Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lesson 9: Putting it all together

I had a great lesson today, even though it was straight after doing a mega weights session (300 kg leg press!!). We worked again on all of the aspects from the last few weeks (high elbows, the roll, the kick). Now I am using my legs more it doesn't feel such a hard slog through the water and, perhaps more importantly, I feel I have a more stable "platform" so I don't end up losing balance, compensating, compensating for the compensation etc.

At one point we did a quick test to see how fast I would swim 100m at what I perceived to be a "Half Ironman effort". Even with my crappy way of changing direction in the 20m pool, I did 100m in 1:32 which is not bad. Imagine if I were able to maintain that for 1,900m! Of course, as I keep saying, in the sea everything will be a different kettle of fish altogether. Probably the single most important thing I can focus on is simply looking where I am going.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lesson 8: Can I kick it?

Yes I can.

In the end we built up the 6 beat kick by going through a 4 beat kick, although it wasn't a "real" 4 beat kick. The exercise we did was to immobilize one leg (with a fin) and to kick twice with the other leg on the catch of the hand on the same side and on the "push". There are three phases in the underwater stroke: the catch, the pull and the push - the idea is to synchronize a kick with each of these, the most important one being the catch (this is the Total Immersion kick which initiates the rotation of the hips). Then we moved to doing the same with the other leg and then with both legs (right right left left). The last stage was to insert an extra kick from the opposite leg in between these two:

1 .right arm catch: right leg kick
2. right arm pull: left leg kick
3. right arm push: right leg kick
4. left arm catch: left leg kick
5. left arm pull: left leg kick
6. left arm push: left leg kick

At first I was a bit wooden and my legs started to get tense and tired but, after relaxing into it, it became almost second nature. It reminded me a bit of learning to juggle where you start combining sequences of coordinated movements and then there is suddenly an "aha moment" when it all begins to flow of its own accord. Another thing altogether is whether I can do this in open water with hundreds of other people in race conditions!

Luis still reckons that my kick is much less propulsive than it can be. The next step is to try to kick from the hips.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Week 4 / 7

This week I was again in London which meant no swimming (except for the lesson I had on Tuesday) and no biking (I don't think riding 3 hours on a Boris Bike would be a good idea).

I did my hard run (8 lots of 5 minutes at 17-16 kph) on the hotel treadmill. Luckily they let me open the door which let in a bit of a cooling breeze, otherwise it would have been intolerable. In fact, even the easy run of an hour and a half which I planned to do the next day - while watching "Tremé" on my portable - I cut short to an hour because it was getting far too hot and sweaty. I noticed from looking at my reflection in the mirror while running, that I run with my head ever so slightly tilted to the right. I think this must be to compensate for my shoulder (grade 3 ACL separation): it's no wonder that I get more blisters on one foot than another and so on. All it takes is a slight asymmetry and everything goes out of whack.

On the Friday, I managed to get in a nice 80 minute run outside. As I have said before, my favourite kind of run is a random run through the city, preferably one in which I don't live. All the distractions - shops, people, avoiding cyclists and pedestrians - keep me entertained and I enjoy discovering new places or revisiting old haunts.

On Saturday I was "supposed" to do a 3 hour bike ride but there was just no way that I was going to get straight off the plane from London and do that after not seeing my family for most of the week. Instead I went for a 3 and a half hour ride the next day with my coach, Jonathan, followed by an hour long run. He said that we could leave from his house and follow a fairly flat course; when I realized that he lived in the Sierra mountains of Madrid, I was a bit skeptical but it was, indeed, quite flat. In fact, I felt the benefit of the aero bike for the first time since I bought it at the end of lat year. There was a nice long flat stretch along which we cruised at about 35 kph. Jonathan is in the process of moving from being a very successful and fast runner to a (hopefully fast) triathlete but he still has to get some more kilometers under his belt on the bike. As you will know from reading this blog, his approach is for the majority of the training load to be performed at below the aerobic threshold, the idea being that you train your body to rely more on the fat burning metabolism, but it does mean that you have to go slow at the beginning until your body makes the necessary adaptations. On the run I expected him to find my pace too untaxing but it turned out that we were both at or slightly above our aerobic threshold in spite of the fact that, were we to run flat out, he would absolutely trounce me. Anyway, a very enjoyable outing. I didn't eat anything during the whole time and didn't feel any the worse for it until I got in the car to drive home. I felt my eyes closing against my will and had to open the windows to keep myself from nodding off. Even then, at one point I drifted into another lane and another driver "beeped" me. Next time I will keep a Red Bull handy!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lesson 7: The kick

