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2006-04-01 9:34 AM

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Subject: The ironman....On a Glass of Water
If I could take one thing back from all the ironman training I did over the years, it would be the thousands of laps I did in the pool with the hopes of thrashing out a faster swim time.

If you are an age grouper or a novice Ironman, there is really no point in spending hours and hours in the pool if you are already at the point where you can easily handle the distance. To devote your valuable training time to enable you to complete the swim 4 or 5 minutes faster is a very poor return on your time investment.

It seems that there are many ironman athletes out there who push way to hard in the swim. The excess energy you burn in that opening leg is simply not recoverable and won't be there for the bike and run.

I firmly believe the reason so many people hit the wall in the marathon, is because they expended so much in the swim. The bike leg just finishes the job of depleting your resources.

There's no medal for swimming fast. There's not even a t-shirt if you swim fast and don't cross the finish line. Even being the very first out of the water means little is you can't put three events together.

Take for example Kona, 1984. The winning swimmer was Djan Madruga. You might be asking yourself, "who the heck is he?" My point exactly. Djan was a world class swimmer and he beat the likes of Dave Scott, Mark Tinley and Mark Allen out of the water that day. His swim time was 47:48. However, Djan ran a 4:47 marathon and Dave Scott ran a 2:53.

This is where my theory comes in of running an Ironman like your energy, strength and endurance are all contained in a full glass of water when the start gun sounds.

Try and avoid expending half of that glass of water before you even get on the bike. That means your glass could well be down to the last quarter---or less, before you even put on your running shoes. I really believe there is a direct relationship between the Ironman shuffle and a poorly executed swim.

I remember the race where I finally began to understand pace and how best to nurse that all important glass of water right up to the last mile of the marathon.

It began with learning how to swim easier--or--more efficiently, and not faster. I learned how to relax in the water and to use looooonnnng, smoooooth, strokes. I couldn't believe how good I felt in the swim-bike transtion. I probably used less than a quarter of that glass of energy.

For the first 40 km. of the bike I let myself get into the rhythm of the change of demands on my body before I settled into the race pace I felt I could hold for the remaining 140 km.

I could "not" believe the run. Normally, it was a struggle from mile one. This time I seemed to settle into a rhythm that I could maintain from the very beginning and the usual tiny voice telling me to walk because it hurt so much, never appeared.

To emphasis my point, I remember beginning to count the athletes I passed as the marathon progressed. It was a way of keeping my mind occupied and when I reached 350 that I had passed, I just quit counting, because it became a chore there were so many walking in the later stages of the race.

Needless to say, everyone I passed was either faster than me in the swim, on the bike, or in transition---or all three. The whole point is, it doesn't really matter how fast they were up to that point if they're walking now. Why spend hours and hours learning to swim faster if you're going to walk most of the marathon?

Just do the math. Say I'm running about an 8:15 pace like I did that year, from start to finish, and I pass someone at mile 10 and they have begun to walk and end up walking most of the marathon? They'll probably cross that finish line about 2 hours after me. That's the same person who swam faster and biked faster than I did. I had half a glass of water left and they were on empty at mile ten of the marathon.

I believe the best place to empty that glass is about 1 kilometer from the finish line. Its about there that the fan support has grown to huge proportions and most important of all you can hear the race announcer at the finish line. Those two happenings will carry you to the finish line. At that point, nothing is going to stop you.

I also think its best to be on empty just before the finish, because like me, if you finish and feel great and have a fast recovery, you most likely crossed the finish line with a quarter of a glass left.

And hey! You don't want to wonder years down the road if you left something out on the course that day.


2006-04-01 11:51 AM
in reply to: #385455

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Royersford, PA
Subject: RE: The ironman....On a Glass of Water
Great advice. How do you deal with the mass swim start? Doesn't that tend to force you to expend alot more energy than nesseccary. Since I have always been a slow swimmer, I just tri and swim smooth and easy and get to the bike. But the larger the race, the longer it takes me to find that rhythm. I can only imagine what its going to be like when 2000 people are starting at the same time. Any Advice?
2006-04-01 6:01 PM
in reply to: #385455

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Boston, MA
Subject: RE: The ironman....On a Glass of Water

Unfortunately many Elite athletes and coaches disagree with you. In fact many of them mention the importance of spending time in the pool for an IM race on articles, books and websites. A common misperception is to think that people who spend hours in the pool has the only goal to swim faster. Granted to work on taking a few min off your swim time probably will limit your time on other sports. But spending time on the pool has a lot of benefits and it is NOT necessarily to swim faster. Swimming makes you a better triathlete overall. Spending hours on the pool makes you more comfortable of swimming and the fitness gains benfit biking and swimming as well.

