#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.

Snakes and ladders

For the past three weeks, I have been forced out of the pool, by a viral chest infection and subsequent exacerbation of my asthma.

My asthma, has slowly improved as my lungs have recovered from the infection, that had taken up residence there, but my airways remain a little grumpy and irritable, like they haven’t quite, fully forgiven the bugs that invaded them, uninvited.

On Thursday, I was considering heading back to the pool, but I woke up at 6am on Friday, coughing, they then threw a bit of a tantrum, in the evening, when visited a friend, whose neighbour has a “wood burner”. In reality, it’s a “whatever crap you’ve got burner”, I don’t know what he was burning last night, but it certainly didn’t smell like burning wood and my lungs didn’t seem to think it was either.

Sitting at my neighbours dining room table, puffing away on my nebuliser, I sent a text to my coach, that I wouldn’t be attending training tomorrow morning. He replied that he understood, but encouraged me, that if I felt up to it, to attend training anyway and he would set up a “re-habilitation and recovery training set for me”.

I awoke this morning, at 6am, the first thing I noted was that I was experiencing a significant amount of pain, resulting from the arthritis in my spine. Neither paracetamol nor codeine fully alleviated the pain. My lungs were also grumpy. I had two, perfectly valid excuses not to swim.

That however, was precisely what they were, excuses. It’s too easy to resort to excuses, when you like the idea of doing something, but in reality, don’t really want to do it. Most things, can be overcome, with a little determination and adaptability. My spinal pain could be managed, even if couldn’t be eradicated and I knew from my peak flow, that though my lungs were grumpy, my reading was reasonable and at a safe level, to swim. I would just need a larger dose of Ventolin, before getting in the pool, as to support them. I knew they weren’t well enough, to cope with an all out, hard training session, but that wasn’t the aim of todays swim.

So, I headed over to the pool, I was greeted by my coach, who informed me that I was going to be doing a straight set. Twenty, individual lengths. That was it. I felt like I was playing a huge game of snakes and ladders. Over the six weeks, leading up to the infection, I had made great progress, rolled lots of “sixes” and climbed a few ladders, but had now slid down a massive snake and landed very low down the board!

I climbed in the pool, spoke to my lane buddy, and put my goggles on, ready to set off only to be met with a resounding, ping followed by my goggles falling off my face. Confused, at first, as to what had happened I inspected them and realised that, despite only being a few months old, they had broke. Like most swimmers, I suspect, I don’t carry a tube of superglue in my kit bag, so like a scene, from the Australian drama, Barracuda, I fashioned an emergency repair and got on with it.

The swim proved hard, I’ve lost strength from my arms and overall fitness, in addition, my lungs are still, not fully recovered. Consequently, it was an exhausting effort, even swimming two lengths, with a 10 second gap, in between each length. It’s incredibly frustrating and I know I have to commit to a lot of hard work, in the coming weeks, to get myself back to where I was.

There were a few times, when it was all I could do, to stand at the end of the lane, gasping for breath, resulting in the life-guard wandering over to enquire if I was alright. I tried to reassure him, that I was fine and that I knew what I was doing, I don’t think I was very successful though.

After 20 lengths, I’d had enough, I was tired and I felt sick. I wanted to get out. However, there was 10 minutes of the session to go, not wanting to give up, even at this early stage, I decided to try and do a couple more lengths. I am nothing, if not determined! I reflected back, to the two swims I had, had directly prior to becoming unwell and recalled, how on both, I was able to do more than I had thought possible (I will blog about this soon!). I wanted to do the same, again.

I managed another couple of lengths, my coach enquired how I was feeling. I explained that I had completed my 20, but wanted to try for a couple more. “Ok” he replied “no more than 30”. Thirty, quickly became a figure in my head, to aim for.

