Training and progress

It’s hard to believe, Swimathon is now only two and half weeks away. My emotions, in relation to the event are that of nervous excitement.

I feel I could of trained more, but the general demands of a busy life, combined with the impact of “The Beast from the East”, resulted in me spending less time than I would have liked, at the pool. That said, I feel generally satisfied, with my progress, overall.

One of my swims, is 400m or 16 lengths, this distance is relatively short for me, but it’s a great distance, for a beginner. I was going to attempt to swim it, using tumble turns in opposed to open turns, however I still don’t feel overly confident with tumble turns and the safety aspect also concerns me. If the lane is busy, tumble turns in opposed to open turns, means that I won’t be able to quickly glance up the lane and assess where my fellow swimmers are.

I do however, want to swim the entire distance freestyle. Freestyle is my preferred stroke, but one that took me two years to be able to swim more than 2 lengths continually.

It was only last May, that I was finally able to swim longer distances, freestyle or front crawl. Unfortunately, there was a protracted period, between September and November, last year, where I was only able to swim short distances. This was because I was swimming either in busy pools, or recovering from back to back chest infections. It was to take till early February, this year, before I was once again able to Swim 500m freestyle.

I have not though, attempted to swim more than 100m freestyle, without a warm up period. This is usually 8 sets of 50m. This will not be an option, on the day I undertake my 400m challenge. To this end, I have been really focusing on swimming 400 and 500m freestyle sets. The last week, I have twice swam 400m without a warm up, aside from stretching, at the pool side. This has been a real confidence boost. I now know I can do it, however I know that to replicate this, on the day, I will need to control my breathing and not go out too fast. Something that may prove difficult, in the midst of the nervousness and excitement of Swimathon.

I also would like to swim it in less than 10 minutes. My PB is 9minutes 55 seconds. I appreciate though, that my time will be dependent on a number of factors. I will be tired to start with, the lane may be busy and also, I have two niggling injuries.

I plan to continue to train, until the Monday before Swimathon. It is my plan to swim a total of 15km, in the two weeks leading up and my training plan looks like this.

Monday 2.3km (already swam)

Thursday 2.5km

Friday Aquafit and 1 mile

Sunday 2.5km

Monday 2km

Thursday 2.5km

Friday Aquafit

Sat 1 km

Sunday 2.5km

Monday what ever is left to bring me to 15km

The rest of the week, leading up to Swimathon will be resting, sleeping well and ensuring that I eat well and with plenty of carbohydrates in my diet.

I have a rough plan as to how I will swim my 1500m and 2500m swim and the times I am aiming for, but I will post about this, in more depth, the week before Swimathon.

Setting the pace.

Last weeks training went realy well, it also highlighted the fact that often we don’t know what we’re really capable of, until we try.

On Thursday, I made the decision, to give pacing a go. Essentially, after a 7-10 minutes warm up, you swim 100m, aiming for a given pace. At the swimming master class, Keri-Anne suggested that I aimed for 3mins/100m. This was based on the fact that I am aiming to complete my 2.5km, in 1 hour 20mins, thus improving my time, from last year.

The previous Monday, after aquafit, I’d swam 100m in 2.29. In responce to this,I made the decision to reduce my pacing time to 2.30min/100m

Going back to how a pacing session actually works, as previously stated you swim 100m, aiming for pace time. Then you swim a relaxed 100m and repeat for the number of times, given on the provided training plan, which on that da, ywas 4 sets, so in total 800m.

During the first set, I just tried to get the measure of how it would work, for me. There after, I swan 50m at a decent pace, 25m a reasonable pace and the final 25m, all out, belting down the pool, causing a near tsunami and soaking everyone, within a 10 metre radius!

I absolutely loved it. I found it so exhilerating, challenging myself. I was delighted with my times too 2 min 19, 2 min 14, 2 min 12 and 2 min 11. My rest sets, where themselves around 2 mins 30-40.