Let me shake your theory just a bit… you might have heard of Faris Al Sultan? Well at Kona he was able to come out of the water on 3rd place on 49:54 min, bike a 4:24 hrs and run a 2:54 to get the 1st place… not to bad right? Another example: Simmon Lessing was the 1st out of the water on 47 min at LP on 2004. He managed to run a 2:46 marathon to win the whole thing. Finally, for ITU racing you must come out of the water with the leaders if you want to have a chance to win the race. If you come out of the water a few minutes behind your day is over.

If you don’t think that spending time in the pool befit your training, that’s fine, it is your opinion and you are basing it on your own experience, however just because you don't think it is good, it means it is true. I bet you that most of the people who crash during the marathon is because of: Poor pacing, poor nutrition, poor training, a combination of some or all… To state that the reason most people fail to “run” the marathon is because of the swim or the time “wasted” in the pool is kind of humorous. If you do the training, have a racing plan, execute good nutrition and pace yourself, you will be able to have a good race…

2006-04-01 6:08 PM
in reply to: #385455

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Pittsburgh, my heart is in Glasgow
Subject: RE: The ironman....On a Glass of Water
I'd beg to differ with this, not because I'm a good swimmer and a crappy runner, but because it just doesn't work with swimming. Swimming is a strange beast in the amount of muscle memory needed to make it work well. The tiny muscle adjustments needed to keep you balanced/streamlined/tight are IMPORTANT to cultivate, but can only be cultivated by regular swimming, and if you're swimming a distance, it is NECESSARY to swim that distance plus some (lets face it, how many of us swim in a straight line? means that 2.4 mile swim might be closer to 2.6 !). Those tiny little adjustments make your swim easier, more fluid, not a suffer fest. Efficient swimming, even efficient slow swimming, is better than inefficient swimming (which will happen w/o proper training) any day.
2006-04-01 7:01 PM
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Subject: RE: The ironman....On a Glass of Water
I heard one the commentators say something about the swim let at Kona that really stuck with me. He said "You're not gonna win the race in the water...but you sure can lose it there."

I tend to agree that for most 'common folk' who only have xx hrs per week to spend training, the hours spend biking and running pay a lot bigger dividiend than pool time.

Ifin' you are a professional triathlete with nothing to do but train, then I see no reason to short-change your swim training.

2006-04-01 8:01 PM
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Subject: RE: The ironman....On a Glass of Water

Swimming is the only of the 3 disciplines where you don't have to "taper" or "rest" to recovery from (for the most part).

Consequently, the cardiovascular benefit you gain is incredible because the time it takes your body to recover from a swim session is DRAMATICALLY faster than a run or even a bike.

We all have our strategies and theories but I'm in the camp that fitness gained in the pool translates into highly efficient cardiovascular endurance benefits that can not be replicated in either of the two sports due to the recovery time required between "hard" bike and/or run sessions.

Additionally, swimming is so technique oriented (moreso than biking or running) if you skip more than 1 day out of the water you loose efficiency.


2006-04-01 8:21 PM
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Subject: RE: The ironman....On a Glass of Water
Mike....You are exactly right. You sure can screw up your race in the water. The energy wasted in pushing too hard is unrecoverable.

As you can see in my post, I'm referring to novice and age group atheletes for the most part. They just don't have the time pro athletes have to devote to 4 or 5 or 6 swim workouts a week.

There will be many who will read my post and be a bit upset about it, because its been drilled into there heads from the very beginning of their triathlon experience that they must train harder and harder to get faster and faster in the swim.

I know because I've been there and made that same mistake. One year I had a personal coach, swam with a masters club 2 nights a week for months and swam on my own another 3 workouts. I was ready for the swim of my life and ended up being 3 minutes slower than the previous years. I also hit the wall in the run, because I had tried too hard in the swim.

I told myself I would NEVER do that again. I swam 3 days a week and the odd time 4 and learned the total immersion technique of swimming more efficiently and I never worried again about being faster out of the water. I concerned myself with being "less fatigued" coming out of the water. I developed a strategy for staying out of traffic trouble during the swim. With less stress, my heart-rate stayed lower and that's always a good thing.

For the years after, my swim time never changed more than a few minutes either way. I became fitter because I began weight training and running more with the extra training time I now had.

When I finally put it all together in a race, and learned to conserve energy for the final hours, I went from personal best of just over 12 hours to 10:46. It all came down to having the energy to run a 3 and a half hour marathon instead of doing the Ironman shuffle for 5 hours or so.

It had nothing to do with swimming 5 or 10 or 15 minutes faster.

For age-groupers who start out swimming late in life, all the swim training in the world will only take you so far, so why obsess about it? Learn how to swim economically. Have a swim strategy in place for race morning. Swim train enough so that you can easily handle the distance and don't worry so much about being a few minutes faster.

Conserve your energy and if you can maintain a steady pace through-out the marathon you will pass several hundred athletes who are faster swimmers than you. It happens every single Ironman race no matter where in the world it happens to be.

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