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July 2009

Archive for July, 2009

Getting in Touch with Your Inner Penguin- How to Race in Cold Water Temperatures

July 18th, 2009

refridge-not-freze1 All swimmers need to be in touch with their inner-penguin. Sometimes the water temperatures are more artic-like than tropical-like and swimmers need to be prepared.

How to approach a swim on race day when water temperatures are very cold is not something triathletes and swimmers give too much thought to. Cold temperatures definitely impact race strategy, as I learned first hand this past weekend at the Blackfly Triathlon in beautiful Waterville Valley, NH. This was the first ever Blackfly tri put on by Keith Jordan of Endorfun (although it was not the first time Waterville Valley was used as a venue– the first Mooseman tri was held there a few years back). With all the rain and cool, cloudy conditions we’ve had this year in New England combined with the fact that the pond for the swim is mountain stream-fed, water temperatures for the swim were a balmy 53 degrees. That’s a few degrees colder than most folks are used to swimming in this time of year (at least in fresh water– the ocean in New England can remain quite chilly throughout the summer).

So, what should you do when the water temps for the swim are icy cold (besides pray that they cancel or shorten the swim– in the case of the Blackfly this year, the swim was shortened from two loops to one)? Let you inner penguin come out! Namely:

  • Don the ‘ol tuxedo– Penguins have built-in insulation and buoyancy. You need the same when the conditions are cold, so slap on the wetsuit (full sleeve preferably). Wet suits are legal in USAT-sanctioned and most other sanctioned triathlons (pure swimming races can vary– check with the rules for the event), so wearing a wet suit should be at the top of the list. Not only will the wetsuit protect you from the cold temps, but also provide you additional buoyancy, which will help you complete the race faster. Also, wear a neoprene cap (your race cap can go over this) to protect your head from the cold. This is especially true for the hair-challenged people (like me). Finally, get a pair of neoprene booties that will protect your feet. Neoprene gloves also exist, but are not legal at USAT races and most other tris and swimming events, so leave them at home. Finally, practice ahead of time swimming with the wetsuit, neoprene cap and booties, especially if you know you will use them in race conditions. You want to be sure you are used to the swimming motion with this gear (especially the wetsuit) and not have any suprises on race day.
  • Flap around a bit– When you first enter the water your body is going to go into a bit of shock– your heart is going to try work harder to push blood throughout your core to help warm up your body, which will cause you to feel a bit out of breath initially. It takes a few minutes for this to effect to wear off as your body adapts. In the meantime, it can be a bit uncomfortable to swim. Use this time to gather your bearings– try breaststroking a bit, which will keep your head above the water (freestyle keeps your head under making it a bit harder to breath). You can also try flipping over onto your back, which will expose your face upward. The goal is to keep your face out of the water so you can breath better and get used to your environs. I needed to do this last week at the Blackfly. It not only helped with my breathing, but also helped my face warm up a bit, which was ice cold from the water. After about 30-45 seconds I felt a lot better and swam onward. The few seconds you take to do this will make up for any time you would have lost had you not done it.
  • Get your feathers ruffled– Before you even start the swim, it’s a good idea to get your muscles warmed up a bit (pre-race warm-up should be part of your routine in any case). Warm, loose muscles will perform better when you enter the cold water, helping your body avoid any initial shortness of breath when entering and priming it for a full swim race effort. I would recommend warming up outside of the water by running or biking a bit (probably about 10 minutes until you have worked up a slight sweat). Ideally, you’d do this about 10 minutes before you have to enter water so you don’t cool down prior to entering the water. You could also try warming up by swimming in the water itself– not a bad idea, but it probably won’t be as quick as going for a run or bike.
  • Don’t waddle, but run- When coming out of the water, don’t waddle like a penguin, but rather run! Do a strong run to transition (T1), which will help keep your body nice and warmed up as you get ready for the bike, especially if it is a cooler day. Some races will provide a warming tent where you can get warmed up coming out of the water and before going to the transition area (they did this at the Blackfly). However, unless you are super-cold and see good reason for it, don’t spend the time getting warmed up in the tent. Rather run hard directly to your gear in transition to generate heat as you go to T1 and onto your bike.
Finish line at the Blackfly Triathlon

Finish line at the Blackfly Triathlon

Hopefully it will be rare occasions when you have to swim in water temperatures that are in the low 50s or even lower. If you live in cold weather environments, like anywhere in the northern part of the US or Europe, you need to be prepared. It may not be Antartica, but it is helpful to act like one of the best swimmers from that part of the world, the penguin.

Ascending Athlete #1: Robin Saitz

July 14th, 2009

I’ve started a series called “Ascending Athletes”, which features people achieving great things in their lives and/or impacting the lives of others through athletics. I’m featuring athletes of all backgrounds, sports and skill levels. Everyone has a story to tell– whether a recreational or beginner just starting to work out or a hardcore athlete who is competing at an elite level. The goal of the Ascending Athlete series is to capture these stories and inspire others to seek similar challenges and rewards. If you would like to share your story or would like to nominate someone as an Ascending Athlete, please let me know.

