The New Year kicked off with Magnolia Master’s pro triathlete swim camp in the Woodlands, Texas. The camp continues through the month of January, however, a nine-day stint from January 1st-9th was already quite a stretch from being away from my three kids.
Pre-trip: As parents well know, any trip that the mom (aka Default Parent) leaves the house for an extended period of time, thousands if not millions of detailed tasks need to be completed so that the household can function on all cylinders. Childcare covered, fridge stocked, laundry done, school notes noted, house cleaned, lists made, 3 kid schedules devised and revised, reminders given, and carpools planned, were among the tasks. When I arrived at the airport, I realized in a panic that I forgot something critical so quickly texted my highly competent husband: “Remember to bathe the kids.” Mark hugely stepped up to the plate and I fully realized that, yes, the family CAN survive without me.…short term. The planning took several weeks to nail down, but mission accomplished—98% of my pre-trip was done. After this, I tackled the other 2%–tender loving TT bike preparation from Charlie and Matt at Rochester Cycling and Fitness, and my own packing and travel details.
So all this fuss to swim? Was it worth it? Absolutely!
Where: Magnolia Master’s Swim Club in Woodlands, Texas.
The Woodlands is a uniquely intriguing area located 30 miles north of Houston. The Woodlands itself is a heavily forested area lacking any roadway billboards to indicate that upscale strip malls and restaurants were hidden behind the densely tree lined roads. The beautiful downtown area along a waterway is where I will compete at Ironman Texas in May. In my observations, the Woodlands is the closest thing to Pleasantville, USA. There doesn’t appear to be much cumulative stress going on in the Woodlands–residents are genuine, helpful, accommodating, and seem proud to call it their home. I refer to the township as “The Bubble” where limited distractions and stellar amenities create the perfect training location. Primped puppies also appear stress-free, after they consume drive-thru Starbucks “puppy lattes” and baked “pupcakes” for treats. My homestay, the lovely Gladys Floyd, has three dogs (boxer, pit bull, and…old white dog), and from their warm, excited, hefty welcome, I was sure they were going to demolish the 116 lb runner girl by the second day. There is no question they smelled fear. However, very quickly, I came to love these well-trained, sweet pups and adore my delightful homestay. Thank you Gladys!
The Woodlands community well supported the camp. All professional athletes attended the camp at no cost, all received home stays, and all were pampered with everything we could possibly want and need as athletes—first class treatment all around. Complimentary athlete passes to Gold’s Gym, free care, evaluations, and use of an Alter-G treadmill at Sterling Ridge Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine thanks to Dr. Keith Johnson and Emily Finanger. And the list continues—complimentary Retul bike fitting from Brian at Bicycle Speed Shop, ART and chiropractic services from Dr. Stephen Clouthier, and support and care from Riivo Cycling, Atomic Performance Coatings, and Aussie Cycleworks. David Tilbury-Davis of Physfarm, LLC and Tim Floyd, swim camp mastermind of Magnolia Masters, worked tirelessly to make this treasured experience happen. To all of you above, thank you, I am truly grateful.
Who: The swim camp consisted of ten pro triathletes who came to the Woodlands to be coached, analyzed, and worked to the bone by Tim. Ironman champions, 70.3 Ironman champions, Division I athletes, and national caliber swimmers were present. I believe all of us were collegiate athletes with varying backgrounds in swimming, running, wrestling, snowboarding, and soccer. Even with big shot names at camp, if there was an invisible participant sign outside the camp, it would read: “EGOS, stay OUT, You won’t fit in here.”
Tim has prioritized “environment/culture” as the number one value on his Magnolia Master’s team. The existing environment is the vessel in which significant swimming progress can occur. Impressive to see, the culture among age-group and professional athletes was the same: no dawdling, know the clock, know your times, work harder than you think you need to, be respectful, no complaining, accept criticism, push efficiency into each stroke, and get the job done.
The unspoken message observed within the squad is that professional triathletes are not valued any more or less than the newest, least developed member of the squad. Everyone is treated equal, everyone is valued, everyone gets Tim’s grief :), and everyone (when deserved) gets Tim’s positive encouragement. The art of the program unfolds when he creates swimmers from non-swimmers, which is no easy task, as I well know! After speaking to age-group squad members, it is obvious that Tim is revered as the “lifeguard” who yanked many of them out from the bottom of the sea and has given them a life vest. I heard story after story of “where I was a year ago”, and “where I am now”. Transformations have occurred within this program.
Tim holds high expectations of each of his athletes, and in my psychology world, we call it the “Pygmalion Effect”—the phenomenon by which the greater the expectation placed on an athlete, the better they perform. Combine allegiance to an effective system, solid coaching relationship, an athlete’s belief in themselves, and perceived coach’s belief in the athlete, in an environment that by its nature fosters excellence, and you have a golden recipe for success.
