Thursday, February 27, 2014

Swim series continued . . . James Haycraft

Of course I had to ask James his opinion on swimming . . . he was gonna offer it anyway. I will be perfectly honest. James Haycraft annoys the crap out of me. Sometimes, when there are too many “fast” swimmers at practice James moves to a more “appropriate” lane. After swim practice, he will tell me how he could have made the intervals, how he should have challenged himself, and if he would have stayed in the lane he would have been fine. Should’ve, would’ve, could’ve . . . there’s some southern colloquialism I need to insert here but it has slipped my mind . . . Sometimes he asks me stupid questions like “Well how come you didn’t beat by more at Stumpy Creek?” Oh and my favorite, when he out sprints me and then rubs in my face the fact that he has only been swimming for 5+ years to my 30(ish) [I came from a family of swimmers so cut me some slack. Also, I am notoriously bad at sprinting to the point at which I was just mocked at practice for it yesterday] All this would not bother me if I did not consider James a threat (I still don’t but I am trying to be dramatic so bear with me). In the relatively short period of time James has been competing in triathlons he has put himself in a position where he can talk smack to me. I might not like it but I am proud of him nonetheless.

The James I used to know would only dive off the side of the pool while everyone else is diving of the blocks . . . The James I used to know would not dare try to swim a 25 fly because it might hurt . . . The James I used to know would wear a pair of a black jammers . . . The James I know today wears a suit like a real swimmer, does relay starts, and busts out a 50 butterfly in :26 like it is no big deal. Here is what he has to say:

Generally speaking, being around whiners is pretty annoying. Triathletes are frequently whiners (I include myself in that occasional group, by the way).  Therefore, being around triathletes is pretty annoying. I am only half-joking, but people will generally do their best to find SOMEthing to whine about.

When it comes to triathletes, specifically, most whining seems to be done when it comes to the question of swimming.  I can count on one hand, plus the hands of a bunch of friends, how many triathletes bitch and moan about swimming. In complete honesty, I have never really not enjoyed swimming. I whine occasionally (ok, maybe frequently) but it's usually set related or some sort of general whine about being up early in the morning. 

It took me a couple of years in the sport to realize how important the swim is.  You read that right; "how IMPORTANT the swim is." Not "how NOT important." It is currently the middle of February and all of the smart triathletes are swimming a lot because they recognize the important of the swim.  The ones that put it off or don't care enough to try are never, ever going to get any better at swimming.

It's not even that swimming a lot gets you better at SWIMMING.  It usually does, which is a nice by-product, but the point of high-volume swimming is being able to both increase your swim threshold pace and increase the amount of time you can swim very, very close to that pace.  It's also about getting out of the water and being less fatigued. 
I am James MF Haycraft
There is a very prominent coaching conglomerate that advocates a "no-swimming" policy during the "off-season." There are two things wrong with that sentence: the "no swimming" part and the "off-season" part. Watching athletes fail to grasp the importance of the swim is really frustrating. Always saying things like:

"I've worked really hard and haven't gotten better!"

No you haven't. 3 swims a week of 2000 yards of 4x500 is not trying really hard.

"The swim is the shortest part of the race!"

I cannot argue with that statement's truth. It IS the shortest.  But if you think swim fitness is JUST about the swim, you don't even really understand triathlon.

"I don't enjoy it."

Well, that's a valid reason. Most people, however, do not try hard enough to make themselves enjoy it. Fake it till you make it, so to speak. I do not always love waking up early and jumping in the pool.  But the more I create enjoyment out of swimming, the more I find I actually do enjoy the process.

"Well how much swimming does it take?"

That depends on a lot of things.  If, for years, you've been swimming (at most) 8-12 thousand yards a week in three or four swims (heard that many a time) then the answer is you probably just need to swim MORE. I first started noticing big improvements when my weekly swim volume changed from being structured as:

5-6 times a week as 2-2.5 thousand yards per swim 


3-4 swims a week as 4-4.5+ thousand yards per swim

The weekly volume increased slightly, but it was mainly the actual workout volume that increased. That enabled me to not only swim FASTER, but to also swim faster for LONGER. I made some big gains in 2011 by following Brian's schedules.

