Posts Tagged ‘Frank & Friends’

It has become one of my habits now to set a few goals through the off-season to work towards and which, ultimately, serve as benchmarks leading up to the accomplishment of the master plan being Ironman.  One of these regular goals is the completion of the Frank & Friends 10k Swim for Strong Kids at my local YMCA.

This has been my fifth year participating in and completing this charity swim and it has become the hallmark of my off-season training program; not to mention my motivation for getting my ass out of a warm bed at 5:00am on cold winter mornings.

Here are the particulars of my 2017 swim plan to date:

  • 182,025m covered in total (2,500m more than last year)
  • That’s an average of 14,205m per week for an average of 4 hours and 33 minutes (per week)
  • Which equates to 61 hours and 34 minutes spent in the pool
  • Over 47 different workouts

That’s not too shabby if I do say so myself.

17952595_10158536214270113_3324792525232267637_nI was particularly motivated this year as I was sharing the task with a friend and past training partner Steve, whom I met back in the early days of my triathlon quest.  I don’t necessarily remember how this partnership came about but I know there was definitely a beer in hand at a Christmas party where he actually committed to do the swim with me.  How many were consumed by that point is anyone’s guess but, true to his word, Steve took up the gauntlet and launched into his own preparation for this year’s event (click HERE for a little deeper insight into Steve’s rather “unique” training plan).

Besides getting to share this experience with someone it also meant that I wouldn’t have to deal with the hardest part of long distance swimming as far as I’m concerned:

B-O-R-E-D-O-M.

Seriously, when you’re spending the better part of three hours staring at the little hairs floating on the bottom of the pool, your brain tends to liquefy and slowly drain out your ears.

Let’s just say that it becomes very tedious indeed simply watching the black line endlessly pass underneath you and there’s a reason why I use this event to build up my overall “mental toughness”.

Believe me.

Usually, the last hour or so is just me – alone – simply trying not to go crazy.  So having someone to keep me company and share in the tediousness and general pacing was a huge benefit and I couldn’t really have been luckier in who offered to join me.

In past years, my 10k swims have clocked overall times of 3:22:50 (2016), 3:11:05 (2015) and 3:11:57 (2014), and 3:16:31 (2013) respectively.

Clearly, last year was a real struggle.

This year: 3:00:40.

That’s a difference of 11 minutes and 25 seconds over my best time.

Boo-yah!

Different from past years where I went it alone, Steve and I stopped every 500m  for a sip of water and a quick glance at one another before pushing off the wall again.  All in all, each break was only 4-5 seconds each.  Over the course of three hours, we only spend 4 minutes and 59 seconds resting and refueling.  Again, this represents a huge improvement over the 10 minutes or so between longer intervals in previous years so this plan seemed to work out much better.

Likewise, since we were splitting the pacing duties out front every 1,000m we managed a better average pace of 1:49min/100m and, really, it was only in the last 2,000-3,000m or so that our pace began to fade.

Some other interesting statistics for those of you who care:

  • I covered the distance in exactly 4,302 strokes
  • For an average of 23 strokes/minute
  • Burning exactly 2,400 calories in doing so

So what now?

Well, from here I begin pulling back on the distance and begin focusing more on speed and tempo work at the 4,000m  distance given my next swim goal is directly aimed at being among the first few out of the water at Hudson Valley (click HERE).  I will also be doing the Lake Okanagan Swim with HRH on July 15th (2,000m) – but that’s more of a fun bonding thing than it is any significant challenge.

Steve, however, is going to continue with the distance with – hopefully – designs on competing in a few open water events around Ontario meaning, of course, that we can both continue to motivate and train together in the open water come next month.

Well, that and getting rid of the pull buoy.

(Sorry Steve, couldn’t resist)

Anyway, seeing as how the Frank & Friends swim has now been reassigned to November we might even be doing this same swim again sooner than anticipated so there’s always that motivation to keep going as well.

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So here’s a bit of a progress update on my Frank & Friends 10k Swim for Strong Kids training program.

My (our) annual charity swim has been planned for April 15th at the Port Colborne YMCA and Aquatic’s Complex and my training has been going well.  On the average I am swimming anywhere between 15,000 to 17,000 meters a week with my long consecutive swims on Saturday’s (after riding 20k out to the pool on my mountain bike no less) so far stretching to 5,000 to 6,000 meters without any breaks.

And it feels good.

Also, I have just recently just set a bench mark personal best at the 100m  distance by finally getting my time down under a 1:30.  Probably not a big deal for other swimmers but for me, this is HUGE progress.  My daily core workouts are inevitably helping to make all this possible and all things considered, right now I’m feeling very strong in the water…more so than where I have been in previous years at this point with my 10k program.

