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Posted by & filed under Swimming. 1 comment.

Although I consider myself a pretty darn good swimmer, I will never be the fastest swimmer in a race. For me, the secret to a fast swim time is feet: finding feet and staying on feet. Drafting in the swim will save you tons of energy and really help your swim time. Many athletes I talk with, however, are not confident with feet. They tell me “well I try to stay on the feet but then they veer left or right or speed up and I lose them,” or “I just can’t get on feet at the beginning of the swim.”

The key to being confident with feet is train for it. You need to be able to do what I call “micro-surges” in races to adapt to whatever the feet in front of you are doing. This means feeling confident that you can do a micro-surge to go catch those feet and then go right back to your usual pace.

So, how do you train for this? It’s quite simple: you introduce micro-surges into your training. Here’s my go-to swim set to work on this:

Do your usual warmup, drills, etc.

Then, your main set is 4×250 with 30 seconds rest. In the 250s your first 50 is an all out sprint. Then, without stopping, do the last 200m at your half or olympic race pace.

These are challenging because at the end of each 50 sprint your body is going to be screaming for you to stop or go super slow. Push through it. The first 50y or so of your race effort 200 will feel uncomfortable, but your heart rate will drop and your breathing will calm down. And right when you feel comfortable? A short rest and then you repeat.

There’s lots of variations on this you can do. If you’re doing longer sets, sprinkle 50 sprints every 200-300 yards. If you’re doing open water swims with a buddy, have them randomly sprint and you try to catch them.

Doing micro-surges in your training will help you understand exactly how you can surge and return to race pace, as well as help you develop the confidence necessary to stick on feet throughout an entire swim. This will help when your target feet suddenly surge ahead or veer off and you need to catch them. This is also helpful if, towards the end of the swim, someone passes you moving faster and you decide to surge to go chase their feet.

So what are you waiting for? Go get your micro-surge on!

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February 12, Koh Preah

“I think this is filled with ham. No wait! It tasked like banana.”

I had another rough night of sleep filled with fever-like symptoms, coughing, and sinus pain. I woke up feeling pretty sub-par and rocking a killer headache. I went off in search of caffeine for my head and tracked down some coffee served local style: thick sludge mixed with sweetened condensed milk that is intended to serve over ice. Since I was avoiding ice on the trip I just watered it down with sterilized water. It still tasted like sticky, sweet sludge, but the caffeine did the trick.

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We waited around a bit to say bye to Tang, but learned he had already left for the day. We then pedaled back across the island to catch the boat across. By the time we got all our gear together and hit the road it was about 10-smack at the start of the heat of the day. It wasn’t ideal, but we’ve leared to take any preconceived notion of schedule and throw it out the window on this trip.

We began our journey from Koh Preah to Mekong Island–due to how I was feeling we moved very slowly with lots of breaks. I hated it that I was slowing us down but at least we were making forward movement. The road paralleled the Mekong for about 10k or so to Tboung Chla, which was a beautiful stretch of dirt road bordered by trees. It then turned left and headed inland for about 15k of hot, dusty, and very exposed trail.

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We then turned right onto a highway for another 15k. The road was technically paved but stretches were broken up and dusty and the cars whizzing by turned it into a giant dust bowl. We stopped for banana-filled sticky rice that was wrapped in banana leaves and steamed, which was as delicious as it sounds. We then turned right, heading back towards the Mekong, and did the final 10k stretch that ended at Ko Khreah. We tried to hire a boat to take us across to the island, but people were asking for $10 for the ride (in comparison, the cost to travel to Ko Preah was $1) and they had no interest in bartering.

We decided to keep riding south since we really didn’t cover many km that day and I was starting to feel better. Around 4:30 we passed through a village and got yelled at by a big group “hello, my friend. Come drink with us!” We decided to investigate the possibility of a homestay in the village. A man who spoke English said we could stay with him but he could only offer us ramen for dinner since he had no other food. We then also told us he couldn’t get us to the island the next day until after 11. Between our love of Mekong fish and our desire to get a head start on our trip the next day since we had a lot of km to cover, we decided to see if it would be possible to get a ride from him across to the island. He got a friend to carry us and our bikes across for $5. He seemed very upset we didn’t want to stay with him, but we kept explaining how important it was for us to get an early start the next day. When we got to the island we immediately worried about where we would sleep. We docked at the home of someone our boat driver knew, and we asked if it would be possible to homestay with them. They said yes and explained there were no more houses for many more km, so they were our only option for food and sleep.

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Right on cue, the son popped up with several large fish in a net, so we knew we were in for good eating. Robert and I went to bathe in the Mekong local style–me in a sarong, Robert in his skivvies. We returned to an amazing feast of grilled fish in tamarind eggplant sauce served over rice–a delicious, satisfying Cambodian meal.

IMG_2188We relaxed with the family for about an hour or so and then settled onto our straw mat beneath a mosquito net for a blissful night of cool temperatures and restful sleep.

 

February 13: Some island in the Mekong

“I dropped my chain and then I got stuck in a herd of water buffalo.”

We woke again to the sun and roosters and had a breakfast of rice and fish served to us by our hosts. After we packed up our gear and offered our hosts money for the homestay, which they humbly accepted. Although we wanted to get an earlier start, we didn’t hit the road until after 8:45. We knew we had a long, hot day ahead of us. We followed the Mekong discovery trail across the island. The map had listed the trail as “adventure biking” trails, and it was certainly true. It was mostly single track through areas of deep sand and we moved very slowly.

