Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Swim series continued . . . Lori Ackerman

While this is not the last post in my swim series, this is the last testimonial. Spoiler alert: I saved the best for last. Tim, Adam, and James are all talented, good looking, and hard working athletes but they just don't hold a candle to Lori Ackerman. Lori is beautiful, brilliant, and driven. After years of watching her husband race she decided to take the reigns and jump in herself. She has taken a methodical approach to reacquainting herself to racing triathlons, starting with a sprint, then an olympic, and then topped off her 2013 season by tackling Augusta 70.3. She hired a coach and is now training for her very first ironman, Ironman Chattanooga. She even started blogging about her journey, check it out here! I could spend an entire entry on why Lori inspires me but I will let you see for yourself . . .

I am thankful to Jenny for allowing me to contribute to her blog series on swimming.  I am proud to offer the perspective of a middle of the pack athlete and how I've changed the way I view the swim portion of a triathlon.  You won’t find me swimming 20,000 yards and you’ll rarely see me in the pool more than 3x a week, but you will find me in the pool 12 months out of the year working hard to be a better swimmer.

Lori "Mrs. HB" Ackerman
I consider myself an “average” swimmer and even I can see that many middle of the pack triathletes phone it in on the swim.  Swimming the same boring set of n x 500 once or twice a week, many triathletes wonder why they don’t see any improvement.  I took 4+ years off from triathlon and when I decided to make a comeback with the HIM distance, I decided I needed to be all in. Last year I got pretty serious about swimming. Even though I was only swimming 2-3x a week, and with what I'd call minimal effort, I've gone from averaging 2:00+/100yd to consistently holding 1:40/100yd or better during my longer efforts.  I'm not shattering the swim by any means, but I'm certainly out of the water closer to the front of my age group than I ever was before.

I think 4 key things have made a big impact on my improvement in the water.

1.    Going Long
Long Course is spectacular for endurance. The first time I swam long course I hated it, but I've grown to love it.  I really think it comes a lot closer to mimicking open water swimming than short course ever could. Want your workout to feel even more like an open water swim? Try swimming next to SwimMac with 10 kids crammed in a lane across 3 lanes and they’re sure to drown you a few times just like a choppy open water mass start.

The mass start
2.    Early Bird  
I quickly realized that I absolutely have to swim in morning. I roll out of bed without a second thought. I have to be out of the pool at a certain time to get to work so there's really no time to waste. GTWD, right? I just found that after a long day at work I talked myself out of getting in the water probably 75% of the time. I could bike and run after work but something about hitting the pool just didn't sit with me very well. Rather than fight it every single workout, I recognized swimming at night wasn't for me and moved my swims to the morning.  When I get out of the pool I feel a huge sense of accomplishment. I get to go to work without that burden on my shoulders . . . 

 . . . Buuuuuut I definitely dread those few seconds before jumping into that freezing cold pool. Once I am in, I truly enjoy swimming and I love it.  Changing my mindset required a little reflection on my part.  When all scheduled swims are complete for the week it’s a huge relief, so much so that every week this thought goes through my head:

“I love swimming!!! But damn I’m glad that last swim of the week is over!”

3.    Flipping Out!
In order to become a better swimmer I also committed to flip turns. Swimming never intimidated me but if I was going to train for a HIM (and now an IM) I was going to be fully committed to all 3 sports . . . and flip turns. Flip turns were important to me because I wanted to feel like a real swimmer. James' blog about flip turns honestly pushed me over the edge and I decided to commit.  I struggled a bit at first but Ashley told me for about a month I needed to commit to the flip turning in every workout and not worry about my times.  He told me I'd be slower in the water at first but soon I'd be faster.  Who doesn't want to be faster???  I know it might sound strange but they have really helped me to work on my endurance. Incorporating flip turns into my workouts has forced me to work on my breathing pattern, which has come in handy on my harder sets. I always felt that split second on the wall was a short rest and it really is. Flip turns eliminate that rest and forces you to maintain a solid breathing pattern.

4.    Work it Out!
Having a set workout in the pool makes swimming fun, creates a challenge and brings results. Unlike running or biking, swimming is a sport where you can train hard every workout.  If you always swim long and slow you’ll be a long & slow swimmer.  Commit to some challenging workouts every time you jump in the pool and you’re guaranteed to see results. I am coached by James Haycraft and when he puts a workout on the spreadsheet it’s my job to do it, like a challenge. Swimming hard also keeps me in great shape through the winter without beating up my body.  

I know a lot of people turn to a master’s program or swim with friends to keep entertained. I’m often asked how I stay motivated or how I keep it fun. I do swim mostly by myself but I have a handful of friends that may or may not be there at the same time. We have a good group up north in the mornings including Carrie Behme, Ashley Ackerman, Nick White, Jill Baulieu, Susan Schroeder, Hope Childress and the occasional John Behme sighting.  Although we are not swimming together, it's nice to see a friendly face in the pool.  

I'm pretty self-motivated.  I choose to workout in very small groups or alone, I've always been that way and I enjoy it.  It's nice not to have to worry about anyone but yourself, just GTWD. Mondays are CRAZY in the pool, but Wednesdays are dead.  I love Wednesdays.  Sometimes I might be the only one in the pool at the end of the workout.  It's quiet, it's peaceful and I love it. Having a set workout also keeps me motivated and keeps me entertained. Of course my favorite swim days are when I can drag my cute hubby to the pool with me; he always keeps me entertained! 
The "cute" hubby
In writing this Jenny asked: “Making progress in the swim is a slow and on going process which frustrates most people. What kind of indicators helped you to realize you were actually getting better?”

I know it isn’t very “swimmerish” but I love swimming with my Garmin 910 in the pool.  It gives me instant feedback and it really takes a lot of the math and thinking about the clock out of it.  Plus, it holds me accountable. Sure, I know Ashley and James will probably never look at my rest times or analyze the entire workout but knowing that they could helps to hold me accountable.  The watch also allows me to look back at the workout and see what I really swam each interval instead of relying on my memory. Finally, it's pretty cool to look back a year ago to see the progress I've made. Occasionally I leave the watch at home, which is really nice. Even though I use the pace clocks on the wall during each swim it’s nice to look back at the entire swim workout later that day.  I realize I probably look like a tri-dork with my big clunky watch but I’m over caring what any haters might think.  Even though I can get smoked in the water any day, I’m confident in my own personal swim journey so I really don't care what anyone thinks! 

I realized things were changing in the water last April at my first race back after 4 years away.  Granted Jetton Sprint is a tiny race, but I was the 4th female overall out of the water on a horribly choppy/miserable swim.  This was a huge boost of confidence and gave me the push to keep working hard. I also knew I was getting better when long course felt normal and no longer felt like pure torture. 

Being consistent in the pool this winter has helped a ton and I have taken the opportunity to start tweaking little things with my stroke here and there, no big major changes and certainly not a lot of changes all of once.  I think I’ve tweaked all that I can on my own and I’m now considering spending some time with a swim coach to analyze my stroke.  The big question I have now is . . . where do I go from here?  At my Half Ironman Debut in Augusta I was 16th in my age group out of the water versus 40th on the run.   I'm not ready to start swimming more than 3x a week, my time is clearly better spent biking and running, but I do wonder what changes I could make to see more results.
Strokin' it, Augusta 2013
If you’re struggling with motivation to get in the pool…just dive in! Keep consistent and have fun! It’s worth it!