Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Not Just Me And Not Just Lane Lines: Me Versus Lane Lines

Eventually I'll stop posting about this, as soon as I stop seeing worse and worse damage inflicted to swimmers'  hands.

Last Thursday, a teammate hit hands with another teammate while doing free style in adjacent lanes.  One of them was totally unfazed.  The other soon looked like she had a golf ball attached to the first knuckles of her first and middle fingers.  I wish I had gotten pictures of that.

By Saturday, she knew her second knuckle and metacarpal were broken and the swelling was incredible.  You can compare her splinted hand to her other hand in the background.

That's the bruising on her thumb, two fingers away from the broken bone.  A bone broken by another human hand while swimming.

I am re-evaluating swimming's classification as a non-contact sport.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Prove It

This is when I promise once again that this post will be the last in my Tour De Torching Myself series.  If only because it means I can stop, or have stopped, torching myself!

But maybe I should just say I've learned a lot while coaching other people, that I finally have the opportunity to apply to myself.

An athlete of mine finally finally completed all the workouts in a week, as written.  Over the past few weeks there have been many reasons, legit and not, for things to be moved, shortened, skipped, or ignored.  I knew this athlete could do the training; it has been the next logical step in training since the end of February.  However, for all my cajoling and encouragement and foot-stomping, it just wasn't getting done, until last week.

On Sunday I send an email saying very simply: "goal of the week...do it again.  Now that you've proven to yourself you could do it, prove to me that it wasn't a fluke."

Only then did I realize that that is exactly what I had (subconsciously) done in my own training over the past two weeks.  I had gone straight from a week where I felt "on the rivet" (a cycling term) of volume and stress, and I did it again (plus an extra workout).  I swam 5 days in a row at 5 am, rested two days, and then I did 6 days in a row at our normal swim practice times (anywhere between 5 am and 6:30 am).  I needed to prove it to myself (as both athlete and coach) that I could do that week, not just once, but repeatedly.  After that the old stretch-goal can become the new normal and physiological development continues on.

In a way, this second week reinforcement was the positive outcome from a questionable self-coaching decision.

Harkening back to the "more is more" debate: I felt so much better on that 6th/11th day than I felt on the 5th of the previous week.  That 11th practice in 13 days was by far the strongest overall of any of them.  I'm still searching for the point at which less becomes more.  I feel like I'm goin' huntin' for a wascally wabbit.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Why Have Dishes When You Race Bikes?

May I introduce to you, my water bottle collection.

It's the entire upper shelf, front to back from the far right over to a little into the next cabinet to the left.  I used to have a lot more, but I purged when I moved from DC.  These are the ones I kept as souvenirs of memorable races, companies, and experiences.

From crewing the Leadville 100 Trail Race, a nice metal, flask-like bottle.  Not for riding, but definitely useful.

A bottle from a tri club in DC that doesn't even exist anymore, except in memories.

A souvenir from a race that kinda-almost-basically-really-doesn't exist anymore, the original IM Canada in Penticton.

One of the cheapest - yet still over-priced; $10 - souvenirs you can buy from IM World Championships.

Anyone remember these Gatorade bottles?  This is the classic Ironman water/sports drink bottle.  Before WTC (and Gatorade and Powerbar) got cheap, all liquid - water, Coke, Gatorade - provided by the race during the bike leg was distributed in these Gatorade bottles.  Plus if you went to a practice swim, the tent that stored your belongings gave you one of these bottles when you reclaimed your stuff.  The last time I remember them being at a race was 2007.  I must have 10 of them.


My mini-water bottle from IM Cozumel, next to a normal 24 oz bottle for size comparison.  They're high quality, but just so small.

Ah, the FRS bottle.  I was so excited when I got it, but now I am extremely conflicted that I still have it.  This bottle was pitched at my feet by Lance Armstrong at the Twin Lakes aid station during his return trip of the 2009 Leadville 100.  For five years it has remained empty, but unwashed; the dirt is "original."  Anyone want to test it for banned substances?

A color for all seasons.  And this is just the first box.

If you want to drink out of a real glass when you come to my apartment, you should probably bring your own.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Not Hyperbole: Me Versus Lane Lines

I wasn't joking.

My second metacarpal just behind the knuckle is mush.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Blinded Leading The Should-Have-Known-Better

This post is the next/last in what I have taken to thinking of as the Tour De Torching Myself.

I decided to write about the hazards of being self-coached, when I realized that if I was still working with Phil, my last week of swimming would never have happened.  He would have pulled the plug the second my appetite went wonky.  Although I doubt it would even have gotten that far because he would have been shaping my overall training stress to prevent getting so close to the line in the first place.

Yet, here I am, self-coached and right back where I was when I finally decided to get a coach back in the winter of 2008: doing more because more is always the best training plan, right?

The problem with me coaching myself is that I can never be easy on myself, but I can never be truly hard on myself.  I can't let myself off the hook when I really need to, but I also don't have the guts to complete the very toughest workouts that I can devise.  And, most importantly, these two short-comings combine to subvert any attempt at being objective and smart about my own training. 

So I spent two (three...four....) years chronically slightly over-trained, and rotating through a series of overuse breaks.

Good coaches are objective based on tangible and intangible data, and don't make decisions based on impassioned pleas, ego-driven emotions, and preferences based on "fun."  The very first and most valuable thing I learned from my first coach was when to do nothing.  The second was how little of something I needed to actually do.  All things which are easy to do when you are viewing an athlete from the outside, completely removed from the maelstrom of internal dialogue.  Not so easy when you are both the brains and the emotions of the operation.

I am literally blinded by my proximity to the data.

Which is how I even let myself get into a position to have the option to turn the screws that potentially dangerous last little bit. 

