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Author Archives: Elizabeth Waterstraat

Welcome Back To Racing

Here it is: race report for the Wauconda Sprint Triathlon.

You’ve been sitting on the edge of your seat for over a year waiting for this. 

Sit back.  It’s here.

In that year since I’ve last raced, I too have been waiting.  Waiting to race, waiting to stop fearing pain.  You see, since then I’ve encountered three stress reactions.  The first one – it just happens, right?  The second one on the other leg – might as well aim for balance!  The third one – second time on the same leg – now I’m getting angry.  This doesn’t just happen – again!  Blood panels, bone density scans, strength training, physical therapy – I searched it all, I’m very healthy!  But the pain kept coming back.  Finally, after a lot of thinking, asking and trial + error, we uncovered what seemed to be the cause – biking (pedals, cleats, pedaling technique). 

After a few changes, I was back on my way to running. 

A cautious and slow return to running starting in late May.  Finally in late July I felt it was time to race again.  Confident?  No.  Ready?  Not really but at some point you have to close your eyes, take a leap and trust there’s 20+ years of triathlon fitness to catch you. 

I signed up for the Wauconda Sprint Triathlon.  The night before I felt excited.  It was time.  Finally.  I threw all of my triathlon stuff in a bag and couldn’t wait to wake up.

I get to race today

Race morning was going smoothly.  Until I had that feeling.  You know the one that tells you to check the pedals on your bike in back of the car?  Me neither but I had been playing around with my pedals, cleats and seat position.  Worse than if you give a mouse a cookie (or a cat a cupcake, yes I’ve read them all), if you give Liz Waterstraat a wrench very bad things can and will happen.  15 minutes away from home I realized I had the wrong pedals.  Drive back home.  Grab both pedals and ALL OF THE WRENCHES (except THE wrench you actually need).  Drive an hour north to get race ready.

It goes without saying: I’m no bike mechanic.  Thank goodness every race has a bike mechanic on site.  So I quickly made my way to the bike mechanic and handed him my pedals.  He looked at my bike, looked at the pedals, looked at me and said “Do I even want to know?” 


Next up – set up transition.  Small problem: I didn’t have my race number or timing chip.  You see, those were in the possession of Phil.  By six degrees of Jen Harrison separation I was able to connect with Phil, who lived in Wauconda, to pick up my race packet.  So I had to explain this situation to the official guarding transition.  Rightfully so she seemed hesitant.  I knew my race number, even had it marked on my body. See, SEE?  Trust me, I am #219 …. and then I showed her my arm which had been marked with…216. 


“I’ll let you in but in 10 minutes I’m coming to find you.”


Next – find Phil.  I went to Phil’s spot in transition.  No Phil.  Meanwhile, transition was closing in 10 minutes, I had no race numbers, no timing chip, I was marked with the wrong race number.  At this point, I switched from typical pre race anxiety to frantic search for Phil.  The entire transition was searching for Phil. 




5 minutes to go.  I knew the race official who sympathized with my situation and anxiety.  At this point I should have been disqualified for wrong number, no chip, wrong rack, general pain in the ass-ness and let’s not forget hopping the transition fence multiple times to TOTALLY FREAK OUT to the timing chip  company.  Possibly in an effort to get me to calm the f*ck down, they finally just gave me a new timing chip.   

Renumbered, racked and ready to go – I left transition.  With less than 30 seconds to spare.

Next – wait in line for the bus to get to the swim start.  This long line until someone shouts LIZ!  Liz?  That’s me.  Who who …. it’s Mark.  From my Ironman group back in 2011.  We boarded the bus together.  He tries to go to the back seats.

Mark, take the first seat.  It’s Sunday morning at 6 am, we’re grown adults standing barefoot in neoprene on a school bus – any attempt to be cool by sitting in the back of the bus escaped us a long time ago.   Plus, we’ll be first off of the bus.  

Liz, it’s years later and you’re still coaching me.

Once at the swim start, it starts pouring rain.  The type of rain that comes not in drops but in sideways sheets across the lake.  The Olympic race starts and then they began the sprint waves.  I hopped to the front of the line and notice the woman next to me – no wetsuit. 


Now, I’m a pretty nice gal.  But if you find me next to you at race chatting you up it’s not because I want to be your friend.  I’m trying to learn more about you.  Honestly – this is my favorite part of racing:  strategy.  The ability to play the game.  I have never, ever been motivated by PRs or fast splits.  I want to outrace you.  Outsmart, outlast, outpace you. 

And so, we started chatting.  I wanted to know what motivated someone to hop to the front of the line, no wetsuit, in a race.

Possibility #1:  limited experience. 

Have you done this race before?  She says yes.

Possibility #2:  she’s a freakishly fast swimmer.

We chat about the course.  The bike is hilly.  She tells me she cannot wait to get to the run. 

In my head, I am forming my race plan.  

The countdown begins.  The rain drives into the lake.  We are called to the starting line.

