Archive for Swimming

059: “Slipped Away,” with Special Guests Jean Mellano and Ron Hurtado [Podcast]

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SteveT

I'm honored to have two special guests on the podcast today: Jean Mellano, author of the memoir Slipped Away, and veteran, founding member, and executive director of the Airborne TriTeam, Ron Hurtado.

Some background: I first met Steve Tarpinian in 1996 after deciding to attend his "Swim Power" clinic at the Nassau County Aquatic Center in Long Island, NY.

I was hoping to learn how to overcome my fear of the water and how to swim. If you're thinking that's not exactly an easy task for a 36-year-old having experienced a near drowning as a 10-year-old kid, you'd be right.

I arrived as a anxious newbie, wondering what the day would bring. When I left at the end of the day, I had made a friend for life and also come to know one of the best teachers, coaches and men I'll ever know.

Sadly, on March 15, 2015, that great teacher, coach, mentor...lost his war on depression, and took his own life.

SlippedAwayFast forward a short time later, Steve's soulmate and partner of 35 years, Jean Mellano, after reading all of the heartfelt remembrences of Steve on the popular Slowtwitch.com forum, decided to write a memoir to honor Steve's legacy and bring more awareness to mental illness, specifically depression.  She titled it Slipped Away.

In Jean's words,"there is still so much stigma and embarassment attached to depression, which further adds to the suffering of those afflicted. Mental illness is where Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDs, and cancer were many years ago in terms of no one wanting to talk about it."   

In today's podcast, Ron, Jean and I discuss many things including Steve's legacy, such as:

  • Why and how the book, Slipped Away, came to be.
  • Project9linea Long Island based non-profit organization that supports veterans suffering from PTSD and depression, and which receives the majority of the proceeds from the sale of the book.
  • The Airborne TriTeam, another Long Island based non-profit organization started by Ron, specifically created for mentally and physically challenged war veterans. The team has a unique and strong connection to Steve and his legacy.
  • What we can all do to help those suffering from PTSD and other forms of mental illness.
Depression is like an iceberg...

Depression is like an iceberg...

In Jean's words: "To many people who knew him, Steve had it all and appeared to be on top of the world. Hindsight is 20/20; we now know things weren't always as they seemed. In many instances, people who suffer from depression and mental illness hide it very well.  If someone close to you has a pattern of "going dark" (not returning phone calls or emails, etc.), it could be more than just them being busy or forgetful.  When this happens too often, perhaps a little more compassion and understanding for that person may be in order."   

Jean believes Steve's true legacy and how he should be remembered isn't as a great coach, race-director or athlete who took his own life, but rather, as a human being who did his very best to make people feel good about themselves and who inspired them to accomplish things they never thought they could do.  I couldn't agree more.

Thank you Jean and Ron, and everyone who joined to listen in to this podcast.

To learn even more about the memoir and about Steve, or to purchase a copy, visit the website HERE.  It's also available on Amazon.  You might also want to visit the Slipped Away Facebook page HERE.

~Coach Al 

PS: Jean wrote a wonderful article for the online magazine, The Mighty. In it she shares some of what she has learned about grief since Steve's passing. I highly recommend it.

Who Wouldn’t Like To Run Faster Off Of The Bike?

 

"The truth isn't always popular, but it's always the truth."  - unknown


I've got some important (and very different) stuff to share with you today, and I know, because you're busy you may not want to stop what you're doing to read this.

But listen, if you want to KNOW how you can train differently and smarter on the bike, AND learn how to run FASTER off of it (no it isn't about the same old blah blah, brick runs, etc.), then ya gotta keep reading!

Trust me, my advice is NOT going to be the same-old, same-old. It will probably rankle a few folks, too. Especially some of the "experts" out there that are reading.So to get to the heart of what I want to share today, I have to start with a story about swimming. It's a true story.

(I know, I know...I said I was going to help you ride and run faster, and I am!  But...you need a little context - and this story will provide it. Keep reading!)

A few years ago I was sitting around with some swim coaches at an ASCA conference. The topics at the table revolved around two things: the iconic swim coach, James "Doc" Counsilman (who is well known for coaching Mark Spitz, winner of 7 golds at the 72 Olympics), and the "S" curve in swimming. 

Now, I don't know if you're a swimmer or not, but if you are, I'm sure you're familiar with the "S" curve pulling path. This "S" curve is what many coaches believe is the "ideal path" for your hand to follow during the pull phase of the stroke.  Shaped like the letter S, this pulling path has become well known as one hallmark of a fast swimmer.

Apparently all the hoopla about this "S" curve began with Counsilman and Spitz. The story goes, the coach was watching Spitz swim and noticed this "S" curve in his stroke. Since Spitz was swimming faster than anyone else in the world, Counsilman (always the innovator), came to the conclusion that the secret to his speed might be this curve. 

So Counsilman figured, if it was good enough for Spitz, it should be good enough for everyone, and proceeded to instruct every swimmer he coached to start putting this "S" curve into their strokes. What began as a simple way to make his swimmers faster, soon became gospel in the swimming world.

Simply put, many believed that to swim fast, you needed to have an "S" curve in your pull.

