Need a Motivator for 2017? Try these Two ePostals!

Coach Mark Johnston and his Flow Swimmers organization based in Polson, Montana, are hosting not one, but two terrific ePostal swim competitions that span the year ahead – swim anywhere you like, at your own pace to complete in 2017! No QTs to meet, these swims are suitable for athletes of any age and level. The 2017 Postal Swimtathlon League offers different cumulative quarterly challenges (e.g. enter your fastest 50 of each stroke and 100 I.M.) and the opportunity to compete against swimmers from the U.S. and abroad. The Check-Off Challenge (swim every event once within a year’s time) is an annual USMS event. Both swims are USMS sanctioned with a portion of proceeds donated to initiatives to keep Flathead Lake’s waters clean. Be sure to check out the super cool event t-shirts and swag while reading up on both swims. On your mark, get set—GO!

#1) 2017 Postal Swimtathlon League

#2) USMS Check-Off Challenge: 2017 American Records Tour

Need a Motivator for 2017? Try these Two ePostals!

The Ant-Like Approach to Training


The Ant and Bee (Angela Banner) books were, and still are, one of all-time my favorite children’s books series. I’ve read each so many times as both a child and an adult that I have them all memorized. This is probably explains why I often catch myself viewing my life from an Ant and Bee perspective.

For example, lately I’ve felt very Ant-like when returning to a Sierra Nevada Masters team practice after swimming either on my own or with the Carson Tigers Sharks because I’ve worked on different things and learned a new drill or two.

Here’s the Ant and Bee explanation: In Ant and Bee and the Secret (my favorite in the series!), Ant and Bee do various activities (draw with colored chalk, tell stories, play hopscotch, jump rope, make sandwiches for a picnic). At first, Bee excels at everything, Ant, not so much, which causes Ant to become cross and run away for the rest of the day. img_0350

But when Ant returns, he’s somehow acquired new skills. img_0351The “secret” is, of course, where Ant goes to improve himself. (Spoiler alert: Skip to the bottom of this post if you wish to know the secret.)

While I don’t often become cross at practice and run off in the middle of a set, I do benefit from mixing it up. Swimming SCM on my own (especially if I have a lane to myself) at my local gym is an automatic focus day—no rush, no crowd means I can slow down and concentrate on a ton of drills and practice “perfect” technique per turns. Swimming LCM on distance day with the Carson Tiger Sharks boosts my endurance, and thanks to the age group/Masters mash-up, I always come away with a new drill or two and often a new set perspective from the coach.

I greatly value swimming with my base team—the coaches write and guide us through terrific sets and have created such a fun, inspiring atmosphere while my teammates push and encourage me (e.g. Nadia “suggesting” we do the last repeat of any set fly when I really, really don’t want to.) But I also like learning new things, meeting new people and coming back refreshed from being in a different environment for a day, so I’ll continue my Ant-like ways, at least from a swim training perspective.

*The secret: Ant runs away to school.


The Ant-Like Approach to Training

Watching the Walls


I caught the Auburn v. Tennessee dual meet recently on TV. As I’ve mentioned before, watching swimming of any level always fascinates me—it never fails to entertain me, and I always learn something new.

This time, the element that captured my attention the most was how the two colleges handled the walls. Tennessee swimmers maximized the underwater with long streamline + dolphin kick. The Auburn swimmers certainly had solid streamline and dolphin kick technique, but in comparison to Tennessee, they popped up sooner to swim.

In the majority of the close races, Auburn swimmers swam past their Tennessee opponents for a touch out, despite Tennessee swimmers coming off the final wall with a slight lead. With mixed overall results (Auburn men won; Tennessee women won), I know that “success” in this case was beyond just “good walls.”

But the results also make me hopeful that I don’t have to adapt to 15m underwaters to stay competitive, because from day one, turns have not been one of my pool super powers. Especially when streamlined underwater dolphin kicking is never likely to be a “fifth stroke” for me.

As a distance swimmer, I can sort of get away with weak turns—it’s unlikely a 1500 is going to come down to one crucial turn. But consistent bad turns against consistent good turns does add up in a race (e.g. having to run down my main competitor every 50 after being passed by her on every single turn of an 800 three years ago still burns in my mind today, and I’ll probably be annoyed with myself for longer than that about the third turn from this past summer’s 200 fly.)

So I’ve been working on my turns a lot lately, such as spinning tighter and faster, diving into the walls, staying low on open turns, and actually kicking off walls. The two elements I continue to struggle to improve are poor lung capacity (just can’t stay underwater long) and dreadful streamline position.

The recent televised dual meet was perfect timing for me, because it taught me that finding my personal sweet spot for turns is most important. Can I improve my turns a lot still to save myself energy and time on every wall? Yes. Do I have to force myself (and fail) to stay underwater 15m off every wall? No, because it’s not maximizing what I’m better at—hitting the surface and swimming.

Working to improve my turns every practice on every wall is just one of the reasons why I’m such a practice-geek. It gives me something to think about and aim for, such as starting with one dolphin kick off every wall until that becomes easy and automatic. Then I can add a second one…did I also mention that I love to set goals and track them?!

