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 having 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.

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! 

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. 

Backwards in reverse!

I’m trying to start planning, my timetable for my my swim challenge. Yes it’s months away, but I feel I need some sort of plan so that I’m not getting to the middle of the month and panicking, because I’ve only done a quarter of my intended target. 

The final week of the challenge, coincides with Arthritis Care Week, the date for which isn’t yet confirmed, but this is the week I’m swimming 10km.

Based on last year’s date’s the plan is 

13th May 2km

14th May Rest day

15th May 2km

16th May 1.5km

17th May Rest day

18th May 2km

19th May Rest day

20th May Final day 2.5km

The real challenge lies though, where to swim ? 

My local public pool on a Saturday will be busy, I know from experience, how difficult it can be to swim a distance in busy pool, particularly when you have a young children, intent on bombing you as you swim! I would like to complete my final swim, at a date and place that allows others to support me, on the poolside.
I’m going to e mail a few pools nearer the time, in the hope that I’ll find ine that support me on the day, otherwise my supporters are going to be refereeing the pool! 

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! 

Swimming in silly hats…

OK, so I’m still awake, so I may as well write my next post…

Arthritis Care Gateshead is a charity that is  close to my heart, though I rarely attend meetings, owing to other commitments. It’s a place that’s given me so much: acceptance, cconfidence, friendship and the ability to manage my arthritis better. In short, they help pick me up, at my lowest point, when I was told I needed a walking stick, at 38. 

Now it’s time to give something back…

It’s a massive challenge that I’ve set myself: a marathon in a month, with a marathon in a month. 

Sound confusing…well let me explain!

A marathon, in running terms, is 26.2 miles, while a swimming marathon is 10km, so the plan is to swim 26.2 miles in a month, with 10km being swam in one week, which will take place during Arthritis Care Week in May 2017. It’s going to be a massive challenge!

The plan was to source a swimming hat, on which could be printed “Arthritis Care Gateshead” with my name printed on it, but it would seem that this only possible if ordering 500! So the idea is, to swim it in “silly swimming hats” the sillier the better. 

I’ve already sourced 3 and I’m on the hunt for more, I’m hoping I can get the branch involved in this and I’m really looking forward to the challenge.