This continued through the end of 2012 and I made marginal gains in the pool those two years (but getting a lot faster overall in the swim/bike/run) and at the beginning of 2013 Brian threw the book at me. In the 13 weeks from December 31st to March 31st I swam a total of ~370,000 yards.  That's an average of over 28,000 yards a week for over three months. 

That is a lot for any triathlete, but that was the "next step." THAT is working REALLY hard.  As a consequence of that focus, I languished a bit in the pool mid-year and late-year.  Unfortunately, getting oneself THAT motivated means that at some point there will be a downer.  But I reaped the benefits of that much swimming all year.  I reduced the gap to the front pack of pros. I got out of local swims with or very close to the leaders.  I exerted less energy during the swim and had more to sprint T1 and be ready on the bike...immediately.  In some ways, my swim won Stumpy Creek.  It also won Tomahawk Triathlon. 

So that's two races I can point at and say: "My swim fitness won those races for me."  My bike and run were also good, but the point is that the swim fitness enabled faster swimming and faster biking and running.  

So, if you find yourself saying "I can't get any better" then TRY HARDER.  If you REALLY want to improve, grab a hold of the reigns and take charge of your fitness. 

But don't get too carried away . . . 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Swim series continued . . . Meet Adam Furlong

Adam Furlong is a newb. He started doing triathlons in 2012 and is going places. In 2013 he qualified for the 70.3 World Championships in Vegas and competed in his first ironman at IMFL. He is a member of the prolific and dominating Wattie Ink triathlon team and is one damn good looking human being. Adam first came into my radar when he posted something about hoping to break 20 mins in his swim at USAT Age Group Nationals. I thought to myself this kid must have a swim background. I was quite surprised to find that he does not have swim background at all, he is just one tough cookie. For the past two years he has focused on becoming a better triathlete and he used his rowing background to understand and implement the basic mechanics of the swim stroke.
Adam and Heather Jackson like it's NBD
Triathletes are, by in large, classified as Type-A OCD personalities: CEOs, doctors, lawyers, and people that make their living by being meticulous and attentive to details. So why are so many triathletes willing to just throw away the first part of the race because “it’s not that large a portion of the race,” or “you can’t win the race in the swim,” or “it’s all about [insert fitness or technique, depending on whichever camp you want to use as a rationale], or whatever lame excuse they come up with? I really don’t know. But I know that’s stupid and I never do stupid things . . . the first time I ever used I wetsuit I zipped it up the front.  Fortunately, I looked around, realized that one of these things was not like the other and fixed it before the race started. But let's move on . . .

After I graduated college, I moved to Philadelphia for work as well as to row at Penn AC, a high performance rowing club on historic Boathouse Row with aims of making strides toward a national team selection one day in the distant future. Guys worked their asses off, for years on end, trying to experience the rush and sensation of taking just one single perfect stroke . . . and then maybe they’d take 2 strokes and then maybe eventually they’d take enough in a row that they would be selected to a national team, or race a world cup, or earn a medal on the international circuit, or perhaps even take enough perfect strokes to be selected for an Olympic boat and earn a medal at the Olympic Games. Those strokes never happened for me but when I stopped rowing I wasn't going to let those life lessons go to waste.

I started triathlons in 2012 hiring a swim coach right off the bat, a former Drexel swimmer named Tori Mayer.  I wanted to be good at this sport but I didn't know anything about swimming so I found someone who did and did whatever she told me to do (as every man should, duh). I told her my goal for the first year was to swim under 30:00 for 1.2 miles in a 70.3 race. I had no justification for this. It just seemed like as good of a benchmark as any. Prior to getting in the water with her, I knew what swimming looked like and I could mimic the freestyle stroke well enough . . . I think. The first thing we worked on was fitness because I was not "swim fit." We worked on technique a little bit but mostly we just swam, a lot (for an AOS).

