Timberman Part 2

I recently participated in Ironman Timberman, a half-iron distance event. I didn’t end up finishing, but I exceeded my own expectations. I managed to do the swim in 1:03 and got 53 miles on the bike course before the cutoff time.

What I learned: practice long distance cycling is key, and the good news is that it isn’t terribly hard to train. I felt confident I could have done the run section, if I had managed to finish the bike.

The swim went well, although I was clearly going too slowly. I think it shouldn’t be too hard to fix my swim form. The key, I think, is kicking from the hip — I seem to have problems with my feet dangling. Everything else about my stroke seems much better after taking those swim classes.

Owning a new wetsuit would be nice as well. My old wetsuit just seemed too tight, and I ended swimming without it.

For the rest of the year, I think I’ll focus on running, a sport that doesn’t have as high setup costs. I’m currently looking to do a 5k at the end of October, with a goal race time of 24 minutes. Perhaps I will return to Ironman next year, or the year after (depending on my travel schedule after graduation). I definitely want to do it, and I think I have a much better appreciation of exactly how much I need to train each sport, and what I need to do, to finish.

I’m going to try updating this blog more often as well, to keep myself honest about doing research. I gotta up my productivity. I’m very excited for this fall and hopefully will have more to say soon on both work and running fronts.

Swim lessons

I’ve begun weekly swim lessons. Some key points for improvement:

  • Kick with knees locked
  • Face down always
  • Turn head to breathe when hand is already in air. (Raise leading arm if I start sinking here.)
  • Stab hands into water — don’t reach.
  • Keep a leading hand in front at all times.
  • Core should do almost all the work — kicking is a waste of energy.

Ironman 70.3: Timberman


Since it’s looking like I won’t make Ironman Mt. Tremblant, my brother convinced me to switch my registration to a Half Ironman, the Ironman 70.3: Timberman race in New Hampshire. I’ll be able to drive to this race much more easily, and it’ll be a better match for my abilities.

The official Athlete Guide is here, and the schedule is here.

Swim: 1.2 miles – Cutoff: 1′ 10″

Bike: 56 miles – Cutoff: 5′ 30″

Run: 13.1 miles – Cutoff: 8′ 30″

To swim 1.2 miles in 1′ 10″ (let’s say 50″ to play it safe) I’ll need to swim 25 meters in 38.76 seconds. My pool has 25 yard laps, so I’ll need to do a lap in 42.2 seconds. I feel like this is fairly within reach.

Now supposing something goes wrong and I take the full 1′ 10″ for the swim, that gives me 4′ 20″ remaining for the bike, or 12.9 mph average pace. I’d probably want to target around 16-17 mph in order to hit this. (26 kph, from my bike computer’s point of view).

Then I have 3 hours left for the run. I’d actually have to run here… if I walk at a 15″/mile pace, I’ll only complete 12 miles, but I need to do 13.1. So I’ll have to do something like run the first hour at a 10 minute mile pace, get 6 miles under my belt that way, then spend the next two hours doing 8 more (with some room to spare since 6+8 = 14). I don’t particularly want to run, since I haven’t trained for this distance and there’s a decent chance of getting injured.

Over the next few days, I’ll try to get in the pool and on the bike to see how feasible they are.

A week of workouts

Tuesday, Apr 21st:

Did some cycling intervals at home.

Wednesday, Apr 22nd:


7.5 mile bike ride up to the beginnings of the Minuteman Trail.

Actually, I accidentally started on the wrong trail, but it didn’t matter because a minute later, my chain popped off!bg

At first, I was trying to open the chain and put it back on, but I couldn’t figure out how. By shifting gears I managed to get it around my smaller gear in the front. I think the problem may have been an “in-between” front derailleur setting that I find useful when using my hardest back gear.

Just in case, I set the bike to a middle-of-the-road gear and kept it there on the ride back home.

Thursday, Apr 23:

I usually take Wednesday off, but since I rode then, I used Thursday to take my bike into the shop.

Friday, April 24th:

Went to the pool around 10pm and did some “intervals.” I use quotes since I only lasted for about three of them… I then filled out the rest of a 20min workout with continuous swimming at a slow pace.