 

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  

What I'm talking about here is CAUSE and EFFECT, so the chicken/egg analogy may not really work. But it is sort of a funny cartoon, don't you think?  🙂

Anyway, an odd thing happened as Counsilman's swimmers started adding this "S" curve consciously - something he didn't anticipate.

Despite imploring his swimmers to "S" more, not only did most of them not get any faster, some actually started swimming slower.

What was going on?

To answer that question, let's go back to Spitz for a moment.

Is it possible that the "S" curve emerged as a natural byproduct of both his training and his body's intuitive understanding of how best to create more lift (and thus increase pulling power)?

Based on my own experience, I'd have to say the answer is an absolute, YES.

Spitz, like most great swimmers, could "grip" and hold on to the water, making the water more "solid" as his arm traveled past his rotating body.

He didn't consciously try to create that letter S.

It happened as a function of what his body did naturally, AND what he learned via tens of thousands of hours of mindful, consistent swimming.
  

Should you scrape mud off of your cycling shoes?   

I'm betting a very similar kind of story could be told when it comes to riding a bike efficiently and powerfully.  And THEN..running efficiently AND fast after the ride.

How so you ask?

Have you heard that popular advice, made famous by legendary cyclist Greg Lemond, to "pedal like you're scraping mud off of the bottom of your shoe"?

Like Counsilman's advice to articially integrate an "S" curve, trying to artificially change how you pedal a bike is not going to help you, and it may even HURT you.

And that "hurt" might not be limited to riding, but could also negatively impact how you run OFF of the bike. And increase your risk of injury, too.

In fact, I'm here to tell you that for the most part, ANY drill, tool, or technique that you've read about or heard was designed to improve your pedaling technique, is probably a complete waste of your time. 

How about Spin-Scan on a Computrainer? Or those fancy charts that show you exactly where you should apply pressure to the pedal as you go around? All of it, a waste of your time.

...except for one, that is.

One, very different and important, approach.

That one approach is the topic of a 12-minute video I prepared for you, that you've GOT to watch.

Authentic Cycling Video is here.So when it comes to riding faster,

I have to ask...Do the best cyclists have a great "spin" because they consciously "scrape mud" at the bottom of the pedal stroke?

Or (like Spitz in the water), are their pedal strokes and nervous systems more finely tuned and coordinated because of natural ability and perhaps more importantly, thousands of hours in the saddle?

Whenever we start incorporating something into our training because we heard the pros do it, or our friends said they read it in a book or online in a forum, OR we think we can outsmart our nervous system with "better" technology (such as clipless pedal systems), bad things can happen.

That was true for Counsilman's swimmers, it is true despite LeMond's advice, and it's true for running and just about every other activity, too.

There are a few other "truisms" that can be gleaned from all of this, such as...

  • getting faster isn't just about training "hard," it has a lot more to do with our nervous system than most realize.
  • mountain bikers, I think, have known a lot of this for a while. They 'get it.'
  • all of us are learning more every day - no one has all of the answers.

As for how ALL of this specifically impacts YOUR running off of the bike...well you'll have to watch and listen to the video for the answer to that.

When you do, please let me know what you think, ok?

Happy trails!
~Coach Al 

PS: A few minutes into the video, I refer to an article I wrote for Active.com, called: What Kenyans Can Teach Us About Running Economy and Efficiency.  To read it, CLICK HERE.

PSS: Just so y'all know, I have tremendous respect and admiration for Greg Lemond, a true champion and legendary cyclist. My belief is that at one time, he probably made an observation and drew a conclusion from it.  I've done that many times and am always learning. I've also changed my mind on things as a result of having a better understanding of "cause and effect" with certain things.

Today It’s About THE SWIM! You In?

 

I'm sure you gathered from the subject line that the topic today is swimming, specifically for triathletes. If you're a triathlete and the subject interests you, cool, keep reading. If not, no worries we'll connect next time around.

So, I've been chatting a bit recently about swimming and getting faster, with a lady I've coached for, um, about 6 years. She's smart and experienced, and pretty darn "good," if you consider being a course record holder AND winning your age-group at the Ironman World Championships in Kona FOUR times, good. 🙂

Our conversation, which included a little friendly bantering, got me thinking...

...Most triathletes struggle to get faster in the water. The question is, why?

 

There are a lot of options and a ton of information available online if a triathlete wants to become a faster swimmer. The problem is, non of the "experts" agree on the best approach. Read enough and you'll hear the secret is the right drill, until you read the article that says drilling is a waste of time.

The volume debate always gets the conversation heated up! Swim more? Swim less? Swim with a band and paddles or no, get rid of the "toys" if you want to improve. There's just not much agreement. Not coincidently, there's also a healthy debate right now in a slew of online forums and among coaches on the topic.

While I haven't counted, it seems to me there's enough websites, coaches, clinics, swim programs, instructional DVDs, AND opinions....to fill a very large ocean (no pun intended). 🙂

So if it's not a lack of information, resources, or expert opinions, then what's the real reason for such widespread struggle?

Something is clearly missing.

