Mom, We Made It! Storm The Trent Adventure Race

Posted by | Balanced Runner, Events, Training, Why I Run | 2 Comments

Storm the Trent Adventure Race – A one of a kind adventure!  It was a day of fun, mud, puddles, bushwhacking, nonstop precipitation, perseverance and team bonding. This race was not for the faint of heart.  This race required embracing whatever nature threw our way and I am proud to have faced it with my friend Nate and our 14 year old sons, Caleb and Ben. Storm the Trent took place outside of Peterborough in the town of Warsaw, with three different distances for different abilities.  We embarked on the mid-sized, Trek Race.  The details of the event were kept under wraps until we arrived Saturday morning. Due to the forecast of rain all day, the canoe paddle portion was scheduled first.

Here is our adventure race recap – Team:  Mom R We There Yet? completed the 60 km race in muddy glory, non-stop rain and successfully found all 13 Check Points :

  1. Canoe Paddle: Caleb and I worked as a team in one canoe; Nate in Ben in a second canoe.  It was a mass start in the river with major congestion as everyone paddled along the river to the first check point (CP1) and used our electronic chips to check in at floating stations.  A 180 degree turn and a hard paddle back to the start point was successfully executed.  One canoe capsized en-route, due to the congestion.
  2. Mountain Bike – Section 1: We pulled the canoe out of the water, transitioned to our cycling gear (life jackets removed) electronically checked in at CP2 and headed out as a team on our four mountain bikes.  This section involved locating one unstaffed Check Point (CP30) and finding our way to CP4 with only one wrong turn along the way – thank you to Ben for guiding us the correct way!
  3. Run 1 and Locating Maps:  At CP4 we transitioned to our first run section.  Along this out and back run to Rotten Lake, we needed to locate four maps off the trail (using a satellite map of the run route) which provided vital information required for a later run section where we needed to find four hidden check points.  Caleb and Ben were in charge of recording the information found at the four map stops – a permanent marker and a waterproof map bag were essential during this section as the rain increased in intensity.  At Rotten Lake we checked in electronically again (CP31) and we were back off running to our bikes.
  4. Mountain Bike Section 2:  This was a long intense mountain bike portion of the adventure race.  Mud, rocks, puddles, streams and twists and turns made this a very challenging ride. Rain continued to pour down on us relentlessly. We cycled through puddles that were so deep that we were literally up to our knees in water.  Sometimes we made it through the puddles, sometimes we fell. I have never cycled through water like this before.  We did our utmost to cycle through the rocky terrain, but for some sections we resorted to walking and running with our bikes, after several falls and a bloody knee. This was challenging for the most experienced of mountain bikers, which sadly, we are not!   Three more electronic check points were reached during this ride portion and finally we made it to the second run section.  At this point we were fully drenched, mud caked and cold.
  5. Run 2 and Orienteering: Transitioning to the run was a relief, however, getting running shoes on was extremely challenging as finger dexterity was gone. My “easy” laces were not so easy and I could not open my shoes.  My lovely teammate Nate even tried to use her teeth to loosen my laces – with much assistance I finally got my trail runners on and we were off searching for four hidden checkpoints.  Here we used the information that we had gathered earlier, during our last run. It took us a while to find the first check point; that success boosted our spirits! The running warmed my numb feet and a caffeine power gel energized Ben, who had been fading during the last bike.  With all of our spirits rejuvenated, we were off running as a team to find the next check point in the creek bed (very hidden).  Thankfully other teams helped us find the check point.  Next we were bushwhacking with our compass to find the third check point.  After being lost for several minutes, Caleb got us back on track and we successfully orienteered to the last two check points along this run route.  Then it was a quick run back to the bikes – a switch of the shoes – and we were off riding again –
  6. Mountain Bike Section 3:  This was our third and last mountain bike ride; this one to the finish.  This section consisted of dirt and paved roads, a huge relief after the technical sections we had navigated through during the last ride.
  7. The Finish LINE:  Team:  Mom R We There Yet? made it across the finish line in 5 hours and 45 minutes. (race results to be posted at


We finished together as friends, mothers and sons.