Finally we moved on to working on the kick today. From Total Immersion I have a very pronounced 2 beat kick – that is to say, I kick once per arm stroke, primarily to rotate the body. The idea is to squeeze a few more smaller kicks in between, so that I will be doing what is called a 6 beat kick. You may wonder why I am talking about going straight from a 2 to a 6 beat kick without passing through 4. The reason is that a 4 beat kick means that every other stroke your kicking leg is exactly the wrong one to help you rotate. I might as well try to benefit from all that hard work to coordinate my kick with my rotation that is the backbone of the Total Immersion technique. It's a bit like dancing a Waltz...

Week 3 / 7

The most significant thing about this week was that I finished the last series of The Wire, the series that has been helping me through my series (sorry for the pun) for the last few months. Oh, and the founder of Red Bull (the original Thai drink) died this week, which I think deserves a mention, as I am not sure what I would do without that invention, even if it is probably very bad for you.

During the week, the workload was pretty light, leaving a horrible workout of 70 minutes at CCM (15.5 kph) with a weighted backpack on Friday evening– in the end I cut it short by ten minutes and took the backpack off after 20 minutes – a three hour bike ride on Saturday and a tough “brick”on Sunday. All this while my parents were staying at home, which didn’t make itany easier to spend so much time training. The brick consisted of 2 hours onthe bike at various intenstities, mostly hard ones, and an hour running between 13 and 15 kph. All this I did indoors (again). At least I am training theboredom factor (although I admit that I am now watching the new series by thecreator of The Wire, “Tremé” which helps).

I’m really having second thoughts about this Triathlon lark. Even “just” a Half Ironman means spending so much time and energy training. Its not particularly difficult to do the training but it is difficult to stay awake on a Sunday afternoon or keep in a good mood if my lunchtime gets delayed. Maybe I should start taking in cereal bars and gels while I train, something I haven’t done since the days of 5 hour plus sessions from last year. I like tothink I am training my ability to derive energy from my fat stores (yes, I haveenough to go around). At the end of the brick on Sunday I started to fade big-time – for the last 15 minutes I had to go ever slower and slower just tokeep at a reasonable heart rate. Still, I suppose it all goes to a good cause.

It’ll be interesting to see how I feel after the Half Ironman. Will I be energized by the experience or simply non-plussed?I think that I could do with a break from structured training, that’s for sure-I’d like to be able to go out on rides with friends or run as hard or long as Ifeel like on a particular day. I don’t feel that I need competition in order to motivate me to keep inshape any more. To be honest, the main reason I am doing a Triathlon is becauseI feel guilty about having spent so much money on a Triathlon bike! Maybe I canfind a Time Trial in the UK next year – after all, competing in Triathlons usually entails traveling with bike, so why complain about the dearth of time trials in Spain?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lesson 6: Speed with technique

Today was the first time that I was able to get tired swimming while still swimming reasonably well. I've often said that I swim at the same speed whether it is for 100m or 3,800m...

