THE PERFECTLY EFFICIENT FREESTYLE STROKE

Sun Yang 1500 Freestyle World Record Stroke - Beijing Olympics

Sun Yang 1500 Freestyle World Record Stroke – Beijing Olympics

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RACE RECAP: Big Rock Olympic Triathlon 2013

Big-Rock-logo
EVENT
: Olympic Distance Triathlon  | Big Rock Triathlon
DATE: 13 April, 2013
LOCATION: Lake Perris, CA
DISTANCES: 1.5km / 40km / 10km
COMPETITORS: 11 in my age group (50-54). 142 Total Participants
TIME /PLACE: 2:22:02  / 1st in age group (50-54) and 10th overall

FIRST-PLACE-MEDAL-2013This was my first time participating at Saw Sports Production’s Big Rock Triathlon at Lake Perris, CA. This was another practice / experience race for me. I have done just a few Oly’s and Sprint triathlons and have been competing almost a year now. I have learned a lot about endurance training and competing, but will still benefit for more races, especially for the swim portion which should be my strongest leg of the race. I’ve had a few mishaps and pacing misjudgements in the swim that still have me a little anxious at the start.  I stayed at a local Best Western the night before the race in Moreno Valley and was up in plenty of time to set up transition in the morning.
Lake-Perris

THE SWIM & T1 TRANSITION
Swim time: 21:26

It was cool, but not cold. There was, though, some unexpected fog. I did a decent warmup of maybe 400-500 yards and found the water refreshing in the lower 60’s. I was in the “older men” wave and both the sprint and Olympic distances were combined in all waves.  I positioned myself in the middle of the pack which is my new strategy. When I position myself at the front, I feel the pressure to stay in front and that has led to problems in the past of swimming faster than I was ready for. Visibility in sighting the buoys was pretty poor. You could only barely see the next buoy ahead, and the majority of the buoys were small and looked like someone wearing a swim cap while treading water. There should have been a kayaker leading each wave in a straight line toward the next buoy. Instead people were swimming all over the place. Kind of comical, really. After two laps, I exited and headed for the long, long jog up to T1 transition. It was about a 300 meter  or longer distance. I tried a new trick that worked well for these long swim to bike distances. I had placed a small terrycloth towel about half way, and grabbed it as I ran by. By this time I had already peeled my suit half off, and then used the towel to dry off my upper body as I jogged to my bike. In the cool, misty, foggy weather, it was nice to not be dripping wet as I got to the bike. Anticipating this cooler weather, I took longer than I needed to in transition. I rolled on socks, grabbed arm warmer sleeves and slipped them onto my wrists and grabbed gloves to put on when I got out riding. Not very hardcore and manly, but I was dry, I could feel my toes,  and perfectly comfortable on the bike portion.

THE BIKE & T2 TRANSITION
Bike time: 1:10:25

This was a two lap, mostly flat course, with one decent hill near the end of each lap. There was traffic control all over and the local police did an excellent job holding up traffic for us. Bike was uneventful. I forced myself to drink some Cytomax even though I wasn’t thirsty, and ate one Gu Gel but not very enthusiastically. I nursed it in small aliquots over several miles. The Sprint and Oly-competitors were mixed over the same course so it was difficult to assess where I was positioned. I was pretty sure I had come out of the water in or near the lead of my wave. Cyclists were spread out quite a bit. I passed some, but there just didn’t seem to be many on the road in my proximity. There was one guy who passed me and I managed to keep him in my sights for the remainder, but could never surpass him (Lee ended up finishing just ahead of me overall and winning his age division). He was the next age group older, so he was not a direct competitor for placing. Although I don’t like being passed by women or older guys, if it is going to happen, I’d prefer the latter. T2 transition was unremarkable.

THE RUN
Run Time: 44:37 (7:12/mi pace)

The 10k run was a mostly flat out and back along the park walking trails to the dam and then about 1/2 way along the dam and then turn-around to return. The Sprint Tri racers should have been mostly done at this point, but they shared the same course, just half of it. I didn’t see too many fast Oly-distance runners heading back and so I was comfortable I had a decent overall position. I ran a slower pace than my last Oly Tri. I ran about a 7:15-7:20 pace today and last time ran 7:02. While I was running, I just kept thinking to myself “Why can’t I go faster?”. Was it my heart rate and breathing as the limiter? My legs? Not training hard enough? It is hard to figure out, and is especially evident and humbling when someone passes you quite briskly and comfortably. They have my admiration and respect.