Which is why swimming isn't such a bad idea for my new (old) self-coached situation.  My job is to get myself to practice.  Whitney's job is to write the workouts, which do cleave to something of a general annual shape.  It's a good balance between being coached as a self-coached athlete. 

Doesn't mean I can't still mess it up.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Unethical Test Subject, or Sometimes, More Is More

Last week, the UT pool hosted the NCAA Men's Swimming National Championship meet.  As a result our masters practice schedule was M-F at 5:00 am, significantly different than our usual schedule that allows me to swim M/T/Th/F/Sa at *not* 00:dark:00.

Tuesday night at somewhere around 6:30 pm I made a fateful decision that culminated in an hour's nap in a Target parking lot on Friday morning.  Despite evidence to the contrary, I didn't choose a path to destitution, I chose a test, with myself as the test subject.

See, if I had taken Wednesday off as normal, I would have ended up with less swimming in the week than I normally get.  Instead I decided to swim Wednesday and up the ante far more than just getting in my usual 5 swims.  I was swimming five straight days, all at 5 am.  Which translates into 4:15 am wake-ups.  Which further translates into, ideally, 8:15 pm bed times.


Why, you ask, did I do this?  Because I wanted to see what would happen if I did.  Plenty of people around the world do this every morning, week in, week out, and add an afternoon practice to boot.  I assumed I could but I wrote this still very true blog post a ways back and wanted to walk the walk.  If I want to learn how to support swimming more, I have to...swim more.

Also, one debate of training and coaching is "less is more" vs. "more is more"; what do "less" and "more" actually mean; if you have to follow either of those protocols all the time; and when to switch between them (i.e. diminishing returns from increased training load).  For biking and running, I have found my personal line between more is more and less is more.  I've never even gone looking for that line in swimming.  This week was a first foray in finding that line.

Technically what I did is called "overload" training, of a sort.  It works, and can work fast, if 1) you can support it during the fact (sleep, food) and 2) you can unload the overload appropriately after the fact (recovery, sleep, food).  Hence, all the personal sushi buffets and avocado sandwiches and going to bed at the first hint of dusk.  Any other way would have been either self-sabotage or making the whole process much more painful.

I knew that if I went home and napped after each practice like I would prefer (and usually try to do for 5 am practices), I would never get to bed as early as I needed and then I would be shorting my night-time sleep and relying even more on my post-practice naps.  A vicious and never-ending cycle.  So I decided no post-practice naps and on top of that, no undue amounts of caffeine, as I find it much harder to go to sleep if I've had serious caffeine during the day.

I can guarantee that there was at least one zombie roaming the streets of Austin last week.

It was amazing how quickly two things happened: I started falling dead asleep as soon as I got into bed (my latest was 9 pm, and several on-the-dots 8:15 pms) and I lost feedback loops between mind and body.  So many times I was going to click a link on-line and clicked the entirely wrong link.  Definitely no sudden movements happening 'round here.

But that's the thing: in the pool, I wasn't setting anything on fire, but I wasn't totally shanking it either.  And then I started to set things legitimately on fire (for me).  Monday I went easily my fastest 50 fly ever.  Early on in the test, true, but after only one day with no swimming since my previous 5 swim-day week.  Thursday I descended 200s with a buoy to sub-2:30, territory really never seen with a buoy - and that was after nearly a mile (yes, a mile) of fly in the first 4000 yards of practice.  Friday I went my fastest 100 IM ever by two seconds.

To celebrate I took a nap in Target's parking lot while I waited for the store to open.

Lo and behold, more turned out to be more.  I definitely poked at my swimming line a little bit and still managed to set personal bests.  At some point, I'll devise another experiment - because really, that's all training is - and see if more remains more.  But first I have to get my appetite back. 

Ancillary Observations and Caveats 
  • I already knew I was walking the razor's edge with regard to training stress, but I changed nothing about my normal routine other than giving myself the chance to get as close to 8 hours of sleep as possible despite the ridiculous hour.  The acute application of physical stress is the entire point of overload training.

  • Eight hours of sleep wasn't close to enough.  Twice (I can't even remember what days my mind was so toast) I dozed off for 20 minutes in the middle of the day before I could catch myself.  Otherwise, I was constantly tired.  If it was even remotely possible or socially acceptable, I would have been in bed at 6:15 pm.
  • I realize I didn't layer on herculean amounts of volume.  I overloaded volume for me and that's all overload training should - or ever needs to - be: more for you, not compared to anybody else.  I compressed my usual training load into less time, combined it with a huge dose of situational stress, and used it as chaser to two months of unrelenting training.   Occasionally it felt like I had sand in my eye sockets.
  • I did have an involuntary twitch in my left thumb (like a eye-lid twitch) for the last two days.  Ghost in the machine trying to get me to follow the white rabbit, for sure.
  • 10 am was the first cut-off for uselessness, and even if I made it past that generally intact, I was utterly useless by 2 pm.  Absolutely no sitting still, alone, could occur 2-4 pm, so despite being exhausted, I was productive.
  •  My starving but nauseous symptoms persisted until sometime Thursday afternoon, with additional general loss of appetite.  I was surviving on one massive meal per day of whatever my body said was acceptable, supplemented by whatever I could tolerate otherwise.  One of the only things I could tolerate was avocado on crackers, topped with salt.  I lost three pounds in seven days.
  • I do not recommend this training protocol, except in very particular circumstances.  I chose to push when perhaps it was unwise to do so, but I also knew roughly what to expect and know how to manage the outcomes better than the average person.  PLUS I had two entire days of no training planned immediately after.  It was glorious - but I still missed swimming.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Reverse Engineering

Who needs a trainer block when free phone books still get delivered to my door?

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