January 2015 - Run for the Thrills


Get Kicking – Perfect the Swim Kick

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On Friday I attended the first session of the swim clinic that I have mentioned in my past posts.  It was encouraging and challenging.  We went back to the basics of the freestyle stroke, starting with the swim kick.  A strong kick gives the swimmer propulsion through the water and is often what differentiates a strong swimmer from a weaker swimmer.  The kick is however, often neglected by triathletes.  Triathletes reason that they will save their legs for the upcoming sports of cycling and running.  Wolf emphasized that to ignore the kick is to lose about a third of the power in the swim.  The take home lesson: Get Kicking. It all starts with a strong kick – the engine that should be pushing you forward.  Check out triathlete article:  “Why it’s Important to conquer the kick“.

To kick properly, the swimmer must kick from the hips.  Knees should not be locked nor bent.  On the up kick, the knee bends slightly and on the down kick it straightens. The strength comes from the hip, not the knee.  Use the full leg to kick.  Next, focus on the feet and ankles.  Keep feet relaxed, extend your ankles and point your toes.  Having lose, flexible ankles assists with the kick, allowing feet to flutter up and down quickly.  Watch a helpful video illustrating a powerful kick.

Wolf had us kick like we had never kicked before!   We kicked and kicked some more: – with one flutter board; with a perpendicular flutter board to create a lot of resistance in the water; with two flutter boards balanced one under each hand; on our side with one hand balanced on a flutter board and one arm at our side….


The Swim Kick Challenge:

At the conclusion of our session, Wolf left us with a challenge to improve our swim by targeting our kick.  The challenge is to work up to 20 x 100m kick on 3min (and then reduce the pace time – 2:45, then 2:30, 2:15….)

My Kick Challenge:

I heard the challenge and set out the next morning to work on my technique and specifically on my kick.

I managed 10 x 100m kick on 2:15.  My legs felt like jelly after that workout.  20 x 100 sounds simply frightening  My goal is to work up to the 20 x 100m kick on 2:15 by June!


We also started work on our arms, focusing on arm entry and completing the pull stroke.  I will focus specifically on freestyle pull in the next article.  Benefit first hand from the clinics and join me next Friday to work on your freestyle stroke and have your swim video recorded.

For more details, and to register, go to the Aktiv Life website.

wolf clinic feature

Interview with Wolfgang Guembel

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In my last post I mentioned that I will be attending a series of swim clinics put on by Active Life. I have been working on my swimming technique for about a year now and I’m excited to get some new feedback and tips.

I caught up with Wolfgang Guembel, who runs the swim clinics, to talk to him about what has made him a successful swimmer and triathlete, and what to expect at his clinics.


J: Wolf, for people who don’t know you, can you talk about your athletic journey?

W: Well, since 2003 I made a career of racing triathlon and being a faster swimmer was paramount. I swam for Laurentian University, then Waterloo, and the University of Birmingham with the UK National Junior Team coach, with the Munich team at the Olympic Park, then with Western and their coach who went to the Olympics for Canada in the 1500.  This was followed by six years living and training every winter in Florida at the National Training Center with many of the best triathletes and swimmers in the World.
As a competitor I had overall wins including the Steelhead 70.3, the Muskoka Chase, Strongman Japan, (and course records in Windsor, Welland, and Peterborough) and many others.  More often than winning overall, coming out of the water first was almost a signature.  I lead Chris Maccormack (Ironman World Champion) out of the water at Nevis 111, Jarrod Shoemaker (US Olympian) at the Florida Great Escape tri, was first out at Ironman Arizona and Strongman Japan twice, and swam nearly every Ironman swim under 50min.
This came from logging up to 70,000m of swimming in the pool a week at my peak of swim training.

J: Wow, that’s pretty impressive.

W: Thank you!

J: And have you always been a swimmer?

W: Well, I swam as a young kid, but quit in grade 9.

J: But you were still athletic?

W: Yes, but I didn’t take endurance sports seriously until the third year of my undergrad.  At the end of my first year of engineering at Waterloo I weighed in at just under 200lbs at 5’11” and couldn’t do a full chin up on my own. It took me several years to build endurance, strength, and develop better nutrition and eating habits.

