Apr 272011

USMS Spring Nationals logo

USMS Spring Nationals logo

My count down began two weeks ago when I started tapering for U.S. Masters Swimming Spring Nationals. A decrease in yardage increased my excitement and anticipation of the event. Only “X” more days raced around in my brain! After fine-tuning my starts in practice, doing about 1000 breast stroke pullouts in my home pool and refining some particulars of my stroke, I feel sleek and fast in the water. I indulged in a massage yesterday and have rolled and stretched and hot-tubbed every night this week before bed. I bought a fresh pair of goggles yesterday, tested them in the water this morning. Bags are nearly packed and ready to go. So all I have to do now is drive up to Mesa and start swimming with 1818 other people who have the same plan!

Some people think I’m crazy to compete. “Why would you want to do that at your age?” they ask. As if I should spend my weekends playing bridge and rocking in my chair at 48. Pleeeze! Others, who share my competition and swimming passion, understand what I’m up to completely. There is so much more in it for me than getting a fast time and a medal. That is just part of the story. No matter what time I swim, it is an opportunity for me to express my gratitude to God that I can swim, that I am healthy, that I look fit, that I love to workout. This is a gift I no longer take for granted!

Swimming in an event with so many fit people of all ages – from 19 all the way to 95 – also inspires me to keep on striving to be my best. Nationals, wherever they are held, is a place where people of many generations, professions, and states and countries can come together and share a common love for swimming. I always meet so many interesting people at nationals. Often its the people who aren’t famous who fascinate and inspire me the most because of their perseverance and determination.

A swimmer friend of mine was so ill in January, she had to be fed intravenously. Now she is back in the water competing and expects to win many of her events. I know another woman who underwent chemotherapy last year, now she is swimming 4 events in nationals. People compete alongside fathers, mothers, sons and daughters at this event; enjoying a family weekend of friendly competition. Others enjoy reuniting with friends they’ve met from all over the country over the years.

Is the competition fierce? Sometimes. There is nothing like showing up the first day and seeing nearly 2000 swimmers competing and/or in the warm-up pool to get your adrenaline sky-rocketing. A long warm-up and a few conversations with familiar faces always calms me down in a hurry. But in the end, its a smile, handshake and a pat on the shoulder or a hug after a race, a warm conversation on the sidelines, cheering and encouraging teammates and finishing the competition feeling grateful to be alive and that I have so many special people in my life that makes it all worth it for me.

Apr 222011

Susan Dawson-Cook in Personal Best Stretch - photo by Chris Mooney

Susan Dawson-Cook doing shoulder girdle stretches in Personal Best Stretch

Like most personal trainers, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard this worn out excuse: I don’t have enough time to do my exercise program. What’s really scary is that most of my clients are retired. If you can’t fit in an hour a day to exercise when you’re not even employed, there’s something seriously out-o-kilter with your priorities!

If you’re about to conjure up an excuse or two today, below are a few tips that might help you put your schedule and priorities in perspective:

1 – Look at exercise as part of your health care progam. If you exercise more, you will likely spend less time at the doctor’s office and the hospital.

2 – If you schedule your exercise time, just like you do for a trip to the doctor or for your bridge or quilting hour, then it is less likely to be left by the wayside.

3 – Find someone in the community that you look up to as a “fitness role model.” This person can inspire you to be your best. Your role model might be someone who shows up at the gym every morning at 7 a.m. sharp, a neighbor who competes in triathlons or someone who practices yoga every morning at the clubhouse.

4 – Fit in stretching during small increments throughout the day. When my neck and chest gets tight from sitting in front of the computer, I stand up and do neck rolls and then lay over the foam roller to open up my chest for a few minutes. I also often stretch to relax my body right before going to bed. Paying attention to what your body needs and delivering it is no different from giving your car a tune-up. Your body will feel and function much better if you are mindful. I also highly recommend regular chiropractic and massage to help keep you feeling like a fine-tuned machine (instead of a robot with rusty parts).

