Rae Week: Madison Half Marathon

 Madison Half Marathon 2017

Madison Half Marathon 2017

It is race week everyone, Madison Half Marathon! I am pretty excited since I havent raced anything since Steelhead 70.3 in August. The training has been going very well and when training is going well, you want to race!

The Madison Marathon and Half Marathon is a huge event that starts on the Capital Square. It is one of last races of the year and attracts thousands of runners.

The course is hard because of all of the hills. Short hills, steep hills, long hills. However, what comes up must come down. Don’t think that you cannot run fast on hilly courses, you just have to run them right!

A half marathon is a challenging event to pace because it is close to your lactate threshold, but you cant run directly at your lactate threshold because you’ll bonk. I think of it as running on the point of uncertainty. Can I hold this pace? Yes? No? If I am having self doubt than I am running the right effort. From mile 1 I will be second guessing my pacing.

Also, I will rarely look at my running watch for the entire 13.1 mile race. Running a hilly race requires you to have a good sense of running off effort because your pace will constantly be slower and faster than what you want to average. When you have a constant influx of pace, that can create self doubt. I’ve been running long enough where I know the level of discomfort I can hold for certain distances. 

Race week is also interesting because its when you see alot of people self sabotaging all of the work they’ve put in. 

  1. Creating less aggressive goals

  2. Creating more aggressive goals

  3. Thinking they can run faster on race day, because its race day

  4. Thinking adrenaline will provide 5% increase in fitness

  5. Going to a Low Carb, High Fat Diet

  6. Going to a High Carb, Low Fat Diet

  7. Become Vegan

  8. Binge eating terrible food because your goals “dont matter”

  9. Figuring out your nutrition plan at the expo

  10. Asking your friend what pace you should run

  11. Buy a different pair of shoes because they will be faster 


These are all common mistakes people make race week. Seriously. They happen. 

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Everyone gets nervous race week. Nerves make people do funny things. Things that you would never have done in your lead up to the race. 

How do you distract yourself from making these errors? Reinforce your race goals. Remind yourself how hard you worked. Go back and reread your training journal. Visualize your race before bed each night. Go to the expo with a friend to ensure you don’t buy anything silly. 

It’s going to be under 30 degrees for the race and that makes me very happy. Running in colder weather allows me to keep my core temperature down so you can run hard. I will be wearing half tights, a tight base layer with a t-shirt over it, gloves, and a breathable winter running hat. I do run with music and i’ve already created my playlist for race day. 

My A Goal is to break 1:23. Last year I ran 1:24:XX which was a 6:26 average pace. Breaking 1:23 means I need to average 6:20 pace. That is my A Goal. My realistic goal is to break 1:24 and to do that I need to average 6:23s.

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I was blessed with short stubby legs which makes me excellent at running uphill but not downhill. One of my execution goals is to actively push the downhills out of my comfort zone. On a regular basis I get to run with an incredible athlete, Robin, who is shorter than me and is one of the best downhill runners. There is hope! My other execution goal will be to run more confident on the flat sections. If I dont execute these two things…I wont make up the time I lost on all of the uphills. 

My cycling and swimming this week will be reduced. This is also a recovery week for me so reducing volume and intensity is making my body feel good and my motivation high.

Lets go have some fun!

Steve

A New Challenge!

Big Ringers:

All is going very well on the training front and having a blast. I am finding a good rhythm each day with getting my sessions in. Coffee is set to automatically start at 4:00am, the alarm clock is set for 4:05, I am up by 4:10, working out by 4:45-5am. I am very much a morning person, as you can tell. If I could be in bed by 8pm, I would!

It is only October and I am obsessing over what races I am doing next year. I have been waffling over my first triathlon, Elkhart Lake or Madison 70.3? Both because they are back to back weekends?

THEN, a new challenge was presented to me…

American Triple T

https://americantriple-t.com/american-triple-t/

It is 4 triathlons within 3 days… all totaling an Ironman Distance. There is also shorter version that totals a 70.3 Triathlon.

Friday: Super Sprint Triathlon

Saturday AM: Olympic Distance

Saturday Afternoon: Olympic Distance (Bike/Swim/Run)

Sunday: Half Ironman

Why the change? I’ve done Elkhart Lake and used it as a fitness gauge. Madison 70.3 is local and competitive, but it doesn’t draw much interest to me outside of the competition that would be there.

What’s also nice about TTT? I have inside knowledge into how to prepare and race it. How? My superstar wife has WON this event. Yea, I married up. Cindi has always encouraged me to race TTT and having that type of knowledge from a previous champion is second to none.

Importantly, Triple T provides me a lot of motivation. Its going to be very challenging. It’s also different than what i’ve previously done, which is good because i’ve found myself getting bored. My interest has been leaning towards adventure races, long trail runs, Canada Extreme, Swissman, Norseman type of events.

My theme for 2019 Ironman Wisconsin and all of the preparation leading into will be “Conditioning, Conditioning, Conditioning.” I have done many Ironmans so I don’t need more triathlon experience. My limiter for most of my Ironmans have been simple: Conditioning. Endurance. Fitness. GET FIT! Triple T keeps me in this mindset over the winter months leading into both races. To accomplish 140.6 miles, broken into 4 triathlons will require a lot of conditioning but not the same as a stand alone Ironman.

Add in that Triple T is under 300 dollars for the entry fee. 4 Triathlons, Race Kit, Finishers Jacket, and much more what what a single 70.3 event costs. The lodging offered is also very affordable. Plus, I love racing smaller races. The feel and environment of these grassroots events is always nice. Door County Half Ironman is also like this.

Until next week!

Steve

Cravings vs Hunger

A post from Expert Luke Briggs has really stuck with me. It has to do with emotional eating and the part that stuck with me the most is when he talks about Cravings vs Hunger. At first it resonated the most with eating (obviously) because I would go into a coffee shop and get a craving for something specific, I would then convince myself that it would be ok to eat it all the while it not supporting my goals. Luke talks about if you feel its a craving, wait a couple minutes without reacting to find out. If you are still “hungry” after 20 minutes… you are actually hungry.

It’s worked. In 4 months I have lost 8 pounds. Most of it by reducing so many unnecessary things from my diet.