In other words, things are going great.

What is different this year, is that I have enlisted some help in a friend who will be joining me in this whole 10k swim madness, Stephen Apps.  Steve was one of the first people I met through the TryForce club years ago and was one of the big motivators and inspirations to train for and complete my first Half Ironman distance triathlon in Welland (click HERE), culminating with my competing in Cancun (click HERE) the following year and eventually the full Iron distance Wales (click HERE).  So, although he may be surprised to hear it, Steve has been a major influence on my life over the past 8 years or so.

Now, we usually just bond over beers with is significantly more fun.

Anyway, this year Steve has graciously offered to join me for the Frank & Friends swim and has jumped back into the pool and launched into his own training plan for the April 15th event date.  However, this week he has been taking a bit of a much-needed break from the program and relaxing somewhere in Costa Rica.

(lucky bastard)

I’m envious.

Of course, I figured the only training he’d be doing this week might be the one arm curls he performs every time he hoists a tequila shot to his lips, but then this video pops up in my Facebook feed suggesting that Steve isn’t actually relaxing at all:

I just don’t know what to say.

Here I am up at stupid o’clock every morning suffering through endless intervals and grueling paddle workouts, and here is Steve doing obscene things to a floating crocodile in a tropical paradise.

Clearly, he has the better training program.

Good on ya, bud.

This past Saturday, I accomplished my first goal of the season by successfully completing the ‘Frank & Friends 10k Swim for Strong Kids’ for my third straight year. This event, while supporting a very noble local cause near and dear to my own heart, has become the annual benchmark of my swim training in the off season.  In short, while most of my peers are either primarily focused on their running or indoor trainers, I tend to place all my off-season eggs squarely in the swim basket by spending a stupid amount of time in the pool with this 10k swim being my ultimate ‘coup d’etat’.

Arriving on site

Arriving on site

The goal of this event is not a preconceived time or pace, per se, but simply to complete the distance and support a great cause. The personal benefit of such is twofold:

  1. A commit to ensure that my ass gets in the pool and thereby, establish a strong foundation for my triathlon training.
  2. Build mental toughness.

Now in regards to the second point, it’s true that you can build mental toughness on the bike or while running, there’s nothing quite like the tediousness and ultimate “aloneness” to build one’s mental fortitude. The truth of the matter is that despite this being my third year doing this event, it still scares the bejesus out of me; 10 kilometers (400 laps) is a long ass time to spend swimming laps.

My attempt at looking cool.

My attempt at looking cool for the press (pre-swim)

It’s already been documented that last year wasn’t exactly a primo year for me and in some regard I’m still dealing with those demons – fear of recouping after an injury; fear of losing my fitness; fear of failure.  In training for this event it was also a way of tackling those demons head on so but, while it’s ultimately only a charity event, this also represents my first ‘mano e’ mano’  showdown with these fears and personal insecurities.

Regardless of what it was, I was certainly better trained this year than I have been in past years.  For the past two months, I have been swimming anywhere between 14 and 18 kilometers a week for a whopping grand total of nearly 180k in 2015 alone – that’s 180,000m for God sakes!  Now, I know by marathon standards this I a mere drop in the bucket but for a guy who could barely swim five years ago (click HERE and HERE), is pretty damn good I think.  I’ve used paddles, learned how to use a snorkel to perfect my stroke as much as possible, and done so many drills than that I nearly cried pure chlorine.  I’ve gotten out of bed before the crack of dawn 3 times a week for months on end, suffered dry and pruny skin and now my hair now has the texture of straw.   So let it be known, I’ve put in my time.  I feel I’ve paid my dues.

Pre-swim

Pre-swim

But how does all this translate performance-wise?

A whole 27 whole seconds. That’s it.

Okay, well, maybe not exactly.

Last years’ 10k swim time was time 3 hours, 16 minutes and 51 seconds.  On top of that, there were at least 10 minutes of feeding stops, pee breaks, and a quick meet n’ greet with Frank (the man) himself.  This year, my cumulative  time over all was 3 hours, 16 minutes and 24 seconds.  Of that time, 3 hours, 11 minutes and 5 seconds were spent swimming; meaning I only stopped twice…and even then, only briefly.  The real accomplishment is that I felt infinitely more relaxed and less spent than I have been in the last two years.  In fact, it wasn’t quite so bad…like, at all.

Dare I say it: it was pretty easy?  Physically that is.

Mentally, there were times when it was a real grind.

Me and my pacers gettin' business done.

Me and my pacers gettin’ business done.

