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.

Looking for excuses…flying meat missile!

So, tonight it was on to my second training swim…

Last night, pretty much cemented my decision to leave my existing gym and pool and seek out an alternative. Namely it’s too small and crowded! 

Today, I made the decision to drive to Hebburn Pool, after work, to ask about monthly membership options and to also, have swim.

Hebburn Pool, is not my nearest pool. It’s actually, several miles away, but the pool is new, clean and modern and the staff, excellent. My local pool, is currently closed, due to someone who had D and V swimming in it and passing it on to others, not content with infecting one pool, they also infected a second. The public health bods, have not laid any blame, on the way the pools are run, managed and maintained, I say this because it has now has hit the local press and it’s out there, in he media.

Any how, moving on, as I referred to earlier, I decided to go to Hebburn Pool, after work. Then I thought, I really can’t be bothered…and started thinking up excuses!

Last night, I was putting my shopping away. I shoved a pork joint in the freezer and shut the door on it, only for it to slide down the freezer, hit the door, resulting in the door flying open and my pork joint hurtling towards me. This all happened in a split second, as did my reaction to it. 

I “threw myself backwards” as  to avoid contact with this flying meat missile, in doing my head made contact with the door frame, with a resounding thunk! I swore, quickly checked my head and ascertained that a trip to casualty was not required, it did not necessitate neither a bandage or stitches, just two paratacemol!

Consequently though, along with a bruise on my head, I’ve had a thumping headache all day. I’m pretty sure, that getting hit with a low flying pork joint, would of proved less painful!

Despite regular pain relief, it’s hung around all not, despite not being not being welcome. For this reason, I felt that, maybe it would be a good idea to have a “night off”.

It was the classic “angel and devil” scenario on the one side “no don’t swim, you’ve got a headache etc” and on the other “go for a swim, it will do you good,you need to swim”.  The Angel won!

On arrival at Hebburn pool, I was greeted by a lovely receptionist, I enquired about monthly membership, with South Tyneside Leisure. I was informed that it was £17.50 a month, on acount of being “registered disabled”. I signed up, immediately…it’s a saving of  £7.50 on the gym and more to the point, the pools are much better. 

Having sorted that out and signed on the dotted line, it was time for a swim. 

It was a good swim, but I realise how much fitness I’ve lost since August. I’ve lost a total of seven weeks through injury and ill health. I really want to get back up to swimming a mile, without stopping, but it’s hard going at the minute. 

I managed 1000m, in various sets, including a 400m and a couple of 200m IM, I am really happy with that. It’s only my second training swim, there’s a long way to go, yet! 

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.

Front crawl and all that guff…

Front crawl is the stroke, I struggle with most. Nothing seems to work, properly, together. I get one bit right and everything else is “slightly off”.

It looks so easy when others swim front crawl, mine looks a bit of a mess. So we’re (myself and my tutor) are working on my front crawl.

Yesterday’s lesson was tough, but at the same time, good. My tutor J took the time to swim underwater, alongside me, to point out my faults, things I need to work on.

It’s frustrating at times, I am sure it’s frustrating for my tutor as well, as we go over the same things and it doesn’t quite work. Again!

I have awoken this morning, my hip is really aching, from the training drills, I did. Not, may I add, the Black and Decker kind, we’re not putting pictures up in the pool!

Sometimes I do want to give in, I can swim now, but I want to swim well, be able to swim distances, enjoy it and keep myself fit and active and ultimately, raise money for charities.

Sport relief swim, Mark ll…smashing targets, achieving challenges and a test of determination!

On Friday, 29th April, I headed to the pool to undertake my second “Sport relief challenge”.

I had, originally signed up for “swimathon”, with the aim of raising £100. I, quite quickly, doubled that. So I decided  to double my challenge. As you do!

Swimathon is an organised event, you turn up at a set pool, on a set day, at a set time. With “simply swim” you choose a date, from the middle of March to 30th April, a time that suits you and the most appropriate pool.

