Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Do swimmers do drop sets?

My good friend and trainer Dorian Cuccia has taught me the value of doing drop sets in strength training. Like everything he does, Dorian uses his experience as a dancer to bring about a heightened awareness of form in the process of strength training. The traditional justification for a drop set is to push the muscles harder, but for Dorian it is more about letting the muscles re-experience the correct form so often compromised as muscles near exhaustion. This week I had a similar experience swimming, and am curious if this is routine.

In weight lifting, the key aspect of a drop set is a reduction in weight as the activity progresses. For example, one might start a bicep curl exercise with a 25 lb. dumbbell, then as the muscles approach exhaustion, switch to a 20 lb. weight which allows the activity to continue, then again as the fatigue limit approaches switch to a 15 lb. weight. When I do this with Dorian he always directs my attention to proper form, bringing muscles under control that were escaping as they approached the fatigue limit.

In our spin class he has us do something similar. We call it slow motion pedaling. Typically done standing, we shift into a very light resistance and reduce cadence to around one rev every two or three seconds. The goal is to maintain a steady rate of rotation and prevent the feet from dropping abruptly as they near the bottom of the stroke. This is never easy, but it is a lot easier when the legs are fresh. Dorian will have us do a long, hard set until we are ready to pass out, then switch to slow motion pedaling. The recovery is welcome, but getting the legs to work smoothly when so fatigued is surprisingly hard. The goal is to learn to maintain correct form even in the face of extreme fatigue.

To understand what is happening it is important to understand how muscles talk to one another. Our brains like to think that they are in charge, but the truth is the brain can only give gross movement instructions to the muscles. What we experience as smooth, coordinated action is the result of inter-muscular signals transmitted via the nerve network.

Go stand on one foot. Muscles throughout your body spring into action, doing what they can to keep you upright. If every signal had to travel all the way to your brain and be processed there you would fall over.

Muscles are like people. Just because they are told to do something does not mean they will do it. We experience this at the start of an activity such as running, or playing a musical instrument. At the outset we feel as though we have lost all our ability, but as the muscles warm up they start doing a better job of sending and reacting to inter-muscular nerve impulses, until eventually things are working smoothly. Continuing the activity we eventually arrive at a point where fatigue causes muscles to fail to respond to these nerve impulses. Continuing the activity in this state is counter-productive, because the muscles can still learn and will learn to act in a manner we do not want. A drop set allows the muscles to return to a state below the fatigue threshold and provides them an opportunity to reinforce the desired interaction -- to operate in the correct form.

At the Total Immersion swim camp I attended in early March we received some sample workouts to address the question of what to do at the pool. This week I decided to give one a try, one of several contributed by Dinah Mistilis. Maybe because I am slow, or unusually time constrained, but I never seem to complete workouts intended to be completed in a single session. This particular workout added up to 1,800 yards and I am lucky to get in 1,000, so I did not expect to finish.

Choose three focal points A, B, C
Tune Up 4x25 on each FP (300)
N=Stroke Count /25yd
Focus challenge: any one FP 4x50, 2x100, 1x200
Gear Chg 1 - 2x25 N, 2x25 N-1, 2x25 N-2, 2x25 N-1, 2x25 N
Gear Chg 2 - 1x75 (N, N-1, N-2), 1x75 (N-2, N-1, N)
SC+time challenge: 5x100 descend in time, SC no greater than N+2.

I did this on Monday and Wednesday morning and both times just got through the first gear change set when my time was up. As I understand it -- I could be wrong -- the goal of the first gear change set is to swim 2x25 at my usual pace, which is what "N" means, then strive to improve technique enough to do two lengths in one less stroke per length, then again for 2 less strokes. If you are not a TI swimmer it will not be obvious that shaving two strokes off your usual SPL value is extremely difficult.

Both times I did this I felt as though the gear change exercise was a drop set, or a lot like slow motion pedaling. Coming after those longer intervals I felt incredibly relaxed during those lengths as I strove to lengthen my stroke. On Monday I had measurable success. My "N" was 23 and for this set my SPL was 23, 23, 22, 22, 21, 22, 22, 22, 23, 23. Hitting that 21 felt really good; I could tell I was swimming better as it happened. On Wednesday my SPL did not drop nearly as well, but even so I felt a return of smoothness that had sneaked away during the preceding long intervals.

