Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Danny Ferreira interviews Greg Whitman

My recent debacle at the Philips Exeter Swim meet made me rethink my swim training-wondering whether it would be adequate for an Ironman. That got me thinking about my good friend and great swimmer, Greg Whitman, and whether he could help shed some light on what I could possibly do differently to improve my swimming. Yes, the same Greg Whitman who let me borrow his bone stimulator for my stress fracture last May, convinced me a 6 mile swim in the Hudson was a good idea, the other half of the unsuccessful attempt at P90X, and who lost his car keys on the top of Mount Lafayette after a long and cold early winter hike. He also recently moved to Australia to start his MD training and therefore has become a little harder to reach. I figured I could interview him and hopefully get some useful information that could help me not come out of the water last come May. Without any further introduction, here's that interview:

How'd you get started swimming?

My first swim lesson came when I was still in diapers. My parents believed that learning to swim was important and that early exposure was critical for me to develop a healthy respect for the water. My mom was, and to some extent still is, terrified of the water.

When my mom was a child, living on a farm in North Dakota, her mom took her to the pool. As my mom tells it, her mom, my grandma, was so embarrassed by the fact that my mom and her sisters couldn't swim that she never took them back.

My parents kept me in swim lessons and at age 5, I joined our neighborhood swim team. Skyline Acres, a private swim and tennis club in Denver, Colorado, was a few blocks from where we lived. Skyline is where I learned to swim, compete, and be a member of a team. Many of my lifelong friends have come from our membership and my years of swimming for and at Skyline.

What about swimming do you most enjoy? Dislike?

I don't have much on my facebook page but you might have seen that I have a quote from Fran Crippen. In speaking with a group of kids he said, "the thing that I remember is not necessarily the races that I have done over the years, but the friendships that I make and the people who I meet around the world. The friends you make in swimming will last you a lifetime." That is what I have enjoyed the most, the people I've met.

Other things I have enjoyed:

Morning practice, outside, with the smell of fresh cut grass, as the sun comes up, and steam rises from the pool...

Being able to put your head down when you don't feel like speaking to anyone and go through the rhythmic motions of an endless distance set...

Dislikes... that is hard. As far as actual swimming there aren't many things I dislike. Maybe, trying to get back in-shape after taking too long of a break and feeling like crap in the water. The NCAA and universities that use Title IX as an excuse to drop swim programs. But that isn't something I dislike about swimming. By-in-large that is institutions and individuals who view sport primarily as a means to advance their own ego or to line their pocket books (or at least act as such) but I digress...

You swam for college(where?), did that take away or enhance your love for the sport?

I did. I began my junior year of college as a walk-on member of the University of Kansas Men's Swim Team. My time with them however was short lived.

During my senior year of high school, I sustained a session ending injury. I fractured my right ischium (the hoops on the backside of your pelvis where your hamstrings attach) in two places, completely separating it from the rest of my pelvis. This ultimately changed my college swimming plans.

Despite having received several scholarship offers from Division I programs, I decided to enroll at Montana State University which did not have a swim team, focus on recovering from my injury and then transfer. Through my transfers though I jeopardized my eligibility and my collegiate swimming career ended prior to it ever really beginning.

List the places you've coached. Where was the best in terms of competition, in terms of enjoyment?

Overland High School, Aurora, Colorado - my alma mater

Spent 2 years assisting my club coach, Jim Railey, with the girls swim program

Lawrence High school, Lawrence, Kansas

One season with the girls swim program

University of Southern California - Schubert Swim Camp

Assisted US Olympic Coaches Mark Schubert and Jim Montrella as well as current Oregon State and former US Pan-Am Games coach Larry Liebowitz.

Also worked along side Olympians, Lenny Krayzelburg, Erik Vendt, Lindsay Benko, Kaitlin Sandeno, Klete Keller, and Janet Evans.

Metropolitan State College of Denver

Spent 3 years as an assistant under my long-time friend and teammate, Rich LeDuc (Skyline) and 1 year as the programs head coach.

United States Air Force Academy - Falcon Swim Camp

Assisted Olympian Casey Converse, the first man ever to break 15 minutes in the 1650, and Rob Clayton.

Dartmouth College

Served as the men's assistant coach under coach Jim Wilson for 1 year.

University of Michigan - Wolverine Swim Camp

Assisted US Olympic Coaches Jim Richardson, Bob Bowman and Jon Urbanchek.

Also worked along side Olympians, Erik Vendt, Kaitlin Sandeno, Klete Keller, Michael Phelps, and Peter Vanderkaay.

University of Southern Illinois

Served as the head assistant coach under US Open Water Team Coach Rick Walker for 1 year.

Harvard University - Technique Swim Camp

Directed the Competitive Site Swim Camp under Harvard Men's Head Coach and World Championship Coach Tim Murphy.

Each of these opportunities brought with it their own unique set of opportunities and challenges and I learned a lot from each. The Schubert Swim Camp, Falcon Swim Camp, Wolverine Swim Camp and Technique Swim Camp were all instructional camps and therefor were not competitive in nature. At Southern Illinois, we won the womens' conference championship and placed the men in the top 20 NCAA Division I rankings. I qualified my first NCAA qualifier at Metro State. The following year we qualified five.

You've obviously competed in pool meets but you also have done some pretty substantial open water swims[Greg holds the Alcatraz World Record]. Which do you find more challenging?

Right now, for me, I find pool swimming more challenging. Pool swimming, much more so than open water swimming, is quantitative. After each race, I know exactly how fast I am. I don't think I could handle knowing how not fast I am, so for the time being I'll stick with open water swimming.

Although having signed up for multiple triathlons, you have only completed one(a half ironman) during which you were sidelined due to a mechanical. Despite that, what would you recommend to people new to the sport in regard to swim preparation?

Train so that you are comfortable in the water, comfortable swimming in packs, and comfortable swimming in the open water. The swim is relatively short (at least compared to the bike and run) and you can draft (unlike in the bike). Learn about open water swimming strategy and practice these strategies.

 In your opinion, with only two months left in Ironman training, what's more important: continuing to work on steady swimming(as I am currently) or start doing some intervals to increase my speed? Remember: I'm only swimming two days a week.
You are only swimming two days a week? Didn't we talk about this?

For those of you who don't live in a State where the lakes and rivers are frozen for more of the year than they are not, get out and practice open water swimming techniques. This is where you can and should be doing your steady swimming.; do the bulk of your interval training in the nice controlled environment of a pool. However, if your local body of water is currently frozen you can still practice open water swimming in the pool. For example, try swimming three or four across in a lane.

Interval training should make up the bulk of your swim training with the majority of the intervals being of the short rest variety (i.e. 5-10 seconds). If you are doing repeats, and you should be, focus primarily on the 100/200/400 distances. Use your longer swims, swims such as 1.5K+, to test where you are with regard to your swim training.

What's on your bucket list for races?

I have a couple I am thinking of, but no must does at this point. I would like to do a swim like Cook's Straight or something super epic but we will see. Lake Tahoe, Maui Channel, and the Manhattan Marathon Swim always catch my eye. Any sponsors out there?

Give us a sample training week (of you right now and of you when in your training routine)?
When I think about it, I try to sit up straight and flex my abs. I also usually take the stairs. Honestly, I just moved to Sydney, Australia to attend medical school and my training has been replaced with trying to figure out where the hell I am. I'll get back to it soon.

At this point I will defer this question until my training routine has been re-established.

How's Australia? More swimming or less?

Australia is hot! The first week after I arrived it was over 100F every day. You would think that that would lead to more swimming and I assure you it will. There are a ton of pools, almost all of them 50 meter and many of them salt water.

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