I swam for a couple of lengths with a cadence that felt on the high side while Luis counted how many strokes per minute I was doing. Then he set the metronome to beat out the same rhythm and I swam 4 lengths timing the entry of each hand with a beep. Even though I was swimming with the same stroke rate, it felt more comfortable because my rhythm was less rushed. We then repeated this several times, aiming to increase the cadence each time. By the 4th set,we had got up to 63 strokes per minute but, at this pace, I was starting to struggle and getting quite tired. Still, at 60 strokes per minute which, for me is quite fast, I was able to swim quite effectively.

We again worked on my left arm, particularly the rotation and high elbow recovery.

I hope we can work on the legs at last, because this will definitely help with my propulsion. For long distances and especially with a wet suit it is arguable that the legs are better conserved for the bike. Even so, I'm quite sure that I am currently at the other extreme of barely using my legs at all - I move forward in surges which cannot be the most efficient

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Lesson 5: Rhythm

We started training with my little beeping device to help me control my stroke rate. It wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it would be to keep in time with it. For the time being we are keeping the stroke rate down low (45 spm!) to give me time to get the technique right. The good thing about marking the strokes is that it helps me not feel rushed. In particular, Luis pointed out something which I was vaguely aware of myself: I tend to rush my right arm through the water.

Rhythm is something that I have written about before, in the context of rowing and running. In swimming, I expect it is the same: for a given stroke rate, if you can work more quickly then you have more time to recover. At one point Luis told me to stop "using my brain so much and to use my intuition more". That's the thing about rhythm, it's something you feel. Just like a bunch of robots playing the drums sounds terrible, you can't be too mechanical about it. There were certainly times in the session today when I felt like I had a good, un-rushed rhythm. I felt like I was moving myself forward more effectively by not snatching at the water.

We also worked on my hand entry. Total Immersion has drilled into me entering my hand into the water close to my head. According to Luis I should be entering at about halfway between my wrist and my elbow of my other arm. You know me, I have to investigate this further... I never take anything as given!

Chrissie Wellington "A Life Without Limits"

I've just finished reading Chrissie Wellington's autobiography. The first thing that struck me about her book, compared to other sporting biographies that I have read, is that it doesn't talk about sport itself nearly as much as you would expect. In fact, it reads like the autobiography of a successful and interesting person, which is exactly what Chrissie Wellington is. After all, one of the reasons we read autobiographies (at least, I speak for myself) is in the hope that we might learn something. Certainly Chrissie bars no holds in her book and there is as much to learn from her successes as from her mistakes, which she has no squeamishness about revealing. In fact, I don't think I have read a book with less "squeam" than this one: Ironman is a discipline that reduces us to basic bodily functions.

I appreciated the tone of her writing which struck a perfect balance between singing her own praises and being self-deprecating. She comes across quite simply as unashamedly proud of her achievements, whether they were from her pre-triathlete professional life or winning the Ironman World Championships in spite of injury. Although I don't suppose many people would have bought her book had it not been for her accolades in the sporting world, she writes with such straightforwardness that she could equally be talking about winning a local swimming gala. Triathlon is a perfect breeding ground for obsessive attention to detail having three times the number of sports to fuss over (more, if you count the transitions); however, Chrissie seems very level headed about it all, even if she "loses it" at times when pushing her body to new limits. I think that this must be a contributing factor to her success (as well as the readability of the book). My own experience from the Marathon I ran recently tallies with this - I invested my mental energy in overriding my inclination to slow down rather than in  worrying unduly about other details.

Chrissie's story does read rather like a fairy tale. She came from nowhere to winning every single iron distance race she has ever started. Who hasn't had a dream in which you are inexplicably able to run faster and further than anyone else, with no discomfort or pain? Most of us meet our grim reality in the form of a time the we can't improve on, or a person that we can't beat. Chrissie gives the impression that these limits are all in our mind and never makes any reference to any of the genetic advantages that she must surely have. What is amazing to think is that, in this day and age, in the developed world, an off-the-scale athlete like Chrissie almost slipped by unnoticed; it makes you wonder who else might be out there. Sure, she was always a fast swimmer and a fast runner, but nothing really extraordinary: it is really the particular challenge of the Ironman that it seems she was made for. She herself attributes some of her aptitude for the distance to her capacity to endure boredom. I can relate to that.