Well-known tri-coach Joel Filliol, in an article entitled "The Top 20 Rules For Faster Triathlon Swimming," and on a recent podcast episode he did with coach Paulo Sousa, makes the argument that triathletes waste time drilling...that drilling doesn't work. According to them both, conditioning trumps technique. To quote Sousa, "working on your fitness works on technique," while the "opposite is not true."

A slightly different viewpoint comes from internationally-renowned swim coach and triathlete (and one of my own mentors), Haydn Wooley of Future Dreams Swimming in New Zealand, who is well known for stating that "technique sets the upper limit to how far your fitness will take you."

After literally beginning my own swimming journey by learning to overcome a fear of the water and taking my first swimming lesson as a 36 year old, 20 years ago, I've come to discover there are a lot ways to skin a cat, or to put it the way a Swede would, "Alla sätt är bra utom de dåliga" which means... "all methods are good except the bad ones."  🙂

So let me ask: If you want to get faster, should you attend a clinic or get your hands on an instructional DVD and start drilling in an effort to improve your skills? OR, should you simply increase your volume and frequency, just swim your ass off, and just tweak your stroke as you go?

 

Duh! We're all different.  

 

Triathletes the world over come from so many different backgrounds. It's always seemed somewhat counterintuitive to me to think that any ONE approach is the right one for every triathlete. 

Hell...there's some percentage of those who line up at the starting line of a triathlon who are so freaked out about being in the open water, thoughts of anything except how to survive and cope with the panic, are completely forgotten. (Who gives a crap about technique when you're nearly drowning!) 🙂

So what do you think?

For me and the athletes I work with, we begin with this simple mantra: Commit to never taking another bad stroke. 

Of course, you and I know that making sure every stroke we take is absolutely "perfect," just isn't possible, right?

 

How we learn: experimentation, repetition, imagery, exaggeration 

When it comes to learning a new skill or trying to improve upon our existing skills, all of the current science says that for most of us, experimenting - dancing on the edge of our abilities, going "too" far and slipping and falling only to get back up and try again, are universal concepts that hold true.

"Chunking" skills into small bits, seeing a picture or image in your mind's eye of how a skill should ideally be performed and then trying to replicate it, and even exaggerating the opposite of what you're trying to do, also seem to have merit.

We also know that grooving a skill is easy, but changing that groove is hard. Really hard.

 

Which is why it's SO difficult to change after having taken thousands (millions?) of, shall we say, less than "perfect" strokes.

 

Conditioning or technique, which is more important?  

 

Coaches Filliol and Sousa have a point: There's very little chance a triathlete looking to get faster is going to achieve it by mindlessly practicing and "perfecting" drills. Clinics too, are often a big waste of time, without the essential followup work, repetition, and effort required to change.

And while I wouldn't agree completely with Sousa and his belief that conditioning trumps technique, a lack of "enough" conditioning to practice effectively hurts many triathletes who are trying to get faster. Why? Fatigue erodes our ability to concentrate and hold on to good form.

 

Can you "change" in a single practice session?

 

The images on the left are from a 1 on 1 coaching session I did with a woman I coach. She made some dramatic improvements in a very short period of time, as you can clearly see when comparing the "before" clip on the left, with the "after" clip on the right.

In the image on the left, she is pressing down on the water (not an effective way to "catch") and is also overloading her shoulder.

The image on the right shows a much more effective "catch." It's no surprise that her "lat" (the large back muscle you see inside the yellow circle) is literally exploding as she sets up her pull.

(A picture, or in this case video, is worth a thousand words and it doesn't lie. Which is one reason why this athlete was able to change on the spot - AND why I never go to the pool to coach without my underwater camera). 🙂

So what's the bottom line?

It's simple, really: There is NO single approach that will guarantee success for everyone.

Yes, there ARE universal concepts that apply to just about everybody. Things like...

  1. Attentive repetition: Over and over and over. Working in the sweet spot on the edge of your capability. Relentless. Remember Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers and 10,000 hours?
  2. Interweaving and chunking: Do it, then take a break, then do it again.
  3. "Deep" practice: fully engaged in the process, instead of focused solely on an outcome.
  4. Being mindful: fully present in the moment.

Are YOU doing what YOU need to do, to improve?

 

I think coach Filliol was on target when he hinted that those with solid technique who aren't getting faster are simply not working hard enough. For those folks, lengthening the "main" sets and getting in more volume are key. For example, even with solid technique, expecting substantial improvement on a dose of 1 or 2 hours per week of swim training just isn't realistic.

Conversely, it's also true that some triathletes have very little understanding of the difference between effectively "catching" water...and "catching" a head cold. 🙂 For those folks, a deeper commitment to learning more, to be better equipped to decipher the difference between good and bad swimming and information is where to start.

And there are also some, that are so lacking in the necessary flexibility in the shoulders and back, any attempt to swim "correctly" will result in nothing but a whole lotta frustration.

Have we come to any conclusions as to why so many struggle?

 

One thing I believe we have learned, is that too many athletes waste valuable time and energy working in the wrong way and using the exact opposite ideal approach. Or they simply do not KNOW what the ideal approach is!