She takes off ahead of me and confirms possibility #2.  It’s officially a race.  Good.  I wanted a race today.  I sat on her feet for a few minutes before I lost her in the murky skies and pouring rain.  After a measurably long swim, I exited the water, bare feet on concrete, ripping off cap and goggles and then … I feel it.

That feeling.  Of pure excitement, joy, love for the sport, caught up the moment of what you’re doing wishing you were no other place – that feeling.  The feeling I use as a litmus test after time off to see if I’m really still invested in the racing.  Is it worth it?  The time away from the kids, the shuffling of the schedule, the physical effort. 

It is.  Dammit I missed racing.

On to the bike the rain continues to beat down to the ground.  I’m thinking of two things:

Time to go chasing. She’s out there on course, I’m chasing.  Until I find her, I need to go as hard as possible. The watts don’t matter – it’s all about the effort.  In fact, I didn’t even look at my power meter during the race.

Beyond that, all I’m thinking about is driving the bike well. You can gain lots of time at lower effort but simply paying attention to your position, cornering, climbing.    

After a very wet and wild ride, I’m back to transition.  The moment of truth: after 6 weeks off of running, no runs longer than 40 minutes in the last 8 weeks, walking 1 minute every 10 minutes, no “speed”work – would I remember how to run?  And if so, how would my legs feel?

You know how they felt?


Running out of transition, I hear the fast footsteps of someone coming up on me.  Dear god.  Already?  As she makes the pass, I see “23” written on her leg.  She’s wearing run shorts and a cotton t-shirt.

Relay?  I ask.

(please say yes please say yes)

Yes, relay.

Excellent.  Now time to go hunting for the woman who is in 1st place.  Up ahead, I see her about a half mile later.  I am focused.  My legs are moving way faster than they have any business moving.  Pace?  I don’t look at pace.  Nothing will come from me knowing I am going way too fast other than a bunch of disruptive chatter my mind will use to scare me. 

Keep going.  Faster. 

There she is. I make the pass.  Immediately I realize she is running side by side with one of my athletes: Ben.

There are many things you wish to never run into on the course race:  a bear, snakes, a car, another competitor.  Add to that list – BEN.

He immediately bolts trying to keep pace with me.  There I am trying to not just pass but pass with authority – stone-faced, giving the illusion of control though inside my lungs are pleading STOP!  Please stop already! After a few hundred feet, Ben admits defeat, tells me I’m too damn fast.  I keep running. 

Now it’s time to put time on her.  I just need to hold this pace for another mile before I can let up, catch my breath before making a final push to the finish line.  We approach a hill.  This hill, make a move.  I outclimb and that’s it.  The race is done and won.  I enjoy the downhill into the finish line.

After a year away, it felt good to be back.  Of course my chest burned, I had post race kennel cough and I was buzzing on the adrenaline all day but for a little over an hour on that day, I was reminded of what it feels like to be racing.  It felt so good to be back that when I got home, I signed up for my next race:

The Naperville Sprint World Hometown Championship

Perch yourself on the edge of the chair again.

To be continued …

November 2017 MSM Featured Athlete

Multisport Mastery is excited to announce the November 2017 Featured Athlete, Adrienne Bicek!

After being diagnosed with Cushing’s disease and a pituitary brain tumor in 2015, Adrienne not only overcame this medical setback and returned to racing this year, but qualified for the 2018 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in the process.

What challenges did you face as you returned to racing and how did you address them?

I have a lot of sympathy and admiration for any athlete who has endured a medical setback.  It’s a grueling roller coaster of emotions.  It’s gut-wrenching.  There is a wave of contradicting feelings that flow through your consciousness—denial, acceptance, fear, hope and pessimism.  In 2015 I was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease and had a pituitary brain tumor.  My medical treatment included transsephenodial surgery.  I could barely say the word, let alone fathom what my future had in store for me.  What really hurt me the most was being told I couldn’t race Worlds in Austria.  Never, in my 24 years, had I ever been told that I couldn’t race.  I had a hard time returning to triathlon because of the uncertainty and stress of the situation. I had more questions than answers.

In May of this year I contacted Coach Liz in tears.  Up to this point, I had never been one to voice the struggle, but rather embrace the struggle and use it as fuel for personal achievement.  Without hesitation, Liz gave me advice on overcoming the adversity I had been experiencing.  I wanted to revert to my previous competitive self.  Wondering how my body would respond to training, the self-doubt attached to my medical condition, the fortitude to surpass all the negative thoughts all presented significant challenges.  The task was tall.  I went from barely making it down the stairs, to avoiding working out, to training for an Ironman 70.3.  Liz listened to my concerns and then got right down to business, asking me specific questions—“Do you have a bike?” (NO!)  “Don’t worry, we’ll figure it out.”  And that’s how the summer went….”We’ll figure it out!”

How has this experience influenced the way you train and race?