It all started off promptly at 1:00pm with me and exactly three other swimmers, HRH included.  Nowhere near the number of participants that have turned out in previous years, and the feeling like it was going to be a long day were already sinking into my brain.  If I’ve learned anything about long distance swimming its’ that it’s every bit as much a mental challenge as it is physical, more so actually. After all, for the entire time doing laps you’re looking at a long black line on the pool with little to no other stimulus whatsoever.  They don’t call it “Black Line Fever” for nothing.

I took my first short break at the 2500m mark (100 laps) when I felt Kelly tap my feet at the wall to remind me to take in some water.  By now, other swimmers had begun arriving so at least I had some company in the other lanes.  After a minute or so I pushed on with the intent of getting through another 100 laps or so.

I’m not sure how much longer after that, but I remember thinking ‘okay, this is getting boring’ and I started to mentally prepare myself for what I knew was only going to get worse, but as I began to mentally talk myself through those first few feelings of ‘aloneness’ , another swimmer appeared in my lane…and then another.

Still at it.

Still at it.

Two other swimmers and triathlon peers of mine, Jim Sunners and Michael Poulsen arrived to lend a hand in pacing me and, basically, just to keep me company.  Both Jim and Mike are extremely successful swimmers and triathletes in their own forthright and both have qualified for Kona this year (Jim has actually qualified and competed in Kona seven times and Mike has done so for the first time this year), so to have them think enough of my challenge to show up to support me as well the cause was – well, I’ll say it – very overwhelming and it certainly very appreciated.

Together the three of us formed a pace line and pushed on.

When I next felt the tap on my feet from Kelly to remind me to stop and drink, I quickly told her I was fine and carried on.  On a few occasions, I called for a piece of banana or a sip of water but I did so by flipping over on my back and continued stroking without stopping (a skill I’ve practices this season) as to not break our formation.  We kept this up straight through the half way point of the swim and by the time Jim pulled from the formation and called it a day at one end of the pool (he had to get to work) we were already at the 7500m mark (300 laps) – my longest consecutive swim to date.

At the finish.

At the finish.

Our pace may have not been anything to brag about and, truthfully, I know we could all have managed a much quicker pace fairly easily, it was still fun and I felt honored and privileged to be paced by guys to whom I look up to and I was just happy to sit on their feet and enjoy the moment…all 75 or so of them.

Mike and I pressed on for another 1000m or so before he too had to get to work, so with only 1500m to go and a couple honey dates in my belly, I pressed on once again…alone.  These next 60 laps were easily the most difficult of them all as by this time, I was pretty much the only one left in the pool.  I picked up the pace just a bit, so keep things interesting (and prove to myself I could do it) and to the encouragement of the amazing staff at the Port Colborne YMCA, I even sprinted the last 50m  to the end completing my third successful Frank & Friends swim.

The after effects.

The after effects.

Here are the final results (click HERE):

  • Total calories: 2,832
  • Total strokes: 4,776
  • strokes per minute: 24
  • strokes per length: 12
  • pace: 155 min/100m
  • Best pace: 0:45 min/100m

On the whole, amongst all the participants at our branch, we completed a total of 50k (2000 laps) while raising exactly $1400 for Strong Kids, both surpassing the goal that had initially been set.  I like to think Frank is proud.

As for me, I’ve already committed to next years’ swim and hope to even set a time goal of under three hours to boot; time to up the game a bit.

Yesterday I ticked off the second of my unique mental toughness “events” for 2014 with completing the full ‘Frank & Friends 10k Swim for Strong Kids’ at the Port Colborne YMCA.  I did it last year (click HERE) too but it was thoroughly unplanned and completely spontaneous so this year represents a more conscious effort to prepare and complete.  In essence, it’s a premeditated attempt to reacquire this elusive ‘Mental Toughness’ I felt I once had but, truthfully, who’s ever going to pass up the opportunity to be referred to as a ‘Champion’ for the day? Not this fat guy.

1

Enjoying it while I can.

But more on that later…

It was an amazing day.  Besides the staff and volunteers at the Port Colborne YMCA, there were members from the local Special Olympics swim team and junior swimmers from another competitive swim team.  Let me tell you, these kids can swim!  There was a “special needs” (I use this term loosely as, in the water, this guy needed no special ‘assistance’ I can assure you) swimmer for the majority of the time doing the backstroke like it was his job.  Often there were chances throughout the day for the random 25m  and 50m  sprints with the swimmers in the adjacent lanes just for the fun of it because, hey, what else is there to do really?  Besides, when two swimmers reach the wall at the same time, it’s the equivalent of two teenagers at an intersection in their powerful sports cars, looking across at one another through slightly tinted windows and revving their engines while waiting for the light to turn green.  I believe it’s just an unwritten rule.

