The Triathlon Squad

One year ago I wrote a post titled “Overcoming my barrier to success.” I wrote about my experience at my first ITU race in Myrtle Beach, how I was well off the back on the swim, and how that would motivate my training in the winter months. As I had planned, I swam a lot in those snowy months, and made some real progress. My race results improved, slightly, but were inconsistent and more often than not, unsatisfactory. I often came out of the water too far back to have a meaningful impact on the race at the front, and it is clear that swimming still is my biggest barrier to success.

As this season wound down, I thought about what I will do different than last year.??Swim more. Well that’s one option. Put in more hard yards by myself staring at a black line.??Trials of miles; miles of trials.??Sort of a brute force option. I believe in the value of all those high mileage weeks I put in as a runner, perhaps I just need more of that in swimming?

I then considered what the best in the world are doing. How have they become the best triathletes in the world? Next to hard work, the next most consistent attribute appeared to be a daily training environment that demanded excellence. Much like Alberto Salazar and his group with Galen Rupp and Mo Farah in the running world, the best triathletes in the world are training together and under the scrutiny of talented coaches. Does this exist in triathlon in the US? I looked around and found a couple groups with foreign coaches that occasionally train in the US, like Darren Smith’s and Joel Filliol’s squads. There was also??Paulo Sousa??and his group, called ??The Triathlon Squad, whom train out of the San Diego area. I looked into it more, and even sat down to meet and speak with Paulo, and I like what I heard.

The mission of the Squad is to develop elite triathletes capable of competing successfully at an international level.?? Triathlon is a sport where athletes don???t reach their full potential and race their best until several years after starting to race at the professional level. Therefore, the purpose of this program is to provide a comprehensive, positive and supportive environment that prepares emerging elite triathletes for their highest performance ability in the coming years. Toward that end, the program provides an optimal training environment as well as the guidance necessary to develop the skills required for world-class performances in triathlon.

From l to r: me, Anna Battiata, Joe Maloy, Paulo Sousa, Trevor Wurtele, Heather Wurtele, Eric Lagerstrom and Kevin Ryan
From l to r: me, Anna Battiata, Joe Maloy, Paulo Sousa, Trevor Wurtele, Heather Wurtele, Eric Lagerstrom and Kevin Ryan

How am I going to become a better swimmer and triathlete???I decided to really go for it and begin working with ‘The Squad.’ About three and a half weeks ago I packed up my mini van in Tucson, and headed west for the first Squad camp of 2013. As you may expect, we did lots of training, eating, sleeping, and thinking about training. There was a great mix of athletes to train with, former swimmers, short-course, long-course, new pro’s and seasoned vets. Each of these athletes can push me in swim/bike/run in some capacity, and there is always much to be learnt when you get a group of highly motivated individuals together.

So there’s??that.??Training in a competitive group environment will surely help me progress. Equally important to my development, however, especially at this stage of my triathlon career, is the technical and mental aspects Paulo enforces.??In addition to getting the work in, Paulo puts a large emphasis on “focus” and “engagement” on each session, something that I need to work on. I am great at putting my head down and hammering, which works well for fitness and can be a good skill to have in endurance racing, but can make things difficult when trying to make changes to technique.

Camp ended on Thursday and I am now back in Simi Valley to spend the holidays with my family. After New Year’s I plan to drive back down to San Diego and get back to work with The Squad for at least a few more months until the racing season begins. Lots of work to do before then!

Lake Poway, a common training location for The Triathlon Squad.
Lake Poway, a common training location for The Triathlon Squad.

One Hour Swim

My mission to “swim like a swimmer” took a big step forward yesterday. I competed in my first swimming national championship, the 2012 USMS Speedo One Hour Postal National Championship. Any national championship with that long of a name can’t be a legit national championship. And you are right. Sorta. Let’s break this down.

  • USMS as in US Masters Swimming. Basically if you aren’t competing as a swimmer as an age grouper, high schooler, collegiate or elite, you are probably swimming Masters.
  • Speedo as in the brand, not necessarily the brief-style swimsuit.
  • One Hour as in swim as far as you can in one hour.
  • Postal National Championship as in mail in your results to USMS and see where you and your swim club stack up (hence the “sorta”).