I also have a tendency for buying unnecessary items because i’ve convinced myself it will make me faster. That sounds ridiculous as I type it, but I do it. This nutrition product. This helmet. This whatever. But it’s all bullshit. Total bullshit. Whats going to make you better is the hunger deep inside you, not a distraction that weakens you internally. This goes back to dependency and if you place too much dependency outside of yourself, you are weakening your confidence.

My swimming has gotten a lot better, in fact; I am swimming the best I have in years. I am only swimming twice a week with each session around 3,500 yards. Remember when I called myself weak minded in the pool? I feel like my commitment to eliminating all dependency of my buoy and paddles has paid off. I am now able to swim 1,500 to 2,000 yards on a 1:30 send off. All freestyle, no buoy. I go into my swim workouts with paces to hit. I am constantly challenging myself wanting to get better. This past swim session I was finishing up some strong 100s and cranked out a 1:09! I was full gas, giving it everything. 1:09 is not a personal best but being able to swim that fast under fatigue is a good sign for me.

Two things I have wanted to improve upon are happening. Body weight is reducing and swim paces are increasing.

What I'm Working On

This week our family took a vacation to Door County. It’s been around 2 years since we’ve taken a formal vacation and with the triathlon season winding down, we packed our bags and headed to the quiet town of Bailey’s Harbor.

Talking with Coach Kevin before I left, I was fired up to get back into hard training after the prior light week. We settled on making this week also pretty easy and he was right. When I go on vacation, my mind does the same. Every morning I am up at 4:30 to work, train or coach. However. when vacation came I slept till the rooster crowed aka Lucy woke up. My training goal was to get in 30’ of running a day, mission accomplished. I was also on vacation and the last thing I wanted to do was be away from my family.

I grew up running from middle school and high school and the first year at college. While I was never a talented runner, I loved putting in the hard miles. I was a coaches worst nightmare. Every run was hard. 6 mile aerobic run turned into 6 miles as hard as possible. 10 mile long run the day after a race turned into a hammer session. Like I said… a true nightmare. I look back on myself and understand why i never saw the improvement other runners saw, I never let my body rest, recover, and grow. I wanted to do more, faster, and more frequent. That’s the path to becoming amazingly mediocre.

Since we’re on the honest bus, Ive never shown much promise in swim, bike, or running. I had to work very hard for the results I’ve achieved. For most talented people, it takes them 3 years from nothing to something (Short Course Nationals, 70.3 Worlds, Kona Qualifier)… for me it took double the time. My parents taught me hard work, but didn’t give me the great genetics. I still love them very much.

So here I am today plugging away at the small details.

When I evaluated my running form. (How do I do this? I put my phone next to me on my treadmill) I notice that my left leg doesn’t recover as high as my right. The effect of this is that my left leg over striders causing me to look like I am cross country skiing instead of running, which causes me to over stride, which causes a lot of injuries on my left leg, which is REALLY limiting my speed potential. If you want to go faster you need to put more force straight down into the ground. When you over stride, you don’t do that.

Some people can get away with bad technique, but I’m not talented or genetically powerful so I need to fix these issues. Running technique is important, if you don’t think so you’re oblivious to the obvious.

If you are talented, more power to you! You have been given great genes and if you combine that with hard work… you’re going places. Talented athletes make many coaches look really good!

Here is what I am doing to fix my left leg, it’s pretty simple. There are so many fancy drills but keeping it simple and knowing the focus is key to learning. Thats what Drills do, they teach you something. How it should feel and how to do it correctly. Drills won’t automatically make you faster, in fact I see many athletes doing drills aimlessly. However, when they are done right they’re the foundation to your improvement.

If I am feeling fatigued I will do these before the run as a muscle activation set. I will always do them after my runs, especially a hard run.

3 Rounds:

20 Butt Kicks (Focus on tightening up my recovery phase to get my foot higher to push down)

20 High Knees (Same Focus on Butt Kicks, just different position)

20 A-Skips (Pull the leg up, FIRE the leg down. Putting it all together)

20 High Elbow Band Pulls (For swimming)

R:1 Minute, repeat.


Swimming Break Through!

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Something I have been doing is replacing coffee with tea. Why? I drink a lot of coffee, sometimes 10 cups a day. On average I would say 6-8 cups a day. Some would be black coffee, some lattes, some red eyes (coffee and 1-2 shots of espresso). It was getting out of hand and my dad’s side of the family is known for having a bad heart. For almost 2 weeks I have been drinking 1-2 cups of coffee in the morning and then tea in the afternoon. Most green tea or decaf tea. I have felt a significant different in energy and sleeping better.

Back to Triathlon talk! Who reading this cares about coffee!

On most Mondays I go to Cindi’s Masters Swim Class in the afternoon because I get a good level of technical advice on my swim stroke. This is the time of season where you should be fixing your mistakes. Well… you should always try to fix your technical errors.

“All of your mistakes are happening because you are constantly off balance” Cindi told me. After watching the video I couldn’t believe it. When I swim I feel like i’m hitting a home run, on video I look like a gorilla trying to swim through the water. So much energy and extra drag/resistance to achieve these swim times.

Cindi pointed out these errors to me:

1) Wide Catch

2) Not getting full extension

3) Wiggling Hips

4) Splicing Legs

5) Minimal Core Utilization

6) Constant Redirection, Minimal Forward Motion



All of these mistakes are coming from lack of balance on the water. Which means my catch phase sucks and at some point I am losing balance on the water and everything falls apart.

For a reference point, I did a swim set with the group where we did a multiple pyramids of 100, 200, 300, 200, 100s. During one of the hard 300s I went 3:59 which is 1:20y average. I was swimming VERY hard to hit those times.

After discussing on what drills I needed to work on to fix this, I reduced my weekly swim volume by 50% and didn’t swim repetitions over 100 yards. Every swim was focused on executing the swim drill over a 25 and putting it together into a 25 freestyle. More swimming wasn’t the answer to my technical issues.

What did I notice throughout the process?

My swim strokes per 25 went from 20-22 to 18-20. My swim speeds remained the same at a lower effort.

On Friday I did my first swim test of the season: Max Effort 400 and 200. My 400 was a 5:08 (1:17 average) and my 200 was a 2:29 (1:14.5 average). Putting my threshold swim pace at 1:20y. The 400 was a lifetime best, yay go Steve! And to be honest, It was the “easiest” max effort 400 i’ve ever done. I literally couldn’t believe it. When I got home I told Cindi, “You saved my swimming!”