At some point, I started thinking about swimming and how similar it is to rowing. The physics of moving a boat through water using oars are very similar to moving a body through water using hands and arms (but not legs because I am a terrible kicker). In rowing, you have a quick entry, backing the blade into the water creating a load of energy against the blade. Then you immediately drive your legs backward, keeping connection to the water through the blade, moving the boat past that location, until you have exhausted the stroke. At that point you take the blade out of the water as cleanly as possible and recover, while letting the boat move out from under you (free speed, as it’s called), until it is time to back the blade in again. HOLY SHIT!!!!!!!!! This is just like swimming! A clean hand entry ensures no disruption in velocity (or as minimal as possible), and then you quickly create tension via the catch, as close to the surface of the water as possible, so as to not lose water to move, and then you keep that connection to the water via your forearm and hand as you drive it past your body. Once the stroke is completed, you take your arm out, cleanly, to avoid disrupting the movement forward of your body, and recover, keeping your elbows high so as to not drag, or let your arms fall back into the water too early, or worse, in a position where you won’t have a good connection.

When this light bulb went on, my swimming took off. Continuing to train under Tori, I posted 3 70.3 races with swims under 30:00 getting me on the bike in the top 10 of my age group. That winter, I found a full-time triathlon coach, Brian Stover. I wanted a coach for 1 reason: I was doing IMFL and I was not stupid enough to think I was smart enough to tackle 140.6 miles alone. One of the reasons I ultimately picked Brian was because of his strong background in swimming and I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay him money just to be told to go pay for another swim coach (as some potential coaches suggested).

Adam and Brian posing for the crowds at IMFL
When I moved to Wellington, Florida in January 2013 for work reasons, Brian suggested that I might be interested in joining a masters group which happened to convene right across the street from my condo. HOORAY! The workouts were a lot of fun and they opened my eyes to a whole new concept: racing someone, every single day, on every single length. This was AWESOME. I will swim faster than you. I will learn to do flip turns so that I can swim faster than you. I will get faster during the piece as you slow down. I will do drills better than you. I will kick faster than you (okay, that’s a lie). But you get the idea. With a solid understanding of the physics behind every part of my stroke, all I had to do now was push myself to exhaustion on every single piece, and I’d get faster. Right? You betcha.

In 2013, I swam 26:00 on a slightly short 1.2mi piece, and then at IMFL, swam 28:30 on the first lap, before losing focus and exiting the water with a disappointing (for me) 1:01 swim. Despite not swimming quite as fast as I wanted (sub 59), that result still set me up for a good bike. Instead of dodging and weaving through traffic and facing moral dilemmas about drafting, all of which would have used up valuable amounts of energy, I got out early and had clear roads ahead of me for most of the race. I was able to put my head down, dial into my power, and ride with no one to worry about.

Whatcha got there? A speedo??
Everything in my life - work, relationships, training, etc - I approach with the mindset of being the best at it. There will always be people naturally gifted with better brains, looks, or bodies (Really? Is that even possible!?) but with enough attention to detail and a strong belief in #gtwd I’ve been able to make pretty large gains in my swim over a relatively short period of time. 

But I’m not done yet. 

I wasn’t happy with my time at IMFL, I could have been better, and I know that I need to continue making the swim a greater strength for me. So moving forward, I’ll keep refining my stroke, but I’ll also start throwing in some monster swim blocks - all my swimming last year was on a relatively modest 12-16k/week. As others have stated on this blog, moar is more. I know that with an even greater dedication and effort to getting faster I will do just that.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Caturnalia: She's a killer

It is really hard to get a good photograph of Mimi. Maybe if I knew a thing or two about lighting, but I don't so moving on . . . .

She pretty much keeps to herself and is one tough cookie. She is the only one who will tolerate Cali and their interaction is always a treat to watch in the winter months. She is the only cat who will seek out and sleep by the heaters. The other cats are just beginning to catch on. 