So, on the 29th April I went over to Blaydon Pool. As informed on my paper work, I went, literally cap in hand; carrying my swimming hat I informed the gentleman on reception of my intentions. His responce was “what’s that? Never heard of it”.

I changed and headed to the pool, I had a quick chat with the life guard on duty, fortunately he was a bit more clued up and knew what I was referring too. He advised, where in the pool would be the best place to swim as to avoid the “Aquafitters”. He then informed me, “it was a long way”, yes I knew and I felt slightly sick at the thought of swimming 100 lengths.

So off I went, breaking it down in to small chunks, 25 sets of 100 metres, only think about each 500 metre set, set little challenges, don’t think about the time. It was made even even more challenging, by the absence of being in a lane, I had to keep swerving to miss others and I had to contend with two children who kept leaping in the pool next to me, as I swam, which really tested my patience.

I started out with breaststroke, I’ll do 500m to warm up, now can I do 800m of breaststroke? yes I can. Can I manage 1000m? How about 1500m? At 1200m the pain started to kick in, can I work through the pain, distract myself? I focused on the sunlight, dappling through the water, the pounding music from the Aqua fit group. I made it to 1500m, can I do a mile of breaststroke? Yes, I made it, my first mile swimming a single stroke. One thousand, one hundred metres to go…

Time for some backstroke, rest the bits that ache, my swim watch got confused, I got confused. Three times it claimed I’d done two lengths, when I did only one (the time it claimed I’d swam the length in would of made me Olympic standard), another length, it clearly didn’t recognise me turn and push off the wall!

Nine hundred metres to go…feeling good, then I had a wobble. My energy levels dipped, I felt dizzy and struggled to focus. Thirty second rest, a drink, feeling better I’m off again. Determined. A couple of lengths front crawl, a bit more breaststroke. Feeling much better now, focused, the light outside is fading. Two thousand metres done.

Another couple of lengths backstroke, the flags strung across the ceiling a clear indicator of another length nearly finished. I’m happy with my swim, enjoying it. Two thousand one hundred, the ends in sight, I feel like there’s plenty in the tank, maybe I can get to 3km, my penultimate goal!

Two thousand, two hundred metres, I turn, another breaststroke length. Halfway up the pool, agony…cramp hits in the back of my right calf. I’m in trouble. I make my way to side of the pool, my right calf solid. I deal with it, I set off again, with a metre or two, the cramp hits again. I make it to the steps, frustration kicks in, my swim is over. I hit the pause button on my swim watch, but accidently save it. So near, yet so far. I’ll have to try again tomorrow.

The life gaurd comes over, she knows straight away what’s wrong, I express my frustration to her. “Rest” she says, “give it a few minutes, you can do it”. I believe her, I have to believe her. I stretch my leg out, I don’t want to get out the pool. The cramp eases, tentatively I set off again, no cramp. I’m off again.

Two hundred metres completed, my leg twinges a little, I keep going. One hundred metres to go. Time for front crawl 25, 50, 75, 100 metres….I’ve done it, I’ve swam 2500m, I’ve achieved my challenge. I smile and keep swimming.

I’ve never got much beyond 100 metres of front crawl, how far can I manage 100 metres, 150, 200, 250, 300, 350, 400 metres. I’m delighted with this, I’ve over doubled my PB front crawl distance, so many challenges achieved in one swim. Now for the big one 3km, by this point I’m exhausted, in my fuddled brain is realise I need to swim only another 100 metres to achieve this challenge. I push off from the wall, water rising either side of me, I can do it and I know I can. I have confidence, I trust my abilities. I achieve it.

I decide to keep going, just enjoy swimming, I’ve achieved so much tonight, now I just “want to swim”, I manage another 225m, I decide it’s time to get out. I’ve swam a total of 3.3km tonight, I’m exhausted, I’m wobbly, I’m sore, but I’m happy, exuberant. There’s no fanfare, no sense of occasion, but I’ve done it……and I’m happy.

