My penchant for small gadgets is well documented, but I’ve recently added two new toys – one new, one old – to my kit bag. The first is the new agility paddles from Finis:
These function both as a regular paddle and as a technique tool; most noticeably, they lack the usual straps across the back of the hand, and instead, have a single hole for the thumb. They feel incredibly weird when you first put them on, but their genius is that if your hand is in the right position, with a good catch, they stay on just fine; if not, they drop off the hand and sink to the bottom, and you are forced to endure the humiliation of pausing mid-swim to recover your paddle. I just got a pair of these last week, and my first session with them was not very encouraging – stroke, stroke…and dive to recover the paddle. And again. And again. But what I learned was that my right hand – and it was always my right hand – does a little rotation just before the catch starts, turning my thumb slightly upwards before sweeping out a little and then down. And every time the hand rotates out of its proper position at the front of the stroke, the paddle comes off. It’s the tiniest movement, but it’s also probably no coincidence that that’s the same thumb that I’ve had injury problems with in past years. So, something to work on. When I concentrate hard, I can keep the paddles on, which in turn massively improves my catch and pull. So these are definite keepers.
My second gadget is one that I’ve had for a while, but have felt very ambivalent about – the Finis Tempo Trainer Pro:
Like all the best gadgets, the basic concept is a simple one: it’s a metronome (and in fact, it’s key competitor is rather pleasingly called the Wetronome
). As such, it provides regular bleeps in three different modes: stroke rate (setting a designated time between bleeps, where each bleep equates to one stroke); pace (getting a triple beep after a certain time period, during which time you should aim to have covered a pre-determined distance); and strokes per minute (so very similar in function to the first mode, but approached from a different perspective).
Total Immersion coach, Terry Laughlin, has provided a very detailed set of instructions
for how to make the best use of the TT, especially when combined with stroke counting. The goal here is to use the TT to increase the distance covered per stroke. It makes perfect sense on paper, and I tried really hard to make this work for me. But unfortunately, my wandering brain refused to cooperate and I soon found my mind drifting hopelessly:
1, 2, 3, 4… I forgot to do my travel expenses …7, 8, 9 … I really want to get a dog…. erm…10, 11…or perhaps a kitten would be better …Damn….[turn]…. bleep, bleep, bleep….damn, forgot to count….[turn]….1, 2, 3, 4, 5… that cracked tile looks like a map of Australia….erm….8 maybe, 9 10, 11…
And so it went on. And then if I really concentrated, I just got really annoyed about all that bleeping. This probably says more about my own limitations than those of the Tempo Trainer, but the end result was that I left it to fester at the bottom of my kit bag.
But recently, I rediscovered the TT, this time, as a pacer. So, for example, if you wanted to do a time trial of 1km, aiming to hit 100m at, say, 1.40, then you set the TT to give a discrete triple bleep every 1.40. As you approach the wall for the 100m split, if it bleeps before you hit it, you’re slow; if you make the turn before the bleeps, you’re up on your target. This also gives you a very good sense of whether you’re dropping pace over the course of a time trial, or whether you could afford to sneak your interval down by a second or two next time you repeat the trial. Using it in this way has a number of advantages: there is no infernal bleeping the whole time; it keeps you focused on a the task during a longer time trial and stops you from drifting off the pace; and it gives you very precise feedback without having to look at a clock or watch.
I’ve got a pretty good track record at knocking out long slow swims when the need arises, and have become increasingly good at building in tough sprint to increase the registers of pace that I have to draw on. But historically, I’ve been less good at doing those long hard pace swims, especially since I stopped training with the Masters club. But this has enabled me to reintroduce those into my workouts, which can only be a good thing for my preparations for Manhattan.
You see….gadgets are our friends.