Saturday, April 25th:

Off day

Sunday, April 26th:

Did a 2.6 mile run at a relatively easy pace. By my calculations (my Garmin wasn’t working again…) it was 8:30 miles. I can tell that I’m in better shape now, actually, the only problem is that I need to pace myself with these runs so I don’t exacerbate my shin splints.

Finishing the week

I ended up skipping my run on Wednesday to recover my legs, and got in the pool for a swim on Thursday. My lap times seemed pretty good; I did 10x intervals at 35 seconds per lap.  Now I just need to get it down to 30 and make it aerobic…

I’ve also found that my fastest swim stroke seems to include:

  1. ensuring that my shoulder is completely out of the water while the corresponding arm is, to avoid drag
  2. thrusting my arms into the water at an angle, forward (it almost seems counter-intuitive that thrusting my arm forward would make me move forward rather than backward?). This is relevant to my previous posts on Ian Thorpe or Michael Phelps, I forget which.
  3. Not necessarily putting my face all the way down into the water. This does seem to give some speedup, but my head needs to get really low in order for my back to flatten out on the surface. That makes it much harder to breathe and, I think, messes up my stroke by introducing a lot of drag during breathing.

I was hoping to swim yesterday, but the pool was closed, so I did a run outdoors. My Garmin wasn’t working, but I estimate the distance as around 2.5 miles, based on the map. I ran quite fast for probably 3/4 of a mile (after I gave up on getting my Garmin to work); jogged the rest.

Swim workout: day 2 of speed

Went to the pool again yesterday to try to build speed. Didn’t manage to get much faster, but did my exercises. I did notice that my heart rate wasn’t always at the level I wanted (a bit over 160) — I found I was running out of breath before I was able to do that.  But I did manage to get it generally into the 150-160 range.

Slept in today because my body felt like it needed it. Hopefully that will translate into some speed gains. I’m still quite tired, for whatever reason.

Swim workout: building speed

Went to the pool last night and executed my plan for interval training.  Some observations:

1. I must have been fooling myself to think I could do 25 yards in 45 seconds continuously. It’s probably more like 50 or 55 seconds.

2. When fresh, I can do the 50y in 1 minute, take a 15 second break, then do the next 50y.  But later into the workout I found myself taking more like 1:10 or 1:15, then taking a 20 or 30 second break.

3. Methodologies 2 and 3 are fairly unnecessary since I’m already pushing myself pretty hard when I do methodology 1. I probably should just do 2 sets of that (I didn’t really have time for a third set).

4. My heart rate towards the end of the workout was around 150-160. My max heart rate is supposedly 194 (although I’ve never seen any instance of that in all my training). 85% of that is 165, so I’m probably coming in a little below target effort for high intensity exercise, although not by much.

5. The 15 second breaks are quite convenient for measuring your heart rate.

I have a dinner tonight so I’m going to try to swim at lunch, but I’m fairly tired now so I’m not sure how well it’s going to go.

Training updates

  1. Missed the gym yesterday due to MLK day; pool was closed.
  2. I think it’s time to work on speed rather than technique when it comes to swimming.
  3. It’s probably reasonable for me to try to swim 100 yards in 2 minutes. (I’ve seen 100 yards in 1.5 minutes quoted online, but my current speed is something like 100 yards in 3 minutes).
  4. I think my swim intervals will be based on this website:
    1. 10 x 50y intervals, with 15 second breaks.
    2. 10 x 50y intervals, with a total of 1:15 for each interval.
    3. 5 x 50y intervals, swim as fast as possible, and break up the sets with a slow lap.
  5. This interval program should take about 40 minutes, which is my usual swim time.
  6. Some of the claims about swim speeds are truly ridiculous — like people saying they can swim 100 yards in a minute. (I don’t doubt it, but these guys are swimming 3x faster than I.)
  7. My Theraband that I was using for physical therapy broke yesterday; I’ll try to get a new one today.

Swim workout: Finalizing technique?

Had a bit of a breakthrough on my stroke technique today. It’s a bit hard to explain, but I tried getting my hand way out of the water, and keeping it out, until I had rotated my body to stretch it far forward, ready to enter again.  The effect of this was to cause my body to lie more flat in the water, which raised my shoulders and armpits above the surface.  In turn, this allowed me to swim much more rapidly — I felt like I was gliding on the surface, propelled forward like a strange water strider.

