After my poor swim at Kansas I decided I needed some more lessons. I asked the president of Team Nebraska Triathlon, Jim, if he knew of anybody who could help me out. He said that he was actually coaching a couple of guys already - and would be willing to help me out on a weekly basis. I had already done a clinic with Jim and he gave me some great pointers - so, I was thrilled that he could help me out. And when I asked how much he charged - he said he's do it for free!
We've been meeting weekly for about six weeks by now. My times in pool workouts have been getting progressively faster - but I knew that didn't always translate into fast times in an actual race. So I was excited to test myself at the Omaha Triathlon Sunday morning.
The main way in which I've improved since last year is being comfortable in open water with other people around. In my first tri last May I almost hyperventilated. I couldn't even swim with my head down without taking in a lot of water. Jim suggested that I was probably holding my breath the first few strokes instead of exhaling fully - which was leading to me eventually being out of breath.
The other major issue was my stroke. Last year I was pretty much straight arming my stroke - which is very inefficient over longer distances. In February I learned the "S" curve - where you push out at the beginning of the stroke and then sweep around and eventually bring your hand in just below your rib cage and push down (similar to the motion when you get out of the pool). When I first started with Jim he noticed that I wasn't doing the first part of the stroke at all - I was bringing my hands close to my body way too early. I needed to emphasize the sculling out part of the stroke at the beginning. I also wasn't rotating my torso at all - which means I was generating less power with each stroke.
As the swim started on Sunday I felt pretty good - but after my first spot or two I could tell that I wasn't swimming in a straight line. The week before I had noticed the same thing while swimming in Lake Manawa - where we train once a week For some reason I was now swimming crooked. That's the frustrating thing about learning to really swim. Two steps forward and one step back. After the race Jim suggested that maybe I was pushing off with my left arm - instead of using my abs to rotate my body when I was breathing on my right side - which caused me to veer to the right. We're going to head out to the lake this weekend so that he can take a better look.
All of that is a long way of saying that I still wasn't happy with my swim on Sunday. I ended up at 28:43 - which is certainly better than the 34 minutes that I swam last year, but I'd really like to be a consistent sub 25 minute 1500 meter swimmer. My goal for Wisconsin is still 1:15 for the swim. The challenge will be staying comfortable swimming with 2800 people in the mass start - but all those people might help me with a decent draft and keeping me in a straight line. I'm also assuming that the swim will be wetsuit legal. Wetsuits are especially helpful for remedial swimmers like me.
Bottom line - learning to be a decent swimmer takes years. Luckily biking and running have been going well for me this year - and very few triathletes are great at everything. Suffering through at least one sport where you struggle seems to be a common theme.
I was hoping to take it easy on the bike on Sunday - but with two of my training partners a few minutes up the road my competitiveness took over. I love the bike. There are constant adjustments to make on a hilly course such as Omaha's. I usually keep track of how many RPM's I'm pedaling. If I'm under 90 RPM than I probably need to get into an easier gear. I've also learned that stamping on your pedals up a hill is usually a waste of energy. Better to gradually spin up the hill - and then push a little at the crest. The aero wheels help a lot too - being able to get a little more speed on the downhill means you don't need to work as hard up the next one.
At the turn around I could see that I was still a minute or two down to Gerald and another guy in our group - Caleb. I also saw that the course was a little long - I was already at 13 miles - meaning the course was closer to 42 km than the traditional 40 km. The way back was a little lonely. Omaha Triathlon is only in it's 3rd year, so it's not very deep.
I wasn't sure what to expect on the run. Based on how I had done at Kansas, Great Lakes Relay and the few track workouts I've done I knew I was in decent shape - but it had been awhile since I had really tested myself running. Unfortunately there were no mile markers - so I just ran a pace that felt right. I have to say that being a stronger runner is pretty fun in a triathlon. If you're a great swimmer - there might be a few more cheers when you get out of the water first - but then you have to endure getting passed by people the rest of the race. On the bike there's almost nobody on the course, but on the run (especially an out-and-back) you get all kinds of support from spectators and other participants.
My run split ended up being slightly under my goal of 35 minutes - or sub-5:40 pace. I even got the best running split of the day by over two minutes. I ended up in 5th place overall. I was just out of being in the top 3 Nebraskans - but the next place was 5 minutes in front of me - so I didn't feel too bad. Overall it was a success - even with the slow swim. I've learned that for me a successful swim sometimes just means identifying the problems so I know what to work on for next time.
Expectations for a first Ironman can be a tricky thing. I certainly want to take advantage of all the time I've had to train this summer. With most likely starting school next year and then a full-time job - I might not have this much time to train ever again. At the same time I want to have a good experience. I definetely don't want to put myself into the red on the swim or bike - and I want to enjoy the run as much as possible. Anything can happen in an event that long that you've never done before - but I feel like I've at least given myself a shot at having a successful day with my training so far. My July totals were 34 miles of swimming, 629 miles on the bike, and 168 mile of running.