Monday, April 30, 2012

Real Swimming for Triathletes: Top 5 swim tips for triathletes

In this short video, we introduce 5 important swim tips to make you a better swimmer. We will delve into each one of these tips more deeply in future videos. Thanks to Roman Mica of everymantri for his video expertise and Brandon del Campo for being such a good sport.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Jewish Sports Hall of Fame

On Sunday afternoon, April 29, in Commack, NY, I will be formally inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. This is an honor I do not take lightly and not without irony. As the sole Jew in my swim group, I tried my best to hide my religion in an effort to quell the nasty comments from my teammates that can only be described as anti-Semitic. Being a Jewish athlete was an embarrassment I tried to hide, not something I wanted to parade around.

In 1989, along with my sister, I represented the United States at the Maccabiah Games for swimming. The Maccabiah Games, the third largest world sporting competition, are the Jewish Olympics and are held every four years in Israel. A very international contingent participates, with athletes competing from 50 countries. It was an amazing, life-changing experience.

Prior to the opening ceremonies, US athletes from all of the different sports were brought together for breakout sessions. We were arranged in small groups to discuss all matters of being a Jewish athlete. I was amazed to hear the stories from others that were similar to my own. They too, had experienced disparaging comments and felt the same shame I had at being Jewish.

The most amazing part of the entire trip, though, was walking into the stadium during the opening ceremonies. I was surrounded by thousands of Jews from all over the world. All in this one place to celebrate sports and Judaism. It was a revelation.

And then, they played Hatikvah, the Israeli National Anthem, the words to which I knew well from my years attending a Jewish Day School. I was overwhelmed with pride and decided I would never hide being Jewish again.

As I morphed from a swimmer to a triathlete, I wore my religion proudly and openly. At races, athletes would always come up to me and let it be known that they too were Jewish, a bond that allowed us a certain familiarity even though we were strangers.

My induction into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame means more to me than a celebration of past achievements. I view this honor as a means to helping other fledgling Jewish athletes succeed in an arena where they may not be encouraged or even worse discouraged. Being a “Jewish athlete” should not be a label; we are athletes who are Jewish.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Real Swimming for Triathletes Video: Top 5 Don'ts at Masters Swimming

 My good friend Roman Mica over at has graciously offered his time and stellar camera and editing skills to help launch a new series of swim videos with myself and my training buddy Brandon del Campo. The videos, Real Swimming for Triathletes, are designed to give triathletes some important swim information in a concise and hopefully humorous way. These videos are short -- they are not meant to be the final word in any of the topics we cover. We hope you enjoy the videos and if you have any particular topics you would like to see covered, let us know!

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Wetsuit Effect

 A few months ago, my niece called me and asked me to help her devise a science fair project. Research is my thing, but I am not very well versed in the nuances of 8th grade assignments. I asked Dr. Google for some ideas, but nothing seemed original or interesting, and if I wasn’t interested, there is no way my 14 year old niece would be interested. Then, in a flash of shear genius (if I don’t pat myself on the back, nobody will) I had an idea. How about formally testing the wetsuit effect?  You know, the notion that non-swimmers benefit more from a wetsuit than swimmers.

My niece is a swimmer, so she immediately embraced the proposal. The final plan was to get about 20 masters swimmers of varying abilities and have them swim 200 yards with a wetsuit and without a wetsuit. Her hypothesis was the faster swimmers would have less of a time difference than the less fast swimmers (how PC is that? I didn’t call them “slower” swimmers).

Now, all of you are saying to yourselves, “Duh. We all already know that faster swimmers have less advantage than slower swimmers when wearing a wetsuit.” Only one has examined this issue and it was way back in 1996. The subjects were 18-20 years old, so they were much younger than the typical triathlete. This was an opportunity to get a concrete time difference in older triathletes and master’s swimmers.

