Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Swimming to Peak Performance

Swimming out of Necessity

I first jumped in the pool at my local gym because it was all I was allowed to do as I tried to heal from a herniated disc without the benefits of health insurance. I could barely swim two lengths before having to stop. My recovery time was embarrassing. I stood against the side of the pool trying to catch my breath for longer than it took me to swim the two lengths! Once I regained control of my breathing, I was only able to swim one length of the pool a few times before I could attempt a two-length swim. If I tried to swim too far too quickly I often had to do the unthinkable - stop in the middle of the pool. Thank goodness the pool in Chicago where I first started swimming was only chest deep!

What added to the difficulty of swimming was my lack of confidence in the water. As a bad surfer I spent most of my time in the ocean getting tossed about by waves of minimal height. Getting caught inside when the surf was about waist high and feeling the panic pulse through my body like an injection of hemlock was no bueno. Panicking under water is the fastest way to make an enjoyable day turn sour. I couldn't help it. Losing control of myself while underwater was scary! Even the deep end of the Easton YMCA gave me pause when I tried to push my swim workouts beyond my comfort zone. Until recently a few 100s (4 lengths in most local pools) during any planned workout, made for an incredibly tough session.

I don't now where all this went wrong with me? My family tree is full of accomplished swimmers. My aunt was one of the most respected swim coaches in the Baltimore area and my cousins were quite proficient at swimming and diving. Their house was full of trophies. Somehow I must have missed out on those chromosomes…

Discovering the Benefits of Swimming

The beautiful thing about making swimming part of one's regimen is the wide-reaching lateral affects upon one's overall health and well being. A proper stroke will engage the whole body. I feel the muscles working from my fingertips to my toes. When you leave the pool, no matter how short or how long your session is, you will feel like you have accomplished something. You engage your upper body, your lower body, and your core so you make incredible gains without over-stressing your musculoskeletal system. You can even cheat on form and technique and still improve your overall health and well-being! (I must add that once I started working on bettering my stroke technique the gains I've made are well above and beyond any of those I made while thrashing around for a few hundred yards per day.)

Now I'm no scientist but swimming seems to be incredible for lung capacity. I know it has helped me but I think a better example would prove more credible evidence.
Example One: Jamie Mitchell, winner of the Molokai to Oahu Race 10 years in a row.
Just watch "Decade of Dominance" to see how integral a part of training swimming was for Jamie.  He started swimming as a child to help deal with asthma. Breathing in an upright position for 32 miles is hard enough; I can't imagine trying it hunched over on a traditional paddleboard, or at least I couldn't imagine it last year when I started entering the prone zone. Recently, with swimming as my number-one-go-to workout I feel as if longer races could very well be a part of my future. If one of the greatest paddlers in the history of the sport is a swimmer then I think it a grand idea to make swimming a major block of my training schedule.

Another inspiring example of how swimming can benefit the paddler became very apparent at last year's Mt. Pisgah Duathlon held by the Outpost of Holland when young Cassie M. put on a prone paddling clinic when she blew by the rest of us and kept up with the elite men on 14' SUPs. I remember being next to her for a few seconds at the start while she was laughing and chatting about how cold the water was while I was huffing and puffing trying to find oxygen for my lungs without passing out. Her performance was incredible. That girl made that stock paddleboard move like a rocket ship! She's not a paddler; she's a swimmer, a Division I swimmer currently in her freshmen year. If you had seen her paddle you would incorporate swimming into your training program too!

The Benefits Far Outweigh the Sacrifices.

Getting to a pool isn't always easy. Often, the times available for lap swimming mean setting the alarm quite a bit earlier each and every day or staying out later and missing all those wonderful reality tv shows in the late evenings. Time management around a pool schedule may seem difficult but if you know why you are doing it you will not hesitate to get out of bed at 4:05 am for a session or get home well after dark just in time for the ten-o'clock news.

Misery loves company. There will be others at the pool who are going after their own whys that will make you feel comfortable and welcome. A bond forms quickly when you walk into the locker room and find others who are willing to do what it takes. I guarantee, that if you have the right attitude, being around the athletes you meet at the pool will make it easier for you to want to improve. I'm a paddler. The people I meet at the pool are mostly accomplished triathletes. Most of the people my age swim in the fast lanes while I am pacing myself with my new friend Steve who is nearing 70. I want to keep working until I can move over to the fast lanes.

Being in the water in some capacity, meaning the pool, will loosen winter's stronghold upon your psyche. When there is free water I paddle and swim, but when all the nearby waters are frozen I rely on the pool to help keep me striving toward my 2015 goals. Although I am inside I am in the water and that makes seeing the icy river, lake, and bay a tad less heartbreaking. Sometimes just getting wet makes for a good day!