I found the relationship with her one-time coach, Brett Sutton, very interesting, as well as all the dynamics with the other athletes in the team. It just goes to show that it's not all plain sailing, even if you are the best by a long shot. The chronicles of the three World Championships that she has competed in (and won) are worth the price of the book alone. Even for her, the goal she sets herself is to better herself, she is almost unconcerned with breaking records (which are only temporary, anyway). What really is amazing, is to read how she achieved this with a catalogue of mechanical failures, flat tires and injuries. Again, it begs the question of hoe much of our limits are a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Having recently read "I'm here to win" by Chris McCormack, the male Ironman World Champion in 2010, it was interesting to contrast the different approaches and very tempting to extrapolate this to differences between men and women. Chris lifted the lid on the carefully orchestrated "smack talk" before major competitions, where he would try to ensure that all the other athletes were thinking more about him than about their own race. For Chris, the Ironman is a very strategic race in which you cannot afford to give an inch to your opponents. Chrissie's way of not giving anything up is different: never show them how much you are hurting... and smile! Chrissie talks about collaboration and, unlike Chris, regularly trains with people that she will be competing against. A famous example of the sort of collaboration which is rarely seen in a World Championships other than the Ironman is from 2008, when she suffered a flat tyre. Being a bit of a "muppet" (her words) she fumbled the CO2 cannister and let all the gas out by accident, leaving her with no way to inflate her tyre. As accepting outside help can lead to disqualification, she had no choice but to try to beg a spare cannister from another competitor. In the end Rebeka Keat obliged and Chrissie went on to win the race.

One of the themes in the book that she keeps returning to is that of "helping other people". One can't help reading a bit between the lines and sensing a conflict between this desire and the self-absorbed discipline of a professional triathlete. It is clear that Chrissie is building a platform from her success from which she can hopefully make a difference. The question we are left with is, can we look forward to more races from the Queen of Kona or is she already looking to other challenges?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Week 2 / 7

I'm writing this while "watching" Alvin and the Chipmunks (3 - how on earth did they manage to get this far?).

On Wednesday I was suppose to do 3 hours on the bike - two of them easy and one medium. As it was a "school
day" and, especially as my wife was away and I had to look after the kids, there was no way I was going to be able to find three straight hours in the day so I did the next best thing: commute to work, spinning class at lunchtime and commute back.

Friday was a reasonably tough session on the treadmill: 20 minutes at 13.5 kph, 20 at 15.5 kph and 15 starting at 16 and finishing at 17 kph. Even though the amount of running I'm doing is much less than before, I'm still hitting the same speeds for a given heart rate.

I went for a three hour cycle ride (outside!) on Saturday morning. I still find the aero position tiring, especially on the bumpy roads around here.

The workout I was dreading all week was the "brick" (bike-run) of 2.5 hours that was set for Sunday morning. Dreading, because I knew I would have to do it all indoors because I had to look after the kids (which meant plugging them into the tv - not ideal for a beautiful Sunday morning). It wasn't too bad thanks (again) to The Wire which at least took the boredom out of it. After an hour at easy to medium intensity on the bike, an hour and a half at 13.5 kph was surprisingly easy, with my heart rate well below my aerobic threshold most of the time. I even wondered whether I should measure the treadmill again to see whether it has got even slower.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Soft Star Sale!

(Disclaimer: I have nothing to gain by plugging Soft Star, other than helping ensure that they stay in business!)