For years I have been swimming the same paces, never making progress. My motivation in the water was slipping because I wasn’t getting better. But heres the thing, I was the problem. Not swimming. Not the pool. I never really put the time and effort into fixing my swim stroke. I liked to complain about it, but never put the effort into fixing it.

What did I learn?

1) Reduce swim volume when fixing technical errors. You can’t fix technical errors when half of your concern is on the length of repetition. If you keep swimming longer repeats on a broken stroke, you will become a broken record.

2) Go to the pool with 1-2 objectives. Don’t try and fix your kick and your breathing at the same time. You will get confused and upset. The only improvements that will be made is increased hatred of swimming.

3) Don’t just swim drills. Thats worthless and doesn’t translate to holding good technique under higher speeds and fatigue, unless you plan on swimming your Ironman with a closed fist. Execute Drills into Freestyle of varies speeds and lengths.

4) Know your 25 speeds and your 25 stroke count. Every triathlete knows their cycling cadence and power and their running stride rate and pace. Why don’t you know this stuff in the pool. Its an IMMEDIATE display if you’re getting better.

In the Swim Smooth Calculator, it estimates off of my 1:20 threshold I am capable of swimming a 57:40 Ironman Swim. Now that sounds awesome, but I lack the endurance and open water skill to swim that fast. However, it is good to know I have the potential to swim that fast come September.

Hope you learned something from this!

Steve



What Is Your Commitment Level?

Week 1

Previous Week Training Hours: 11.5

Commitment Level: 6/10

Current Weight: 159

Current FTP: 3.9 w/kg

What is commitment level? I think of this as my marker so I dont burn out too early. One question that was asked was, “Can you really hold this level of intensity for over a year?”

Of course I can’t and I wont even try. 

While I am against people taking weeks and months off of training. I am also against people getting 100% focused for a goal before the new years if there event is in the late summer. I have seen friends and fellow athletes finish a season disappointed and get reengaged too early only to be burned out in March. It happens so often! 

I am 100% committed to the program. I am 100% committed to my coaches plan. But my lifestyle around training is a 6/10. I am still eating ice cream before bed. I am still drinking beer. I am still eating somewhat unhealthy. Kevin and I discussed this and after my previous weigh in and body fat test, I am in a good position for the fall. No need to lose too much right now. 

This past weeks training was awesome, I am so pumped to be working hard and doing structured sessions. While the sessions aren’t that hard, the grind of a schedule is exciting to me. I did a run session of 3x10’ at a Tempo effort and finished the last two repeats around 6:00 or 315-320 watts. It was cold, windy, and rainy and it felt effortless. This could be because I was still fresh from the week off but the paces still happened. 

In typical Kevin fashion, this week looks pretty similar to last week with some increases in swim volume and bike intensity volumes with the workout. 

Happy Training!

Steve

Improvements

Week 3: Improvements


Week #3: 

Ironman Wisconsin happened this past weekend and it reminded me of why I want to do this race over any other one. We had athletes racing and two of my athletes finished 4th in their Age Group, 1 missed Kona by a single place. I was also able to watch a friend have the race of his life and earn his Kona Spot hes been wanting for so long. It was motivating to watch so many athletes I know and coach accomplish what they’ve trained for. I find so much encouragement and belief that if others are able to, I can accomplish my goals of faster than 9:40 at Ironman Wisconsin.

When I first started thinking of doing an Ironman in 2019, IMWI wasn’t my top choice even though it is in the same city I live in. All eyes were focused on Ironman Arizona. Why? I am not very strong on hills. Cycling or running I get toasted by pretty much everyone. When I look at my results from previous races, I am much more competitive in the flatter races than hilly ones. The percentages of how close I am to the front shows I am much better at flat races. 

This makes me self analysis why this is the case and how do I improve as an athlete. When I look at the power profile chart, my 1’ power is much lower than my FTP power. I think that if they are not even in the same category, this will lead to more muscular fatigue on race day that you should encounter. 

Why did I decide on IMWI? It’s the crowds. The support is unparalleled to any other course I’ve seen. IMWI has over 6,000 feet of elevation gain on the bike and 1,000 feet on the run. The run course also had over 20 turns which makes it a pretty close course. To re illustrate why, I want to have an incredible experience over chasing a fast time. 

How am I fixing my weakness?

Kevin and I talk about this alot and what the primary focus will be and its nothing fancy. All of the sessions we do is to getting me as fit as I possibly can be. This may seem basic, but over the past 5-6 years this basic concept is what I lacked. Its why I continued to fall apart late into races. Its why i experience GI stress in ever marathon. 

Develop the Bow before the Arrow

We are currently in the grind of muscular strength. We are in a phase of training where it consists of alot of 90-95% efforts in a big gear (65-70rpms). On the run it is also pretty similar, Tempo running and striders. We are building the biggest platform possible. While I am only training 8-10hrs a week, the intensity is high and I am loving it. Knowing Kevin, we will probably sit in this phase for 3-4 months. More and more Sweet Spot in a bigger gear. The intensity isnt so hard it fries me the next day, it allows me to put in alot of good work. 

The over gear work is for my weakness. Strength Strength Strength. 

It’s Happening, Already.

I am getting better. I like improvement. 

Swim: Last week I was able to swim 15x100 on 1:30 base. My avg 100s were 1:18-22 and I was cruising with minimal effort. Today I was 3x600 avg 1:20-25, 5x100 avg 1:16, 8x50 avg 34. Totally 3600y and it was the best i’ve felt swimming this distance in over 6 years. I have never swum 1500-1800 yards on a 1:30 base. EVER.


Bike: No improvements yet. It’s only been 3 weeks. Yet, I am feeling very strong. I love over gear work. If you want to get better, put that puppy in the big ring!


Run: The volume of running has been quite low. We do 1x Tempo Run a week where i’m targeting 6:15-25 pace (Half Marathon Pace) for 30-40’ of total work broken up in 10-12’ segments. The purpose of this is building a strong base. I have the Madison Half Marathon in early November where I would like to Run in the 1:20-1:23 range.