I felt scared going into the race (Arizona 70.3) asking myself if I was really prepared.  I texted Liz the day before for some last minute advice.  “Just race—enjoy it and stay engaged,” Liz replied.  Sunday morning rolled around and I needed to just go out and do what I knew how to do….RACE!  It was warm out, 95 degrees to be exact, but I knew I wanted it.  It was a challenging race with a lot of ups and downs along the way.  I crossed the finish line and I had tears in

my eyes.  But this time they were happy tears as I hugged my father.  My goal was accomplished…to finish another 70.3 without being told I couldn’t.  And to qualify for Worlds was icing on the cake!

I owe a large amount of gratitude to Liz for her daily support.  She gave me advice and instilled in me confidence, making me a believer in my own capabilities.  At Ironman 70.3 Arizona I wore my heart on my sleeve and raced with a reinvigorated passion.  I wouldn’t have been able to race the way I did in Arizona if it weren’t for my faith, family and friends supporting me.

This experience made me realize that working out and training is a privilege.  No day is guaranteed to us and the ability to train and achieve is a blessing that shouldn’t be forgotten.

What advice would you give athletes facing medical setbacks and getting back in the game?

Give yourself time and be patient with yourself.  Seek help early on and don’t feel like you need to be “Mr. or Ms. Tough Guy.”  It’s okay.  Lean on the people that love you.

Why did you choose to work with a coach?  How did that influence your return to racing and prepare you to qualify for 70.3 Worlds?

I started triathlon training with Coach Liz Waterstraat of Multisport Mastery in 2015.   There was never a question in my mind that if and when I got back into it that I would choose Liz.  Liz and I get each other and I find that communication is KEY.  It is an understatement to say that Liz knows what she is doing when it comes to coaching triathletes.  My workouts were carefully planned into my daily schedule and instant communication post-workout followed.

What were your key accomplishment in 2017? 

  • Qualifying for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in South Africa
  • Overall win at the Chicago SuperSprint
  • Age group win at the Chicago Olympic Triathlon
  • Qualifying for the USAT National Championship
  • A new teaching job working in special education
  • Riding for 5 hours and 42 minutes on a bike in Madison, Wisconsin at the Multisport Mastery 2016 Summer Camp – I had never ridden my bike that long before!

What are your goals for 2018?

  • Top 20-25 at Ironman 70.3 World Championship in South Africa
  • Top 15 at USAT Nationals
  • Continue to strive for life & training balance

What motivates you to keep training and racing?

It’s fun!  I’m competitive and I like the challenge.  It’s an opportunity to see what you’re capable of accomplishing.

A few words from Coach Liz

Working with Adrienne over the last 2 years has a gratifying evolution from triathlon beginner to world championship qualifier.  Adrienne came to me as a former Division I swimmer at the University of Michigan, a career that took her to the Olympic trials.  Not surprisingly, she had a massive aerobic engine, high capacity for work and killer competitive instinct.  Channeling those qualities into a new sport as well as developing her fitness and technical skills in biking and running has been a step-by-step process of helping her to progress at a rate her body can handle, setting realistic goals and keeping her focused on the joy of the process.  No doubt her future in the sport is bright!

When Adrienne encountered her medical setback, I could tell it shook her to the core.  Here was a young woman whose entire life was built around her athletic identity.  For someone who excelled at pushing herself and doing the impossible, being told to stop athletic pursuits and rest was a new experience.  But I knew she would be back – stronger, wiser and more competitive than ever before.  When she reached out in early 2017, I could tell she was timid but knew she owed it to herself to get back into competition.  I encouraged her to simply check boxes day after day without looking at the big picture, to just set herself in motion and do something every day and trust that something would add up.

In the back of her mind, her goal was qualifying for the 2018 70.3 World Championship.  With a new job, new relationship and still learning the ups & downs of her post-setback health, she kept moving forward and did the best she could in training.  On race day, she reconnected to the joy of racing without judging herself or worrying about the outcome.  And the result?  She achieved her goal.

I’m looking forward to watching Adrienne continue to develop as an athlete but more importantly as a well-rounded person who fits athletics into the bigger picture of who they are and what matters in their life.  That balance will not only promote better long-term health but also the potential for longevity in success on her path as a triathlete.  From that place, I know we can accomplish big things in 2018 and beyond!

Swim Smooth Coaching Course

Last week, I had the incredible opportunity to attend Swim Smooth.  If you’re not familiar with Swim Smooth, check out their website, to learn more about their approach.  They’ve also written a book (aptly titled Swim Smooth).

Hosted at the beautiful Alga Norte Community Center in Carlsbad, California, Swim Smooth was a 3-day course that consisted of 10 hours of hands-on, experiential and lecture-based learning each day.   Think about that: 30 hours in 3 days.  Folks, this is one of the most comprehensive programs out there.

Not a certification, this was “coaches course.”  The class consisted of around 20 coaches who were selected from the 200 applicants from all over the world.  In our class we had those who were already running large age group swim teams, open water swimmers, triathlon coaches and those who just wanted to learn to swim better.  It was an interesting mix of adults with two things in common: we all loved to swim and we all had our own swim story.

My swim story.

