Swimskins, Wetsuits, and Tri Suits

Swimskins are fairly new to the sport of triathlon, but are they worth the price tag? Before we dive into what swimskins are and what they can do, let’s review the basic gear for a triathlete when it comes to swimming.

The most basic of gear is a tri suit, which is a one or two piece kit that you can wear comfortably for all three disciplines without adding more layers. Tri suits can be sleeveless or have sleeves like a bike jersey. If the water temperature is at 78 degrees F or above, you’ll need to wear a tri suit if you want to be considered for age-group awards. Tri suits range in price from $80-$250 each, depending on the brand, style, and materials used in making the kit. In reality, a tri suit is not necessary to compete–you can always wear a training swimsuit, throw on a pair of running or cycling shorts and t-shirt for the bike and run. No tri suit needed and no money wasted when you’re getting involved in a new sport; save your cash for the bike because it’s a machine that you throw money at anyway.

Next up in a triathlete’s swimming stash is a wetsuit. Wetsuits come in a variety of shapes and sizes from full legs and sleeves to a shorti wetsuit. If the water is cooler, you would wear your wetsuit over your tri suit for the swim. Wetsuits are fairly easy to put on and take off with practice and have a drawstring attached to the zipper to close the suit and to unzip it as you run towards transition. Wetsuits range in price from $80-$500 and up, so it can be an expensive addition.

The advantage of wearing a wetsuit is the added buoyancy neoprene provides, helping to correct dropped legs and other types of poor swim form and body positioning. Many triathletes swim a few minutes faster for the entire swim segment of the race, but if you’re already a fast swimmer with good form, you might not notice much of a difference. From a personal standpoint, I’m about the same speed with or without a wetsuit, but a wetsuit will keep me warm when the water temps are in the low 60s or upper 50s F.

Now enter the swimskin. A swimskin compresses your body with hydrophobic material to make you cut through the water faster. Swimskins are also worn over the tri suit like a wetsuit and can be worn when the water temp is at 78 degrees F or above. Fast swimmers and pros who swim at 1:20 per 100 meters or faster, save an average of 2-6 seconds per 100 meters, which adds up quickly for an Ironman distance swim of 2.4 miles or 4,224 yards. However, the swimskin offers no extra buoyancy like the wetsuit and does little in the way of correcting poor form. It will reduce drag caused by form and your body line, but if you are an average swimmer, or if swimming is the weaker of the three sports, then it won’t help much in the way of decreasing fatigue caused by form and body position in the water.

So, should you get a swimskin? I wouldn’t. Most age-group athletes won’t actually benefit from wearing one on race day. Sorry, I wouldn’t spend the extra $200-$400 for one. Instead, I would spend more time in the pool since swimming is the neglected sport of most triathletes. If you do spend money on swimming, spend it on joining a masters team, get some new fins, a snorkel, pull buoy, new practice suits, open water goggles, fun swim caps, or a workout book for swimming. The point is: get better at swimming first before making another big gear investment in a swimskin that you’ll use a handful of times in practice and possibly for the wetsuit illegal race. And for the love of all that is holy, do an actual swim workout in the pool, learn how to do flip turns or efficient open turns, do all of the competitive strokes, and use the clock provided because you don’t need a watch for swimming, but that’s another blog post entirely.

Visualization and the Athlete

Lake Erie from Edgewater Park in Cleveland, OH during USAT Nationals on August 9, 2018

Lake Erie in Cleveland is known for its fickle ways, changing from smooth as glass to a washing machine of waves in a short amount of time, bringing with it sudden changes in weather. Any local will tell you to watch out for its rip currents. So, how do you prepare for something like that as an athlete?

USAT Nationals will be held in Cleveland, OH again this year at Edgewater Park, and, yes, you do have to prepare for the unexpected. Last year, I watched the Lake go from smooth to choppy, with waves over three feet high, in the course of thirty minutes, making it difficult for athletes to sight. Many of them swam for 1.2 miles instead of the 1500 meters of an Olympic distance event.

As an athlete, you practice the swim, bike, and run often in your training, eat the right things (mostly), and carve out time for rest in your busy day, but if you’re not practicing visualization and positive self-talk, you’re missing out.

Here’s why.