I am no expert, but it feels to me as though there is a bonus in putting a drill such as this in the middle of or even towards the end of a session. It teaches our muscles how to get back into an efficient groove after a period of more energetic swimming. In a race we will inevitably get sucked into a period of turmoil that throws us off balance and steals our form. The cause could be other swimmers, or some rough water, or even a bit of nervousness. The better we are at calming down and getting back to good form, the better our race results will be.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Head for the hills

The most challenging aspect of the Ironman 70.3 Hawaii bike course, not counting the wind, is the climb to Hawi. I had the good fortune to do it once, as described here. Building on that experience I added two new things to my routine this week. On Sunday I drove to Haleiwa and rode up highway 99, otherwise known as Pineapple Hill, and today I did the weekly Tantalus ride on Makani Kekoa, my Cervelo P3 tri bike.

For the record, I did not actually ride from Haleiwa all the way to the Dole Plantation and Maze. I chose to share the day with Pattie.

Pattie is an avowed flat-lander. She hates to ride up hills. But, lately she has been softening her stance, and I decided that this was an opportunity to prove to her that she really can climb hills. So we rode together, which meant cutting my ride short. I have zero regret, because it was so satisfying seeing her up on the hill. She took the pic below -- the one in the middle -- to show how high she got. For her this is a Really Big Deal.

The Tantalus climb has some pretty steep sections. I can do it well enough on my Merlin, but it is an extraordinarily light frame and I have a 28-tooth Dura-Ace cassette on a set of HED Ardennes wheels. It practically climbs all by itself. My still mostly stock P3 came with an Ultegra 11-25 cassette and those three extra teeth do make a difference. However, the Merlin has a 53/39 in front while the P3 is a 52/36. To get a real comparison we have to do a little math. Relax, it's not algebra.

Merlin lowest gear 39F / 28R = 1:1.393
P3 lowest gear 36F / 25R = 1:1.44

This tells us that the Merlin has a slightly higher gear ratio, meaning that its crank is spinning slightly faster that the P3's would going the same speed up the hill. Or, the Merlin would feel easier.

Going a step further, the next lowest gear on my Merlin is a 25, same as the P3, so

Merlin next lowest gear 39F / 25R = 1:1.56

In other words, the lowest gear on the P3 falls in between the lowest and next lowest gear on the Merlin. So, if both bikes weighed the same the Merlin should climb better. But they don't weigh the same. Not by a long shot. The P3 may be the latest and best carbon fiber tech, but my trusty Merlin Magia is much lighter. I could definitely feel the difference, the combination of a lower gear ratio and a heavier bike. The good news is, I was strong enough to do the ride.

Let's compare today's Tantalus climb with the last part of the climb to Hawi, roughly equal distances. Below are the map & graph displays from Training Peaks, with Hawi first. (click to enlarge)

Last 4.5 miles to Hawi
Climbing portion of Tantalus ride

The first thing to point out is that Training Peaks does some automatic axis scaling. Here, the vertical axis is not the same scale. Check the elevation gained numbers. For Hawi the gain was 490 ft, followed at the end by a drop of 121 ft as you enter the town. For the Tantalus climb the elevation gain is 1,383 ft. If you can make out the scale markings, along the right side closest to the axis, the Hawi chart is marked 164 - 656, a range of 492 ft., whereas the Tantalus chart goes from 328-1,640 for a range of 1,312 ft. The point here is that Tantalus overall is a much steeper climb than Hawi. Want more proof? The average grade for the Hawi segment is 1.5%, whereas for Tantalus it is 5.7%. Ka-Pow!

Just for kicks let's compare how hard I was working. First, my intent. For Hawi my focus was on experiencing the road, not going all out. I was trying to keep my heart rate in zone 2 as much as possible, but willing to let it rise when the grade because too steep. For today's ride my goal was to start in power zone 3 and hold that until my HR came up and matched, then allow both the get up into the low 4's from time to time. My average HR for the Hawi segment was 124 BPM, and for Tantalus, 129. My HRZ 2 is 111 to 125 BPM, and my HRZ 3 is 126 to 130. So I achieved my goal in both cases, and I ws working a lot harder today.

Now we can compare HR to power. For Hawi my NP was 110 watts, and for Tantalus, 139 watts. I don't know if it is legit to describe NP in terms as zones, but if it is, that would be PZ 2 and PZ 3. Even better proof I was working harder today, except pf course that the overall ride was much shorter.

To be clear, this Hawi segment is not the entire ride, just the last part, the long, steady climb. Before that there is about fifteen miles of ups and downs.

