Friday, September 26, 2008

Brendan Hansen Tribute - "We Will Rise"

If the video screen does not appear, the video can be found on YouTube, using the following:

With so many swim practices, I do not have the time to write my blog tonight. So I will just post this YouTube video to inspire you. Think of this as you try to break you own records, let alone beat your buddies or break the world record.
Brendan did not do too good at the Olympics this year, but he is still a great swimmer and champion. Who knows, he may have a great comeback. We must not let failures discourage us. We may fall, but we will rise. Just as Skip-Dawg so elegantly put it in rap.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Swim Workout with a Purpose

Wherever he is traveling in the world and whatever he is doing, Bruce Stewart always carries American Express!

Tuesday evening: While all swim workouts are hopefully with a purpose, whether a long-term goal of achieving a certain performance, or just doing it to get in the yardage, I have decided to train tomorrow morning with the goal of doing my fastest 100 meter freestyle swim yet.

There is a lot more to this than going to the pool and just saying "Go" and trying to swim as fast as I can. However, a lot concerning the workout is much the same as usual, only that I am trying to tweak it a little bit.

So I have decided to write down a few thoughts on how I am going to go about it tomorrow morning, and then after I get home, I will append a short report on what happened to this same post, since readers will probably read the two parts together.

I am not expecting to receive a fax or phone call from a coach telling me the brutal workout that I am supposed to do. I have to experiment with how I feel emotionally, what I feel I want to accomplish, pool conditions, and whatever else. Anyway, it's no real big deal. I face all these same feelings and conditions more or less every day. I will also incorporate what I learned recently from my friends' blogs into the workout, to give it a little more meaning and direction.

So I will get up as usual without the alarm clock, as I just seem to wake up at the same time whether tired or not anyway, eat my banana, drink my water, get on the bike and arrive at the pool after a leisurely 10-minute ride at about 6:15 am.

First thousand meters: Consistent, relaxed swimming with minimum effort, getting a good push off the wall with open turns (which Leann brought to my attention), streamlining and trying to glide more, averaging about 14 strokes per length, and only speeding up when it is necessary to pass (usually two at once) people. I will focus to on whether my arm crosses over when breathing (which Shirley recently talked about).

Second thousand meters: 2 x 200, 4 x 150, about 20 seconds rest in between each swim, but open to being flexible due to lane traffic (i.e., other swimmers).

Third thousand meters: 10 x 100m descending set on two minutes. Here I will keep my longish, slowish stroke but pick up the pace somewhat, trying to imagine I have a metronome in my head, and increasing the turnover (with Bree's training in mind). I will intersperse open turns with flip turns depending on how I feel and with safety considerations in mind (not to collide with another swimmer).

Last thousand meters: 12 x 50m and 8 x 25m (I want to go fast but also save a bit for later), followed by 2 x 100m very easy (to kind of recover a bit) to get me to the 4,000 mark. Then I want to have a few minutes to relax and chat with my friends and wait for an opportune moment to do a "flat out" 100m.

So far my best 100m in the pool here is about 1m 24.5s, which I did last week. Tomorrow I would like to do 1m 23s (vs. 1m 13s for USMS 55-59 qualifying time), and hopefully besides having my usual friend race me, I would like to have someone time us as it is hard to get a clear reading off the wall clock on these shorter swims. Today I was timed at 39 seconds (which could mean almost 40 seconds) for a 50 meter swim almost at the end of the workout.

I don't know if this is a recipe for success or for just so-so, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. So I hope anyway that I can have a go tomorrow.

Wednesday morning: Well, I got back home about 10 minutes ago, having taken my time leaving the pool and having also stopped to buy some vegetables at the market. The weather is warm and sunny - typical weather for Kaohsiung.