Watching the Walls

3K #2



It’s time for another race report, another 3K, the second part of my quest to enter in two different age groups for this fall’s USMS fall ePostal.

The “prep” for my second 3K was of course a bit different from that of my first 3K three weeks prior because you can never have the exact same conditions every race. The biggest changes included being sick the week before and a change in venue, an indoor SCM rec pool.

Yes, I was panicked about the sick thing because I was running out of entry time (11/15 was the last day you could swim either the 3K or 6K this year). But now that I’m officially 50, I’ve entered a mid-life “time’s ticking” mood, so I really wanted to do double age group 3Ks this year. And, in retrospect, not swimming or lifting since the Saturday before race-day Saturday allowed me to rest a lot, sick or not, which I think worked in my favor.

I was also uneasy about the venue because I’d yet to try to do a postal in this pool. I did call ahead to ask for a lane (permission granted), but still, you never know with rec pools… Luckily, day of, I snagged the end lane closest to the windows (fresh air! Natural light!) A masters practice was in progress, but somehow end wall + practice + universally shallow pool did not equal “crazy waves.” And, for once, nobody in an adjacent lane put on fins to race me. My only issue? Water temperature, which was super hot, as in “overheating when jumping in to warm up.” I knew I was in for a long swim, but maybe I’ve built some tolerance from the super hot water we’ve been practicing in since switching to SCY indoors last month. Despite the water temp, it was still one of my best ePostal conditions.

To take my mind off how hot I was, I focused on my stroke and turns. I thought about how all of my swimmy friends would want me to finish no matter what pace I held, and how I wanted to enter twice this fall because my next opportunity to do so wouldn’t be for another five years. And, after being out of the water for a week, reverting to “just happy to be swimming” helped me stay on track.

My race day take-aways? 1) I absolutely have to find another pool for ePostals as the few I’ve tried locally are waaaaay too hot. I may have head further out (Minden? Carson? Sacramento?) next time. 2) While my wall approach and spin are greatly improved, my streamline position off walls still needs a lot of work.

Having a self-challenge for this fall’s ePostal was motivating and fun; I’m already contemplating how to mix it up next fall. I’m certain that readers have done very cool self-challenges in the past – I’d love to hear those ideas (especially as for now, all I can think of is “one 3K and 6K swim each within same age group.”) In the meantime, I’ll hunt for cooler pools.



3K #2

The Swimmer’s Bookshelf: Making Waves: My Journey to Winning Olympic Gold and Defeating the East German Doping Program

shirleyShirley Babashoff got a raw deal. Probably one of the biggest in USA swimming history. Although she earned silvers in all of her individual events during the Montreal 1976 Games and set American records along the way, she was condemned for “only” winning one gold (4×100 free relay), then vilified for her outspokenness about the suspicious performance and manly appearance of the her East German competitors.

Labeled “Surly Shirley” and slammed as a “poor sport” by the media, it’s no wonder Babashoff avoided the press until just this year to publish Making Waves: My Journey to Winning Olympic Gold and Defeating the East German Doping Program.

Making Waves begins with a fascinating look at Babashoff’s early swimming days and rise to international dominance, but the true focus of this as-told-to autobiography co-authored by Chris Epting is, of course, the events leading up to the ’76 Olympics and subsequent fallout.

For me, it was fascinating to read Babshoff’s account of the events that made such an impression on me as a child. The ’76 Games were the first on my radar as a young age grouper – it was a huge deal to watch on TV all the big names I read about in Swimming World compete at night, and to then discuss everything to the smallest detail the next morning with my teammates during practice. The proximity of these Games may also partly explain their impact on me – many of the older swimmers on my team made the short road trip from upstate New York to Montreal and saw the swimming live.

What troubles me the most from my adult perspective is the lack of support for Babashoff at the time. While I understand that evidence is needed to make a doping accusation stick, certainly someone else, anyone else, would’ve backed up Babashoff’s observations – no-one develops overnight into an international champion in this sport, and clearly the East German women did not look at all like their competitors. Hell, if the worst insult among my 9-10 female age group at the time was “she looks like an East German!” it wasn’t super-secret that the East Germans were up to something unnatural.

The contrast to today is particularly stark. Foremost, American swimmers are now groomed within an inch of their life to avoid any media backlash, but this has resulted in an endless stream of “I’ve worked really hard, my competitors are awesome and always bring out the best in me, I’ll just swim my best and see what happens” banal interviews. Second, doping suspicions are openly discussed, posted, etc., within in moments of an out-of-nowhere performance (e.g. Ireland’s Michelle Smith, China’s Ye Shewin).

It was also extremely worrisome to read about the abuse Babashoff suffered from both parents. Yet another case supporting the argument that for some, endless training as a means to stuff-down emotions, creates a seemingly “driven” and thus very successful swimmer. It’s enough to make me wonder if mandatory screening for warning signs of abuse and mental issues isn’t a bad idea to help swimmers as early as possible.