My aim was to swim 2.5km in under two hours, I came home and uploaded my swims onto my computer, I then calculated my time from my two swims…one hour, fifty minutes ad 28 seconds. I’m as delighted with my time, as I am my achievements.

Now I need some new challenges…

A pain in the….

Last week, the weather was glorious, this week not so! Glorious sunshine amd warm weather, has been replaced by temperatures more commonly experienced in January, along with hail, snow and ice!

Many people with arthritis, will tell you the weather affects their joints. The research, claims otherwise, stating “there’s no conclusive proof”.

Irrespective of this, apparent lack of evidence, my arthritis kicks off, big style if a) it’s damp or b) the weather suddenly fluctuates from warm to cold. Both are currently relevant, consequently I ache and my joints are stiff. I feel like the tin man, from the Wizard of Oz!

On Sunday, when I went swimming, I experienced something, I’ve never  have before. When I was doing the over arm pull, in front crawl and as I  swept my arms round in breast stroke,  I experienced a considerable amount of pain in the base of my fingers on my right hand. I know I have arthritis, in this hand and I suspect this to be the culprit.

I debated whether to give up, stop swimming, but I’d decided to keep going. I found myself starting to guard against the pain, curling my hand up.

It’s a battle to keep going when the pain is bad, this is where psychology comes in. I try to focus on what I am doing, on something positive about my swim, the enjoyment of moving through the water.

I manage 600m, which I was pleased with, really pleased with. The following day, by the next morning, the flair up was in full swing and that night, I had a lesson. But that’s the subject for another post.

Back in the pool…

Last night, I made back to the pool. It was great to be back!

I decided, as I’d been out for three weeks, to stay in half an hour (I usually aim for an hour).

It was great to be back in the pool and I’m happy with the half an hour I spent i spent swimming, no significant distances were swum. The longest distance, I swam was 200m. Not because that’s all I could manage, but rather due to the fact I felt that I needed to gradually build my distances back up.

I found it hard going, I’ve lost quite a bit of fitness in just three weeks and the following morning I woke up to a lot of pain in my right shoulder. I refuse to allow this to stop me, I just need to be careful as I slowly get myself  back into swimming.


Today, my first day off prednisolone, my asthma is still a little grumpy and my peak flow “so-so”.

I have to get back in the pool soon, I need to, I am missing it. I need too be in the pool for my mental and physical well-being.

Plus there’s the slight issue of Sports Relief, Swimathon Mark II challenge! Yes, that’s right, I am planning on doing it all again, only this time 2.5km!

I had planned to complete this on the 21st April, the day we celebrate two very special girls, my nieces, birthday. I doubt that this will be possible now, as it’s a distance I am yet to successfully complete and I’ve been out the pool for three weeks. I did swim in the week, following swimathon challenge 1, but only short distances.

I am pretty fit now, thanks to swimming regularly, but it really is, going to be a massive challenge. Three weeks out of the pool, combined with a forced reduction in physical activity, means that fitness has been lost.

I need to come up with a training plan and stick to it, I also need to have a date set in mind, for the swim.

It’s not going to be easy, but I am determined  to do it, to find a way and then, proudly pass my medal on to, one of the most amazing ladies in my life nana.

Final training, swim

Tonight, I headed back to the pool. This time to Washington Pool, where I will undertaking,  my Swimathon.

I wanted to be confident, that I knew where to go, what the parking was like, what facilities were available what the pool was like.

It soon proved to be a good move, as it took me ages to locate it, round the back of Asda. Parking, I discovered, was horrendous, with little room to manouver round the car park, no disabled bays were available, filled with, as so often happens, several people not displaying blue badges. If you want my parking space, you can have my disability! It infuriates me!

Once I’d  parked  up, I spent a few minutes outside,  just thinking and centemplating. It’s over-whelming, to think that in a couple of days time, I’ll be back here for swimathon. Where has the last 10 weeks gone?