I followed this with a “distance swim” of 500m, continuous freestyle. My time was 13 mins and 6 seconds. This is a big improvement on 18 months ago, when I was averaging 14 mins per 400m. Admittedly I was alternating freestyle with breastroke then. With these times and with 10 weeks training to go, I am now considering reviewing my pace, I have put myself down as “slow to medium”. If things continue to progress, as well as they currently, this year I think I will be looking at my.pace a “medium-fast”.

Friday saw me back in rhe pool, for Aquafit. The “teacher” J proved to be very different in her approach, to C, who takes Sunday/Monday Aquafit. It was fast and high energy. 1980’s dance tunes pounded out, across the pool while J ran round tbe side pool, bellowing insteuctions, encouraging up to “work harder”.

Fifteen minutes in, I thougbt I was dying! I knew that, that was in actual fact a hyperbole. I wasn’t going to die! Though I knew I’d ache the next day. I knew however, it would be worth it.

I love the sensation of freedom, being in the pool brings, that I am able to move in ways, that would prove painful and difficult on land. I actually find it quite a strange experience, that when I get in the pool, it almost feels that I’ve left my arthritis on the side, along with my inhlaer and water bottle! I have also learnt to move in a relaxed manner and in ways that reduce the pressure on my joints, allowing the water to carry and support me.

I “survived” through to the end, I was really proud of myself for making it to the end.

As soon as I was able, ie midnight on the Friday. I booked for next week.

One amazing day

So, we come to Saturday. The Swimathon Ambassadors launch event…it really was a once in a life time event.

After enjoying a substantial breakfast, I rarely have a cooked breakfast, but today was day, that called for such start to the day.

I headed to the vast catherdral like structure, that is St Pancras Station.

she features on the launch video, but she spoke of a nurse, who bought her patient oranges, with the aim of bringing the orange groves of Spain, to him.\nT

There I met with, my fellow ambassador, Cadi, and also Melanie Berry, who I am grateful to, for helping it all to happen.

For there, it was on to Stratford

We tried, to meet up with a fellow ambassador, Stephen, but somehow we missed other, with Stephen arriving sometime after us.

Then it was onto the London Aquatic Centre and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. When it came in to view, I found it utterly awe inspiring. This was, in 2012, the world stage. The place where the Olympics and Paralympics were held, where elite athletes, who had trained and worked so hard, for many years, to earn “the right to be there” had come together, each representing their own country, to compete in there chosen sport. It was truely was, ne of many amazing moments, that day.

Stepping inside, we were greeted, by someone representing Swimathon. This was it, this really was it!

We were shown to the room, we were to be using that day. There was tea, coffee, juice and water laid out, along with an array of sandwiches, crisps and fruit. We really were, looked after. Some ambassadors had already arrived, others came in after us. It was so fantastic, to meet my fellow ambassadors, each with their own, inspirational story. I was so nervous!.

We were soon joined by Duncan Goodhew, the 1980 Moscow Olympics Gold medalist, who is president of Swimathon, having supported the event for many years. He was quickly followed byKeri Anne Payne, the Olympic silver medalist and Double World Champion, along various people from the charity partners and other agencies working with and supprting Swimathon.

After spending time, meeting and chatting to various people, including Duncan Goodhew and Keri-Anne Payne. It felt very surreal and I was pent up with nerves and running on adrenlin. I kept bursting into uncontrollable fits of giggles.

We then began with a round of introductions. Duncan, gave a very inspiring speach, which I regret not recording. It was brilliant! Duncan alao brought along his gold medal and i couldn’t help, but wear it myself. It was suprisingly heavy!

Then we heard from a number of other people. Those supporting the project and also from McMillan. One thing many people do not realise, is that McMillian support anyone requiring palliative care, not just those living with cancer.