The real answer to our question is simple, but not necessarily easy:

Find out what the optimal approach is for YOU, and then... work relentlessly and mindfully with dogged determination. Take advantage of regular, objective feedback from someone you trust to help review and assess your progress, and then take what you learn, "tweak it" where you need to, and get back to work.       

So let me ask you a question....

Do you know what the best approach is for you?

Do you care?

If you DO, then maybe you would be interested in working with me in a small group coaching format. CLICK HERE to let me know you're interested in learning more about what I have planned.

Within this group coaching program, I will...

  1. help you learn the OPTIMAL approach to getting faster.
  2. program AND guide your practices and training.
  3. review your video and offer specific guidance on how to improve.
  4. work directly with YOU to find the best ways for you to get faster.

If this sounds interesting, know right up front that it won't be "easy" -  you'll have to work hard AND you're going to have to be accountable.

There aren't any real swimming #hacks. (I wish there were!)  Real improvements will come from commitment, hard work, and us working together as a TEAM. So, if you aren't willing to hold up your end, don't waste your time OR mine.

Here's WHY you might want to jump in and take advantage of this opportunity:

  • You want to finish near the front of your AG instead of at the back.
  • You've been swimming for years but still go slow compared to your training partners.
  • You want to look forward to the swim portion of the races you do, rather than dread them.
  • You get out of the water at your races, tired and hardly ready to attack the bike and run.
  • Your shoulders are sometimes sore, or worse, downright painful after your swims.
  • You're tired of going to the pool over and over, and never getting faster!!
  • You believe having some guidance and feedback from someone who has walked the walk would help you and save a lot of trial and error.

If any of the above bullets resonate with you, CLICK HERE to let me know you're interested. There is no commitment required right now, I'm simply assessing whether there is enough interest to run the group.

Do you REALLY want to improve? No Bulls**t. I'm very serious about this. If this speaks to you, CLICK HERE.

Happy laps!

~Coach Al

PS: Speaking of groups, I mentioned to you earlier about the group kettlebell training - I've had some really great interest in it. There's still time to get in on this but don't wait too long, January will be here before you know it! If you're interested in learning more, CLICK HERE.  

Do Your Calves Ever Cramp When Swimming? Here’s Why!

1794548_678702325506808_505115595_nThere's nothing like a painful calf cramp to ruin an otherwise enjoyable swim, ya know? 🙁  They seem to happen at the worst times and very often, they'll happen in our most important races. Frustrating!

So what's going on? Why do so many triathletes struggle with this issue during swimming?

Ridding yourself of the cramping calves will often lead to exactly what you want when you swim, which is a nice compact kicking motion which is both streamlined and also relaxed.

Here's a question I received from one of our athletes, that might sound familiar?:

"Sometimes I get a cramp in one of my calves while swimming. It can happen in the beginning, middle, or near the end of a workout, and only occasionally - not every time I swim. It may happen just after pushing off the wall, or it may start in the middle of a lap. I don't feel like I'm kicking very hard when I'm swimming. It has never happened in a race, just while training in a pool. I figure I swallow enough pool water during my swims that hydration shouldn't be the issue. Any suggestions on how to prevent them?"

Calf cramps while swimming can be quite common actually, especially for triathletes in particular...and there's a very good reason why....and its got nothing to do with hydration or electrolytes....

The reasons usually come from two things:

1. Trying to point the toes during kicking, which is active "plantar flexion" and creates tension in the calves. DON'T do this!* DO NOT try to point the toes while you kick.

2. The other thing which is somewhat related, is that there is OFTEN simply too much TENSION in the lower legs, period. [Remember what a cramp is: its simply a "hyper"chronic contraction of a muscle. That is, activity within the muscle (tension) is heightened and rises to the point where the contraction hits overdrive - and then, bingo, cramp!]

Why all that tension? (this relates to why it happens to triathletes more than swimmers).

You're running, and with all of that running is more tension in the calves, simply because they're so active during running (and walking), etc.

What can add to the tension is the often colder temperatures you'll find in some competitive pools. With colder temps, tension rises. (which is why I love jacuzzis!) 

So, what to do?** Two things:

1. First, the most important thing: RELAX YOUR FEET AND LEGS.

The term I use to describe how to kick correctly (while reducing the risk of cramping in the process) is FLOPPY ANKLES. *

More: Really good "kickers" have very mobile,*floppy ankles. In fact, great backstrokers can lie on their backs on the floor and easily touch their toes to the floor as they point their ankle. Most triathletes can't come close to doing that. Limited ankle mobility means tension when kicking.

So what we must do as we are swimming down the lane: think and visualize FLOPPY ANKLES. That's right, just let the feet just flop at the ankle. Relax and release them completely.

As you relax your feet and JUST LET THEM FLOP, you'll reduce all of that tension in the calves that leads to cramping.

Now, of course, relaxing the feet and letting them flop, DOES NOT give you permission to also flop your knees or relax them.

In fact, what I've found works best is if you keep that knee straight and at the same time, flop the ankles, you'll get exactly what you're looking for, which is a nice compact kicking motion which is both streamlined and also relaxed.