Confessions From A Weak Winded Swimmer

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I have a confession to make. I am a mentally weak swimmer who’s addicted to their pull buoy. For years I convinced myself that all I needed to do was pull as it replicated the wetsuit. Here is what it really did, it made me mentally weak and unprepared for the hardships triathlon swimming presents. Anytime I would swim without my pull buoy it instantly became harder than I liked. I would grab my pull buoy faster than I do my Oreo Ice Cream. There were times I would forget my pull buoy at home and not even swim! Repeat this process over and over and I developed a dependency that was hurting my swim training as well as my confidence on race day. Sure, after some big swims my arms would be smashed and confidence would be restored (short term) but I never saw the returns on all of the pulling. 

Practice what I preach? Nope, didn’t do that. Ive been coaching swimmers from the pool deck for 10 years which means I have coached hundreds of swimmers. In 10 years of on deck coaching, I became very good at connecting body position errors and whats truly effecting it. The more I think of it with the coaching I prescribe in our classes, it rarely has any buoy work. 

For years I never USED the rotational aspect of my stroke to improve my distance per stroke. I knew it but couldn’t fix it because I believe that too much pull buoy, or the wrong pull buoy inhibits your ability to use your hips and core in the swim stroke. To improve usable rotation in your swim stroke, you can't use a pull buoy and I wasn't willing to give it up. So what was the result of all my pulling? Better pulling but not better overall conditioning.

Step 1: Cue Rocky Theme Song

Step 2: “Cindi HIDE MY SWIM BUOY"

Step 3: Harden Up

Step 4: Enter Cave Man Swim Training

Cave Man Swim Training (CMST) is literally something I made up. When I think of what the definition is, it resembles going back to the bare bones of swimming with no toys and simply getting the work done. I’ve removed my pull buoy from my bag so it not within reach. All of the my swims are purely freestyle, no toys. The 1st couple swims were exhausting. More open turns because I was so low on oxygen. More internal profanity. The bike and run sessions that followed would suffer because how much energy it took out of me. I didn’t care, I was motivated to break this habit. 

Guess what? I started to see improvement. I started to really connect my hips and core into my catch phase. My swim times for a set of threshold 100s went from 1:25s to 1:18s. I like improvement.

Sometimes it is cool to be the swimmer with all the gear on. Snorkel, paddles, buoy, band, fins. It may be helping you or it may not be. Do paddles, band, and snorkels have a place in swimming? Well, duh. Each toy has a specific place within swim training and fixing certain aspects of a stroke. In my case, these toys made me weaker because I started to depend on them too much. To become excellent at whatever it is you’re attempting, you have to have 100% belief in yourself. If you don’t because you rely on something or someone to do it for you, your chances of failure go up. You have to fix you before you can truly accomplish what you want.

Happy Training!

Steve

Cravings vs Hunger

https://www.facebook.com/100008545954745/videos/1862583844036463/

(Video Link Above)

This post from Expert Luke Briggs has really stuck with me. It has to do with emotional eating and the part that stuck with me the most is when he talks about Cravings vs Hunger. At first it resonated the most with eating (obviously) because I would go into a coffee shop and get a craving for something specific, I would then convince myself that it would be ok to eat it all the while it not supporting my goals. Luke talks about if you feel its a craving, wait a couple minutes without reacting to find out. If you are still “hungry” after 20 minutes… you are actually hungry.

It’s worked. In 4 months I have lost 8 pounds. Most of it by reducing so many unnecessary things from my diet.

I also have a tendency for buying unnecessary items because i’ve convinced myself it will make me faster. That sounds ridiculous as I type it, but I do it. This nutrition product. This helmet. This whatever. But it’s all bullshit. Total bullshit. Whats going to make you better is the hunger deep inside you, not a distraction that weakens you internally. This goes back to dependency and if you place too much dependency outside of yourself, you are weakening your confidence.

My swimming has gotten a lot better, in fact; I am swimming the best I have in years. I am only swimming twice a week with each session around 3,500 yards. Remember when I called myself weak minded in the pool? I feel like my commitment to eliminating all dependency of my buoy and paddles has paid off. I am now able to swim 1,500 to 2,000 yards on a 1:30 send off. All freestyle, no buoy. I go into my swim workouts with paces to hit. I am constantly challenging myself wanting to get better. This past swim session I was finishing up some strong 100s and cranked out a 1:09! I was full gas, giving it everything. 1:09 is not a personal best but being able to swim that fast under fatigue is a good sign for me.

Two things I have wanted to improve upon are happening. Body weight is reducing and swim paces are increasing.

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Planning Your Off Season

It’s that time of year when triathletes are finishing their season and transitioning to the off season. If you havent looked into structuring your off season, you should. If your off season consists of 3 months of no training and over 10lbs of weight gain, you are doing it wrong and putting yourself at major risk. Having a successful off season is critical for a number of reasons; injury prevention, mental health, and athlete longevity. 


Each year I have new athletes that are afraid to hang up their bikes or swim trunks for a couple months because they feel they will lose everything they’ve worked for, this is completely untrue. Trust me, I’m an experienced coach. If you keep pushing 12 months each year you will start to experience never ending overuse injuries, waves of low motivation, and lack of enjoyment for the sport you love. When you experience all of these symptoms, how can you expect to train at a level that will promote improvement? They wont. With a poor mentality you will fall into a poor training routine which will lead to a plateau of fitness. Doesn’t sound like much fun. 


Step 1: Take 1-2 weeks of minimal training. For my athletes, I call them “Free Days and Weeks”. These days consist of 30’ of swim, bike, run, or off day. There is no structure to the training. It gives them the freedom to relax. 


Step 2: Identify your weak link. Is it swimming? Is it running? October through December is meant for addressing your weakness. This is when you turn yourself into a single sport athlete. You are swimming 1-2x a week at 50% of your typical swim volume. You are also cycling 1-2x a week with minimal intensity or no cycling at all. The best Fall riding is to the bakery with friends.

I was coaching our Triathlon Swim Class on Monday and one our swimmers is signed up for Ironman Wisconsin 2019. Looking at his stroke we identified that he lacked the ability to change speeds. We did multiple 50s at different speeds, but there wasn’t much of a difference between the three speeds. If an athlete wants to see improvement but cannot sprint, their ceiling of improvement is limited. For the upcoming months this swimmer will be focusing on sprinting in the pool with a lot of rest. Think of this work like lifting weights in a gym. If you constantly are doing the leg press machine at 100lbs for 12 repetitions but never increase the load of your exercise, your muscle recruitment will never be challenged. We will be doing the equivalent of 5 repetitions of 140lbs. The goal of doing fast 25s and 50s with equal rest is that it allows the athlete to produce more power than they ever have. Here is an Ironman athlete learning how to sprint to improve their Ironman swim 12 months away. Doing long repeats at a slow pace in September won’t do you any good.