Soft Star Shoes, the makers of my minimalist running shoes of choice, are having a sale. I just picked up a couple of pairs of shoes for half price - enough to last me to the end of the year and beyond. The second pair I bought seem to be lasting much longer than the first, which I got about 1,000 km out of before having to buy a new pair.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lesson 4: Fuhgeddaboudit

A combination of energy draining meetings and having to switch my training around so that I ended up doing my heavy weights circuit before the swim meant that I was not in the best frame of mind for a lesson. I suppose that there is always going to be a bit of "two steps (strokes?) forward and one step back". We did some drills to emphasize the body roll (hands crossed over chest, rolling from side to side while keeping the head looking down) as well as breaking the stroke at the point where the recovery hand is just by the goggles before initiating the catch with the other hand. The results weren't great so we wrote today's lesson off. To be continued...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Lesson 3: Cadence

Another of the leftovers from having learnt the Total Immersion method is that I have a very low cadence (stroke rate). Obviously, speed can be thought of as the product of cadence and stroke length: Total Immersion puts the emphasis on eeking out the maximum glide from every stroke which is good, to a point. It is all very well being ultra efficient (which, by the way, is hardly the case for me) but when you are competing you have to get speed from both length and cadence. Add to that the fact that Triathlon swims generally take place in open water with thousands of other people thrashing about and it quickly becomes apparent that you are not going to get much out of

The idea is to coordinate the entry of the hand with the pull phase of the arm already in the water. The "pull phase" follows immediately on from the catch that we worked on last week. We practised this doing drills where we broke the swim cycle (with a "dead spot") just at the point after the catch, timing the start of the next stroke to coincide with the entry of the recovering arm. My cadence certainly increased but it started to spiral a little out of control.

I've bought a gadget to help swim with a more appropriate cadence. Actually, this time it was coach Luis' idea, not mine, even though any excuse to buy another gadget is a good one. It hasn't arrived yet but it is a small device you place in your swimming cap that beeps every so often, like a metronome.

I've found precious little information on the internet regarding swim cadence or stroke rates suitable for an Ironman or a Half Ironman but, judging from videos on Youtube, the faster swimmers are going like the clappers. Recently, I read an interesting article in Triathlon Plus magazine with a rough guide which I found very useful:

30-45 strokes per minute: extremely slow stroke rate, certainly over-gliding with a long pause.
46-54 spm: low stroke rate, probably due to dead spot at front of stroke.
55-64 spm: moderate stroke rate that should probably be higher in open water swims
65-74 spm: good rhythm for open water
75-94 spm: very fast stroke rate. Most elite triathletes swim at 90 spm
95-120 spm: extremely fast stroke rate for 1:05 /100m pace

The article also makes the point that you should increase your cadence for open water swimming to account for the chop and wake from other swimmers, otherwise you are likely to come to a complete halt in between strokes.

As I have been saying lately, I think Total Immersion has helped me instil some good habits but I have gone too far the other way. Now it is time to put some speed back into the equation and, while doing so, hopefully not lose too much of the efficiency and length.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome

I felt crap for most of the weekend, no doubt because I was fighting off some kind of virus that had already affected half of my household. It was something very similar to when I ran the Marathon in Valencia. These days I rarely seem to actually get "ill" (touch wood), that is to say, with tangible symptoms - but, every so often, I notice that my energy levels are very low and training even at low intensity is like doing a hard workout. It doesn't happen frequently enough for me to worry that it might be "all in my mind" or an excuse to get out of training but it does remind me of something that happened to me when I was 20. I wonder if there are some psychological scars left over from that time.

