Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Relaxed Swimming: 3,850 meters

Every picture tells a story, as it were. This little island in the lake where I did some of my work Monday is not just a little island in the middle of the lake. As the sign indicates, it has significance, and it has history. With the rapid advance of modern civilization, there is often a tendency to forget or debunk the past. However, things like this mean a lot to me as I have been interested in Taiwan for over 30 years now. Maybe people will disagree with some of what is written, but the important thing is to have the freedom to make your own judgments. Sports competitions are sports competitions, but history is history, and it is all about you and the people you identify with.

Today (Wednesday), as with yesterday, I just got up and went down the pool without any specific plan, and after getting in the water at about 6:30 am, just swam, swam and swam. I had to change lanes two or three times as the people sharing the lanes with me, caused me to have to stop at times or else slow down quite a lot which affected my rhythm. Also, I think I gave the others in my lane a hard time as one person often stopped at the wall to let me go by. I don't know if they will ban me from the pool for swimming too much. Or they may say that I am swimming too fast in the specially designated "fast lane" (still, that may be wishful thinking).

At around 3,200 meters I tried to pause for about a minute and then swam 400m moderately, though I was not very pumped up, and did it in 7m 07s. I think I need to do more speed work like 50s or 100s with rests between send offs, although that is difficult when the pool is busy. If someone sees you resting, they think you are done and jump in front of you.

After the swim I discovered a shortish but nice biking route starting near the swimming pool. Basically one has to go over a bridge across the nearby freeway, then ride around a huge trash incinerator about the size of a large hospital. Then there is at least another mile of windy and hilly narrow lanes next to graveyards, rice paddies and factories. This is another world compared to the city streets and perhaps not surprisingly you see very few people there. The road is also an alternative route to the huge lake I referred to the other day that is only another mile further on. I could even run the route, and a couple of months ago I in fact ran most of it with some hashers on a Hash run - in the dark! That was not much fun, but it is nice in the sunshine when you can look at the rice paddies. I wanted to take a picture this afternoon, but forgot to change the camera batteries. Maybe tomorrow.

At least now I am doing some biking as a way of relaxing after going swimming. It is only an MTB and not very fast, but the main thing is that I am spinning. I guess when I really get into training, the order of my training will be "run, swim, bike", as I can shower at the pool after the run, and then bike easy to enjoy the view after the swim. I am wondering. If I get to enjoy life so much here, then I may not want to leave this place. While this is probably not the case, I have to get used to living here, just in case I cannot leave this place.

Today's temperature in my study room: 31 Celsius. If it gets much hotter, I will need to switch on the new AC.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Easy, Relaxed Swimming: 4,150 meters

The guest house I stayed at in Chialeshui in early February. The roads are great for biking and running and the house had wireless so I could access the Internet on my laptop. This place is two hours' drive from our home in Kaohsiung, but closer to six hours' drive if you happen to live in Taipei.

Today, I did not really have a plan about how I was going to swim (no fax arrived from my coach!), but I got up and got ready and biked to the pool, entering the water at about 6:25 am, so that time was a little bit on my side today. Fortunately, in the middle lane of the pool, which has a sign in Chinese meaning the "fast lane", there was only one person and he was swimming freestyle. Since the sides of the pool where I usually go looked a bit crowded I opted for the middle lane. The other swimmer kept a steady pace and I was able to pass him about every 200m or so. After a few hundred meters another swimmer joined us, but he also swam freestyle, and when they got behind each other, I basically overtook the two in one go. That enabled me to increase the revs a bit. As my meters added up, people came and went, but generally speaking no one hindered my progress and having other people who could at least swim fairly well reminded me of masters swimming in Kona. Finally, I got up to 3,000m before I decided I just wanted to kick easy for a couple of hundred meters or so. After that I had the lane to myself and I swam 400m freestyle in exactly 7 minutes, feeling pretty relaxed the whole way, and only trying to work really hard on the last 50m. So that was an improvement. Finally, I finished with 400m using hand paddles and a moderate 100m and a cool down 50m. So it was a really good workout and one I did not expect.

After the swim I spent about 30 minutes riding my MTB easy (with a lot of spinning) around the paths that go back and forth around the sides of the Golden Lion Lake that I pass every day on my way to the pool. I was home at 9:00 am, and after my usual big bowl of muesli, I was able to get started on my work by 9:45am.

Tomorrow I will go to the pool, and see what happens when I get there. Anyway, I certainly felt good today. The swimming makes me feel relaxed, and at least I am improving.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Thinking About Running

This little island, which is situated almost in the middle of this huge lake, is a great place to relax, to concentrate and to recuperate from arduous training.

With several of my friends busy preparing for and competing in triathlons, I have been thinking about doing some running again, although living in a big city with a lot of pollution, I have not been too keen on running amongst smoke belching motor-scooters and increasing my chances of being hit by one.

This morning, being my day off from swimming, I went out to check a possible run venue. I set off from home on my trusty bike at 5:32 am, and 13 minutes later I reached the entrance to a scenic lake and surrounding trails - the famous Cheng Ching Hu (澄清湖) in Kaohsiung County. After realizing that cycling was not allowed within the grounds, I set off on foot and walked a good half hour on fairly hilly roads or else those kinds of "crazy-paving" type paths, where it is fairly easy to put a foot wrong. Eventually, I reached a little island that is connected to the main trail by a suspension bridge, as shown in the top photo. I found this a good place to review some work I had brought with me. After all I did not want to feel bad by not getting any work done.

Seeing something like this gives me some incentive to get back into running!

