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Archive for the ‘Swimming’ Category

When last I wrote, I had just finished my second full marathon, the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon, in 3:57:29 (marathon recap Part I and Part II), and signed up for my third full marathon in Long Beach this coming October.

Since then, while I haven’t been blogging, I have been swimming, biking and running and I’ve got the miles to prove it!

May, June and July Miles

Swim: 2.75, 4 and 2 miles for a total of 3.86 hours in 10 workouts

Bike: 54.47, 97.97 and 111.17 miles in 17.87 hours in 20 workouts

Run: 110.32, 73.16, 110.4 miles (interesting to me that the mileage went down in June as I recovered from the May marathon, then picked right back up in July as I started training for the next marathon) for a total of 49.93 hours in 36 workouts

Strength training: 1.65 hours, 2.9 hours, 2 hours in a total of 24 workouts (an average of 2 per week).

Add in a few other amazing workouts hiking, kayaking, and even stand-up paddleboarding (LOVE IT)!

With the kids out of school for the summer I logged a lot of miles at the gym while the kids stayed in the gym day care. That explains the bump up in the bike mileage as I cranked out mile after mile on the gym stationary bike while I listened to audiobooks and/or played backgammon on the bike computer.

I also had the opportunity to travel all over the country this summer and I took full advantage of it to run in Washington, DC, Seattle, San Francisco, and the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains.

Random Summer Photo

This view was my reward for running 20 miles along the trail by Crystal Springs Reservoir in the northern Santa Cruz Mountains in San Mateo County, California

This view was my reward for running 20 miles along the trail by Crystal Springs Reservoir in the northern Santa Cruz Mountains in San Mateo County, California

Fall Goals

Right now I’m in my ninth week of marathon training for Long Beach. Seven and a half more weeks to go until the marathon on October 13th! Training is going exceptionally well. Yesterday I cranked out two 7:11 miles in my speed workout followed by 2 800m repeats at 8.6 miles per hour. My goals for the marathon are simply to improve my fueling strategy and beat my PR of 3:57:29.

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During the last two and a half months of “off-season” I’ve been following a loose plan of running three days per week and cross-training at least two other days. During triathlon season, my cross-training would consist of a mix of swimming and cycling. Ever since the Nautica Malibu olympic distance triathlon though, I’ve wanted a break from swimming. Maybe it was all the work I did on open water swimming, but I simply burned out on spending time in the water. What is an off-season for if not to recharge and ready oneself to get back to training as usual?

Me entertaining myself with the old cell-phone-photo-in-the-mirror trick, showing you how my Nautica Malibu tri cap happens to match my favorite TYR reversible swimsuit.

Me entertaining myself with the old cell-phone-photo-in-the-mirror trick, showing you how my Nautica Malibu tri cap happens to match my favorite TYR reversible swimsuit.

Somehow, fate conspired to get me back into the water. Last week I helped my fifth grader get ready for her “Famous American” oral report on Clara Barton (founder of the American Red Cross). My daughter and I shopped at the thrift store for a long skirt in keeping with the Civil War era clothing. She tried on several skirts with a white blouse we also found on the rack. I asked her if we should buy the white shirt too, but she insisted she had a blouse at home already. “Does it still fit you? Do you know where it is?” Yes, yes. In reality? No, no. That’s how, the day before the report was due, I found myself back at the thrift store, plunking down $3 for that darn white blouse.

What does all that have to do with swimming? Well, the outdoor pool is just down the road from the thrift store. If I was going to drive to that part of town, I might as well stop in at the pool. Fate had spoken: Angela, GET IN THE WATER. So I did. And it felt great! Outdoor swimming in the winter in California can be a fun treat (really!) The weather was sunny and in the 70s, but cool enough that the pool water felt warmer than the air so it was easy to jump in the pool. I made up my own swim set for a simple 40-minute workout:

Angela’s Don’t Get Bored in the Pool, Completely Random Swim Set

200 yards freestyle
200 yards breaststroke
200 yards backstroke
200 yards freestyle kick with kickboard
repeat above
plus 1 lap your choice to make it a full swim mile (33 laps).