Anyway, like I said, I made my attempt at swimming an hour straight yesterday. While I frequently swim 90 minute workouts, rarely do we do more than a few minutes at a time (and never more than about 15 minutes). From a runner’s perspective, this seems strange, since very little of our training is done in small increments. Since this is how the rest of the swimming world trains, I don’t question and blindly accept it as truth (as every good athlete should).

After a short warm up, I got going at 6:35 am at NAU’s Wall Aquatic Center (which sits at ~7,000 feet and seems to be perpetually set up as Long Course Meters). I was sharing the lane with two other guys that were also doing the one hour swim, and they started just behind me. I knew I could hold 1:30’s, which would come out to 4km, so I thought I should start there and progress. I came through the first couple hundred just under that pace. I felt comfortable so I just let it flow. My first 1km split was 14:20 (1:26 average), which surprised me. I got a little excited and sped up the next 1km with a 14:12 split (1:25.2 average).

The old question “is the glass half full or half empty” rules every endurance athletes psyche during a race or hard effort. I am sure of it. If you are feeling good, the glass is half full; I’m already halfway! If you are feeling bad, or perhaps you are running a 10k on the track (in which case you are doomed before the gun goes off), the glass is almost always half empty; there’s no way I can hang on that much longer! Yesterday was a glass half full kind of day. As I passed the 30 minute mark I pressed a little harder. 3rd split in 14:10 (1:25 average). Right around 2 miles in, ~3200m, I started to feel the burn. My shoulders were getting tired of course, but more than anything, my forearms were hurting. With each length of the pool it was getting harder to keep a good catch going. I was pleasantly surprised to see the 4th split at 13:58 (<1:24 average). From there it was everything I had left. I tried to swim the final 250m in 3:20 (1:20 pace) but came up just a bit short.

I finished up with 4240m which equals 4637 yards. (For my nonswimmer readers: If I had actually swam in a short course yards pool, I probably would have been even further as there would have been more than twice as many turns, which are almost always faster.)

I’m really happy with where I finished up. A one hour Ironman swim is a benchmark for a decent swimmer, and I beat that by almost 400m (3862m). Swimming continues to go in the right direction, which is all I can ask for. I know I won’t be putting the hurt on anyone this season in the swim, but with all the work I have been doing in the pool, I think I will be able to swim well enough that I will be around later in the race to put the hurt on during the run.

Overcoming my barrier to success

Once again the end of the semester has come between me, my blog, and my countless fans. You would think that taking six credits, just two classes, would leave me with plenty of free time to spend writing about myself…

Well it doesn’t. Mixed with all the other things I have on my plate these days, studying for two classes has become quite difficult actually. You may be concerned that I have had to cut down my training time to accommodate. Not to worry, I have my priorities straight.

After my race at Myrtle Beach it became more clear than ever that I can be a great triathlete, if I can swim faster. I like to think of the swim as a barrier to entry. No one ever wins the race with a superior swim, but it can be lost with an inferior one. It won’t matter how fast I bike or run in the draft-legal world if I can’t swim with the pack. Winter ’11-’12 is dedicate to conquering this barrier.

When I am not on the road traveling with the NAU Lumberjack cross country team, I am getting in the pool. I have been trying to get in the pool nine times a week, with doubles on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I also try to get in with the Masters swim team as often as possible, requiring to swim on my own only three to four times a week. Last week this routine led me to my first 40,000+ yard week ever! (It was actually 36,700 meters, all swam in a long course pool at 7,000 feet)

On the bike the focus right now is to build bike endurance and “bike specific muscles” (in the words of my coach Ian Murray). I just bought a PowerTap, which is a fancy (and pricey) piece of equipment that tells me what my power output is. Power is a much more reliable way to quantify workouts on the bike than using speed or even heart rate. Because the weather has been pretty cold in Flagstaff I have been confined to the trainer mostly. When I get home for winter break however, I plan to put in a lot of hours on the saddle.

I have really let go of my running recently. I have only been averaging about 25 miles a week for the last few weeks. That run volume is extremely low for me and is something I only would have done if I were recovering from an injury in my past days as a single sport athlete. As I said earlier it is all about the swim for me right now, and in order for me to get the quality and quantity I want in the pool, I need to take it easy running for a little bit. The plan is to have some run focused weeks probably in February. I will have extremely good fitness by that point, and hopefully with a few key run workouts I will be ready to run near the front of the pack.