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For four hours we never saw a single house so we realized how fortunate we were to have gotten the homestay. About 2 1/2 hours in we stopped in some shade and met some Belgian girls going in the opposite direction. They told us we still had another 2 hours of hot riding until we could get any more water.

Despite the heat, we kept pedaling along, moving through the dirt and grass and navigating around water buffalo.

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We finally found a village and chugged water from the cistern (which we sterilized with our steri-pens).

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By now it was 1 pm and we were hungry. We stumbled upon a woman making fried bananas and decided to stop. The bananas were delicious, cheap (25 cents for 4), and filling, but we mostly enjoyed all the people handing out by the banana stand. It seemed to be the happening place in the village, and we were loving the energy.

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Some boys inspecting our bikes

Alas, we had many more kms to pound out so we had to continue on our way. About 30 mins later we stopped for more water (to put dehydration in perspective I drank 8 liters that day and didn’t pee for 7 hours) and found more of our banana-filled rice. From there we made our way to the southern tip of the island to catch the ferry boat back to the mainland. We forked over our 1500 real (~33 cents) each, loaded our bikes on the barge alongside the motorbikes, and made our way back to the mainland.

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Packed on the barge

From there we headed father south–our goal was to hit Kratie by dark. We knew we would be pushing it, so we tried to go as hard as we could. We were very fortunate that the roads were paved, as it helped us increase our speed. We pulled into Kratie with the last of the ambient light and found a guesthouse for $6–it even had a shower and a Western toilet! Happy to finally have electricity to charge our devices, we headed out in search of some wifi to touch base with our loved ones at home. Then it was a quick dinner and beer before a blissful sleep on a real mattress.

 

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February 10: Somewhere in Northern Cambodia

“I think I might have just eaten a testicle”

We woke to the sounds of the house stirring: the mother was getting a fire going to boil water and cook breakfast, and the boys were getting the tractor ready for the day. We were served more 3-in-one and tea (glorious caffeine!), and, using body language, had the family teach us more Khmer words and phrases. We then had a breakfast of rice, seasoned grilled fish, and two types of cured fish. Unfortunately, we also learned the dogs got ahold of our shoes overnight and I lost part of a shoelace.

As we were getting ready to leave, the father’s friends came over. They all sat down, started smoking and drinking coffee, and then pulled out a type of identification card with their picture on it, Khmer words, and the english word “Press” on it. They were proudly passing them around and showing an official-looking letter with a signature on it. We were really confused what was happening, but acted very impressed and did a lot of smiling and nodding. We then gathered our gear and snapped a picture with the family before we headed out on our journey.

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From there it was an easy 25k into the town of Stung Treng: a beautiful, flat ride where children were running and yelling “hello!” or people on motorbikes were passing and waving. Our mission was to find an internet store since it had been a week since we last checked our emails. Additionally, we needed to figure out our Cambodian cycling route, so we needed to scour some maps online and I needed to make more plans for when I returned to Thailand to continue my portion solo. Three hours later we finished our business and were happy to have avoided the mid-day heat of 35C (~95F).

We grabbed lunch from a roadside stall of rice, spiced meat and veggies, and finished with a dessert of various tapioca items topped with sweetened coconut milk. We were full and happy and headed towards the Mekong Discovery Trail: About 150k route that parallels the Mekong. We rode along dirt roads and got even more hellos than before. Our mission was Koh Preah: an island in the Mekong where you can spot Irrawady Dolphins. We thought we make it in time to catch the boat ride over with some locals, but learned as it got dark (and due to very confusing body language from some old women) that there were no more boats for the day.

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Along the Mekong

By now the sun had set so we knew we had to find a homestay, but we didn’t even have to ask: one of the women motioned for sleep and then pointed to her house. We said “orguhn” (Thank you) over and over again and followed. We stashed our bikes, showered off our filth with another fabulous bucket-and-scoop method (I finally washed my hair after 4 days of cycling filth), and headed inside the house. The house was quite large and upscale compared to what we had seen before. The family set up our straw mat and mosquito net on their porch and then served us an amazing meal of rice, pickled vegetables, stewed fish, smoked and salt cured fish, and something that tasted fishy but we couldn’t identify. At about 8pm, typical of most houses here, they turned off the generator and headed to bed. We headed to bed for another blissful end to a day in Cambodia!

 

February 11: Koh Preah

“Please, my friend, today I am very happy”

We woke just in time to catch the first boat over to Koh Preah and loaded ourselves and our bikes on the barge.We arrived on a rather desolate side of the island, and headed to the interior. The other side of the island was much more abuzz with activity. Because this is designed as a tourist homestay island, there were several informative signs instructing visitors what to do. We must have looked confused because a teacher from the school approached us and asked us, in English, what we needed. We told him we wanted to tour the island and he instructed us on where to go to get breakfast. We found a stall that was serving breakfast and ordered what everyone else was eating: a type of rice/noodle porridge. While we ate the children came over to check out our bikes:

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The owner sent off for her English speaking brother and that’s how we met Tang.

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Our friend Tang

Tang gave us a low-down on the island and had some kids climb a tree to let us taste a type of fruit that we still don’t know the name of.

