a different suit for my broken swim.

We're experiencing a major cold spell in Phoenix. It's not unusual, but it hardly lasts this long. It started getting real cold last Wednesday, and hasn't let up yet. As I mentioned in yesterday's blog post, I fear the weather for this weekend's meet will make conditions tough. I do plan to dress warmly and be as prepared as possible, but there will be a minute or so when it's just my skin versus Mother Nature in that moment when I am about to step on the blocks.

In preparing for this morning's broken swim, I wore my parka to the lane I was to swim in, and wrapped a beach towel around my legs. I only had my deck shoes to protect me from the cold deck, but not the cold air. My toes were quite cold within seconds.

I had expected to swim much faster today in my broken swim. I suppose when you consider that the swim took place at 6:45 a.m., the air was near freezing and the water near boiling (82 degrees), it wasn't bad. It doesn't concern me too much regarding this weekend, because the breakouts I did during warmup felt awesome.

To make things better, I'm on my way to get a pre-meet massage today from Tod Miller. I don't have any major muscle aches, but it'll be good to get all the tiny knots out, so my body can sail through the water with ease!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Here Comes the Sun

Date: Tuesday, December 6. 2011
Time: 5:45 a.m.
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Short Course Meters
202 days to Olympic Trials

900 warmup

4x(3x75 on 1:30)
1. 25 left/25 right/25 swim fly
2. 25 breast head up/50 free swim
3. 25 fly kick/50 back swim

8x15 breakouts

Four rounds:
3x50 on 1:00
100 easy on 2:30

200 easy

Total: 3,200 meters (80 minutes)

Today was one of those days when all I wanted to do was swim easy for about 3,000 meters. I suppose I did that just fine. The main set (which was the last set) was supposed to be descending 50s on the odd rounds, and strong 50s on the even rounds. I didn't descend to a very fast time for those rounds, around 33 for 50 backstroke, which is what I hope to split on my backstroke leg of the 200 IM. It didn't feel too difficult, though with the warmer water, it wasn't as easy as I hoped it would be.

My legs are still feeling tired, but I expect them to feel better tomorrow. Things should generally be better tomorrow physically. I am concerned about the weather on Saturday and Sunday in Phoenix. It's going to be quite chilly, with a high of about 60 degrees. That's a little too cold, but I will take every measure to keep warm through the meet. Most people, I am certain, will be walking around the deck in bare feet and clothing more suitable for a late spring day than a late fall morning. The key to swimming fast does not only lie in how you prepare in the warmup, but how you stay comfortable between warmup and the race. It's always a gamble swimming in meets in Arizona between October and March, but I keep reminding myself that I set my current world record for the 100 SCM breast in the 35-39 age group one week before Christmas in Phoenix! It was a little chilly that day, too. Please help me in praying for warm sunshine this weekend!

Today I found out that my chief "rival" in my age group in Masters, Steve West, swam a 1:01.94 in the 100 breast (short course meters), which is quite fast! Additionally, he broke his own world record in the 200 breast, the event which he'll be swimming next year at the Olympic Trials. I won't be swimming the 200 breast this weekend -- or any other weekend -- but I'll be pushed by Steve's fast 100. He also went 28.63 in the 50 breast, another fast time. Looks like Steve and I will have a virtual race this weekend!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Date: December 5, 2011
Time: 5:50 a.m.
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Short Course Yards

4x(3x75 on 1:30)
1. 25 left arm/25 right arm/25 swim
2. 25 head up/50 swim
3. 25 kick/50 swim

8x100 on 1:40
odd: 50 back/50 free
even: 50 free/50 back

6 race turns

Three rounds:
 3x100 free on 1:40 descend rounds
50 back easy on 2:00

6x25 breast double pullouts on :30
Total: 2,950 yards

A little less yardage than I expected today. With it being Monday, I expected the workout to consist of something similar to 400s on a short interval. But I did the workout as written, though I decided to swim in the yards part of the pool, in case the set became more difficult than a taper workout needed to be.

Not much effort was expended today. My legs are still sore from all the standing I did in Atlanta, plus the water was pushing 83 degrees. The air was about 48 degrees, and it was the coldest it's been since last February. I'm worried that the weather this weekend will not be amicable for us, and that we'll be feeling the chill as we step up on the blocks to race.

The next few days will most likely be rough for me. There's a point in the middle of the taper when my body is so busy recovering that nothing feels good. Today it was my legs. What will feel horrible tomorrow?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

You and Me

Date: Saturday, December 3, 2011
Time: 1:45 p.m.
Location: Atlanta, GA
Short Course Yards
205 days to Olympic Trials

300 warmup

Four rounds (with 20 seconds rest at end of round):
200 IM (25 kick/25 drill) / 100 free (25 left arm/25 right arm/50 breathe every 3) / 50 breast kick drill

8x100 free on 1:30
Odd lengths, breathe left; even lengths, breathe right

4x15 breast breakouts on :45

10x50 :20 rest
25 back/25 free easy

4x15 back breakouts on :45

100 warmdown

Total: 3,300 yards (75 minutes)

I wanted to work on backstroke starts today, but the slower heats of the distance events were starting soon after my workout began, and I did not get the opportunity. I never get the chance to work on backstroke starts, because the gutters at the pool I swim at normally have stainless steel edges, which make backstroke starts impossible. We have to haul out a touchpad if we want to work on backstroke starts, and that is often too much of a pain to deal with. I feel confident my backstroke start will be decent next weekend, but it will need to be excellent. I learned that Noriko Inada, a three-time Japanese Olympian who placed fourth last night at the USA Swimming nationals in the 100 back, is also swimming in the Masters meet in Phoenix next weekend. It will be the first time I will get to race Noriko, and it will be fun. I'm not sure I can stay with her in short course, since she is so phenomenal underwater, and I -- well, let's say I'm not.