NOTE TO MY FUTURE SELF AND SUMMARY NOTES:
This was a well organized race at an interesting and beautiful location. Even though Southern California is pretty dry and Mediterranean, there was a strange vibe to the landscape. There were millions of large, smooth boulders dotting the landscape all over the valley. Beautiful in its own way. The fog couldn’t be helped, but conditions for swimming were otherwise good with very calm water. The bike had a few challenges but otherwise should be a fast course with very good traffic control.  Registration fees were reasonable. Overall, I’d recommend the race and will likely do it again to defend my first place finish this year.

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RACE RECAP: HUNTINGTON BEACH SPRINT TRIATHLON

EVENT: Sprint Triathlon  | Huntington Beach Triathlon
DATE: April 6, 2013
LOCATION: Huntington Beach, CA
DISTANCES: 600m ocean swim / 10 mi bike / 2.5 mi. soft sand run
COMPETITORS: 14 IN MY AGE GROUP (50-54). 340 Total Participants
TIME /PLACE: 53:16.8 / 2nd in age group  and 10th overall

Race Tag HB TriathlonToday was the inaugural running of the “Tri the Beach” series Huntington Beach Triathlon. In part because it was a first time event, the field was not particularly large. About 340 participants. A good percentage of them were first time triathletes. There was even a “fixed gear” division for beach cruiser type bikes. Its always good to see anyone coming out for the sport.
THE SWIM:
The organizers divided the participants into 4 waves based on self-reported swim speed. I, for the first time, was seeded in with the first wave. So it was me, then two-time Kona Ironman World Champion Chris “Macca” McCormick, and then about 90 others in the first wave. Because of a storm that had been anticipated earlier in the week, the organizers changed the swim course to make it shorter and less likely to have to swim against the side current. Despite their re-direction, there were some problems. Despite a simple out and back swim course, the side current was stronger than expected and the waves were fairly strong and breaking pretty far out.
I had a swim redemption after some poorly paced starts in the last few races. The changes I made to the swim were helpful. Even thought the water temperature was on the chilly side (60 degrees F), I forced myself to do a long warm up – equal to the actual distance of the swim portion. I also positioned myself further back in the start lineup. When I have positioned myself up at the front, I feel more pressure to start out fast even if my body isn’t ready for it. My swim went just fine although there were some challenges. We had started just as some wave sets were coming in. There was no way to sight the buoys because the next incoming wave obstructed it from view. My swim speed and direction fortunately brought me right to it. After a very short distance to the next buoy, it was direct to shore. In an ideal world, you would catch a wave and body surf in, but when you are breathing hard it is much more difficult and less tempting. Although my swim went well, apparently about 80-90 race participants needed some assistance or rescue from the lifeguards. Many missed the first buoy because of the side current and couldn’t swim back to it. I heard a few swam in, ran further up along the shore and started all over again . Good job for not giving up, people!! The swim ended, but there was about a 200-250 yard soft sand run up to T1 transition.
Swim Time: 10:13.8 [average time for top 9 finishers overall: 9:01.6]

I'm out there somewhere

I’m the one in the black wetsuit

T1 TRANSITION
Nothing special here. I took a little more time than needed to quickly get the wet sand off my feet. For the last race, I biked without socks for the first time, and my feet were numb the whole ride. This time I rolled up some socks on my feet before zipping out of T1.
T1 Time: 1:32.4 [average time for top 9 finishers overall: 1:02.5]

THE BIKE
This was an out and back up the Santa Ana River Trail. It is mostly very flat with just a slight incline going out. This portion of the race was the most problematic and poorly planned. The bike trail is perhaps 12-14 feet wide most of the way. The bike trail is also commonly used by locals for biking, running, walking, and stroller pushing. They did not block the river trail and so while riding, it was possible to have cyclist passing each other and have 4 cyclists in a narrow strip while also negotiating cruiser bikes, strollers, etc. We were spread out pretty far in the front and so I never passed or was passed the entire ride and the rider in front of me was letting the non-racers know we were coming through. I didn’t hear of any bike accidents or injuries so it all worked out OK, but this is the one area the organizers need to address for future races. The distance, seemed to be shortened from where we were supposed to turn around, and my bike computer was cutting out at times so I don’t know my actual pace for this ride.
Bike Time: 24:27.4 [average time for top 9 finishers overall: 23:15]