I got down to the pool about 10 minutes earlier than normal, which meant that I had a little more time to get what I wanted to do done. I more or less followed the above plan to the letter (although I had some slightly longer rests now and then), and generally felt quite good, although a little slower generally than I expected. On the 100s, I was usually only going about 1:47 to 1:49. It made me wonder what I would do later. I think the 8 x 25m did me quite a lot of good. I took long rests in between (maybe 45 seconds or so) and at least I tried to get closer to race pace. Then I did two very easy 100s, but they felt good, too. Almost 5 minutes later I raced my friend over 100m in empty adjoining lanes, having told him my intention. Another swimmer who had finished his workout kindly used the stopwatch function on his watch. The result: 1m 23.47s. The first 50 was pretty fast, and I more or less swam it like a 50 (shorter more choppy strokes with more rapid turnover). The turns at 50m and 75m were weak and I wasn't close enough to the wall to get a good push, but I soldiered on, despite feeling slower, down the stretch.

During the 4,000 meter warm-up prior to the race, I did think about the things I had written concerning the things to focus on, although sometimes I become a little paranoid just thinking too much about them. I was a little schizophrenic trying to manage the metronome on the 100s. Bree's clock was going "tick...tick...tick..." in rapid succession, but my own clock was going a much slower "clonk...clonk..clonk..." I don't know if those things people use to keep to a certain stroke rate are just gimmicks or not. Maybe I should have ordered one when I ordered the paddles and cords. Too late now.

The good thing about this workout, is that I went out there and did what I had planned to do, and got the end result I had hoped for. At least "bit by bit". I think I will take it a little more easy for a few days and then have a crack at the 3:00 mark on the 200m. I will try to eat more. When I go to the market, I get compliments like I'm in good shape but the impression of the women there is that Westerners (especially those on the other side of the Atlantic to where I came from) are a lot fatter than me. To consistently go faster I need to be a little stronger, too. I will try to get someone to film me with my recently-acquired camera one of these days. Then I should be able to see more clearly what I am doing wrong.

Finally, thanks to all those who have given me such positive comments and have written such inspiring articles.

Friday, September 19, 2008

"Golden Swimming Week"

The supermarkets are well stocked here, although I am still not used to doing a lot of cooking.

In one of my Japanese anime movies, the school-age kids enjoy a "Golden Week" which appears to be a time to enjoy a week off school. Well, this week has been a kind of "Golden Swimming Week". It does not mean that I have taken a break from swimming, but the practices each morning, despite my being very busy these days, have gone extremely well.

Generally speaking, life for me has been a little too busy recently. I never seem to be able to keep up with all the work that is coming in for me to do, and even though I enjoy doing it, I don't like keeping people waiting or having a long list of things still to be done. In addition, I also have to shop and cook nearly all my own meals and (occasionally) clean the house. I would like to buy a robot to whom I could delegate a lot of chores, etc.

As a result I have not been eating all that well, and at times while swimming I have felt a little hungry. So much for Michael Phelps spending $20 on breakfast each morning. Well, this isn't Baltimore. There is a lot of good food available, but in my opinion it is best if you cook it yourself, and I never had much training in cooking, not that I really have the time to do it.

The highlights of the last 5 days of swimming are as follows. Basically, each day has followed a progressive build. Usually the first 1,000 m I am just warming up easily, negotiating traffic, and getting into a rhythm. The second 1,000 is slightly faster and now may involve something like an ascending and descending set. The third thousand involves watching the clock and focusing on the 100m to 200m range. Beyond 3,000m, I am getting up to moderate pace and occasionally "flat out" especially towards the end. The pool closes at 8:00 am, and usually the last 10 minutes or so there are few people so that I can swim hard down the middle of lane 4 or 5. While the "last (focused) swim" has me huffing and puffing at the end, I can't say I am really tired after it. I think I am getting used to it and so I will tend to shirk a little. I don't have any slave drivers to give me a brutal workout. However, to get better, I may need to crank things up a little, within reason.

Tuesday: 4,200 m (Focus on descending sets in terms of distance). Final swim: 200m in 3m 04 (equals my "record" so a good start to the week).

Wednesday: 4,200 m (Focus again on descending in terms of distance. Key set 10 x 100 on 2 mins (range 1:48-1:41)). Finished with a 200m race in 3m 08s. May have been slower due to the 100s.

