Extra Life Triathlon Fitness

This page is moving to www.extralifetrifit.com. Extra Life Triathlon Fitness is a coaching service to help people achieve exceptional fitness, joy, and fulfillment in the sport of triathlon. Join us today!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Extra Life Triathlon Fitness Coaching

I've been thinking a lot lately about what got me into the sport of triathlon, and it was born of a desire to supplement my mental and spiritual well being with improving my physical well being. Dating all the way back to my first post, I aspired to show that a person could overcome unhealthy habits (both physical and mental), and find joy, peace, and exceptional health. Triathlon was the medium which I chose to fulfill that desire.

As a person who struggled with depression, suffered from anxiety, and abused myself through the use of alcohol (not to mention cigarettes and junk food!), I found that the type of exercise involved in triathlon training was an excellent supportive supplement to recovery. It helped calm my mind, keep me humble, find true joy and peace, and accept my limitations while exceeding what I thought was possible of myself.

A little over three years later I find myself placing near the top of my age group, healthier than I've ever been, happier than I've ever been, and experiencing the joys of life. My old life is far behind me, and my new life is amazing. So amazing in fact that I wish that everyone could experience what I have, in their own way. I've often wondered how I could share this with others. In this new phase of my development as an athlete, I desire to help others achieve their dreams in the best way I know how.

When I used to play video games as a kid (... "used to"... as if I ever stopped!), I remember that feeling of joy, power, and invincibility I would get when I would find the illusive "extra life". As the text displaying "1UP" ascended ethereally over the head of my character, and the bright jingle sound effect echoed over the the chorus of the music, I knew that no King Koopa, Gannon, or Donkey Kong could stop me.

There's one real life experience I find analogous to finding an extra life in a video game. It's the positive transformation some people experience where they turn bad habits into good habits, depression or anxiety into joy and fulfillment, unhealthiness into physical fitness. This transformation is an extra life.

With this in mind, I'm announcing Extra Life Fitness, a coaching service designed to help amateur athletes find the joy and fulfillment I have found in the sport of triathlon. Not just a coaching service that gets athletes to the finish line of an Ironman, but one that challenges the traditional fitness beliefs that exercise needs to hurt, that there's not enough time in the day to take care of ourselves, and that completing a full distance triathlon is far to challenging.

Every challenge is only difficult until an effective plan is in place. When an effective plan is implemented and followed with consistency, it becomes possible, and dreams all of a sudden become reachable. With Extra Life, we can achieve more than we think we are capable of.

I have learned this not only through my own experiences and growth in this sport, but also through testing of specific training philosophies through intensive coaching of a couple of athletes, as well as in the advising of others. Recently, I have certified my coaching status through Ironman University, and am now an Ironman Certified Coach.

In the coming weeks/months, I will be changing some things. I will be turning down this blog as I turn on a new website (the blog itself will remain, but I will be transferring all posts to the new website and continue my blog there). New features will gradually come online as I slowly develop them. I will also be modifying my social media presence away from a personal triathlete page to a coaching page. Soon "Adam Hill Triathlete" will become "Extra Life Triathlon Fitness".

At this time, I am accepting a limited number of athletes to coach to full or half Iron distance races. If you are interested in coaching services, please email me at adam at extralifetrifit dot com.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Product Feature: Rapid Release Technology

During the 2015 triathlon season, my goal was put everything I could into training and achieve the best possible result. I put in heavy training volume, maxing out at nearly 25 hours per week, getting in as much as I could without collapsing. Unfortunately, volume alone had a detrimental effect on my racing, and I very quickly burned out leading up to my second Ironman in Boulder.

Thus, I switched gears to focus on recovery this year. I cut back on the volume of training, and made the training I was doing more high quality. Easy workouts were very easy, and hard workouts were very hard. I made sure that I was getting adequate sleep every night. Additionally I began to incorporate more technology into my recovery cycle.

One of those technologies is recovery boots. There are many versions, the most popular of which is the Normatec Recovery Boots. I love my boots. They do wonders for helping my legs recover after workouts, and they are also great to use before a workout or race. The compression technology maximizes fluid flow through the legs, and speeds up recovery. Despite the apparent benefits of having "fresher" legs, I still felt there were limitations, and I wasn't getting the most benefit that I could. First of all, it only works on the legs up to the glutes (unless you purchase an extension that I haven't used). This neglects a highly overused part of the body for runners and cyclists. Additionally, muscle tightness and soreness persisted, since compression is not targeted, and doesn't get deep into the tissue.

Enter the Rapid Release Technology. I would be lying if I said that I "discovered" this product, since I came across this quite by accident (as I pointed out in my previous post - Two Secrets to a Huge PR). It was not my intention to visit my massage therapist before Ironman Vineman. I knew from past experience that any relief I would get from a massage would be quickly reversed from the high level of stress and activity involved in traveling to the race venue, going through the check in process, and getting some final workouts in. I had resigned to the fact that I would hit the start line with some muscle fatigue and tightness, and likely a massage a few days prior would not help much. Surely everyone experienced it, so it was an even playing field.

After much cajoling from my wife, I decided it couldn't hurt to pay her a visit anyway, and I made an appointment for the day before heading up to Vineman. My expectation was that she would give me traditional full body sports massage. The smell of lavender and sage would fill the air, candles would be lit, and a little Kenny G would be playing lightly in the background as she reprimanded me for letting my trouble spots get so bad. I, in turn, would weep silently as she lay elbow deep into one of my pressure points.

As I walked in and laid face down on the table, I heard no Kenny G, saw no candles, and... well, the smell of lavender still filled the air. Instead of silence, I heard behind me the ominous buzzing of the Rapid Release unit (RRT). I had no clue what it looked like, since my face was buried in a donut shaped head rest, but I pictured a contraption similar to a modified chainsaw used in a horror flick as I prepared for the torture that I was about to endure. I wondered what I had got myself into.

As I braced for the pain that was to come, I was surprised to meet with a warm and pleasant vibration on my upper back. It felt nothing like the chainsaw of death that I was expecting, in fact it felt incredibly relaxing. Muscles that I thought were already "loose" became much looser. The general feeling of tightness and slight soreness/cramping that existed in my muscles went away with just a little pressure from the RRT. It is as if the unit was a "muscle whisperer", commanding each muscle group to obey - and obey they did.

As the therapist worked over my arms, she stopped and told me she wanted to show me something cool. She asked me to make a really hard fist with my right hand, and so I complied, folding my fingers into as tight a fist as hard as I could. She then proceeded to use the RRT on my hand, outside and inside for about 30 seconds. Then she asked me to make a fist again.

