#Challengeaccepted 

It’s been nearly three months, since my last post. Obviously, I have been very neglectful, of my blog, that’s not because I haven’t been swimming, far from it. I have been swimming lots…

There is little point in me doing, as originally planned a post about every single swim, for Arthritis Care,  but I will summarise the past three months.

It’s been amazing!!!

On the 8th April, I partook in Marie Curie swimathon. My swim, though, didn’t go quite as I’d planned. On the day in question I woke with the start of, what wato transpire to be, a heavy cold which then developed in a chest infection and resulted in a severe exacerbation of my asthma, This swim, was to be my last swim, for three weeks. Despite this, I still swam it, in 1 hour 24 minutes and three seconds, smashing my previous PB for 2,5km and swimming nearly six minutes, under the time my coach, told me to aim for. My previous PB was 1 hour 50 minutes and 28 seconds.

I have my tee-shirt and my medal, the medal I display with pride and the T-shirt I wear with pride. Unfortunately, it’s white and the first wearing, I dropped curry down it, no amount of soaking and washing, have shifted the stain!

Going back, to the swim itself. I swam it at “Chester le Street Pool” near Durham, the dated interior and freezing waters, where more than made up for, by the amazing staff. They shouted, cheered and hollered me, to the finish line. 

I was the only one, taking part, but that didn’t stop them making an effort. My final lengths were swam with, “Calvin Harris, This is what you came for”, blasting out. it was particularly meaningful, as the pool who I had previously booked it, to swim it at, cancelled at the last minute “as not enough people “had signed up”.
Then, it was on to the next challenge.,,

This was planned, to start on the 13th April and was my much anticipated and planned “marathon challenge”.  I reluctantly, had to pistpone this challenge, due to my asthma. 

Finally, on the 4th May I started, only 5 days after my enforced 3 week break, on account of my asthma. It goes without saying, it was incredibly tough. 

I had to make a lot of sacrifices and I hated, how it led to me feeling that I was putting swimming, before my friends. I had to be so focused and disciplined.

Arthritis Care Week was the 8th-14th May 2017, my plan was to swim at least 10km, during that week. This equates to an Olympic Swim Marathon-in the end I swam 13.1km during AC week. 

The other aspect, of this challenge, was to swim the  equivalent distance of the London Marathon, from the 4th May-4th June. Two and half weeks, into my challenge, I came into contact with two people, with colds. I knew a cold, would destroy any chance I might have of completing my challenge, so I made the decision to complete it as quick, as I could.

I pushed myself hard, to hard, swimming 15km in just 5 days. I also finished on Tuesday 30th May-5 days early. It was a brilliant evening , several members of the branch, sat at the side of the pool encouraging and supporting me to the end. Then the celebrations began, wine and procesco was drunk and congratulations given.

I totally crashed, after this. I slept much of the following  and mt arthritis went into a massive flair up, but it was so worth it. The sense of achievement, is amazing. 

My coach often states that we often don’t do things, because our mind tells us, we can’t, but often we are capable of doing far more than we believe we can. This was certainly true, of this challenge. Despite severe asthma, for which I’m on 10 different medications, polyarthalgia/osteoarthritis, gluteal neuropathy and significant muscle damage to my back, I swam over 26 miles (42200m) in three weeks and two days. I couldn’t, however of done it without the support of my friends and members of Arthritis Care.

During this challenge I threw in lots of micro challenges, I improved my front crawl distance, from 200m to 1500m and I am regularly doing half a mile, freestyle sets, now. My next plan, is to add tumble turns, into this.

My one mile PB is now 47 mins and a few seconds and my 2km PB sits at just over a hour, by a few seconds. Fourteen months ago, my one mile PB was one hour and 8 mins, so this represents, huge progress.

I also completed my longest distance swam, in one session, 4km. This wasn’t swam, without stopping, but only took 2 hours 50 mins to complete. My next aim, is 5km. 