Swim Smooth was created by two fantastically British men: Paul and Adam.  I cannot say enough good things about them – they are the perfect example of a Visionary and Integrator described in the book Rocket Fuel.  One is the front man, the other seems more behind the scenes but together what they are doing is amazing.

Their goal, simply put, is to change the world of triathlon and open water swimming.  This is important to note as they are not interested in teaching all 4 strokes or making you a more competitive masters swimmer.  It’s all about the skills and fitness required to excel at endurance events.

The schedule was intense:  10 hours every day with no breaks.  You ate through, sat through and worked through the entire day.  The first day was mostly interesting lecture on the theories behind the Swim Smooth approach.  If I could describe my biggest takeaway from the weekend, it would be from this first day:

Coach the swimmer, not the stroke.

From years of experience and gathered from thousands of videos, they have put together a system for classifying and working with swimmers.  For example, the “Arnies” who are muscle-bound, fighting the water, sinking in their legs.  The approach describes how to identify and then work with each swimmer.  Again, they do not feel there is a right way or one way to swim.  It’s all about meeting the swimmer where they are and working with them.

How refreshing that they supported their approach with research and examples from the swimming world.  It’s one thing to create your own system/science.  It’s another thing to back it up!  One example – we talked a lot about the legendary Janet Evans, who is of the best representations of swimming in a way that works best for you.  Janet stood at 5’2” and swam with a stroke rate of over 100 strokes per minute.  Compare this to Ian Thorpe who swam closer 60 strokes per minute.  Both are highly decorated Olympians and arguably two of the best swimmers in history.  For years, Janet’s coach was prodded to fix her stroke, slow it down!  So they worked on it and guess what happened – she got slower.  He said that was the last time he ever counted her strokes again.

Janet and Ian exemplify what seemed to be the ultimate 2 swim forms with Swim Smooth: the Swinger and the Smooth.  Their system seemed to move swimmers towards Swinger or Smooth, however, they repeatedly urged us to remember that the best swimmers are adaptable, able to change their stroke to meet changing conditions, demands and events.

The Swim Smooth system also incorporates a lot of tools and toys from Finis.  Assorted paddles, fins and the Tempo Trainer.  Swim Smooth includes a lot of work with the Tempo Trainer and focusing on your stroke rate.  There are entire swim systems out there designed to get you to slow down your stroke rate.  Swim Smooth comes back with saying not so fast.  Or, it depends on …. the swimmer!  As a real life example, they compared myself to the tallest participant in the course, Chris.  Chris stood at 6 feet 4 inches compared to my 5 feet 2 inches.  When Chris warmed up, he swam with a stroke count in the upper 40s.  My warm up rate was in the high 70s.  At high speed, he was well into the 60s while I was spinning along in the upper 90s.  Imagine if we had reversed our stroke rates?  Finding your range of an optimal stroke rate is a big part of their system.

Swinger vs Smooth.  And because we all need a picture of ourselves in a swimsuit on the internet.

One of the things I had enjoyed the most was how this course included time to do what brought us there in the first place – swimming!  We were in the pool for 2 days out of the course.  On the first day, we had to jump in and swim 200 yards while being filmed.  No warm up.  They feel this best represents what you’ll do at the start of a race – nervous, fresh and not quite warmed up into your stroke.  To film, they rigged a Go Pro to a piece of piping and captured footage of you swimming from the side and a birds eye view.

Perhaps the biggest value of this program was when Paul himself viewed and provided feedback for each coach’s video.  While it might seem tedious to sit through each stroke feedback session, it actually solidified much of the learning we were doing.  It was real, hands-on learning in how to identify errors and what to do to fix them.  Paul had a system for drawing angles, pointing out flaws and then using video of top swimmers (ie., Rebecca Adlington, Michael Phelps) to demonstrate proper elbow angles, hand position, head position, etc.  I’ve already implemented Paul’s suggestions from my analysis and (surprise!) they made me immediately faster.

Also in the first day, they brought in a local long distance swimmer to provide filming, feedback and stroke correction.   We went through this process countless times but each time I felt I learned a little more or honed in my observational skills.  And, each time you learned a little more about their system – a correction hierarchy if you will.  When first looking at a swimmer, they start with asking where the main problem is:  swimming with less drag or getting more propulsion.  As far as actual stroke correction, the starting point is breathing!  In their words: if something is going to go wrong with our stroke, it will be when breathing.  Without proper breathing, you will never be comfortable with swimming and without comfort you will never swim to your potential.  They are proponents of bilateral breathing if for nothing more than improving your adaptability when in open water conditions.  From there, the correction hierarchy includes:  kicking, posture, rotation, catch & pull, rhythm & timing.  We learned the “why” behind a lot of stroke errors I often see: crossover, splayed kick, dropping elbow, legs sinking and then the “how” on how to fix them.

Paul teaching us proper catch position.  Notice the elbow above the hand.  Note that you do not necessarily establish this position by keeping your elbow high! 