When I say "straight knee," I am really saying to keep it straight - locked out. What will most likely happen is that your knees won't actually "lock," but they will bend less....which is a good thing.

From my experience videotaping dozens of triathletes: those with the worst kicks will bend their knees a LOT, and their ankles a little. That looks ugly on video.

Great kicking comes primarily from floppy ankles. Just check any backstroker (where kicking makes up a great majority of their propulsion).

2. Second, and really importantly: make sure you keep those calves stretched out and nice and long. They will tighten up from running and over time, shortness in that area raises risk of running injury, and also leads to increased risk of cramping.

To avoid cramping in the calves while swimming, keep the calves LONG, and relax those feet and think: FLOPPY ANKLES.

And lastly, do all of your swimming in the JACUZZI!

Happy Swimming!

~Coach Al

ps: got additional swimming questions or anything training related? Jump onto our FACEBOOK page and ask away!

Triathletes: Swim Technique – The Two MOST Common Mistakes…

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."

- Albert Einstein


Coach Al along with elite swim coach and Masters World Champion, Karlyn Pipes

Coach Al along with elite swim coach and Masters World Champion, Karlyn Pipes

Hi Everyone! Coach Al here. I've got a quickie for you today, talking swim technique and common mistakes I see in developing triathletes.

As many of you know, for novices (and even for those who have experience) the swim portion of a triathlon is often THE segment of the race that creates the most amount of anxiety and nervousness. As a result, many triathletes spend countless hours doing drills up and down the pool to improve their technique, hoping that the changes they learn and practice WILL make the swim portion of the race easier come race day.

The problem becomes, what if you're not working on the right skills or worse, grooving less-than-optimal form, in your attempts to improve?

In my experience, there are two mistakes that I see over and over again, that are arguably the most common mistakes. Today I shot a quick video so you can see for yourself.

Ironically, the 2nd mistake I point out is very likely one of the reasons why the 1st mistake is often happening and therefore difficult to correct.

To summarize, if you roll excessively to the side, not much else matters! Why? Because there really is no way you can get into a good catch from an "all-of-the-way-onto-your-side" position, without first returning or rolling back to a more prone position.  And, rather than feeling fast or stable, you may actually feel the exact opposite.

Want to learn more? Check out this great video from Vasa (and elite swim coach Karlyn Pipes) on Better Freestyle Body Rotation. 

And here's another: In this video, Karlyn discusses fingertip orientation. Check it out.

Go other questions? Hit me up on our Pursuit Athletic Performance Facebook page!

Happy Swimming!

~Coach Al

ps: if you'd like to learn more about Karlyn and the services she offers designed to help you improve, go to her website here!

pss: we are HUGE fans of the Vasa Ergometer here at Pursuit Athletic Performance. Very few swim training tools offer a larger bang-for-your-buck than the Vasa. Check them out if you want to take your swim to the next level.

Don’t Whine. Don’t Complain. Don’t Make Excuses: Life Lessons From Two Great Coaches.

An old cherokee told his grandson, "My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, greed, jealousy, resentment, inferiority, lies, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope,  humility, kindness, emptathy, and truth."  The boy thought about it, and asked, "Grandfather, which wolf wins?"  The old man quietly replied, "The one you feed." ~author unknown

Your complaints, your whining, your victim mentality, your drama, and all of your excuses, have NEVER gotten you even a single step closer to your dreams or goals. Let go of your nonsense. Let go of your DELUSION that you DESERVE better, and go EARN it. ~ Dr. Steve Maraboli

I'm going to make a change, for once in my life. Its gonna feel real good, gonna make a difference, gonna make it right...That's why I want you to know, I'm starting with the man in the mirror. I'm asking him to change his ways. And no message coulda been any clearer, if you want to make the world a better place, then look at yourself and make a change. ~  Singer Michael Jackson, from "The Man In The Mirror."

“I am responsible. Although I may not be able to prevent the worst from happening, I am responsible for my attitude toward the inevitable misfortunes that darken life. Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have – life itself.”  ~Walter Anderson 


Advice John Wooden's dad gave to him upon graduation from grade school.

Advice John Wooden's dad gave to him upon graduation from grade school.

Its been one of those weeks when it seems that its just a little harder to "fight the good fight." Hey, I know we all have our own pile, right? I'm not alone.

Sometimes life's challenges step right up and hit us in the gut.  Sometimes people you trust and care for end up striking back at you, and what results is a struggle to regain your belief in the inherent goodness in people. Sometimes it seems that every time you look around, bad things are happening to good people.  My dad once told me that "life ISN'T fair, and not to expect it to be." The ole man was right!  🙂

 

I was watching a taped ESPYS show on the sports network ESPN the other night.  It was being replayed from 2009. Just when I least expected to be inspired and pulled out of a little doldrum I was in, up to the microphone steps now deceased Northern State basketball head coach, Don Meyer.   Meyer was being presented with the "Jimmy V Perseverence Award."   Coach Meyer was the recipient of many other awards while he was still alive, and is the subject of a book, "How Lucky You Can Be" written by ESPN's Buster Olney.  (If you don't know who "Jimmy V" is, google his name right now and read).