One more thing to look at is average speed. For Hawi, 6.47 m.p.h. For Tantalus, 4.96. Any slower and I would have fallen over, and that is in spite of working at a higher power output. A steeper grade does that.

I didn't get much data on the Pineapple Hill ride, but the portions of the road I did climb averaged around a 3% grade. Halfway between Hawi and Tantalus. I think it flattens out a bit further up the road than I went. From the base of the climb to the Dole installation runs about five miles, so a good Hawi simulation -- endurance-wise -- would be at least two repetitions.

Which brings us to the future. From now on I will be riding Makani Kekoa on Tantalus Tuesdays. I want to get back and ride more of Pineapple Hill, the question is, when. I have to work it around the upcoming half marathon and century ride. There are a few potential dates in there before Honu -- I hope I can squeeze it in. Hopefully I can get Pattie to return and go even further. I know she can do it.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

What I do when I swim

Anyone unfamiliar with organized swimming is sure to be confused by instructions used to tell swimmers what to do at the pool. Here are some typical examples, from a Half Ironman training plan. If you poke around enough swim web sites you can find lots of examples like these.

Down ladder at T-pace
WU: 100 drill, 100 kick, 100 drill, 100 kick.
400 at T-pace. (T-pace is your olympic-distance swim pace per 100).
50 kick easy.
350 at T-pace.
50 kick easy.
300 at T-pace.
50 kick easy.
250 at T-pace.
50 kick easy.
200 at T-pace.
50 kick easy.
150 at T-pace.
50 kick easy.
100 drill.
50 kick easy.
500 swim good form.

WU: 6 x 50 increasing pace slightly each 25.
MS: All are at T-pace:
100 (10”), 200 (15”), 300 (15”), 400 (30”), 400 (30”), 300 (15”), 200 (15”), 100.
CD: 300 easy with emphasis on form.

Long-short at T-pace
4 x 50 descend pace.
300 drills of your choice.
5 x 300 at T-pace (30”).
100 kick easy.
5 x 150 at T-pace (30”).
100 kick easy.
CD: 6 x 50 easy swim.

What is being specified is distance and number of repeats. The unit can be yards or meters and is determined by the size of the pool. Where I swim there are two pools that follow modern American practice; the small pool is 25 yards long, the large pool is 50 meters long. I notice that in these examples there are no lengths less than 50, so these workouts can be down in either pool. "400" would be eight lengths of the 50M pool, sixteen lengths of the 25yd pool. Swimmers don't use "laps" quite the same way as runners; a lap is two lengths, so you end up where you started, same as a lap on the track, but swimmers are more likely to speak in terms of lengths."4 x 50" would mean swim 50 yards or meters 4 times, with a short break between repetitions. What is missing from these workouts is how to improve. Just swimming a lot of yards will only prepare you to swim a lot of yards.

The Total Immersion approach to swimming emphasizes mindful practice and continuous improvement -- kaizen. Every practice session should be designed to address a specific aspect of swimming, with activities designed to explore the nuances and unlock hidden treasures. If there is a single, over-arching goal I would say it is efficiency, which is derived from the combination of balance and streamlining. In TI swimming one does not strive to become stronger, but instead to move easier through the water.

I spend a lot of my time at the pool swimming 25yd lengths while focused on just one thing. I gauge my success through a combination of how it feels and the number of strokes it takes me to get to the other side. Only when I feel successful at the skill I am working on do I consider stringing lengths together for longer distances, and in that case the goal becomes maintaining the desired skill despite fatigue. I can usually go from 25s to 50s without falling apart. It is the third and forth lengths that cause trouble. At the pool I want good form or nothing.

There is always an exception, and this is mine: I like to begin a session with a simple set of increasing distances. Specifically, 4x25, 3x50, 2x75, 1x100. This is not the time to try to change anything, rather it is the time to allow my muscles to loosen up and get reacquainted with each other and the feel of the water. I do try to swim this well. I observe, but avoid self criticism.

My open water sessions are almost the opposite. My primary emphasis is on swimming long and continuously. Not at race pace, rather an effort that is hard enough to create fatigue while giving me a chance to stay focused on form without struggle. My focal points will be whatever I have been working on that week at the pool, along with sighting, but that is only the beginning. A swim in the ocean provides a lot of time without the interruption of banging into the wall. I use this opportunity to go through a checklist, same as I do for cycling and running. I like to start with my feet; how is my kick? Legs straight, kick energy coming more from hip flex, less from knee flex? Hips, in-line and rotating with shoulders? Up near surface, legs falling between kicks without dragging torso down? Core, engaged, participating in kick and stability? Arms. Too much to list here, just run through the entire catch - pull - recover cycle, many detailed points here. Head, down, relaxed, not lifting, smooth, rotation to air? All good, now back to feet. Around and around. Watch for something falling apart, get it back under control.