Twenty soon became twenty-two, then twenty-four, twenty-six and then twenty-eight. Two to go, my chest was tight, my arms ached, I found it hard to believe, that what for me, would of been an easy swim, three weeks ago, could be so tiring and challenging now. I was absolutely determined in my focus, I would reach thirty. Head down, looking at the bottom of the pool, streamlined position, kicking from the hip, knees straight, with arms reaching forward, each arm pull, bringing me closer to my goal. Twenty-nine and then onto my final length. Half way, through the length, I started to struggle, but knowing that this is where I have been before, several times, I kept going and reached the end of the lane.

I was disappointed, yet happy with my swim, but I am back in the pool. It will take hard work, determination and focus, to get back to where I was, only a few short weeks ago. I feel really quite uncomfortable, swimming, but I know that is down to the loss of physical fitness, its a brick wall I have to get through. I can either give up, or keep going. Giving up, has never been an option for me. I will keep going, I have a training plan, from my coach, which if I stick to, should see me, hopefully return to my previous level of fitness, within a few weeks.

I need to, as Dory, in Finding Nemo, once said “just keep swimming, just keep swimming”….

Next big challenge…

Over the last few months, I’ve filled this blog, with generally waffle posts. 

This year I am going to undertake Marie Curie Swimathon, the 30th one, and a swimming challenge to raise funds for Arthritis Care, Gateshead Branch. 

My aim is, and I think I’ve mentioned this previously, is to swim “a marathon in a month, with a marathon in a week”.

I know this sounds  a little confusing, but I will explain. 

A marathon,  when ran, is 26.195 miles or just under, 42200m. A swimming marathon, is 10km. So my plan is to swim 42200m in a month (1688 lengths of a 25 pool), with at least 10km (400 lengths) being swam in the final week. Arthritis Care week. 

Obviously, I can’t just dive in there and swim it. It will take 2-3 months before hand of training, building up my distances and further increasing my fitness.

Training, of any kind, is a bit tougher right now, because the pools are busier and some people seem unfamiliar with the “rules of the pool”. 

Last Saturday, I was swimming on the pools “training lanes” only to have someone swim into me, head first, as they were swmiming on the wrong side of the lane.

On Monday, I was forced to abandon my plan to swim 2km, after I was joined by two social swimmers, who swam a slow “breast stroke” side by side, while chatting, making it impossible to swim at any pace but theirs. Overtaking resulted in being kicked, as the had a wide legged, scissor kick, in opposed to a frog type kick, resulting in flailing legs!

The life guards are supposed to intervene in situations like this, but failed to and speaking to their manager didn’t help either. 

Anyway, my focus over the next fews will be on my training and preparation for this challenge and this blog, I hope, will help chart some of this.

First swim of 2017

Today, here in the UK, it’s a “bank holiday”… it’s a kind of hangover, as it were, from New Year. New Years Day fell on a Sunday, therefore today is a bank holiday. Which means most of the pools are shut and there’s no post (though Veron Dursley, from Harry Potter might be happy with that).

However, South Tyneside Leisure, opened two of their pools till three, so I enjoyed are leisurely lie in, till half past 11 (hardly necessary, as I barely moved yesterday!). I scoffed two weetabix (supermarket brand), had a yoghurt and set off to the pool.

It was are little busy, as to be expected, with a mixture of children, people trying to keep their New Years resolutions, leisure swimmer and people, like me, who just want to get in there and swim. 

One lane was taken, by three leisure swimmers, one of whom I couldn’t help sniggering at, as she lectured her friend how to swim properly. Before then setting off, head up, thrashing down the pool. I then remembered, I used to swim like that and I thought I could swim! We are often ignorant till correctly taught!

I bagged the spare lane, with the intention of swimming 2.5km.I was later joined, in the same lane, by another swimmer. A far better swimmer than I, that was until he stopped, to have a gossip with the woman, in the next lane. Consequently, I accidently put to boot in, when I did a tumble turn. It was totally unintented, but I am pretty sure he’ll be sporting a bruise or two, tomorrow!

My swim was initially, frustrating, I can not get my new goggles, right. They are either so tight, it feels like they are sucking my eye balls out of their sockets, or I loosen then, a little, then they leak and I find myself squinting against the chlorinated water, sloshing about in them! Things got even more uncomfortable,  when I tumble turn, as the force of the water, slid my goggles up my face!