Thursday: 4,250 m (Focus on gradually shortening the distances until 3,000 m mark. Then key set 20 x 50 on 1 min (usually completing each one in 50 secs)). Then raced 200m in 3m o4s (must have a mental blockage here!). After a minute or two, still had time and did a 50 m in 40 secs.

Friday: 4,050 m (Focus on getting into 200s fairly early on and then 150s and then 100s and 50s.) Then as I got close to the 4,000 m, I took a few minutes' break, and then swam 1m 25s for 100m on my own, followed by another in about 1m 26s (felt a little more out of breath on that one).

Saturday: 4,200 m (Focused again on gradually decreasing the distances, but nothing more than moderate.) Later as I was doing 50s I tried to work on my flip turn, and sometimes tried not to kick or else kick hard, etc. Then I went easy for about 100m. Then my friend paced me over 200m and another timed me. 3m 01s for 200m, with the first 100m in 1m 27s. Where I felt I "lost it" was on the flip turns at 125m and 150m in particular, which were very weak and I was gasping to surface and breathe. So I need to work on the turns more.

I still need to go about 20 seconds faster if I am to qualify for USMS Nationals in what will be my new age group next month. Well, if others can do it, then so can I. I just need to get used to swimming faster. To help me, I have just ordered some stretch cordz and larger hand paddles as training aids which are being delivered by Fedex to Hawai'i and then being hand carried to Taiwan at the beginning of October. Hopefully, in October I can start my "real" swim training, and eventually I hopefully will get good enough to give a few of my old friends in Kona a surprise when I finally get out there.

I must not forget, tomorrow (Sunday) will be a swim practice, too! The week is not over yet.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Mid-Autumn Festival and a Typhoon

Rescue dinghy in Taiwan floodwaters. I once trained how to operate and deal with a boat like this when engaging in lifesaving activities.

The days and weeks for me often seem to go by with monotonous regularity - a swim followed by working at home, catching up on needed sleep, preparing meals, going to the local library to do more work, and reading the blogs, etc. However, this weekend was somewhat different. On Friday, a typhoon was approaching and at the last minute the local city government decided to take Saturday off work in case things got bad. While the typhoon devastated a few parts of the island, there was little damage down here in Kaohsiung.

Then today (Sunday) was a public holiday, the Mid-Autumn Festival, when families like to Bar-B-Q and to gaze at the moon, which unfortunately they could not do because of the inclement weather.

What this meant was that my swimming training was cut short this week, as the pool was closed both Saturday and Sunday, and is closed anyway on Mondays for maintenance. In hindsight, I was pleased I did an extra swim practice on Friday afternoon - mostly speed work. So the distances covered last week were as follows: Tues (4,100m), Wed (4,050m), Thurs (4,250m) and Fri (4,100m + 2,150m), for a weekly total of 18,650 meters.

So I did little training over the weekend, apart from a few push ups at home, and cycling to church and back, mostly in pouring rain (about 25 minutes each way). It was a good job I took a complete change of clothes with me going there. Coming home, it did not matter that I got wet.

When our schedule is disrupted or we miss training for whatever reason, it is easy to feel a little down, as we (myself at least) often feel tired and when the weather is bad, it seems so much easier to catch a cold. In addition, I usually make use of the extra time I have by not training to catch up on my work, which often means I am more tired and my immune system isn't at its best. Fortunately, this time I seem to be OK.

Anyway, during such times as this, it is good to reflect on what we have so far accomplished, to try to get some needed rest and to get all fired up again to go on to greater things in the future.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Review of the Past Year: Work

Economics 101: Advantages of keeping goats in semi-rural southern Taiwan ten minutes of biking from home: (1) Keeps the grass down without the need to hire a grass cutter. (2) A steady supply of milk. (3) Possibly some tax benefits if it can be argued that the land is being used rather than sitting vacant.

Whenever I write about training, I often write about work, too. It is as if they are two sides of the same coin. Certainly in my mind, they cannot exist without each other, and it is hard to feel a sense of accomplishment in one without feeling it in the other.