Coach Meyer's personal story is well known among college basketball fans and sports fans alike.  He retired in 2010 as the winningest men's college basketball coach ever, compiling a record of 923 wins, and 324 losses. (The record was later surpassed by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski in 2011). But coach Meyer's record of basketball excellence doesn't tell the story of this man, who never coached above the Division II level, yet had an impact on the his sport and the people in it, on a truly global scale.

As coach Meyer walked to the microphone, his personal saga played out on the big projection screen behind him.

It is September 5, 2008.  He is involved in a terrible car crash in which he suffers terrible injuries, including one that ended in a loss of one of his legs.  But that's not the worst of it. During the emergency surgery after the crash, doctors discovered cancer in his liver and intestines.  Amazingly, in an interview during his recovery from surgery, he said ""What's great about this is I would not have known about the cancer had I not had the wreck. God has blessed me with the one thing we all need, which is truth. I can now fight with all of my ability."

The very next day after being released from the hospital, he was at school coaching from his wheelchair.

As I sat there listening to his speech upon accepting the Jimmy V award, I couldn't help but feel a bit like a jerk, for how I was feeling at the moment I turned on the TV. I thought I had had a rough time - personal and business difficulties, and other things, seemed almost overwhelming.

537280e611665.imageAs Coach Meyer spoke straight from the heart, looking with gut-wrenching honesty into the eyes of every person in the room, he recalled visiting with legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden after the crash. Coach Wooden shared with him a card that had some advice HIS father had given to him upon his graduation from grade school.

It has stuck with me virtually every minute since.

It said, "dont whine, don't complain, and don't make excuses."

Coach Meyer went on to tell the story of him showing up every day for rehab in the clinic, looking around the room at all of the people struggling and suffering, trying to heal and improve, and all the while, remembering and reiterating those powerful words to himself: Don't whine-don't complain-don't make excuses.

Coach Meyer's words really hit me hard; they shocked me back into that reality that often happens when we hear of someone else having what seems like such hard luck or bad fortune.

When bad things happen to good people, it often helps us realize what WE have to be grateful for - the blessings in our life - it helps us to prioritize and remember what is TRULY important - and helps us see that while life ISN'T always fair, it is good.  

Yes, its easy to allow a feeling of entitlement to occasionally creep into our mindset or to feel sorry for ourselves when something "bad" happens, when the harsh reality is, any discomfort or difficulty we find ourselves staring at is usually brought on by our own choices and decisions, however hard that might be to accept sometimes.

Can we learn from the mistakes we have made so we don't repeat them?  Can we truly be grateful for the blessings in our life and share that attitude of gratitude with the world on a daily basis? Can we wake up every day ready to re-commit to living the ideals put forth by John Wooden and his dad?

As I look at the man in the mirror and re-examine my own life and my attitude toward it, what am I trying to say with this blog today?

  • If you're an athlete and have made the choice to walk into a gym, or to train and race, don't whine or complain about how hard the training is or how tough the race may be. You are choosing to do this. Getting out of your comfort zone and "suffering" on some level to achieve is what it takes to GROW and to reach your ultimate potential.
  • More to the point, I can say with total confidence that suffering through any pain or discomfort is a privilege and a blessing... that so many who aren't so fortunate, only wish they could do.  To be able to train and race is not something we're all entitled to! Cherish the opportunities!  Make the most of them, every day, and in every way.
  • Be HONEST with yourself and be willing to accept honesty from others. If someone IS being truly honest with you, it means they care about you. Its the liars you have to worry about.
  • If you, like me, have made mistakes in your life be it personal or in business, suck it up and stop whining and realize that sometimes life teaches us hard lessons. We need to LEARN from those lessons and soldier on!  Don't give up or give in.
  • Have the courage and strength to accept that the choices you've made and don't look back. Look forward.
  • Please join me and starting today, strive each and every day to be thankful for every blessing in your life; commit to doing the most you can with every minute of your life!
  • Don't stop learning, don't stop growing, don't stop reaching, don't stop challenging yourself, and don't whine, don't complain, and don't make excuses.

As Charles R. Swindoll said, "Words can never adequately convey the incredible impact of our attitudes toward life. The longer I live the more convinced I become that life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it.”  Make it a great day!

~Coach Al 

035: Open Water Swimming with Alcatraz Legend Gary Emich [Podcast]

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Elite open water swimmer and coach, Gary Emich

Elite open water swimmer and coach, Gary Emich

Today we're stoked to have Alcatraz swimming legend and triathlon coach, Gary Emich, on our podcast. Gary is most well known for having completed over 1000 Alcatraz swims (without a wetsuit!) and for a host of other impressive open water swimming accomplishments. 

Gary is a Certified Level 1 USA Triathlon Coach specializing in open water swimming and a Certified Level 2 ASCA Coach.  He is co-host and co-producer of the DVD “Lane Lines to Shore Lines:  Your Complete Guide to Open Water Swimming” and co-author of “Open Water Swimming:  Lessons from Alcatraz.”  And, from 1998 through 2009 he was the race director for the “Alcatraz Challenge Aquathlon & Swim.” His open water swimming CV includes the Amazon River replete with piranhas; Peru’s Lake Titicaca; Scotland’s legendary Loch Ness; the Hellespont (a swim from Europe to Asia); and the 20km Rottnest swim at the age of 58.  Relay crossings include the English Channel (2000 and 2011), Catalina, Santa Barbara, Monterey Bay, the Bay of Naples (Italy) and the Strait of Gibraltar as well as relay circumnavigations of Manhattan, Key West and Pennock Island in Ketchikan Alaska.