Also, I have never met a triathlete who didn’t want to improve their running performance. The Fall is the best time to become a better runner. When I talk with my athletes about Fall training we always discuss going “All In” with the running. This means we are doing more run drills, more plyometrics, more bounding, and more running volume. We turn into runners. We throw on the short shorts. We sign up for local 5k running events. We run! Athletes love this approach because they can focus on one sport instead of trying to balance two other sports at the same level. 

Coach Steven Brandes

USAT High Performance Coach

USAT Level 2 Coach

Door County Half Ironman

 

Every race has it’s positives and negatives and it’s highs and lows. My ultimate goal is Ironman Wisconsin 2019 and trying to achieve my best Ironman. Cindi and I have discussed the best path for me to achieve this performance. With all of this planning happening, I’ve found myself wanting to shut this season down, take a break and start the preparation into 2019. However, every time I start to think this way, I question the reasoning and I continue to come to the realization that i am in the process of self sabotage. I’m desperately trying to find the easy way out of this season. Maybe the stress of being a new father has taken more out of me than I expected. I know this because the drive to get in each session isn’t there and I’d rather get more rest than do the important sessions needed. Hard sessions turn into recovery. Simply put, this season hasn’t gone to plan and I haven’t seen the improvements I would have liked. Each races is a reminder of how much fitness i’ve lost. As I do find positives from each race, they seem to be stripping my motivation rather than increasing it. I still have 3 races on my schedule but plan on doing only 1, Steelhead 70.3. 

 

The Days Before:

I felt good going into this race because I was able to put in the bigger, high quality sessions. Everything seemed to be on track. Robin has been building for Ironman Wisconsin and its been nice to ride with her. I’ve also made chances to my bike position that continue to be a positive in regards to having a better second half to my races. The drive to Door County was pleasant. Justin was very helpful with meeting us at the race site to help us put up the tent. We settled back to our place, ate dinner, and relaxed at the pool. 

Lucy slept pretty well Friday night. She had a not normal wake up at 4am on Saturday and I was able to get her back to sleep. I decided to just stay up and do work. Being up at 4am is not an ideal thing to do the day before the race but work needed to be done. Saturday was the Sprint Distance and Cindi went down with the team and I stayed back till Lucy woke up. We made it to the race and was able to watch our athletes compete, one of whom won the entire thing! Way to go Bobby! Watching his race certainly motivated me. Lucy started to get tired so I brought her back to the condo for her first nap. My plan was to ride the trainer while she napped. Well, her nap only latest 30’ which meant no ride. I started to get in this panic where I know I needed to get my pre race workout in. It sounds incredibly selfish when I think of it. So I focused on the fact that I was able to stay inside, rest my legs, and relax while it was blazing hot outside. I was also able to have the ITU WTS Hamburg race play in the background. Cindi made it back to Condo and we switched roles. Bike done on the trainer, felt great. Drove to the race site to do easy run and stride, felt good but WOWZA it was hot. Then I went in an swam, felt awesome. Ready to go! Lucy slept awesome Saturday night which meant Cindi and I got great sleep. 

The Swim: D+

 

 

I sucked and have no clue why. Well, I know why… I dont swim much and still believe I can fake my way to a 30’ swim. NOT THIS TIME. 500 into the swim my arms were completely shot. “Ah your arms aren’t warmed up, they will come good”… They didn’t come good. I also was constantly drifting left. I literally couldn’t swim straight. I was convinced I was going to see 40’. The beauty of endurance sport is you get what you earn. I wasn’t trained for this and I got exactly what I deserved. 

 

The Bike: B+

 

 

When you aren’t swim fit you suffer the first part of the bike because you are trying to recover from the swim. I was uncomfortable. Heavy legs. Low power. Alone with no one in sight. Unmotivated. Making excuses. Convinced my brakes were rubbing.

Then… I saw people in-front of me so I made it my goal to catch them. From a distance it appeared these people were drafting which set me off into a hissy, it was exactly what I needed… some motivation. I rode past them pushing well into my threshold trying to create a gap so they wouldn't jump on my wheel. Looking back on this, it was quite stupid but it helped me mentally. Slowly I started to catch more people which changed my mentality. My goal coming into this ride was to execute a better 2nd half of the ride. Be more focused, consume more calories. I commonly see 8-10% of a drop off in the 2nd half which is unacceptable. Poor nutrition and bike fit caused me to slow down. This time it was only 5%. This was my best ride at DC by almost 2 minutes!

 

 

 

The Run: B

 

I got into transition ready to get after it. Earlier someone told me i was top 10, so after passing people I would thought I was 6th or 7th. When I ran past Cindi, she asked “Are you feeling ok? Jason Landretti is 7 minutes up” (Jason is a good friend and someone I like to race because of the banter back and forth)… However, these are not the words you want to hear. These words mean, you’re farther back then we discussed! Apparently I was in 13th place… note to self, don’t believe some random person’s place count. I went from being fired to running on auto pilot. When I looked at the results afterwards, it appears the front of the race was a draft fest as 4-5 guys were rewarded drafting penalties. One athlete was given 12 minutes!

The only turnaround is at 5 miles and up to this point I didn’t see a single runner. It was the perfect place for someone cruising, no pressure. THEN, I saw two guys coming up on me and one in-front of me. They were coming fast and I didn’t want to get passed. I started to push very hard and at times I had to slow down because I had crossed that lactate level line. “Dont look back, don’t look back, don’t let him see you looking back, it’s a sign of weakness, he’ll know you’re hurting” With 3 miles to go we are essentially on two long roads till the finish. I felt with every step I was losing time but I kept pushing. There is an acronym that sticks with me and its TUF, Toughness Under Fatigue. When you're at your limit, it is no longer up to your legs but your mind. How you mentally handle pressure, fatigue, and lactate determines your race results. I was literally at my limit. 1% harder and my legs would completely flood with lactate, 1% easier and Matt would have caught me. Weak mind? I would have been walking. It always funny because 5 miles earlier i was having a pitty part and now i’m at my maximal effort. The ups and downs. Here we are, 1 Mile to go and Matt was within 30 seconds. With the finish being downhill, I felt I was at a disadvantage because i’m short and Matt is tall. With the short rise before the downhill I had to push hard to get some extra time. I was able to hold him off, but holy moly I don’t think I’ve ever pushed that hard. Competition brings the best out of you. 