J: But once you started you just kept at it?

W: Yes. From all of this I understand what it feels like to start from literal scratch.  I know what it feels like to be uncomfortable walking on deck in a bathing suit surrounded by lean, mean FAST athletes.  I know what it feels like to swim 400m and need to take a break. I know what it’s like to suffer, to be last, to be lapped, and I know what it’s like to spend a year focusing on a weakness and not see major improvements. But I kept at it.

J: So what would you say has most contributed to your success as triathlete?

W: Well, some of the most important skills I learned in swimming, biking, and running came from filtering out the foundational principles of all three sports.

J: What do you mean by foundational principals?

W: It’s simply this: if you talk to 10 swim coaches you’ll get 10 different ideas of what to do with your thumbs, your roll, your hands.  Same is true for 10 different running coaches, or cycling coaches.  Many, many, coaches and books and blogs have their ‘secret recipe’. You see this year after year when athletes ‘switch coaches’ or switch diets.  There’s always a ‘new coach’ or a new ‘training plan’ or some magic solution.  Diets are the same… Paleo, wheat free, no gluten, no sugar… we’re in a constant search for the ultimate tool.
The reality is, there are some fundamental concepts to swimming (and running and cycling) that are universal to all fast and successful swimmers and coaches.  The key is to focus on the founding, or “first” principles of swimming and develop those first.  “Style” and preference elements can evolve later as you become a better athlete.

J: So a “Wolfgang” swim clinic focuses on those principles.

W: (Laughing.) Yes. When you attend a “Wolfgang” swim clinic, you’re exposed to the founding principles of endurance swimming as a whole.  Holding water, balance, breathing, feeling water, and leveraging your own physical strength to swim fast and build additional strength and endurance. Fins, paddles, snorkels, bands, mirrors, and buoys are all fun and cool, but effectively meaningless if you don’t have a solid handle on the foundational principles. A swim clinic with Wolf is like no other, and it leaves you with an understanding and skill set that you can take with you to every solo swim workout or masters workout you ever do in the future, making every lap you do that much more productive.

J: Thanks, Wolf, for talking with me!

W: My pleasure. I look forward to seeing you at the clinics!


Wolfgang Guembel’s Activ Life swim clinics are on various Friday Mornings from 6:00 to 7:30 at the Boys & Girls Club in Niagara Falls, starting on January 23rd. For more details, and to register, go to his website.

swimming campfeature

Swim Technique Perfection

Posted by | Events, Triathlon Training | 4 Comments

As a long time runner, it has been incredibly enjoyable to start training as a swimmer.  It has been very rewarding to see myself improving with continued practice and with the input of coaches who are able to observe and correct my swim technique.  In learning a new sport it is obvious that there is the need for learning correct technique.  A non-swimmer would never just jump into the water and hope that with enough thrashing around, they will miraculously learn prize-winning form.  For the more experienced swimmer it is still essential to set aside time to focus on perfecting technique.  An inefficiency in technique will hinder performance in swimming more so than in any of the other triathlon sports.  Of all the sports, there is the greatest expenditure of energy in swimming over a set distance.  Water is nearly a thousand times denser than air, with the water creating a huge amount of resistance for the body to push through.  We are naturals on land – running being something we have done from the moment most of us could get up on our two feet.  We do not naturally have the shape or instincts of fish to move ourselves gracefully through the water (unless you are Michael Phelps!).

In training for multiple sports, I need to ensure that I am not wasting any energy in poor, inefficient form.  I am training for an event that will take me across 3.8 km of water, swimming; 180km of road on the bike and then 42.2km of land running.  I want all my energy going forwards to get me to that finish line.  Time to ensure that my technique is smooth and seamless and all my precious energy is being used to get me to my goal!

Triathletes often think that simply working harder and trying more will make them faster.  This strategy does not work in the water – thrashing about can make one slower! Inefficient form will dramatically increase the drag in the water.  To improve on swimming, learning how to streamline your body position will greatly improve swim times.  According to “the Triathlete’s training Bible” by Joe Friel, scientific studies have found that reducing drag has the potential to produce greater gains in swimming than improving aerobic and anaerobic fitness.