So, anyway, this type of passive aggressive socializing with other swimmers, along with the girl who would tap me on the head every half hour or so to remind me to drink, pretty much passed the first two hours quite comfortably.  But then people started leaving to the point where I was pretty much the only person left; not so much fun but, hey, it was not completely unexpected nor entirely outside the ‘Master Plan’ anyway so I kept plodding along.

400 laps.  That's two down, mom.

400 laps. That’s two down, mom.

It’s funny what goes through your head at these moments when you’re really, really tired.  Truthfully, up to the 8k or so point in the swim my arms and shoulders felt great, but those last few hundred meters sure sucked as the fatigue and boredom began to set in.  How do those real long distance swimmers do it?  For example, I know a girl who is preparing to be the youngest swimmer to swim across Lake Ontario and she completes these types of distance swims, like, daily.  How amazing is that?  Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

Maybe someday.

I also got to meet Frank himself.  Before today, I’ve never met Frank, but I’ve seen him before.  Approximately seven years ago on my third visit to the St. Catharines YMCA (I was still very new to the whole new ‘lifestyle change’ thing) I heard a few people talking about this guy who was swimming 10 kilometers in the pool for charity.  In short, I thought he was nuts and didn’t give it a further thought beyond that.

Meeting the original founder and inspiration for this whole thing.

I call this “Two Nuts Poolside”

Later – 3 years to be exact – I completed my first successful season competing in local Sprint distance triathlons.  And by “completed”, I simply mean I survived and my heart didn’t spontaneously combust inside my chest.  The part that I had really enjoyed, however, was the swim.  Where most people I trained with at the time either dreaded the swim or referred to it as something you simply endured, I simply loved the exhilaration of splashing limbs, jockeying for position, and otherwise just trying to not get knocked the fuck out.  Maybe I’m just wired differently as I enjoy swimming and it has become the hallmark of my race strategy in past events to be out first and ahead of my peers while feeling good.  So, suddenly, swimming was something of particular interest to me (it still is).  As fate would have it, I walked in one afternoon to the same YMCA (three years later) and I see the sign-up for the, yep, you guessed it, the ‘Franks 10k Swim for Strong Kids’.  What the hell?

It's official.

It’s official.

Of course, at the time I could only do 700m or 800m   comfortably (which was quite far by my standards back then) but it was more about just making a donation to support a good local cause, not to mention swimming a few laps with (well, alongside…at the other end of the pool) Frank and it made me feel good.  So this year, as with past years, I decided to do it again but with a little more fore-thought into, you know, actually preparing for it properly.  I can see myself getting into endurance swimming at some point when all this crazy Ironman madness runs its course, so I thought it was a good opportunity to explore my current limits with swimming.  So, yes, it did give me an excellent opportunity to further poke the pruny barriers of my own performance with a stick…a huge, pointy, evil-looking stick.

Mission accomplished.

While I have other events and races planned for 2014 beginning in another month or so, as well as the rest of the racing season, I specifically have only the one more targeted “Mental Toughness” challenge to complete (in September) before I flip the switch again and leap feet first back into the Ironman arena come 2015.

That’s the plan anyway, so stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed.

A few weekends ago, I had a rather unique opportunity to participate in a worthwhile charity swim for Strong Kids, as promoted and sponsored by my local YMCA.  The goal for the event, “Frank & Friends 10k Swim for Strong Kids” (yes, it says ‘100k‘ in the advert, but it’s a typo as that would be freakin’ ridiculous!), besides raising money for noble cause, was to keep a continuous swim going among its volunteers and thereby complete a 10k swim inside a three hour period.  Hey, volunteering and offering something back to the community that has been so supportive of my past athletic endeavors was definitely on my radar this year, so I figured, ‘yeah, why not’?  Even though I’d completed my two designated swim workouts for the week, I could use a few extra easy laps in the pool to work on my form anyway.

The original plan was to go in and do 4 x 1 kilometer sets with 30 seconds to 1 minute intervals of rest between them.  Ideally, I’d like to hold my Ironman pace from this past September, but I would see how things went as form and technique were definitely my priority over speed or pace for this particular session.  All in all, if things went well I’d be out in an hour and onto my intended weights workout for the afternoon.  Perfect.

And just think, this glamorous shot was taken BEFORE the swim.

And just think, this glamorous shot was taken BEFORE the swim.