I swam at a leisurely pace with no rest intervals in between. I suppose I should start throwing some speed work in to my swim workouts sometime soon. I don’t have a triathlon on my calendar right now but I do like to stay in shape in the pool. I plan to start picking from some of these 50 Swim Workouts. That requires printing out the workout and putting the paper in a Ziploc bag so it doesn’t get wet poolside, but I trust that someday I will be organized enough to plan ahead and do just that!

Do you cross-train with swimming or train for triathlons? What’s your favorite workout in the pool?

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As I prepare myself to race SheROX San Diego 2012 this coming Sunday, I’m looking back at my journal account of my first triathlon, SheROX San Diego 2011. Kudos to SheROX for putting on a great race for beginners and experienced athletes alike! Good luck to all the ladies out there this weekend! I’ll be the one grinning like a kid on the bike! 😉

I didn’t have too much trouble going to sleep around 9:30 p.m. Saturday night, but I did wake up around 3:30 a.m. and had trouble going back to sleep. The excitement of race day kicked in early! I got up and used the coffee maker to brew one cup of coffee and heat one cup of water for oatmeal. The coffee tasted great but the oatmeal I had to choke down. I was still pretty nervous but also thrilled that race day was finally happening!

I headed out in the car around 5 a.m. and arrived to find transition open (it wasn’t supposed to open til 5:15). I managed to snag a prized spot on the end of a rack for my wave, #8. It was strange to be out there at 5:15 in the dark, but there was a nice energy under the lights. I was all set up by 5:45 and even took my bike to the free bike service booth for the guy to pump my tires and check my gears/shifting and have him put it in the right gear for me to get started on the bike in the race. I re-racked my bike and was all set.

My SheROX volunteer mentor Megan had looked me up on Facebook and she approached me to say hello and answer any last minute questions. I had her talk me through where the Run In, Bike Out, Bike In, Run Out locations were and brainstorm how I could best get around the transition area quickly. She helped ease my mind a lot.

I hustled back to the hotel to pick up Mike and the girls. It was hard for them to get up early but they did it with the promise of food. We got back to the race area at 6:30 right before the officials closed the roads. I could have parked and walked but it was nice that we made it before we had to do that. I had gotten in my wetsuit in the hotel. It helped to wear my wetsuit for 45 minutes before the race because I got it adjusted properly and got used to it and got rid of the choking feeling it gives me.

Once I was all set up in transition and in my swim gear and at the proper place with the other athletes, I felt less anxious. Still a little nervous but just enough to be good for me for the race. The race officials went over the water course, which was a little different than the diagram that had been on the web. Thank goodness there were huge orange buoys to mark the sprint course, and yellow buoys for the super sprint.

We all stood at attention for the national anthem. Then the waves started going, starting with the two elite athletes. It helped to watch those waves go to know best how to position myself and get to the start line. It was an in-water start at Mission Bay. Go over the timing mat, down the ramp, and then swim out to the green start buoys and tread water. Some of the waves walked as far as they could instead of swimming, and that meant that when the starting horn sounded a minute or so later, they weren’t at the start line! I made sure I was out front and ready to go. It annoyed little rule-follower-me that some of the other women in my wave got 5-10 feet in front of the start line. I didn’t say anything though. This race was me vs. me and I didn’t need to worry about them.

SheROX swim

I love an in-water start as opposed to a shore start.

I knew when the announcer said, “Racers on your mark” that it would only be a few seconds until the horn blew so I was totally ready to go and was one of the first to take a stroke when the horn sounded. That helped me get out early and avoid some of the crush. I breathed every two strokes in the beginning and that helped me overcome the trouble I’d had in the past with feeling out of air on the start of an open water swim. In fact I did less breaststroke on this swim than any of my practice open water swims — I only did breaststroke to sight the buoys and that was just enough to get me some extra air. One girl bumped into me (or I bumped into her — who knows) and I veered a bit left (but on course for the first buoy) to get away from her thrashing. I was pretty free to swim until I started catching some of the stragglers from the previous waves. I ended up finishing with some yellow and green caps from the previous two waves. My swim time was excellent when you account for having to sight for the buoys and avoid the other swimmers. Once or twice I felt held back by people blocking me (not on purpose).