I joke with people that "every time I cross a finish line is a victory" and the feeling after maxing out is the reminder of why I love to race. Even if it's slower, I'm always chasing that feeling. 

Lake Mills and Elkhart Lake Triathlon Recap

Lake Mills and Elkhart Lake Triathlon Recap

 

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Have you ever been stuck in a frame of mind that doesn’t parallel your current physical state? This is my current situation and it’s a very hard place to be because it tugs at the motivational heart strings. 

In 2010, I was 24 and training like a professional. My weekly training hours were between 15-25. I didn’t have a girlfriend, a real job, any responsibilities… it was fantastic! I am now 32 with a wife and a beautiful 10 month daughter who isn’t a fan of sleeping at night. The priority levels have shifted. But the problem is that I still want to train 15 hours a week. 

The past 4 weeks I have averaged 8 hours of training. I only swam 9,000 yards the past month. That’s not a lot of training. But, that is how my life goes. 

Lake Mills Sprint Triathlon

This is the first time i’ve raced Lake Mills and was very excited to see where I stacked up. The funny part is I had no reason to be excited. I spent the last 4 weeks with a calf injury limiting my running. I took a hiatus from the pool because when life gets busy the pool is the first thing that goes. The week before Lake Mills, I took a complete 7 days off of running so I could treat my calf with rest and self massage in hopes I could run pain free at Lake Mills… it worked. 

Lake Mills was one of the most mentally challenging races as I was excited to race, but I was incredibly unprepared. The whole week I fought the mental battle of not racing so I wouldn’t embarrass myself in-front of some of the best Wisconsin triathletes I used to race alongside. I continued to tell myself, “You quit once, quitting becomes a lot easier the next time.” 

Plus, I am not a professional triathlete. I used to put alot of pressure on myself before races to perform. There were years where I wouldn’t communicate with people before the start because I thought it would enhance my performance to remain “focused”. But the reality of this type of thinking is that it’s a complete waste of energy. In fact, it made my performances worse. I was losing the excitement of triathlon by creating so much unnecessary pressure. If you find me before a triathlon now, chances are I won’t shut up.

If you were to ask me what my goals were before Lake Mills, my reply would have been: “I don’t have any goals”… People look at me funny when I said that. They would then ask, “well what kind of paces are you going to try and do? “I have no clue, I’m just going to go as hard as I can and focus on what I can control”

It’s 100% true that during a triathlon I never start my watch for the swim. I rarely look at my power meter, and I NEVER look at my running watch. The races are done almost 100% off of feel. Why? It keeps me mentally positive. Countless times I have seen people get so wrapped up in their numbers that the second they are not riding or running to their numbers, they mentally quit. They start to blame some factor for quitting when in doubt, they were not flexible enough to adapt on race day. It’s an ego thing, I get it. However, do a race and don’t look at your pacing device. 

Lake Mills did go ok for me. I was able to place 19th overall. Not bad.

Elkhart Lake Olympic Triathlon

I love racing Elkhart Lake. It may be my favorite triathlon. It’s a family run event on a challenging course. Flat courses don’t interest me, their boring. Again, what was I thinking? I only swam 1500 yards twice the past month and it was done race week out of complete panic that I needed to swim 1500 at Elkhart. Let alone the fact that I havent run 6 miles straight in more than 3 weeks. But hey, lets have some fun!

Elkhart Lake is an event where you can see ahead of time who is racing. You get to size up your competition! What’s funny about this concept is that it doesnt help your performance. The worst thing IRONMAN does is release who racing ahead of time. Why? For the people looking to be competitive, they spend hours scanning through their age group to see how competitive they will be. Isn’t that ridiculous? You can’t change how you race off this information. Its the easiest way to come into a race with a deflated, fixed mindset of how they will do. It just adds more pressure that will sink their potential on race day. Literally, all of the hard work and fun you were looking to have is now gone. A poor mindset will haunt you. This year, I didn’t even bother checking the list. 

2016 was the last time I raced at Elkhart and I got demolished. Literally demolished by everyone and the course. There was a-lot of walking involved. I was also still trying to impress my now wife at the time. What do they call these moments, character building? Yea, sure. Also it’s a good thing she didn’t marry me for my athletic ability.

2018 was about redemption and it turned out that I had one of my best races in the past couple years. I was pumped! I was able to swim 1500, I biked one of my best power outputs, and I ran very strong on a challenging run course. No quitting, no walking, only fist pumps. 

I finished with a time of 2:26. In 2016 when I got obliterated my time was 2:23. In 2010, when I was 24 my time was 2:13. 

In 8 years I’ve managed to get 13 minutes slower over the same course. How could I possibly take confidence from this? Here we are full circle to where this post started. I had an amazing day of racing. Pushed myself very hard only to be reminded that i’m 10lb heavier than I was 8 years ago (too many IPAs) and 13 minutes slower. 13 minutes is over 2 miles! 

To conclude, it is ok to race when you aren't fully prepared. In fact, not many people show up to a starting line 100% ready. I love this sport. I love feeling healthy and I enjoy being around like minded people. Taking a step back and being able to remove unnecessary pressure is the reason I still do this sport. It’s not about times or placement, its about enjoyment.

A Year With No Ironman

A Year Without an Ironman

 

Everyone has been in these cross roads and the decision is very tough. As a coach I have seen people enter this sport because of IRONMAN and when an athlete enters a season without one, their motivation drops. I am currently at this situation and its been challenging to motivate myself to train like i would when i’m signed up for an IRONMAN. 

 

Training at such a high level becomes addicting. When you are in your final IRONMAN build, you start to develop a “healthy” habit of training so much. Repeat that for 4 months and when you are forced to lower your training volume you have withdraws, The IRONMAN Hang Over.  

 

 

When you add in the fact that you won’t be doing an IRONMAN this upcoming calendar year, you start to create excuses that justifies missing a session is OKAY because you won’t be enduring such a large event. One missed session becomes another, and another, and before you know it you haven't trained for a week. Once you’ve missed a week of training you start to question you’re entire triathlon career. I have seen people quit the sport from this, it’s depressing. Every year you see people selling all of their equipment. These are the people who entered the sport because of IRONMAN, NOT because they were investing into their-self. These people probably needed better guidance. 