Without going too much into specifics (and I have made mention of this elsewhere), I basically work alone, according to my own schedule, at home or wherever is convenient, and to a large extent I enjoy what I do. Like training, there are always the not so interesting parts, but that is where discipline is particularly important.

The work I do is not considered very exciting to a lot of people (maybe that's why I seem to have plenty to do), and there are no quick tricks for getting rich overnight, i.e., no promises of a big windfall if I sell some things or speculate or whatever. My work consists of just plodding along, dealing with one case after another. It is knowledge-intensive which, in my opinion, is the way to go in this day and age. I am not just the run-of-the-mill same as everybody else person. I have unique skills built up over a lifetime that fortunately have been discovered by people who need them. I originally did not train for a career in this area. I basically learned to adapt to my circumstances, to be not just a survivor, but a success in a specific part of the work world. I am not a member of a professional association and do not have anything like a union to back me up. I compete in a very rapidly changing and competitive world. However, besides making every effort to remain up-to-date and relevant in my chosen profession, I have also built up quite a lot of goodwill, and that, I have discovered, is a tremendous asset.

Because of my economics/accounting background plus many of the things I deal with in my daily work, I am well aware of the economic issues that face modern societies, not only at the national level, but also for each of us individuals. I constantly ask myself whether I could be doing other things to earn money, or whether I should be handling my own money in a better way. This has become all the more important to me as I have now reached an age where I have to plan for the future with a lot of "what if?" scenarios in mind.

I certainly have not been "money conscious" all my life. Although I studied a lot about money at university and in subsequent work, as with most twenty-somethings, I was mostly concerned with being fulfilled in what I was doing, and I did not see any need to make more than was necessary to pay for a relatively frugal lifestyle. Rather than ending up getting "stuck" in some unfulfilling career in the UK based on what I knew then, I went to Taiwan as a Chinese language student, fell in love with the place, and eventually with someone there, and settled down to a new life in a country that was very different from the one in which I grew up. Finding a good job was not easy. I was obviously not a local person, and neither could I find a job where I could represent some kind of British interests in Taiwan (which would have paid pretty well had I been able to do so). So I tried different things, and was quite successful at some, although I never really liked just being an employee of some organization. If the job did not offer much in terms of career development, then I felt I was unable to make full use of my talents. If the job did offer growth opportunities, then I tended to try to change the job to fit me, rather than adapt myself to the needs of the job. Obviously, the demands of the job were sometimes quite overwhelming, and so I had little choice but to focus on what had to be done. A move to Hawai'i to volunteer in a Christian organization in 1999 put an end to regular employment for me as I knew it, and since the turn of the millennium I have gradually evolved to where I am today.

That said, this is a good time of year to review the past year, since we returned from Hawai'i in early July last year and there were some major changes in our lifestyles. While I continued to do much the same work (and also for the same people) as I had done before when in Hawai'i, we stopped living in rented accommodation and went back to living in an apartment that we had owned since very early in our married life. To determine whether "progress" has been made in terms of my financial situation, which has been shaped by my work over these last twelve months or more, let me consider this period of time in terms of two balance sheets with an income statement in between.

Balance Sheet Summer 2007: As our time in Hawai'i drew to a close, I was determined to return to Taiwan "in the black", despite the relatively high cost of living there and the additional expenses of air tickets, etc. Thus when we were back in Taiwan and all the bills had been paid, I had something like $5,000 in the bank and rent-free accommodation, and of course a full-time job that I could do from home, or the roof, or the hills behind our community. The first six months were spent having quite extensive repairs done to our old apartment, initially so we could live in it longer term, but then with a view to selling it. I was able to meet all these additional costs out of current income. My time until March was spent a bit like this: work (including varying amounts of "labor" related to the house) 95%, training (walking in relatively fresh air) 5%.

Then, around January our new house in southern Taiwan was ready to move into. That had also included quite a lot of expenditure on fixtures and built-in furniture/decorations. We basically borrowed 100% of the cost of the house itself through two mortgages (one on each home) and paid for the additions with cash, as and when each different thing was completed.