Continuing from there, I suddenly discovered that there was a smooth concrete road hugging the edge of the lake for at least a kilometer, and reasonably flat, too. This surely would be a good place to train, and so I will one of these days actually have a go at it. To increase distance, I could just go back and forth along this one km route, or do sets as in swimming.

Even this bird has plenty of room to wander round undisturbed.

Being able to run here is conditional upon certain rules being followed. To avoid having to pay about US$3 just to get into the facility (this is a hot tourist spot), I need to enter the gate before 6:00am to get in free. So my plan for the days I do this and on which I wish to swim also is to leave home about 5:35 am and first bike the 3 miles or so to get here as a warm up, then run for, say, 30 minutes, or so, and then bike another 3 miles or so to the pool and then swim for about one hour. That would be an easy workout that I could finish at 8:00 am or so when the pool closes. Or else, I could occasionally skip swimming (or go to the lake to run when the pool is closed anyway), and concentrate a bit more on running. I think my running sucks, so I would have to start slowly and carefully.

Today was very overcast when I took these photos. It was also pleasantly cool. Occasionally the sky is blue, which makes for a nice photo, but it is also very hot. For training, I would prefer to be a little cooler.

Turning to the professional races, Bree got 9th at the St. Anthony's Triathlon in Florida. She would have probably finished higher if she had not been stopped by a marshall on the bike and forced to "stand down" for a time penalty based on technicalities that she was not aware of. I guess it happens to everyone once in a while. Anyway, it was a great performance for her, and she is slowly (maybe not so slowly) creeping up on the best in the sport.

Next week, the races to follow are the Wildflower 1/2 Ironman in California and the St. Croix 1/2 Ironman in the Caribbean. Go, James! Go, Bree!

I still feel good today, not so much because I did not really train, but because those divers (that I wrote about in the previous blog) got rescued.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

8 Missing Divers Rescued 8潛水客 全部獲救

View of the Pacific Ocean from the beach at Chialuoshui, in Southern Taiwan. The missing divers were rescued further along the coast here. Photo by Bruce Stewart.

Although the English newspapers this morning said that the 8 divers who had been missing off the southernmost tip of Taiwan for 30 hours had still not been found (which was causing me to lose hope), the Chinese press early this morning reported that they had been found and rescued in the early hours of this morning.

After staying together holding hands in groups of four, one of the stronger male swimmers decided to swim towards the shore (Taiwan is pretty mountainous), leaving the others after midday and swimming and drifting until well after dark. Upon reaching land he was able to alert authorities and based on the information he provided the search and rescue helicopters were able to locate and rescue all the others. Apparently they are all well. So that is a really good piece of news, especially considering one of the two women had children in the local international school and therefore many people I know would know her.

The Chinese report is as follows:

8潛水客 全部獲救
更新日期:2008/04/28 04:09 (Source: Independence Morning Post)

教練獨泅10小時 上岸求救

It's not about the swim

This morning (Sunday) I had my final swim of the week (on Mondays the pool is closed), and a further 3,200 meters today brought me up to 20,900 meters for this last week. While the first 2,000 meters were swum while having to navigate around people quite a lot of the time, I did manage to swim relaxed and consistently. I occasionally breathed every fourth stroke, just to learn to breathe a little better when I did have the chance to take a breath. Less than 10 minutes before the pool closed, I saw a lane open up in the middle of the pool facing the wall clock, and so I went in an timed myself over 200 meters. The result: 3m 22s, which included looking at the wall clock every 50 meters. Perhaps not the most efficient way to swim, but at least I was moving a little faster down the stretches.
I think the last two weeks I have focused mainly on what I am putting into training rather than on seeing what times I am doing. Basically, I think most of us being human are much the same. It is consistent and sensible training that will enable us to reach our goals. For swimming I am not wearing some flashy expensive swimsuit with no drag - just a cheap nylon/lycra one that people would laugh at were I anywhere but Taiwan. I may of course wear a still unused "Kona Aquatics" suit if I really want to do a good time, but it won't necessarily cause me to swim better.
Today I also rode my MTB to church and back, about 25 minutes each way, and along a huge, beautiful lake somewhere in the middle of the ride. I live in a huge, polluted city, but it is nice to realize that there is some nice scenery fairly near my house.
As I write this, I realize that for the pros at least, the St. Anthony's Triathlon is over. If news comes up on the web, I will digest it and comment on it in my write up tomorrow. I think Bree will do very well, as usual, though quite how well is hard to say. Again, it should not be that easy as she is racing against some who have been around the top of their sport for a long time.
Yesterday, a triathlete was killed by a shark near San Diego, and today I learned that eight scuba divers went missing yesterday off the southern coast of Taiwan. That hit a little more home. My wife had gone to stay with several women from our church at a hotel on land in that area the last two days and when the pastor announced something happened to either scuba divers or snorkelers and I hadn't spoken to my wife since yesterday, I immediately felt a little worried, in case they might have decided to go in the ocean. It turned out that the people who went and still are (as of an hour ago) missing were not part of our group but one had kids in the foreign school that several in our church attend, so it's still a small world. In early February, I showed up for triathlon training in the southern part of Taiwan and went for a swim with 6 others where I swam for over 40 minutes about 150 yards offshore in a pretty big swell, wearing a black wetsuit. One of our group unfortunately drowned on that swim. It's not something one forgets easily.
Goals for this week. I will continue to swim each morning, although I also need to work at my job these last few days of the month in particular, so I can finish the month fairly well, although it won't have been such a busy or lucrative month work wise as in March. At least, I think I have been able to relax more this month and apart from my lingering cold, I feel really great, although I am a little tired and should also get a good sleep starting fairly soon.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Good 3,800 meter Workout