How much time I spend at each session is largely determined by events beyond my control. The pool where I swim opens at 6:00AM. I tried swimming after work but the teams have both pools until 6:00 or 6:30PM, which had me coming home much too late for the family dinnertime. My schedule allows two morning pool sessions per week, Monday and Wednesday. I must be out of the water by 7:00AM to have any hope of getting to work on time. I can usually get something more than 1,000 yards in, but I remind myself that the pool is not about distance, it is all about refining technique. During the winter I was down to one open water swim a week, and only 600-800 yards at that, finishing just as the sun went down. Now that spring has arrived I am doing two afternoon swims per week, and because the sun does not set until after 6:30 I can easily go a quarter mile. In the coming weeks I hope to extend that, mostly to assure myself that I can swim a mile without falling apart. Once you get going it is the same thing, over and over, until you reach the end.

So that's about it for now. In my experience this will probably change, so if you stumble across this post in some search results you owe it to yourself to check for something more up-to-date. I do want to describe my pool drills in more detail; I'll save that for a future post.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

TI Swim Camp, day #6

The Total Immersion swim camp schedule offered an optional Saturday morning swim, but I opted to ride the Honu bike course instead. Hapuna Beach to Hawi and back. I'm glad I did. Having done it once will make race day a bit less stressful. In the process I grappled with one old challenge and encountered a new one, the legendary winds of Hawi.

My plan was to rent a small SUV for Saturday, drive up to Hapuna Beach, ride to Hawi, have a little lunch, ride back, drop the car off, then relax and enjoy what was left of the day. Well, things don't always go as planned.

I needed to pick the car up in Kona, not the airport. The first few companies I tried were only open Saturday morning, and closed all day Sunday. I was pleased to discover that Hertz was open Saturday and Sunday morning, and because they are in the King Kamehameha Hotel (where the swim camp was held) I could drop off the car Saturday afternoon and leave the keys at the front desk.

Next came how to park. I did not request a parking pass when I rented my room, because I was not planning to have a car at all. Once I decided to rent one for Saturday I was never free when the office was open. I thought about riding to the King K with my extra gear in my back pack, but I was not too keen on renting a car dressed in my bike gear, pushing my bike through the hotel lobby. My solution was to show up looking like a normal guy, drive back and park in the lot next to the open market -- about a hundred yards from my hotel, go up to my room, change, walk the bike and gear back. Minimum time, one hour, for $5.00. I had a five dollar bill and four ones. The parking robot only takes ones, or a credit card. I am uncomfortable giving my credit card to a parking robot (gas dispensing robots are trustworthy -- go figure), so before I could park I headed for the Starbucks drive-through for change and a coffee to enjoy on my drive to Hapuna. The line went out and around the block, so I parked, went inside, and was out and gone in the time that the line moved one, maybe two cars.

Upon arriving at Hapuna I could not resist walking down to the beach to compare conditions with Thursday. It was like night and day. The wind was still fairly brisk, but nothing like the howling gale we had earlier. Plenty of people in the water, splashing and relaxed, having fun. Too bad I did not bring a bathing suit. But it was getting late, anyway. Almost time for lunch and I had planned on being at Hawi by noon. Good thing I packed a couple of Bonk Breaker energy bars.

I punched the start button on my Garmin at 11:26. Immediately I experienced one of the most important lessons of the day. Riding from T1 will be hard. Very challenging. The road is steep, and the winds are against you. There is no possibility of an easy warm up. I was in power zones 6 and 7 from the first crawling pedal stroke trying to go fast enough to prevent getting blown down. Be patient, it will get better.

My goal for the day was to ride as much as possible in power zone 2, a good workout but well below race pace. Honu is not what you call a flat course. I did manage to do a few stretches at a steady 2Z, but the more typical profile was rolling hills, and I do mean rolling. My normalized power for the ride up to Hawi was 112 watts, and 101 for the return. My zone 2 goes from 89 to 120, so my average was pretty much spot-on in the middle, as planned, but I was really hitting 3Z and 4Z fairly often on the hills. Naturally the race average should be up in 3Z. Some of that can come from pushing the climbs harder, and some from keeping the power on during the descents. I need to practise those strategies.