T2 TRANSITION
Fast, no nonsense. Rack the bike, helmet off, slip on the elastic lace shoes and off.
T2 time: 40.9 seconds [average time for top 9 finishers overall:43.5]

THE RUN
This was a 2.5 mile SOFT SAND RUN! There was no point in watching my pace on my GPS watch, or forcing any certain cadence. This is one of those runs where you just have to be aware of your breathing and heart rate and try to find some tire tracks where the sand was packed down a bit more. It was tough. Again we were so spread out, there was no one passing me and I wasn’t passing anyone.  The distance probably was not a full 2.5 miles. My run was limited by heart rate and breathing. Legs felt pretty good. Glad to be done with that.
Run Time: 16:22 [average time for top 9 finishers overall: 14:08]
MEDAL-FINISH

Would I do the race again? Possibly. It is local and convenient. I think the organizers have some kinks and potentials issues to work out for next years event. Mostly, I think they need to standardize the distances to how it was promoted, and they need to close the bike trail to non-racers for the duration of the race. If the race organizers ever read this, I will also suggest they use more than one photographer. There is no way one camera can adequately capture an event. For instance, to get all the swimmers then walk over to the bike area, you have already missed the leaders of the bike going out and coming back. To get all the cyclists, the photographer misses out on the finish of the top 25% or so of the runners finish. The good news is that the photos are posted quickly and available to download free. That’s refreshing. It is just hit or miss whether your photo will be available.

Regardless, any race is better than not racing.

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A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FIRST BUOY – DESERT INTERNATIONAL TRIATHLON

or, potential wetsuit disaster averted just in the nick of time.

EVENT: Olympic Distance Triathlon  | Desert International Triathlon
DATE: March 3rd, 2013
LOCATION: Lake Cahuilla, La Quinta, CA
DISTANCES: 3/4 mi. swim / 24mi bike / 6 mile run. Wave start by category.
COMPETITORS: 37 in my age group (50-54). 755 Total participants
TIME /PLACE: 2:15:20 / 12th in age group / 164th overall

This was my second international/olympic distance triathlon race. My first one (and my first race) was nearly 10 months ago. My lack of race experience is still showing as evidenced AGAIN during the swim. Now I know a lot of triathletes suffer the swim. It is supposed to be my stronger leg of the event. At least that is what I keep telling myself. It was during the swim where I had to take an unplanned, unscheduled detour. More about that in a moment.DESERT-INTERNATIONAL-2

I was originally scheduled to run a 10k this weekend, but it just didn’t seem very exciting and coming off my marathon run last month, I had hardly done any running since then – a total of 17 miles for the month. On a spontaneous whim instead, I signed up for the Desert Triathlon, got a cheap motel room since I was traveling by myself, and set off on Saturday. Other than race number packet pick-up there wasn’t much to do on Saturday except try to go to bed early and toss and turn for a few hours. In my head, I tried to plan my race and, well, I have to admit that race day had me all excited as usual. It is all the unknowns that make it so interesting and challenging.

A beautiful early morning in the desert. Milling around and setting up transition

A beautiful early morning in the desert. Milling around and setting up transition

Sunday morning I was up early and there setting up transition early and with plenty of time to spare. The weather was perfect, although the water did seen cooler than the stated 63 degrees. I was in the last start wave which started 24 minutes after the first group of elites. Any swim warmup was lost after standing around trying to stay warm.