Summer 1992, Saturday of Eights Week, Oxford. It was the last day of Summer Eights, the biggest inter-collegiate rowing event of the calendar (the Oxford-Cambridge Boatrace being inter-University). All the "Blues" were back in the college boats after their victory over Cambridge. That year I had decided not to try out for the Blue Boat after my experience the year before but rather to focus on my academic work. The Summer Eights is what is known as a "bumps race". Around 160 crews of 8 rowers and a cox (who steers the boat) take part on the narrow tributary of the Thames known as the Isis. As it is too narrow for the crews to race each other side by side, instead they all start equally spaced by 1 and a half boat lengths and must try to catch ("bump") the crew in front before they are themselves bumped. The competition takes place over four evenings so that crews may advance 4 places in the rankings that year (or even more if they manage to perform an "over bump"). If a crew bumps the crew ahead on each of the 4 occasions, then the crew members are entitled to get their "oars" -  an oar with the details of the crew and their weights painted on the blade. (If you ever go to the Cambridge Blue pub in Cambridge, on the street where I used to live, you'll see a blade of mine hanging there. It was too big to move to Spain!). The male and female crews that finish at the top of the rankings on the Saturday are crowned the Head Crews and get to burn their boat and have their names chalked up over an arch in the college quad. (Strictly speaking, they burn a crappy old wooden boat - it wouldn't do to burn one of those nice expensive plastic boats they race in.)

On the Saturday of Eights Week, the Pembroke Men's First Eight in which I was rowing was at number two on the river, just behind Oriel who rather boringly tended to be in first place most of the time in those days. If I remember right, we had bumped up a couple of times but failed to catch them on the Friday night. We decided to try something new: "hatchet blades". Hatchets - with an asymmetrical blade that supposedly gripped the water better - had just started to be accepted and, indeed, Oriel and some of the other top crews were already using them. We had been offered to try them in a tune up race we in Nottingham but the Captain had decided that we shouldn't scupper our chances in that race by changing something at the last minute. A wise choice had it been an important race but now, here we were, with the same dilemma. This time we chose to try them out for the very first time.

What the others in the crew were not aware of is that I had blacked out during the day. It is the only time I have ever fainted. I just put it down to nerves. But when I was in the boat, pulling for all I was worth, I could tell something was up. I felt incredibly weak and it seemed that all I could do was just move up and down the boat with the rest to avoid spearing the guy in front in the back with the handle of my oar (or being speared myself, for that matter). I felt like I was letting down the others, not to mention myself. That evening I felt an exhaustion I had never felt before, like I could hardly keep my eyes open.

A few days later I tried rowing again, this time in an Oxford City Four that was headed for Henley Royal Regatta. This time I couldn't even row easy ("light pressure") and I had to ask them to row me back to shore. I went to see a doctor whose words I remember exactly: "If I were a betting man," he said, "I'd say you've got Glandular Fever". Glandular Fever or Mononucleosis is also known as "The Kissing Disease" as it is easily passed by saliva. I don't know where I got it from because my girlfriend at the time was fine (maybe she was immune) but it's something that could even be transmitted by sharing water bottles which was common enough.

A test confirmed the doctors prognosis but the symptoms soon made it clear beyond any doubt. I spent at least a week with my glands completely swollen and almost unable to swallow food. It wasn't nice but it was nothing compared to what was to come.

Some people seem to bounce back right away - in fact, the same thing happened to another guy in the crew some months later (no, we didn't kiss) and he was able to resume training within weeks. I felt listless, lethargic and suffered from panic attacks where my heart rate would start racing for no reason as well as sudden, non-negotiable needs to sleep immediately. The panic attacks made me susceptible to blow ups, where I would fly into a rage. I discovered that smoking a cigarette helped calm me down and this is when I started smoking albeit it one a day to begin with. I found that the fatigue would come in waves and I was convinced that their was some psychological element to it, as if just worrying about it happening was enough to make it happen. This didn't make it any less real or any easier to deal with (if not completely the opposite).