I did make one little goof on the ride up. I stopped my Garmin to take a picture and forgot to restart it. So I lost about thirty minutes of data. Oh well, I have it in my head, and that's what counts.

The old challenge I hinted at earlier was double vision. I have been struggling with this for several years. So far I have found two remedies. First, pretreat my eyes with artificial tears. Second, relax my face. I have had pretty good success with the eye drops, normally not needing to reapply even on rides as long as this one. The face relaxation is a new thing. I think it helps, but it is too soon to say for sure. I packed my Visine but forgot to apply before starting, and forgot to put the bottle in my pocket. I was halfway to Kawaihae and nearly blind when I realized what I had done. I remembered Coach Bill saying there was a convenience store there, so I pressed on hoping they would have some. If not, I would have to go back and start over. As it turned out they did have some eye drops, just not a name brand. Probably nothing more than purified water, because they made my eyes wet but did little to correct my vision. I had to do all of the fast parts with one eye closed. Flying down the highway on the return with one eye closed was pretty scary, resulting in braking when I should not be.

By far the greater challenge was the wind. I have heard stories about the crosswinds, especially from 2012, the year we went to watch Lance Armstrong. Friends reported having their bikes leaning over so far they were afraid the pedals would hit the ground. What I experienced Saturday must have been the same conditions. It was hard enough on the way to Kawaihae, but after that it got even worse. The terrain is rolling hills on the slope of the mountain, so to flatten the highway the engineers cut into the higher hills and filled in some of the lower valleys. When sheltered by a cut the ride was manageable, but as soon as I came out into an exposed section the bike was thrown around like a toy in the mouth of a Great Dane. It tool all my strength to keep the bike on track. Luckily the shoulder is wide, about the same as most of Kalanianaole. On the right is usually dirt, but often a steel guard rail. On the left are a series of little cuts in the asphalt to alert cars they are drifting off the rode. Those things rattle your teeth out and slow you down like soft dirt -- to be avoided at all costs.

The typical sequence would be:
  • Gust from the right, bikes lurches left.
  • Lean bike right to correct. More, more, struggle to hold it.
  • Gust dies down or ride into sheltered spot.
  • Bike lurches right, lean and steer to bring upright and back on course.

Repeat above several hundred times. My arms were getting sore from struggling with the handlebars.

Then there are the obstacles.  In the cutouts there are always rocks to navigate around. Between the cutouts, in the exposed stretches, are keawi branches, complete with long, sharp thorns. There is never a moment you can take you attention off the road conditions, while at the same time keeping an eye on the grass to windward to see when the next gust is coming.

My nutrition plan worked well. My bike carries one bottle between the aero bars and one behind the saddle. I made a four hour Perpetuem bottle for the rear mount and carried water in the front bottle, plus a second water bottle in my bike jersey pocket. The Perpetuem was at 4:1 so I had to take in water whenever I had some, but getting the balance right is much easier than when I run with four scoops in 6 ounces of water. In each half, up and down, I consumed one and a half bottles of water. Since there will be aid stations on race day the extra water bottle will not be necessary. I kept lunch light, a small ham and cheese sandwich on a croissant, and that went down fine.

Did I mention it was raining in Hawi? I was not expecting that. About ten miles from Hawi I began to feel raindrops in the wind, in spite of clear skies. Then the sky slowly clouded over as I rode into the rain. By the time I got to Hawi I was soaked through. Tourists were genuinely surprised I was out riding in the rain, and shocked to hear I had ridden up from Hapuna. I expected rain on the entire trip back, but instead the process simply reversed itself; I rode out of the rain at about the same time the long downhill ends.

It was about 4:30 when I got back to Hapuna. As I drove out onto the highway I took notice of the terrain as we will be riding past Hapuna for eight more miles to the Waikoloa Resort. Two more climbs, then a long decent into T2. Good time to hydrate, spin, and recover for the run.

I am always surprised by how far things are on the Big Island. It seemed to take forever to get back to Kona. Did the same parking drill to unload, with enough time to shower, return the car, and walk back through town for dinner. That plan to relax and enjoy the rest of the afternoon was gone. I did enjoy dinner, but then it was back to my room with a cup of Kona coffee in hand to pack the bike and as much else as possible. That way I could sleep in a bit Sunday morning and still check out in time.