Today the goal was to swim easy, with a few short bursts to remind my body what it's preparing to do next weekend. The breakouts felt good, but not strong. My legs are feeling quite heavy, and I'm sure being on my feet, working 12-hour days and not getting much sleep in my crummy hotel room is causing that, and I am not worried about my taper. When I get back, I will have plenty of time to get my legs rested. My upper body is starting to come around, and that is an amazing feeling.

I got to do the set of 8x100 free with Mike Unger, the assistant executive director of USA Swimming and Masters world record holder. We both needed the company. We agreed that we would not have finished the set if we had done it separately. While not an extremely boring set, it was one where you have time to try to talk yourself out of it, if you choose. I'm glad I didn't. Thanks, Mike!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Teacher, Teacher

Date: December 2, 2011
Time: 4:15 p.m.
Location: Atlanta, GA
Long Course Meters
206 days to Olympic Trials

300 warmup

6x100 :20 rest
25 scull/25 dolphin kick on back/25 breast with double pullouts/25 free breathe every 3

8x50 on 1:05
odd: 25 fly/25 back
even: 25 breast/25 free

4x150 :30 rest
50 breast kick drill/50 free/50 breast distance per stroke

4x15 breakouts on 1:00

Three rounds:
50 breast underwater swim on 1:15
50 breast fast on :45
3x50 easy on 1:30
(Times on fast 50s: 34.3, 34.7, 34.8)

200 warmdown

Total: 3,100 meters

Today's workout was approved by Coley Stickels, who is here with several members of the Phoenix Swim Club, including Michael Nelson, who is newly qualified for Olympic Trials in the 100 breast! He went 1:04.22 in prelims today, which means he is now seeded faster than me for Trials. I have no plans to shave and taper for a long course meet before Trials, so he'll be in a later heat in Omaha than I will. I know Coley will like that. He wants to be able to watch both of us equally in the race.

The point of the main set was to work on my endurance in the final 50 of the race. I was still a little out of breath from the underwater swimming when I pushed off for the fast 50, so I did feel the fatigue in the final 15 meters. Not only was I under 35 seconds on all three of them (which doesn't usually happen) but I took 21 strokes on all the fast swims! I'm usually 24 strokes! I have no idea what that was all about. Could it be I am stronger? Maybe.

After the main set, I noticed the great breaststroke coach Joszef Nagy strolling the deck. Joszef coached Mike Barrowman to numerous world records and Olympic gold in the 200 breast in 1992. He also helped Roque Santos make the Olympic team in 1992 and currently is world record holder Annamay Pierse's coach. I asked him to look at my stroke for 25 meters, and he obliged. Watching with him was Coach Tako, who was timing me on the main set. After the swim, Joszef said my upper body was very good, but my kick needed fixing. He said I shouldn't kick at a downward angle on the finish, but kick straight back and up a little bit. I tried to maintain my composure as he talked, because it was Tako who suggested that I kick downward! Joszef said kicking straight back will put my body at a better angle, which I agree with completely. I worked on it a little in warmdown and will refine it more tomorrow.

All in all, today's main set was surprisingly good. I wasn't feeling strong in my legs, mostly because I've been standing a lot for work. And it was even better that I got to swim in the pool that hosted the 1996 Olympics!

Now it's time to go to work! But first, some food...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Breaking Away

Date: Thursday, December 1, 2011
Time: 5:45 a.m.
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Short Course Meters/Short Course Yards
207 days to Olympic Trials

(Short Course Meters)
300 warmup

6x150 on 2:40, last 50 kick

12x50 free on :45, breathe every 5

(Short Course Yards)
6x100 back on 1:30 aerobic

400 kick breast

6x50 on 1:15
25 scull, five seconds rest, then 15m breakout

200 with underwater turns

Total: 1,800 short course meters/1,500 short course yards (80 minutes)

This morning was the first official taper workout of the season! After the set of 50s free breathing every five, I decided to move to the other part of the pool and do some aerobic swimming. Everyone else did 6x300, odds on 4:30, evens on 5:00. I didn't think I needed to do that, so I broke away from the pack and worked on backstroke technique while maintaining a steady heart rate.

Every day in my taper, I will do something fast. Most days, it will be nothing more than a few breakouts. Other days it will be a longer test sprint set. Keep following the blog and you'll see how I plan out the days when I swim fast for a longer period of time.

I am keeping this blog short because I'm quite tired. I'm writing this from my hotel room in Atlanta, where I'm covering the USA Swimming nationals for Swimming World. It's been nonstop for me since I landed in Atlanta, and it is almost midnight here. I arrived at the pool 10 minutes before the finals started tonight, and spent the next 15 minutes trying to find the mixed zone for media. Apparently, it's just a space on deck that the media took control of this morning. Works for me! After the meet I still had work to do, and finally feel like I'm settled in.

Can't wait to dive into the pool at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center tomorrow! It will be my first swim in the pool that hosted the 1996 Olympics. Tomorrow's workout will likely be a longer sprint set, but I haven't officially decided yet.