There are tools of the trade to make your swimming life easier. I wish I had been swimming with fins over the last few years. I got some TYR fins for Christmas and they have changed my world! Even the most lackluster session can turn into something with the addition of fins. I used to think that I would be cheating if I wore fins but that has not been the case. In the short time that I have been using them, fins have made my legs stronger. I am well aware of the need to kick wearing fins and that has transferred to my normal freestyle stroke. The gains I have made are, to me, incredible. I went from not being able to swim more than two lengths, when I first started, to now swimming at a good pace for 30 straight minutes as soon as I hit the pool. Having stronger kicks has a lot to do with my improving speed and endurance. Just like in SUP when I  started I was strictly an arm paddler . The same was true for swimming as I don't even know if I ever used my legs to kick. Thanks to implementing fins into my training sessions I now am well aware of my kicks.  Improving stroke technique is improving my swimming and, therefore, improving my overall athleticism.

Water, Even Chlorinated Water, is Fun

What makes pool swimming so great for me is being able to target a major weakness I had been dealing with any time I went out in surf. When I am done with my workload I do some fun drills that involve getting to the bottom of the deep end and either trying to run as many steps as possible or just to move through the water and surface then go back under and move some more trying to simulate being out in the ocean. This past summer I had a breakthrough. Panicking under waves was no longer as issue. I had never felt more comfortable being under the waves as I did this summer. I even tested myself to see how many waves I could stay under before needing a breath! If I knew I was going surfing I made sure to get to the pool to swim laps and do some underwater-breathing drills. The confidence I have gained from the pool makes dealing with all the logistics worthwhile.

Thanks to my new-found love for swimming, in 2015 I am planning on doing the two pier-to-pier races in Wrightsville Beach. One is in May and the other is in September. Swimming has done so much for my paddling and my overall health that I want to make it a major part of my recreational schedule. I am only waiting for the warm weather and that salt-water buoyancy to take the training out to the open water. I can only hope that, like my friend Steve, I'll be hitting the pool as I near 70 too!

Sure swimming is hard at first but isn't everything when we first start? Swimming will become FUN! I used to sink. I was asked to not be on the swim team when I was younger. It was hard and I wasn't very good at it. I'm still no Michael Phelps in the pool but I don't need to be. I am making gains every time I hit the pool for a session, even if I am in the geriatric lane. Not swimming in winter is almost like not paddling in spring summer, and fall. Once you reap the benefits I bet you will feel the same way. No matter what your main discipline is, swimming will help you rise toward your goals. I suggest you go get wet!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Prioritizing and Finding Life Anew in 2015 - Part Two

As the cold temperatures continue to infect the local climate, there are many hesitations that arise when it comes to training. However,  if there are good, well-thought-out, and concrete reasons for undertaking the training in the first place then the hesitation is lessened and time, temperature, laziness, and all other inhibitors will not keep you from your scheduled sessions. I told myself that until the right job comes along I am going to treat my training like it is my job. When the weather is cold you still get up and go to work. When the call time is before sunrise you still get up and go to work. When your body is sore from hauling cable all around Baltimore because some flake director tried to save money by not storyboarding each scene and therefore comes to work without a solidified shot list and has electricians running cable and lights up the block, back down the block, then back up the block again, for 16 hours, you still have to get up and go to work the next day and do it all over again. That is how I am looking at paddling. Right now, I am scheduling my days to try and become the absolute best paddler I can be, while keeping in mind that I want to be a better Christian, husband, son, and dog owner first.

Earlier in the year I read an article on Distressed Mullet that was written by Mark Colino. This article put things in a very clear perspective for me. Mark Colino's Know Your Why spoke volumes to me. I even re-wrote the article in a way that made each decision to get up and face the day much easier. Each paddle session that I had scheduled has been met. Getting up at 4:05 am to hit the pool by 5:30am wasn't an issue when I realized why I was getting up to do so. Of all the motivational articles, books, quotes, and philosophies I have read, Mark's article had the most profound affect on me. Wanting to discover my why also made me really focus on a thorough self-evaluation that I had been dreading and putting off for so long!

While a lot of my close mates give me guff for my oh-so-demanding job as a househusband, this same philosophy can apply to those who do have much more to deal with like full-time jobs, kids, school, extended-family demands, community obligations, and a combination of all or some of these things as well as any others I may have missed. If you thoroughly think through your approach to whatever it is you are pursuing and set your goals accordingly, you will be able to get up a little bit earlier or stay up a little later in order to achieve the ALL the demands you put upon yourself. The more you have to do the more you can get done. You just have to decide how much you want to pursue the endeavors you undertake. I miss a busy and hectic schedule…at times...