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Mystery fruit

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He told us his friend is a fisherman and invited us to go fishing later in the morning. So we went off to kill time by exploring the island by bike. Because there are no cars (or electricity) on the island, it was very peaceful. Like elsewhere in Cambodia, the people were incredibly friendly and were so excited to see us. We came back to meet Tang and his friend Chung Min for fishing and headed out on their boat. We inspected the nets they laid earlier in the morning and found 5 fish. Everyone seemed very happy.

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After we were done fishing on the Mekong we had an amazing lunch of grilled Mekong fish, rice, and pickled vegetables. After lunch my cold was hitting me bigtime so I laid down for a nap in Tang’s house. His poor elderly mother wasn’t expecting a visitor, and was quite confused to see me coming inside and lying down in the bedroom!

I woke to find all the village children playing volleyball. The wives/sisters were all gathered around too and it was such a community event.

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Afterwards we were invited out on another boat to go see the Irrawady dolphins. We were told they gathered in a specific area between 4 and 5pm. It felt great to be on the Mekong: wind in our faces, feet dangling in the water–a great way to cool off. Since I was still feeling crummy I started pounding the Mekong water (treated with my Steripen first) and drank 6 liters on our boat trip: fighting dehydration was an ongoing battle on our trip.

Just as predicted, the dolphins became active starting at 4. Since we were in an area most tourists don’t go, we had that stretch of the Mekong to ourselves. We cut the motor and just let the boat drift so we could stay far away (at least 70 m) from the dolphins and not disturb them. After we got our fill of the dolphins we headed back, watching the sun set over the Mekong and the subsequent ballet of bats headed out for their dinner.

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We thought we would do a homestay with Tang for the night, but he explained that due to politics on the island we had to stay with one of the official homestay houses. After a disappointing dinner of ramen, rice and eggs at our homestay we met up with Tang for a second dinner of amazing grilled fish in tamarind sauce and Cambodian beer. While we were eating, the head of our homestay came with several other people and got in a heated argument with Tang. Everyone kept pointing at us and it was clear we were the subject of the argument. We asked Tang to fill us in. He explained that the tourism on the island was very corrupt. They only get westerners about once every two weeks, but there is a group of 7 houses that are official homestays on the island. Those houses are the only houses allowed to host tourists, and they do so on a rotating basis (since they get income from it–we gave them $12 each for our dinner plus homestay). This is all controlled by a travel agency in Stung Treng, and regardless of whether or not the agency sends people to the homestays, the homestay has to give 10% of what they get to the travel agency.

It all just seemed very corrupt to us, and not fair because it sets up a system where no one else on the island is allowed to profit from whatever tourism they receive. It seems that the older generation is very accepting of this, but the younger generation (especially those that speak English and could help with tourists) are not happy and want things to change. It will be very interesting to see what happens over the next several years.

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It’s been awhile since I last posted from my SE Asia Cycling trip, so you can catch up to speed by reading prior entries here 

February 7: Kang Vieng

“Just shove a tampon up your nose and let’s go.”

We woke at the time planned to meet our ride to Tasi. The guesthouse owner served us some 3 in 1: a powdered mix of instant coffee, creamer, and sugar.

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It sounds disgusting, but after several days with no caffeine it was glorious. We then walked around the village and sabaideed to all the kids heading to school. I absolutely fell in love with Kang Vieng.

Our guesthouse

Our guesthouse

 

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Views of the village

 

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How they fuel up the village’s backhoe

 

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Some curious village residents who came to see what we were up to. Yes, the woman is holding a chicken.

Even though we were told they couldn’t remember the last time a Westerner came through, everyone was so nice to us. The guesthouse owner served us a Laos breakfast: Pork stirfry, intestines, and sticky rice. Thinking we were about to catch a ride to Tasi we got our things ready, but then our ride explained that plans had changed and he was very sorry but he wasn’t going to Tasi. He said he would drive us there for $60, but we thought that was beyond our budget and we were in a good mood and ready to ride.

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Robert bought me a birthday sausage from the market

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Getting the bike ready before our day’s journey

We decided to start riding and hitch if we needed to. It turns out hitching wasn’t an option–we only saw one truck going our way once an hour and each one was full. This wasn’t an issue, however, because the ride was gorgeous! The hilly, windy road cut right through primary rain forests.

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It was all loose dirt, so we appreciated our mountain bike tires, but the quality was amazing compared to the roads we encountered the previous day. We hiked-a-bike on the super steep sections but it felt like a large majority was downhill. After 4 hours we finally finished and pulled into Tasi–we were sweaty, exhausted, completely encased in red dirt, but smiling from ear to ear.

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The only map we had to guide us on our journey

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We grabbed a quick bite of sticky rice and headed back to glorious pavement. The smoothness of the roads was appreciated, but the temps were soaring and we were fading. After about 30 km we encountered a huge hill. Right then a truck appeared. We hitched as far as he was going (6 km), then roads the flats for a bit. Robert got a nosebleed, but refused my offer to shove a tampon up his nose. Right as we got to the second series of climbs, another truck pulled up. They were going to Lak Xao, which was 140 km away (about 2 days worth of riding). Since Robert’s Laos visa was about to expire, we decided to go ahead and hitch the ride, giving us an extra day of “play” in Laos before we had to cross to Cambodia. As we zoomed along the roads we watched the sun set from the back of the pickup–another gorgeous day in Laos.