12:55pm – Arrived on the scene, last of about a dozen other swimmers slotted for the 1:00pm  start.  A few photographs later and we were ready to get rolling.  I jumped in my lane, for no other reason that that’s the lane I always swim in, and pushed off the wall promptly at 1:00pm, the first to go.  A few of the others swimmers started out fancy in butterfly stroke, but they were pretty easy to go around for the few hundred meters or so, and I quickly settled into my usual pace, focusing on my catch, core rotation and quick hand entry; the techniques I’ve been working on improving this year.  After the first initial 500-600m  or so, a couple of the younger collegiate swimmers from the Ridley Swim Team in the next lane over began sprinting so I used the opportunity to motor it out with them, raise my heart rate a little and just send a subliminal message that the chubby old boy next door still has a few chops.  After about a 100m of sprinting they were completely spent and clung to the wall panting for air, so I went back to my normal pace and got back to the business of being awesome.

Gettin' er done...

Gettin’ er done…

2:05pm – I completed my first 4k with a few minute rest breaks between each kilometer to hydrate, stretch, etc.  My shoulders were feeling great and I was happy I was more or less able to complete my kilometers on pace with minimal effort.  By ‘minimal effort’, I mean I didn’t have to kill myself to do it and felt pretty comfortable throughout.  For the most part I was the only one doing a consecutive swim that I could tell so by the time I had finished my intended workout,  but I was the only one left in the pool so I figured ‘hey, might as well keep going’.  The whole point of a ‘swim marathon’ to my mind was to have people swimming continuously, so I decided I’d simply keep going until someone else showed up to keep the event alive and kicking.  So after begging a granola bar off one of the lifeguards, I pushed off the wall and starting back swimming again.

2:45pm (ish) – A few girls have jumped in my lane now and are swimming laps at a good pace.  After an extra hour swimming on my own, just having some extra bodies around to help pace me is a huge welcome.  I completed kilometers 5 and 6 nearly on my own, so having some company has lifted my energy and motivation somewhat.  I’ve also become a pro and eating while still swimming.  I thought enough to bring my water bottle, but not figuring I’d be going this long I don’t have any real fuel so I’ve been begging granola bars off the lifeguards.  Every 400-500m, or so,  I stop quickly, take a bite, flip over on my back and continue backstroking whilst I chew and swallow, hopefully, without breaking the pace I’ve established with the other two girls.

Just over half way to my goal of 400 laps.

Just over half way to my goal of 400 laps.

3:15pm (ish) – At the 8k  mark my shoulders began to show the first signs of reluctance in turning over smoothly and began to get a little stiff and a sore.  Remembering that the longest swim I have completed to date was around 4.5k, around this time last year, I figured it was prudent to stop briefly and stretch them out for a bit before attempting to continue.  I will admit that the urge to call it quits had been building pretty well in my mind over the last kilometer but, once again, I found myself the only one in the pool after the two girls I was swimming with left.  ‘C’mon, buck up sissypants.  It’s only two more kilometer’s to go’, I told myself.   So, albeit with a little reluctance, I cinched up my now extremely pruny apple sack and pushing off the wall…again.

The next two kilometers went pretty well actually.  I swam, nibbled granola bars, backstroked, and otherwise kept going as best I could, counting out the laps in my head as I went.  For the final 200m, I even amped up the pace just a bit to simulate that last few meters at the end of any triathlon swim.  Just it was just the pool at the YMCA and the only ones around were the oblivious teenage lifeguards who could care less how long I had been swimming but, in my mind, it was the home stretch in the FKCC Swim Around Key West.

3:35pm – Done!  10 kilometers!  Ho-lee shit.  I’m so exhausted and spent that it’s all I can do to lift myself out of the pool and collapse again at the wall with a well-deserved apple and about a dozen oatmeal cookies the organizer brought for me.

My official time – official, in that this is what my polar stop watch recorded anyway – was 2:35:30, for a pace of approximately 1:32 min/100 m.  Not too bad for my first real endurance swim.  Of course, we’ll forget for the moment the short 5 minute break at the 8k  mark to stretch, or the current urge I have to to puke but, generally, I feel pretty good with myself.  My shoulders feel relatively okay, but I look like I’ve aged about 60 years given that my skin now has the texture of pudding skin and my hair feels like straw.  But I can live with that for the time being in light of my accomplishment.

All in all, I REALLY enjoyed that impromptu challenge.  It was a validation, that while still not perfect, my swim technique is coming along nicely and that I can maintain a decent pace when needing to do so.  I can see myself doing a few more of these long distance swim events in the future; maybe even complete an official aquatic open water marathon someday.  I’ll definitely be putting this event on the calendar for next year as an inspiration to keep up my work in the pool through the next off-season.