Thank you to my awesome team-mates for their great attitudes and persistence.  Each one of us had our highs and lows along the route, but we stuck together.  As a group we suffered only one bloody knee, many falls in mud and puddles, one blood sugar crash at around the three hour mark and one stuck shoe – not bad for a tough race! – no major casualties and another successful adventure accomplished!


Training for Life: Adventure Race Preparations

Posted by | Balanced Runner, Events, Training | 2 Comments

Canoeing! Kayaking! Cycling! Trail Running!

It was a great day in Niagara for the four person team training for Storm the Trent—an adventure race that involves trail running, mountain biking and canoeing.  Today the team of four was in intense training mode.  The team is called “Mom R we there yet?” and is made up of two mothers and their 14 year old sons:  Karen, Ben, Caleb and myself.  Today we had a taste of all three sports spread throughout the day and we are hopeful that we will survive this event, only a mere three weeks away on May 14th!  Today was our first time out on the water in the canoe, so it was an important test for us.  We managed to canoe approximately 4km around Martindale Pond, almost half of the 9 kilometers that we will have to do on race day.

This is such an exciting event to be doing as team.  The adventure involves challenging ourselves physically – we will be engaging in three sports, only one of which we are all comfortable with (trail running).  The next challenge is to work well together as a team throughout the whole experience.  There will be times to be light-hearted and joke around (Ben and Caleb have this down!) and then there will be times to be supportive and serious, such as when someone is  having difficulty with an element of the race.  Learning when to goof off and when to be quiet may take some practice for the 14 year old boys!

In most races, going hard and being the fastest is the goal. In this team event, however, being being the fastest solo athlete is not the mission.  Our objective is to be a cohesive team and do the best we can all together.  We are not going for speed records here (at least not this year!). Throughout the race we all need to be within 100m of each other at all times.  The team element is so vital for the success of the event that there are five core principles clearly stated for all teams to adhere to:

  1. I do not leave my teammates behind me
  2. I keep my teammates within visible sight at all times
  3. I look after my teammates, and expect them to do the same for me
  4. My teammates and I form a unit – we do not move faster if we separate
  5. If for any reason one of my teammates cannot continue, I will stay with them until they are safely off the course

“The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts” – our goal as a team made up of friends and family is to work together, utilizing all of our collective talents and abilities to build each other up and keep motivated for the duration of the 42km biking, 9km running and 9km canoeing!

Easily done!


This is insane and I love it! Being a part of an event like this is going to be something I tell my kids to prove how sprightly and crazy I was “back in the day”. Not to say that this event won’t be challenging, but I strongly believe that we are going to have some real fun completing it –  the “I’m dying, make it stop” kind of fun. The thing I’m most mortified of is having two triathlete mothers (especially the ever intense Janine) preforming alongside Ben and myself; if the race doesn’t kill us, they just might! On the flip side, I’m really looking forward to the mountain biking aspect, speeding down a single track trail with my cross bike and huffing up hills is my idea of fun. It’s a bit out of my comport zone but then again, if it wasn’t, what would be the point of doing it in the first place? On the whole, I’m going to be incredibly happy to preform in this race, but I think I’ll also be incredibly happy to cross the finish line and then take a nap. (Also, “Hi mom! I’m on your blog!”)

Getting ready to swim

20 Things you can Learn by Doing an Ironman

Posted by | Events, Training, Triathlon Training, Why I Run | No Comments

Now that the IRONMAN is completed, I can fill you in on many new and valuable insights:

Things you can learn doing an Ironman:

  1. Many people think I am talking about a Superhero, when I refer to the Ironman.
  2. Doing an Ironman brings about a feeling of Euphoria for days!
  3. A pedicure is not a luxury but an necessity after completing an Ironman.
  4. Doing an Ironman is like childbirth – You think you will never want to do it again, and as soon as it is over you are ready to sign up for more!
  5. You have to keep on going…
  6. Doing an Ironman requires the support of friends, family, training partners, bike mechanics and health care professions.  Many people are needed to accomplish this feat.
  7. It is worth persevering.
  8. Impossible goals can be accomplished.
  9. Pursuing a huge goal and then completing it provides a well of strength that supports other areas of your life.
  10. You can keep on going….
  11. It is a gift to be able to swim, bike and run. If you have the ability to do these sports, do it! It is a privilege to be able to do these sports.  Ask someone who has lost any of these abilities and they will tell you to get out there and use what you have!
  12. Anything is possible.  I did not believe I could do the Ironman when I started training. It seemed impossible.
  13. You really can pee on a bike if you have to (the other one is not recommended).
  14. Putting compression socks on after swimming is a bad idea.  Purchase the calf sleeves!
  15. It is an incredible joy to exercise for an entire day.
  16. If you can adjust your schedule to train for an Ironman, you can adjust your schedule to suit any priority, if you want it badly enough. (Thank you Sheri Penner for this point)
  17. You really can keep going…
  18. Extreme perseverance is developed in training for an Ironman.
  19. You get to know your training partners very well!  Early mornings, all day training sessions…you see them at their best and their worst!
  20. Just keep going… you can do this!
  21. Completing an Ironman is something that I will treasure for my whole life. It is awesome to be an IRONWOMAN!
ironwoman feature

Here She Is, The IRONWOMAN!

Posted by | Events, Triathlon Training | 13 Comments

Let me tell you about my ironwoman wife, Janine.

If you’ve talked to her at all in the past nine months, you know that she has been training for her first full Ironman Triathlon. She’s been training a lot. Many, many early mornings, getting up at 5:00am to go swim, or bike, or run while I slept in our nice warm bed. Sometimes she’d come home from her morning workout and I hadn’t even realized that she had left.

Anyway, after a total of 443 hours of training (or 18 and a half days straight), on September 13th, at the Challenge Family Cedar Point Triathlon, she did it. She completed the IRONMAN in 11:39:27.

I was so excited for her that I wanted to write this article for her, just so I could brag for her a bit. So here’s the race-day report: this is how my beautiful wife, Janine, completed a 3.86 km swim, 180.25 km bicycle ride and 42.2 km run, all in one day, in under 12 hours.

* * *

On the Friday before the race, Janine drove down to Sandusky, Ohio, with her good friend and training partner, Karen “Nate” Natho. Nate was the one who had been waking up at 5am to train with her for many months now. In fact, it was Nate who had initially convinced Janine to sign up for the full Ironman distance; previously Janine had thought maybe she’d do a full Ironman in the future at some point, but did not really have any clear plans.

“I really wasn’t sure I’d ever do a full Ironman until I actually signed up for Cedar Point,” Janine told me. We had both heard about the Ironman race twenty years ago when we were working together at a Running Room store in Toronto. When I saw how long the race was (you have to do a FULL MARATHON after at least 8 hours of swimming and biking?!) I was slightly horrified; Janine was impressed and inspired. At that point, it was still something for super-athletes; not something she actually considered ever doing herself. In the intervening years, Janine has done 11 full marathons and more half marathons than she can count. But it took twenty years for her to get the confidence to sign up for the full Ironman.

And then she had signed up. And then done all that training. And now she was on her way.

I would be there to watch her and cheer, but we decided to travel separately so Janine could stay in a hotel with Nate while I stayed in a campsite. That way I could take care of kids and dog, and Janine would only have to take care of herself and her gear.

So Friday. The two women drive to Ohio. And the weather is terrible: it rains most of the way there. The rain is the kind that makes it scary to drive on the highway. It’s also very windy. They make it and settle into their hotel room for a good night’s sleep.

The next day (Saturday) they bring their bikes to the race course, where they are supposed to check them in. They notice that there are huge waves on Lake Erie. They learn that the Sprint distance race, which was taking place that day, has had its swim section canceled because of the roughness of the water. They are told they can’t drop off their bikes because of the wind: there is concern that bikes left in the transition area will get blown over and damaged. They were planning to do a short trial swim on the course but they aren’t allowed; they are told that their swim might in fact be cancelled.

They drive back to the hotel room.