We arrived in Lak Xao around 7, found our cheapest guestroom yet (30,000 kip, about 3.75 US), grabbed a dinner from a street vendor, and toasted to another fabulous day of adventure. A day which just so happened to be my birthday–and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend it.

February 8: Lak Xao

“If it will make you stop talking about it, do what you want with the friggin ramen.”

Knowing we had a lot of distance to cover, we woke early and grabbed a quick breakfast of sticky rice and pork laab from a street vendor before hitting the road. The first half of our day was mentally and physically challenging: more horrible, rutted dirt roads with lots of chunks. There was also a lot of traffic so we wore our bandanas over our nose and mouths. I felt like it didn’t help, however, because I developed a scratchy throat and stuffy, sneezy nose which I’m sure was related to the amount of dust, smoke and diesel fumes I was inhaling.

After 4 hours of tough riding, we came to the reservoir. This was created when they dammed one of the rivers and created a swamplike wasteland over a large area. The river situation in Laos is actually quite sad–the Chinese are coming in to dam the rivers for hydroelectric power and as such are destroying the fragile ecosystem of the country. The locals think it’s good because the villages get relocated (since they’re flooded out by the dams) and the Chinese get them nicer, newer houses. Several major dams along several pristine rivers are currently under construction–Laos in 5 years will certainly look different than Laos today.

We grabbed lunch from a street vendor of steamed pork/egg buns, grilled sweet potato and roasted bananas, then headed off. We hitchiked a 20km stretch of road that was particularly brutal, then enjoyed a long stretch of flat road that was lined with limestone cliffs. It was positively breathtaking.

By now it was midafternoon and scorchingly hot. We had traveled about 90 km. We decided to stop at a roadside stand/market for a cold drink where insects were being sold in large buckets. We giggled as some children peered at us as we sat in our bike gear. We then hitchiked a few more km to cool off and then rode the last 30k to Thakhek. We realized we could still make the overnight bus to the border so we uses a hose outside a guesthouse to shower off our filth. By now we were both dehydrated, exhausted, and bonking after nearly 10 hours of straight riding. We had a fabulously stupid fight over the ramen that was fueled by our sheer hunger, then laughed over the stupidity of our fight once our blood sugar levels stabilized.

After dinner we headed back to the bus station, handed our bikes to the drives (who strapped them to the top of the bus!), and settled into our seats for an overnight 7 hour trip.

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Yes, those are our bikes being strapped to the top of the overnight bus

 

February 9: Somewhere near the Cambodian border

“You go over there and pee. I’ll stay here and bathe myself in chamois cream”

We knew we were in the right town but apparently the wrong bus station. It took us about 30 minutes and the assistance of several joggers (yes, we finally found people who exercised!) but we eventually found the right bus station. We found the bus we wanted, but it was unfortunately extremely expensive since it as chock full of tourists.

We settled in for a rather hot and miserable ride along with some very loud and rowdy 20-somethings. After about 3 hours those of us going to Cambodia piled into a smaller van and headed for the border. We navigated the frustrating border crossing (frustrating because a German ahead of us held up the whole line as he complained about the $5 exit fee from Laos and $25 entry fee to Cambodia). By the time our passports were finally stamped it was almost 2 and we were sweltering. Since none of our buses, even the overnight bus, had a toilet, I had stopped drinking water and as a result was pretty dehydrated. On top of that my cold was raging and I felt miserable.

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We made it to Cambodia!

 

We stopped at a roadside stand to change back into our cycling clothes and pound fluids, then we were off–cycling in Cambodia! We were happy to be in Cambodia, but I was feeling awful: headache, dizzy, snot everywhere. The first 15k of roads were all being burned, so we also had to deal with the smoke and ask from the fire. Eventually we decided the heat was just unbearable and we stopped to try to find a homestay. Since we had relatively bad luck in Laos we weren’t sure it would work, but on our second try they invited us in!

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Our bed

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Our homestay

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The family that graciously took us in

 

We washed out back with a bucket and then headed in for an amazing dinner of rice, chicken, and some unidentifiable vegetable. They arranged our bed (another simple straw mat with a mosquito net overhead) and we settled our hot and weary bodies in for a long night of rest.

Posted by & filed under Swimming. Be the first to comment!

Last season, I had developed an early season shoulder injury. When I wasn’t swimming, the pain was a constant ache that bothered me all day long. When I was swimming, it turned into a sharp pain. I tried time off. I tried massage. I tried stretching. Nothing seemed to work. I ended up essentially stopping swimming whatsoever out of frustration.

This season, I decided to take a preventative approach and take matters into my own hands before any pain ensued. I thought back about what I did the previous season, and it suddenly dawned on me: I tried everything except investigating whether my stroke was causing my pain!

Last weekend I videotaped my form, and then I did some research. “Swimmer’s Shoulder” has often been attributed to “overuse, misuse, or abuse” (1), which pretty much applies to all triathletes. It’s given a general name because the shoulder is composed of many tendons and muscles, all which can be aggravated by poor swimming.

 

In freestyle swimming, the form is generally broken into to phases: pull-through and recovery. The pull-through can be further divided into hand entry, catch, mid-pull, and pull-through (2). All of these phases put different stresses on different parts of the shoulder, and improper form puts even more stresses on the shoulder and can lead to injury.