 Then, finally, in the middle of May, I took part in the “mile in an hour challenge” for the Alzheimer’s Society. I swam this, un memory of my amazing grandma, who suffered (and I mean really suffered) from Alzheimers Disease, prior to her passing in 2003. 

I was, initially, a little disappointed with my time of 50mins and 35 seconds. My total swim distance, in the hour was 1900m, I’d aimed for 2000m, however it was a tough swim. The pool lacked “anti-wave ropes’, with at least 12 people in the pool, it was, at best, choppy, making swimming harder work. It also meant, that when freestyle  (frontcrawl) breathing, I was often hit, with a faceful of water.

It also didn’t help, that midway through, someone swam into me, head first, resulting insome minor bruising, it was more of a shock and took a while to get back into the pattern of swimming. 

So that is currently, where I am up to. Hopefully, my next post will appear, a lot quicker than it took me to post this.

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Mind over matter

Often, when I swim, I have song lyrics floating around my head. Songs which include Titanium, by Rihanna, Proud, Heather Small or Search for the Hero inside yourself, by M People. These songs help serve to spur me on, provide encouragement and help me focus. Other times, though completely inane songs, go through my head, such a Nellie the Elephant, they serve little purpose, other than to provide slight amusement and distraction!

My latest song is “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”, the purpose of this is purely to remind me to focus, on in turn, my breathing, my arm pull and finally my kick and so on and so forth. I haven’t actually got, as far as actually trying to carry out the actions, that go with this particular song, while swimming.

Five weeks ago, when I first joined the swim squad, I realised that that the key focus, appears to be on front crawl. Not only is it, the seemingly “go to stroke”, but it is also quicker than breaststroke, thus more training is accomplished, in a swim.

However, for me, front crawl is the stroke I struggle with most, I find it hard work, getting the breathing technique right. Therefore, I haven’t really worked on my front crawl stroke development, outside of lessons, preferring to focus on breaststroke.

I explained the difficulties I was experiencing to my coach. He quickly identified, that I am coming in too short, with my arms, that was quickly remedied. My breathing is something that will take, both time and practice to get right, but I am learning to relax and keep my breathing slow and steady, I have tendency to over breathe when I am struggling and this only serves to make it worse.

The main issue, that has been identified, is with my kick. I don’t kick, efficiently, I kick back, but not forward and I allow my hips to sink, thus I am fighting against the water. I also kick for the knee, meaning that I am not using the biggest and strongest muscles available to me.

Myself and my coach, have worked intensively on this, even in three weeks we can both see a huge improvement, in my kick. Lots of time is spent, up and down the pool, going back to basics, kickboard in hands, desperately kicking away, like you did, back in your primary school days.

The other part, of this exercise, is what is known as “vertical kick”, if you want to look cool in the pool, this is not how to do it. It consists, of heading off to the deep end, clutching a small float while kicking and trying to keep yourself both vertical afloat. Think a aquatic meerkat. An aquatic meerkat,  who is pulling the most ridiculous faces, in an attempt to stay afloat!

Las Saturday, my coach started me off with my warm up. Two front kick, two side kick, two back kick and two swim times two. The Noah’s Ark of swimming, I guess, everything in in twos! Then came the main set…ten sets of 100m, front crawl, 30 seconds vertical kick, followed by 30 seconds rest. Inside I cringed and my heart sank, there was no way I could do that!

I set off, concentrating on my legs, ensuring I was kicking correctly as I pushed off from the wall. The first 75 metres was alright, but the next 25 was tough going. Thirty seconds kick, a quick rest then off again. Again, on my fourth length, my chest tightened and I found it hard going. My asthma, has been difficult during the past week and had only really started to settle the previous day.

My coach shouted, as I madly kicked, “is that your third set?”, “no its my second” I responded. “remember to keep your feet up” was the reply “you’re sinking on your final length”. I shot back “I’m finding it really hard”, then he said something that was like manna from heaven “well try and manage at least four sets”. Aye I could manage that, it was a much better option than 10.