Given that this is an 8th grade project, the methodology and execution of this little experiment are basic, so no grousing about the crude nature of this investigation. There was no controlling for the type of wetsuit, how often a person had worn a wetsuit previously, the temperature of the water, and many other variables. However, I think the results are still interesting, and I would venture to guess that a larger, more advanced study would yield very similar findings.

Twenty-one suckers, I mean people, agreed to participate in the study.  The average age of the swimmers was 47. There were 6 females and 15 males. Participants were randomly assigned to wearing the wetsuit first or second. The average swim time without a wetsuit was 2:34.6 and with a wetsuit was 2:25.9, meaning for the entire sample, there was about a 9 second improvement over 200 yards when wearing a wetsuit.

The results that were the most applicable to triathletes were when the participants were divided into sub-groups depending on when they started swimming. Ten of the participants started swimming as adults; the remaining 11 began swimming as children. The participants who started swimming as adults swam an average of 2:54.9 without a wetsuit and 2:40.9 with a wetsuit. That is a whopping 14 second improvement over 200 yards! The participants who started swimming as children swam an average of 2:16.1 without a wetsuit and 2:12.3 with a wetsuit, a meager 3.8 second improvement. As you can see, the group that started swimming as adults was slower overall on both the wetsuit and non-wetsuit trials by a large margin.

Being the extreme statistical nerd that I am, I did a t-test on these data and even with 21 subjects the results were statistically significant at the p<0.01 level. Just for more kicks, I did a regression analysis which was also significant. Don’t worry, the extra analyses were for my own interest and are not part of the science fair.

What does this mean in practical terms, aside from the fact that if you started swimming as an adult you are basically screwed? Here’s a cute little table that explains it all.

 This table represents the most conservative estimates of swim improvement for the “non-swimmers”. I think the improvement will actually be more the longer the distances due to cumulative fatigue and the increased reliance on the wetsuit for buoyancy, a condition that is not as pronounced in the swimmers.

The bottom line: the wetsuit effect is real.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

More bumps in the road...

 Races are usually tests of fitness. Or so the theory goes. On Saturday I will be testing my lack of fitness. I am running the inaugural Hollywood Half Marathon in LA. The race coincides nicely with Passover, so I thought I would spend some time with family over the holiday and sneak in a race while I was there. Ah, yes, the best laid plans…

My training since the Masters Cross Country championships in early February has been flimsy and haphazard. Upon my return from St. Louis, I had to take some time off due to a foot injury. When my foot healed, the pollen in Boulder exploded causing some breathing issues affecting my ability to run hard.

Then, just when I thought I had it all under control, I contracted the flu. This was no ordinary flu, and I think it deserves its own name. There are fancy flu viruses out there with ominous designations like H1N1, swine flu, avian flu. I am dubbing this particular flu the “mutant flu”. Most flu’s elevate your temperature for a little while. The mutant flu gave me a 103 degree temperature for 36 hours. This made my legs hurt so much I thought I had a muscle wasting disease! Then came a deep, painful cough. It was unrelenting, battering my ribs and wreaking havoc on my asthma. The sinus pressure was like a vice grip. The fatigue, unimaginable.

I sequestered myself in the house for days, looking out the window wistfully at the blue sky and listening to the squeals of laughter from the kids on spring break as they crossed the path behind our house. The Grinch in me hoped it would snow.

Every night, my optimistic self would say, “tomorrow I will be better and I will be able to get out and enjoy a nice run.” It was a lot of tomorrow’s before I could heed those words.

The mutant flu took down Mark as well. Misery loves company, unless the company is a sick male. Our days in the house together were no romantic interlude. At least we both survived without incident.

I am on the mend from the mutant flu, although not quite back to normal (whatever normal means). As long as my asthma is under control by Saturday, I will line up for the Hollywood Half. My race plans will be different than normal. I have to adjust my pacing in accordance with where I am now fitness-wise not where I was or where I want to be. It is the perfect opportunity to try a new race strategy and maybe even stop and smell the roses. All so I can collect what is being dubbed the coolest finisher’s medal ever.