It took months and months to get better - even a year later I was still suffering from it. I was now starting my final year at University which would determine 100% of my final results. My mum did me a great favour without knowing it at the time: her suggestion that I should take a year out of University to recover made me very determined to finish my degree on time, but it wasn't easy. The only long lasting casualty was my fitness. I felt cheated of all the hard work I had done to get so fit and I couldn't bring myself to go through it all again. With hindsight, I think that this attitude was very immature and self-pitying. On the other hand, the way that I had got to that point was through gruelling training which I saw as a necessary evil, thriving only on winning competitions. As soon as the reward was removed and I no longer had a coach cracking a whip over my back, it was easier just to slip into a more "normal" lifestyle. In any case, it would have happened sooner or later. It is a classic pattern: as soon as the results no longer justify the investment - something that comes to all but the professionals at some point or other - you drop out and focus on other aspects of your life like building a career and a family. So I shouldn't kid myself that things would have turned out much differently had it not been for Glandular Fever.

Now with what I have read about fatigue and Tim Noakes' Central Governor Theory - that fatigue is something manufactured by our brains, not something physiological - it is interesting to think about that kind of post viral fatigue I suffered from all those years ago. It seems like it is something psychological but, equally, it is just as insurmountable as the fatigue you feel while you are running the last few kilometres of a Marathon. The question is why is the brain telling us to slow down and what can we do to temper it?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Week 1 / 7

I'd forgotten how time consuming Triathlon training was compared to Marathon training. Even "just" for a Half Ironman, there were weekend sessions along the lines of 3 and a half hours on the bike followed by a two hour run. I told Jonathan that I wanted to do the bare minimum (in terms of time) to be able to complete the Half Ironman but without worrying too much about the time. The basic shape of the training is a couple of weights sessions a week, a couple of swimming sessions (that I have decided to make purely technical for the moment), a couple of hard sessions of series on the bike plus a medium intensity run, a long ride and a "brick" (bike + run) at the weekend. So, notably, no running series which I am convinced is what has made me so much faster lately. Given that I am (perhaps unwisely) trying to get a qualifying sub-38 minutes time in a 10K race the weekend after the Half Ironman, I think I will have to slot some in towards the end.

The training went reasonably well this week: I did series of 10 by 4 minutes and 8 by 5 minutes at my anaerobic threshold on the bike. I don't feel safe doing this on the road so I do it on the turbo trainer or on the spinning bike. The medium intensity run was only half an hour after a 20 minute warm up and this I did without too much strain at 15.5 kph. These days I am finding it hard to motivate myself to train outside, especially when I can watch an episode of The Wire when I train indoors. On Saturday afternoon, after the second set of series on the bike, I started to feel quite ill, with no appetite and no energy. I think I was fighting off a virus that has laid half my household ow this week. I felt better when I woke up on Sunday so I set off on my 3 hour cycle ride. But I noticed that my heart rate was some 10-15 beats higher than it would normally be riding at that intensity. If I stuck to my prescribed heart rate of 123 bpm, I would have to go along at a crawl. I took this as a sign that I was still not 100% and decided to bin the session. It's always hard to do this because you immediately feel better and then spend the rest of the day wondering if you should have continued after all. Having said that, I think it was the right decision. Hopefully I will be better tomorrow and I can commute to work on the bike to compensate a little.

Lesson 2: High elbows

This time the focus was on keeping my elbows high during the recovery, with my forearm hanging down vertically towards the surface of the water. I tend to have more problems with my left arm - probably because it is the weakest and perhaps also because I breathe to the right. I found that I had to really think about rotating the shoulders (and hips) and almost doing a "monkey"gesture to ensure my hand cleared the water. We focussed on making sure that I was pulling my arm from the water using the elbow - otherwise I tended to drag it out of the water making a bit of a splash - and also on finishing the stroke completely.

We also went over the Early Vertical Forearm from lesson one. Rather than tilting the hand downwards, the idea was to think of "reaching over a barrel" - this rotation causes the elbow to rise up and you end up moving your body past your hand rather than scooting water backwards. A drill to get this point home was to lie in the water in the "superman" position and make little figures of eight with my hands: this little movement (the catch) was enough to move me forward, albeit very slowly.

Next week we will work on turning the 2 beat Total Immersion kick into more of a 6 beat kick.