Swim time: 14:44
T1: 3:22

My T1 transition time stunk. Partly I chalk my time up to not having tri gear. It would have saved time to have a tri suit instead of a swim suit and bike shorts and shirt. I could have gone without my socks (but I like them for biking and running). I definitely shouldn’t have put on sunscreen because it was so overcast. I took an extra sip of Gatorade too and I should have just waited until I was on the bike.

I had a little trouble getting my bike shoes locked in the clipless pedals at the mount line. Partly I hadn’t anticipated the race officials yelling at me to keep pedaling. I’m not sure whether they were trying to be encouraging or telling me to get out of the way. Either way it didn’t help. But soon I was off and having a blast on the bike. The ride was so much fun.

SheROX bike

Loving the ride! Look at that smile on my face!

Best part of the race! I booked it and felt great and passed at least a hundred people. I wasn’t counting but I was constantly passing people and could tell that I was catching people from earlier waves because I could see their wave numbers on their calves. Someone in wave 9 behind me passed me and cheered me on, but then I passed her back and she cheered me some more. 🙂 I never saw her again. At one point she was holding me back and I realized it and decided I shouldn’t let her pace me — I should set the pace. I kept it at 20 mph (although I had no idea at the time – I don’t have a bike computer) and really gave it my all. I knew I wouldn’t be as good as most people on the run and this was my chance to get some time on those people.

Bike: 37:55 (19.67 mph)
T2: 1:21

I did great in T2 I think and that was a very good time for me. I tried to grab water from the aid stations on the run but found it was hard to drink from a cup rather than a sports bottle. My legs felt okay and the limiting factor on the run was my lungs more than my legs. I went as fast as I could without exceeding my aerobic capacity, right up until the final stretch when I pushed it harder. I had a secret goal of finishing the 5K in under 30 minutes. When I was on the course I didn’t think I would make it. I felt tired and had no idea how fast or slow I was going.

SheROX run

Giving it my all at the finish.

It turned out though that I was running at 7 mph and scored a PR with a time of 26:38! I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face and my arms raised in triumph. I heard the announcer say my name and hometown and that felt great!

I grabbed a muffin, banana, orange and a bottle of water. The girls ate most of the food (my three-year-old ate the whole banana!) but I got whatever I could tolerate eating and just basked in the glow of finishing the race and not having any major glitches. I didn’t know my times but we got in line to get a printout. I’m amazed by the technology. I knew right away that I was 22nd out of 121 in my age group and 106 out of 582 overall [those are the unofficial rankings but the official ones are close to that — all in the top 18th and 19th percentiles for finishers]. My total time was 1:23:57 and I’d blown away my secret goal of beating 1:30.

The officials only let athletes back in transition so I told Mike I’d meet him and the girls back at the car but I didn’t know where they’d parked. I was too focused on the race to even remember which lot it was. I found them easily enough though. I changed in the car and we headed back to the hotel to pack up and check out. By the time we got smoothies and pizza for lunch, I was exceptionally hungry.

I drove the 2 hours home and it was pretty funny because Mike and two of the three girls slept. I was the one who needed a nap!

At home I purposely stayed awake so a nap wouldn’t keep me up at night. By 8 p.m. I could hardly keep my eyes open and by 8:30 I was asleep.

Overall I am extremely happy with how it went. I exceeded my goals, didn’t have anything go really wrong, and learned a lot. I don’t know how I’m feeling about doing another race. On the one hand, I met my goal with this one and it went SO well. What if the next one didn’t go as well? [Spoiler: It went well too!] And I did not enjoy the nerves before the race. It would be better next time (my mentor assures me) aside from the usual race day excitement. If I do another, should I bump up to Olympic distance? [Spoiler: I did, for HITS Palm Springs 2011 and Nautica Malibu 2012.] That’s what intrigues me. But am I willing to train for that, and what would be the fallout? I don’t want to do something I won’t keep up after the race. I feel like right now I could do the 1-mile swim and the 24.8 mile bike ride. I’ve never done a 10K run and would need to train for that and of course train for doing all three distances in a row.