I arrive after my harrowing drive (it’s still raining periodically). I’ve brought our dog and our son, Caleb (the other two kids opt not to come). We meet the women in their hotel room.

The hotel room is littered with triathlon gear: there are bikes and tires and clothing spread everywhere, maps are spread out on beds, helmets hang on the backs of chairs. The room is thick with all of the excitement and anticipation and nervousness that Janine and Nate feel at this point: to be here, now, after so many hundreds of hours of training and to hear that part of your race might be cancelled, the water is too rough, a boat capsized, there’s blue algae in the marina, wait no the waves broke up the algae, ok the swim isn’t cancelled just moved, yay we can swim after all.

They relay their excitement and tell me about the weather-related drama. We make arrangements of where we will watch them, then they tuck into their cozy beds and Caleb and the dog and I drive to our campsite, set up our tent in the rain, and huddle in our sleeping bags. It’s a cold night.

Race morning. It’s cold and windy.

They get up at 4:15, bring their bikes to the course, drop off their transition bags. It’s still dark. They want to be early because the swim now has a staggered start: every five seconds they will let two swimmers go, first come first served, with the first two swimmers starting at 7:00. Athletes are milling around in their wetsuits in the cold grey morning.

At 6:40 the race directors open the swim course allowing athletes to do a swim warmup in the water. The air is cold but Janine finds the water quite pleasant. She splashes around a bit, and then it’s time to line up for the start. The sun still hasn’t quite risen.

Finally, they’re off, starting on their ironman journey by swimming out of the marina. Janine isn’t quite sure where she’s going, as they haven’t been able to swim the modified course ahead of time, so she just follows the swim cap in front of her. The water in the marina is sheltered, and she’s having a great swim. Then they go through the marina entrance and swim around the lighthouse, making their way back on the other side of the breakwater. Suddenly the waves are much bigger. Janine can see the swim cap ahead on the crest of each wave, but when she’s in the dip of each wave, she can only see the water around her. The waves push her towards the rocks of the breakwater, and she scrapes her hand on the bottom a few times, but she doesn’t care. She’s excited: she’s doing it, her first ironman. She feels great. The swim course is a double loop, so she goes back into the sheltered marina, then back around the lighthouse. This time the waves are even bigger.

Afterwards, she recalls to me how she felt: “The waves were huge… but I actually found it fun! I heard a lot of people saying how hard it was, and it was hard, but for me the overwhelming emotion was how fun it was!”

So. Swim section finished. One down, two to go.

Volunteers help Janine strip off her wetsuit (they’re called “Strippers”! haha) and she has to run almost a kilometer to the transition area, because the swim had been moved. Her hands are cold, and she has a hard time getting her compression socks on. In fact, she spends ten minutes in the transition between the swim and the bike.

Finally she is ready. She jumps on her bike and starts the long ride. She has a fancy racing helmet that a training partner had given her: he had bought it on Kijiji but it didn’t fit his head. It fits her perfectly and makes her feel even faster. The course is a double loop. She and Nate had driven the course the day before, so she recognizes landmarks, thinks of the conversations she had with Nate. She’s feeling strong and fast.

She knows that Caleb and I are waiting in the city square of a small town called Milan that the course passes through. We’re waiting there with friends: Erv and Betty Krause have made the trip to Ohio just to watch Janine’s triathlon. They are new church friends that we haven’t even known for a year yet. Janine feels incredibly blessed that they have made the effort to come for their first triathlon spectating experience. She looks forward to seeing all of us.

Before coming into the town of Milan, there is a short steep hill just around the corner from where we set up our chairs. When we see the first cyclists coming though, we see them huffing and puffing, often taking a drink or eating something. Most of them are going pretty slow after the exertion of the hill. We see the lead men breeze through, then a slow trickle after the lead pack. We cheer for all of them. There’s a small gaggle of girls cheering with us, dressed in costumes as clowns and bumblebees and ballerinas. They are shouting themselves hoarse and ringing cowbells. We sit and wait.