When I tell Tim that his manner reminds me of Herb Brooks, coach of 1980 gold medal US Olympic hockey team, this is certainly a compliment. During one seemingly endless sprint set, in my mind, Tim was shouting, “Again!” just like the movie “Miracle on Ice”. Unlike Miracle, though, his demands are not for punishment, but out of his keen awareness of each athlete’s potential on any given day. He will “bench” you when you need benching (i.e. rest), and he will push you when you need pushing. Benched for an entire practice, then yanked mid-session during another, I was not always a happy athlete during camp, but I had no choice. Tim is adamantly opposed to forcing sloppy stroke mechanics resulting in subpar performance when fatigued. After being yanked mid-session, I looked at Tim in the eyes stone faced, and asked, “Why do people around here like you so much?” He erupted in laughter, and I dried off to begin my anger management and acceptance process. Also, dissimilar to Mr. Brooks, is that Tim is the first to break any hierarchical intimidation, and informally sit down at Starbucks after a hard practice, kick back, laugh, and develop camaraderie within his team, and continue to teach while his ‘students’ listen with tuned in ears.
Magnolia Masters has well documented each day of camp on the blog—look here and scroll down the swim efficiency page! Instead of rehashing Tim’s summaries, I will detail three sessions of camp.
Session: Warm-up 500s, 300k, 300p
Lead up set: 12 x 75 s/k (25k, 50s) descend 1-4, 5-8, 9-12
Main Set, on varying intervals by lane:
1 x 500 pull
5 x 100 swim
1 x 400 pull
6 x 100 swim
1 x 300 pull
7 x 100 swim
Session goal: Volume, goal achieved.
#2: Warm up: 400s, 400k, 400p
8 x 50 descend 1-4, 5-8
MS: 5 x 100 all out sprint @ 4:00
1 x 75 sprint, break 20 seconds, 25 sprint
1 x 50 sprint, break 15 seconds, 50 sprint
1 x 25 sprint, break 5 seconds, 25 sprint, 5 seconds, 25 sprint, 5 seconds, 25 sprint
1 x 100 easy
1 x 100 for time. Bust it.
Set X 2
Session goal: Speed. Add up times for each segment, and cumulative 100 time should be getting faster with shorter segments. This was my favorite set of the week. I love working hard for short distances, and have come to love rest. Last year, I saw no point in resting and joked that I could take up knitting as I waited impatiently at the wall. However, I realized it was because I was not pushing myself to the utmost limits. Tim has certainly taught me to appreciate rest. In this session, I swam myself a personal best 100y time with the timed 100’s. Hearing a time I’ve never heard before after landing at the wall was music to my ears. Progress. Side note, this PB was the morning after I was “benched” the night before. Go figure.
#3: Similar W/U and lead up as #1 and #2
AM Session 7-8:30am: MS: 2 x (12 x 100) at hold pace. If hold pace is missed, sit out one.
PM Session 12-1pm: MS 2 x (8 x 100) at hold pace, miss hold pace, & sit out one.
Goal: Learn pacing, and be ok with being uncomfortable. Hold your Tim-given pace….no faster or you will be toast by the end, no slower or you will be sitting out. Neither option was one in which any of us desired, so we all worked hard to get it right. My entire lane was struggling in the morning set, but we rocked the PM session just a few hours later. My hold time for each 100y was at a pace that I could barely hold one time five months ago.
Tim has been working with me remotely on my swim since mid-August and through consistency, novel triathlon specific training, and close communication, there is no doubt I improved on the swim. When I first visited Tim in August, we did an all out 100y time trial, and landed myself at 1:19/100y. Four short days later, I was swimming 1:15 after descending sets, and after this camp, I hit another best time of 1:13/100y. Six seconds off a 100y swim in 4-5 months is substantial, and I’m proud of the work that I’ve put into the swim. Six seconds over a 2.4 mile Ironman distance is 4 ½ minutes, however, this four and ½ minutes means that I am making a different draft pack, so the savings is even more substantial. Compared to lifelong swimmers, a 1:13/y is still subpar, but I have to remind myself that I didn’t know how to swim four years ago. In fact, I hadn’t a guess about how far it was from one side of the pool to the other. Of course, I have a long way to go, but I’m definitely getting closer to where I need to be. Patience, consistency, and allegiance to Magnolia’s unconventional, yet effective training methodology will lead me there.
Swim technique analysis:
Each night of practice, Tim filmed and analyzed the swim technique of a different pro and spent one on one time doing drills to correct the stroke. You can read about my swim analysis on day 3 of Magnolia Masters blog. This was a highly valued time as a student of the swim, and provided the opportunity for immediate improvement. During analysis and correction, Tim breaks down the stroke, but looks at the big picture of technique flaws. He focuses on ‘how’ you are moving in the water (i.e. efficiency) to set up a strong catch and propel forward, instead of overwhelm the athlete about where each finger and toe need to be positioned. For me, he highlighted the importance of a “kinetic chain” within the mechanical system bridging the front and back ends with full core engagement. Perhaps just as importantly, his consistent advice to me is to “stop thinking.” Analysis to paralysis.