I headed indoors and first, had a perusal at the range of swimming goodies on sale, but didn’t purchase anything. I then wandered up to the reception desk, offering my “Sunderland Council Active Card”

I was informed, the card was no longer valid, as the pool is now ran by “Everyone Active”, would I like a replacement, without thinking, I replied “yes”. I nearly had heart failure when I was charged over £17, for a card and a swim. Talk about taking your eyes out and coming back for the sockets! My Sunderland Active Card was only 10 months old!

I really don’t mind paying £16.00 for a lesson, because it’s worth every penny, but I thought that, that was a tad excessive. It’s all relative, I guess.

The “changing village” proved to be, an experience in itself. The cubicles, each, have two doors, come out the wrong one and your faced with a metal fence, it was a bit of a nightmare, to negotiate, to be honest. However, the changing rooms had one advantage; a shelf. A shelf for bunging all your essentials on, as you get ready, no scrabbling around, trying to locate everything you need, in limited space, dropping stuff on the floor, into puddles, as you go


Eventually, once changed, I located a locker, stowed my gear in it and headed to the pool.

On entering the pool, two things caught my eye. The pool was rammed and secondly, the two amazing and fun looking slides. Can adults have a go, I thought? On Friday, I may bomb down them both, in celebration of completing my swim. They looked ace!

I leapt into the pool, to a bit of a suprise, the deep end, is at the opposite end to what I’m used to.

Thankfully, there was a lane avaliable and I bagged it, it was good to see people observing lane etiquette and not using the lane for their personal space, for a natter with their mates, as happened a few weeks ago.

As soon as I started to swim, I was able to recognise that tonight’s swim, felt much better than what it had the previous night, maybe because I felt better, more confident and assured.  A few lengths to warm up and then I then I set off, on a longer swim. I set myself the target of swimming for forty-five minutes continuous.

It was, at times, hard going. I am learning now, if breathless becomes an issue, to always switch to a “slow breast stroke” that way I can focus on  getting my breathing, back under control. At the same time, I’m thinking, in my head, relax, relax, relax! as advised by J. I am beginning to recognise,  that trying to speed up, to reach the end of the lane, when I am feeling puffed, actually makes it worse. It’s a continual learning process and not one that’s easy. It’s about being aware of me, my body, my stroke, everything.

The time, crept round, I kept going, up and down the pool.  At the same time, identifying the landmarks, telling me where I am in the pool, how far up the lane I am. Washington pool, I found is great for this, it has a number of posters along the side if the pool advising parents and participants of different ASA levels, where to meet. I just need to remember, which way round they go, That’s not to say, I don’t know how to count!

As I swam, I felt myself, fall back into my regular rythym and pattern, it started to feel really comfortable again. The time slipped by, suddenly fourty  minutes had elapsed.  I determined to swim another six lengths. And then I stopped.

Fifty two minutes had elapsed, since I had started, I had swam 1250m. I was happy with that, pleasantly suprised in fact, yet disappointed at the same time. I had another 10 lengths to complete, to reach 1500m,  meaning that I would not of completed my challenge sub-one hour, my goal.

However, there is little point, in me being unhappy, with where I am. It’s not a race, it’s a challenge, 10 months ago I could barely swim, three months ago I could manage 800m,  I’ve come a long way. I need to be proud, happy, not disappointed. Last week, I was unwell, too unwell to swim, this week I’m better, but asthma is still not great.

I finished with a cool down, of a few more lengths, meaning that I totalled 1650 metres. I decided, that this was it, enough was enough, it’s time to call it a day on my training.

I’ve trained for 10 weeks, I’ve worked with my tutors, I’m continuing to make progress. My technique, is better every week. This week, I’ve swam three days, another day will make no real difference, I know I can do it, rest would be better.

So, my decision was made, rest on Thursday, there’s no point taking a tired, aching body into the pool, on Friday. A rested one, will be far more productive, so my aim for Thursday: eat well, drink plenty, rest lots.