My Swim Coach Tied Me Up

I recently wrote about how I’m becoming a better swimmer, but apparently I have a ways to go.

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After our warm up swim, my coach walked toward me shaking his head and said, “I’ve gotta get you to stop your hips from shifting around so much, and your head is coming too far out of the water when you breathe.”

Then he through me a race belt.

“Tie that around your ankles.”

Uhh…. okay.

So I wrapped the elastic band around my ankles, then hopped back into the water and started swimming.  My legs immediately sank straight below me and I was cranking my arms at ridiculous speed to stay afloat.

I was in a mild state of panic, and of course, that is the last thing you want to experience as a swimmer.  I struggled out to the buoy and held on for dear life before sucking it up to swim back in.

Not gonna lie, it wasn’t easy, but by the time I got close to shore I was much more relaxed.  My stroke was longer and felt more powerful, which subsequently kept my legs and feet higher in the water.

Coach also told me that one eye should still be under the water when you breathe, which took me a while, but eventually I “sorta” got it down.  I was also swallowing less water . . . which was nice.

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In summary, this is a great way to work on body position and keeping yourself higher in the water.  In fact, I loved it so much I’m thinking about trying it with a potato sack down at the YMCA.

Is This Why Jack Bauer Lost His Tour de France Stage? #TDF

Maybe I’m overestimating how much speed you lose by looking away from your target.  And in no way do I think I know more than these guys, but when I was watching Stage 15 of the Tour de France I couldn’t help thinking Jack Bauer, who led the stage for 222km, made the critical mistake of looking back too much down the stretch.  The Peloton was bearing down on him, he knew that much, but he kept looking back, and I think it cost him.

Below are two stills I grabbed from the broadcast.  The first one is .4km from the finish line.  It’s on a corner and you can see Bauer (in the blue helmet) taking an “extended” look back to see where the pack is, and when you watch the tape he slows down considerably as he takes that turn.  I just don’t understand why you need to look for them at that point.  After 222km and with .4 left, don’t you just hammer it with everything you have left?

Bauer1

This one below is with about 50 meters left.  Honestly, what is there to look at except the finish line?

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In the end, he didn’t have enough to close it out.  It was an impressive surge by the sprinters and Bauer had the lead until 10 meters before the finish line.  1o measly meters.  He will be thinking about this for a long time.

Finding Your Flow

Three things happened yesterday that reminded me that racing is all about finding, and keeping, your flow:

1.  I was swimming in a 50 meter pool, relaxed and beautifully.  It was my pace and something I felt I could hold and slowly build.  Then, someone in the next lane swam up and started passing me.  I lost my concentration and either consciously or subconsciously tried to keep up with them.  I started breathing heavy and lost my flow.  The swim was sunk.

2.  I have been building back slowly because of a sore Achilles, and yesterday was time to stretch my run for the first time in a while.  I felt good out of the gate and it set me free.  After a couple miles, I thought, “I’m back!”  I slowly picked up the pace, pushing to beat my imaginary competitors, and by mile 6, my Achilles was starting to scream.  I had a solid run going, but pushed out of my comfort zone, and lost my flow.  I was four miles from home and, instead of walking back, I decided to manage my pain by staying inside my box.  Inside my limits.  It turned out to be a tad painful, but I regathered my flow and it was a good lesson for how to stay in my zone.

3.  After my run I wrapped my ankles in ice and watched the replay of Tour de France.  Jack Bauer, from New Zealand, led from wire to wire.  He spent nearly 5 hours in front of the pack.  With 900 meters to go he had a 16 second lead and the race appeared to be his.  But the Peloton, fronted by the world’s fastest sprinters was closing in . . . and Bauer felt the pressure.  Even the announcers thought it was his race, but Bauer kept looking over his shoulder at the pending carnage.  He kept looking back . . . again, and again, and again, his bike swaying back and forth instead of straight.  Ten meters from the finish line, he was blown away by 9 other riders.

I’m not trying to pretend I know how to win a stage race, but it looked to me that Jack lost his flow.  His mind was reacting to others instead of trusting what got him there.  Protecting the lead instead of owning the win.  It was a heartbreaking finish, and I wonder if the outcome would have been different if he just put his head down and found the fastest rider inside of himself.

It’s easy to lose track, and once again all of these things reminded me of something that is ultimately the secret to endurance, and frankly life.  You will always have competitors, but the ultimate battle is always with yourself.  Believe in what you do, and trust your flow.