If I let Mimi out in the wild she would surely f*ck some sh*t up. She's that kind of cat.

Mimi from Jenny Leiser on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Swim Series continued . . . Tim Ferguson weighs in

I asked ICE teammate, Tim Ferguson, to take a moment to jot down his thoughts about swimming. He has come a long way with the sport since he first started 3 short years ago but he recently has really come a long way in the pool.
The man, the legend, Tim Ferguson

There was a long, narrow hallway – the “Athlete Hall” as it came to be called – that joined the gymnasium and the competition pool. Various athletes of differing size and shape came and went through the “Hall” looking for competition, looking for rest, or looking for a purpose. Within this corridor, from time to time, I would intersect with swimmers – they in their banana-hammocks, me in my baggy shorts and Jordans. There couldn't be a more strict dichotomy between the two groups, and believe me, I thought it was straight up weird. Little Speedos? Dudes jumping around cold and awkward as they ran from the locker room to the pool? Put. On. Some. Clothes. Man. It didn't matter that Mark Spitz was a household name or that Ian Thorpe had a sweet nickname, swimming was for awkward losers who couldn't play “real” sports.

That was (almost) 15 years ago to the day. I thought about this recently as I stood on the deck, laughing about my obnoxiously bodacious swim briefs, before I dove smoothly belly-flopped into the pool at 6am. Now, go back and read the first paragraph and then the previous sentence. Time breeds maturity, maturity allows for wisdom, and wisdom gave me the ability to tell my former self, “Self, you truly were an idiot.” I’ve come a long way since those days in Michigan. 

Clearly . . .
But even in the initial training days towards my first triathlon, even after getting utterly smoked in my first swim workout, I didn't quite understand how to partake in this whole swim training stuff. I thought a couple of times a week of continuous freestyle (and some doggy paddle) would get the job done. Certainly I “improved” because my benchmark was zero, but I wanted more. Too many times I was huffing and puffing into T1 with a huge deficit. Something had to change.  I realized after Ironman Florida I was not going to be able to compete in the upper tier of my age group if I didn't make a concerted effort to improve. The 2013 IMFL was the first time in 6+ years that the average swim time of the top 5 finishers broke 58 minutes. That’s fast. Not only have swim splits themselves become faster, but there is simply more talent lining up at the start line. You cannot afford to dig a huge deficit and expect to bike or run your competition down. 

But before I continue I am going to bust a couple of big myths that continue to be thrown around blogs, forums, and presentations: 

Myth #1: The swim doesn't matter.
Is this a touchdown?  No. Not it is not. If you can’t complete the swim portion of a triathlon, you’re not going to finish the race. It definitely matters. Triathlons may not be won on the swim leg alone but they certainly can be lost there. 

Myth #2: The swim is all about technique, not fitness. 
Riddle me this: If you have the best technique of all competitors, but miss the requisite swim time cut-off in an Ironman, will you be allowed to continue? Besides, if you don’t have the fitness, you’re not going to be able to do the drills properly anyway.

I bust these myths for a couple of reasons: 1) there is no shortcut for working hard, and 2) to get better, you have to invest the time (meaning volume). I've been spending more time in the pool this winter than I ever have. I said something needed to change so I made a drastic change and went from a 3-swim-days-a-week athlete to a “Wait, I swim twice in one day now?” athlete. I joined a masters swim group that has monster main sets as well as begged and pleaded with Jenny to make me swim workouts. I worked hard on my conditioning and continued to test myself with demanding intervals. In 2.5 short months, with some consistent yet focused swim training, I have been to decrease my 100 pace by 2 seconds over 2k. This is a fairly large jump for someone who, six months ago, had trouble reading swim workouts without a Rosetta Stone. 

I honestly didn't do that many drills or spend time trying to perfect my technique. I just continued to swim long sets and over time I started to build the strength and endurance to hold my stroke together. That, and I spent enough time in the pool to make my skin burn like I’d been dumped in battery acid. Recently I swam 36,900 yards over 6 days – a far cry from the days where “swimming was for losers”. Now my baggy shorts are known as something more appropriate: drag suit.

