Mary Eggers

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Coaching

Open water

It’s hard to believe that in just weeks we will be swimming open water. I promise you…. the snow will stop falling, the sun will come out and the circle of life will begin all over again.

One of my favorite feelings is passing by a tree that seems to have been destroyed by winter… and seeing a tiny purple bud. Signaling that new life is upon us. A new season. A new beginning. Getting outside, breathing the fresh air…. it’s coming. I promise.

One of the things we did in our recent swim camps was to simulate the open water experience for swimmers. Click here for the recap. We simulated mass starts, time trial starts and were able to recreate exactly what happens in open water.

The feedback was great “I was able to feel that panic about being in the middle of so many people.” and “I realized that when people hit you in open water, they don’t mean it.” Exactly.

We worked on a few different ways to navigate a buoy, how to get the wetsuit off, how to dolphin in shallow water (and why to use that technique). It really helped us re-crate the situation many athletes find themselves in.

Preparation is truly key when it comes to open water. Many athletes will swim their first open water swim of the season during their first race of the season! For many reasons this happens, the main one being that access to open water can be limited, as well as temperature of open water if it is available.

So what can you do to get yourself ready? Here are a few tips to try:

1. Swim 2-3 people across in one lane. Grab 2-3 friends of similar speeds and jump in a lane. Push off the wall and swim a few hundred yards together, 2-3 abreast. You will simulate the feeling of swimming in close quarters and learn how to deal with it.

2. Take out the lane lines and swim! This would of course need to be something your pool allows, and many do not. If you get lucky and your pool does allow this….. grab some friends and swim circles around the perimeter of the pool. The waves created will give you some semblance of open water, and really….. you only need four

3. Swim in your wetsuit. It sounds funny, and is awkward to do, but bring your wetsuit to the pool. Not for buoyancy …… but to get into it…. swim and get out of it! Have you ever tried to take a wetsuit off and gotten your feet stuck? Every time you tell yourself…… I need to practice this! So practice it!!!!! Don’t worry what others think…. get in your wetsuit and own it!

A few ounces of practice goes for miles and miles in the open water.

I love open water. I love the fluidity (yes…. I know it is water!)…. I love the unexpected quality that it brings. In the ocean I love the rhythm of the waves, and sometimes the frantic nature of them. In lakes I don’t find that pattern so much but I find beauty in allowing myself to deal with whatever comes at me.

Like life…. water is not truly what happens to you….. but how you react to it. Ride the waves, don’t get angry with them, they are not something you can truly control.

Don’t let the cold weather scare you, don’t let it turn you away from your season plans and your season goals….. grab your wetsuit… me of your favorite friends….. head to the pool and have fun!

Coaching

Coaching secrets

As many coaches do, I assign field tests set to my athletes once every few weeks. It might be a race, or a certain effort, the infamous “rubber glove” bike test, or a time trial in the pool.

To be very honest with you, I don’t measure an athlete’s progress or lack thereof with a field test. On a scale of 100% I give about 10% weight to the results of a field test, and 90% weight to what happens on the mental side of the test.

I measure progress day to day with my athletes. What is their zone 1 run pace over time? When someone is progressing HR will remain the same and pace will incrementally get faster. Over time. I can’t emphasize that enough. The same with cycling. Power improves over time while HR remains the same.

Side note: For many of my athletes who don’t have power, we utilize the virtual power feature of Trainer Road, which has been an extremely reliable training metric for us.

Same in the water.

Data is nice, it’s important. But I don’t judge weeks and months of training in one day, one result of a test or even a race. Sometimes we nail the numbers, sometimes we don’t. If we don’t…. we just don’t hit it that day. 6 months of work doesn’t come down to one day.

This isn’t school where lives and careers are decided on exams and GPA’s. I see brilliant students fail exams and drop out of programs that they are well suited for, all the time. Not here. That isn’t how this all works.

When I assign a field test, or throw someone into a race…. I want to know how they deal with it. How do they deal with the days beforehand? How do they handle the pre race nerves? How do they handle the race? How about the result? Whether it was a time they thought they could do, or not. How do they handle it?