Fun to look back at that first race and my thoughts throughout! I’d never run a 10K, but later went on to race 8K, 10K, a half marathon, and now here I am training for my first marathon!

Have you raced SheROX? What was your first triathlon like?

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Long story short: I decided to do the Nautica Malibu international distance triathlon this weekend and I am very glad I did.

It all started with picking the girls up from school a half hour early. “Do they have an appointment?” Ummmm…. “They have my appointment [to pick up my race packet in Malibu by 6 p.m.].” Off we went, safely to arrive at Zuma Beach by 5 p.m. Got my race packet with timing chip, race number, t-shirt (yes I will fit a women’s small I’m-just-wearing-a-poufy-blouse-thank-you-very-much) and bright green swim cap.

Pre-race with triathlon numbers

I swear I’m not five months pregnant.

I discovered I’d be in wave number 10, the last wave, which would start at 7:45 a.m. Not ideal given the forecast for 94 degrees Fahrenheit in Malibu on race day. The guy next to me at the race info board cheered me up by saying, “You don’t look like you’re over 40!” Apparently I was supposed to reply that he didn’t look like he was over 50, but I dropped the ball on that one. I told him to chalk it up to my race nerves.

We camped for the weekend at Leo Carrillo State Beach Campground just nine miles up the road from Zuma. I felt a few adrenaline rushes over the course of the evening as I thought about the race the next day, but I calmly went about the job of sticking my race number on my helmet, twist-tying it on my bike, and pinning it on my race belt. Yes, pinning it on, because I discovered that my four-year-old had taken the race number toggles off my race belt. I’d seen them around the house the day before but made no connection that that’s what they were. Stinker. Safety pins worked fine.

We got to bed around 10:30 p.m. and I had little trouble going to sleep in spite of my race jitters. I guess that’s the advantage of no taper and my exhaustion at the end of a busy week and long drive. All too soon my alarm went off at 4:15 a.m. I chowed down a bowl of Corn Flakes and skim milk and a slice of whole grain bread. Not my usual pre-race meal because in all my effort to be less uptight about races, I forgot to pack the oatmeal. Oops.

We loaded everyone up into the car under the starry sky. I felt bad to awaken the girls at that early hour, but that was the only way they’d be able to see me at the event and they wanted to film and photograph me for a school project. My four-year-old was such a trooper. She jabbered away the whole time I put her in her car seat. “I love you. You’re the best mom in the whole wide world. Thank you for taking us camping. I love camping.” We arrived at Zuma at 5 a.m., and I quickly unloaded for the long walk to transition, while Mike and the girls went back to sleep in the car. I snagged an excellent spot in transition, second from the front end of my rack. I chatted with Jill from northern California and she helpfully gave me some tips about the course and kept me distracted from any lingering race nerves. Triathletes are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. Competitive sure, but mainly against themselves. They know what it’s taken you to get there on race day, and they want you to have a great race too.

SWIM (1,500 meters, a swim mile)

After a quick race meeting at 6:30, we started the slow walk to the swim start. I downed a PowerBar Green Apple Gel around 7 a.m., just as the gun was going off for the first wave. I waited in the long line to use the women’s restroom one last time but quickly decided the ocean would suit me just fine. I dove in for a warm-up swim and had 20 minutes to spare before my wave start. I bumped into Alma, the woman I’d met at the swim clinic a few weeks before. She’d paid close attention to the earlier swim waves and gave me the advice to start off to the left of the pack because the ocean current was pushing swimmers right up the shore and past the first buoy. I’m telling you, triathletes are the most generous people (and I did try to pay back some of that generosity on the course).

Nautica Malibu swim start

Less nervous than just plain excited at this point!