  1. See it: Practice visualizing how the race will unfold. Look up photos of the area where you’ll be racing so it will be familiar to you. Think of how you’ll set up transition, practice your race day plan and working with your gear in a mock transition to further reinforce your daily visualizations, and see yourself moving through the different segments of the race. Most of all, see yourself crossing that finish line, one step at a time.
  2. Plan it: Because you’ve spent time thinking about how your race will go, there is nothing new. However, if something new does come up, you can think about how you’ll work through those difficulties with a plan of action–dropping a bottle on the bike, getting a flat, dealing with a crowded swim field, handling heat or cold on the bike or run. Besides having a plan for the unexpected, have an overall race day plan of what you’ll eat and drink and when. Know how you will pace the race based on the course and terrain. All of this will help with your anxiety levels.
  3. Practice it: In addition to thinking through the unknown, develop a ritual before the race, practice your transition with all of you gear, and then visualize how it will all happen. A good ritual to have is: set up your gear, eat the same thing you normally do right before the swim, and find a quiet area or sit for a moment in transition to focus on your breathing (maybe even listen to music or headphones). When you’re ready to get in line for the swim start, focus on being calm in the crowd by breathing and visualizing your swim. In addition, practice the skills you’ll need such as changing your tire, setting up transition, eating and drinking on the bike and run, etc. It’s also a good idea to train for the swim, bike, and run in places with terrain that resembles your goal race.
  4. Win: No, everything won’t go according to plan all the time, but more often than not, you’ll be successful. Looking on the positive side will also help you learn from your mistakes so you can move on and become a better athlete.

See. Plan. Practice. Win.

Why Using “Sherpa” is Cultural Appropriation

Ever since I got into the sport of triathlon, I’ve heard other athletes ask me if I plan to have a “Sherpa” for my first Ironman, and if so what that “Sherpa” would do. This has always rattled me because it reeks of cultural appropriation. How can I possibly call my husband and family my “Sherpas”? It’s insensitive and inappropriate.

If someone is a Sherpa, they are part of an ethnic group of people, mainly from Nepal, and in addition to being their own distinct cultural group, they have helped many climbers summit the highest peaks of the Himalayan Mountains. But what they are first is an ethnic group of people–not a brand name for sports clothing and certainly not a name you give your support crew–they are people.

To me, calling your support crew “Sherpas” is just wrong. It’s no different than naming sports teams after Native Americans, donning feathers, and attending a baseball game while beating a drum and mimicking Native American Dances. It’s like calling your support crew your “slaves” for the day. Would you do that? I don’t think so.

Why not go with simply: crew? Or race crew? Race support? When Phil assisted me with all of my gear at the end of Ironman Maryland, he told me he would like to be called “Iron Mule” (wait here, hold my gear) because of the play on words. I motion that race support for endurance triathlon events be called “crew” or “IronMule”, depending on your support crew’s sense of humor.

IronMule (noun): person who waits all day long while their athlete does an Ironman, tries to track and find them on course to cheer for them for a matter of seconds, and then collects all of the gear at the end of the day while the athlete tries to eat normal food for the first time. It’s a thankless job, really, being someone’s crew, but the athlete wouldn’t be anywhere without all of the support of family and friends and especially the IronMule.

On Recovery and Rest

A chill hangs in the morning air like the cherry trees heavy with blossoms. I still have my puffy winter coat zipped up to my chin, hands buried in my pockets, and my swimming backpack, laden with wet towels and gear, rides low on my back. My hair is still wet from the swim, but it won’t freeze on my way to the car.

To prepare for the upcoming triathlon season, I’ve gradually increased my workout load and was consistent until I received a call that no parent ever wants to get from the gym: “Your daughter fell off the beam, and we think her arm is broken.” After I hung up the phone, I put my cycling bag down and quickly changed back into regular clothes to go and pick her up from the gym and head straight to urgent care for x-rays.

X-rays clearly showed a broken radial bone, close to the elbow. The nurses splinted her arm, gave her some Motrin, and we left with instructions to make an appointment for orthopedics to have her arm placed in a cast. I called first thing in the morning, but no appointments were available until a few days later, so a trip to the hospital was our only option. I packed for a full day of waiting in the ER, thinking we were going to be there for about four to six hours before she got a cast and we could go home.

We didn’t go home that day.

The orthopedic doctor requested a CT scan. Hours went by where she couldn’t eat due to talk of surgery in the evening. I didn’t eat either because I couldn’t eat in front of her, nor did I want to leave her alone in the ER. Once the CT scan was analyzed, six hours later, surgery was in scheduled to fix her elbow and radial bone that broke in two places near the growth plate.