Eventually my goggles were sorted and I was off. The battery level in my watch was concerning, sitting at only 10%. Thankfully, it lasted the course and hopefully, unless all of Garmins UK staff, have taken an extended break and don’t return to work, till after the festivities are over, the new charger should arrive tomorrow! 

It was a tough swim, throughout my swim I experienced pain in my back, hands, shoulder and elbow and right knee. It’s hard to keep going, when you’re hurting. Everything within me was saying “stop, stop!”

I know though, I can manage the pain. I can’t and won’t allow it to stop me. Pain is part of having arthritis and though unpleasent, not a reason to stop. The less I use these joints, the worse my flexibility and mobility becomes. The challenge is, knowing when you really need to stop! It’s difficult too, to focus on my swim and the enjoyment of it, when pain is clouding the experience. 

There’s a real sense of exhilaration, achievement and accomplishment though, as I push myself onwards. I relish the significantly increased fitness levels, that swimming regularly, has given to me. 

Keeping going, isn’t so much physical as psychological. It’s about having and keeping the right mental attitude. It’s easy (and to a point, dangerous) to focus on the pain, or rather how much pain you’re in. Focusing on the pain, makes it easier to give in and harder to continue, it’s saps your energy and turns your focus to a less positive one. Yes we all have, and are entitled, to have our bad days, days were it’s too much to deal with, where we struggle. It’s when this becomes our key focus, where negative thoughts processes dominate and we become largely fixated on the struggles we face, this is when I feel it becomes difficult to even consider ways of finding ways to overcome, manage and deal with the challenges and curveballs that life with a long term condition throws at you.

But, my swim was also good. I posted a good time for my 200IM, just outside my PB (which is a rubbish time, when compared to Olympians). 

In April I am undertaking, like last year, Swimathon. This year for Marie Curie, in opposed to Sport relief. Last year, I didn’t care how I completed it, I just wanted to get through it. Last year I swam 1.5km, this year, it’s the more challenging 2.5km and I want to smash my PB of 1hr 50. This year I have a “game plan”. 

Swimming 2.5km is a decent distance and consequently, more psychologically challenging. One hundred lengths seems like a long distance, at the start, so I work in sets of 100m. Twenty-five sets, seems far more palitable. This year I hope to swim 100m breast stroke and 100m freestyle, alternating. 

My freestyle endurance is still pretty limited, so starting at 1000m, I will increase the distance by 200m each week. I also really need to work on my breast stroke kick, which is, to put it simply,  rubbish. This isn’t helped, by my arthritis and more especially, the nerve and muscle damage in my left hip. I also need to work, on improving my overall stamina and fitness levels, though they are pretty good now and this shows in my general endurance, there’s still, improvements that can be made! 

I successfully swam 1200m, in this manner, the last 100m of freestyle was particularly challenging, as my asthma caused me to become breathless. On completion, it was just before 2.50pm. I clarified, that the closing time was 3pm, the lifeguard replied, “yes”, before adding “so you’ve got time for a few more lengths”. 

At previous pools I’ve swam at the closing time, isn’t the time they boot you out the pool, it’s the time they boot you out the building! I’ve known in the past, where I’ve acrally been swimming in the dark, because they’ve turned the lights out (long before their advertised closing time)! 

Stealing a glance at the clock, I decided to go for another 300m, I was at 2.2km and needed just those few more lengths to make it to, too 2.5km. I knew that staying in, would mean joining the mad dash and melee, for the showers, when I did get out. But hey ho, I was off again!

Alas, I didn’t make it to 2.5km…I completed 250m making it, 2,450m only to find a lifeguard peering at me, from the side of the pool “time to get out love”, “can I just do another 50m I pleaded”, my pleas fell on deaf ears. They were shut and it was time to leave! 