Then I see the pink compression socks that took Janine so long to put on: here she comes! She looks fast and strong. She gives us a wide grin and a wave, even shouts at us. I’m thrilled: she’s doing well. I’ve watched her breeze by me at many races where she barely made eye contact, especially if she was in pain. But today she doesn’t look in pain. She looks like a happy pink blur.

Erv and Betty and Caleb and I twitter together about how happy she looks, and how she waved at us, and how she’s only got two women ahead of her. Then we settle in to wait for the two hours it will take her to come around again. We’re cold unless we sit right in the sun. I wonder how Janine is feeling on the bike with the wind, and if she is as cold as I am.

She is, in fact, feeling a bit cold. She hikes up the pink arm-warmers she is wearing to try to cover her shoulders. It helps a bit. As she comes around to do the loop a second time, she gives a whoop and a cheer. Three hours in: she’s half done the bike! It’s a long time to ride on your own. Triathlons have strict no-drafting rules, so you can’t ever ride close enough to anyone else to be able to talk to them. Janine prays to help pass the time: she even prays out loud sometimes. She prays through each member of our family as she pedals and dodges potholes.

“Loved the bike course,” Janine said to me afterwards. “Loved it!” We can tell. We’re thrilled when we see her’s pink socks and arm-warmers blur past us again in Milan’s town square. This time we’re really ready for her. We cheer and call her name and take pictures and video, and she breezes through and in about 10 seconds flat she is gone again. She looks lean and mean, all grit and focus.

We gather our chairs. We have about three hours until we see her on the run course.

Janine’s transition from bike to run is much better than her transition from swim to bike. Just over two and a half minutes to get her running shoes on, and away she goes.

Bike section finished. Two down, one left.

Running is usually Janine’s strong suit, but she feels nervous about this marathon. She injured her hamstring in May, and wasn’t able to get in nearly as much mileage as she would have liked. Her longest run in training was only 32km; in the other two sports she had surpassed the distance that the ironman required. For the run she had gone 10km short of the fill distance.

Never mind. She knows how to run. Just put one foot in front of the other. Off she goes.

Meanwhile Erv and Betty and Caleb and I have gone for lunch, then come back. We find a strategic point on the run course where the athletes will pass us three times, then another three times on the second loop. We’ll get to see Janine six times. Hope she’ll be glad to see our faces.

We sit and wait. The half-ironman runners are passing – their bibs are red with white numbers. We watch for the black full-ironman bibs. It’s actually getting hot in the sun.

We notice that MANY MANY athletes are walking. Caleb sees the first place female run by. Then we see her a second time, and a third time to go off and finish her first loop. Still no Janine. We see the second place female. We wait some more. I am getting thirsty. I feel like it’s a marathon sport even being a spectator at one of these events.

Finally we see Janine’s bobbing pink socks. She runs up to us, and we hoot and holler. I run with her for a few hundred meters, just to talk a bit and encourage her. Her gait is a bit off: she seems to be limping a bit. I’ve never seen her run so slow. Her face looks pained. “I’m just trying to keep going,” she says. “I’m not fast, but I’m keeping going. Just keep going.” I can almost hear the words she is repeating to herself in her head, keep going, keep going, keep going, with every footfall, keep going, keep going.

She runs off. I don’t tell her that I’m a bit concerned for her. She’s only a third through her run. Still, she’s held on to her third place position, and she’s still running.

Nate runs by with a big grin on her face. We cheer for her. “I’m so happy,” she says.

We see Janine come by again, then a third time as she heads off to finish her first loop. She hasn’t slowed. I’m feeling better for her. She runs past us and gets to the loop point where she gets a “special needs back” of items she has packed previously. She has a fruit juice and a small bag of salt and vinegar chips. The juice is like nectar on her tongue. She wonders why she didn’t get a larger bottle. She walks for a bit while she munches on the chips, because she doesn’t want to choke on them. The walking feels good.

Maybe I can just powerwalk, she thinks. Maybe I can walk almost as fast as I can run. She starts walking. She can tell pretty quickly that she can’t walk anywhere near as quickly as she can run. She doesn’t want to start running again, but she does. Keep going, keep going, keep going.