Surgery is just the beginning of her long recovery with no gymnastics until October, so my big kid will swim laps and run with me this summer to start getting her strength back once her cast if off. I’m happy to have her as a workout buddy, and I’ll go a little bit slower until she catches up and passes me, which she already does on the run. Stinker.

Because of her injury, I took a whole week off from training, which never happens. I mean NEVER. But it’s all worth it. I spent some time with her doing puzzles, watching movie marathons, and supervising our renovation project. I also found time to take my bike to the shop for a tune-up and organized all of my gear. Now, she’s back at school with her giant full arm cast, and I’m back to training after a short break.

On cold mornings like this with the cherry blossoms near full bloom, I’m grateful that she got the best care, we all got a short break from our routine, and can now come back stronger than before. Because rest and recovery are all part of training, no matter what sport you’re in.

Speed Swim Workout

If you have a need for speed in the pool, then this workout is for you. When I swam competitively, my favorite events included the 50 and 100 free after suffering through the 500 free at swim meets during my entire first season. Unlike my swimming buddies, I’m still learning to love distance and am getting better at it. Here’s the sprint workout, so let me know how it goes for you:

Warm Up:

400 as swim 75/drill 25

6×50 kick–choice (with or without fins)

200 IM (Individual Medley)

300 pull 3/5/3/2

200 stroke (NO FREE)

Main Set: 

12x25s variable sprints on :25/:30/:35 REPEAT PATTERN 3x

  1. slow/fast
  2. fast/slow
  3. tempo
  4. FAP (fast as possible)

12x50s on :50/1:00/1:10 REPEAT PATTERN 3x

  1. DPS (distance per stroke)
  2. Build
  3. Tempo
  4. FAP

200 @ Race Pace with 1 min rest

4×50 DESD on 1:00

2x100s ALL OUT!  Rest 40s after each

Cool Down: 

100 Easy–choice

3000 yards total

 

What are you waiting for? Go and swim! Comment below with your favorite strokes, places to swim, or what you love about swimming.

Be Kind

My shoes did get muddy from the trail…

I planned on going for a solitary run around my favorite trail. With the recent rains, I thought it would be muddy and considered taking another route when I noticed a guy running down my street towards me. “He’s a runner,” I thought. I’ll ask him about the trail.

“Hey, how are you? Did you just come from the loop?” I said to the random running stranger in the gray sweatshirt. I talk to everybody. All. The. Time. In reality, I’m introverted, so I need a break from all the people sometimes. Still, I talk to everyone.

“Actually, I’m heading there now.” He smiled. Good thing he’s a talker too and doesn’t think I’m some weirdo waiting for strangers to go running with on the street corner.

“Well, are you going to the main road? Because there’s a way with less traffic that’s safer to get to the trail.”

“Yeah, I was heading there. I didn’t know there was a different way to get to the trail.”

“I’ll show you, especially since you live around here. You don’t want to run on that busy road; you’ll get hit by a car.”

The first thing he said was that he was a slow runner, but I reassured him that I would run his pace to the trail. After all, I’m warming up, and I can pick up the pace later on if I feel like it. I already swam and lifted, so my legs weren’t exactly fresh.

Turns out, he can keep a conversation going in addition to running faster with me than he would have alone since he’s just getting back into running. Plus, I also met one of my neighbors who’s a runner. Bonus! I know I’ll see him at one of my Meet Ups or on the trail soon. Keep running!

Team Store Coming Soon!

Are you excited? Because I’m super excited! Own Way Apparel is in the process of designing triathlon kits for V Formation Multisport that will be ready to go in the spring and just in time for triathlon season.

The store will have the following triathlon gear:

  • Sleeveless Tri Kits in one and two pieces
  • Sleeved Tri Kits in one and two pieces
  • Cycling Kits
  • Running Shirts

Here’s a sneak peak of the one-piece sleeved tri kit:

If you’re interested, I already have hats and t-shirts ready to go! Soon, there will be visors added to the mix too. Here’s what they look like:

Comment below or send me a PM if you’re interested in any gear before the store goes live!

Holiday Swim Workouts

12 Days of Christmas Workout

1×300 swim
2×50 drill
3x100s Individual Medley
4x100s as swim, kick, pull, swim
5x50s sprints on 1:00
6x75s IMO (no free) kick, drill, swim by 25s
7x100s on 2:00 FAP
8x25s as streamline kick and swim on :35
10x kicks for 3 strokes for 1×100
11x25s IMO with free
12x 10 seconds Vertical Kicking in deep end

Merry Christmas!