On my third set, I decided to have a cheeky skive, my water bottle and inhaler was at the bottom end of the pool. I stopped at 75 metres. I stopped, took a breather, a couple of puffs of Ventolin and a slurp from my water bottle. My coach, shouted “I take these down to the other end, save you from having to stop, at this end”. I breathless, uttered my thanks and inwardly muttered “bugger”!

On to my fourth set, now I was warming up a bit, it was getting easier, still at least it was my last set. As I completed my vertical kick, my coach enquired “how many”. Inwardly smiling, I responded “four” “right, take a minutes rest this time and then keep going”. My fifth and sixth set, was tough, but I was over half way through, despite my coach saying we would stop at four, it seemed like he had forgotten and we were going for 10.

At the end of my sixth set, I was relieved to be half way through. Then my coach, added a goalie into the mix, “do one more set, then the sets after that I want you to use tumble turns”. I’m comfy with tumble turns, but they make more demands on my beleaguered lungs and make getting my kick, right, harder.

At the end of set eight, it was approaching ten to 9, nearly the end of my coaching session. My coach noticed me staring at the clock and advised me I could get two more sets in. I knew I could and was determined, as hard as I was finding it, to achieve this.

My ninth set was brilliant, the best set so far, with everything coming together, on my tenth set, I gave it all I’d got. I dug deep and kept going. Despite, being convinced that I’d never manage 10 sets I had and I was elated. My kick, still is a work in progress, but I had accomplished, far more than I thought I was capable of.

This, got me thinking, so much of sport or any form of exercise, has a psychological element to it. Often, I find I am capable of far more, than what think I am and I guess that’s same for most of us. In addition, I can allow my fears and confidence to hold me back. This is particularly pertinent when I add my chronic health problems into the mix.

We are all, probably capable of far more, than we think we are!

Reflections in the pool…

Reflecting back on 2016 and my swimming achievements, I can’t help, but feel a sense of pride.

Despite my ongoing heatlh problems and injury, resulting in me having to take a break, from swimming, on no less than 7 occasions, in addition to havng my swimming bag stolen, I have been able to achieve so much. This, however is not just down to me, it’s also thanks to the wonderful staff at Swim NE and my swimming teachers/coaches. Thanks also need to be extended to the many people who have supported and encouraged me; friends, colleagues, family and even random strangers.

So, now reflecting back, here is list of what I feel have been my main achievements this year.

Passing ASA level 7, at the beginning of the year, and completing the competencies for level 10, at the end of the year.

Completing all my distance badges to 3000m and all my rainbow 100m distance awards (I bought these, myself).

Finally cracking butterfly, being able to swim 100m butterfly and being able swim a 400m IM.

Completing two “sport relief swimathons” 1.5km in 1h 8 seconds, just days after recovering from a chest infection and, a month later, just after recovering from a further chest infection, swimming 2.5km in 1h 50mins and 28 seconds. In doing so I raised over £200. I handed over, one of my medals and my swim hat, to my nana!

Featuring on a Arthritis Care DVD, showcasing people living arthritis, in a positive way. Arthritis Care, chose to focus on my swimming.

Swimming a 200m IM in less that 7m 30s and a mile in just 57 mins, hardly a recording breaking figure, but significant achievement all the same.

Featuring on an Arthritis Care promotional DVD, show casing people living with arthritis.

Cracking “tumble turns” they look easy, but believe me, they take months of practise to get right. It’s frustating progress.

This isn’t an achievement, as such, but still amusing. When I was in Lanzarote, a cocky bloke went round all the women and asked if they could swim, in an attempt to show them off, that he could and they couldn’t. Before he could get to me, I set off, butterfly first, then front crawl, with a few tumble turns. He sharp shut up and disappeared, which I was happy with as he was loud, obnoxious and drunk!

Having the opportunity to pass, some of what I’ve learnt, on to others. I was approached, at the pool by someone who asked me, how he could improve his front crawl. I’m definitely no expert nor am I swim teacher, but I really enjoyed having the opportunity to pass some knowledge on. 