As we waited for our wave to start, the ocean waves got bigger and bigger! Another disadvantage to the late start time. Thank goodness I had practiced at Zuma Beach twice before. Two people in my wave actually had to turn back and DNF. I felt so bad for them, knowing that the first time I’d tried to swim out past the waves in my practice swim, I’d had to turn back and try again later.

I started out strong and did a good job entering the ocean. I battled my usual problem of adrenaline at the start and felt I couldn’t catch my breath. I never have a problem like that in the pool, so it’s particularly frustrating to me on race day. After I rounded the first buoy of six, I flipped to my back for some backstroke to get my breathing under control. At that point, the thought crossed my mind that I never wanted to do a triathlon again. That is laughable to me now that it’s done! It took me a long time in the swim to get to where I could do more freestyle than backstroke. I hit my groove by about the fourth buoy. I was going strong as I rounded the sixth and final one, and I swam hard for shore. I managed to catch two waves and on the second one, I body surfed so far in that I landed on my knees on the sand! What a rush!

Swim time: 28:17, a PR over my prior HITS Palm Springs time of 31:11.
Swim rank: 608 of 1142. Lots of room for improvement (a nice way to put it).

T1

I walked up the beach, mindful of not running barefoot on the sand with my plantar fasciitis. I’m sure that cost me some time in T1 but I used that time to get my wetsuit down and to catch my breath. I felt great at that point, happy to be out of the water! I had no problem finding my bike rack as I’d paid careful attention at setup in the morning.

T1 time: 3:58. Again, more room for improvement.

BIKE, 24.8 miles

I felt strong heading out on the bike. That part of the race is my absolute favorite and if you asked me which is my strongest suit, I would say that, even though my times don’t bear that out, as you will see.

The course is rolling hills up and down Pacific Coast Highway. I passed a ton of people and was only passed by one person that I did not pass back later. There are a couple of no-passing zones on the course and that frustrated me. I was good about using the time to grab a drink and do some recovery breathing to power myself after the no-passing zone ended. At one point I was slowed by an ambulance pulling out on the course. It was quite sobering, much like the time a lifeguard crossed my path on the swim at HITS Palm Springs. I was so annoyed then until I realized he was saving someone from drowning. Doh!

I couldn’t tell if I was pushing too hard on the bike and would burn out on the run, or if I should push even harder. Unfortunately I had hit the wrong button on my Garmin and it was set for use indoors, only telling me the stopwatch time and not the pace! In retrospect I could have gone a bit faster.

Bike time: 1:18:53, 18.8 mph, another PR over my HITS Palm Springs time of 1:19:25.
Bike rank: 524 of 1142, top 45.9%.

T2

I goofed up racking my bike and had to flip it around but didn’t lose much time with that. I took a few extra seconds to squirt some sunscreen into my hands and I slapped that on as I ran out of transition. I’m sure I looked ridiculous, dripping in sweat and globs of white zinc oxide sunscreen, but it was totally worth it. I have a slight sunburn at the outside edges of what I could reach on my back! I’m guessing by the time I was out on the run, the air temperature had hit 80+ degrees.

T2 time: 2:06. I wish it were under 2!

RUN (10K, 6.2 miles)

My legs felt great for the run. I don’t remember feeling like I had lead legs like I often do coming off the bike. I ran by feel and effort, with no Garmin data to tell me how I was doing. In retrospect that was probably a good thing. I feel like I left everything out on the course. It was HOT and hard, not nearly as fun as the bike portion. I used the 6.2 miles to practice taking in fluids at the aid stations each mile. I missed one aid station, thinking I’d hit the opposite one as the course looped back, but I had misjudged the course and it was a long way back to that point! I was parched by the time I reached the next aid station. I grabbed water to pour on me and Gatorade to drink. The Gatorade tasted like liquid gold and I knew I needed the nutrition.

At one point on the second half of the run, I passed a guy who then uttered, in the saddest Eeyore voice, “Five.” I strongly suspect I was the fifth female to pass him that day! I had to suppress a smile. I’m not even sure he knew he said it out loud.