Today, being Saturday, I went to the pool to start swimming at 9:00 am, when the pool is usually pretty empty for the first half hour or so. After 400m of easy warming up, I rested a little more than a minute and then tried to swim 400m hard. However, I did not feel that comfortable and I occasionally coughed. At the end of it, I checked my time: 7m 10s - at least an improvement over my best such time these last few weeks. Then, after a further 400m of easy swimming, which included some kicking, I did the same 400m again, and this time in 7m 05s. I figure that if I can get this time down to about 6m 45s, I will at least be at the kind of level where I was a few years ago in Kona (given that I have to convert distances since we swam yards there). Then various other swims and kicks, including 6 x 50m on 1 minute sendoffs, got me up to 3,200m. Since the pool wasn't about to close, I went to the jacuzzi and about 10 minutes later came back and did about 300m slowly with the hand paddles, getting some good feel and push towards the end of the stroke, before finishing off with 300m in relaxed but focused freestyle without the paddles, so that I finished the practice at 3,800m.

I generally feel comfortable and relaxed with all of this training. I also slept longer last night, which I think was valuable since in our busy and hectic lives we usually don't get enough sleep.

Today as I sit at home the new air-conditioners are being installed in our house. These are quite an expense but at least the money is going into our own house and not just to pay the rent of someone else's.

I think that where I am at with all this swimming at present is the point where I need to do some land exercises in addition to continuing to swim to build up some more upper body strength as my coach Steve in past years suggested. At least it should help me look and feel a little younger.

So, tomorrow I will have a less structured and easier workout to round off this week, and then I will later turn my attention to what is happening in Florida this Sunday in the world of triathlon.

The above photo is of the beach Chialuoshui (佳樂水), which I visited in early February this year and swam there. With three-foot high waves, it is more of a surfer's paradise. However, I understand that it is often a lot calmer in the summer, and so may be worth another visit, even though it is a little dangerous. The location, about two hours by car (we don't have a car yet) from our Kaohsiung home, is great for running and biking (quiet country coastline roads) and there are nice and inexpensive guest houses.

Easier Day Today

When I got into the water today, I had 1hr 20m until the pool was to be cleared at 8:00am, so I knew that I could not swim very long. The first 2,000 meters was fairly boring, just basically going up and down the pool, and navigating around anyone who happened to be in my line. Occasionally I rested a little, to try to speed up, but nothing special. Then, seeing another lane was now clear, I moved over and swam a moderate, but relaxed, 400m in 7m 15s, only 3 seconds shy of my "recent achievement" for the distance. If pool conditions are good tomorrow, when I go to swim a little later in the morning as I usually do on Saturdays, I may have a go at a fairly hard 400m. When I finally reached 3,050 today there were still a few minutes left and my friend and the other friend challenged me to 100m. This time I did flips turns each time, and they were not too bad. All three of us were about neck and neck except for the last stretch when my younger friend pulled away slightly and finished about half a body length ahead. My time was around 1m 32s. I felt I had improved a little compared with the previous time doing this distance. I tried to keep my stroke, and the fact that I did not go slightly faster was probably because I was a little tired after yet another longish workout, that totaled 3,250 meters in all, including a final 100m cool down.
Tomorrow, I will most likely just have to race against myself over 400m, so may not have a lot of incentive. However, I want to gauge how I am doing without half killing myself in the process.
Were I living in a more ideal environment, I would like to do more biking. My little second-hand MTB has been running really good since I put on a new front tire and added some oil to the chain. It is amazing how one can get by training without spending much money. By contrast, we have arranged to have several air conditioners installed in our new house. It is really hot here a lot of the time. So, with all these major house-related expenses, I have to be really careful not to spend much on my hobbies. I am fortunate that swimming currently costs me about US$0.5 per week (for admission), not counting "time" lost through sleeping when I might be working. Still, there is surely more to life than just work.
I'll be following (via the Internet) what goes on at the St. Anthony's triathlon in Florida this Sunday, and the Wildflower in California the week after (I believe).

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Breaking the 4,000 Barrier

While today I still had the tail-end (hopefully) of a cough/cold, I did get up slightly earlier, and by the time I entered the water, I still had 1hr 35 mins left to swim. The first 1,000m was pretty relaxed, and then the next 1,000 or so I had one or two more people to negotiate and to avoid occasionally as I went up and down the pool. Around 2,600m I managed to switch to another lane where I had a little more freedom to move and also do the odd kicking length. At 3,500m I grabbed my paddles for 350m of relaxed and controlled hand-paddle swimming. Then a moderate 50m without them. Finally a "race" over 100m with my usual racing friend. While I lost by about 2 seconds (mostly on the last stretch), I did not really feel I was pushing that hard, although around the end of the first 25m I felt I was turning into a hovercraft and starting to motor, only that the turns (I did not flip today) brought me to a standstill and it was hard getting the momentum on each of those (short) 25m lengths. A very easy 50m just before the pool had to be cleared got me up to 4,050 meters. It seems like 3 years at least since I covered a distance like that. Although I lived in Kona, I could not afford to spend too long in the morning swimming, as by the time I got home, I more or less needed to go back to bed. In addition, I quite often went biking and that took a lot of time. On Saturdays, I would sometimes start training at 6 am, and not finish until 2 pm or even 4 pm or later on occasion. I remember going into McDonald's in Kailua-Kona at the end of a 100-mile plus bike ride, having barely enough energy to order a Powerade and then sitting outside trying to drink it and squeezing the ice in my fingers. Swimming an hour and a half is nothing by comparison.
Early in the swim today I was not going fast, but I was taking fairly big and long strokes, often doing the length in 15 or 16 strokes or even 14 on occasion with little of a push off the wall. It just tended to feel comfortable. I was kinda cruising as it were. I need to do more strengthening and flexibility exercises. I tend to have a slow turnover (as in running with a longer stride), but I go further than a lot of people on each stroke.
As a child, it was hard for me to buy long-sleeved shirts (even in the UK) as my arms were longer than normal (perhaps not surprisingly since I was taller than normal as well). If I stretch my arms across a wall, the distance from fingertip to fingertip is at least a couple of inches greater than my height. I don't know if this can be used to my advantage in swimming, and so I am trying to find out.
This Sunday there is a big Olympic distance race on in Florida (the St. Anthony's Triathlon), and many big names (Andy Potts, Macca, Greg Bennett, etc.) and many famous women (including at least one I am in contact with) have entered. It will take place in the late afternoon Taiwan time, which means that if there is any live coverage, I can at least watch it at a time when I should not either be in the pool or in bed. Good luck to anyone doing the race who reads this!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Fairly Normal and Uneventful Day