From the beginning of April, when I got back into swimming, my time was spent like this: work (for money) 70%, swimming & extra rest 20%, "blogs" and other interests 10%. I am still busy, but at least I am not working like crazy.

Income Statement 2007-2008: Having explained how my time was spent, I basically did as much work as I could within reason, but saved little, due to the expenses related to both houses. Fortunately, the old apartment was put on the market around May, and sold relatively quickly, in large part, I think, due to all the repair work we had done. The last year we have lived quite frugally, despite the nice home that we have. We don't eat out much, have not bought a car, and have been mostly concerned with paying all of the bills for the many expenses related to the houses.

Balance Sheet Summer 2008: While some would argue that the house one lives in cannot be regarded as an asset because it does not bring income (i.e., rent from tenants), at least it would be useful to have should a spouse need to dispose of it in difficult circumstances. Now that the previous apartment is disposed of, we currently owe little more than half of the cost of the new house. While we still have 19 years in which to pay the balance, due to age and other considerations, I am thinking more in terms of 5 unless of course there are other "equivalent investments". Currently no credit card debt, not that there ever was. No Hummer in the garage, either, to drain our resources. Plans for the next few months are to finally get a "real" bicycle(truly a luxury good and an exception to my normal lifestyle), and also to build up a few "liquid reserves" for better cash flow management and to "be there" for the children as they contemplate their next steps, or should my wife continue to work in a voluntary capacity, serving needy people in society, in much the same way that she did when in Hawai'i.

Well, that sums up my thoughts on work over the past year and what I have been trying to achieve in that regard. I don't know if it will be relevant to readers but I thought I would put it out there, anyway.

Turning to swimming, I continue to soldier on: Tuesday 4,100 meters, Wednesday 4,050 meters. More about that in another post.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Review of the Past Year: Triathlon

Riding a bicycle in Taiwan is in many ways a lot different from in Hawai'i. There is so much more to see here. The sun is also very strong and, in an effort to protect my face (which is already very red as it is), I have bought myself a new hat (US$3) which is actually very cool when riding. I am riding a mountain bike. The emphasis is not so much on speed, but just on relaxed riding. I get my workouts at the swimming pool.

Before I get into the main focus of today's blog, let me quickly recap on my swimming for this week. In the previous post, I noted that I had covered a total of 12,350 meters for Tues, Wed and Thurs of this last week. On Friday I did 4,050m, Saturday 3,600m (I woke up late, obviously tired from the trip to Taipei on Friday), and this morning (Sunday) I swam a total of 4,150m. That means that for the week as a whole (Mondays the pool is closed) I swam a total of 24,150 meters. In each workout this week, I had several 25 meter "blasts" sometimes followed by 75 meters of "easy" swimming without a rest, and sometimes I just rested and then did another fast 25. While the workouts have been fun, I tend to get quite tired during the day and am forced to sleep for at least one hour some time close to the middle of the day. Fortunately, I have a nice comfortable bed, but I also find that I am a little slow at getting down to doing my work. However, without a rest, I just cannot do any work.

I would like to briefly write down some thoughts on my training over the past year. My training in Kona, Hawai'i ended with the Hapuna Roughwater Swim on July 1, 2007. We flew on July 2 and returned to our home just outside Taipei. Although it was summer and the community pool was open, I decided to give it a miss last year. I had quite a lot of work to keep me busy during the day, and I decided to go for walks in the hills behind our community. When going for walks I would often carry work with me. Our old apartment needed quite a lot of work done, and so it made sense to concentrate on trying to make a little extra money. I occasionally ran in the hills (despite the steepness of the roads and the relatively sudden change in elevation). I was surprised that I could run fairly well, both uphill and downhill without suffering knee discomfort.

However, the runs were very few. I missed the way I trained in Kona, with friends and over familiar ground. I tried to get involved in some organized activities, one being the Taipei (and later Kaohsiung) hash runs, having done quite a bit of that in the early part of the 1990s in the Taipei area. However, the lack of a car in Taipei made it virtually impossible to reach the venues for some runs, so I ended up only doing one such run there (although it was a really good workout). In Kaohsiung, by the time I had reached the run start, and had had a few beers and sat through the formalities afterwards, too many hours in my opinion had passsed. The actual running time was little more than an hour. So I wondered if I should really get involved in that. In the end, apart from showing up once, I did not. Maybe I will if I have more time, but that is unlikely.