Moving on, it was time to head to the pool, a quick change, and I was good to go. This is when I noticed something very important missing, my medic alert bracelet, which never leaves my right wrist. I thought I’d lost it in London. It later transpired, much to my relief it was at home.

I headed to the side of the pool, attired in my gorgeous swimming costume, courtesy of Zoggs, dropping stuff as I went. I have no idea why I didn’t just use, my “Finding Nemo” pool bag, to carry it all in.

We were asked, if we needed googles. I couldn’t remember where I’d put mine, I was so flustered and neevous. I wasn’t even sure, if I needed to wear Zoggs ones, as they are a Swimathon supporter. It was to transpire, that they were more comfortable, than my present ones!

Swimming masterclass

This was delivered by Keri-Anne Payne, Olymic silver medalist and double world champion. We started off, with a theory session, which I found incredibly informative and from which, I wrote copious notes and then it was into the pool. Having never before, swam at the London Aquatic Centre, it was an awe inspiring experience!

To start with, the focus was on “aquatic breathing”. Something I’m relatively comfortable with. Keri-Anne then spoke to us about rotation and how that leads in to the arm pull. I learnt a lot from this and it was reflected the following Saturday, when my coach pointed out, that my rotation was noticably improved.

She then asked each ambassador to swim, half a length, as to allow her to assess what we need to work on, on our front crawl. For me it was the fact that my arms, aren’t straight, at the beginning of the pull, but rather crossing over, in front of my head. Keri-Anne offered some really useful advice, on how to work on improving this.

We then were offered the opportunity, to have go at coaching each other. This I enjoyed, but found challenging at the same time. I feel like I’m being critical of someone, if I tell them what they could improve on.

Combined with the above, there was lots of fun and laughter, including a handstand challenge. Handstands, were never my strong point, having never mastered them on land. With a bit of practice, I cracked it. I’m yet to see the video!

It was an amazing, if slightly terrifying afternoon. Being videod and photographed, at every turn. Giving interviews, the results of which I, like many people who hear their recorded voice, I cringe at, really pushed out of my comfort zone, but I am proud of myself of doing it.

I count myself aa being immensely blessed to have been offered, such an amazing opportunity! It was great fun and I learnt a great deal and I wil cherish the memories of such an amazing time.

On completion of the masterclass, I headed to the changing rooms, but before heading off to get changed I was asked, by Mel, if I would like to swim a length in the 50m competition pool. The answer was an unequivocal yes!

I was taken aback, as to how cold the pool was and it took my lungs a few seconds to adjust. Then I set off down the pool! It was a “scrappy length”, but it was still a special xperience, for me, to swim in a pool that a few years ago, featured on the world stage. A pool where amazing things were achieved, dreams realised, records broken, medals won and for some, hopes were dashed.

It’s also a place where, for me, I was given a fabulous opportunity. I could have never have forseen 3 years ago, that learning to swim, would lead to a day, such as today. It was such a special day.

On exiting the pool, there was further filming to be done. I would love to know what people thought, as I casually walked through the chalnging rooms, with an entorage of people in tow, including photographer and a camera crew.

One hilarious momemt happended, when two boys came charging along, heading to the pool, only to come up short, stop suddenly and subsequently nearly fall over each other. I ended up, desperately trying to stop myelf from laughing. On film, Im sure I look like I’m laughing at myself, in the mirror!

We finished with a further question and answer session, a quick de-brief. The it was time to begin thr long journey home. I got completly confused on the journey back to Kings Cross, but eventually I made it and then on the train, arriving home, close to midnight. I was tired, but the happy tired that follows a fulfilling day.

Before I left though, I summoned up the courage to asked Duncan for his autograph, for a good friend friend of mine, who regards him as her hero. I also asked for his autogragh, for myself!

I walked back to Stratford Station, with another ambassador. We relived the day, neither of us could quite believe what had happened.

I met a number of inspiring and amazing people, that day. People who I know.regard as friends.