THE SWIM SEGMENT AND A LITTLE ANATOMY LESSON
Same problem as with my first race a year ago. I took off too damned fast. Like a Pavlovian reflex, I hear a gun and I take off like I’m sprinting a 100 yd race.  I was first out to the initial small buoy then quickly realized I was in trouble. I was breathing rapidly, heartrate racing and all the while trying to regain composure with some backstroke, and altogether cursing myself profusely for making the same mistake again. The real trouble, though, began about 300 yards into the swim. I felt a sense of, well, urgency in the bowels. [sidebar note: Now I am reminded of my medical school anatomy professor talking about how smart the rectal sphincter is and how it can determine more than just pressure, but also whether the contents awaiting expulsion are gas, solids or liquids]. Gas or solids can be controlled or suppressed, but I felt a sense of liquified urgency that absolutely would not let me finish the swim. With every stroke and contraction of the core muscles and tensing of the intra-abdominal pressure, I felt an impending intra-wetsuit disaster looming. I didn’t want to be this guy, infamous all over the internet:

In famous photo of a marathon runner with more dedication than any of you out there. This the image that came to my mind - but while still in my wetsuit.

Infamous photo of a marathon runner with more dedication than any of you out there. This the image that came to my mind – but while still in my wetsuit.

So I did what any reasonable person would do…I swam to shore, peeled off the top of my wetsuit and headed into a conveniently placed porta-potti right there near the shore. I quickly took care of business and then struggled to put on a wet, wetsuit and re-entered the water. After all that, I felt great, and went on to swim at a strong pace. This little unexpected diversion (and the inexperienced, overzealous start) probably set me back 4-5 minutes. It is better than the disastrous alternative that could have been. Transition 1 was notable only for the fact that I could not feel my feet due to the cold water. T1 was a respectable 2:05
SWIM TIME: 24:14

THE BIKE SEGMENT
The course was flat and wide open. There was cloud cover keeping it cool and comfortable. I felt good and strong. I couldn’t feel my toes the entire time. I rode my fastest bike ride ever. Transition 2 was no frills and only 1:28.
BIKE TIME: 1:05:20 (AVERAGE 22.0 MPH)

THE RUN SEGMENT
I felt pretty good even starting out on the run. We started to lose cloud cover and it starting warming up, but never getting uncomfortable hot. About 1-2 miles in, I starting regaining feeling in my feet. The course was twice around Lake Cahuilla on unpaved trail. The ground was a bit irregular, but plenty wide. You’d have to pay attention to the ground to avoid rocks and divots, but passing was easy with plenty of room.
RUN TIME: 42:13 (6:49/mi. PACE, HR 159bpm).

DESERT-INTERNATIONAL-1

SUMMARY AND NOTES TO FUTURE SELF FOR NEXT YEAR’S RACE
1. This was a flat, flat course. Nary an incline or decline to be found.
2. This was a fast, fast, course for the same reason.
3. This in one of the first races of the season and it draws from all over Southern California and beyond, and Southern Californians are lucky to be able to train outdoors all year ’round.
4. I think because it is so early in the season, there are a lot of fast gals and really fast triathletes itching to race and get an idea of their early season fitness.
5. Note to self: Go AGAIN to the porta-potti even if you don’t think you need to.
6. Note to self: Damn-it! Slow down the beginning of the swim!! Don’t keep making that mistake.

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FIRST MARATHON: EASIER & HARDER THAN I THOUGHT

EVENT: Marathon  | Surf City USA
DATE: February 3, 2013
LOCATION: Huntington Beach, CA
DISTANCES: 26.2 mi., Mass Start
COMPETITORS: 166 In my age group (age 50-54). 2274 Total Participants
TIME / PACE /PLACE: 3:16:09 / 7:29/mi. pace / 6th in age group  and 90th overall

A strong finish to beat out the shadow to my right: A girl !!

A strong finish to beat out the shadow to my right: A girl !!

I’ve been anxiously preparing for this one for 4-5 months. I have had mixed feelings about training for a marathon. Long slogs of runs on weekends – progressively longer until the combined run, meal and recovery seemed to take up most of the Saturday or Sunday. In the month or two approaching the race, I also started to cycle less. I missed that. I missed rotating through the different disciplines of triathlon.

I think there is an interesting phenomenon prior to a race where you seem to become hyper-aware of every little ache and pain. More so during the taper week when you think you should have the most bounce in your step. Extra energy should just be oozing from your pores. And yet it seems nothing quite feels right. I was having aches in ankle, pain in my left knee. So, what can you do? Keep moving forward.