 

On today's podcast, Gary and I chat about all things open water swimming related including...

  • Navigation and sighting: What's the impact of poor sighting? Tips and drills on how to improve this critical skill
  • Wind, waves and current and how to deal most effectively with these challenges
  • How training in the pool can cheat you
  • Safety considerations for swimming in the open water
  • Race starts and finishes
  • Goggles: what are the most important considerations for open water swimming?
  • Triangulation: what is it, and how can it help you in the open water?
  • Are you a bilateral breather?  Is it a worthwhile skill to develop?
  • And much more!

Thanks for joining us! Make your next open water swim a great one!

~Coach Al

ps: Here's a neat funny which I know you'll enjoy!

Fraz

Get Out! (Of Your Comfort Zone That Is)

 A dream is your creative vision for your life in the future. You must break out of your current comfort zone and become comfortable with the unfamiliar and the unknown. ~ Denis Waitley

One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again~Abraham Maslow


Life Begins Outside Of Your Comfort Zone!

Life Begins Outside Of Your Comfort Zone!

Throughout everyday life, each of us has certain physical and psychological  "comfort zones” that influence who we are and how we act.  Perhaps you follow the same routine when you wake up in the morning, or drive the same route to your job each day.  Similarly, from a training standpoint, do you tend to migrate toward the same pace, intensity, or routine, day in and day out, because it is “comfortable”?  I thought so!  🙂

Physical comfort zones are usually easy to identify.  For example, if you have recently trained at or around 8 minutes per mile during your long aerobic runs and suddenly increase that pace to 6 minutes per mile, you will quickly step outside of your comfort zone.  Running at 6 minute pace quickly elevates your heart rate and perceived effort, immediately putting you outside your comfort zone! 

Psychological comfort zones can be a bit harder to quantify, but here’s an example. I think we can all agree that for most of us, talking one on one to a friend or two is usually not that tough.  But, stand up in a room in front of a live audience and try to give a speech while everyone is staring at you is a lot more difficult, and perhaps way outside of the comfort zone for many of us!

A KEY TO PERSONAL GROWTH AND SUCCESS

 In my opinion, one key that can unlock the potential for greater personal growth and success in many of life’s endeavors is the willingness to step outside of comfort zones.   If you’re going to reach your potential as an athlete, as you execute your training program you must resist the temptation to always do the same thing, in effect resorting back to that which is “comfortable” for you.  After all, it feels absolutely fantastic when we do finally step outside and as a result, experience some success!  Remember what it was like when you were nervous about asking someone out for a date? For most of us, this was well outside our comfort zones, yet how great did it feel when they said, “Yes!”  From a training standpoint, do you remember ever focusing your time and energy on developing a certain skill or technique?  Do you remember how good it felt when you realized you were getting BETTER at that activity because you did things a bit differently?  Far too often we train and perform activities the way we always have, staying with what is comfortable for us.  Routinely doing things the same old way (training pace, intensity, route, focus, etc.) prevents us from growing and improving.  We like to be comfortable!  Resist it, reach out, expand your horizons, and take some risks!  Improve!

 WHY ARE COMFORT ZONES “COMFORTABLE”?

There are two major factors that stop most of us from stepping outside our comfort zones more often.  The first is habit.  Simply put, out of habit, we tend to migrate to that which we are familiar with or that gives us a sense of security and safety.  The second and perhaps most significant factor is fear.  Fear of failure. Let’s face it, at one time or another we are all afraid to fail.  But we all know but rarely admit to ourselves, that the real consequences of “failure” are truly inconsequential and never last long.

As athletes, most of the fear we have when we step outside our comfort zone and try something new is all in our head. The fear is a figment of our imagination.  It just never seems that way at the moment of truth!  As an example, all of you triathletes out there, take open water swim starts (which tend to give many first time triathletes a fit).  Be honest, you know you’re not going to drown!  You know that nothing “down there” is going to swim up and get you!  You know everyone in attendance wants you to succeed!  All the other athletes have the same goal as you, to get to the finish line!  Whatever fear you may experience is only in your thoughts, and you control your thoughts, no one else.  Fear limits what we do and who we are, and ultimately, what we can achieve.

COMFORT” ZONE AND “GRAY” ZONE:

IS THERE A CORRELATION?

 Applying these concepts to your training on a consistent basis can be a key to unlocking untapped potential.  However, and this is important, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to always go harder and/or faster!  As an example, getting outside of your comfort zone may mean running, riding, or swimming more slowly on certain training days, when your mind might be telling you that you “should” be going faster.  Or, it may mean doing more drill or skill work in a training session when it might be more “comfortable” if you didn’t include skill/technique work.  In fact, failure to get outside of your training comfort zones relates very much to smartly differentiating pace and intensity in training, something I routinely remind athletes about.