A little tired when I woke up, and when I pushed the bike out of the front door, I saw the front tire was flat. So I raised the seat on my son's bike and arrived at the pool on that. By the time I was in the water, I had about 1 hr 15 mins left. I was able to cover 3,100 meters. Not much rest in between sets, and mostly just boring, steady swimming. I still had a cold, but at least it was not as bad as a couple of days ago. No hand paddles today, mainly to save the time getting out of the water to get them. Since swimming is easier for me with them on, I at least had to work a little harder without them.
Other than that, I spent time doing my work, resting a little, and helping our younger son with some of his schoolwork (home schooled). If this can be a "normal" day, at least I will log some distance swimming over a period of time.
As I get over my cold, I will try to add a little spice to my swim workouts. There are not a lot of things here to get the adrenalin flowing. I'll just have to set myself a time for a distance that I might think I have a chance of beating and then go for it.
I hope I can get a slightly earlier start at the pool tomorrow morning. Getting to bed a little earlier will be helpful here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Quick Update on Start of the Week

This is just a quick one. This morning I got down the pool and started swimming at 6:35 am. I got 3,500 meters done by 8:00 am when the pool "closed" for the rest of the morning. The distance may sound good, but it was generally boring, uneventful swimming. The first 2,500m or so I had to occasionally swerve to avoid a head-on collision with other swimmers in the fairly busy pool. With my cold still lingering, I did not feel too keen to go really hard on any swims, even short ones. As the pool began to have fewer people with about 20 minutes to go, I got the hand paddles out and did about 500m continuously with them.
I don't know whether all this swimming is going to make me any better, as many workouts others do that I read about are usually full of gut-wrenching sprints using all four strokes at Olympic level send-offs. Still, I guess I'd better not try to get into all that too quickly. At least I am not feeling much muscular discomfort at present.
In the future, if I want to significantly increase my daily distance, I will need to go to the pool twice a day. It is not that the swimming takes such a long time to do, but the issue is whether I am sufficiently awake to actually get some work done during the rest of the day.
I rode about 5 miles this morning, for apart from going to and from the pool, I also went to a large supermarket to buy some things. That seems to be the limit of my biking at present.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Time of Reflection

Today, Monday, the pool was closed and that may have been a good thing as my cold felt quite bad last night. I think I am better now, but it isn't over yet. Yesterday, I worked fairly hard in the evening trying to finish a shortish translation, only to have the client send me a new version of his paper before I went to bed, in which case I had to retranslate a lot of it again all this morning. However, that was not too much of a problem as I just treated it as a bigger case.
So this morning, I was starting working on the revised version, and then as I was going through various websites looking for various kinds of information (and peeking at a few blogs), a news headline in Chinese caught my attention. The person whose paper I was translating had just been promoted to a very senior position in the Cabinet. Recently, Taiwan had a presidential election, and since the other party won, a new Cabinet is being formed, and so a lot of changes are taking place at the top of several major government departments. Not just this person, but also another I have regularly helped with polishing papers for publication was promoted from being a university professor to a Cabinet member and head of a pretty big department.
I have known and associated with both of these people on and off for over 20 years, from when I was a relatively young newly-married person with a few years of living in Taiwan, to later times when my life was threatened by illness, to subsequent times when I received phone calls and emails to help when in Hawaii (and hence was able to defray some of the living costs there), and to nowadays as we make our home in the south of Taiwan. In whatever we do, it is always good to feel valued and useful. There are many times when I have felt quite the opposite. Of course, in life we have to try out various things and often have to learn the hard way in this regard, but at least I am glad that there are at least a few groups of friends where we at least kind of continue to stick together.
In sports it is much the same. Not all of us can always have good days or always be getting better. In Kona, several of my seniors who did well at Ironman in the past eventually had to "retire" due to injury or old age, and perhaps to settle for one sport instead of three. However, it was feeling part of and receiving from and contributing to the community that kept them going. If we just feel people are trying to use us or do not value us, we will just move on.
I guess all of our have some purpose in life, and there are times when we have a strong sense of what that purpose is. I remember that the day after I first arrived in Taiwan, an elderly lady that I had previously corresponded with agreed to take me to a second-hand bookshop, as I wanted to look at books. Since I had learned to recognize a lot of characters while still in the U.K., I stumbled across an old Chinese textbook on economics, and bought it for the equivalent of 25 cents, my intention being to learn to read about things on economics in Chinese. Little did I realize in those early years, when renewing a visa was quite troublesome and also uncertain, that within a few years of arriving in Taiwan I would get a job with the leading government economic research institute and basically meet most of the leading people in the country in that field.
Work and sports training go hand in hand. Without money you can only go so far. You have to be really good (like winning the Ironman a couple of times) to get a sponsor who says "Just train, and I'll take care of the rest." From the other blogs, I've even noticed that some really good triathletes are having to fix their beat-up cars with their own money. That's just life.
So while I miss Hawaii (although my job does not force me to stay in Taiwan), I am glad how I have so much freedom, to go swim and prepare for some imaginary race in the future, to do work in my own home and according to my own schedule, and to have a reasonable amount of job satisfaction as I see many of the people I help becoming more successful.
I won't have a faxed printout of a swim workout tomorrow with me. I'll wake up, go down to the pool, see how I feel and the number of people in the pool, etc. and go from there. Hopefully I'll get some meters in.
In closing, I was impressed by Tim Marr's third place finish at Ironman China on Hainan Island. Triathlete Magazine wrote that he was struggling late in the run, for which the conditions were particularly hot. It is good that he managed to hang in there, and many others really suffered on the run. A New Zealand friend of mine based in Taiwan, Craig, got 31st position (around 10hr 52m), which was also an excellent performance. Taiwan is not the easiest place to train.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