Swim Smooth also focuses on improving how you swim in open water.  They cited several triathletes, showing footage of their “not so pretty” ways of swimming – Harry Wiltshire, the Brownlee brothers, Jodie Swallow.  All are some of the best triathlon swimmers across all distances, none swim pretty.  They lean towards more of an “open water sufficient” stroke – aggressive, high turnover, adaptable given the conditions.  They suggested looking your race history for more insight into your swimming – do you swim better on courses with left or right turns, choppy or smooth courses, etc.  Any of those strengths (or weaknesses) say something about your swimming.

A few words on swimming from this guy who does triathlons, you might know him – Alistair Brownlee.

The second day was more information, more practical sessions and a lot more swimming!  They selected a few of us to go through a ramp test.  This consisted of setting a Tempo Trainer a few beats below our normal stroke rate and then ramping it up – what a revealing process!  With this, they recorded our stroke rate, speed and RPE.  This process showed me that my naturally high stroke rate of 78 (which according to their chart was on the upper end of where I should be) actually needs to go higher!  Even over 95 strokes/minute, I was getting faster but still not tapped out RPE-wise.  What struck me, though, from this entire ramp test was how individual each swimmer is.  The other swimmer in my lane was a woman slightly taller than me but started with a stroke rate of 56 ended in the 70s.  Once again, coach the swimmer!

A few hours later, we had to get back into the pool to do a CSS test.  Believe it or not, after prescribing this to countless athletes over the years, I’ve never done a CSS test.  Done properly, a CSS test includes a warm up, a 400 all out where you look at the split for the first 100 to assess pacing as well as overall time, 10 minutes of easy swimming and then a 200 all out.  Afterwards, you determine “CSS” or “critical swim speed” or a pace just below your threshold.  Knowing a current CSS allows you to prescribe workouts with appropriate paces in order to improve your endurance swimming.  A CSS test also looks at the drop off between the 400 and 200 which gives you a better idea of the engine on the swimmer again allowing you to design a training plan or workouts specific to an athlete’s strengths and weaknesses.

On the final day, we put it all together with 10 swimmers who traveled from Canada, Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada for stroke analysis.  We were paired with another coach and assigned a swimmer.  Our swimmer was a 70+ woman who swam masters 5 times a week at her retirement community in Phoenix.  I loved her passion for improving her stroke and her quick ability to take feedback and integrate it directly into what she was doing.  She needed a few corrections but mostly – she needed confidence!  By giving her plenty of encouragement and drills designed to improve HER stroke, she made immediate progress – WOW!  These swimmers spent the ENTIRE day with us – starting with Paul’s presentation on stroke correction, stroke rate, the Swim Smooth approach and then going through each video before getting back into the pool to correct their individual strokes and do a CSS test.  Going through this entire process (again) was a fantastic way to solidify the main concepts and see those concepts in action in real life, real time.

Coaching our swimmer on proper hand position & entry.

That next day, after the red eye from San Diego, I found myself on a pool deck coaching.  The transfer from what I learned at Swim Smooth was immediate – I was able to identify the types of swimmers in front of me, their flaws but more importantly – finally understand and communicate how to address those flaws with drills, language and tools.  Because of that, the benefit of this coaches course has far surpassed any program I’ve ever done and more than justified the steeper-than-most cost.

As for becoming a certified Swim Smooth coach, it’s much more of a process than take this test & here’s a badge for your website like most programs.  There’s about a half dozen things you need to do (an exam, many hours of video analysis, etc).  Once complete, you can apply to move forward in their program which includes a 2-week trip to Perth to work with their swim squad.  Their Australian swim squad has over 400 swimmers (and over 300 on the waitlist!), 12 practices a week, 4 lanes, 12 swimmers per lane.  This is huge!  Clearly it’s a system they seem to want to replicate while preserving what has made it one of the best:  a high quality, consistent, well-researched system and coaching staff.   To be one of their coaches, you also need to commit to starting your own Swim Smooth squad, following their protocol and paying their annual franchising fee.  At first I thought: wow, this is aggressive and limiting!  After all, who can take 2 weeks out of life, leave their family and job behind to stand on a pool deck in Australia?  But after seeing all of the time, research, effort and love Paul and Adam have put into this system, they’re making the expectation clear – they are invested on this mission to improve triathlon and endurance swimming and their coaches must be too.

Send me back to SoCal – now.

Luckily, when I was at the clinic, I met the only certified Swim Smooth coach who lives in Chicago.  She is able to offer swim clinics with stroke analysis following their protocol.  Multisport Mastery will be partnering with this coach to offer a clinic this winter and we are excited about other future opportunities.  Meanwhile, I very much look forward to implementing pieces of this system and feedback on deck with my swimmers and athletes.  And perhaps when my kids are a little older, I’ll pursue the full certification (next up: convince husband we need a 2 week Australian vacation!).


I have a confession.  I’m one of those rare triathlete adult-onset-swimmers who loves to swim.

A unicorn, someone recently called me.

Me (not really me).