The difference was astonishing. I thought I had made a tight fist before, but the first one felt exceptionally weak in comparison to the one I was making now. When I made a fist with both hands (the right hand having had the treatment, the left hand not), the difference became abundantly clear. The muscles working in my hands after the treatment were clearly much stronger than they had been before.

After she worked over my whole body, I felt the buzz all throughout my muscles. Everything was totally relaxed. Areas that I didn't realize were tight had completely released.

After telling her how relaxed I felt, and how any and all soreness had left me, she explained the technology to me. Through the use of high frequency vibration, the RRT triggers neurological reflexes the muscles, specifically those that are prone to cramping and spasm. When the activators are placed on the tight muscle, it is absorbed and rapidly loosens.

The immediate effects are readily apparent. Significantly reduced muscle pain, cramping, and tightness. Positive effects on performance are realized during exercise and competition as well. In a nutshell, muscles need oxygen to perform. Blood carries oxygen to the muscles. Tight muscles restrict blood flow, and therefore limit the amount of oxygen going to the muscles. Completely relaxed and loose muscles allow complete oxygen saturation, which in turn improves efficiency of oxygen transport through the muscles. The result is improved performance.

This all sounded great in theory, but I wouldn't know if it was going to work until my race, which was still a few days away, and until then I still had a lot of moving around to do. I was concerned that all of this activity would eliminate any of the benefits that I had gained from the RRT.

In a move of exceptional kindness and trust, my massage therapist invited me to borrow the RRT for my race, with the instruction to use it after the drive up to Sonoma where Ironman Vineman was to be held (about a 10 hour drive), and the night before the race. I enthusiastically accepted!

Many people don't realize how much activity takes place before an Ironman. Athletes do their best to rest before the event, but traveling to the race, checking in, doing some last minute exercises, and checking the bike and run gear really can take a lot out of the athlete's muscles, and even cause soreness. This is certainly true for me, and I have struggled with this at every race in which I've competed. It never fails that the morning of the race I wake up with lingering soreness in my calves and shins due to all the activity, and I can tell that it is detrimental to a solid race performance.

I did as I was instructed, and used the RRT the night I arrived in Sonoma, and the night before the race. One of the greatest side effects it offered was that each time I was able to fall right asleep. This never happens the night before an Ironman!

I woke up the day of the race with completely fresh legs. I have never felt more ready or relaxed before a race. I can not concisely put into words how well this race went for me (if you would like to read the long version of the report, you can find it here). Historically in the Ironman races, I have always biked very well, with bike splits consistently in the top 5 in my age group, but it has always been the run where I fall apart. I have found it hard to get my legs moving, I begin cramping, and I simply fatigue and have to walk frequently to make it to the finish, all the while getting passed by many people in my age group. Demoralizing to say the least.

At this race, however, this was not the case. I was able to hold my pace for the entire marathon. I didn't lose ground, and I finished in a solid 6th place in my age group out of more than 200 athletes. I finished as the 23rd amateur in a field of over 2,000 athletes, and I beat my long term goal of finishing an Ironman in under 10 hours (on a challenging course, to boot!).

For this solid run performance, I owe much credit to being completely loose prior to the race. It wasn't just the kind of loosening up you get from a warm up or stretching. It was a looseness that was felt deep in my entire body. Complete recovery and relaxation. It was clear that my body was functioning as effectively as possible because it was not being derailed by soreness, cramping, or fatigue. All thanks to the Rapid Release Technology.

Some of the dramatic benefits I found with using the RRT include the following:
  1. Completely rested after a good night of sleep. This isn't advertised by the company that produces the RRT, but it's something I experienced. Relaxed muscles means reduced anxiety, which in turn means a better night of sleep. This can have a big advantage for athletes of all kinds.
  2. No residual soreness or tightness. Even after the deepest of deep tissue massages, I still feel lingering soreness or tightness in some areas. What can I say? I am a high strung kind of guy! After using the RRT I had zero soreness or tightness, even the next morning.
  3. Fresh legs longer. While products like compression boots offer faster recovery from hard workouts, and in my experience it is effective, I believe that the Rapid Release Technology is more effective at releasing tension in all of the muscles, thus improving blood flow. The result is not just faster recovery, but improved performance over longer distances. This was one of the most dramatic results I experienced. I was able to maintain my pace for longer periods without fatiguing. 
  4. Zero cramping. I experienced no cramping of muscles while I was on the run. This was something I struggled with in other races, and would frequently be reduced to walking, but after using the RRT, as Forrest Gump would say, "I was runnniing!". 
  5. I recovered faster after the race. The day after an Ironman is often a zombie parade of athletes who are too sore to even bend their knees. In the days following the race, though, I felt surprisingly good. I wasn't feeling "great" mind you, but I was much better than a lot of other people. I would venture a guess that if I did use the RRT post race, my recovery would have been expedited.
When I returned from Sonoma, I was plotting ways not to part with the RRT. Perhaps I could escape to Mexico, just me and the machine, to spend the rest of our days running on the beach with fresh legs! But alas, my integrity got the best of me, and I parted with it. Not before committing to visit once and a while to get total relaxation. 

To my knowledge, this technology is not used much in the endurance sports world, but I believe that will soon change. As more athletes begin to realize the benefits of Rapid Release Technology, this "secret" will become far less secret. Until then, I'm anxious to reap the benefits of this technology and use it to my advantage.

If you would like more information on the Rapid Release Technology, please visit their website at www.rapidreleasetech.com

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Two Secrets to a Huge PR

In my race report of Ironman Vineman 2016, I brought up a number of psychological factors that helped bring me to the finish line faster than I had ever finished before. Most of these revolved around the idea of minimizing time expectations, getting back to the root joy of the sport, and just slowing down. It would be wrong for me to ignore, however, the more physical changes I made to my training that helped lead me to a greater result. It was a combination of all of these things that brought me closer to a perfect race.

I'd like to list here a couple of things I did differently this year while training for Vineman vs. previous races. These are somewhat untrendy in the triathlon community presently, but I believe that they have the potential to be game changers if employed correctly. I for one am anxious to see how they will continue to benefit me in the coming years.