Tim has an amazing work ethic and I have really enjoying working with him over the last few months. I watch him dive for the first time and even take his first strokes of butterfly. I am excited to see his progress in action this triathlon season. I am guessing his competition won't be nearly excited as I am.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Because the pool is your best training buddy

Here is an article from one of the emerging sources for everything related to swimming. After all, the best way to become a swimmer is to act like one.

Being a good swimmer is a bit of a catch-22. Lots of people (ok maybe just a few) seek my advice but very people take it. I am not complaining, I recognize that is just the way it is. People want to get better at swimming but very few people actually do what it really takes to see improvement in the pool. People think I don't understand. People think I am a good swimmer because I grew up swimming. While this is indeed true, what is often overlooked, is how hard I continue to work at swimming. One of the sad facts is that I am very close to my ceiling of potential. If I want to get better at swimming, or stated more accurately, return to the shape I used to be in, I would have to make some major changes in how I train in the pool. I would probably have to swim everyday and double my weekly yardage. My goal is not to put my swim fitness on the back burner but to bring my cycling and running up to the same level. But what are you doing? Are you ignoring the swim to only focus on your strengths?  Unless you are one of the top tiered swimmers on the triathlon circuit I would venture to guess you could benefit from doing a little more focused swimming. The biggest excuse I hear when it comes to swim training is "I just don't see any minimal improvements being worth the time investment." Valid reasoning, if that is what you believe. Unlike running and biking, improvements in swimming takes a lot of time and a lot of repetition.

The normal pattern for most triathletes is to enter the off season by dumping all swim and bike training. They pick up a few running races and focus entirely on running. I get it. You want to stay fit . . .

   ...and running does not require a big time commitment,
   ...and running is more social,
   ...and running races does not wreck your body,
   ...and it is too cold to bike and swim but not too cold to run,
   ...keep 'em coming

But if mid- triathlon season you are getting demolished at races and wondering what you can do to improve your swim I would like you to entertain the idea that right now, in the belly of the off season, is the time to invest and improve in the pool. In order to inspire you to take a dive in your local aquatic center this off season, I have prepared a series of swim related blog posts. I have written a few but I also asked some local triathletes to offer their perspectives, stories, and opinions. So what if you did not grow up on the local swim team, everyone has to start somewhere and you have to start in the pool!

Unless this is you, you should swim more

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Caturnalia: Diplomacy

Smudge displayed a rare moment of toleration with Coda recently. When it is sunny out the window sill becomes prime real estate.

Smudge usually gets what she wants (just like her mom). And right now she wants the sill. 

She usually gets what she wants with the look in her eyes, no punches necessary.Coda knows the drill. 

Sugar, spice, and everything nice . . . see how easy life can be?

Friday, February 14, 2014

I made this! Actually I didn't

Well it is Valentine's Day . . . I had big plans. I had big plans to make a lot of treats. I have a long list of Valentines . . . but all of that was thwarted. Thwarted by the weather, my inability to cook, and a delay in receiving a very essential tool to execute my plan, a set of linzer cookie cutters. I have never been big on celebrating holidays. I am sure there is a long list of reasons for that but I am not going to discuss them here. But this year I got really excited about making treats for the special people in my life, the people I encounter on a daily basis whose smiles, laughter, and positive energy do not go unnoticed by yours truly. So I prepared the following list of treats to make and hand out to my valentines:

  • Oreo stuffed brownies
  • Red wine dark chocolate truffles
  • GF salted dark chocolate tart
  • Raspberry linzer cookies
  • Nutella linzer cookies
Sadly, since my linzer cookie cutters never arrived, they were not made. Maybe another time. I made the red wine dark chocolate truffles and the tart but the chocolate did not set correctly. I was able to make them but I have to keep them in the freezer go they go soft. There is no way I can give them to someone as they just won't stay cold enough. Maybe I can but I am just going to have to shove them in people's faces and yell, "Eat this now!" Not exactly the sentiment I was looking for but if it works . . . . The oreo stuffed brownies came out but I had already given up on my big plans and gave them away earlier in the week. Maybe I should have learned my lesson by now . . . the language of love is one I don't speak, but I won't give up. Not yet anyway.

