Fun with cycle training rollers and SWIMTAG

After several months, I finally decided to pump up the tyres on my road bike and take it for a spin. However, I wasn’t too keep on going out on the road and didn’t fancy the turbo so before I sat in the saddle, I bought some cycle training rollers. I went for the Tacx Antares as a few friends had recommended them and they were reasonably priced. I’ve subsequently read that there may be a design fault which means that the bearings get noisy quite soon in their life so will be keeping an eye on that and potentially purchasing some spare bearings if outside warranty from Simply Bearings  and following the advice on John’s Cycling Diary.

Having ordered the rollers, they arrived the following day and I waited until the evening to try them out. Having heard of many a fall from grace on people’s first attempts at using rollers, I made sure I was nestled up close to a wall and with a chair on the other side just in case I needed something to grab hold of. Wise move!

Of course, the first challenge was getting on the bike once it was on the rollers. This involved balancing precariously on a stool in my cycling shoes. That was almost an accident waiting to happen in itself. Fortunately, I managed it without breaking an ankle and I could maneuvere myself onto the bike, clip in and then hug the wall for dear life before starting to pedal.

At first, all the bike would do would slip diagonally away from me as I slid down the wall. However, by resting on my elbow, I could get the bike upright and start pedaling… and pedaling and pedaling. If you stop pedaling, showtime is over – unless you’re videoing yourself for You’ve Been Framed or YouTube!

It certainly took a little getting used to using the rollers and there were several whoa moments. I rode off the rollers a couple of times and was saved by the carefully placed chair. However, I did get the hang of it and managed to roll (?) for 20 minutes and cover about 9.5km (average speed 28.3kmph).

It’s fairly clear where I had my ‘whoa’ moments below!!



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I enjoyed being in the rollers far more than the turbo. Trying to keep balanced was quite a challenge and it meant much more concentration was required. Holding the handlebars loosely also helped as did looking ahead rather than down.

After I got off the bike, I did a 25 minute run on the treadmill; my first brick session of the year.

Today, I decided to make up (partly) for missing Wednesday morning’s STC swim session (due to feeling the onset of man-flu) by going to the pool. Halfway there, I realised that I’d forgotten my Garmin. I have been known to turn around and go home but thought that it was worth carrying on anyway and swimming naked (e.g. without a Garmin!) However, I then remembered SWIMTAG which is a wristband with similar sensors to Poolmate and Garmin Swim which Fleming Park have recently introduced which gym and swim members can use whilst, er, swimming.

The SWIMTAG captures many of the same metrics as the Garmin Swim and 910XT but has no start/stop or lap buttons and no display. At first, I thought that I’d miss seeing my pace, etc, but soon changed my mind.

Having got changed, it was time to get into the water. It was nice not to have to worry about setting up the activity mode and tell the Garmin I was indoors, I simply got in the water with the SWIMTAG and started swimming. It worked out what my stroke was, how many strokes I was taking, when I got to the end of the pool, etc, etc. It also worked out when I was stationary and therefore taking rest breaks. On the Garmin, you have to set a rest period by pressing the lap button at the start and end and it then works out from the fact that you’re not accelerating/decelerating or taking strokes that you must be on a rest break. The SWIMTAG worked this out without needing to be ‘told’.

Because I couldn’t see the stats (as the SWIMTAG has no display), there was no opportunity to get excited about a fast lap or disappointed by the slow laps. I could just swim and not worry. It was actually quite liberating. Using the Garmin 910XT (or Garmin Swim) can be quite a faff. Remembering to set the right mode, setting the pool length, remembering to start it, pause it, stop it, hoping it’ll work out what stroke I’m doing all detracts a little from the swimming. I have been known to forget to start the Garmin, push off from the wall and then stop swimming so I could start the Garmin and try again. With the SWIMTAG, that wouldn’t happen. Far more opportunity to concentrate on swimming whilst still having stats to show progress. The only downside is that the SWIMTAG doesn’t record the data in a format that is compatible with Garmin Connect so I’ve had to summarise my swim stats for that. However, as I’d forgotten the Garmin anyway, at least I have some stats.

Swimming – gradual improvements

Over the course of the year to date, running has taken a backseat to swimming and although I’ve run 2 – 3 times a week, my focus has been on getting to the pool.

The impetus has really been the STC swim sessions and I’ve tried to get to 2 of these a week. In fact, this week, I’m planning in going to 3 of the sessions.

I’ve started to see improvements and SWILF scores are generally heading in the right direction and have gone from 50% ish to sub-45. I’ve even hit scores of 41-42% which I’m really pleased about. I do have to remind myself at times that the lower SWOLF scores may be due to wearing fins or using a pull-buoy but the scores above are genuine non-assisted efforts.

There’s little chance that I’d have improved my swimming efficiency by just going swimming. The technique drills and other sets of the STC sessions really work.

A week or so ago, I was promoted to lane 2 and felt like a, er, fish out of water. At this Monday’s session, I was the slowest in the lane but not by a big margin.

My two issues have been EVF (early vertical forearm) and bilateral breathing. I’m working on both and hope to see some positive improvements in the coming weeks.

With regards bilateral breathing, I’m trying to incorporate it in slower lengths or when using fins or a pull buoy. Although this accounts for only about 15-20% of a session, it’s progress. I’ll continue to do the same until it’s a completely natural part of my stroke.

To try and improve my technique, I’ve been incorporating strength and conditioning sessions at home based on exercises outlined in the book ‘Swimming Anatomy’. I’m really making a concerted effort to build some upper-body strength to help my swimming. I have most of the equipment that’s recommended in the book including dumbbells, resistance bands, gym ball, weighted bar and pull up bar plus I supplement the workouts with some kettlebell exercises.