Gray zone training is addictive and easy to succumb to because going “sort of” hard can and often is “comfortable” for many of us.  Think about that. When you’re training “sort of” hard but not REALLY hard (e.g. gray zone), you are in no man’s land. You are much better off either going easier than is “comfortable” for you (aerobic or even easier for recovery), or if your training program calls for it, going much HARDER than is comfortable. In fact, getting the maximum benefit from your training program means being way outside of your comfort zone during hard (quality) training sessions. It means going VERY hard and being VERY uncomfortable!

 THE BOTTOM LINE?

Though it may not always be obvious on a daily basis, consistently getting outside of comfort zones even just a little bit can lead to unbelievable results in your training and racing.  Starting today, have the courage and mental strength to “step out” regularly both physically and psychologically, and I guarantee you’ll get better and faster than ever!  Make it a great day!

~Coach Al 

Swim Clinic (And Bonus!) With Coach Al, January 26, UCONN, Avery Point Pool

Hello Everyone!

Swimmer_Web_SiteIt's the perfect time of year to get your swim set for the 2013 season! I will be running a swim clinic on Saturday, January 26 from 6-9 pm at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point. This will be a packed, three-hour clinic, designed to provide you with the tools you need to take your swimming to the next level.

What will you learn?

? mechanics of proper technique

? learn the right drills to groove proper technique

? learn why dry-land training is crucial

? why appropriate mobility & flexibility is essential

? know your limiters

Underwater swim video with individual review will be provided to each of you who attend.

*BONUS! We'll share an ala carte dinner following the clinic to talk all things swimming, or triathlon, or running, or.... whatever you care to cover. 🙂 AND, on Sunday, January 27, beginning at 8:30 am, all registrants are invited to an Open House at P ursuit Athletic Performance, 785 Boston Post Road, Old Saybrook, CT. Jump on the CompuTrainer with your bike, test the Vasa Ergometer, go for a group run, review strength and movement patterns. Best of all, more time to talk training!

Cost is:

$79 for Pursuit Athletic Performance Team

$119 for non-team members

Registration Options - Ultra-Running Camp

Register at Active.com through Thursday, January 24.

Hope to see you! Have any questions, fire away in the comments, or hit us up on Facebook!

~Coach Al

Fantastic Improvements for Triathlete in Only Four Weeks

We are turning over the blog today to one of our athletes, Lauren Novakowski. Since we could not better present the progress she has made with our training in only FOUR WEEKS, we will let Lauren tell you herself.

We will be following her progress through the season, so stay tuned. Thank you Lauren for taking the time to share your fantastic success! As we keeping telling you, you've only just begun!

NEW LEARNING FOR A SEASONED ATHLETE
By Lauren Novakowski

I started training with Pursuit Athletic Performance (PAP) four weeks ago, and I am thrilled to share my results and progress.

I have been an athlete since childhood, and have spent the last last five years in the world of triathlon. Over the past year, injuries and age have messaged that it was time to fundamentally change my ways. I decided that this year I was going to acquire a better understanding of my strengths and weaknesses, develop training to specifically address those weaknesses to improve overall athletic performance with greater efficiency.

A wise athlete once said that If you come across superior way of training today than what you were doing yesterday, you have an obligation to implement those changes and share with others. Coach Al Lyman and Dr. Kurt Strecker have been instrumental in teaching me a superior way of training yielding positive performance results, less fatigue in fewer training hours.

For the last five weeks, I have been training with Pursuit Athletic Performance. The first four weeks of targeted work have resulted in measurable improvements in my bike, swim and overall strength (see results below). I have documented all training via various metrics, and I am fortunate to have kept performance measures from my last few years of multisport training for baseline comparisons.

Below is a snapshot of my results after initial four weeks of work with Pursuit Athletic Performance:

? Various metrics include time, speed, power (watts), HR, cadence, calories burned. Training tools include bike power meter, PAP CompuTrainer ergometer, HR monitor, PAP Vasa swim ergometer, 25 yd pool.

? I started with a solid bike, swim, and strength base prior to initiating training with PAP. Four weeks into my current 12 week plan, my cycling functional threshold power improved 10 watts and my swim 100m Vasa threshold time decreased by 5 seconds. I have also experienced more consistent and improved pool time intervals.

? Executing proper functional strength movement has significantly improved existing injuries. For the first time since I can remember, I was able to cycle outside for 2 1/2 hours with no low back pain.

? Better results with improved efficiency. In a four week time frame, I allocated 2-3 fewer hours per week following the Pursuit Athletic Performance program versus going to spin classes, strength training with weights, swimming in the pool 100% of the time.

I am writing this to tell all athletes if you are looking for maximum return on investment, take a moment to check out all the services that Pursuit Athletic Performance has to offer no matter what your sport. I look forward to sharing additional progress in the near future.

Lauren Novakowski is not only a triathlete, but a mom of three (son, 11, and twin daughters, 9). She is a Senior Corporate Account Manager for Amgen. She lives with her husband of 15 years in Old Saybrook, CT.