 

How do you combat this? You develop goals that motivate you. You create goals that make sense on a long term scale. You create goals that make sense financially. You DON’T create goals off of peer pressure. You create goals that again, make sense. 

 

 

I've written before that since since 2012/2013, I have actually gotten SLOWER every single year. During these years I have transitioned into a full time endurance coach which means that my athletes come first, not my training. I don’t coach athletes to fund my habit, I coach athletes because I care about their goals and passion. As you become a better coach you spend more time investing into your athletes instead of your training. This means that my 20+ available training hours diminished to 10-14 hours. When you add in that Cindi and I are proud parents of a beautiful 5 month old… that takes up even more time. For everyone who has a family and still does IRONMAN, there is a huge level of respect for being able to balance it all. You don’t understand it until you are in it!

 

What are my goals for 2018? Here, I’m going to fill you in because sharing your goals are important to sticking with them.

 

Swim: Swim a 10’ TT averaging 1:15 per 100 yards.

Bike: Increase my FTP to 4.4 watts per kilo

Run: Run a 5k at 16:45 and a 1 mile on the track under 5:00. 

 

How am I going to accomplish all of those? I have no idea and thats the fun part. These goals are challenging to me because I’ve never accomplished any of them (I’ve run sub 5’ mile in high school). These goals will require something different because if i go into this season with the same expectation as before with less available time, I will experience a burnout.

When you don't do an IRONMAN for a year or two, the financial strain is reduced tremendously. The pressure of racing is also reduced! The fact that I will be able to race over 10 times this year and i will still be spending LESS on entry fees, training, and nutrition feels incredible. I do triathlon because I love the sport, not just IRONMAN. 

Don't take this as me hating on IRONMAN, I will be doing one in 2019. But when you are developing yourself into a life long athlete, you have to learn to balance your life. If you can balance an IRONMAN every year, that's awesome! However, in my experience it would be in most peoples interest to do an IRONMAN every 2nd to 3rd year. 

Let's have a great 2018!

Tackling The Off Season

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How I’m Tackling This Off Season

This off season will be different than others because I am going to do everything different. That’s right, I am going to throw out the old play book and work on all of my weaknesses this off season. The thought of this scares me but also motivates me. After competing in triathlon for 11 years, I need a new physical and mental stimulus in order for me to have a great 2018 season. However, this means I have to look at myself critically and determine what my weakness are which isn't easy!

  1. Work on my physical strength: I have seen my strength levels decline every year and have seen it effect me in training. I was once a strong climbers and am now getting beat on almost every climb when training with others. Since October I have been in the gym, lifting weights working on developing my muscular strength. The past 2 months have been focused on general lifting at a moderate intensity. I am now getting into lifting at full capacity. This means I am only doing 3-4 rounds of 3-5 repetitions where I am forced to rest 3 minutes before i can start again. This is where the gains will be made to making me overall stronger.
  2. Work on my explosive power: This compliments my lifting in the gym, but puts a different spin on it. I haven’t improved my 5k running time, 400 yard swim, of my biking threshold is over 4 years. If your critical speed isn't improving, you won’t get faster over longer events. It’s not as if i haven't tried to improve the above, for whatever reason I haven't worked on the supporting elements that will improve my “thresholds”. So far I have been doing plyometrics and up hill bounding, lifting heavier weights in the gym, doing a tremendous amount of sprinting in the pool w/ parachutes and ankle bands, and short intense sessions on the bike. These sessions are very hard. At first I hated them because my session volumes have reduced almost 50% but i am seeing the benefits already. My personal best in a 50 free was 34 and I am now at 30 seconds! You can’t change technical inefficiencies under a high training load, so if you are swimming 4,000 yards with a bad swim stroke, you will remain a bad swimmer. 
  3. Reduce my body fat: I didn’t say I wanted to lose weight, i said body fat percentage. I have noticed that as i’ve gotten older, my body fat has increased. With the added weights and explosive work, that will naturally add more muscle which will keep my weight the same and there is a good chance I will start to lose weight as well. Either way, when I went to CXC Skiing facility to get my Resting Metabolic Rate tested to determined how many calories my body demands each day, I also had my body fat tested… i wasn't happy with it. Having these numbers, i am able to set up my daily eating to know how much i should be eating to either lose weight or maintain my current weight.
  4. Race more frequent: I used to only race when I felt prepared and I feel like this is a weakness that always gets exploited on race day. I feel like I hide in my training until I feel race ready and then when i did race I had too many expectations to do well. This is a good thing and a bad thing because you should always have expectations, but I also feel like my performances suffered because I was afraid to fully commit myself in races, almost like i was racing at 90% of my best instead of 100%. So far i have raced twice this off season and before both I almost convinced myself to not race but glad i did. Its a hard thing to put yourself in a situation when you know you wont be at your best, it takes courage, but i am using these races as a stepping stone to manage my overall preparation. My plan this off season is to race 1-2xs a month, from the Pinnacle Indoor Triathlons to local running races, i will be out there learning to suffer!

Coach Steven Brandes

Race day ready: tactics for keeping pre-race nerves at bay

There’s very few athletes that can honestly say that they don’t get nervous on race day. For a lot of athletes, their entire year of training comes down to one day. One race with everything on the line. It’s close to impossible not to feel some nerves. Use these tips to kick start your race instead of letting nerves inhibit your performance.

Your biggest weapon? Show up to race day prepared. I would say that the majority of people are nervous on race day because they know they didn’t put in the work. But if you follow the training program and do the little things you’re going to significantly cut prerace nerves. That preparation goes for the logistics of racing as well. Your gear and nutrition for the race should be prepared the night before. You should be familiar with the race venue, how to get there and know how much time you’re going to need in transition so you can get to the start line in time.

Make it positive. I’ve seen people in tears, full blown panic attacks and the verge of puking before races. Positive or negative, energy is still energy. Freaking out is just riling up your stomach and throwing energy you’ll need out the window. Instead, use the emotion of the start to your benefit. Rely on your friends and family for support. If you don’t have spectators with you, talk to the thousand other triathletes standing with you. Just interact. Something as simple as talking about where you’re from and what your goals are will get your mind off of the uncertainty of racing.   