Coming off of a challenging 2015 racing season which saw me heavily fatigued and generally burned out, I knew that some things needed to change, and I needed to be smarter about how I approached this sport if I wanted to improve. Each of the following represents something new that I had incorporated into training that I believe worked well for me. Each of these game changers has to do with recovery and physical preparedness.
  1. Breathing. It turns out, and I know this is quite shocking, you need oxygen to perform. But let me be more specific. The breathing method I am talking about is the Wim Hof Method (WHM). This method is becoming quite popular due to recent publicity by Tim Ferris (author of The Four Hour Body), Joe Rogan, and Laird Hamilton. The technique is quite simple, and easy to employ before a workout or race. Simply put, it's a series of about 30-40 deep breaths followed by breath holds. You can follow along in a free demonstration by following this link. There are a lot of claims about the benefits of this technique, and I would advise you to investigate them yourself, because my results are simply anecdotal. I haven't read much on triathletes using this method, but there's a lot of evidence to suggest that it helps improve endurance and strength by fully saturating the muscles with oxygen, and detoxifying the blood stream. What I found when I do about 4 rounds of this method every morning and before a workout is that my energy is increased, my mood is immediately improved, and I am generally able to perform my workout more effectively. When I applied this method at each of my races so far this year, I have found that I am more energized for the swim start, and have zero anxiety for the first few hundred meters. I've also seen my sustained energy and endurance improve. In addition to the breathing, the cold exposure training employed in this method really helped me to adapt to more extreme temperatures. While it didn't get extremely hot on the course at Vineman, I was not nearly as affected by the low temperatures in the morning and the high temperatures as I otherwise would have been. 
  2. The second game changer I found quite by accident. I wasn't going to visit my massage therapist before Vineman, but my wife convinced me, and I decided to book a last minute appointment. My therapist had been raving about this new machine she has been using, and how it was improving the mobility and recovery of her patients. This was my first introduction to Rapid Release Technology, and it had every one of my muscles singing praises. When active, the unit vibrates at a very intense frequency, which breaks up knots, relaxes the muscles, and eliminates cramps. By loosening up all of the muscles, blood flow is no longer restricted, and oxygen is free to flow to all of the muscle groups. When I finished the massage, my whole body was buzzing. Much to my surprise, my therapist invited me to take one of the RRT units with me up to Vineman with the instructions to use it after the drive up, and the night before the race. I did as instructed, and my body felt fresher than for any other race in which I had previously participated. I've always struggled with tight muscles the day before an Ironman because of all of the preparation involved (checking in and checking the bike and run gear is a lot of effort on the muscles the day before an event!). Using the unit the night before loosened up all of my muscles and eliminated any pre-race soreness that I typically experience around my calves. During the race I was surprised to discover that I did not cramp one bit, and it took much longer for my legs to get fatigued. This means that I was able to delay slowing down until nearly the end of the race, the best result one can hope for in an Ironman! Since the RRT loosened up my muscles to the point that they could maximize oxygen saturation, my muscles were better able to utilize that oxygen more efficiently and effectively over a longer period of time.

The beauty is that these two methods compliment each other quite nicely. The rapid release technology loosens up the muscles to allow for better oxygen saturation. The Wim Hof breathing exercises are designed to fully saturate the body with oxygen. It makes sense that this would make one as prepared as possible for any athletic endeavor, and improve performance dramatically. Now that I am fully aware of how they benefit me, I am anxious to see how they continue to help me improve over the course of a training cycle.

One other personal note on the Rapid Release Technology, we used the gentle application on our kids before bedtime, and it really helped to calm them down and get to sleep. They too loved using it! I think this technology is going to be a pretty big player in the world of endurance sports for treatment and recovery.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Ironman Vineman 2016 Race Report

2015 was a tough year of racing for me, and it showed in some of my racing results. Coming off of a great first year of Ironman racing, I seemed to have taken a step back, swimming a little slower despite improved pool times, and running (ahem, "walking") quite a bit slower as well. In all I just felt drained after putting in really heavy volume training for many weeks and not seeing performance gains made in training realized in races. It led me to reevaluate how I was training and racing to see how I could do things a little smarter for 2016.

Fast forward to 2016, which has so far been off to a great start. Two races and two top ten age group finishes (8th at 70.3 Oceanside, and 5th at the Orange County Triathlon). This after tweaking my training program by reducing overall volume, slowing down my "easy" days, and adding more quality workouts. I've also cut down on swimming to prevent fatigue and give myself some more time.

Most importantly, I've deliberately ended my obsession with chasing results. If I'm in this for fun, I'm damn well going to chase the fun. If fun is no longer a primary goal, then I shouldn't be doing this sport. Solely chasing time goals does not make for a fun experience. Yes, goals are good to have (I'll get into mine later), but with the number of variables that come into play during a long race like an Ironman, goals have to become moving targets. Also, progress comes gradually in this sport, and patience needs to be practiced.

The "pie in the sky" goal that I've been chasing for the last three years has been Kona. I'm not unique. There are many, many people in this sport that are chasing that same goal. Few realize it, many do not. I have not. In fact, I have not been close enough to even really sweat it. It's always just been a "what if" sort of dream for me. Yet I have obsessed about "eventually getting there since beginning in triathlon. When I first started training in 2013, I knew it was far-fetched, but I always had it as my primary goal (see my first post for a bit of history on this).

Relying too much on the singular goal of qualifying Kona can be a recipe for disappointment. With only 40 slots to allocate across a couple thousand people, there's too many variables that come into play, including who shows up to race. I had to revisit my goals and consider qualifying for Kona more of a "passive" goal - one which would be amazing if I achieved it, but not the pass line where I would put all my chips (is that an appropriate Craps reference? I suck at Craps).

Which leads me to Ironman Vineman. My primary goal this year has been simple. To once again have fun racing. Yes, I know that's the hokey sentimental goal that everyone says is their goal, so here are my more tangible goals, of which I ranked them from 1-3 (1 being the most unlikely but most amazing achievement I could hope for, and 3 being the goal that would consider a great day).

1. Break 10 hours
2. Run well off the bike (For me I would consider a sub-4 hour marathon "running well")
3. Finish

Hitting number 2 was going to be my primary focus in this race because that meant that I would have a shot at number 1, and that I would be forced to bike conservatively (something that has been challenging for me in the past).

Days Before the Race:

We drove up to Sonoma from San Clemente on the Wednesday before the race. We had rented a converted barn through Airbnb, but it burned down. Yes, you read that right. A barn... full of hay... burning down before a race. I knew it was a sign, but I didn't quite know what that sign was. So we scrambled and found a really small cottage right on River road between the race start and race finish. It ended up being... well... cozy for the four of us, but logistically perfect for getting to and from the race start and finish.