Time to get to a swim clinic and have an expert watch and record your swim stroke and start working on becoming more streamlined in the water.  Reduce the turbulence around the body and start cutting through the water gracefully and effortless, conserving energy to go the distance with speed and style.

I will be attending a series of swim clinics with Wolfgang Guembel and reporting on the valuable information I gain through this practical series.  Even better – join me if you are able, at the swim clinics and have an expert critique your stroke and do a thorough video analysis on your swim technique.

swim clinic
This is the first article in a series on good technique, starting with swimming.  I look forward to reporting all the valuable information that I gain in the upcoming weeks.  The first clinic is on Friday January 23rd at the Boys and Girls Club in Niagara Falls.  Check out details at Aktiv Life. 





Why Make Running Goals?

Posted by | Balanced Runner, Training, Why I Run | No Comments


Time to make running goals and resolutions for 2015…

How many people still make New Year’s Resolutions? Has goal-making gone out of fashion?  It seems that the fear of not accomplishing their goals prevents many people from even making them. If they do not make a goal, presumably, they cannot “fall off the wagon” and they will not be disappointed.

I propose the opposite. I think you will be much more disappointed in your year if you do not make any goals at all.  Sure, you may fail, but you may also achieve something phenomenal that you would not have done at all, had you not dreamed and reached for an ambitious goal.  AND if you do fail, you will most definitely have learned many valuable lessons along the way and grown as an individual.  To try is to grow and learn.

When I look back over my running and training goals, I see how much I have gained from challenging myself with new dreams and aspirations.  In 2014, I had two very specific running and training goals.  One that I did not fully accomplish, and one that I accomplished with flying colours.  I have no regrets and I am pleased that I made both those goals.

Athletic Goals – become a faster runner, swimmer, cyclist:  Specifically –

  1. sub 3 hour Boston Marathon
  2. Successfully complete my first triathlon – Half Ironman

I ran the Boston Marathon in April 2014 and had a great time.  I completed it in 3:06:48  – NOT a sub 3 hour marathon.  Had I made too ambitious a goal?  I do not think so.  I think I could potentially have achieved the time, with smarter racing on the day—I went out too quick.  Still, I am glad I made that goal and I am not devastated that I did not accomplish that time.  It reminds me how challenging the Marathon is and how amazing it is to reach those hard-to-get times.  I have run a sub-three-hour marathon elsewhere, but not at Boston.

I completed my first ever Half Ironman triathlon in September in Muskoka.  It was a thrill and I felt strong throughout most of the race (the last 5km of the run were tough!).  I did what I wanted to do and even had the bonus of coming first in my age group.  It was a special day and so much training had gone into that event.  It was one of the thrilling moments in my life—the swim, bike and run felt euphoric at times.  I loved the whole 5 hour experience!  I do not take for granted that I completed this goal—on another day, with poor conditions, or if I had been fighting illness, the result could have been very different.  This was a gift.

Announcing one’s goals publicly can be frightening.  People may hold you accountable and ask how things are progressing.  (James has found this with his Fit by Forty goal!) You will probably achieve your goals, or you may not.  Do not let fear stop you from experiencing new and exciting adventures in 2015.

Make SMART goals!

Specific: Saying, “Get in Shape” is not specific enough.  You need to specify how frequently and how long you will workout or have a clear end goal, such as run a half marathon.

Measurable: You must be able to clearly identify when and how you have accomplished your goal.  It can be a body weight goal; a specific race distance or specific target race time.

Attainable:  With a clear plan and specific steps, most goals can be attainable given an appropriate time frame.  Make a plan so the goal is attainable!

Realistic:  The goal needs to be something you can actually do.  However, do not be deceived; often a challenging goal is more likely to be accomplished than a very simple one, as it will take true commitment and hard work.  What matters is how motivated you are to achieving your goal – with hard work, you will be must more likely to achieve your goals.

Timely:  You need to set a time frame to achieve your goal.  without a time limit there is no urgency and you are far less likely to work towards your goal.

GOALS for 2015

Go ahead and create a new goal for 2015.  Do you need to try something new?  Do you want to go faster?  Do you want to go further?  Dream and go for it.

My goal for 2015 is to complete my first Full Ironman.  I thank my friend for challenging me to pursue this dream!