All in all it was a great trip. A bit costly in my frame of reference (I understand some people do this every year!), but well worth the investment. Best of all I finally got to work with fellow TI swimmers and get personalized coaching from TI certified coaches. A big mahalo to Coach Celeste St. Pierre and Coach Bill Greentree for your words of help and encouragement.

Update: On the following Saturday (yesterday as I write this) I did a triathlon bike handling workshop with Ben Williams. His advice is to carry a third bottle on the frame. The aero loss is more than offset by easy access to fuel. Having to pull a bottle from behind the seat every fifteen minutes throughout the ride will slow me down more than the aero losses from a frame mounted bottle. So, one water between the aero bars, same as before, and two fuel bottles.

Friday, March 11, 2016

TI Swim Camp, day #5

The highlight of the day was the morning swim in Kailua Bay.The exact opposite of yesterday's swim at Hapuna. Great weather, almost no wind, no chop, just a gentle northerly current. After swimming out all you had to do was tread water and end up back on shore. Yesterday I took movies to capture the conditions. Today there was little point to movies; stills convey the same message.

This is what the bay looked like when I arrived this morning. Nothing. Not a blip. Kids were making sand castles on the little beach.

Here is my GPS track. We did stop several times as Coach Bill pointed out special features and sighting targets, such as why there is a coke building. I did the mile loop, the advanced swimmers went a little farther.

This is what I looked like after the swim. One happy camper.

The afternoon session was at the home of one of my fellow campers. A beautiful 25yd. pool on a fabulous property way up on the mountain, just south of Kona proper.

Finally got a pic of the entire group, a little bedraggled after a long day of swimming. 

Coach Celeste second from the right, Coach Bill on the extreme left. Both were great teachers. I feel as though I learned a lot. The proof will be when the seeds planted this week sprout and grow in the coming weeks.

Relaxed head. Lower arms on wider tracks. Spear long and straight. Thrust from the hip. Push body forward rather than pull arm back. High hip, low foot, straight legs, hold and glide. Spend plenty of time on alternate breathing. Wow, so much to work on.

For dinner I ate at a place with a view of the bay. Toasted the end of class with a glass of Fire Rock.

Tomorrow I ride the Hapuna - Hawi loop.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

TI Swim Camp, day #4

Today was field trip day, sort of a rest day in the larger context of the week. On Tuesday and Wednesday we discussed options and the overwhelming preference was for Hapuna Beach. Perfect for me as that is where is race will be. I have been there twice before and the bay was like a lake. The first time it was a little windy on race morning, enough to dislodge one of the buoys, but there was hardly any wave action. Looking to the upcoming race, the challenge for me is to swim the distance and not miss the cut-off time. Which is to say, I never thought conditions would be a challenge, the not like Queen's Surf.

Just our luck then that the cold front that has been kicking up waves in Kailua Bay moved south far enough to trigger high wind warnings for the northwest coast of the Big Island. Winds 15-30 with gusts to 50. Large vehicles beware. When we arrived the guy at the guard house collecting parking fees pointed out that it was very windy and rough, no good for swimming. We assured him we were experts and went on in. Down on the beach Coach Bill huddled with the life guards. Don't know what was said, but probably something like "I'll keep an eye on these folks but might need a hand if conditions deteriorate." He did report that we were advised to stay on the north end of the beach due to larger waves on the south end.

I don't know if it was the surf or the wind but one of our group decided not to go in. Maybe she hasn't been around the ocean enough. To me it looked just like Kailua Beach on Oahu. Fast, short-lived shore break not more than waist high. No big deal.

I should have started my Garmin sooner. As it was we were ready to head out and it was still searching for satellites. Too bad the Fenix2 does not have a "start now and add on the GPS data when it becomes available" mode. At least in open water mode it will not start the timer until it has found a GPS signal. So, I headed out through the waves to were the water was finally deep enough and calm enough to swim, at which point it found GPS happiness and I could start my track.

I can't say for sure but about five minutes later the wind went absolutely crazy. The chop we have had all week now had streams of spray blowing across the surface of the water, making breathing impossible. When my face was down in the water things seemed normal, but every time I came up for a breath I was overwhelmed by total pandemonium. I hung on a bit more but with growing concern that my trying to stay with the advanced swimmers going parallel to the beach was putting everyone at risk of having to break off and come back to rescue me. Having decided the conditions were beyond my ability to manage safely I decided to swim back in. Along the way I hooked up with another swimmer and Coach Bill, who led us back to the beach.