I spent the next two hours only focused on the fact that I hadn’t completed 2500m as I’d hoped to and disappointed by the missed 50m, before realising, I was focusing only on the negative. I had, had a good swim, achieved a lot and I needed to be happy with what I had done, the 2450m and had swam and not focused on the fact that I hadn’t been able to swim the last 50m, to take me to 2500m!

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. 

Knowing when to pause and rest….

The really challenging thing I find, with arthritis is knowing when to stop and rest. With my asthma, its obvious, peak flow dropping like a stone along with all the usual asthma symtoms. 

With my arthritis, it much harder to judge. After 15 years of living with these aching, creaking, stiff joints, I’ve developed a high pain threashold and a great deal of resiliance. Arthritis isn’t static, there are days where my joints are much better than others, there are days I throw all caution to the wind and “go for it” irrespective of the consequences and there are days where I just want to crawl under my duvet and stay there!

I have always believed in taking responsibilty for my health, eating a reasonably healthy diet, taking regular excercise, keeping up a reasonable level of fitness, taking good care of my chronic conditions, watching my weight and finding my way round challenges and curve balls that head my way-not focusing on the negative, the things that might go wrong, but rather always trying to seek out ways round difficulties. 

Despite all this, though I appreciate that there are times where I need to rest. Arthritis renders me at greater risk of injury and if I go too far, I really feel it. A good example of this, was when I was in Lanzarote. I walked for miles, but on the Tuesday I was in so much pain, I could barely walk. Sometimes, it’s worth it, as it was in Lanzarote (that night though, after resting all day and taking codiene, I still managed to knock out the Macarena and join in with the Conga!).

Last Wednesday, my left hip and knee was particularly painful. I knew what the culprit was, butterfly! It was painful, to the point I complained about to my workmates. I choose to rarely complain about my pain, firstly if I did I’d always be moaning and secondly, it drags me down and also, those around me. 

I really wanted to try out for a mile, that night. I was really determined, but same time I didn’t want to make situation worse. I need to train, but I’ve still got nearly six months ahead of me. I knew if I pushed it too far, I could be out the pool for upto three to four weeks, which is risky as I could be the out, even longer if my asthma chooses to pitch in. 

In the end, I decided to go for a swim and judge by how I felt, as I swam, though is difficult as the pain is far less noticable, in the water. 

I arrived, this time at Jarrow Pool, I asked when the pool closed. I was informed, that there was an aquafit session at 6, but that pool closed at 8. It was 5.35pm.

In the changing rooms, I stuffed a bag of crisps in my face in anticipation of swimming a mile, which can burn 5-600 calories. The lifegaurd asked me, as I entred the pool, if I was there for the aquafit session. “No”, was my responce, “well you’ll have to get out at six” WHAT? He went on to explain the pool closes to the general public during Aquafit, I went on to explain, that it had been explained to me that the pool shut at 8pm. 

It quckly became apparent, that I’d been offered the wrong information. I’d have to get out, at six, I could if I wanted, grt back in at 7, but not wanting to spend an hour sat wet, bored snd cold I opted to exit the pool at 6, but I took it right to the wire, swimming, in total 400m, far short of the 1600m I’d planned and anticipated.

I am taking a few days off now, but I should be back in the pool on Sunday, if all goes as planned.

Slightly panicking….

I’ve sat down with my calculator, this morning, to work out out a swimming plan for “my big swim challenge”. I’ve realised that, that if I’m going to have any chance of completing it, I’m going to have to be in the pool, at least five days a week and swim around 80 lengths, each time.

Because of my arthritis I will need to factor in, regular rest days and also, not cramming my distances. That is, not doing 3.5km in a day, so I can have an extra day off, because as I’ve already learnt, this will potentially lead to injury and a flair up of my arthritis. 

Completing this challenge, for Arthritis Care, will be largely psychological. Believing I can do it, not focusing on the negative, not concentrating on the pain, not thinking of what might go wrong and just keeping going.

It’s going to be a massive challenge, both physically and mentally, but with determination and the right attitude I know I will succeed! 

I’ve six months to go, so my primary focus right now, is to get as much support as I can, get as fit as I can, eat well, look after myself and get in the right place, mentally.