When I first started the sport as a spry F20-24’er, swimming was a chore.  An annoyance.  You mean I have to swim?  Swim cancelled in the race?  Prayers answered!  Yes, I was one of those triathletes.  These days, the swim is more of an advantage.  It’s a completely different race when you race at the front of the age group versus coming from behind.  In a sense, I’ve raced from all angles – mid pack age grouper, back of the pack pro, front of the age group.   Three totally different races!

Most of my progress is a result of swimming with masters.  I’ve swam with the same masters team for nearly 20 years.  I swim 3 times or around 10,000 – 12,000 yards a week.  If I had the time (and energy), I would swim every day.  I just really, really like swimming.  Swimming laps is my version of staring out of a window and daydreaming.  It’s one of the few places we can go to be disconnected – no notifications, no gadgets, no noise.  Truly quiet.

And much cheaper than therapy.

When I got injured this past summer, I was allowed to do two things:  ride a cyclocross bike outside with tennis shoes on top of flat pedals and swim.  It was the perfect time for swimming – I had access to nearby open water swimming, masters, the neighborhood pool and Lake Michigan.  Some of my solo swims exceeded 7000 yards.  Some of my days were double swim days.  Sometimes I would do masters and go swim open water after it.  Long sets, short sets, freestyle, stroke, snorkel (finally I love it), fins and of course – paddles + pulling.

Over time, a funny thing happened: I got better at swimming.  Not necessarily faster but that elusive feel for water?  I found it.  Knowing I wanted to swim lots and often, my old stroke no longer served me well.  Too aggressive, too many strokes.  I finally learned how to drive my stroke from my hips, engage my obliques and lengthen myself.  My masters coach, who years ago while watching me swim the 1650 at state commenting I will not take responsibility for that stroke, finally said I love what you’ve done with your stroke.  It was one of my proudest moments as an athlete.

When October rolled around with our team’s annual Naples swim trip – it occurred to me that there was no better time for a swimcation.

Like many of you, I have a hard time taking care of myself.  Sure, I exercise and eat mostly well but I have a hard time giving myself the space and time to simply be me.  As the years have added up and the responsibilities have piled on, the concept of ‘being me’ has taken a backseat.  I am so many things to other people during the day – wife, Coach Liz, Athlete Liz, Mom Liz that I find the moments where I am just myself are few and far between.  Giving myself permission to just be me has been one of the hardest things I’ve worked for yet one of the greatest gifts I’ve given to myself.  This trip was not only a celebration of my summer of injury (more on that later) but also a celebration of me.  Accepting that it’s ok to take time away to just be – with no races, no business goals, no one other goals than being me and – swimming.

The team headed to Naples on a Thursday for 5 days of swimming.  Our first swim was in the evening.  We covered 3700 yards of mixed strokes and loosening sets.  Dark clouds settled in and we found ourselves swimming in pouring rain.  It reminded me of open water swimming.  Everyone was tired and stayed in as preparation for the next morning’s swimming.

Sunrise in Naples

Friday morning we started around 9 am at the Norris Pool.  There had to be 20 lanes in this pool – I’ve never seen anything like it.  I was put into the fastest lane with two of the fastest guys on our team.  Most of the guys I swim with are well older than me – former collegiate swimmers who have slowed down to speeds still much faster than I will ever swim.  Keeping up with them is what drives me.  I’ll do whatever it takes – fins, paddles, SIM shorts.  They tease me like I’m one of the gang and I feel a sense of belonging.  This is one of the reasons I swim with masters – because it makes me feel like I belong to something.  I covered around 5000 yards this morning.

Later that morning, Caroline (one of my athletes who after foot surgery dove right into her own season of swimming) and I went to the Naples Botanical Garden.  If you follow me on Instgram you know #idratherbegardening.  My former life as a quasi-botany-teacher, I need to visit the botanical garden or explore plant life whenever I’m traveling.  Naples did not disappoint – a variety of sandy, pine ecosystems, Caribbean plants, a butterfly house, plants of Asia and Brazil.

Holy Coleus!

Later that afternoon, I hopped into the gulf for 1100 yards of swimming.  This was one of the most enjoyable open water swims I’ve done – ever.  The gulf is warm, calm and you can swim inches off of the shore making it feel safe.  Loads of fish and the only enemy I encountered was a jellyfish that rolled right over me.

That evening can be summed up by a text I sent to a friend:  I’m drunk on a pontoon.  We rented pontoons in the bay surrounded by multi-million dollar homes and cruising along with dolphins.  I drank cheap white wine and made new friends.  Another hard thing to do as adult – be yourself and make friends.  As the sun set and the air cooled, either the wine hit me or the fatigue from double swim day.  I thought to myself it’s good to be Liz.  It was a good day.

Turns out I only drink cheap white wine in a plastic cup in Florida and only when I’m on a pontoon.

Saturday arrived and we tackled another swim – this time long course meters.  To the horror of my lanemates and somehow surviving years of public shaming – I still don’t flip turn.  Any time you take walls away, I’m giddy.  We ended up swimming around 4900 yards of variations of 400s.  To unload our shoulders, we did a lot of work with fins.