I’m late with Chanukah already over, but my athletes did do an 8 Days of Chanukah workout as well as a 12 Days of Christmas Workout. There are more holidays on the way, so why not do some of these fun workouts? I am already writing a New Year’s Workout! Happy Holidays!

8 Days of Chanukah Swim Workout

8x75s as kick/drill/swim by 25s

8x50s IMO as drill

8x25s as streamline kick/FAP free

8x150s as free/back/free by 50s on 2:30

8x75s free-build on 1:30

100 cool down

3100 yards total

Happy Holidays to all during the month of December!

Forget the Scale

I started taking measurements once I stopped taking a medication that was causing some weight gain even with Ironman training and cleaning up my diet. I reached a weight I never thought I would see, but there it was on the scale: 152 lbs. on my 5’4″ frame. 


I train over ten hours a week, so was all this extra weight disguised as muscle mass? My clothes started to get tight in all the wrong places, so that led me to believe that it was more than that: I was getting fat. But how? The weight kept tipping the scale over the last three years I had been on that medication, so it was time to reassess why I was taking it. 

The next day, I made an appointment with my doctor to discuss weaning myself off of the meds that caused my weight to slowly creep up. I also fished out the measuring tape deep in my sewing kit and measured my hips, waist, chest, biceps, and quads and wrote those down too. To keep myself from obsessing over these numbers and the scale, I decided to take the measurements once every three months. Then, I hid the scale deep under our bed so that I actually had to lie down and use a broomstick to retrieve it. 

And you know what? It worked. Since February of this year, I’ve lost 7 of the 15 pounds I gained over three years, but I’ve also lost over 13 inches. Even though the scale has yet to budge since August, and I’m stuck at 144-145 lbs. now, I still lost an additional two inches! What? 

So, the scale can take a hike. I’ll continue to log measurements once every three months to follow the muscle, and maybe check in with the dreaded scale to see if it too complies with the measurements… or not. Whatever you decide to do, remember that you are not a before or after, but are training your body for a race, swim, bike, or run. If you give your body time and appreciate it’s hard work instead of thinking you’re out of shape all the time, your body will see you through. You are perfect as you are right now. 

Represent Women

I find numbers fascinating. One number that sticks in my head is 37. It’s not the answer to life, the universe, and everything like 42, but it’s the percent of female athletes in the sport of triathlon.

Thirty-seven percent. Women make up fifty-one percent of the population and have begun to dominate the running world, slowly at forty-four percent for the marathon distance; however, women make up for what they lack in numbers as seen in the recent New York City Marathon where American women performed better than expected with four U.S. women placing in the top ten. Shalane Flanagan placed third and got on the podium once again (last year, she placed first), which is a huge feat.

So, why only thirty-seven percent in triathlon? Gwen Jorgenson won gold in Rio in 2016 for triathlon, but didn’t seem to inspire lots of women to join the sport. As for cycling, women make up about 25% of riders, and for open water swimming women only make up 37%, the same as it is for the sport of triathlon. I can’t bear to look at the numbers for African Americans in triathlon: it’s .5% in case you’re wondering. POINT 5%. But that’s another post.

In the U.S., Title IX didn’t allow for girls’ teams until 1972, which kept my mom and the women who came before me from participating in organized sports–we had few role models because adult women we knew weren’t on any teams of any kind, didn’t run in road races, etc. Because of Title IX, I was on my high school’s first girls’ soccer team in 1992 when I was a junior in high school. We had swimming, track, and other sports, but soccer was late to the game even though we had a boys’s team prior to 1992. I’d like to say we’ve come a long way, but there is still a long way to go, especially in the sport of triathlon with only 37% participation for women.

What keeps women out of the sport? Intimidation? Time? Money? Work and family obligations? A bigger problem is that women currently in the sport don’t give themselves enough credit: women apologize before they even begin group rides or runs even though the guys don’t care.

This has to stop, and I know I’m guilty of this too. I often apologize for the few group rides I go on, not expecting anyone to wait for me. I let other swimmers go ahead of me in a lane even though I may be faster. I pick up the rear in runs when I want to give up. I plan to change these attitudes about the three disciplines with myself, and I would love to see other women stop apologizing, get some more friends, and get into the sport so that we represent ourselves properly. Maybe then that 37% will go up to 51% like it should.