In general, causes of shoulder pain can be attributed to four “classic” causes (3):

1. Thumb First Entry: Entering the water with your thumb first causes internal rotation of the shoulder, which can lead to extra stress. Check your form and make sure you are entering fingertips first.

2. Crossing your arms in front: I’d say about 70% of all swimmers are guilty of this–I even did this when I first started swimming. On the initial catch, many people cross their arms over the center line of their body, and they don’t even realize they’re doing it! This is something that can only be diagnosed via video, because it may feel like you are putting your arms out straight when you actually are crossing them over. This puts incredible stress on the shoulder joint. Wide arm swimming drills can help fix this.

3. Forceful straight arm catch: I also call this “bullying your way through the water.” Instead of using your arm to bend and catch and press the water backwards, some people try to push the water straight down with an equally straight arm. Not only is this making your form inefficient, but it’s the equivalent of Olympic powerlifting in the pool. You will eventually get injured if you do this.

4.  Straight arm pulling away from center line: Instead of doing the bend-arm catch, some people pull with a straight arm either under the body (crossing over) or far wide from the body. Crossing over will cause pain to the outside and rear of the shoulder and pulling wide will cause internal shoulder pain. This is another one that is difficult to diagnose without video analysis. To counteract this, focus on bending the elbow on the catch to bring the hand directly under the shoulder.

Here is a great image that shows proper swim form:

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In addition to focusing on your swim form, I also highly recommend these preventative exercises from USA Swimming.

It turns out reason #4 was responsible for my shoulder pain. My form has gotten sloppy and I’m pulling incredibly wide. So what does that mean? It means that for now my swim sessions are dominated by form work: swim drills and slow swimming where I really focus on bending the elbow and keeping my shoulder in alignment. If I am consistent with working on my form, it will eventually turn into muscle memory and my form will be “fixed.” Once my form is better, then I will add in more speed work in the pool.

So please, do yourself (and your shoulders) a favor and check your swim form. Figure out what swim form mistakes you’re making, and focus on working on those problems–then have a happy and healthy season!

1. Tovin, BJ. Prevention and Treatment of Swimmer’s Shoulder (2006). N Am J Sports Phys Ther. 4, 166-175.

2. Counsilman, JE. (1977) The complete book of swimming, New York: Antheneum.

3. Newsome, P. (2013). The Four Classic Causes of Shoulder Pain and Injury in Swimming. http://www.feelforthewater.com/2013/02/the-four-classic-causes-of-shoulder.html

Posted by & filed under General Training. Be the first to comment!

Happy Superbowl Sunday everyone! Are you ready for some football?—-and the calorie laden fare that goes along with it? It’s pretty much a given that Superbowl equals tasty, cheesy, meaty foods, and trying to change that would just seem weird. And downright un-American. Besides, we’re hosting a party and I’m sure a bunch of dudes wouldn’t be too keen if I swapped out wings and pizza with tofu and quinoa. In fact, I was just told “I’d be pretty pissed if you tried to feed us quinoa.”

So I say embrace the cheese! Savor the meat! Enjoy every carb! But to keep your body moving, and remind yourself that yes, Virginia, you are an athlete, I’ve created a Superbowl Workout Game. Think of it like a drinking game–for your muscles. Here’s the rules: each time one of the following occurs you do the corresponding activity.

 

Touchdown: 6 push-ups

Interception: 5 chair dips

Fumble: 5 squat jumps

Field Goal: 3 burpees

Penalty: 5 jumping jacks

End of a quarter: Plank for one minute

Budweiser Commercial: 5 crunches

Kim Kardashian Commercial: 5 lunges (for da booty, yo!)

Doritos Commercial: Take a break. Have a wing.

 

Go Pats! Do your job!

Posted by & filed under Kaipo. 1 comment.

IMG_5085My dog Kaipo loves running. When he hears my Garmin beep as I turn it on he runs to the door and whimpers until it’s time to go. Just the utterance of the word “run” makes him jump up excitedly. But snow? Oh, how he loves snow even more. So you can imagine how much he absolutely adores running on trails and the road when there’s a layer of snow outside.

 

The problem with Kaipo is he is very bad when it comes to letting me know when he’s hurt. Last year, for example, he sliced three of his paws open during a winter hike and made no indication to me that he was hurt. I only realized it when I saw the bloody paw prints in the snow.

 

The truth is that snow, ice and salt can really do damage to a dog’s paws. If you’re going out for extended periods of time, it’s smart to consider some sort of paw protection for your furried friend. After reading the reviews online, I decided to try out the Ruffwear Polar Trex Winter Boots.

 

I contacted customer service, and they helped me in measuring Kaipo’s paws to make sure I ordered the correct size. They also recommended that I use some sort of wrap to help protect his dew claws on his front paws.

 

The first time we took him out in these was absolutely hilarious. As expected, he initially froze and had no idea what to do. It took a few tries of coaxing with hot dogs, but he eventually got the handle of it. Now he gets excited when I bring them out because he knows something fun is happening!

 

These boots are great. They have two straps to help you really cinch them to the size of your dog’s paws, and the sole is made of super tough rubber that didn’t slip at all in the snow and slush.