We spent the next couple days getting familiar with our surroundings, checking in, etc. The Russian River area is beautiful, but the concern of a lot of people was how to get 2,000 people into the river and onto the roads. In the past, this race had only a few hundred people. This year it would be 3 or 4 times that.

In the end, it all worked out perfectly due to the rolling start. It really helped to spread people out.

Gratuitous Speedo shot
Russian River
Practice swim with support
My mantra as far as nutrition is concerned hasn't changed; "keep it simple." The day before the race I had my usual morning shake, some oatmeal for mid morning, eggs, rice, and butter for mid afternoon, and eggs, rice, and butter for dinner. Our massage therapist was kind enough to lend us her rapid release massager, and that was a godsend. Marie worked on me the night before, and cleared up any tight spots that came about due to all the walking required to check in bike and run gear. Then it was into my Normatec boots for an hour and off to sleep. I had never felt more fresh before a race.

Race Morning:

I was up at 3 am after a decent night of sleep. Immediately I had a blended breakfast of one cup rolled oats, a banana, flaxseed, and a handful of almonds. I also had a cup of coffee and sat in my Normatec boots for about 20 minutes. Marie dropped me off at the race start at around 5 am and I had second breakfast of a cup of brown rice with butter and salt just outside of transition. Again, keeping it simple.

After checking out my bike, getting situated, and using the toilet, I headed down to find my family to say one last goodbye and pass off all my morning stuff to them. Then I did a quick swim before jumping in the swim corral.

I remembered at the last minute that I forgot to do my Wim Hof breathing. Anecdotally, I found that doing the Wim Hof breathing calms my nerves, floods me with oxygen, and provides me more energy. This, in turn, has seemed to improve performance. I sat down in the swim corral and did 3 rounds of breathing before getting in line.


Knowing that the roads on the bike course would be narrow and crowded, I wanted to give myself as much of a cushion from the crowds as possible, so I lined up toward the front of the 1:00-1:10 self seeding area. I had no clue what my swim time would be due to my inconsistent Ironman swim times in the past, but based on recent pool times and 70.3 times, I figured around a 1:08 was in the cards. My plan was to swim a bit harder early on to stick with the faster swimmers and then back off to drift into clear water. Due to the narrow and shallow nature of the swim, I was expecting it to be insanely crowded.

As the horn sounded, I noticed that they were taking their time with getting people into the water, which was good. The race organizers did a hell of a job spreading out the masses. I finally got into the water probably 5 minutes after the actual race start and found open water almost immediately. That's not to say it didn't get crowded, since there were small packs of swimmers forming throughout the course, and it was hard to get around them.

Sighting on this course is super easy, since it's a narrow river. I only looked up occasionally to make sure I wasn't about to be kicked in the face. I kept my turnover really high, and found I was passing a lot of people, and not getting passed myself. Using the treeline as a guide, it appeared as though I was moving pretty fast. The swim out is against the very light current, so I figured it should be slow, but it certainly didn't seem slow to me. I tend to think that the mass of swimmers created a strong draft effect, especially at the front of the pack. If that's the case, it's a huge benefit to line up toward the front and get the benefit of the fast swimmers!

We had been warned that the river was shallow at parts, and that turned out to be absolutely true. I did my best to keep swimming, and it felt like swimming was faster than walking. The only times I had to put my feet down were when I ran into someone who was standing in front of me.

The swim out seemed to take no time at all, and as we rounded the turn buoy, I checked my watch to see about 33 minutes. I was very happy with this, since that had me on track to do a 1:06 if I could maintain pace, and the rest of the swim was downstream. I didn't get too excited though, since I had over a mile to swim, and I'd already been pushing pretty hard. I didn't want to wear myself out, and I didn't know how much the current would assist us back to the swim finish.

The rest of the swim was relatively uneventful aside from scraping my hands a few times on the shallow parts. A high elbow catch definitely helps!

I enjoyed the heck out of this swim. Not just because it felt fast, but also because it was just so beautiful. The water felt clean and the trees lining the water were just beautiful.

I came out of the water and checked my watch to see 1:03. I have absolutely no business swimming a 1:03 Ironman! Never in my wildest dreams would I have expected that. I figured that the swim must have been short*

*After reviewing my data, I found out that I swam just over 4,400 yards, so the swim was not short. I also placed better in my age group than I ever have in an iron distance swim, so I guess I swam well! It's so great to see hard work in the pool pay off!

After so much time feeling anxious about swimming, frustrated with not getting better, and just putting in so much time, it's so exciting to have had such a great swim!

1:03:27, 24th in 35-39, 196 overall - Strava Data


I had a pretty slow transition. I don't know what it is about the transition setup at Ironman events, but I have an easier time transitioning when all of my equipment is next to my bike. In the tents I usually just find myself dumping my bag onto the ground and staring at the contents for a few seconds before figuring out what I need to do.

I finally got it all settled and ran out of the transition toward my bike. I chose to run my bike up the short hill just after the dismount, and it looked like I was the only one who did so. Once to the top, I mounted and went on my way.

The goal for the bike was to back way the hell off. I "could" ride the whole bike leg with my heart rate in the high 140s, but I chose instead to keep it in the 130s. It felt very light and easy, and it also gave me some cushion to make surges to pass large groups of people.

The first two hours I was very cold. Taking it easy probably didn't help this. It made my shoulders and neck very tense and I became sore. I tried to enjoy the cool air because I knew it would get very warm later in the day.

I could see how this could be a deceptive bike course that would urge a person to push the pace. The first loop felt very easy, with rolling hills easy enough to get over without much effort, and only a few short climbs. The flat section before Chalk Hill seemed very fast with no wind.

On the second loop, the course seemed to change. As the air temperatures increased and the wind picked up slightly, the hills seemed to pack a bit more punch, the roads seemed a bit stickier, and the flat section was a lot slower. With the headwind, on a section where I was averaging 23-25 mph on the first loop, I was now averaging about 18-20. I actually got off my bike for a second to see if my rear wheel was rubbing, because it felt like I just wasn't moving as fast as I should have.

Despite that, I stayed true to my goal of taking it easier on the bike. While my head was telling me to go faster and break 5 hours, I held true to better judgement, and finished the bike well, happily just over 5 hours, and still with the 4th fastest bike split in my age group.