Robin Saitz

Robin Saitz (left) getting ready for the PMC

Robin Saitz (left) getting ready for the PMC

One of the most profound and inspirational ways individuals can use athletics to drive themselves to new levels and at the same time impact the lives of others is through event fundraising. There are millions of people worldwide who suffer from debilitating diseases that limit or eliminate their ability to compete in athletics and impact the quality of their lives. Fortunately, there are millions more who seek to help them by raising money for research, raising awareness and most importantly, demonstrating that they care. One of those people is Robin Saitz. I met Robin a few months back through the social media circles in the Boston area. Robin is the type of person who is full of enthusiasm, which rubs off on the people around her. Her enthusiasm tends to get people to join in her in various efforts, one of which is the Pan Mass Challenge (PMC), a non-profit organization dedicated to raising money for cancer research and treatment at the Dana Farber Institute through an annual bike-a-thon across the state of Massachusetts. Since 1980, thousands of riders have raised nearly $240 million dollars by riding a 190 mile, two-day bike course across the state, as well as shorter distance options. This year’s event takes place August 1st and 2nd, 2009.

Robin will riding her 16th PMC, and serving as the captain of her company’s team, PTC. You can learn more about Robin’s efforts and help sponsor this great event at her website (

Robin was gracious enough to answer some questions and share some of her thoughts on what makes her an Ascending Athlete:
Why are athletics important to you?

Growing up, athletics were not important to me at all. It took going to college and gaining the “freshman 15” that made me take a look in the mirror and decide I needed to exercise. So I started walking….a lot. The summer after freshman year I walked everyday about 10 miles and I joined a gym (a dive, I might add, where I ultimately met my husband) and started lifting and doing the stairs and even running. I really got into great shape and felt great when I worked out. I have been working out ever since. Now I have bad day if DON’T work out, that’s how addicted I’ve become to the aerobic activity and the endorphins.

Why did you decide to ride the PMC?

As I said, I met my husband at the gym and I quickly figured out if I was going to keep up with him I’d have to pick up cycling. We knew people who had done the Pan Mass Challenge (PMC) and loved it, but honestly, we were a little intimidated by the fundraising, then the minimum was $900, and I was intimidated by the distance. But I got over both hurdles and have been riding the PMC for 16 years. The first year we were motivated more by cycling the distance than the actual cause. But once you ride the PMC, you realize it has nothing to do with cycling and it’s ALL about raising money for life-saving cancer research.

Are you riding in the name or memory of someone you know who has had cancer?

Over the years we have dedicated our ride and fundraising efforts to many people in our lives: Monica Weinstein, who lost her battle to breast cancer at the young age of 40 years old; Carl Ockerbloom and Cheun Lee, both colleagues from PTC who succumbed to cancer at young ages; Janet Baldassarre, who has successfully beat cancer not once, but twice; Flo Plotkin, my aunt who lost her battle to lung cancer; and this year we are dedicating our fundraising to the doctors, nurses, and technicians of the Dana Farber/Children’s Hospital Cancer Care Center, who responded quickly to a recent scare we had with our 13-year old son. Fortunately, it turned out not to be cancer, but this team of specialists assembled quickly, gathered information in a non-invasive way, investigated his case thoroughly, and, in a matter of 5 days (which felt like a long time to us) determined that he did not have cancer.

What are some future goal(s) or event(s) you’d like to participate in?

I am eager to see my children, now 11 and 13, ride in the PMC. To date they have organized an annual lemonade stand/bake sale to help us with our fundraising and they have participated in the PMC Kids ride in Newton. But I really look forward to the day, maybe in the next couple of years, where they can join me and my husband in this life-changing event.
Tell us about one interesting fact or story that makes you unique and interesting

While this is my 16th year riding the PMC, this is the 8th year I have captained a team from my company, PTC. This is especially rewarding to me because we are able to involve the entire PTC community in the team, from jersey design, to volunteers at the event, to fundraising. We have tremendous support from our executives, some who have joined us on the ride, others who have donated fun items to our auction (i.e. parking spaces for month, golf with the CEO), and have sponsored the team. Team PTC has raised over $640K for life-saving cancer research in memory of our colleagues and at the same time we have created a meaningful connection around an important cause for our employees.

Thanks to Robin for her inspiring story– she’s truly an Ascending Athlete!

To learn more about Ascend Sports Conditioning, our mission, focus and dedication to helping people ascend to new levels through athletics, please visit

Ascending Athletes – Tell Your Story!

July 13th, 2009

Are you (or do you know someone) doing great things through athletics in life? If so, I want to know about it! I’ll be profiling athletes on my blog (this blog!) periodically who are are achieving success in their lives and impacting the lives of others through athletics. I call these folks “Ascending Athletes”. You don’t have to be a client of Ascend Sports Conditioning to be an Ascending Athlete (although that would be welcome & encouraged), but simply someone– no matter at what level or what sport– who is active in athletics and be able to demonstrate how your activities are having a positive impact upon yourself or others. You could be a hardcore athlete who just summited Everest or completed a double Ironman or a beginner who just started jogging or going to the gym– doesn’t matter…if you’ve got a story, I want to know about it!

Why am I doing this? It’s really simple: I love the impact athletics has on a person’s life and want to tell those stories. These stories are inspirational & provide motivation for others. The reason why I coach is to help foster these positive, life-changing impacts & help others create these inspirational stories. Profiling these folks are a way to get these stories out & inspire others.

So, if you are interested or if you know others who are interested, please spread the word. The only thing you’ll need to do is answer a few questions– that’s it! If you’d like to be contacted or could recommend someone as an Ascending Athlete, please let me know by adding a comment to this blog, or contact me through a variety of ways in the socialsphere (email, Twitter, etc.).

I look forward to hearing from you!