 

I know a lot of people have issues with these slipping off their dogs’ paws, so here’s my tips. First, wrap your dogs paws in vetwrap or something similar (you can also purchase this at a drugstore). It’s the kind of wrap they use to hold the cotton in place after you donate blood:

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The trick is that you want it just above the highest pad, but not covering it. Put it on tightly, but not so tight as to cut off circulation. This acts as a grip for the boot and helps prevent slipping.

Second, tighten the boots down as much as humanely possible. The tighter it fits, the less it slips off the paw.

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With these methods we’ve successfully had multiple 3 mile runs in the snow with absolutely no slipping! I’m a fan and Kaipo is too!

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The winter months are commonly referred to as the offseason–well, at least if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere. During the offseason, it’s important to give your mind and body a break from the demands of peak training and go back to the basics. It’s during these months that I spend quality time in the pool working on my form.

 

Some extremely fit people can get very frustrated in the pool. Why? Well, to be honest, the pool kicks their ass. They thrash and thrash and get winded after 50 yards, yet can go run 5 miles with ease. Why? It’s simple: they’re making swimming harder than it should be.

 

In fact, we ALL are making swimming harder than it should be. I don’t care how fast you swim; you can benefit from swim drills. Swim drills help with body position, catch, follow-through, and recovery. This all translates to free speed in the water.

 

Here is a list of my favorite drills that I use myself and with my athletes. Typically I’ll work them into the warmup of a swim. For example, you may do a warmup of 300-500 yards, then choose 5 drills and do 5x(50y drill, 50y swim), working through your progression of drills. I do drills every single pool workout, even during the season! So what are you waiting for? Start from drills and get some free speed!

 

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  1. Fingertip drag/side scrape: This drill helps you maintain high elbows on the recovery portion of the stroke. Swim slowly as usual, but on the recovery (when you hand is moving from behind your body back to your front), scrape the side of your hand alongside your body while also allowing your fingertips to drag the surface of the water. This will naturally force your elbow up into the proper recovery position.
  2. Catchup drill: Start facedown (freestyle position) with both arms out in front of you. Instead of swimming normally, wait until the arm performing the stroke catches up to the extended arm before the other arm begins to stroke. This drill helps you maintain proper body position (you should NOT have to kick excessively on this: if you find yourself sinking focusing on pressing your upper body towards the bottom of the pool). This drill also helps you focus on good catching technique.
  3.  Stiff as a board: Swim slowly and normally, but imagine your body is attached to a stiff board and your head is in a fixed position, staring at the bottom of the pool. When you rotate to breathe, your entire body should rotate.  Your head should NOT rotate any more than your body does! Exaggerate your body rotation to rotate your head to breathe.
  4. Arms wide swimming: a common mistake of beginners is to cross their arms over their midline while swimming. To work on this, exaggerate wide arm swimming.
  5. One arm drills (do once you’ve mastered catch-ups): Keeping one arm fixed at your side, swim a length of the pool using one arm only. This drill will help you strengthen your pull technique as well as work on body position.
  6. Fist drills: keeping your hands in fists, swim. Focus on using your forearms to catch the water and propel you through the water. This drill helps work on your pull.

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My, my, my…it’s been awhile, hasn’t it? For those of you just popping by, I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus for almost a year. And what a whirlwind year it’s been! Here’s what happened since we last left off (in no particular order):

 

  • I completed a 6 week cycling trip across rural Asia (and will be blogging my travel journal soon!)
  • I spent an insane summer season traveling for fieldwork: gone the same amount of time I was home
  • I fell in love
  • I backed off the serious training and had a summer of “funning,” yet managed to finally break the 5 hour mark at Rev3 Williamsburg Half and won two local sprint tris!
  • I trained my dog to do even more stupid pet tricks
  • I continued my coaching and had a blast watching all my amazing athletes achieve their goals
  • I accepted my dream position and will be moving to the middle of the country to begin a Professor job (more on that soon)
  • I embraced winter
  • I was invited back for another year on the Rev3 (now Challenge Triathlon Team) racing team!
  • I developed a stress fracture in my femoral neck while training for what was to hopefully be another Boston qualifier
  • I watched the entire series of Breaking Bad

 

In summary, it’s a year that’s been full of life, love and laughter. I feel like I’ve gotten a pretty solid hold on managing the balance between work, training, friendships, love and leisure. I’m slowly getting back into training after 6 weeks on crutches, and excited to watch my progress. I’m looking forward to a fun season with the Challenge Family and will squeeze in as many races as I can around a hectic summer of field work, moving, and the usual shenanigans. But most importantly, I’m back, and so excited to share every step of it with you!

If it’s been awhile since you’ve been to my site, dig around through the resources a bit. I spent a lot of time categorizing everything to give you my best hits over the past 8 years of blogging. I’ll continue to post about nutrition and general triathlon resources, but feel free to drop me a line if you’d like me to write about something specific. In the meantime, Happy Training!

 

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February 3, Day 12: Somewhere in Laos to Phonsavan

“The mushrooms in that soup were delicious.” “Those weren’t mushrooms, that was intestine.”

Knowing we had a 10km climb at the beginning of our ride, we headed out at first light. It was cold–almost too cold–but since we knew how hot it would get later we tried to enjoy the cool. Almost halfway up the climb my rear derailleur stopped working so now I had only one gear to work with. On top of that I realized some sort of bastardized washer/screw combo was holding on my rear wheel and that wasn’t seated properly. So now I had no rear brake, one gear, and a rear wheel that looked like it was about to fly off. Needless to say, I was a bit stressed.