I'll never forget the opportunity I had to produce and direct Keller Williams' (the musician not the real estate company) first music video for his song "Play This." That endeavor demanded all of my time and energy. Leading up to the two days of shooting I slept maybe four hours a day and spent the other 20 trying to keep all the various moving parts in order and on time. That was an insane few weeks. What I noticed most was that my time management skills greatly improved and my sleep was quality sleep. I went to bed thoroughly exhausted and woke up ready to face the demands of the day. With so much to do I had to prioritize and find the most efficient way to complete tasks or I would have stressed out everyone else involved in the project. A full schedule made getting things done much easier. The demands of house-husbandry are a little bit less demanding and the budget is much friendlier, thanks to my amazing wife! With fewer demands, my time management skills are a little bit lacking. Many times I had trouble getting the few things done that my wife asked of me because I had so much time to do them. One of my goals in 2015 (besides getting a job) is to make the most of my time whether that be training, cleaning, cooking, or finally finishing that Great American Mystery Novel. I am jealous of you all getting those big paychecks and having much of your day already planned out for you!!

My point is: even though you are stretched thin with all the demands life places on us, you can do what you say you are going to do when you know why you want to do it. I finally understood this philosophy and evidenced it when I actually followed Mark's instructions and wrote down my goals and kept working on them until I narrowed them down from being the best paddler I can be to diving in deeper into my dreams as well as the desires of my heart and soul in order to be more specific as to what I wanted out of life in the months, days, hours, and seconds ahead of me in 2015. The goals of the present are to ready me for the longer-term goals of my future. I just had to get them down on paper and go from a broad narrative to being much more specific.

Keeping a journal is helping. This journal is focused on my training and how I feel from my efforts. My plan is to analyze each week and evaluate the way I feel both physically and mentally. I want to do as well as possible training in order to do well racing in 2015. I want discover what my body is capable of not only for the now but for the future because I would like to return to teaching and coaching. As I examine my own training regimens and go back over all that I have done in the previous week I can assess what might work and what might not. I want to take the knowledge I am gaining and put it to use helping others reach their goals in life, education, and athletics.

A few blogs ago I talked about writing down training goals in pencil in case a plan was missed or had to be altered. I don't feel that way anymore. I write my plan down in pen then write what I did in pen to see how it went. I am holding myself more accountable in 2015. Hold yourself accountable to the goals you set for 2015! As we get older it gets to easy to alter a plan to something less demanding or skip a session altogether. That is okay if you don't really know why you are doing something whether it is paddling, triathlons, snowboarding, or other athletic pursuits. You don't have to know why to go out and have a good time when participating in any hobby of your choosing but...if you want to do more than just go through the motions you have to set goals and make sure that they take you outside your comfort zone. If you want to achieve your goals bad enough you will accomplish what you set out to do not matter what it demands of you…because you know exactly why you are doing it. Any time I feel like skipping a session I think back to Mark's article and it helps me pile on the neoprene and get out on the water no matter what the weather report is or what the weather is doing when I walk outside my door.

Becoming part of the Hammer Nutrition team for 2015 has only helped me reach my daily goals and have the energy to fulfill the other duties that life requires. I believe in supplements to help keep the body in tune and able. I love a little melon Heed, strawberry Recoverite, Race Caps Supreme, Tissue Rejuvenator, and the peanut butter-chocolate gels to get me through workouts of multiple hours and multiple disciplines. I cannot believe the energy level I have been able to maintain while trying to get back into fighting shape! Scripture, prayer, a supportive wife, Hammer supplements, and knowing why I am doing all this helps me stay focused and energized no matter what may unfold throughout the journey.

Good luck on your own journey!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Prioritizing and Finding Life Anew in 2015 - Part One

As winter rolled into the Indiana Dunes in late December 2014, I was knee-deep in some heavy duty contemplation about my compass heading. As many who may read this already know, my wife and I had a vagabond existence for most of the year. We moved east and we moved back to the midwest. While we currently still reside in the midwest we feel as if we are still living out of our suitcases as our roots are yet to be firmly planted in the ground…anywhere. For most of my life, not being settled was fine. In fact, I loved it. As a husband and owner of two anthropomorphized mongrels, still living out of bag is rather unsettling. While I have loved training hard for and attending races over the last few years one thing became quite apparent in 2014 - family comes first. Attending races was low on the list as I tried to make sure that my wife had all the support and breaks from the mongrels she needed as the main breadwinner.

While being iced in and unable to train until April had a little something to do with the course I took last year, being a little more fiscally responsible also played into the equation. Gas prices were outrageous. I had yet to find work and I just didn't feel like a good husband having my wife foot the bill for a hobby that can be damn expensive at times. I really decided to pick and choose what events I attended based on proximity, cost, rating of goody bags handed out, and energy level the morning of. In 2014 I missed a bunch of great events and even the not-so-great ones run by greedy race directors just trying to make a buck.  