With my new stroke, I was able to get my best lap time down to around 30 seconds, where before I was struggling to get 37.

I experimented with some other technique changes as well, but the results were inconclusive.

I’m starting to suspect that the ideal head position may vary by person, so long as it’s “reasonably” pointed downwards.  The trade-off is that a higher head position allows you to put more power into the stroke (since you have an arched back), and it also facilitates breathing without raising your head too much because there is a bigger bow wave.  Naturally, you generate much more drag with the face not pointed straight down, so there’s a big disadvantage too.

This video of Ian Thorpe shows him with a rather high head position, so clearly it works well enough for the best:

This video came from this site, which has more info on head position.

Another interesting observation from the Thorpe video is that he enters his arms into the water at about a -20º angle (if 0º means putting your arm flat on the surface of the water, and -90º means putting it in straight down pointing toward the bottom of the pool).  However, he doesn’t just start pushing from that angle. Rather, he rolls, allowing him to stretch his arm and actually straighten it to a 0º position, except under and parallel to the surface of the water.

I tried doing the “Thorpe stroke,” but it didn’t seem to work too well for me. I find that placing my hands directly on top of the water and pushing down helps me stay flat on the surface and stop tilting, which would cause drag. It also helps me reduce drag by aiding breathing — under Thorpe’s stroke, I have to raise my head a bit and thus tilt my body away from horizontal.  Nevertheless, I did notice Thorpe’s stroke was a bit more efficient, presumably because I’m not wasting energy pushing down.  It also encourages more body rotation, which is supposedly an efficient way of using your core muscles to help you swim.

I think I’m more or less good on my technique now — there are certainly things I could improve, but it might be good for me to move toward a focus on building speed by doing intervals.

Swim workout: Learning to breathe

Most recently, I’ve been working on my freestyle technique. I found that they key to being able to do it aerobically was to change my breathing technique.  Until I changed, I was constantly getting water in my nose and mouth, making it difficult to breathe fully.

For me, the secret was the following breathing algorithm:

1. Do not “blow bubbles” underwater with your mouth or nose.  Although this can help the efficiency of your stroke, if you don’t have enough air to blow out when you surface, it’s too easy to end up inhaling water.

2. Turn the head to the side, just out of the water. Don’t turn too far or you’ll actually fall in deeper.

3. While turning the head, keep your mouth closed, and forcefully blow out air and water from your nose.

4. When fully out of the water, open the mouth briefly to inhale, then close it well before turning the head back.

In this setup, one always breathes out from the nose, and breathes in through the mouth.  Thus water never really has a chance to get into your system and cause you to cough or choke.

I spent my 40 minute workout today trying to improve my breathing system.  I think one error I’m making is turning my head too much out of the water, so my body starts dragging in the water, instead of remaining hydrodynamic, like a torpedo.  I practiced keeping one goggle glass in the water while breathing, but it didn’t seem to help too much.

Indeed, I’m not sure my breathing is the main problem with my technique: I tried swimming a bit while holding my breath, and I didn’t seem to go appreciably faster.  Unfortunately, I forgot my watch, so this was fairly subjective (to the extent I quantified it, it was based on whether I took more or fewer strokes to cross the pool).

I did experiment a bit with swimming on my side at different angles to the bottom of the pool.  It’s incredible how much faster you can go when your body is parallel to the bottom of the pool, rather than dragging in the water.  That clearly demonstrates that keeping head turning to a minimum is important.

Supposedly you can breathe in the “bow wave” formed by your movement in the water.  I’ve honestly never been able to observe this. Maybe I’m already doing it?

I also experimented with different arm strokes (again, the idea of thrusting my hand into the water at an angle, versus putting it in flat and letting it drop).  The hand thrust system does seem a little better, but not much.  It also makes breathing a bit more difficult, since I can’t push off the surface of the water to raise my head enough to take a breath.  (My head isn’t close enough to the surface to easily just turn and breathe.)

Rotating my body also seemed to help a bit in terms of speed.

Overall, a fairly inconclusive day.