End of a Week of Swimming

The characters you see in the picture make up some of the artificial scenery surrounding a huge temple that I pass on my way to the pool in the mornings as I ride along the side of the lake.
The pool is closed for maintenance Mondays, and that means I have the day off, so to speak, and a little more energy to channel my efforts into my translation work. Today I went down the pool as usual and got started in the water at 6:25 am. Fortunately, the pool wasn't crowded and I got some solid swimming (up to 2,500m) before I took a short break in the jacuzzi. Since 8:00 am was soon approaching (when the pool is cleared for about an hour), there were gradually fewer people and I got 500m done with hand paddles. Very relaxed. My paddles are red (I forget who they are supposed to be for, either masters or college swimmers. However, they are not much bigger than my hands, so when used carefully, they actually help me rather than giving me discomfort. After an easy 100m by myself, my friend (the same as before) challenged me to a 100m. I felt pretty beat by then, and he was two lanes away from me. I did not notice him going down the first stretch (and wondered if I was ahead), so slowed down, but then he was actually ahead. Anyway, I did not want to try to go hard, and he finished a few seconds ahead.

So, this week I recorded 18,500 meters in 6 days. A lot of it was fairly continuous and easy, but I did add some variety. When there are more people in the pool, it can be hard to take a long rest in between sets, for someone may seize the opportunity to jump in in front of you, then you have more issues to deal with. However, my problem this week is that I had a cold all week. It in fact was at its worst today. I rarely ever get colds. I think my immune system is a little weaker recently, perhaps because of some medicine I have had to take, plus the muggy weather. I felt comfortable while swimming, although I was a lot more comfortable trying to keep my breathing more controlled. I placed more emphasis on long, powerful strokes, as opposed to breathing hard.

So, what about my setting some goals? I've read several blogs recently about how people (including some of you who may read this) have been doing sets on 2:05 sendoffs, etc. Well, first of all, for me it is difficult to go to the pool with a "fax" listing the workout down to the last detail. I may have to swim with others in my lane or around me in the open area. Then, of course, I can improvise a little. When I catch someone up, I can wait for an opportune time to pass, and then go flat out past them until I reach the opposite wall (that will make them feel good, won't it?), or I may have a do some kicking only to slow myself down. Secondly, with my cold, I have just had to rely on how I felt each time I went to swim. Enough said. So I will wait until I am a little better and set myself a few goals.

At the pool, I am slowly getting to know some people and actually talk to them. My wife and I after all only moved down to this city (her home town) about three months ago, so for me in particular it has felt a little strange. Some of the older people (i.e., those already retired) do not speak much Mandarin Chinese and since they don't expect me to speak the Taiwanese dialect will probably not talk to me for that reason (I can actually get by in Taiwanese, but need a lot of practice). Today one friend introduced me to the elderly gentleman swimming in the lane next to me. Since he may not have spoken Mandarin very well, my friend asked me if I could speak Japanese. So I greeted him in Japanese and it turned out he spoke it very well. He asked me a couple of questions, which I more or less understood, but I kind of froze on the spot and could only use one-word answers. Well, communicating and getting to know people is interesting, but also difficult. In Taiwan, once a foreigner, always a foreigner.

Today is/was Ironman China. When I told my wife about it, she asked why I didn't go to race it. Of course, it would help if I had a bike. However, I want to spend my limited time training, and not traveling to and from venues, unless it is somewhere I have a great interest in and also have friends I can race against, e.g., Hawai'i. I feel that the best races are the Peaman's, the Mango's and the Lavaman and Honu races on the Big Island. Then I can race against my age group and buddies, and sometimes beat them and sometimes not. If I can really get good at something, I will try to race against strangers, if I think I have a reasonable chance of beating them.

Well, I guess I'd better get a little more work done before I call it a day. When I feel a bit better, I will try to set a few swimming pool goals, and then go for it. At least I am grateful that my shoulders don't feel sore. I would also like to thank fellow bloggers for their example, inspiration and encouragement.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Trying Something New in the Pool

Yesterday, when I was wondering how I might get a little faster on my swims of around 100m in the pool, I came across the following footage of a 200m race including Thorpe, Van den Hoogenband and Phelps. I realized that I had trouble coming off the wall when trying to race against my friends, and now I see more clearly what they are doing. This is not a long video, but it does show some underwater footage. In particular watch Thorpe's underwater dolphin kick after he comes off the wall and the big sweeping strokes down the home stretch.