The other two lasting impressions from Making Waves, for me at least, are much less scandalous than doping and child abuse. I didn’t know Babashoff was an equally strong IMer at both the 200 and 400 distances. I’ve always associated her with just freestyle. Yet, she won the 400 IM at the ’76 Trials (she didn’t swim the event, however, because she wasn’t prepared – she was told to focus on free during the weeks leading up to the Games at training camp.) Finally I was struck by how loosey-goosey things were in the ‘70s swim world. Traveling from Houston to New Orleans by herself at age 14 to get her passport? Swimming for the men’s team in college while also training with the Nadadores? These sorts of things would never have happened in my era, even though it was only ten years later.

Making Waves is smart, compelling book that serves as Babshoff’s call to rectify the results of the women’s swim events from ’76, to both to honor those who competed drug-free, but more importantly, so everyone involved can heal and thus move on. After reading it, one does wonder why amendments still have not been made in this glaring case, especially when evidence of the East German doping (state-wide program!) has surfaced, and similar corrections have already occurred among other Olympics sports.

The Swimmer’s Bookshelf: Making Waves: My Journey to Winning Olympic Gold and Defeating the East German Doping Program

The Swimmer’s Bookshelf: Swim: Why We Love the Water


The fabulous fellow swimmer Nadia loaned me her copy of Swim: Why We Love the Water by Lynn Sherr (2012) recently. [How fabulous is Nadia? Check out this cool swim shirt she found for us! img_0309]. Like my t-shirt, Nadia thought I’d like Sherr’s book, and she’s right – especially because it’s a little different than the standard “written by a swimmer” swim book.

Swim does rely on one typical swim book narration tactic however; it begins with Sherr in the middle of an open water race. The author then back tracks within each subsequent chapter to relate training for and swimming Hellespont (modern name: the Dardanelles), the channel that separates Europe from Asia. With famous Hellespont crossings as her springboard (think: Leander and Lord Byron), Sherr then offers essays on the sport’s history (e.g. evolution of the four strokes, suits), and musings (e.g. swimming’s rise in popularity as reflected in songs and movies), with glimpses of Sherr’s crossing providing cohesion.

Sherr, a long-time professional journalist, broadcaster and swimmer, is suited to personally share her passion for the sport. Well researched and written with humor, Swim stands out from other swim books largely due to it’s historical bent. Swim entices you to read the classic poems and myths referenced, view the artwork and pop-culture cited, and of course, see all of the mentioned exotic open water views from the swimmer’s perspective!

Swim is chock full of fun factoids (e.g. which U.S. presidents were avid swimmers and where they swam), one-page anecdotes, and tons of interesting images – nearly one per page, if not more. It’s also stuffed with statistics (e.g. growth in home pool construction from WWII to 1970), although some of the latter numbers, snapshots from 2000 on, already seem outdated.

Just under 200 pages, Swim is a fast read, but its essay format also means one can pick it up at random and read a bit at a time. And, if the book whets your appetite for reading up on all things swim-related, there’s a robust bibliography and sources lists to choose from included at the end.

The Swimmer’s Bookshelf: Swim: Why We Love the Water

Product Review: MP Silicon Race Cap



Over the past year or so, I’ve seen ads for Michael Phelps’ new MP line, and obviously, Michael wearing his line’s gear while competing, but I haven’t seen these products on anyone in person yet. A vendor at this past summer’s LCM Nats had the MP silicon race caps though, so I bought one in basic black because I’ve been wanting to any brand of the silicon “dome” wrinkle-free race caps.

I decided to test the cap’s proposed “reduced drag” capacity during last week’s 45-49 age group 3K. Yep, I know what you’re thinking – a 3K race is probably not the smartest time to try new equipment. Perhaps I should have waited for a much shorter race, or even better, tried it out in practice…but I was also thinking, “reduced drag could really add up more over a 3K than a 1650!”

When I first put it on, it did feel different than any practice silicone cap I’ve worn –smaller and lighter, forcing me to adjust my goggles a tad tighter during warm up (and subsequently loosen the strap again once back in practice with my regular silicone cap.) Also, the front rode lower on my forehead. Maybe this is to help me achieve that million-mile-fierce-swimmer stare that Michael has down pat?

My head did feel more streamline while swimming with MP cap on, mainly because my practice silicon cap is always mashed up and yes, super wrinkly. I’d prefer that the MP band be a tad tighter however; whenever I flipped, a little water seeped in.

Part of my fit issue may be because I didn’t wear another cap underneath. I know most swimmers layer a dome silicone cap over a latex one, but I’m allergic to latex. And two silicone caps seems excessively bulky. And hot – if I had worn two silicone caps during the 45-49 age group 3K I think my head would have burst into flames.

With the fit a little loose on me, I’d want to test the MP racing cap in practice during a 100 IM set to ensure it doesn’t shift dramatically during a stroke race before wearing it for a 400 IM or 200 fly. Over all though, I liked the upgrade to an actual racing cap and hope to wear it again in the future.

Product Review: MP Silicon Race Cap