The good news is that I was never felt panic. Just a felling that this was more than I could handle. Maybe had I stuck it out I could have made it to the north end, with the others, but I just did not feel safe attempting it today.

Here is a short movie I shot after I returned to show how bad conditions were. Sorry about the camera movement, I was holding as still as possible. Pay attention to the spray coming off the top of the waves. That is what was causing me so much trouble.

After the swim we all had lunch at a nice place in Kawaihai called Cafe Pesto. Then the group decided to keep the party feeling going with a really nice dinner at a wonderful place up above Kona called Holuakoa Cafe. I thought of it as a birthday outing and splurged on a steak and a glass of Merlot. A happy ending to a not so successful day.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

TI Swim Camp, day #3

Today was a day of contrasts. The morning swim was at the Kona Community Aquatic Center 25 yd. pool. Calm water perfect for underwater video. Afternoon swim was like Monday in Kailua Bay, only this time the chop was even worse. Local weather was much better than Monday, sunny and warm, only a light breeze, but further up the island chain the winds have been howling. That might explain the chop today. We split into three pods. One group did the full half mile, mine turned around at the fifth swim marker buoy, and a few stayed close to shore. My Garmin Fenix2 only credited me with 574 yds in 17 minutes, even though it felt like an hour.

The contrast went beyond weather. The morning session was about integrating what we have learned so far. The afternoon swim was a reminder that as nice as the new technique may be, when the chips are down and the waves are tossing you around like a sock in a washing machine you always revert back to what you know. As bad as it may be. Same thing like comfort food. The goal is to get the new technique so ingrained that it becomes what you go to in situations like today.

I haven't been taking any pics of class because there isn't time, and I don't want to lose my phone should some goofball snatch my beach bag. On Monday I packed it in the really cool swim buoy we all use for the long swim. Problem is, things inside get cold and the air trapped inside covers stuff with a layer of moisture from condensation. My phone came out damp, although unaffected - inside a Zip-Lock bag! So since then I leave it in my room.

Tonight was laundry night. That or buy a bunch more underwear. As soon as I got the wash going I headed off to ABC for some breakfast bread -- Taro Sweet Bread -- and grabbed some bottles of chocolate milk, my favorite recovery drink. This brand comes with extra protein! With the clothes in the dryer I headed down Ali'i Drive in search of dinner and came across a bazillion people waiting to watch the sunset. Today's lingered for over thirty minutes. Made me think about those old San Miguel commercials that used to play on the radio when I was in college.

When all the chores were done I busted out my birthday gift from Pattie (I know Sonya had a hand in it), an essential oils kit especially for athletes. The brand name is "doTerra." The stuff I tried tonight is "deep blue rub." Works great.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

TI Swim Camp, day #2

Today was all about recovery and how to connect the arm motion with the hip and leg action we worked on yesterday. Fortunately the air was not as cold as Monday, so even though the water was cool we did much better.

Did a neat dry land rehearsal of the recovery action with emphasis on elbow leading hand. My right arm especially tends to throw the hand forward. On the sand it is easier to feel how the descending leg lifts the opposite hip. All rolling action should come from the hip, not the arms and shoulders.

The morning session ended with our second video shoot. After lunch we gathered in the lobby to view day #1 and day #2 video. Astonishing how much better we all have gotten, and we did well at spotting errors. For the remainder of the afternoon we had a choice of a log swim in the bay or drill practice in the lagoon. We all opted for the lagoon, a better choice for integrating all out new skills and sensations.

Looks like we will be swimming at Hapuna Beach on Thursday. Great news for me, as I can get familiar with the layout and sighting objects. Coach Bill has done Honu and should be a gold mine of advice.

After the afternoon session I cleaned up a tad and rode my bike to go shopping. Stopped at the bike shop for co2 and a spare tube, then off to Longs for toilet paper and laundry detergent. As I approached my place I ran into fellow camp attendees sitting on the sea wall to watch the sunset. I sat with them, a pleasant way to end the day.

Monday, March 7, 2016

TI Swim Camp, day #1

Whew! What a day. Two great sessions, all at the ocean and 90% swimming; I assumed there would be more lectures and films. Two hour morning session on the beach fronting the King Kamehameha Hotel, mostly drills with enough swimming to integrate. I ran my Garmin Fenix2 for kicks and logged 617 yards in 1:40. I was only credited with 13 calories, but I am sure I burned way more trying to keep warm. Water temp and air temp were low 70s and TI drills like superman glide just do not warm you up. We were all chilled to the bone after the first hour. I wore a long sleeved shirt, mostly for sun protection, and changed to my Rip Curl wet suit top for the afternoon session. Several others returned in full wet suits. We survived.