Red wine truffles and some Sangria for the effort

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Caturnalia: Professor Flufferton

So yeah . . . this happened:


Smudge was not amused . . .


Friday, February 7, 2014

I made this! Tex Mex Spaghetti Squash

When I am trying to come up with meal ideas I find inspiration everywhere. Sometimes I will notice a friend has 10 avocados and one spaghetti squash and suddenly I will want to make something using both of those ingredients (but of course I do not have either of those ingredients in my possession). I finally purchased my first spaghetti squash. Everyone needs to experience the spaghetti squash. For the past year every food blogger has raved about this particular kind of squash. I have been hesitant to try it because every food blogger thinks every new thing is soooo awesome (when it isn’t). Also I am lazy and I assumed a spaghetti squash required just as much work as a butternut squash to cook and prepare. Luckily, it isn’t and you can eat it right from the squash itself!

I used the following recipe as a guide but I just sliced open one squash, scooped out the seeds, brushed it with olive oil, and placed it in the oven. I went for a short run in my neighborhood and when i came back my house smelled amazing and the squash was pretty much done. In a large bowl I mashed up two avocados, added sliced red onion, and a can of rinsed black beans. I added a little salt and hot sauce to taste and threw half the mixture on half of the squash (saving the other half for lunch). It was easy and incredibly good!

Close up of its spaghetti-like texture
Mixing the good stuff
Topping all off
The top chef method of removing the seed c/o cheffarr

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Ramblin' Rose Event

Tomorrow night I will be working at the Ramblin' Rose event for Inside Out Sports. I volunteered my services . . . what does that tell you? If you are a local lady and looking to get into the triathlon scene the Ramblin' Rose events are the way to go. There are five events across NC that offer a non-intimidating way to enter the wonderful world of triathlon. Inside Out is offering three free entries to be raffled off to attendees as well as free wine (yes!), food (even better!), and a free pair of limited edition Ramblin' Rose pink and grey athletic socks (oh my!!). There will also be a short bike maintenance clinic and a quick question and answer session with me and the Fillnow doublet. 

You know you want these.
I know you have questions for me. Pleeeeeeeeeeease have questions for me. If not, let me help you . . .

When should I put on deodorant?

  • Before the race and T1 (not really but why not??)

Why are there so many different kind of goggles?

  • So many faces

James Haycraft is sooooooo cute. How can I get his digits?

  • Nope

How can I squeeze in a morning swim and not go to work looking 1000 years old?

  • Eye cream before and after

How can I work full time, balance training, and (*sigh*) have a social life?

  • Wine, discipline, prioritization, wine

How many bags do you pack for a full day of training/eating/working?

  • A minimum of six: swim bag, swim equipment bag, run bag, lunch bag, work bag, toiletry bag

Will a dog help me with my training?

  • Absolutely, they offer companionship on all those early morning runs

Will a cat help me with my training?

  • No. Cats have two goals: napping and sabotaging .

How do I snag a good looking triathlete fella?

  • Compliment him on his massive watts

I want to be a no-meat-athlete. What should I do?

  • Don't eat meat 

Now that I have posted this announcement to my illustrious blog you may want to RSVP to

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Caturnalia: Goodbye Colonel Meow

Colonel Meow, one of the cats I follow on Instagram, passed away this week.With over 364K followers on Facebook and almost 150K followers on Instagram, Colonel Meow became an internet sensation in the mere 3 years he was with us.

Colonel Meow is best known for his Guinness Book of Records worthy fur and constant look of disdain. He loves scotch, birds, and naps. I asked my clowder of cats in which modality they would like to celebrate the life of Col. Meow. The vote was unanimous: naps.

Rest in peace, Meow, rest in peace.