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Building Confidence for Ironman #IMLou

It sounds jacked up, but one of the most amazing things about doing Ironman Wisconsin last year, was just how fast that day went by for me.  One minute I was floating by the ski ramp, the next I was hobbling my way around the State Capitol.

Twelve hours passed in what seemed like an instant.

It’s really a testament to why I love endurance and training in general: It keeps you in the moment.

It’s also reminds you to slow down and enjoy the process.  Even when it’s painful.  Especially when it’s painful.  That’s the experience you will need the most on race day.

 

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The Hardest Parts of Writing About Triathlon

 

I’m closing in on 500 original posts about triathlon.  Seems like I would have run out of fuel a long time ago, but it proves to me this blog is about much more about the human condition than simply swim, bike, and run.

It kind of blows me away . . . mainly because I have stuck with it this long.  I haven’t made money, but I’ve gained a better understanding of myself and how to deal with the intense ups and downs of training for Ironman and how that impacts our lives.

My blog traffic suggests that a fair number of people have enjoyed reading about my journey, but the truth is, there are always questions.  Sometimes it’s like being all alone on your run at mile 19.  You question the point and want nothing more than for it to be over.  But as hard as that marathon can be, you have to keep moving.

I Don’t Know What I’m Talking About  

As I write about triathlon there is always temptation to “start acting like I know what I’m talking about.”  That’s what they tell you . . . “be an expert.”  But the truth is, I am not.

I love to get into the mind.  Play with the psychology.  Explore the limits of this crazy pursuit.  Find solutions and somehow get to the finish line.

The answers are never obvious and my opinions/strategies are constantly changing.  But, the one constant is, “My body knows if I listen.”  The truth is inside me fighting its way to the surface.  Some days it may be different, and, in the end, I am pouring feelings, often unclear, onto the page.

Staying the Course

I’ve watched a ton of music documentaries in my life and there’s always a point when the band is getting popular and the label starts trying to control everything.  But legendary groups stick to their guns and make the music that’s inside of them without compromise.  That is how I want to approach my writing.

They say, “write what you know,” and for me that is passion.  Passion for the sport, the lifestyle, and the quest to become a healthier person.

Do I want people to enjoy my website?  Yes.  Do I want to do whatever it takes to get the most views?  Sometimes, but I would rather grow organically than by using artificial tactics that lose focus of the reasons this blog is important to me . . . and hopefully you.

“Marketing is Everything”

Ironically, I am a professional marketer by trade, but the writer in me refuses to listen to that asshole.  Well, he’s not that bad, but like most executives, he has a tendency to overlook one very important part of the marketing mix:  the product.

In my professional life, I spend a great deal of time writing what are ultimately lies, or at best, illusionary truth.  Covering up flaws with beautiful words that hope to sway your opinion about something you don’t want.

That’s exactly the opposite of what I want to do here.  I am fallible, vulnerable, impossibly human, and everything in this blog is a true reflection of those flaws.  Those beautiful flaws that I believe everyone can relate to.

An Authentic Voice 

This is about being real.  Admitting my struggle, knowing that is ultimately the best way to get through it.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a ton of talented writers and musicians in Nashville.  Great, creative minds that push the envelope with their thought.  But often, that innovative soul is stripped in the name of commerce.

They pour music and words from their purest hearts, only to adapt mechanical approaches to please the masses.  Their original material becomes diluted in the process of chasing numbers.

They learn nuances of “getting attention” and “manufacturing fans,” but it’s often a compromise that leaves them unhappy.  This is where I struggle as a writer.

If we are quiet enough and listen to our gut, we instinctively know how to deal with any situation.  But when “influencers” start impacting decision making, we tend to lose our way.

Are you willing to throw away your lyrics and your soul just to get a little attention?  Are you willing to stop running just because it hurts?

WRITINGTRIATHLON

 

 

 

Cycling Etiquette – Please Don’t Do This . . .

Even though I am one, sometimes I hate cyclists. Especially when I’m running.

I grew up in the day when you just road your bike and didn’t run into people or in front of cars.  We sort of used . . . logic.  Sure, sometimes we crashed and did stupid shit, but for the most part, we just rode our bikes and it was all good.

I live near a bike path, which is more often suited for walking or running and many times I will take off on a run.  It’s really pretty serene and peaceful.  I rarely listen to music and typically drift into a meditative state, at one with my breath.