5:07:03, 5th in 35-39, 42nd overall - Strava Data


Getting off the bike, I was very nervous. After spiking my heart rate to get up Chalk Hill the second time, I tried to coast the remaining 10 miles into transition at a very easy pace. The bike handoff was quick and painless and before I knew it I was once again staring at the contents of my transition bag. Snapping out of it, I put on my shoes, race belt, and headband that my daughter had made for me. It's a new tradition we're starting to help get my kids more involved, and it seems to be a good luck charm for me.

"Extra Life" headband made by my daughter. I needed all the lives I could get!
Running out of the tent, it was time to see if holding back was going to work for me. System's check showed that everything so far was good. Pace was easy, stomach felt okay, no cramping, breathing felt fine. Checking the heart rate I was in the low 150s. Quite a bit higher than I wanted it, but I was feeling okay, so I just decided to keep an eye on it.

I deliberately avoided watching my pace because I did not want to chase the time. In training, I had practiced taking it really easy, and had found that my pace was faster than I would expect, so I kept faith that everything was working out fine, and I would find out my splits at every mile.

Mile 1: 8:03. Okay. So far so good. Now the key will be to delay slowing down for as long as possible.

Now that I had a pace dialed in, I continued out onto the first loop committed to keep the first loop steady and easy, easy enough that I wouldn't be tempted to walk at any point, and easy enough that I could get water and Gatorade in.

About a mile into the run, there is a relatively steep downhill section for about a quarter mile (we also have to run up that hill on the return trip each time). I stifled myself from charging down the hill too hard, and kept the pace steady. As I got to the bottom of the hill I saw my second mile split at 7:45. Excellent.

The next 6 miles or so are out and back into the vinyards on a relatively flat course exposed to the sun. On this first loop, there weren't many people out, just a few age groupers and the pros. It was quite nice actually. Those miles clicked off pretty nicely, a few sub 8 minute miles, and a few 8+ minute miles until I got back to the big climb.

I once again held true to the mantra of taking it easy as I approached the hill for the first time, not wanting to burn out my legs. The hill felt surprisingly "not hard", and I kept running toward the first turn around. I saw my wife and kids there, which gave me a quick burst of energy, and I told them I was feeling good as I headed out for my second loop.

I continued to monitor my heart rate as I ran, and surprisingly (fortunately) it was only rising very gradually. I maintained a 1:3 breath to foot strike and that felt good at the time. I was also focused on form and high cadence, which seemed very comfortable. Aside from getting to be a little more crowded, the second lap was relatively uneventful. The second time up the hill was tougher than the first, but I still made it up and continued running. Aside from a couple porta potty stops, I hadn't walked yet, which was an Ironman first for me!

After getting up the hill for the second time, I was definitely starting to feel the pain and fatigue, and new that the last 9 miles were going to be tough. I once again passed by my family at the turn around and told them that the last loop would be hard, but I would see them at the finish line. I decided that once I got down the hill on the third loop, I would up the effort and change my breathing pattern to 1:2 breath to foot strike ratio to get more oxygen. This would increase my heart rate and energy output, but would also be more comfortable. With 10k to go, this was the time to do it so that I could maintain pace.

On the third loop, since I was breathing more, I briefly walked each aid station to make sure I got in Coke and water without choking or gulping a bunch of air.

By now the course was pretty crowded, and I was trying to politely run around other racers (though some were making it very hard to do so). My pace was slowing a bit, but I was still running between 8-8:30 minute miles with a few 9s sprinkled in. It became apparent that I would achieve my goal of breaking a 4 hour marathon, but it was also starting to dawn on me that I could break 10 hours. The calculus going on in my head was pretty intense, but all of my calculations seemed to imply that it was going to be a close call!

I climbed the hill one last time, knowing that once I crested I would only less than 2 miles to the finish. I briefly walked up the hill just so I could have the energy to run the last leg. It was hard to start running again, so I knew that I couldn't stop anymore.

My mind was focused on finishing and running strong. I heard a few people shout encouraging words about how great my pace was. As I got to the curvy section of the park, I knew I was close, and had to dodge a lot of crowds to get through.

And then comes the magical moment as you hit the fork in the road. To the right is another loop on the course. Straight ahead is the finish line. As the crowd recognizes that you are going straight instead of right, they begin to cheer wildly, and the overwhelming sense of relief, euphoria, adrenaline, and pure joy overtake you.

As I entered the finishing chute, I recognized that it wrapped around half of the high school. This was the longest finisher's chute ever. Finally, I took a right turn and saw the finish arch before me, and I let out a wild scream as I passed over the finish line. Unclear of my finishing time, but seeing 10:22 on the arch (factoring in that the clock time included the pros, who started about a half hour before the amateurs, breaking 10 hours was going to be close). I collapsed on the grass and laid there for a few minutes. I could not walk very well.

When my wife found me, she was able to tell me my finish time.


With all of the exhaustion and emotion I was feeling, I teared up at the knowledge that I had achieved my ideal goal.

Run time 3:37:11, 6th in 35-39, 34th Overall, 23rd Overall Amateur - Strava Data

Post Race:

My wife went on to tell me that I was 6th in my age group. I thought surely that it was a mistake, or that it was too early to tell, and that more people in my age group would finish with faster times (since the swim was a rolling start). That never happened. I was in 6th place, and when the realization hit me that that's where I would stay, a nervous feeling began to form in the pit of my stomach.

I had the sudden realization that for the first time I was actually in contention for a Hawaii World Championship slot.

Oh shit... This is what it feels like!

All of those race reports that I had read over the years about lucky age groupers, who had punched their tickets to Kona after tons of hard work, and now there was a chance that I could be that guy. This pipe dream that once seemed so unattainable was now actually in sight.

This would lead way to obsessive Iron-stalking later that night. I was checking Ironman.com for previous race results of each of the 5 people who finished before me in my age group, hoping to find that they had already qualified at an earlier Ironman. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any relevant results for any of them. I had to wait until the morning to find out. Damn you, Ironman cliffhangers!

That was okay, though. I was still on cloud nine for the amazing race that I had just achieved. Even if I did not qualify for Kona, I could not have given any more in my race, and I was over the moon with how it had went. Surprisingly I wasn't nervous, nor did I have any expectations. If anything, I expected I would not qualify, but I was happy enough just to be close.

Besides, I had more important things to think about. Like having a giant Cheeseburger... and cake... and M&Ms. Okay, all the junk food.

Awards and Roll Down:

After frantically packing up the car to get out of our Airbnb and on the road, we headed to Windsor High School to attend the awards and roll down ceremony. Okay, I won't lie, we had another detour to the donut shop.