So this morning, I went down the pool as normal, first at 6:30 am, but after seeing many motor scooters parked outside, I decided to return home and get some work done first. On Saturdays, the pool also opens again at 9:00 am for a second morning session. It so turned out that there weren't many people then. After a 400m warm up, I started to do shorter swims (like 50m) with about 15 seconds rest in between each one. After doing a variety of different things, I got up to 2,400m. Although I felt I was anything but swimming like the people I had watched on the video, I decided to end up with a few 50m swims like this. I pushed off the wall but more underwater and did a kind of dolphin kick for a few strokes until I hit the surface, I then took fairly big controlled strokes down to the end of the 25m pool and tried to flip turn so at least I could get a push off the wall. I then did more dolphin kicks coming off the wall and, although I needed quite a bit of air on the first breath, I started to push it down the back stretch, though at the same time trying not to lose my stroke. It is kind of fun. After the dolphin kicking, once you come up you can more or less make it back in about 13 or 14 strokes instead of about 16 or 17.

After doing 4 x 50m like that, I felt I was pau and went down to the jacuzzi for a few minutes to massage my shoulders. Then I saw another space open up in the main pool and I got my hand paddles and swam easy and relaxed to bring my workout up to the 3,100m mark. I could have continued, but after about 1hr 20 min in the water, decided to call it a day. It felt a good workout. My cold felt better this morning, although quite a bit worse this afternoon and evening. The weather here is very hot, and so it is uncomfortable having a cold. At least in the pool I feel more comfortable.

Although I did not spend such a lot of time on swimming today, leaving me a lot of time to do work and other things, maybe because of my cold, I did not get that much done the rest of the time. However, this morning I did finish one short but tricky legal translation and I am about half way through another translation that will be used at a high-level government conference. So life is not all just swimming and sleeping, and I am getting on with other things at the same time.

Tomorrow (Sunday) I plan to have a fairly short and light workout. I will have to go early and the pool may have a lot of people. Besides, if I do too much, I will probably fall asleep at church later in the morning.

Friday, April 18, 2008

More Swim Training Today

For the fourth day in a row, I arrived at the pool and started swimming. Since I still felt the effects of my cold, I continued to swim easy, not really looking at the clock. At times I could not remember exactly where I was (in meters) in a given set, so sometimes it took longer to finish the set just to make sure I covered the distance I had set out to do. I did quite a lot of flip turns today, usually getting a fairly good push off the wall, but sometimes ending up lying on the bottom of the pool when I tried to do something slightly different.

I did not use hand paddles today (partly because I did not want to walk over to the locker to get them), and in any case I thought I should take it easy. I am not used to swimming 12,000 meters in 4 days, and maybe I could cause my shoulders or back discomfort. After some kicking on my back I attempted a weakish fairly hard 100 meters, and when I finished that I was up to 2,900 meters. We had five minutes before the pool was to be cleared, and I planned a very easy 100m to get up to 3,000 and call it a day.

My friends had other plans and they wanted me to do a 100m race. We each had our own lane. A couple of other swimmers watched. I started hard and was about a body length in front at the first turn. However, my turn did not go very well, and I was level with the better of the other two swimmers coming off the wall. I think I gained a little on the back stretch but lost my advantage on the second turn. By now I was a bit gasping and appeared to slow down. As we reached the last turn I more or less came to a standstill at the bottom of the 1.4m pool, and I saw the faster guy pull away. Although tired, I held off the slower (although still pretty fast) guy to finish second.

A little later, the friend who won said that if it had not been for the turns, I would have won. Still, since I am going to be training a lot in the pool from now on as opposed to Kailua Bay, I will work on the turns. What I realized is that when you are focusing on trying to go flat out like in a race, there is no point trying out something new, like a variation of a flip-turn. Surely better to do what will at least get you moving in the right direction, even if it looks a bit awkward. Maybe I'll work on it tomorrow. It seems my cold is not so bad, and so I might try a little speed work tomorrow.

The last few days of training may not have been the most exciting days, but at least I feel I accomplished something, and certainly more than I would have accomplished only a few weeks ago.

The photo shows where I spent about an hour after the race, finalizing a paper I had been working on yesterday for a client. This is what I consider to be the ideal office - a good view, a breeze, shade from the son, and no having to listen to ring tones, fax machines, or phone conversations.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Yet Another Ordinary Day

This morning I awakened to the sound of thunder. While there were the occasional flashes of lightning, the rain was very light, and I tiptoed downstairs got on my bike and got down the pool. I continued to feel a little stuffy due to a lingering cold, so I decided to just swim consistently and easy. So no great achievements today. Just 3,050 meters. So, for what it is worth, I am getting the miles in. Due to the weather conditions, the pool had fewer people than normal at that time of day, and so swimming was a little easier. I could keep my head down more.
Later at home I looked at a few races with Michael Phelps on YouTube, in particular freestyle. Then later today, I watched a few clips on a site recommended by a fellow blogger (thanks), where I looked at the freestyle flip-turn. What I will try to work on for the time being is to try not to have my hands swinging all over the place in the middle of my turn.
Other than that, today was not particularly exciting. I rested some and I also got a reasonable amount of work done.
It feels strange at my age spending my early mornings swimming and striving to get better at it. Shouldn't I be frantically working in an office trying to keep a boss happy and a company (not mine) afloat, instead of just sitting around at home waiting for something to show up on my computer screen? Ought I not to be dressing in some three-piece suit and black leather shoes each day, instead of just the same old Hawai'i Tee shirt and the same shorts and tattered training shoes I usually wore while there? Should I pick a hobby similar to what everyone else does (whatever that is), instead of reading a textbook on "Elementary Japanese" (is this an oxymoron?) in my spare moments? These are just some of the questions that go through my mind as I wonder about what I am doing with life at present.
At least I am glad I am not so busy at the moment and have a little time to make a few plans and adjustments in daily life.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Another Average Day