I opted for the alternative pre-race carbo-loading. The day before, I went to my absolute favorite restaurant for my favorite meal: Vietnamese Pho Noodle Soup:

Charbroiled pork pho from Pho Ba Co in Irvine, CA

Charbroiled pork pho from Pho Ba Co in Irvine, CA

This soup is amazing. The broth is savory and sweet. There is plenty of fresh basil and cilantro and sprouts to make it fresh. The charbroiled pork is added to the soup to bring it to utter perfection. As good and fresh and healthy as this was, I had a ..well… craving.

Sometimes you just gotta do what feels right

Sometimes you just gotta do what feels right

I went to the local market and got a box of chocolate covered doughnuts.

I bought a cup of coffee and and ate the whole damned box. And it was good. And I didn’t feel the slightest bit of guilt.

The setting was in Huntington Beach, California, “Surf City, USA” and it is known. The course was flat, and it was cool, but not cold.  The race was starting at 6:30 (I could’ve sworn it was 6:45) so instead of warming up, I spent that last few minutes trying to decide which layers to keep and which to peel off.  Next thing you know, the gun goes of and so are we. I really wanted to try to manage the pacing and aim for a negative split no matter what the final time was.  Early on when I first signed up for the race, I had also wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon, but as the race drew closer I started to think maybe that was a bit overambitious.
My goal was to start out maybe just faster than 8:00/mi pace and try to go a little faster later. I just kinda ran with the group I had queued up with. Early on there were some younger guys that passed me like they showed up late to the start line and had to get up to the front. I just get the cadence and after mile ten or so, I tried to start “reeling them in”.

I got to the 20 mile marker, the furthest I had ever run before and still felt pretty good. At this point it seemed like those within view were fading and so this was my chance to pick it up and start passing others. It is a great way to take your mind off your pain, and demoralize the competition (at least that’s what I think I’m doing). I brought it home strong and nearly sprinted at the end. After crossing the finish, I realized how much I had spent near the end. I wavered through the medal gauntlet and tried to sit down. More revealing was that later, I tried to stand up and realized I had nothing left in my quads. I mean I gave it all out there on the road.

That afternoon, back home, I was absolutely exhausted. I was too tired to eat. I could barely stand up from a sitting position, and trying to go down stairs is comical. One day later as I read this, I still can’t get my quads to fire no matter how strong the nerve impulses are.

IMG_1788The good news is that I did negative split the race: 1st half was 1:37:26 and the second was 1:36:51. Even better news was that I qualified for the Boston Marathon with 14 minutes to spare. I’m happy about that, but not so sure I want to go through marathon training again. Maybe I should wait until I can walk again before I make that decision.

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RACE REPORT: My First Half Marathon Race

EVENT: Half Marathon  | Southern California Half Marathon
DATE: January 12, 2013
LOCATION: Irvine, CA
DISTANCE: 13.1 miles. Mass Start
COMPETITORS: 73 IN MY AGE GROUP (45-49).  1305 Total Participants
TIME / PACE /PLACE: 1:31:34 / 6:59/mi. / 11th in age group  and 104th/1305 overall

The race organizers just so happened to have picked the coldest winter morning we have had so far here in Southern California. There was actually a frost advisory out on the Weather Channel. I guess that means that the three or four orange trees left here in Orange County were potentially at risk. More practically, that means that those getting up early to go to Starbucks or their yoga class would need where long sleeves. The overnight low was about 36° F which is actually pretty chilly for this area.
After a good nights sleep and a relatively light breakfast I did a bit of a warm-up and then bundled up and rode my bike over to the start which was fortunately just a couple of miles away.
I was not quite sure how to dress for this race. I was planning on running with leggings and a jacket, but as I looked around and saw others And felt the sunshine starting to warm things up, I opted to ditch the jacket but keep the leggings and gloves. Good choice.
The course took place partly on the streets of Irvine, and partly along the River Creek bike trail. It was pretty dead flat the entire way with the exception of the bike trail underpasses which was just a short decline and incline. The flat course, no wind, and cool temperature created a perfect race condition. I have never raced anything over a 10K before and I thought it might be a good idea to run this race three weeks before my marathon in part as a tuneup race and in part to practice the pacing a bit. About two weeks prior to this race I had done a 19 mile trail run and for some reason it just really physically exhausted me for several days afterwards. For all of my runs afterwards I never felt very fast or with much “spring in my step”. I was really concerned that along slower runs in training for marathon had really slowed down my pace. There were times when my legs just did not feel like they were mine and it was a bit disconcerting. Previous to this race I had done a couple of half marathon distance training runs and I believe the fastest was about one hour and 42 min. My goal for this race was to come in faster than 1:40. The runners world website tools page has a race predictor calculation tool. Using that tool, I had plugged in my previous 5k and 10k times and they had predicted that I would run this half marathon in about 1:35 – way too optimistic, I thought.
At the start of the race, I lined up with the others and the estimated pace queue and took off running just comfortably. About a mile or so and I looked at my watch and saw that I was running about 7:30 min. per mile. this was clearly too fast or so I thought. After couple miles as my legs started to warm up and loosen up and he felt like they were mine again, I decided not to watch the pace but just to feel the race. I concentrated on form and breathing comfortably. I kept sending my sights on the next person or group of people that were 50-100 yards ahead of me.