Hell... Yes...
Watching the awards was pretty great. I had a chance to watch all of the amazing athletes that finished best in their field of hundreds of athletes. When they announced the 35-39 age group, I looked at all 5 of the people on stage and had the realization that those were the only folks in my age group that came in faster than me. For someone who traditionally comes in higher than 20th in an Ironman event, it was a pretty amazing and humbling feeling.

The third place male in my age group came by and sat next to me. I gave him my hand and congratulated him on an amazing race and his soon-to-be Kona slot (obviously fishing). After talking, he mentioned to me that he thought that first and second place had already taken slots, and thus they would roll down at least to 5th.

My stomach dropped at the thought. If he was correct, I was two steps closer to Kona. Now the wild card was 5th place. Would he take his slot? Things were getting really, really, really, real.

I began to tear up thinking about all of the hard work I put in. Overcoming depression and anxiety, achieving sobriety, getting healthy, becoming a joyful and optimistic person, committing to setting a positive and healthy example, becoming an Ironman. All of these things led to where I was at right now; in a ceremony celebrating my 5th Ironman finish, a PR of under 10 hours, so close to a ticket to Kona.

And now the moment was here.

It was inspiring, but painful at the same time, listening to all of the older age groups take their Kona slots. I was happy for them, but it also meant that no more slots than 3 would be allocated to our age group (if an age group doesn't claim a slot, it goes to the most populated age group). Waiting for the announcer to get to male 35-39 was an exercise in extreme patience.

I still felt that it was a longshot when they finally got to my age group, even if it happened to roll down to 5th. I was determined not to get my hopes up. As they announced the first place finisher, he got up and accepted his ticket. It turns out the third place finisher was mistaken, and he hadn't taken a slot yet.


Second place declined his slot.

Still hope!

Third place took his slot.

Well, I knew that was going to happen. Just two more have to decline and I've got it...

The announcer called the fourth place finisher. He raised his hand enthusiastically and accepted the 3rd and final slot in the 35-39 age group.

Missed it by two...

I can't say I was disappointed by this. There's a reason why it is so hard to get into Kona through qualification. It's because the field of competitors is incredibly talented, and there is only so much room on the pier. If it were easier, it just might not be worth it. Getting this close and missing it just made me hungrier, more confident, and more inspired to go out and work for it. It will also make the accomplishment sweeter when I get there. After this experience, I know that I'm doing things right. The training, the consistency, the recovery, the nutrition, the discipline is all paying off... gradually.

That's how it works. Results do not come immediately, they come over time. And the goal is to strive for continuous improvement, not continuous perfection. I came really close this race, closer than I thought I ever would. I learned a lot through this experience, and gained a ton of confidence, and that is a priceless result. Qualifying for Kona may happen next year, or it may not happen for 10 years. It may never happen. But as long as I continue to improve and enjoy this sport, I'll continue to be a part of it.

I achieved every goal I set out to achieve at Vineman this year, and nearly one that wasn't on my radar. To me that is a huge win.

I can't say enough for the volunteers and the community of people that make this sport possible. I know of no other sport where competitors encourage one another to the extent that they do in triathlon. As a perpetual optimist, it makes me proud to be a part of this community and to be encouraging to others working toward their own individual goals.

A new fire has been lit within me, and I really can't wait to start training for Ironman Arizona! But first, more rest... and donuts...

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Ironman 70.3 Oceanside 2016 Race Report

The 2016 race season has officially kicked off for me. It has been a long offseason, since I haven't raced since August at Ironman Boulder. I had planned to take an extended break to work on my run, since it was what I struggled with in my races last year.

Unfortunately, I didn't quite get the consistency of running down due to illnesses. I was hit pretty hard early in the year with sickness. First a respiratory cold, then a stomach bug, then the respiratory cold again, then the stomach bug again. This took me out for much of January and early February. Any run gains I had made seemed to have been lost when I started to train consistently again.

I had to expedite my training leading up to Oceanside due to the weeks of illness, so I accepted the base of fitness I had and focused on long endurance at the high aerobic levels. Then I would go into a short two week taper leading to Oceanside. Not ideal, but at least it would kick start my season.

I had a lot of emotions coming into this race. It takes place in my backyard where I do all my training. It would be the first time I would repeat a 70.3, and last year's performance was by far a personal best for me, finishing in 4:44 and 12th in my age group. While I tried to tell myself not to focus on the results, just to have fun and make it a training day (after all, with all of the sickness I didn't have the fitness I had last year), it's hard to not want to compete against your previous results!

Since this was the first race in a long time, and because of the reasons above, I was more nervous for this race than many of my previous races. But when I got nervous, I was able to calm myself by reinforcing that the goal of this race was to focus on strategy and pacing. My tendency last year was to overbike and then blow up on the run. I wanted to see how it felt to UNDER bike and feel good on the run.

The goal was to swim out hard and try to stay with a lead group at least for a while. Then I would cycle at about Ironman pace or a little higher and set up a strong run, which I would feel out as I went.

This year I was really looking forward to starting in one of the earliest waves. In 2015, I started in the last wave, which led to a lot of congestion on the swim, a lot of passing on the bike (which caused a lot of energy to be wasted). Starting in an earlier wave meant a cleaner swim, and a lonely bike (just the way I like it).

Here's how it went:

Swim - 33:51 - New PR

By the time I got to the water's edge, my nerves were calmed. This was pretty typical for me, since most of my nerves are centered around just wanting to start. Now that time was coming. The water was cold, but I had prepared for that, so it wasn't shockingly so. As we sat by the buoy line waiting to start, there was a relatively strong current that seemed to be pulling us out a bit. We had to work a little to stay behind the start line.

It's always an interesting dynamic at the start of these races. Our heads above water, we are all very encouraging of one another, shouting to each other to have a great race, or laughing with each other. But the second that blow horn goes off, it's every man for himself with lots of contact and fighting for space.

I lined up to the far right of the buoy expecting to swim a little wide to avoid the contact, and settle into the buoy line once it thinned out. Once the horn sounded, I gave a quick sprint to stay with the feet of the first row of swimmers. I happened to end up right between a large gentleman on my left, and a very thin gentleman on my right. The man on my right had me a bit worried, as his stroke was very aggressive and wide. More of a scrappy swinging motion. One of those swinging arms to the face would likely break my nose! Since I breathed to the right, I was able to keep an eye on this guy as his sledgehammer hands splashed within inches of my face.

The gap began to narrow and I felt now would be the time to try to serge to the front of this group. Having this instinct makes me happy, since it shows that my confidence is building with regard to my swim. Previously, I would have resigned my position and stopped for a second to find another path behind them.