Just like yesterday, I went to the swimming pool leaving home about 6:20 am. I still felt a little stuffy with a cold, but as I started to swim I did not really feel it. I tended to swim fairly easy, although fairly late in the 3,150 meter workout I did a 400m in 7m15s, only really pushing hard the last 50m or so. Once again the focus was on technique. I used the paddles for about 400m and was about to get out when a couple of guys challenged me to a 100m "race". I said I wasn't going to go fast, and I swam fairly comfortably to take second place.

I need to work on my flip turns more. I am almost getting them. I watched a few on YouTube and will try to use them when swimming shorter distances. Ultimately, in an ocean swim I don't need them, but I will try to incorporate them for now into my occasional speed work.

What I have enjoyed about the training I have been doing is that I have been relaxed. I have not seen other people in the pool as being in my way, and I have not been too concerned if I can cover all the distance I want while at the pool. Coach Steve in Kona used to encourage me to smile. I think he thought I took swimming too seriously. If I did a race and I did not feel happy about my performance, I would get despondent. I would then worry about my swimming, instead of just having fun and trying to train better. In Masters' workouts, I would often start out too hard. I always felt I had to keep up with certain people, and so I was always driving myself too much. Now I tend to swim a lot more relaxed and feel I am focusing more on technique and a gradual build-up during the workout. I am getting more feel for the water, and at times it seems like I am moving through the water faster while appearing to swim more slowly.

This evening, I got the results of the blood test yesterday. Generally speaking, there was nothing unusual to me. Some results were a little abnormal, but I am abnormal in that regard, so I was able to reassure the nurse that it was just like that anyway. One thing of interest was the cholesterol result: 134. Yesterday, I wrote about having a score of 135 two years ago. Of course, the tests may not be exactly the same. I have not been eating as well here as in Kona as I often have to cook it here and don't want to eat too much greasy stuff off the street. However, I am glad that the exercise and trying to eat more sensibly are paying off.

On the Internet I saw that Gary Player (whom I referred to a couple of days ago), said that much poor health especially in old age can be avoided through exercise and a good diet. I see a lot of old people every day near where I live who are in pretty poor health. It is a real tragedy.
The photo posted today is the view from my 5th floor home office window. Maybe not the most inspiring, but at least I am not looking at neon lights. Life is actually quite good here. One adjusts to new circumstances.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Back to a New Week of Swimming

Monday was a rest day as the swimming pool is closed Mondays for maintenance. In the wee hours of Monday morning, our older son James arrived home after six months in Australia and Nepal. So it was good having him back and consequently I was up when I should have been sleeping and sleeping later in the day when I should have been up.
Monday night I felt tired, and a little run down with signs of a slight cold (not that it is at all cold here, but quite the opposite). However, I got up as usual early Tuesday, slowly biked to the pool and got a 3,000 meter workout in by 8 a.m. when the pool closes for the rest of the morning. Nothing spectacular, and in some ways I was just going through the motions of swimming. Maybe one fairly fast 200m near the end, and a few hundred yards of hand paddles to finish off, to focus more carefully on pushing through to the end of the stroke. I felt better after the swim and cycled slowly along various trails around the lake featured in the blog before returning home.
Later this morning, I had a blood test. My wife had arranged for a nurse to visit our house to draw samples of blood from us. This is covered by the health insurance here and will let us know our cholesterol levels among other things. I hope nothing is seriously amiss. I always worry about such things. However, it is probably better to know than to try not to know. A couple of years ago in Kona I had such a blood test and I think my cholesterol was something like 135, which was apparently a good figure. Nevertheless, I need to eat more healthy food than I am now.
Today, I was also not too focused on my work and in fact almost ran out of things to do. It made me think of the US economy being on the brink of a recession. If things get worse there, it can affect all of us. What if I ran out of work, etc.? All these thoughts went through my mind. Fortunately, some more work came in today, so I expect to be able to stay busy this week. At least I am glad I had the opportunity to think about the possible effects of an economic recession. To end on a more positive note, though, the recent elections in Taiwan will probably help me with my work, as people always tend to get busy with a change in government, which creates more work opportunities at least for people like me. Then it seems that the Chinese are making more and more money these days. When I started to be interested in Chinese in the mid 1970s, Taiwan was still relatively undeveloped and China was pretty much closed up. I thought by learning Chinese I would just be engaging in a time-consuming hobby, and that I would have to find employment in another profession just to support that hobby. At the time, I never realized that there would later be so much economic integration and globalization and new technology, etc. In England 25 years ago, you were considered to be pretty weird if you spoke three languages. Now I think that to speak three languages and have experience of living in at least three cultures is the ways to go. The past is not the future. Think of the future.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Recollections from the US Masters