We see her pink socks bobbing back down the road. This time she looks rough. The pain is clear on her face. This time, Caleb runs with her. He tells her to take a break at the water station just past us, and to refuel properly. She does: she decides to try to drink some Coke (they offer water, gatorade and Coke(!) at the stations). The Coke seems to hit the spot: she feels invigorated.

When we see her the second time she is looking better, and actually smiles at us as we hold up our “Go Janine Go” sign. We send her off after seeing her the third time, and hop in the car to the finish line.

The finish line is right in the Cedar Point Theme Park, with roller coasters rumbling overhead. We wait. This race lets family members run across the finish line with the athlete (how cool is that?!) so Caleb and I get ready when we see Janine coming. We jump up and follow her, cheering and yelling. I can keep up with her! Caleb is pulling our little dog along with him, and the four of us cross the finish line together.

“I did it, I did it,” Janine says, over and over. She is close to collapsing in my arms, and tears are in her eyes. I guide her over to a chair and she sits down. “I did it.”

She did it.

We’re so proud. We all surround her and hug her through the tinfoil blanket she is wrapped in. She’s the third female in spite of a very difficult run. I pull her close and kiss her forehead. She tastes salty.


Active Kids

Posted by | Events, Why I Run | No Comments

Watching my children compete in races makes my heart swell!  I truly love racing and I was so pleasantly surprised to discover that watching my kids race is as exciting (or even more exciting) than competing myself.  Having healthy, active kids is a parent’s dream.  I am thrilled that all three of my children have found sports that they love and excel at. Last summer I completed my first triathlons (ever!) and had the great joy of watching my son Caleb complete his first triathlon.  It was such a thrill.  I honestly felt like my heart was going to explode.

A couple of weeks ago, my youngest son, Elijah, completed the 5km Rankin Cancer run.  I had the joy of running with him and cheering him on as he ran the entire 5 km race (with the exception of the one water station).

The exciting news is that there are incredible opportunities right here in our Niagara region, so close to home, that our kids can participate in.  Check out these upcoming events:

Canada Day Splash and Dash in Port Dalhousie:  Events take place at Lakeside park in Port Dalhousie, with a swim in the shallow waters along the beach and a run along the waterfront to the Pier. Start times:

9:00am for 3-5 year olds – 50m swim and 400m run.

9:30am for 6-10 year olds – 100m swim, 800m run

10:00am for 11-15 year olds – 200m swim, 2km run

For more details  check out Aktiv Life.

Aktiv Swim Series for all ages:  Caleb and I completed the Aktiv swim series last year and had a wonderful time doing open water races together.  There are many distance to chose from:  500m, 750m, 1500m, 1.9 km, 3.8km.

Wednesday July 1 – Port Dalhousie

Saturday July 11 – Binbrook Conservation Area

Monday Aug 3 – Welland International Flatwater Course

Saturday Aug 8 – Port Dalhousie2015-06-02_21-34-39_logo_uid56158


Welland Triathlon – Give-It-A-Try – beginner triathlon for teens 14 years and older.  June 13 at 10:30 am

I wish you and your family a healthy, active summer.  I look forward to seeing you and yours out swimming, biking and running!


Around The Bay Shout Out!

Posted by | Events | One Comment

Around the Bay 30km road race is a classic.  It is a unique distance, the oldest road race in North America and a gathering of runners from around the province and country.  It is a celebration of having survived the winter and a great early season race to gauge where one’s fitness is currently at.  It is a challenging course—simply completing the hilly 30km is an excellent accomplishment. For me personally, it is a place where I run into runners and friends from my current life and from years past.

This year I was able to celebrate many personal bests with my training friends.  I send shout-outs to Karen Natho who beat her last time by 5min with a personal best time of 2:17.  She is ready for Boston in three weeks’ time.  Congratulations to Kirsten Tamburrino with an amazing time of 2:03, another personal best.  Tim Collins broke the elusive 2 hour mark, with a time of 1:56, yet another personal best.  Congrats to Mike Kelly for posting a 2:13 and then for  cheering on his wife Kim who ran her first ever 30km in a time of 3:08.  My friend from high school, Brian Barclay, achieved an 8 min personal best with a time of 2:22.  So many wonderful performances.