The surge worked, and I was now in open water as we approached the first turn buoy. The current assist seemed to be significant, since we got to that first turn buoy in no time at all.

Heading into the open water of the channel, we began to feel the swells of the large waves entering the harbor. It made swimming smooth a little more difficult, so that was a cue to increase the turnover and get more strokes in. I was starting to get into the mix with previous waves at this point, and I didn't see many people with light blue caps anymore (my wave). As we rounded the final turn buoy, the fastest guys in the next wave started to catch me. I tried to stick with their pace. No dice.

As we hit the boat launch area for the swim exit, I stood up very easily and was able to find my legs with no problem. I had a solid pace running through transition passing a lot of the people in front of me. I still felt energized, which was a new feeling for me after the swim. This was by far the most comfortable swim I have had in a race to date. Maybe I'm turning over a new leaf.

Bike: 2:29:17 - 4th fastest bike split in Age Group. Moved up to 5th place in 35-39, the highest place I have been in to date

An uneventful transition had led to the start of the bike. I had thought it would be cold for the first part, but it turned out to be rather comfortable. I took the pace really easy getting out to Pendleton, with all of the twists and turns and uneven surfaces. Again, I was really stoked to be in an early wave. Instead of hundreds of people in front of me which I had a chance of passing, I only had about 40-50 (obviously not counting pros!). This made for a very clean and uneventful ride.

Through the campground, I was caught by a couple of guys "working together". Once they passed, I was able to stay at legal distance from them while watching them drafting for most of that section. I noticed that my heart rate was on the very low side, so I was faced with the choice of staying there and giving up speed, or making a huge surge, enough to drop them (I didn't want them to start drafting off of me). I decided to surge, which I did for about 5-10 minutes or so until I was clear again.

Much of the rest of the first half of the ride was paced very conservatively. When I reached the gate at Christianitos, I did a self check. I was feeling great, and decided to be a bit more aggressive on the backside where the hills were located. The climb up the first large hill on was much easier than last year, again attributed to the lack of congestion. Being somewhat alone, I could pace myself up the hill and not have to surge around other people.

The downhills were fun and fast, aside from the 25 mph zone, where I rode the brakes to about 22 mph, just to be safe. Around this time, I started to catch some of the female pros. Another cool side effect of starting in an earlier wave!

Riding down Vandegrift back toward Oceanside, I backed off the power once again to recover a bit from the hills. I was caught by a couple of other people, including a fellow Dimond owner, who shouted "nice bike" as he flew by me. Into transition with a time about 5 minutes slower than last year. However, this seemed to be consistent with the other bike times in my age group. Both years, I had the 4th fastest bike split, but this year was a bit slower. The conditions didn't seem too much different, but I have a theory that perhaps it has something to do with the congestion on the course. Since our age group spent more effort surging to make passes last year, perhaps that is the reason we were faster. Who knows!

Run: 1:36:44 - Run PR

Transition was once again a breeze, aside from shoving Vaseline down my pants in front of a large crowd of people. But I've experienced the alternative and it isn't pretty. It's been my experience that if you're standing around the area of transition, you're bound to see something pretty gross. As a spectator, that's to be expected!

Running out of transition I felt in control of my run. A dialed back pace from what I felt I could run. Visions of mile 3 last year rushed through my head. It was at that time that I experienced painful side stitches that reduced me to walking for a few minutes. I had attributed that to too much nutrition in the early part of the race combined with too fast a pace. I didn't want to repeat that experience.

Again, I was all alone, which was an interesting experience on the run. The only people that were with me were the pros that zoomed by me every once and a while, which was really cool. It's a strange feeling running without seeing anyone in front of you. I had a constant feeling like I had to ask someone if I was going the right direction.

Through the first aid station, I grabbed only water and kept going. Still felt good an in control. I was trying to maintain a 7:15 pace, not too fast and pretty easy to sustain. Sure enough, as I approached mile 3-4, I started getting the stitches again. I backed off the pace a bit and was able to keep moving, but it was still frustrating knowing that I could run faster if it weren't for the side pains. They stuck with me even after the turnaround, and intensified as I passed through mile 5. I had to walk down the hill to get my heart rate down and get them to go away. Finally, they subsided, only sticking around intensely enough to remind me that they would destroy me if I attempted to pick up the pace.

At the halfway point, I started to feel much better, so the goal was going to become "don't slow down". In fact, just as an experiment, I wanted to see if I could push the pace a bit more and then walk the aid stations. The goal was to still average the 7:15-7:30 pace overall, but through a combination of 7 minute miles and walking through aid stations. This worked really well as I continued to feel totally in control.

Much of the rest of the run was uneventful, just trying to keep a controlled run without it getting ugly. Sure enough, I went through the finish line with a 3:30 PR over last year's half marathon, fully 10 minutes faster than the half marathon at Boulder 70.3, and even a few seconds faster than my half marathon PR (which was run while I was sick with one of those stomach bugs). Overall time was 4:47:23, which I was very pleased with, considering the tough start to the training year. It was good enough for 8th place in my age group, which was shocking to me. This was my first time in an Ironman branded race breaking the top 10. Especially at a race that boasts itself as one of the more competitive races, I am tremendously grateful.

From what I understand, even though I didn't stick around for the World Championship roll down ceremony (I can't really afford the trip to Australia in September), I heard that the slots rolled down well past my placing, which means if I were to have chosen to, I could have raced in the 70.3 World Championship this year. That's pretty awesome!

Now as I spend a week off before starting my build toward Ironman Vineman, I have a renewed drive to train well this season and to train smart, with goals to challenge myself and simply give the best of myself. I'm looking forward to what the rest of the year holds.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Embrace the Suck

We've all seen the recent Michael Phelps "Rule Yourself" video, right? If not, here it is. Check it out, it's pretty amazing!

It's also clear that Mr. Phelps is a genetic masterpiece who was made for swimming. Most of the rest of us... not so much. So I decided to make a little parody video just for fun. This is dedicated to the triathletes, adult onset swimmers, and other people who challenge themselves every day to better themselves. Enjoy!

Yes, I know, the video quality is not great, and the audio is pretty horrible. My apologies for that, but time and patience led way to a few sacrifices in quality. Regardless, it was fun to make, and I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Adult Onset Swimmer's Dilemma, or How I Had a Swimming Breakthrough and Jumped into the Fast Lane

If you know anything about my history, you know that swimming is my weakness (to say the least). You would also know, by reading other posts in this blog, that I spent a lot of time obsessing about this and how I could improve.