Early this morning (Taiwan time) I followed the US Masters leaderboard on the Internet. I used to be an avid golfer, mostly while in high school and the early part of my university days (when I moved on to more physically demanding sports like cross country and rowing), and I really wanted to see how Tiger would handle the last two rounds. Well, things did not go too well for him, and despite finishing second, the hero of the moment, and indeed of the whole tournament was Trevor Immelman, a young South African, who held off Tiger to win by three shots, while the others faltered. Immelman incidentally overcame sickness and surgery last year, which makes his achievement all the more spectacular. As I read the reports and the references to Gary Player, Immelman's confidant and mentor, I was reminded on the time when I got Gary Player to give me his autograph.
As a golf fanatic at the age of 17, I skipped school to watch the best golfers in the world prepare for the World Match Play championship in Wentworth, Surrey. After seeing several of them putting, I went with a relatively small group of people along with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as they together played a practice round. The sight of Nicklaus' ball going up and up and up before eventually landing an astronomical distance away near the hole left me awestruck. Although I was a shy high-school kid, I did get to talk to Gary Player as he walked down the fairway. I think he may have asked me how old I was. He appeared very confident and very positive about life, but not arrogant, as he was how he appeared in real life. He was also extremely fit. By contrast, I was lanky and did little exercise apart from swinging a club (although often for hours on end on most days). Player at that time was about 35 and I remember reading at the time that he intended to be able to do 50 finger-tip push ups at the age of 50. Now he is around 72 and he still regularly works out, and is careful about his diet. He is described as having the physique of a person half his age.
Over the years, my exercise regimen has had its ups and downs. I exercised a lot during my 20s, and my early 30s, but my busyness with career and family and financial responsibilities got the better of me for a period of about ten years. Then I started again in my mid-40s and completed my first (and only) full Hawaii Ironman after just turning 51. While I currently still have many things to do besides training, at least I am trying to achieve a balance in life, learning to eat healthy food and seeking to reduce stress. As I contemplate the future, I am thankful for the influence that people like Gary Player have had on my life. If only there could be more role models like him.

Things I see most days in Kaohsiung

Well, living in the city of Kaohsiung can be challenging at times with the high rises, noise, traffic, pollution, you name it. However, as with everywhere I go, I try to make the most of it. We have a nice home with five storeys, and the top floor serves as my office. However, as I like to get outside, I will often spent some time at a nearby lake. The lake is conveniently situated between our home and a 25m indoor swimming pool with saunas and a jacuzzi as extra. It takes at most 10 minutes of leisurely cycling to get to the pool. I now wonder where I would be without it. Here are a few photos of what I see each day:
Yes, that's my bike for getting around. This is the Golden Lion Lake which is very close to our house. During the daytime, it is possible to find one or two quiet spots in the shade with a good view, which can serve as a good place for doing some work, like finalizing a translation.
This is the year of the mouse, and there are plenty of reminders of this here.
The lake is a nice change from the roads and high rises almost everywhere else.
I made a new friend the other day. I need to do some research, but it is possible this turtle has been around quite a long time. It gave me quite a lot of inspiration, mainly its unhurried approach to life and giving plenty of time to reflect on things.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Update on my Swimming

Wh-hay! The blog is working now, so I can write. I have various photos (but not on this computer yet), so eventually I will make the blog a little more pleasant to the eye.
The last week has been a special one for me, since I have swum about 9 miles in the last seven days (Monday the pool is closed, so I am forced to rest that day). I did two miles today. I am swimming more relaxed and consistently and breathing easily. As I am getting more consistent and a little stronger, I am getting more feel for the water (and hand paddles near the end of the workouts are particularly good for this). Maybe one day I will purchase Karlyn's instructional DVD. While I am not overly concerned with how fast I am going, I did start off today (as I warmed up) with a 400m in 7m 12s. So there is a slight improvement, and generally I still felt fairly fresh around the 3,000m mark and even beyond that.
I also do not feel so tired the rest of the day. Of course, I need to take a little more rest, but my mind seems fairly clear and I have managed to get through my translation work reasonably well. I just figure that the exercise helps blood flow and so my mind is fairly alert when I am trying to decipher some obscure sentence in Chinese.
The other morning as I was taking a final look through a research paper I had edited, as I sat by the lake a few minutes from our home, I saw a turtle basking in the sunshine on a large log of wood floating in the water. Its shell was about 12 inches from end to end. It sat there for over two hours while I was there and finally disappeared into the water. The turtle gave me a lot of inspiration. Maybe some of us are slow or appear to be dumb, but we still have a lot of good qualities. The turtle did not seem to be in a hurry, unlike the birds I usually see, and that may be a secret of the reptile's long life. I will post a picture of my new found friend one of these days.

Does my blog work now?

My blog has been "locked" for over a week since the mighty computers out there were looking for spam or something like that. Maybe it is working now, so I will test the system first before writing.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Swimming is Improving - Slowly

Today I swam 400 meters in the local pool in 7m17s. The important thing here is that is was better than my time last week of 7m32s. I would probably have to be over a 100 years old to qualify for the Masters. Still, that is not the point. I am getting nearer to my current goal of breaking 7 minutes. I was not racing and so there was not a lot of adrenalin involved, and I just wore a cheap pair of bathers with more drag - why let the chlorine ruin an expensive suit?
I feel quite tired with all this swimming. It affects my work, as when I should be working I am either in the pool or lying on my bed. However, it may help me live longer, so I will still get my work done. The last three days I have swum just over 4 miles.
I will miss the Lavaman on the Big Island of Hawaii. But I will read the new reports and some of the blogs after the race. So even though I can't be there, at least I will feel almost as if I was. Hope you guys out there have a great race there.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Let's Get Started - in Taiwan

Inspired by the motto "It's never too late to learn", I'm starting my blog. I am now living in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, after eight years in Hawaii, most of which was spent testing my physical limits training and participating in triathlon. Well, I'm starting to swim seriously again, and hope to get back into running and biking. Who knows, one day I may be back in Kailua-Kona to take part in a community biathlon or triathlon race. So, let's keep in touch and encourage each other on our respective journeys.