Pro Camp Party:
A “Welcome the Pros to the Woodlands” pro camp party was planned at the Blue Mug restaurant one Thursday night. Over 100 area triathletes, and camp sponsors were in attendance for appetizers, drinks, and made for a highly enjoyable night. This was just another awesome example of how the community welcomed the pros with such warm enthusiasm. Indeed, we felt loved, and certainly undeserving!
RUNNING and BIKING:
Despite 2x/day practices and a 40k/week of swimming, our triathlete selves still had to ride bikes and run roads. I’ll highlight a few runs and bikes to illustrate the “other” sports during camp.
On the first official day of camp, I was happy to receive the “Quote of the Day” award as we were chatting at Starbucks planning our afternoon long run. Proud to have the opportunity to boost my triathlon self-esteem after swim practice, I announced, “The best part of swim camp is the group long run.” Running is my time to go fast at an easy effort—a concept I’m working toward underwater!
On Sunday, all campers met at the transition area of Ironman Texas to do some course running. Everyone was running long-ish but some had particular workouts to conquer. For me, this day’s run session called for a 90 minute run (13.5 miles) with the first hour at 6:30-6:45 endurance pace, with the last ½ hour with 4 x 800 at 5:50-6:00 tempo pace. Most of this run was spent chatting away with the talented Lars Finanger who I came to like immediately—a ex-Minnesota guy! Matt Hanson, Cody Beals, Balasz Csoke, and Aubrey Aldi darted away after the first 3 miles—mere specks on the horizon—and we met them, in addition to Liz Baugher and Caitlyn Standifer, at the finish.
Two other runs included 1) a 10 miler with 10 x 200’s Vo2’s with Aubrey, and 2) 6 x 1.5k tempo repeats at 5:45-6 minute pace with Balasz and John Kenny. Under the guidance of Phil Skiba, my running is stronger than ever. We recalibrated my run paces after a weekend of testing in his sports performance lab in Chicago a month ago. Between swim camp and Phil’s comprehensive run/bike performance assessment, 2015 is bound to be a great year!
3 ½ hour ride with Aubrey. Aubrey and I had a challenging, yet enjoyable out and back ride which included long tempo intervals every 45 minutes or so. Matt Hanson is notorious for getting flats in TX, so I immediately thought of him when I punctured on a debris filled TX shoulder. A quick fix and we were on our way. The way home was brutally windy and my tire pressure was 50psi from poor CO2 application (realized later!), but we needed to haul ourselves back home in time for a Retul bike fit appointment at Bicycle Speedshop in Houston.
Bicycle Speed Shop, RETUL Bike Fit:
Between Dr. Stephen Clouthier, David Tilbury Davis, and Brian from Bicycle Speed Shop, I had myself the dream bike fit. Brian really is a fit wizard and I took home a comprehensive understanding of my idiosyncratic limitations and pedal stroke hiccups. We made subtle changes including seat angle, crank size, pedal stroke mechanics, and shoe lifts on my Cervelo P5. These changes will yield improved power output and increased comfort. Dr. Clouthier, a kinesiology and movement specialist, noted significant areas of functional weakness which when fixed, will also impact all around swim, bike, run efficiency.
KLEAN ATHLETE. Tim Monk, Senior VP in Sales and Marketing of Klean Athlete products swam in the lane next to me. One morning, we sat down to talk about Klean products over a warm breakfast. Based out of the Woodlands, Tim has been a stellar swimmer for much of his life and is Kona caliber age group triathlete. As an athlete himself, he recognized three main needs for athletes which include the following: a) athletes greatest need is to stay healthy, b) athletes need the best possible recovery, 3) products need to be safe, “clean”, and purposeful.
As an athlete who is regularly drug tested by USADA, I choose to steer clear of GNC/nutrition shops as there are too many sketchy ingredients in supplementation that could test positive without the athletes intention of ‘performance enhancement’. All Klean Athlete products are NSF Certified for Sport and certified to be clean of banned substances. Few products can stand by this guarantee. Tim provided me with samples of Klean Athlete products to give a try in the coming months. The purpose is to supplement rather than replace real food, recover quickly, and most importanty, stay healthy and safe. It’s relieving to know that I can trust a certified nutritional brand provided from a swim mate who has just as much integrity as his products.
In summary, we covered a lot of ground (and a lot of yards!) at camp. After nine days of being pampered tirelessly by my homestay, swimming more in a week than ever before, uncharacteristically befriending three dogs, taking care of only myself, meeting incredible athletes and people, and developing new skills, it was time to head home to my little Minnesota world of mommy chaos. Swim camp was an incredible learning and performance experience. It was a bittersweet goodbye—missing my home, but leaving with deep admiration for Magnolia Masters squad and all of the athletes with whom I had the privilege of training alongside. A massive thank-you to Tim, David, the Woodlands Community, camp sponsors, and best of luck to the tremendous pro and age group Magnolia athletes in their 2015 season.