In the future I would love to be in a situation where I need to work on my run again to be competitive at the top. This would mean that I have overcome that barrier to entry and my results are no longer being capped to the back half of the field before I even get on the bike.

Family weekend at sea level

On Friday I went home for some family action. My Great Uncle Niller had flown all the way in from Copenhagen, Denmark, which doesn’t happen very often. I spent the majority of the weekend at my aunt’s beautiful home in Northridge with my cousins, brother, sister, mom, dad, sister-in-law, Farfar (father’s father in Danish)…

Those that know me well know that I’m a family guy. I love it in Flagstaff, but I do miss my family a lot while I’m here. I’m lucky enough to have my own travel agent (mom) that gets me home once or twice a semester. Guess who is the favorite child?

Another perk to going home is sea level! I took this opportunity to do a little swim marker to see where I am at. USA Triathlon has a swim test that they use to evaluate potential Collegiate Recruits: 200 all out, 1 minute rest, 800 all out. Last year I did the test several times, putting up my best time in July. On that occasion I swam 2:13 and 10:10 for short course yards. At the time I was ecstatic with the result, especially the 200. I had rested up for the test and it was my last hard swim before turning my focus 100% on the cross country season.

Swimming has been going very well up here in Flagstaff. I hit 30,000m in one week for the first time a couple of weeks in anticipation of my first ITU triathlon coming up. I didn’t taper at all for the test, but I knew with my new swim fitness and a little extra oxygen I was ready to swim a good time.

Coach Ian did some filming of the swim. My form has improved, but I need to bring my arm underneath my body to really get the most out of my stroke.

My triathlon coach Ian Murray met me at CLU and took me through a good warm up. I got myself pumped up and dove head first into the 200. I swam a 2:10, which was a little bittersweet because I thought I was ready to break 2:10. I tried to enjoy all the extra oxygen during that short one minute rest, and then set off on the 800. I hit 9:41 — a 29 second improvement!

While the 200 wasn’t quite as fast as I was hoping, I surprised myself in the 800 and I can see that all the hours I am spending at the pool are paying off. I spoke with Barb Lindquist yesterday and we agreed that if I can keep this regimen up, I will be an entirely different swimmer come next Spring.

My swim will really be put to the test this weekend at the Myrtle Beach ITU Continental Cup. Lots more to come before and after that race.

Summer 2010 Triathlon Training Part 2: Swim

If I can ever swim a 1500m under 20 minutes (I know, big ???IF???) than I think I may have a shot at being a semi-Pro.

That is what I wrote in my “About” page when I created this website in the Spring of 2009. Later that summer, while preparing for my first Olympic distance triathlon, I swam a 1650 yard (1509 meters) time trial in the pool in 25:55, setting a beginning benchmark. I really had no idea what I was doing: I had never competed as a swimmer before triathlons and I had no idea how to structure a swim workout. With my running background, I started throwing in some intervals — 100s, 200s and 300s — but with way too much rest. I successfully completed the triathlon with just the 56th best swim.

After the triathlon I quickly transitioned to run-focus and dropped the swimming and biking. A self-proclaimed “breakout” cross country season kept me out of the pool — thanks to 100-mile weeks. Then in December, my battle with Plica in my left knee began, leaving a void in my training. I took to the pool and conveniently, around that time, my coach received an email from Barb Lindquist with the USAT Collegiate Recruitment Program, whose goal is to recruit collegiate swimmers and runners into considering triathlons as their next athletic endeavor after graduation. Knowing that I was interested in triathlons, Coach Heins forwarded me her contact. Since then I have been receiving weekly swim workouts from Barb. I began swimming workouts that were 2500 yards and worked my way up until this summer when I began swimming three 5000 yard workouts three times each week (plus another easy 3000 once a week). With this increased commitment to swimming I have seen my swim times improve nearly week to week.