Working from home gives me a few opportunities during the day to throw in some exercise.

It’s not been in vain as, although I’ve never had much in the way of upper-body muscle and am quite pigeon-chested, I’ve noticed a few muscles sprouting in recent weeks. My shoulders and arms are looking a little less weedy than normal. The spare tyre is still very much in existence but I’m hoping that might slowly disappear over the coming weeks and months.

One of the negative aspects of swimming more is that I’m suffering more from a related allergy. Following a swim session, my nose can alternate from being blocked up to running like a tap. Although many experience this is ‘chlorinated’ pools, I also suffer from it after a lake swim so it can’t be chemicals. The fact that I suffer for the entire period between swim sessions with cold-like symptoms is far from great. Having googled the issue, the overwhelmingly-suggested solution is a nose clip. Although I do tend to breath out through my nose when doing front crawl, I’m going to have to adapt this as a clear nose is far more important. Will be trying the nose clip today. Fingers crossed.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve tried to burn off a few excess grams by getting on the treadmill for about 30-45 minutes. Last night I did a pyramid session consisting of 1km intervals with 3 minutes rest with the intervals being at 10kmph, 10.5kmph, 11kmph. 10.5kmph and 10kmph. I plan to do a double pyramid session next week and will play around with shorter rest intervals.

Little running, no cycling but some swimming

This is my first post since returning from the Alps and from a training perspective, things haven’t been ideal.

Working for a florist takes its toll at this time of year with 3 peak events within 3 months (Christmas, Valentines Day and Mothers Day). The extra hours needed to ensure that these events go smoothly means that something has to give and that tends to be training. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work well with the spring events I’ve got lined up.

In the last month, I’ve done little real running to speak of and any chance of long runs has been squished. I really need to get out and do some long runs if I’ve a hope of completing or even getting to the start line of the Brighton Marathon on the 6th April. Before then, I’ve got two other races to focus on too (Reading Half Marathon and Eastleigh 10K) although by virtue of the fact that they are shorter races, there’s more chance of completing enough runs to get to the start line in reasonable shape.

In order to put some miles under my belt for Brighton, I’ve set myself the following long run goals for the next 7 weeks:

  • Week 1: 15km (20km)
  • Week 2: 20km (25km)
  • Week 3: 15km (30km)
  • Week 4: 35km
  • Week 5: 25km
  • Week 6: 15
  • Week 7: race

Week 4 looks very challenging and I may have to make week 3 more of an intermediate distance between 20km and 35km as shown in backets. That’s if I get the time to do those long runs.

I’ve not set foot on my bike (or should I say bum on saddle) on the road since the Wiggle Sportive last year! I simply haven’t found the time. Must, must, must find the time!

However, things are going better with my swimming and that’s entirely down to the great Southampton Tri Club sessions. Due to other commitments, I’ve not been to as many as I’d like but did manage to make two of the sessions last week; the Wednesday morning session and the Saturday morning session which I’ve not done before. The later was really good and I felt as if I was making good progress.

That feeling was short lived though after attending Monday evening’s session at the Quays. Due to a small number of swimmers in lanes 1 and 2 (slow and intermediate respectively), I was moved up to lane 2 to join Donna and another lady. Our instructor was Steve Cooke who was the instructor for my first STC swim session.

We started off with 2 x 100m front crawl warmup and then did various with paddles, fins and catchup before doing 2 x 200m front crawl. I’m not sure why but I felt like I’d lost all my technique. Steve picked up on two aspects of my technique that were in need of work. These were bilateral breathing and early vertical forearm. Neither of these issues came as any surprise as I’ve known I struggle to breath bilaterally (e.g. to each side) since I returned to the pool about 18 months ago. I’m not entirely sure what the issue is but it could be a combination of the following:

  • too little rotation on my left hand side
  • not creating a bow wave and trough in which to breath on my left hand side
  • feeling the need to breath every second stroke

However, I’m going to work at this so that I feel confident breathing bilaterally as I know it’ll make my stroke more balanced and help in open water swimming too.

As for early vertical forearm, I’ve been working on this over the last few weeks but it’s clear there’s still more work to do. It’s something I do when concentrating and not tired but tend to lose it towards the end of a session. Again, it’s a weakness and one I will work on.

Having said all of the above and although I was disappointed in my ability at the session, I was swimming faster than ever before and hit SWOLF scores of 42-43 for the front crawl sets (without paddles or fins) which is a big improvement. This appears to be due to getting quicker (between 5 and 15 seconds per 100m) and needing fewer strokes. With improved technique, more strength and with more weight loss, a sub-40 SWOLF seems achievable and that’s definitely my next goal.

With STC help (hopefully I won’t be relegated to lane 1 next week) and more practice, I can hopefully work on the technique. I’ve also bought ‘Swimming Anatomy‘ which is a great book of lots of exercises to improve strength for swimming. I’m incorporating these into daily or bi-daily strength and conditioning sessions at home which will hopefully help turn my weedy looking body that’s plagued me all my life into something looking slightly more athletic. If I can regain control of my ‘comfort’ and boredom eating, I may be able to lose some weight too and thereby lose the flubber that I carry around my waist! In fact, I’ve just done a waist measurement.. 39 inches! Scary. Want that to be 4-5 inches less and that’ll mean focusing on eating properly and cutting out the Fruit Corner yoghurts! ARGH!!!

To save me losing it, here’s a half distance triathlon plan.