5 – If the long bout of exercise feels daunting, make slots for 3, 15 minute bouts of exercise. I personally don’t like this because it takes me 10 minutes to warm up enough to enjoy the rest of the workout, but I do know that this works well for many people. I also followed this method when I was travelling 75 percent of the time several years ago. I would do 10 minutes on the bike in the morning, walk around the parking lot for 10 or 15 minutes at lunch and even pace around in airports!

6 – If you are overcomitted with board responsibilities, social events, and other hobbies, let something go to make time for your exercise. I often combine the social and the exercise by training in groups or hiking with my family.

7 – Make it fun! I lost weight and got in my best shape ever when I started taking group exercise classes. Since I found them fun, I wanted to go every day and exercise became a joy instead of a chore. Everyone likes some kind of exercise. Keep trying different modes until you find what you like and you can’t help but succeed.

If you have a favorite tip to share, I’d love to hear it :)

Apr 172011

Practice swim in La Jolla Cove

Susan taking a practice swim with some Ford Aquatics Masters swimmers in La Jolla Cove

Having the right shoes, swimsuit, goggles or other piece of equipment or accessory can make or break your performance and comfort during training and competition. Here are a few athletic items I can’t live without:

1 – I Bungee laces for my running shoes. I wrote a produce review on these a couple of years ago and got instantly hooked! If you do triathlons, you will love these. No more hopping around on one foot as you try to tie your laces when your muscles are still trembling from the ride. The elastic allows you to slip on your running shoes like slippers. These are also great for seniors who have trouble reaching their feet.

2 – Trail Running shoes for aerobics. In the 80s and 90s, well-cushioned aerobic shoes were par-for-the-course. Then they became more like a glorified walking shoe: stiff and with very little cushioning against impact. Since then, I’ve been looking for another solution. Many running shoes, such as Nike Vomero offer excellent cushioning, but limited lateral support. Most recently, I invested in an Avia trail running shoe. Awesome! It gives me lateral support, sole flexibility AND cushioning and I feel like I am back in business.

3 – TYR Durafast swimsuits – If you are like me, you find it irritating when in a matter of weeks, your suit is so stretched out already that its close to your knees on a forceful wall pushoff. The Durafast lasts longer than most other swimsuits on the market today. I am still wearing a suit I bought last August and I’ve even worn it in the hot tub a few times and it hasn’t lost its shape. The Nike suits I’ve purchased have also held up well.

4 – Lane Four Selene goggles – If you don’t want to go to work with dark rings around your eyes, these goggles have soft rubber that barely leaves a mark. To me, this is a huge benefit, because I don’t like getting to work looking like a mean person. The anti-fog coating does come off pretty quickly with these, but putting a little liquid soap inside and rinsing them seems to do the trick.

5 – Long hooded swim parka – Protects you from the cold, sun and wind. I have gotten a whole lot of value out of the 100-something dollars I spend on my swim parka. I used to always get cold at meets and now I never have a problem. I swim much better when I don’t get chilled between events. You can buy these from swimoutlet.com and other swimming stores. Most swimming clubs offer them with the team logo.

6 – Foam rollers – When a masseuse isn’t close at hand, you can massage your own body by rolling a foam roller beneath your muscles (think of rolling your muscles like dough). It lengthens the muscle and reduces discomfort, rigidity and knots in connective tissue. You can order these on my web site at www.susandawson-cook.com/personal_best_stretch.htm. Stretching is something I also can’t live without and if your’e not sure how to do it effectively, my DVD will teach you how!

The next product I’m going to try is My Own Bottle (myownbottle.com). Plastic is just plain bad for you and its really hard to see if there’s mold growning in the bottom of a stainless steel bottle, so these glass bottles piqued my interest. You can wash them in the dishwasher and reuse them so you’re not wasting; the downside is that it wouldn’t be safe to use them at the pool.