It’s very quiet and I can normally hear a cyclist coming up behind me if they coast a bit or change gears or talk, etc . . . Sometimes you’ll even get the guy or girl who is hammering away at 17 mph and they just cruise right by you in peace.

I have no problem with any of those scenarios because I am just running on the right side of the path and for the life of me can’t remember the last time I suddenly made a direct left turn to chase a squirrel or pick a mulberry.  I just go straight and if the bike goes straight by me on the left, it works just fine!

What I do have a problem with is the guy or girl hammering away at 17 mph who suddenly feels the urge to shout “ON YOUR LEFT” 10 feet away, subsequently scaring the shit out of me and forcing a quick right cut to the far side of the black top and further putting my tender Achilles tendon at risk.

Why???

Just make a little noise, coast, or shift your gears 20 to 30 feet back.  Now, if I have a dog or a child or something, it’s different.  But in that case you should really slow way down for your pass and use a normal conversational voice.  Please don’t be this guy!

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Why Are You Doing Ironman?

Seriously, why are you doing Ironman?  To prove something?  To be a better person?  To be in a community?  To post pictures in skin tight clothing?

I think it’s really important to understand or you can get caught up in the spectacle and make the entire process counterproductive.

This morning I was swimming in a lake at 6:15 am.  It was overcast, sprinkling rain, and there were two other people in the water.  It was desolate, peaceful, and once I started breathing right, incredibly rewarding.

It was all I could do to relax as I plowed through the choppy waves and passed the lonely buoys one by one.  The day started as Ironman training, but morphed into a positive experience for my soul.  1500 yards later my bare feet walked through the sand and I toweled off.

It wasn’t about the distance, but I was intensely in tune with the motion.  My brain and body felt measurably different at the end of that swim.

I continually tell myself it’s not about the race, but it’s hard not to make it about the race.

Ironman is a big and exciting event.  You train because you want to perform.  Your day is on the clock and you want to cross that line in the fewest amount of ticks.  But, training for Ironman is a condensed example of why life should be about the journey.

Man, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to figure out my perfect pace and ultimate goal.  It becomes consuming, agonizing, and packs pressure on your bones that doesn’t deserve to be there.

There’s no time for premature optimization in life.  What are you doing today?

This is why I’m not a fan of goals.  It’s one thing to have a target, but to obsess over goals is a waste.  40 or 60 or 100 days from now doesn’t matter.  What matters, is today.

Living with right intention, right action, and right mind will carry you to the right place.  If all we think about is a goal time, we lose the moment.

Training is training.  It’s teaching your body to respond better to difficult situations.  It’s slowly pushing your limits so you feel better and more alive.

Ironman isn’t our job, our family or our life. It’s a vehicle to get better at all three.

In the end, it is simply a stage on which we perform for one or two days a year.  The reward ceremony at graduation.

By the time you toe the line, you have done the important stuff.  You’ve done the work and regardless of what happens that day, if you truly believe in your effort, you can self-define yourself as an Ironman.  Whatever that means.

PS.  I wrote this for myself.

 

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My Ironman Secret Strategy . . . Exposed #IMLou

Dealing With Guilt

I take a lot of shit for “sleeping in” and “milking” my recovery.  Frankly, it riddles me with guilt and that’s not good when your big race is only 40 days away.

Monday I took a long look into my red eyes and made a firm commitment to increase pool time by getting up earlier.  It’s the first event and a body adjusted to early morning water is a prepared body.

I’m calling it “Forty Days of Floating.”  This will be a daunting challenge and require more recovery discipline than I’m used to, but sometimes you have to man-up with the fact that Ironman is a sacrifice.

The honest reason, of course, is that I want to have a solid tan for Louisville.  Not only will my skin wrinkle sooner, the sexy race medal will pop in my Finisher’s Photo.

Another small benefit will be added exposure to heat and reduced odds of sunburn.  We all know how sensitive skin can tangle a run to the podium.

And what’s a good plan without accountability?  That’s right, a failure.  So, I’m graciously including a daily selfie (see below) that will help document my aggressive recovery and changing skin tones.

Ongoing Nightmare

So recovery is settled, what about rest?

I’ve been on this planet for 50 years and still haven’t figured out the trick to waking up early.  Patience is wearing thin.

My loose goal at Louisville is to be in the swim line by 6:45 am sharp, but with my current sleep habits, I am in serious jeopardy of missing the race.  I’ve had nightmares of running down that pier alone and jumping in the water as they’re pulling up the timing strip.  Risky business, but it would certainly go viral, and we all know that’s the key.