Featuring in the “This Girl can” campaign, appearing both on their FB site and their website. 

Finally, volunteering for the “swim safe project”, I was frequently cold, wet and covered in sand. As a volunteer I was a Gopher and a jack of all trades, volunteers were expected to muck in were needed, but it was great fun. 

I had the pleasure of working with an amazing team, who between them, helped to improve over 700 children and young people improve their knowledge of water safety, which may in turn help save a life one day.

So what of 2017…next year, I will be focusing far less on gaining certificates and so forth and more focused on improving my times and completing a number of swimming challenges, to raise money for a variety of charities, information of which, I will post about in early January. 

And we’re off…training begins here!

The “silly swim hat marathon challenge” is six months in the future, but my training has to begin now. I will, without a doubt, loose training time due to my asthma and this has to be taken into account. Last winter, I was out the pool for 14 weeks, from November to April.

The first thing I need to be doing, is creating the time and getting into the habit of swimming five times a week. To complete the challenge I have set myself, I will need to swim on at least 5 days out of 7.

The next thing I need to be doing, is swimming at least a mile each time, building up to 2k. 

Tonight I completed my first training swim, I was planning on swimming a mile, but in an 18 metre pool this is monotentous! This is not helped by the fact that, pool is in the basement, with no natural light!

Half the pool was roped off, for childrens’ swimming lessons, though I’ve never actually seen the children swim a length. They seem to get verbal instruction, allowed to practice swimming a couple of metres then it’s back to sitting on the steps, while the next one has a go! 

That meant that the actual space for swimming was 18m long, by 3.5m wide. It takes very few people, for the pool to become very crowded. 

The pool itself, has it’s wall’s flanking three of its sides, meaning that it can soon get very choppy as the waves hit the walls and then bounce back. In a conventional pool, the water sloshed over the side and into the drain. This further adds to creating a challenging place to swim!

The pool, soon became crowded and busy. Most people were leisure swimmers, gently swimming up and down, heads up, hair and make up perfect, while chatting to their mates. (Obviously the make element applied largely to females!)

There were one or two, more serious swimmers, but trying to smash a distance, proved to be impossible. Then I had technical difficulties…

First of all, I couldn’t get my “swim watch” to work and being so dark, the pool is illunated with only small spot lights, it was near impossible to fix this issue. In the end I gave up and decided just to enjoy swimming, irrespective of my distance.

 Then my goggles began to leak, it’s pretty uncomfy swimming along with your goggles full of chlorinated water, it also results in looking like Mike, from Monsters Inc, after he sprayed deroderant in his eye!

I’ve never yet found a pair of goggles that didn’t leak after six months and I’m not yet convinced that I’ve found the right pair of goggle’s for me. However, I quickly realised, that part of the problem was that I was wearing a new swim hat, which sits lower down my forhead, hence preventing a tight seal for my goggle’s.  Having sorted that out, I was off and swimming.

It was a really good swim, though I didn’t complete the distance I wanted too. I did accomplish swimming six lengths (108m) front crawl, using tumble turns throughout. 

I also achieve swimming 3 lengths  (54m) butterfly, this I am particularly pleased about. When I started learning butterfly, it was deemed that, my chronic back injury rendered it too risky to swim more than 10m. In time, this was increased to 25m, as my strength improved and only last week, it was suggested to me, while I was at the pool, that I maybe try increasing it to 50m. Butterfly is a difficult stroke, for anyone and and anti-social one!!! 

Then having cracked 50m butterly,  I decided to see if I could increase my individual medley distance to 200m. Individual medley,  often shortened to IM, consists of an equal distance of Butterfly, Backstroke, Breast stroke and Freestyle.  It was hard, but I achieved it and now, I have another PB to improve on, along with my 1600m and 100m front crawl.

My asthma, really struggled towards he end of the swim, my chest was really tight and it took a good couple of hours for my lungs to calm down, but I’ll be back in the pool tomorrow! 

Splashdown…

Tonight, I was back in the pool for the first time in two weeks. 