At mile five, I sped up as best I could, and when the finish line was in sight, I put on the kick. Now I know why I look so hunched over at every finish — I forget all about form (which I had been so good about practicing throughout the rest of the run) and I practically will my body across the finish line, leading with my head and neck! I did finish strong, if not pretty!

Run time: 52:10, a PR over my HITS Palm Springs time of 55:35, but not a PR over my stand-alone 10K time of 51:29. Pace of 8:26.
Run rank: 390 of 1142, nearly in the top third!

Finish time: 2:45:34, a 7:24 PR over my HITS Palm Springs time of 2:52:58. My husband was quite impressed, given what he said was a harder (ocean) swim, a harder (hillier) bike, and a harder (hotter) run.
Finish rank: 9th of 40 in my 40-44 age group, top 22.5%. 60th of 301 females, top 19.9%. 443 of 1142 overall, top 38.8%.

Nautica finish

One happy finisher and one awesome “TRI” husband!

Things I would do differently: (1) work even more on the open water swim and get my breathing/adrenaline under control, (2) practice T1 to get my time down, (3) push even harder on the bike, (4) practice racking the bike so it’s second nature, (5) use spray sunscreen to get those unreachable spots.

Things I’m really happy about: (1) I am super happy with my run time. The main reason I trained for a half marathon last spring was to improve my running form and speed after my last Olympic distance triathlon in December 2011. Mission accomplished! I cannot believe I was nearly in the top third of runners overall, male and female. (2) I’m amazed at my swim time as well, given how much of the swim I did with backstroke, and I know I can do even better next time. (3) Body surfing! (4) I am thrilled that I had a PR for all three disciplines and the finish time.

As much as I debated whether or not to race, I know it was a good decision to do it. My feet feel no worse from the plantar fasciitis than they did earlier in the week, although I know it will likely take me an extra week now to recover and feel as good as they did on race day.

Did you race or train over the weekend? How did it go?

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I confess I have the dread disease that requires me to log every mile of every swim, bike and run, and every minute of exercise. If I don’t document it in at least three places, it didn’t happen, much like if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it. I track my runs and bike rides with a Garmin and/or with MapMyRUN, then record them on MapMyRUN, on my computer spreadsheet, and on my paper marathon training schedule. That’s normal, right? 😉 Just nod and back away slowly, and maybe you won’t catch this dread disease.

The fact is I find the data fascinating and it all helps me keep on track for my triathlon and marathon training. I’ve got an Olympic distance triathlon coming up in two weeks (!!) and the marathon in 10 weeks (!!!) I’ve been following the Run Less, Run Faster beginner’s marathon training plan. It calls for three runs per week (speed work, tempo, and long run) plus at least two cross-training workouts. For cross-training of course I do swimming and biking, a natural fit for the triathlon training. I also throw in some strength training. All that means that I exercise an average of six days per week for an average of six to six-and-a-half hours total. (Now I know that sounds like a lot to someone training for her first 5K, and like nothing to someone training for an Ironman. I don’t compare myself to anyone else (although if you want to leave a comment to tell me how much you’re training for your 70.3 or 140.6, I’d be curious to know the answer!))

For me the week generally looks like this:

Sunday: 60-minute bike ride or 30-minute ocean swim
Monday: rest day, possible 30-minute strength training
Tuesday: 60-minute speed workout, generally 6 miles including warm-up and cool-down
Wednesday: 30-minute swim or 40-minute bike ride, plus 20-30 minutes strength training
Thursday: 60-minute tempo run, generally 6-7 miles (this will be going up as the plan proceeds)
Friday: 30-minute bike ride plus 30 minutes of strength training; optional rest day or only strength training
Saturday: 120-minute long run (soon to be more as I head into new territory with 14+ mile runs!)