Early this year, I met up with some foreign acquantances in the very south of Taiwan for what was to be several days of triathlon training. Unfortunately, I did not have a bike, but I figured I could at least swim and run. I was advised to take a wetsuit, which meant ordering one and having it Fedexed from the US, so more money. I could have managed without it. The water where we were in early February (although very rough) was no cooler in my opinion than Kona. The camp was suddenly cut short on the first day when a participant unfortunately had a fatal heart attack on the first group swim. I had already felt a little scared on the swim as it was my first in half a year.

With the decision being made to move down to Kaohsiung as early as August last year (when we actually saw the house and expressed an intention to buy it), followed by meetings with bankers and the construction company, etc., we moved down south in late January this year. While the troubles associated with the major repairs on our old apartment and all the packing (which was mainly my job as it turned out that I am a lot more gifted at doing that than significant others in our family) and the moving of all our things down south were now in the past, the new house had its own set of issues, mostly financial, as it needed new furniture, kitchen and bathroom fittings, air-conditioning, windows to wrap around on some of the lanais (balconies), solar water heating panels, etc. Fortunately, for us, much was done before we actually moved down, since we gained possession of the new home in mid-October, but kept finding things to do that made us want to stay in Taipei. Most of the things that we had planned to have done have been finished now, which means that we will soon no longer have to pay relatively large sums of money for a sofa, or several air conditioners. The list of things seems endless. I now agree with the statement that it is a lot cheaper to rent in Taiwan than to buy. However, living in a place like the one we have now is a lot more relaxing and comfortable in my opinion.

After moving to Kaohsiung, I started to ride an old mountain bike by following the cycle paths along the river that runs through the city. Then I went to check out a fairly nearby swimming pool that I had heard about, and that gradually changed my approach to training.

Given the circumstances I am in, I feel that any training program that I seek to follow must fulfill certain criteria if it is to be meaningful and worthwhile: (1) It must be such that most of the time devoted to the training is actually spent training (i.e., no one hour drives just to get to the start of the run, and no obligatory one hour waits to drink a watered down beer as part of the formalities); (2) It must be local enough that I actually get to make friends with people in the local community (i.e., not large events where one is just lost in the crowd, or where people are too transient (often the case with the foreign community here); (3) It must not involve a lot of expenses (such as having to keep up with the Joneses by driving to events in swanky cars, having to pay for the beer that the others drink, high subscription/ attendance fees, etc.; and (4) It must encourage the development of wholesome relationships. By this I mean that events should be about fun, friends and families as the Peaman races were. I am a bit over events that end up with a lot of beer drinking or cross-dressing, etc. I know I would like to have a good laugh sometimes, but maybe some things might lead me astray, too.

I am pleased to say that the local swimming pool I have been attending nearly every day for the last six months meets all the above criteria. That is a big part of the reason why I have mainly just been swimming. I have found a factory that can make me a carbon tri-bike frame that actually fits me, but I have kept putting off the purchase decision until a few further expenses in relation to the new house have been met. Besides, if I just want to bike easy for the time being, I can use the bike I have at present. As for running, I have been rather tired with swimming and also have not found someone with whom to train. I probably won't find anyone with whom to train unless I go out and run, and so I guess I should get started. However, I still feel too busy with work and too tired from swimming for the time being.

I have not been able to take part in any competitions so far here in Taiwan, not that the competitions don't exist, only that they have usually been far away from where I live. Step by step, I guess. I am thinking of trying to do Ironman Japan next year (to experience Japan as well as try to complete another Ironman), and hope I will also be able to get over to Hawai'i at some point to see if the swimming training I have been doing has really been making a difference.