I was a bit concerned, at first,  my peak flow suggested that there is still some airway obstruction. However, I did as I always do and took a few puffs of salbutamol and then, away I went. 

The first length was tough, I learnt tumble turns some months ago, for those who are familiar with tumble turns (or flip turns as they are sometimes known) they are far from easy to learn. For those who see them on the telly and think, they look easy take it from me, they’re not! You have to get your distance, positioning and breathing right, in a split second! Get it wrong and you either, kick out at water and look silly, breathe in under water, come up gasping with snot running down your face or worse, injure yourself. 

Tumble turns, take hours and hours of practice, the first few weeks proved tough, in fact I hated them, but now they are second nature and getting easier. Tonight, however I saw the wall and panicked. I was so annoyed with myself, my flip turn had flipped back, two months.
So tonight, I concerned myself with swimming widths, doing a tumble turn, swimming another width and so on. Pushing myself and working hard to regain confidence. 

I also took the oppurtunity to do some balance and strenghthening work, to help my creaking joints. Arthritis is crap, it hurts and you feel as stiff as an old carthorse, this has been my life for 15 years, but determined not to focus on the negative and spend my days bemoaning my lot,  fixated on the pain I’m in, though I hold my hands up, of being guilty of this, somedays, I try to translate this into something with a more positiv.

Finally, as still have a nagging fear of deep water, I decided to pencil jump, into to pool, the pool is 10 ft deep. What actually happened was that, force of the water, shot my goggles over my face and I got my eyes full stinging, chlorinated water. The result was that I came spluttering back to the surface looking very uncool indead! 

Things can only get better…

It’s time for a very long, over due update…

I haven’t blogged for months, there’s lots to update, on!

In August, I picked up a repetitive strain injury in my right elbow, which meant I was out of the pool for three weeks. It was an incredibly frustrating three weeks. Thanks to support and advice from other swimmers, Google is an amazing resource,  I have changed my arm pull, but I’m get to to really see if this will make a difference.

By this point, it was early September and after over 300 days of counting, I was eagerly awaiting my holiday to Lanzarote, a week of relaxation and swimming in outdoor pools. 

Then on Friday, six days before I was due to fly, I awoke with a sore throat and my peak flow, had taken a decidedly downward progession, bugger. I used my nebuliser and rang my nurse, her advice was no nonsense and to the point “if we’re to have any chance of getting you to Lanzarote, we need to get you on prednisolone, today”. Bugger! 

I then sat and disolved in to tears of frustration…you b@@@@@ds, how is it possible to hate something, so essential to life, so much? My lungs, actually, it’s not my lungs, it’s my asthma, my severe, difficult asthma that I hate!

(I need to add at this point, that I rarely get infections, so early, it’s usually late October/early November the infections hit).

I started prednisolone, slowly my lungs responded, my asthma improved and on Tuesday I was given my clearance to fly. I took my last dose, 36,000ft in the air, on a Thomas Cook Airbus A321! I also used my nebuliser, as advised and completely freaked out the woman next to me, who told me that she was a care worker and seemed to be convinced I’d drop dead on the spot, despite my protestations, that I was fine and just carrying out my usual treatments!

I arrived in Lanzarote and had a truly memorable and wonderful week, I laughed, danced, walked and of course, swam…I’m so grateful to the fact that swimming ha’s really improved my physical fitness, as to allow me to do these things, despite my health problems.

On the Monday, there was an option of a discovery walk, to a local “viewing spot” I was up for that, despite the temperature being in the high 20’s.  It was incredibly hard work and of course I had my rucksack, with my nebuliser etc with me. 

The viewing area was on top of a hill, a steep gravely hill, with no real identified path, I looked up and thought “there’s no way I’m getting up that” then I saw someone, at least 25 years older practically run up it! Not to be outdone, I decided to give it a go, despite being nearly on my hands and knees and puffing on my inhaler, I made it, I was so proud of myself and it was so worth it, for the breathtaking view.