It ends up being three runs, two bike rides, one or two swims, and an average of two strength training sessions. By the numbers for August:

Swim miles (a swim mile being 1500 km): 5.25
Bike miles: 101.3 (full disclosure: I count 30 minutes on the spin bike as 10 miles)
Run miles: 100.59 (woo hoo, broke my first 100!)
Number of strength training workouts: 8, for a total of 3 hours 25 minutes

My handy computer spreadsheet shows me a pie chart that compares the ratio of swim to bike to run to weights, all based on minutes. It consistently stays at about 58 percent running, 18 percent biking, 14 percent swimming and 10 percent strength training.

Do you log all of your workouts? In more than one place?! Please confess that I’m not the only one.

What are you training for if anything and what does your mileage and workout time look like recently?

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I had such fun at the open water swim clinic last weekend. Not only did I learn a ton of open water swimming tips from the experts, I definitively answered the question of how to tell a dolphin fin from a shark fin:

dolphin fin versus shark fin

I also learned that these clear critters are not jellyfish that sting, but harmless salps:

Salp

A salp stranded on Zuma Beach in Malibu

A salp pumps water through its body to filter out the phytoplankton. The population of salps (or salpa) ebbs and flows with the bloom of phytoplankton. As the plankton blooms, the salp population grows and feeds on the plentiful food. Salps play an important part in the ocean ecosystem by building up the carbon layer as their poop — and eventually their slimy dead bodies — sink to the ocean floor. A Los Angeles County lifeguard informed us that it’s been 50 years since salp were seen at Zuma Beach.

Thank goodness I was safe from the ravages of diving dolphins and slimy salp! What fun sightings have you made on a recent training swim, bike or run?

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Three weeks before the big race, Nautica Malibu triathletes had the opportunity to participate in a free open water swimming clinic run by Ian Murray and the staff of Triathlon Training Series at Zuma Beach. For just the $12 cost of a USAT one-day membership, I jumped at the chance to learn expert tips on: (1) warming up for an open water triathlon swim, (2) shore start strategy, (3) entering the ocean, (4) swimming after you’ve passed the break, (5) swimming back to shore, and (6) open water swimming drills for the ocean. I happily signed my life away on the safety waiver and donned my wetsuit along with about 50 other athletes.

Swim Clinic

50 hearty souls ready to brave the waves of the Pacific Ocean at Malibu

Here’s what I took away from the clinic (my apologies to the experts if I’ve misrepresented any of their helpful advice!)

Open Water Swimming Triathlon Warm-Up

After a brief pep talk, we started our warm-up with a short jog down the beach before lining up on shore to enter the water. The jog was followed by a swim out to a Los Angeles County lifeguard putting all of his hard training to use by acting as a buoy (huge thank you to him and all the lifeguards out there!) Out and back, the swim loop added up to about 300 meters. I learned to keep in mind the following for the warm-up:

  • Start off first thing by walking in and scoping out the ocean floor with your feet. Watch for drop-offs, rocks, ridges and reefs that could pose hazards. The sand shifts even from hour to hour and by entering the water to check things out, you prevent injury.
  • Plan to do a warm-up shortly before your race start. Do it too long beforehand and you’ll burn extra energy shivering on the shore, but wait too long and you might miss the start of your wave.
  • A warm-up can take the edge off the race-day nerves by burning off some of the adrenaline you may feel before the start.
  • Do an easy effort for the warm-up. If you can, swim out to the first buoy and sight down the line of buoys. Check to see if there’s a building or other feature on land that you can use to sight for the race. For Nautica Malibu, there are two houses on the hill — a white one and a light blue one — that are right in sight in a line about 100 yards out from shore. If you’re out there for a practice drill and not a race, plan to do the first loop of your swim at about a 50% effort.

Open Water Swimming Beach Start Strategy

For a shore start, keep in mind the following:

  • Watch the swimmers whose “waves” start before you. See where people position themselves and gauge where you might fit in the pack. For USAT-sanctioned events, each wave can have up to 150 swimmers. For Nautica Malibu, the waves are organized by gender and age and may contain anywhere from 70-150 swimmers.
  • If you are a confident and fast swimmer, position yourself toward the front to make an early breakaway. If you are not a confident swimmer or you know you will go at a slower pace than most, position yourself on the far edge of the pack and/or at the back of the pack. Prepare to follow the tips below for entering the ocean.