After the swim, Eric and I headed over to Old Naples.  We pretended to be interested in the whimsical art at the art fair, he tried to embarrass me in front of every elderly man we passed and then we enjoyed sushi.  I ate fish every day, twice a day.  I’m sure my mercury content went up twofold but it was worth it.

Later in the afternoon, I hopped into the gulf for 2200 yards.  It was, again, perfect.  Glassy, calm and 84 degrees.  That evening, we went to the infamous Blue Martini because when in Naples – you Blue Martini.

Trust me.

The next morning was another long course swim.  Lots of 200s.  We covered around 4000 yards.  At this point my biceps were screaming.  What better cure than to go kayaking for 2 hours in the bay.  Eric, John and I ventured out towards the gulf.  It was peaceful and relaxing.  Three adults talking about life and stuff.  Sometimes there was nothing but the sound of oars dipping in and out of the water.

View from the kayak. I would like kayaking a lot more if there wasn’t so much paddling involved.

Afterwards, I headed to the gulf to be greeted with water that looked tipsy – rolling in at an angle.  A few swimmers ventured out deeper and I used them as my buoy.  Swimming out and around them, through the chop – this wasn’t swimming, it was playing.  I covered 1000 yards.

That evening, I felt a little tapped out of socializing.  For better or worse, I am someone who needs extreme amounts of alone time to recharge and find my bearings.  I needed to eat familiar food (Whole Foods) and then walked back in the darkness (why is Florida so dark?).  I made it about a mile before I feared being eaten by an alligator.

The final morning I was tired.  As my lanemate teased me, the fatigue hit me in a wave of feeling overly oversensitive and wanting to smack him for being snippy.  Hello, fatigue, I’ve been waiting.  We covered about 3600 yards before I had to hustle to get back to the airport.

A few times during the trip, some of the swimmers questioned me.  You’re the first one in and last one out, why do you keep swimming?  Was that you swimming again in the afternoon?  Are you part of a collegiate team?  Finally, I explained myself.  When I got injured, I decided that something would come of it.  I would not spend a summer whining about all of the running I couldn’t do, race fees wasted or another season lost.  Swimming became the one thing I could do to push myself and chase big things.  I set the goal to do something I had never done before – swim 30,000 yards in a week.  To a pure swimmer, that’s nothing.  But to me – it was daunting.  That week I finally did it.  31,500 yards.

As strange as it sounds, the swimcation was a celebration of being injured.  A culmination of a summer’s worth of work in the water.  Why celebrate being injured?  What if we turned that question on its head: why not?  As an athlete, it’s part of the gamble you take when expecting your body to take you places and paces out of the ordinary.  I tried, I failed but perhaps more importantly I found my training limit.  I have to believe there is value in that.

(or at least it makes me feel better about all of those insurance co-pays!)

This month, Multisport Mastery is hosting a swim challenge for all athletes.  You can read more about the challenge here:

Multisport Mastery Coaching

So far we have 60 athletes signed up to spend the month challenging themselves with new strokes, timed sets and other fun goals.  For some, this is BIG – the first time they’ve swam 5 days in a row, the first time they’ve tried fly.  For others, it’s been a way to return to where it all started – in the pool, as a swimmer.  We’ve got prizes for the top 5 but plenty of surprise challenges & prizes along the way.  We encourage you to hop in at any time – it will be worth it.  Find your feel for the water but most of all, learn to love swimming.  It’s a sport you can enjoy for your lifetime in any condition.

Happy laps! 

70.3 World Championship Wrap Up

This year, Multisport Mastery was represented by 12 athletes at the 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga.  From pro to AG podium to first-time world championship finisher, our athletes put forth their best efforts on a challenging, championship-worthy course.  I’m excited to share more about their journeys from qualification to race day performance.

Anna Johnson (Illinois) was a first-time world championship qualifier and finisher.  Anna secured her slot to worlds with a brave 3rd in AG performance at Ohio 70.3.  Last year, Anna’s husband (also a triathlete) found out he had leukemia.  When faced with whether to proceed with her training or pause to focus on her husband’s battle, he urged her to keep going, telling her that she was now racing for the both of them.  Like many of you, Anna juggles her training with a career as therapist and being mother to 5 children.  Anna took on the hills of Chattanooga with courage and strength to arrive at the world championship finish line.  Congratulations, Anna!

Jeff Bishop (Minnesota) accepted his slot to the world championship at Florida 70.3.  He is a consistent performer who keeps inching his way higher and higher up into his age group.  With a world championship qualifying performance at Olympic distance Nationals in Omaha a few weeks earlier, Jeff headed to 70.3 Worlds heat acclimated, prepared and confident he could put together his best day.  He capped off his swim and bike with a 1:30 half marathon – a new PR on a tough course.  Congratulations, Jeff!