Southern California Half Marathon

Southern California Half Marathon

I would play little psychological games with myself. I would see that next person up there and say to myself “That’s a girl. I cannot let a girl beat me“, or “Well that is just a young high school kid. What do they know about discipline and pacing? I can’t let them beat me“, or ” That dude is just way too muscular to be a runner. Just carrying all that extra muscle weight around. I cannot let him beat me“. And so it went throughout the whole race.  I must have positioned myself well at the beginning of the race as there may have just been one or two people that passed me, but I gradually passed innumerable other racers. That is always nice for psychological boost while you are racing.
I am very please with my overall time, but I am much more pleased with the progressive increase of speed and overall negative split pacing for the race. My splits were as follows: 7:25, 7:30, 7:20, 7:17, 7:04, 7:08, 6:57, 6:53, 6:53, 6:47, 6:50, 6:50, 6:31.
The last hundred yards or so was an all-out sprint against a tall and lanky high school aged guy. He beat me out at the end. I was not sure if my legs could continue turning over that fast as it is not something I usually practice. I didn’t want some dramatic tumble and fall at the end at the finish line.
So now, a couple days out am a bit sore but did a bit of running last night. Overall, it was a bit of a confidence booster and I will go into my marathon better prepared and confident that I will be able to complete it.

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33 YEARS LATER…

The year 2012 was a year of big changes, personally. Much of it will hopefully be resolved and stabilized in 2013. 2012 was a big year of changes, healthwise. I started regular exercise exacly 1 year ago, resumed race competition after a 30-plus year hiatus, and started paying much better attention to the quality of food I put into my body. And it has been a lot more food, too – over 312,000 kcal’s worth extra over the last 12 months.
I look forward to a faster 2013. My running, and cycling base will be much more solid going into the early Spring race season. It will be very interesting to repeat some of the same events and truly be able to compare last year to this year. This winter, I will have two new events never attempted before: a half marathon, and then 3 weeks later a full marathon. I am self trained, and so my confidence wavers back and forth with these longer endurance events. I signed up for the marathon pretty ambitious and set pretty high goals. I didn’t realize how long those long training runs really are. It is a real commitment. I have continued my training, but possibly ratcheting back my expectations for time and pace. I will just try to do my best, finish it, and then start concentrating on triathlon season. The discipline of all the running I have done over the winter will certainly help build a strong running base for triathlons.

Here’s an important observation. Triathlon winners, regardless of the age group, are fast runners! It doesn’t matter if you are a world class swimmer, you’ve got to be able to hold your own on the bike and kick ass on the run.

Speaking of swimming. I found this 33 year old photograph from my glory days of high school swimming: I was a pure sprinter. My event were between 20 seconds and 2 minutes (actually 1minute 42 seconds for the 200 yd. An event lasting upwards of two minutes would have required some pacing and nutrition strategy)

Fountain Valley High School Swim Team 1980. Off the blocks.

Fountain Valley High School Swim Team 1980. Off the blocks.

I tried recently to duplicate this taut muscular form. This is the best I could do:

Off the blocks in 2012. Not quite the rigid muscular form I enjoyed 33 years ago.

Off the blocks in 2012. Not quite the rigid muscular form I enjoyed 33 years ago.

Hey, at least I can still get away with wearing a Speedo. Good luck in your 2013 season.

Posted in REVIEW, Swimming, Triathlon | 4 Comments