The afternoon began with a long swim. About average for me, 1,900 yards in 0:50 (I have to estimate because I forgot to stop the timer when I finished), for a pace of 2:32. Anything better than 3:00 is good for me. Still a lot of room for improvement.

During the morning we did a hip rotation drill that was really beneficial for me. Laying face down on the sand, practicing the arm - shoulders - hips - feet action that initiates the roll and pull. I am very discombobulated there. I was not the only person struggling with this. In fact, everyone was, just not for the same reason. So, after the long swim we went back to the beach and worked on it some more. I predict we will get that again tomorrow.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

First time packing the bike

There is a first time for everything, and today was the first time I packed Makani Kekoa, my new Cervelo P3 tri-bike, into its Timbuk2 bike case. 

I have taken road bikes to Maui for the Hana ride, but for those trips Frank Smith prefers we use minimal wrapping, just bubble wrap over the more exposed frame tubes, and let the ground crew carry the bikes on and off the plane. This makes sense when there are a dozen people in the group and only one sag wagon. We arrive in Kahalui, get the bikes road worthy, stuff the bubble wrap in the sag wagon and ride off. A dozen bike bags who require a van all to themselves.

The first bike I took to Maui was a Davidson steel frame. Great bike -- I still have it and really should ride it more. Then came my Merlin, in all its titanium glory. Both bikes, especially the Davidson, are capable of withstanding a reasonable level of banging around. Carbon fiber is strong, but even so I feel uncomfortable exposing my new baby to potential mistreatment, so it will travel in a bag. 

Honestly, I intended to take more pics to document the process but I was so worried about getting it done I forgot. So all you see is the beginning and the end. Hopefully I will have the presence of mind to grab some shots as I unpack.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Preparing for Kona Swim Camp

Next week, March 7 - 12, I will be attending a swim camp put on by the good folks at Total Immersion Swimming. TI holds a lot of smaller sessions across the nation, but this is the only way for residents of Hawaii to get a real TI experience without flying to the mainland. Viewed from that perspective it is a much better deal. Besides, spending an entire week focused on swimming without the distractions of work and everyday life allows for maximum skills improvement.

I will be taking my bike and running gear, but the swim schedule is pretty full. I hope to get in one good, long ride along the Queen K. just to get a feel for it. I may even rent a car to drive up to Hapuna Beach and ride out to Hawi, basically covering the race route. I will investigate transportation options once I am there.

I have promised myself I will keep a daily journal. Otherwise I'll forget 90% of what we did! I will try for some pics and videos but not if it becomes a distraction -- I am there to participate, not just document. No better inspiration than to promise to post updates here, so look for a series of posts from Kona next week.

Here is the itinerary. The Saturday swim is optional. My return flight is not until 4:00PM Sunday so I have some options for the long ride.

Monday, March 7th
8:30 AM –Meet for greeting and orientation.
9:00 - 11:00 First swim at the King K beach.
11:00-2:00 – Lunch break
2:00- 3:30 – Drills, Skills, and practice on the beach.
3:30-4:30 – Debrief and Video at the King K

Tuesday, March 8th
9:00 Meet on the beach at the King K
9:00-11:00 – Swim & Debrief
12:00-2:00 – Lunch break
2:00-4:30 - Swim session and debrief

Wednesday, March  9th
9:00 AM - Meet on the beach at the King K
9:00- 11:00 – Swim & Debrief morning swim.
12:00-2:00 – Lunch break
2:00-3:30 - Swim session at the King K beach.
3:30-4:30 – Debrief

Thursday, March 10th
9:00 AM – 2:00 PM– Meet in front of the King K to depart for a swim field trip. We will stop for lunch on our way home from swim.
2:00 -Your afternoon is free to rest or explore!

Friday, March 11th
9:00 AM - Meet on the beach at the King K
9:00-11:00 – Swim & debrief morning swim.
12:00-2:00 – Lunch break
2:00-3:30 – Meet on the beach for swim session.
4:00-4:30 – Debrief

Saturday, March 12th
9:00 AM – Meet on the beach for farewell swim followed by departure.

For the fact checkers out there the pic is not Kona. Can you guess where it is?