Know your game plan. “I’m just gonna wing it” is probably one of the scariest things we can hear as coaches. You need a game plan. It incites confidence in turn reducing nerves. When you start feeling nervous, refer back to your game plan. Think about what you need to do at each stage of the race and visualize yourself executing it. Check out last week’s article to learn how to develop your game plan.

It’s not likely that you’ll completely eliminate your nerves. In fact, some nerves are good. It’s reassurance as to how much value the race has. It motivates you to give it your all. Use these tactics to find the right balance and I assure you that you’ll get in the water with more excitement and confidence instead of nerves.

-Coach Amanda

For more information about Coach Amanda, check out her bio HERE!

Don't "just wing it." Develop your race strategy with these five elements.

Going to the line without a race strategy is a common and detrimental mistake. Don’t be an athlete who says “I’m just gonna wing it.” Instead, take the time to develop your game plan. For context, I’ll use one of my athletes who has done an excellent job developing his race strategy. Here’s how we did it and how it can help you build yours.

1.  Define your objective. Is your goal to finish the race? Are you trying to win your age group? Are you trying to qualify for Worlds? This athlete’s goal is to win a sprint or Olympic distance triathlon overall. He’s close. He has the talent and work ethic to do it. But the way he executes his strategy is going to play a major role in the outcome.

2. Set a realistic goal. If you’ve been running 8:30/mile for your long runs, it wouldn’t be the best idea for you to set a goal of 6:30/mile off the bike. Know what you’re capable of and build the strategy around it. In this case, swimming is not this athlete’s best discipline. The run is. His strategy isn’t to be the first out of the water. Instead, it’s his goal to stay on the leaders’ heals and set himself up for a solid bike and run.

3. Prepare split points and fueling. You should know where you need to be at certain points on the course in order to achieve your objective. The checkpoints should adaptable throughout the race, but there should be a specific outline of time and course markers to keep the strategy in play. This athlete studies the courses and knows approximately where he should be at those points.

4. Prepare for all conditions. I’ve been at races where it was supposed to be 70* and it turned out to be 40*. Your race wardrobe should prepare you for every condition. This goes for your equipment as well. Last year we had a series of hot days that caused big swings in lake temperatures. A lot of races were not wet suit legal. Which means that you need open water practice with and without your wet suit.     

5. Have a backup plan. We can all envision a perfect race, we all plan for it. But there needs to be a backup plan. This athlete has been plagued by GI issues. He has a specific mix of fuel to avoid it. What happens if he drops a bottle of fuel within the first 20 minutes of the ride? Although it’s not an ideal situation, he has practiced fueling with the products offered on course to minimize the loss.

Countless hours go into planning and training for every race. Why wouldn’t you go into the race with something just as specific? Evaluate these five elements and set yourself up for success on race day. Reach out to me or Coach Steve if you want help planning your strategy.

- Coach Amanda

For more information about Coach Amanda, check out her bio HERE!

Race faster and endure longer without adding more miles: just train your brain.

In college, my track coach introduced me to the concept of visualization training. I’ve been using this unique type of training ever since. You might feel a little silly at the start. But when you buy into the process, visualization provides a major benefit to your training.  

How to visualize:

Find a quiet place without distractions and sit or lay comfortably. Consciously think about relaxing every muscle. Think about the best race you’ve ever had. Picture the course, the environment, how you felt, the spectators, overcoming every obstacle. Now picture your upcoming race. Imagine every detail from the time your alarm goes off to crossing the finish line.

The good, the bad and the ugly:

Visualizing the perfect race puts you in the moment and helps you develop your race strategy. Obviously, we all dream of the perfect race. But, what happens when that’s not reality? How are you going to react to the event? Crumble and quit? Or maintain composure and find a solution to the problem?

Pick a few motivational words or phrases:

I always end my visualizations with a few of the phrases I use when things get tough. For me, “you owe it to yourself” has the largest impact. When race day comes, I know that I need to get everything I can out of my body. I need to make the sacrifices and countless hours of training pay off. If you can remind your body what’s at stake, you will always walk away from a race knowing you left it all out on the course.

Control the Controllable

Part of the thrill of this sport is the anticipation of the unknown. You can’t control everything on race day. A lot of athletes have a habit of worrying about the weather and the competitor lined up next to them that they inhibit their own performance. You can’t control Mother Nature. You can’t control who shows up on race day. It all comes down to preparedness and controlling the controllable. Focus on these instead:

Nutrition:

Race fueling is something that should be practiced all season long. It’s something that shouldn’t just be thrown together randomly. You should have everything planned down to the milligrams of sodium. If there’s any question as to what you should be consuming, Coach Amanda and Steve can help you determine the proper breakdown of nutrients for every race. As you click off mile after mile don’t think about the person behind you, instead focus on your fueling plan and make sure you stick to it every aid station.

Equipment:

There’s a handful of things you can’t control, flat tires, goggles getting kicked off, etc. But there are a series of things you can do to limit the likeness of those issues. Before I leave for the race I make sure my bike has been tuned and I’ve checked and rechecked my packing list (I’m a Type-A, it’s a pretty extensive checklist).  When you get to the race, do a solid inspection of your bike. Lay out your equipment and arrange it according to when you’re going to use it in transition. Look at the event schedule and make sure you know what needs to be where are when.

Your attitude:

If you believe you can, you’re right. If you believe you can’t, you’re also right. You are in control of your attitude and it will have a direct effect on your performance. Over my 15+ years of competition and coaching, I’ve never seen someone put together an excellent performance without the right mentality from start to finish. Even if the race isn’t going your way, smile. Remind yourself you can. Give a volunteer a high-five. Ultimately, you’re in charge of your performance. So, stop worrying about what athlete is there, the type of training they did, Mother Nature or the course. The only things that matter are the things that you can control.

-Coach Amanda

Video: Ironman Athlete Swim Analysis

In this video, Coach Steve goes over an athletes swim consultation that happened the 1st week of May.

Typical swim consultations take 90 minutes to 2 hours per person. From the initial consultation, the pre session movement screen, the swim consultation, video feedback during the session, and the wrap up.

Steve also does many remote swim consultations per year. If you don't live in Madison or able to travel, we can do a remote swim consultation with you sending over multiple videos of you swimming. Once we review the videos, we set up a 1 hour consultation to discuss. 

Lets us know, enjoy!