More than I rely on the data of training logs I rely on the comments made in them. Over time I notice trends. I can tell when an athlete is blowing smoke with a constant rainbow and unicorn theme. I can tell when an athlete is having a rough day by one comment over a HR. The trend of what athletes write is more important to me than a 20 minute power test, or 100 yard interval in the pool.

Anyone can hit numbers. Many athletes hit numbers like it’s their job (heck, for many, it IS their job). The athletes who stand atop podiums though…. they don’t allow numbers and paces and results to dictate them. EVER. The athletes who do, never get to the top of a podium.

I have an athlete that writes “done” in his log every single day. UNLESS…. something is off. I read every single one of my athletes logs. Every single day. If they don’t write anything except report stats, that’s their system. Then I know that when they do write something it’s critical. I have athletes who write me daily journals. I read them. I can tell a lot about how someone is doing by reading their words, reading their lack of words, and what is said between the lines.

To me, this is the most critical piece of coaching. Knowing your athletes. Guiding them in between the ears and not just through certain paces. Anyone can number crunch. Anyone can analyze a power test. That’s the easy part.

The art of coaching is where it’s cloudy. You have to know people, and you have to know how to reach different people in different ways. I don’t protocol coach. I don’t hand out training plans that I can’t read the training logs of. I would be making money hand over fist, but I won’t do it.

I need to have my finger on the pulse.

I want to know your thought process the week of the race. Many athletes spend that week in a whirlwind of doubt. I am not ready. I am not fast enough. Everyone is fitter than I.

Then come race day they have defeated themselves before the gun has even sounded.

That… is where coaching comes in.

My race plans have evolved from maintaining HR and paces to maintaining mantras. Pacing guidelines are just that…. guidelines. There are too many factors involved in race day to get too hung up on the data. One of those factors being: the data doesn’t want to work. If a Garmin doesn’t synch up race morning, after 5 minutes we leave it be. We leave it on and we ignore it. Rather than spending race morning trying to figure it out, we move on. Get into race mode. Get the mental game sharpened up.

For my athletes who have things to work on between the ears I assign a feeling to a pace. I will tell them run so you feel in control, or on the edge, or a different mental cue. I might have them repeat “I am strong” over and over again for the first segment. As the race switches we might switch to another mantra. Often times I have them count 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4 when emotional fatigue begins to set in.

I have them understand and acknowledge when the doubt begins to creep in and we work on how to prevent that. Sometimes they have to repeat “I am strong” when they feel they are lying to themselves. That’s fine. Your body will always follow your mind.

Here is a simple test to prove the point: get on your bike. After a good warm up, ride 2 x 5 segments at a tempo effort, 5 minutes recovery in between. Dictate that by HR or power, your choice. During the first 5 minutes I want you to beat yourself up. Tell yourself you suck, you are too fat, you are too slow. Tell yourself you will NEVER hit that goal, you don’t even deserve the bike you are on. GO THERE. Go deep.

On the next 5 minute interval, flip the switch. Think of every positive thought you can. You are strong. You are fit. The harder this feels the more capable you become.

Tell me which interval went better.

Now, I am not saying that every workout, every test, every race is going to be about rainbows and sunshine. But how do you deal? Maybe halfway through a race you began to feel very bad. How do you handle it? Do you let yourself ride the mental spiral down, or do you deal with it, stay good to yourself and find a solution?

This….. to me….. is what testing is all about. This…. to me…. is what coaching is ALL about.

You can be the fittest athlete on earth. If you don’t pull it together between the ears it won’t matter. And the mental side doesn’t come together in a day. It is just like the physical side, it comes in increments if you are consistent and dedicated to it.

Power, HR, pace….. those are nice. Physical progress is never measured in one event, on one day. Progress is made and assessed over a period of months. If you train consistently, recover properly, stick to the system…… ¬†which really means apply a physical stress, adapt to that physical stress….. you will improve. For me, test days are to test what’s between the ears. It helps me crack you open and from there I can coach you even more effectively.

Here is an old favorite video I use for many of my athletes on race day. This….. really says it all. Click here for the video.