One way Barb uses to judge swim ability is a 200/800 test. An athlete swims an all-out 200, takes 1 minute recovery, and then swims an 800 all out. Barb told me that the general range she is looking for from runners is 2:15/10:00. In January I swam the test in 2:27/11:15. The road ahead seemed daunting, but I was able to chip away while my knee was recovering. In June I swam the test again, this time in 2:19/10:26. The hard work was paying off. This last Thursday I took to the pool for my last swim test of the summer and was stunned with a 2:13/10:10 performance.

These swim tests, along with a 4+ minute PR in the 1650 yard of?? 21:44, have confirmed that I can swim faster with focus. Still, I have a long road ahead and will need to further increase my commitment to the sport. As I look beyond my final cross country and track seasons, I think there are several very high intensity, high volume weeks of swimming await.

Weekly Updates

In my effort to turn all those I am acquainted with into runners, Tina has begun reading Once A Runner, hands down the best novel ever written about running. Naturally I have picked it back up and have read a few of the early chapters. While describing Bruce Denton’s prowess, the idea of a secret to running is introduced. Basically, there is no secret. The Secret is that you must run and run over years to reach your full potential. I have certainly followed this principle in my running career and have seen the rewards, especially over the last year.

Since I have been unable to run my usual volume I have taken to the pool, and more recently to the bicycle, with this same principle in mind. As Jordan Rapp, Ironman champion, put it on Twitter, “it’s the same ‘secret’ as running – swim a lot, swim regularly, & swim fast.” Hopefully the work I put in now, in addition to what I did before my surgery, will pay dividends when I begin to pursue triathlons full-time.

Weekly Updates

Since my surgery I have slowly been building my mileage. As a reference, my first week after surgery I did 20 minutes on an elliptical machine. Subsequent weeks had ~4, 5, 8, and 11 hours total of exercise. This last week I was able to get in 14 hours and 14 minutes of exercise, including 2:50 biking (2x’s, 59.68 miles), 4:53 running (6x’s, 40.85 miles) and 6:21 swimming (6x’s, 18km).

As the semester winds down I will be able to offer more detail into my weekly training.

Super Bowl, Knee Struggles & Swim PRs

Happy Super Bowl Sunday! What a great, American spectacle. I was rooting for the Colts (Manning is the man), but I am just happy it was a great game. We had some teammates over — Darius Terry, Joe Withers, Simon Gilna and Eric Lynch — and we all made and ate lots of food. My contribution was my Mom’s chili recipe and Trader Joe’s cornbread. Both were delicious.


The knee troubles continue. As of now, I am able to run 10-20 minutes without pain. As I go longer or increase pace it begins hurting. I have been icing, ultrasounding, and strengthening for over a month now with little improvement. It is getting pretty frustrating. And to frustrate me further, I have been trying to get a CD with my MRI images mailed to NAU’s team doctor for over a week now. Patience is a virtue, I guess.

Once the doctor receives the images, we will have some orthopedics take a look. Depending on their suggestions, I may end up undergoing arthroscopic surgery on my knee. I have read and been told that, as far as surgeries go, arthroscopic knee surgery is about as noninvasive as it gets, with reports of people back running in a couple of weeks. The quick recovery time makes the surgery very appealing. Frankly, I don’t see myself back running full strength in a couple weeks without the surgery anyway. Why not get it fixed?

But I am getting ahead of myself. For now, I wait to see what the doctors say.


Today I did a time trial as prescribed by USATriathlon. The protocol for the test is a 200 (yards or meters), 1 minute rest, 800. I did this test a month ago and, converting from yards to meters, 2:45 and 12:45 equivalents. In today’s test I swam a 2:39 and a 12:13, 6 and 32 second improvements, respectively. I plan to continue to do this test once a month to measure my improvement.

Needless to say, swimming is going in the right direction. Still, I have a lot of work to do. For 2010, I want to be under 2:30 for 200m and 11:06 for 800m (at sea level). I swam over 20,000m for the first time this last week. I am hopeful that many more high volume, high intensity weeks will get me closer to that goal.

Indoor and Outdoor

Because of my recent setbacks, running the 2010 indoor season is out of the question. There are but a couple meets left before the conference meet and there is no way I will be ready. Outdoor runs into the middle of May and beyond, so I think if I continue down the road to recovery, I should be able to salvage a decent outdoor season. After the improvements I made in cross country, I think even a mediocre season for me should yield some solid PRs.