I myself did not post a personal best, finishing in 2:11. I did a solid first 15km and then struggled to maintain my pace during the second hilly, windy half.  I loved the race, however, and I was not surprised by my performance.  Although it is always disappointing to post a slower time than last year, I am very glad I raced today and I am pleased with my effort.  I knew that I had not put in quite enough fast paced training runs.  The many long runs that I have done this winter made the distance manageable, but maintaining a 4:15km pace after the first 15km was not going to happen.  I simply had not worked enough on my speed.

Racing is a sharpening experience.  This 30km race shows me my strengths and weaknesses and is useful in determining what aspects of training I need to focus on in the coming weeks.  It is motivating to push oneself and to see the incredible caliber of runners that are out there.  I am impressed with the front runners and I am impressed with the runners at the rear.  It takes such courage to try something new and complete such a long race for the first time.  Koodos to everyone who ran yesterday in the Around the Bay race.  I love experiencing this event in such a supportive community.

Finally, thank you to my family who met me at the finish and only had positive things to say.  They don’t say, “you were slower than last year!”  James and my three amazing kids made me feel like a superstar!


Pull with Power – Freestyle Pull Technique

Posted by | Events, Training, Triathlon Training | No Comments

Working on my swim technique has been exciting; as I make small changes in technique I experience a huge difference in my stoke power and swimming speed.   Two swim clinics with Aktiv Life have made a great impact on my swimming already.  I am looking forward to the next clinic this Friday!

Small changes to arm position can make a significant difference to the efficiency of the freestyle pull.  Here is the key that Wolfgang Guembel emphasized:  Keep the elbow above the hand to use the full force of the forearm to push the most amount of water to propel you forwards.  Often swimmers focus on a high elbow in the arm, before entering the water.  This is deceiving, as the key is to keep that elbow above the hand and wrist when entering and pulling THROUGH the water to ensure maximum power.  This has made a huge difference to my freestyle stroke.

A second key to stroke improvement is to lengthen the stoke.  The goal is to fully complete the arm stroke; this is the most economical stoke and produces the best results.  This is counter-intuitive to many new swimmers who think that a faster stoke, will make them swim faster.  In water, that faster, less efficient stroke means more water pushing back against the swimmer and much energy is expended in the end, without a smooth push forwards.  Research has shown that the swimmers with the longest stokes are the most economical swimmers (Joe Friel, “the Triathlete’s Training Bible”)  To practice this, start counting number of stokes per length of the pool and strive to take 10 % fewer strokes per length.  This will force  you to lengthen your stoke and focus on your form.


Swimming On Your Side: GOAL – To practice reducing drag by cutting through the water on your side and rolling the hips and shoulders to the side.  Start by doing a full length of the pool on your left side, with the left arm extended ahead of you and the right arm resting on your hip.  Switch sides for the next length.  Fins can be worn to assist with a weak kick.  Once you have mastered swimming on the side, practice rolling from one side to the other after a three-count pause on each side.  Focus  on the arm position, keeping the elbow above the hand as it enters and moves slowly through the water.

Catch Up: GOAL – To increase distance per stroke:  Focusing on one arm at a time, when the right arm is at the top part of the stroke in the water, it pauses in the position, until the left arm meets it; then stroke with the right arm, with the left arm pausing in the same position, until the right arm catches up with it; keep alternating arms, waiting for the other arm to “catch up”.  Focus on a long, full stroke with each arm.

One-Arm Freestyle:  GOAL – to increase distance per stroke:  Focusing only on one arm pulling through the water, while the other arm  rests in the water above the head, in streamline position.

Watch a video:  3 Drills to Improve Freestyle , demonstrating the above drills!

Jump into a swim clinic to practice your technique.  This Friday our swimming technique will be captured on video with the use of a professional underwater camera.  Come join us at 6am at the Boys and Girls Club in Niagara Falls.


Get Kicking – Perfect the Swim Kick

Posted by | Events, Training, Triathlon Training | No Comments

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

Posted by | Events, Training, Triathlon Training | No Comments

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.