Screw Your Fancy Toys

Everyone says there are 4 disciplines in triathlon: Swim, bike, run, and nutrition.  I am here to tell you there are six, and the blue-haired step children, Rest and Recovery, are screaming for my attention.

So, today’s Crushing Iron lesson is:  Instead of dishing out big bucks for a power meter, you may want invest 400 in a real success tool, like this beauty below.

Ironman Recovery Pool

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Tracking Ironman Muncie is a Letdown

I don’t know why Ironman doesn’t have tracking splits on their bike and run at Muncie but they are making a big mistake.  Not only are they letting down “spectators” they are leaving a lot of money on the table.

For the spectator, tracking Ironman is an event and the more splits they create on race day means more value in their back catalog of products.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who obsessively tracks past race results.

Ironman Results live forever as a great way to make passive income long after the event.  Seems like it would be easy to find a sponsor and build a robust catalog of statistics for a rabid group of triathletes to sift through for hours.

Not only that, tracking is one of those things that gets fringe players interested in your game.  My mom, for example was all over tracking me last year at Muncie and Wisconsin.  I think it really helped acclimate her to the sport and till this day she spreads the Ironman gospel to anyone who will listen.

Before MLB TV I literally used to sit at a computer and watch the Brewers on ESPN Gamecast.  It seems ridiculous, but there is something riveting about the anticipation.  Of course Gamecast was the segue to being able to stream games live.  And perfecting triathlon split tracking is the logical stepping stone to having more sponsored live cameras on the course.

I know that Full Ironman races are the main focus, but the most people with true triathlon “fever” start with a half.  These are the people who want to feel like pros.  They are the gateway to building the sport and bringing new fans along for the ride.

Here’s a shot of Andrew Starykowicz after crushing the bike at just under 28 mph.  Photo credit Allie Miles.

 

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6 Ways I’ve Improved My Swim

I am not a fast swimmer, but I think I have finally figured out ways to make swimming easier.  Over the last few weeks I have been focusing on things I can control and not obsessing over the intricate and often overwhelming details of form.  I think our bodies instinctively want to figure out the most efficient way to move and it’s up to us to create the right environment, then get out of the way.  Here are 6 things I’ve been working on, that I really believe are paying off in confidence and less exertion in the water.

1.  I take warm up seriously.  Whether it’s circling my arms on the side of the pool or taking a long time (500 meters) to ease into my workout, I do not underestimate the power of warming up. It’s like reminding my muscles what they’re in for and allowing them time to wake up.  I re-establish the fundamentals and, as the swim unfolds, “my best form” becomes instinct.

2.  I’ve relaxed my water entry.  For the longest time I was “coming out of my body” with aggressive attacks that sent my hand too deep and created more drag by taking my shoulder with it.  It was also much harder to pull back through the water from that depth.  It felt like I was working harder, and I was.  Now I “let” my elbow stay higher and it keeps me more under control.

3.  I sight less.  I’ve gone around and around on sighting, and while it is obviously key, I also think it’s important not to be all consumed with a landmark.  Lately I’ve been swimming to a general area.  I sight, then mentally concentrate on the target (without looking) while I swim.  It’s amazing how your body will guide you in the right direction.  Sighting too often interrupts my momentum and there is nothing worse than slowing down or losing cadence.

4.  I focus on rhythm.  I literally think in terms of swimming as a dance and swing my hips to an imaginary beat.  I’m also thinking about the cadence of my strokes and imagining the sound of my arms hitting the water right on time, over and over.  The dynamics of the song and tempo may vary, but my overall goal is to stay in the pocket of the current groove.

5.  I engage my lats.  There’s a reason you can dead lift or bench press more than you can curl, and this is important to think about when you’re swimming.  It’s all about consciously engaging the core and the lats.  It not only saves your shoulders, it pulls the synergy of your stroke together.

6.  I refuse to believe it’s hard.  Most people probably can’t swim one hard lap in a pool without sucking wind.  I was one of those people not too long ago.  There’s an anxiety trigger that flips when you’re in a body of water and your flight response goes into overdrive.  But once you can learn to relax and glide, you realize that swimming is a lot like running or biking.  In all three sports you can find that pace where you are simply churning and it feels like you can go forever.  Trust the flow and truly believe you are a strong swimmer.

For more stories like this and others that border on ridiculous, please follow me on Twitter @miketarrolly