Prioritizing wasn't easy. The Carolina Cup, the Key West race the following weekend, and the Gorge Downwinder were all on my list for 2014. None of those were made. There were a few instances of pouting. y wife would say "Go!" and I would just pout for a few more minutes then get over it realizing that being around just to walk the dogs made my wife's existence a little bit easier. However, when I missed out on a big week in Maryland, which was to coincide with my mother's birthday, going to the East of Maui race in Annapolis followed by Walk on Water's and the other East of Maui's races the following weekend I took a little longer than a few minutes to get over the disappointment. Also, I missed both of Dawn's events. She works hard to put on two great events in Ocean City and I missed both! Dang, that was upsetting…

Living in my mother-in-law's beautiful beach house and being able to spend those weekends with my wife and mongrels wasn't a bad alternative. I had a fun summer with my wife and the dogs. In fact, we spent so much time together in 2014 that my wife often asked - "isn't it time for you to go visit your mom?"

I feel I need to interrupt the flow of this blog to fill people in on a little backstory. When my wife and I first met and started dating, I was working as a lighting technician on movies and commercials and also as a photographer's assistant. I would be gone from anywhere between 2 to 4 to 6 weeks at a time depending on the job. That worked well for us. We both loved me working on location because that cliche absence makes the heart grow fonder is 100% true for us. As I phased out of work that took me away from home my absences were fewer and farther between. To make up for my lack of location work my wife LOVES me going to races now! I just hope she will make it to a few more races with me this coming year!

Back to the point I am trying to make…

Sure it was time for me to go visit my mom but what was I going to do back east? I still enjoyed paddling but I wasn't training of anything in particular. You can only paddle around Oxford so many times… Something needed to give. As 2015 loomed around the corner, I really had no idea what direction to pursue. I had sent out hundreds of resumes from teaching at a community college to bagging groceries at the local Jewel Osco. Having spent most of my meditation and prayer time asking God for direction, I was working on patience and faith for much of the year and was having a hard time keeping my side of that bargain. Then I finally got an email about a job!

I was hired as a driver's assistant for UPS over the holidays, with the possibility of moving into a full-time position at the warehouse if I proved myself. Having worked outside in all types of inclement weather, I thought for sure that I would sail to the top of the totem pole and receive the MVP award for driver's assistants and start raking in the dough and then start ordering all kinds of custom paddleboards. After two shifts, and a total of 6.18 hours worked, I had to hand in my uniform as one who was not physically able to handle the demands of the job. What a humbling experience that was. Not only was I mortified but I was as humiliated as I ever remember being. Sitting on the little flip-down board those trucks have as a seat for the driver's assistant destroyed my, already susceptible, lower back. I head in for an MRI this thursday to see if anymore damage has taken place since my last MRI in 2010. Ugh.

The only thing that has really helped my back over the years is exercise, especially paddling. This is even more true now. The shape of my BARK Unlimited allows me to lie down and kneel positions most advantageous when it comes to helping ease back pain. So paddling I did. Now Lake Michigan in December is not the most fun place to paddle but it sure is beautiful! I have the gear to stay warm so as long as there was access to the lake and I was able to stay near to shore in shallower water I was going to paddle. I also started swimming again. While it was disheartening to realize that I have to be more choosey about what jobs I can handle, I was enjoying the results of multi-hour training sessions. Ice moved in so I spent more time in the pool and at the best gym in the world - Applied Strength and Conditioning in Chesterton, Indiana. Check out their website; it's quite an enjoyable read! http://www.appliedsc.com But what was I doing all this for? I was still unclear as to where I was heading and why.

Being the midst of all the trauma dealing with the fact that I am just not one who is able to handle the rigors of working, I received an email from Hammer Nutrition welcoming me to their team for 2015.

What!!?? Where did this come from!!?? 

Oh yeah, I know where it came from. It was a heavenly gift sent to me at the right time when I needed a little nudge in the proper direction. Hammer was responding to an email I had sent them almost one year earlier. I had almost forgotten I contacted them about the 2014 season. The email from Hammer Nutrition, some praise and thanks sent high to the heavens, some articles written by athletes, and encouragement and support from my wife, have given me a renewed motivation for 2015. So I have an idea of where I am now heading. I know I am heading to Wrightsville Beach, NC in April for the Carolina Cup!

More to come on the rejuvenation soon!

In the meantime if you have any questions about Hammer Nutrition hit me up through email or a Facebook message and I will be happy to give you my take on their products. I am really happy with how they have helped me, especially recently as my training has really picked up in intensity.