During the first year of learning to swim, it was exceptionally frustrating. With the exception of my first Ironman (which was a current assisted, salt water, wetsuit swim), I was logging slow times in all my races. In the pool I wasn't faring much better. Starting out, I swimming well over 2:00 per hundred yards for sustained efforts, and struggling to stay afloat. With heavy volume, I was able to get this down to just over 1:50/100, but I still didn't have confidence or speed I wanted to really be competitive.

The result, of course, was that I exerted much more energy than I should have in my race swims. Then on the bike, I would have to play catch up, which killed a lot more of my energy. Needless to say my run suffered. All because I couldn't hang on the swim.

I spent hours combing the swimming message boards, watching videos on YouTube, trying to discover "the secret" to faster swimming.

There was no shortage of information, of course, but most of it was conflicted. Some would say to focus on the "glide", and become smooth and graceful in the water. Others would say to increase turnover and power through short intervals to get faster. Both pieces of advice had their merit, but each also had their downsides.

For the "focus on glide" group, skeptics would point out that gliding creates a "dead zone", where you actually slow down before you can propel yourself forward. In practice too, it's difficult to maintain a "glide" when you feel like you're sinking, thus poor form may develop. This, combined with the slow rate of turnover, would result in diminishing returns, and one wouldn't be able to become truly "fast" in the water.

The "focus on turnover and fast intervals" crowd was typically the "fish", who have been swimming since a young age. They have been conditioned to handle heavy volume, and already have good swim form, so this approach may not work for the new swimmer.

After trying both methods and not seeing much of any results, I began to realize that perhaps both of these approaches were neglecting what I referred to in the title as the adult onset swimmer's dilemma: that adults who are learning to swim have not had the basic fundamentals of swimming developed in them from an early age which would make them feel comfortable in the water. Regardless of the swimming technique they employ above, they will not reach their true potential.

At least this was the case for me.

The solution for me became to take a hundred steps back and start from the beginning. The very first step would be to learn how to become comfortable in the water, without even taking a single stroke. Once comfortable, I would begin to take slow and deliberate steps to incorporate swim strokes and increase turnover while staying comfortable in the water. The result a pretty dramatic improvement in speed over the course of an offseason. Even more dramatic results have been made over the course of a couple years.

Below is a list of the steps I took to improve my swimming. By no means am I a fish, but I would say that I'm as good as I want to be at swimming, as long as I can translate this speed to the open water (which is another challenge in and of itself). Before I took these steps, volume alone had taken me from a 2:00+ per hundred swimmer to a 1:50/100 swimmer, although not comfortable. Taking these steps led me to comfortably swimming sub 1:30/100 paces, and even sprinting 100's in under 1:20 (my fastest 100 so far is a 1:17).

Again, this is just what worked for me, but may not work for everyone. But this is some advice that I hope can help someone who may be struggling with swimming (note: I don't go into "proper form" here, since more experienced people can weigh in on that topic, and do in multiple areas around the internet. This simply lists ways in which on can more easily apply and put into practice that form for optimal improvement over time).

  1. Start from scratch. What worked best for me to get comfortable in the water was to order the Total Immersion DVD set. Total Immersion helps people to get comfortable in the water before tackling harder concepts like breathing, taking strokes, etc. Their method falls within the "glider" category listed above, but it's important to note that learning these skills is simply a starting point. Speed and turnover come later, once we can swim comfortably. I simply followed the 10 lessons and got comfortable in the pool. A small, but very worthwhile investment in your swimming success. After a few weeks, I found I was comfortable enough to taper down my use of these drills and increase my swimming volume.
  2. As I began to incorporate swimming into my workouts, I would start my warm up focusing on balance using things like the pencil drill, making sure the top of my head, my shoulders, and my butt were all out of the water. This would help me find my alignment from head to foot in the water, making sure I wasn't dragging my legs, or digging my head.
  3. I would also use my warmup as an opportunity to focus on my balance and rotation. To do this, I used a swim snorkel (so that I did not have to focus on breathing to the side), and took slow strokes concentrating on my form, keeping my body balanced and aligned, and focusing on rotating during each stroke. This worked very well to test out what worked and what didn't as far as rotating, catching, and pulling. Granted, you will go slower when you're wearing a swim snorkel, but you also pick up valuable new techniques. I continue to use the snorkel during the warm up set of every swim I do.
  4. I watched a lot of YouTube videos of distance swimmers, and try to mimic their techniques.
  5. I filmed myself every few weeks to analyze my form, both above water and under water. I was also fortunate to get some good feedback on these videos from my coach at Smart Triathlon Training. The first time I filmed myself, I was shocked. While I felt like I was swimming smoothly in the water, watching myself as I swam was very revealing. The small changes I was able to make after viewing my swimming form made a pretty dramatic difference in my swim times. Make sure that you film yourself when you're fresh and when you're tired, that way you get a good perspective of how your swim deteriorates with fatigue. That will really tell you what you need to work on.
  6. The pull buoy became a very good friend. There is much debate as to whether or not the pull buoy is a crutch or something to use frequently, but I tend to side with the latter, especially after reading this post by triathlon coach, Brett Sutton. For those of us who are adult onset swimmers who are not interested in leading the packs in the water, and are content with finishing close enough to the front of the swim to be competitive on the bike and run, the pull buoy can be a very useful tool. I found a number of benefits to using a pull buoy with great frequency. a) I was able to swim more volume without fatiguing, b) I was able to maintain my form for longer sets, c) I was able to focus on technique during my swims, and d) I was able to increase my turnover over time (while maintaining the same number of strokes per length), and thus increase my speed. I tend to only use the pull buoy for longer sets over 300 yards. If you're looking for races with a wetsuit swim, the pull buoy may not be as much of a crutch as you think. Even if your A race is a non-wetsuit swim, you can still benefit from early season endurance builds using the pull buoy, and then get more race specific closer to the race. 
  7. After all of the above were in place, I then worked on increasing my speed with short, hard intervals. Typically, this consisted of 25s, 50s, and 100s (mostly 50s) on longer rest intervals so that I could make full recovery. In a typical week of swimming 4-5 times per week, I would do at least 2 speed sessions of 1,000 to 2,000 yards total. My go to speed set has been 250 warm up (with snorkel), 250 pull, 10x50 hard, 5x100 hard (add 10x25 hard with 250 warm down to make an even 2,000).
Happy swimming!