In another article I plan to write a little about an equally important part of my life (and which I have already referred to quite a lot in this article) and that is work. It is probably a common experience for many, that when we have a lot of work to do, we never have enough time to enjoy the money that we earn. However, when we do not have enough work, we often cannot afford to do the things we would like to do. It is clearly important to achieve a right balance between the two, something that I will write more about later.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Getting to Enjoy Sprinting in Swimming

Picture: Alain Bernard breaks the World Record at a swim meet in the 100 freestyle. Note that those he beat by perhaps only an arm's length were the also-rans. You just have to learn to be that little bit better than the competition.

After several months of often just swimming the Ironman swim distance non-stop (even six days in a row), I have made some adjustments to my workouts. In general, the first two or three thousand meters in a workout is fairly slow and steady, but then after that, body permitting, I try to pick up the pace somewhat. The last three days (Tuesday 4,100m, Wednesday 4,150m, and Thursday 4,100m), I mainly started with a slowish 1,000 meters, just waking up and getting warmed up, followed by 4 x 250 with about 30 secs rest in between each one, followed by a pyramid from 50 to 200 and the same down again (a total of 1,000 meters). Then at 3,000 meters, realizing that I had most of the workout behind me and with fewer people sharing the lane, I focused on either 150s, 100s or 50s. Then, at around the 3,800m point, I shifted to 25 meter sprints, to be followed by a "race" or a cool-down.

On Tuesday I did 6 x 25m as fast as I could, and Wednesday I found that I was a lot more sluggish throughout my workout. I obviously used some muscles I was not used to using. I did about 4 x 25m yesterday. Today (Thursday), I did 8 x 25m, and on at least four of them I was accompanied (i.e., raced) by other swimmers who are as good as me over 100m, so they helped pace me, not that I had a lot of time to look to see where they were, except when reached the wall.

Doing these sprints is a lot of fun. We used to do a few at the end of Masters' workouts in Kona, where I felt I had a lot of endurance, but was weak and lacked speed. Things are not a lot different now, but at least I feel my turnover is getting faster on these things.

Last time I wrote that there were benefits of being able to sprint for short distances in ocean swims. I think my friends at the pool here in Kaohsiung recognize that I have a lot of endurance in that I can keep going over long distances, and that is in part because aerobic swimming is something I have a natural tendency to do. However, now I am trying to increase the amount of anaerobic swimming I do, hence the rests between sets (the idea being to feel that I am huffing and puffing). I am also trying to work on strength training, which includes dry-land exercises, for which I have little equipment. My push-ups are very poor but at least I can do a few, right next to my desk at home, so at least I will try to work on that. The water at the pool is too shallow to do "get-outs", so what I do instead is to do them with my back to the wall at the pool. This may be a little different, but it is good for the triceps and I did several 50s, following each one with about 10 of these reverse get-outs. Of course, it is particularly important for me to focus on my body position and stroke mechanics, especially on the slower swimming when I can think about what I am doing. However, as I do more speed work, my mind is increasingly able to keep up with what I am doing as I thrash my way through the water.

At some point, I will need to get some footage of what I am actually doing in the water. I still need to do a lot of work on my flip turns, which is easier said than done, as I generally don't like to do them on the slower swims.

I read somewhere that when trying to go flat out, we should make sure we don't have any heart problems. Last year after I returned to Taiwan from Kona, my hematologist (whom I will see in Taipei tomorrow for a routine check-up) got me to have a chest X-ray and, while I don't know what she learned from that, at least she said things were OK. There is a great thrill and sense of freedom to swim a length of the pool as fast as one can (especially when we reach the age where most people do very little strenuous exercise). It is almost like going down a steep hill on a bike in the aero position, only that on the bike you are likely to veer off course and have a crash while in the pool it really all depends on how good your "engine" is.

One of my friends recently drew my attention to the swimming exploits of Jessica Sullivan, a U.S. citizen who almost made it to France when attempting to swim across the English Channel. If you think you've had a hard race or have been unfortunate to accomplish something you had set your heart on doing, then reading her blog and looking at the pics and clips should give you some comfort. Jessica is still young and no doubt she will try again. She got to within 1.5 miles of France, but later discovered she was 3 miles away, and would have needed at least another 6 hours given the currents!