Heather Grier (Illinios) qualified for 70.3 Worlds with 4th AG and a 30+ minute PR at Muncie 70.3.  Heather is a long-time triathlete and mother of 6 who has combined her incredible drive with killer consistency over the past year.  As a former physique competitor and personal trainer, I reminded her that when it came to the Chattanooga course, her strength was her strength!  Heather finished worlds in the top 25% of her AG with a new run PR on a very hilly course.  Congratulations, Heather!

Cathy Yndstead (Switzerland) enlisted the coaching of Liz Waterstraat (Multisport Mastery) and Jennifer Harrison (JHC Triathlon Coaching) to chase big dreams in her 2017 season.  2nd overall at Mallorca 70.3 qualified her for the world championship.  She followed that up with several overall podium finishes at local races.  Cathy is a gritty competitor with a long list of top performances, overall wins, podiums at endurance events of all kinds.  On race day, it was no surprise that Cathy raced gritty, brave and led her AG until the last few miles of the run.  She crossed the finish line 3rd in AG and top 10 AG woman overall.  Congratulations, Cathy!

Kevin Ferguson (Illinois) qualified for worlds with 5th AG & 20 minute PR at Muncie 70.3.  With Ironman Florida on the race schedule, 70.3 Worlds was a well-timed fitness booster.  Kevin has significantly improved his swim leading into a strong bike and stronger run.  In his words, he felt like he could have kept going which is exactly where we want him leading into the final preparation for Ironman.  Congratulations, Kevin!

Robin Watson (Arizona) qualified for her first 70.3 world championship in 2016.  Throughout 2017, we worked to lift her bike and run performances closer to her strong swim.  Robin didn’t race much en route to worlds but put a lot of time and energy into her training, especially under the intense conditions of summer in Arizona.  Robin finished close to the top 10% of her AG with all around strong performances in each discipline.  Congratulations, Robin!

Liz Cullen (Canada) is one of MSM’s super mom/coach/athletes.  With an infant who still wasn’t sleeping through the night, Liz impressively qualified for 70.3 Worlds with a 3rd in AG finish at Victoria 70.3.  She spent her summer working the hills and swimming with the “big kids” to boost her performance in Chattanooga.  Less than a year after having her 2nd child, she finished top 30 in her AG.  Congratulations, Liz!

Karen Rayle (Vietnam) is no stranger to the podium with AG podium finishes at Vietnam 70.3 and Calgary 70.3 in 2016.  Her worlds qualification came from her 2016 AWA ranking, earning her an automatic slot.  Karen spends most of her year as a teacher in the oppressively hot conditions of Vietnam.  This year was no exception!  Unfortunately, in the preparation for racing, anything can happen – after the long travel, Karen encountered some food poisoning.  This obstacle didn’t keep her from starting and then finishing what she started by crossing the worlds finish line.  Congratulations, Karen!

Amanda Wendorff (Colorado) started with Multisport Mastery back in 2012.  Little did we know where the journey would take us!  From beginner to AG 70.3 world champion, Amanda stepped up to racing pro late in 2015.  Less than 2 years later, she accepted a slot to the 70.3 pro world championship as a result of points gathered from several top 10 70.3 pro finishes around the world.  Amanda raced with a strong focus on execution, self-belief and staying engaged while racing against the world’s best.  Congratulations, Amanda!

Jen Scalise (Massachusetts) qualified for the 70.3 world championship with a 3rd AG finish at Mont Tremblant 70.3.  Jen chooses her races carefully and puts tons of heart and positivity into her training.  She arrived in Chattanooga ready to work!  Unfortunately, a crash on the bike cost her a good amount of time but in true Jen-fashion, she got right back into it and raced to her best, finishing in the top 30 of her AG.  Congratulations, Jen!

Shelly Lake (Virginia) is one of the best coaches in the triathlon business with some of the fastest amateur men in the country on her Fiv3 Racing roster.  Coming off of a strong 2016 season where she qualified for the 70.3 World Championship in Australia in her first race back after having a baby, Shelly’s 2016 AWA ranking earned her an automatic slot to the 2017 World Championship.  Starting Worlds, Shelly was as fit as she’s ever been – having one of her best executed races ever.  Congratulations, Shelly!

Josie Graham (Texas) qualified for 70.3 Worlds with a 3rd AG finish at Syracuse 70.3  Less than 8 weeks before Worlds, Josie discovered she had a femoral neck stress reaction.  With the support of a dedicated team of physical therapists, Josie decided to press forward with her goal to compete at Worlds.  We approached her training just as if she was running – with no increase in her swim and bike, simply replacing all runs with quality water run sessions.  Two weeks before the race, she began some running on an Alter-G treadmill.  With only one (yes, one!!) 20-minute run on land before the race, Josie toed the line at the world championship with weeks of a can-do attitude, persistence and trust behind her.  Not only did she finish in the top 30% of her AG but she also set a new half marathon PR.  Congratulations, Josie!

From first-time finishers, AG podium to pro – THIS is what Multisport Mastery is all about.  We take pride in being a part of the journey where everyday athletes work to find the best version of themselves.  What a year!

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