Entering the Ocean

One of the toughest parts of an open water swim in the ocean is the start. It can be intimidating and sap your energy — two things that make it all the more important for triathletes to practice this portion of the swim over and over again. For the clinic workout, we entered the water five times.

  • There are four ways to enter the ocean and get past the break: (1) walk, (2) run, (3) dolphin dive, (4) swim. You will likely use a combination of those techniques that depends on the conditions on race day.
  • When a large wave approaches you, dive under it to avoid being tumbled by it. Hold your hands out together in front of you as if you’re trying to slice through the water. You want to make your dive about five seconds before the wave reaches you.

Swimming after You’ve Passed the Break

After you’ve passed the line where the waves break, you round the buoy and settle into a steady swim.

  • Many people breathe to the left for an ocean swim. For a race like Nautica Malibu, that means you’re looking out to the ocean and can easily drift off course. Practice breathing to the right so you can sight the shore occasionally. Work toward bilateral breathing.
  • Sometimes athletes try to swim freestyle with their heads up to aid in sighting. That can unnecessarily burn extra energy. Try swimming 10 strokes with your head down, then lifting your head briefly to sight before you turn your head to the side to breathe.
  • Make sure to sight off the buoys or a landmark. Don’t blindly follow the person in front of you. He might be drifting off course.
  • Be careful not to confuse the buoys with the brightly-colored swim caps of your competitors. Swim waves often are given different colored swim caps on race day and the red caps just might match those red buoys!
Practicing the open water swim

With those colorful swim caps we look like Skittles candy bobbing in the water.

  • If you need to catch your breath, roll onto your back and float or do a slower-paced backstroke. Triathlon rules permit you to hold onto a lifeguard’s board or a boat, but you cannot ask to be pulled forward. You need to move forward under your own power!

Swimming Back to Shore and Running to the T1 Transition

If you practice in the ocean, the swim back to shore is where you can gain a lead on a lot of your competitors.

  • Swim toward shore while sneaking an occasional look behind you to keep an eye on the waves. You don’t want to be swamped, and you do want to take advantage of a chance to body-surf in. Catch a wave with your body and you can pass many of those around you.
  • You can even flip on your back for some backstroke to keep an eye on the waves, then flip forward again to body surf.
  • If you’re going to get swamped by a wave, turn and face it in time to duck under to the relative calm.
  • Swim and dolphin dive toward shore until you can stand up and lift your knees high out of the water. Kick your feet out to the side to break the water’s surface and gain as much speed as you can.
  • While you’re still in the water, start unzipping your wetsuit. Peel your arms out as you run on shore. Strip down to your waist as you approach T1. The faster you get out of your suit, the easier it is. As your suit drains out the water and starts drying, it sticks to you and makes it that much harder to peel it off. Rip off your goggles and swim cap. Mentally pat yourself on the back and focus on the bike. You conquered the swim!

Open Water Swimming Drills in the Ocean

For the swim clinic, we did the warm-up jog followed by one warm-up loop of 300 meters. We ran around a trash can on shore back to the swim start, rested one minute, and then headed out for another 3 loops. Swim 300 meters, rest one minute, repeat, for a total of 1,200 meters (just 300 meters shy of the 1,500-meter international race distance).

running during open water swimming drills

That’s me in the green cap

For one last drill, we entered the water until we were neck deep. We turned around and practiced exiting the water, stripping down our wetsuits to our waists, running across the sand to the parking lot and completely removing our wetsuits any which way we could!

The clinic boosted my confidence tremendously. What a great opportunity to practice entering and exiting the water, gaining both a mental and physical advantage on race day. I truly appreciated the advice from the experts as well as the chance to meet some fellow triathletes (hi Alma and Alison!)

The experts advised that at this point, three weeks before the key race, we should be swimming two to three times per week, and at least one of those swims each week should be in the ocean.

Alright, I’ve shared all my hard-earned secrets, what’s your best advice for open water swimming? Wish us all luck on race day!

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