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Trying to fix my bike mid-climb

We saw what looked like (on the map) a modest village about 30km ahead and decided to try to find any sort of mechanic to work on my bike. Bicycle shops were beyond scarce, but almost every major village had some sort of motorbike mechanic. We pulled into town and mimed a mechanic. Eventually we were pointed in the right direction. When we pulled up there was a flurry of activity and a dozen guys came out. I mimed my rear brake and they fixed it pretty quickly. I then pointed to my wheel and they dug up some spare parts to secure the wheel. The gears, however, posed a problem. Three guys were simultaneously working on bike and spouting Laos as they tried to figure out how the derailleur worked and how they could fix it. About ten minutes later, I proclaimed it “good enough” and then we thanked the mechanics and headed off for a late breakfast. After gorging on sticky rice, fried eggs and beef stirfry, we hit the road–only 30 km left to Phonsavan!

As soon as we started back up again I realized my shifter hadn’t really been fixed, but the brake and the wheel was fine, so I determined the morning a success. As we pushed on with the thought of BeerLao dancing in our heads, we fought the intense mid-day heat and sun. We had most definitely left the mountains and entered the plains. The temperature was almost unbearable. In fact, this leg of the trip nearly broke Robert. We took a lot of extra hydration and cooling stops and slowly made our way towards town.

We finally pulled into town around 2:30–early compared to our previous days–and checked into a guesthouse. We did some laundry, took a shower, and went out to explore town. We finally found the holy grail–a bike shop that sold baskets! We were able to rig up an attachment involving old, questionable zip ties. We then found an internet cafe, spent an hour doing work, and then headed off for dinner and BeerLao. We then returned to our guesthouse, found a TV channel in English, and traded back massages while we sipped more BeerLao, nibbled on papaya, and forgot all about our struggles of the day. Ah, the good life!

February 4, Day 13: Plain of Jars to Muong Khoun

“I think I see worms in this water. Perhaps we shouldn’t swim?” “Worms? I don’t see any worms. I’m going in.”

We again woke with the sun to hit the road. We decided we would spend the day visiting the Plain of Jars: a Unesco World Heritage Site of 2000 year old burial urns. We grabbed breakfast on the way out of town of eggs and sticky rice and eagerly looked forward to a leisurely cycle out to see the old ruins. We were especially happy because we could transfer a lot of weight from our packs into the new baskets on the front of our bike.

Our happy feeling was short lived, however, because we turned off the main road onto a dirt road that was pocked with craters and riddled with rocks. Oh yeah, and every 2 minutes a truck went by completely encasing us in dust and making the visibility zero. We pulled our bandanas over our noses and mouths and soldiered on–nothing was going to get in our way!

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Because the roads were so bad it took us over 2 hours to travel 15 km. It was brutal. We weren’t sure what to expect when we got to the site, but all the guidebooks made it sound like a breathtaking site. Don’t get me wrong; it was really amazing to see the old urns and the surrounding hillsides, but was it worth a 5 hour round trip bike ride across soul crushing roads and getting dust over and in every part of your body? Hell no. I hated the bumps. I hated the dust. I hated that we kept snapping precious zipties that held our baskets together. I was grumpy, grumpy, grumpy.

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Halfway through this grumpfest we stopped at a “waterfall” which was more like an area of cascading rapids. No one was around so I changed into my Rev3 shimmer suit and cooled off in the water. It was awesome.

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By the time we finally left the dusty road it was after 3, and we hadn’t yet eaten lunch. We grabbed a quick lunch of Pho and then decided to hitchike to the next town since we were both in such bad moods from our ride. It took us over 45 minutes, but we managed to find a work truck with room in the back for both our bikes. We hopped in and enjoyed a scenic ride throughout the farmland until we got to Muong Khoun.

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We got dropped off in the middle of town and went off in search of a guesthouse. We found one, but they wanted 80,000k a night ($10). Robert was able to talk them down to 60,000. We rinsed the dust off our bikes and scrubbed our bodies as best we could.

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Since the map indicated the next 200km or so might be similar road conditions as to what we had just encountered, we tried to find someone who spoke English to give us a better idea of what we would be riding over for the next few days. We learned that people here don’t have a lot of experience reading maps, as they looked confused whenever we pulled one out. But after some miming they assured us the rest of the route would be flat and smooth.

We then grabbed a delicious dinner washed down with (surprise) more BeerLao, then headed back to our guesthouse for more massage swap. We headed to bed early, eager for the next day of our adventure.

 

February 5, Day 14: Muong Khoun to Muang Mok

“What’s this I’m eating?” “Like tiger, but smaller.”

We woke again with the sun. I had a rough night of excruciating stomach cramps, but thought after one bathroom event I was fine. We ate some melon for breakfast and then hit the road. We were blessed with immaculately paved roads and were in heaven.

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That quickly faded, however, when we got about 20km in. Suddenly, the road turned to dirt and was rockier than the previous day. And to top it all off, my stomach started cramping again.