Then there was the small matter of getting down, visions of having to be carried down, swam into my head, luckily, slowly, step by step, with the help of other participants, I got back down. By now I was sore, aching and really struggling, the walk out there was close to two miles and climbing the hill, had really taken it out of me. 

The tour leader stuck with me, other participants offered to carry my bag, slow but sure, I made it back to my hotel, using self-management techniques. Never did I think, the hotel is two miles away, it was always I need to get to that rock, then that plant, then the bridge and eventually, my hotel. I was so relieved to stumble back, to my room, but so exhilarated that I’d achieved it.
I had managed because, swimming has taught me, the importance relaxing my muscle’s.  It’s the same when I decide to have a bit of a dance, if I allow myself to relax and being in tune with what my joints and lungs are telling me, I can achieve so much more and I’m much less likely to take a tumble. Yes I will still ache and be sore, but self-management has taught me how to manage that, too. I’m in control. 

I also swam, a lot,  not big distances, but I practiced tumble-turns, over and over again. Getting my timing right, getting my breathing right, not kicking some poor, unsuspecting bloke, in the love spuds, wedding tackle, knackers, balls, goolies or whatever else you want to call them-believe me, I’ve so nearly done it!!

More than anything I chilled out, ate well and enjoyed the sunshine and yes, I also sank a fair few cocktails, being all inclusive and all that!!

Then, like every holiday, it came to an end and I flew back home to Britain! 

The first week back and the second, was great, I felt really well and I discovered, after a comment made about me having lost weight, that I’ve lost nearly a stone, since I started swimming.

Then, less than two weeks after my return, onmynous clouds began to gather, I woke up on the Wednesday with a sore throat and my asthma didn’t feel great. I questioned, as to whether I was developing what I refer to as a “back to back”. A second infection, in less than month. It’s only happened four times before, March this year, March 2014, September 2010 and way back in 1994 or 5. In September 2010, I was hospitalised for 4 days and started on what I commonly refer to my miracle drug, Tiotropium.

I went to bed on Wednesday and was rudely awoken, by an incredibly sore throat in the early hours of Thursday-after a lot of silent and inward swearing, I swallowed two paracetamol and went back to bed, only to awoken, again, in the early hours this time I shovelled codeine and some ibuprofen down.

By Saturday I was loaded with cold and my asthma, was in a word, crap, getting up the stairs in one go was out of the question. Everything pointed to me needing another course of prednisolone, but I was determined not to. My asthma nurse will have a fit, if she finds out!

I knew what I was doing was irresponsible and potentially dangerous, but I couldn’t face it! I battled on through Sat and Sunday, despite having very little sleep, and then on to Monday. By Tuesday, people where making noises that I should be on prednisolone, but my PF was on the way up and I was feeling better. I had managed it, I got away with not needing the “evil smarties” and I felt smug.

Until the next morning that is..

The next morning, I awoke and my first thought was “you evil b@@@@@ds” my lungs, clearly determined  to have have their own way, had thrown a massive spanner in my plan, in the form of a chest infection. I felt dreadful, shivery and more frustratingly my PF was 310, I was out of options, leave it any longer and I was going to be in serious trouble. I’d gone to bed, on the crest of a wave, and woke up in deep water, water I was not going to be able to swim out of alone. I needed a life belt, I needed both prednisolone and anti-biotic’s. 

So this is where I’m up to right now, swimming cancelled for at least another week, asthma is improving, but it’s going  to be a long winter-I’m currently where I usually am, in January,  I’ve already  had two courses of pred, meaning that my immunity is pretty much wiped out for when the really nasty bugs come sailing in.

I need to swim and I need to train, as I have a massive swimming challenge coming up, in six months time, but more of that on my next post, I promise you, it will be a lot more positive!

This Girl did…

There is a campaign in the UK called “This Girl Can”, which aims to encourage women to take up sport.

However, instead of rolling in famous sports women, as a means of encouraging people to take up sport they have, invited “everyday women” to share their stories.

I  really proud to now be, “one of those women”, whose story features as part the “This Girl Can campaign”