We decided to pull into the next village and try to hitchhike. Right away we lucked out, as a man had stopped for gas and was headed in our direction. We threw in our bikes in the back of his truck and hopped inside the cabin. He took us as far as he was going and then we got out and gave him a few dollars in return. We then had a difficult challenge ahead of us: the road we were on had almost no traffic but it was impassable by bicycle and we had no idea how to get to the next village. We walked to a gas station to ask a motorist if they were headed in our direction when we suddenly heard “Please, come!”

We looked to see a table full of a dozen of Laos men who were surrounded by empty beer bottles and visibly drunk at 2 in the afternoon. Right away they passed us some beer and encouraged us to drink. Since my stomach hurt so bad drinking was the last thing on my mind, but I took tiny sips to be polite. One man spoke English–he was the English teacher at the local school–and told us that hardly any Westerners come through this part of Laos. He explained the roads were very bad and under construction. He also said that it would be impossible for us to continue by bicycle because of the road condition and because we would be crossing mountains.

We began to get upset, and my stomach pain was not helping the situation. His friends offered to drive us to our destination for $100, but we knew there was no way we would spend that kind of money. So we sat. And waited. And waited some more.  Eventually we flagged down a truck and found one headed to Muang Mok! Even better, one of the drivers spoke English! He told us we were nuts to try to attempt this route by bicycle and ahead of us lay 60 km of horrible road conditions. He wasn’t kidding: the roads were so subpar that it was almost impossible for our truck to navigate it.

We began to slowly navigate the rocks at 5-10 km per hour. Meanwhile my stomach pain was getting worse and worse. We stopped so they could get water from a waterfall, and that was when the first (and second) wave of my GI distress hit. Using SAT vocabulary (that’s how Robert and I decided to communicate when we were around people who understood English) I told him I was sick. I was in so much pain as we kept driving that I was clenching my jaw and pinching my arm to distract myself from the stomach pain. We were driving through amazing scenery, but sadly I couldn’t enjoy it.

Eventually we pulled up to a queue of cars. “We wait here,” our driver said. He explained that they close the roads until 5pm due to the construction. As this point it was only 3:30, so we had a lot of time to kill. I was desperate to try to relieve my pain, so I grabbed my sarong from my pack and laid it out like a blanket on top of the red dust. The next 90 minutes consisted of me lying down and moaning and jumping up every 10 minutes or so to have more waves of GI fun.

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I told Robert I would probably want a photo to document the moment of the worst pain on the trip. I was right.

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The line of people waiting for the road to be opened back up

Eventually the bulldozers appeared and began packing down the hillside to make the “road” for us. We piled into the truck and hung on for another long and bumpy ride. The afternoon light made the mountains unbelievably gorgeous. Eventually we pulled into town. Our driver showed us the road we would take to hitchhike the next day and then dropped us off at a guesthouse. Of all the nights, of course this is the night we end up with a communal squat toilet–the night I’m sick. I was still in absolute agony so I skipped dinner while Robert went out in search of dinner. I was able to take in some coconut water before bed and turned in early in hopes of feeling better in the morning.

February 6, Day 15: Muong Mok to Kang Vieng

“There’s no taxi to Tasi”

I woke feeling like a whole new person–the sickness had passed! Now that I was feeling better, the logical side of my brain kicked in. How the hell were we going to get out of this village? Since our guesthouse didn’t turn on the power in the morning I got ready by headlamp and headed to the market for breakfast. I was wary of putting anything complex in my stomach, so I found some doughnut-like balls and ate them to test the intestinal waters. We then headed to the edge of town with a main mission: find a hitchhike!

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Where we waited all morning

After almost 4 hours of waiting only three trucks passed us. One was going only 2km up the road, and the other was full. The third kept telling us “no, no, boom boom!” (we later found out they were carrying explosives to the construction site) At noon we decided to head back to the village to try to get more information. We stopped in some government offices, which proved useless, and then headed back to find the person who had given us a ride the previous day. He owned a wood shop in town and mentioned that another village was only 25 km away. He explained that the roads were terrible and all uphill so it would take us at least 4 hours if we wanted to attempt to go by bicycle. Faced with no other option, we grabbed a quick bowl of Pho and decided to go into beast mode and just get to the next village no matter what it took.

We stopped at the edge of town to put on sunscreen. Right then a truck pulled up. We flagged it down–it was headed to Kang Vieng and it would take us! Inside were two brothers who spoke limited English. They told us their family owned a guesthouse in the village. They dropped us off at the guesthouse, refusing our offer of money for the ride. Robert and I then decided to explore the village. We headed off on our bikes.

We made it less than 5 minutes when we heard Karaoke. We decided to investigate. As we got closer we heard “please, come!” so we headed in. There was a group of a dozen men surrounded by beer bottles. Before we could even say “Sabaidee” there was beer in our hands and we were toasting and drinking. A few of the men spoke English. They all seemed pretty tickled by the fact a Western girl was in their bar and we were having a blast. We sang Karaoke, drank copious amounts of Beer, and stuffed ourselves to the gills with fish and sticky rice.

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But the real treat was when they found out the following day was my birthday. They made me an omelet, called it cake, stuck a candle in it, and sang me happy birthday. It was quite possibly the best birthday celebration I’d ever had–sitting in a remote Laos village, surrounded by beer, food, and the laughter of strangers and friends. The village children had even begun to gather to explore us.

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What a truly amazing day–one that had started out with the potential to be miserable, but ended up turning into one of the most memorable days of my life.