I leave you with a few more photos

Persistence pays off…

Today is “World Cancer Day”

It goes to say it’s may not be a day to be celebrated, but it is a date that needs to be marked. Huge strides have been made, over the years, through research as to the treatment of cancer.

The majority of people, in the UK, who recieve a diagnosis of cancer, will successfully undergo treatment. Treatment that can be long, painful and protected, in length. When I swim, my swimathon, I will be supported by M, herself a survivor of cancer.

Some people however, are much less fortunate. Cancer remains a thief, stealing mums, dads, friends, aunts, uncles, grandparents and so forth, leaving a trial of heartache and devastation in it’s wake. I have lost, two grandparents to cancer, my grandpops and my beloved “gang-gang”, my shadow!

Nearly every person, knows someone affected by cancer, either having lost a loved one or know someone, who thanks to research, treatment and the care they recieved, are still with us. Cancer Research is one such charity that enables this.

Cancer Research, along with Marie Curie; are this years charity partners for Swimathon 2018. They are hoping to raise £2million this year, for these two amazing charities.

There are still 12 weeks, till Swimathon Weekend. Plenty of time for people to sign up and train. This year there is the new 400m distance, perfect for beginners and less confident swimmers. Twelve weeks means that you will have sufficient time, to train, irrespective of the distance of your challenge.

This week, I’ve has found me working hard on my training. On Thursday I swam a total of 2km, in the pool. This included 250m, where I used tumble, rather than open turns.

I am swimming, to 400m challenge, which will be relatively easy for me. To increase the challenge I have decided to use tumble rather than open turns. It may however, prove to be difficult to achieve this, on the day, depending on how busy the lane is!

Friday saw me spending over an hour in the gym, first on the cross trainer. Then it was on to the treadmill, for 20 minutes, though I cling on for dear life, it feels strange to be walking, without the aid of my stick. Finally, I moved on to a machine that is essentially a bike, but instead of peddling with your feet, you use your hands. The peddles are, of course, higher. After this, I ran out of time to have a play on other machines.

Yesterday it was up at “stupid o’clock” for swim training.

It was a great session, in the pool, my coach gave us a challenging, and varied, set to complete. It was also great fun, with lots of laughter involved. Learning to swim, offers frequent opportunities to make right ejit of yourself. Don’t ever be afraid to laugh at yourself (and others).

In the afternoon, water was also involved. I went for a walk, it was pouring with rain! My hair was dripping, coat soaking and my shoes, squelching, it was still to prove great fun! I walked a mile, rested, then completed the return leg, heading for home and dry clothes!

This morning, it was Aquafit. It was a great session, with the teacher introducing some new excercises into the routine. For reasons, I can’t fathom, Aquafit seems to be, largely the preserve of women. There is only gentleman, who partakes in Aquafit. Good on him!

As today is World Cancer Day, I proudly wore my Swimathon T-Shirt, Zoggs costume and Swimathon hat.

Then it was to my final swim, of the week, 1500m. My “Gang-Gang”, my dad’s dad, whom I was very close too, loved to swim, but he gave the sport up, long before I was born. He often told me, how he’d swam “The River Humber”.

Sadly I never thought on, to enquire, did he just swim in “The River” (it’s actually an estuary) or swim from one side to the other. If he had, I would assume he’d swam from Hull, to New Holland. Again, I have no way of knowing. Unable to ascertain, the distance from Hull to New Holland, even with aid of Google, I was however, able to learn that it’s around 1.5km from Hessle to Barton upon Humber, my home town and where my grandad, worked and lived for most of his life.

Swimming 1.5k is now relatively easy for me. Today, it was prove hard work. I couldn’t get my breathing right, a fundamental element of freestyle. I felt like I was fighting the water. At 350 meters I climbed out, munched my way through a protien bar, took on some fluid and electrolytes. My thinking was that I was tired and needed hydration, after having had completed Aquafit.

Ten minutes later, I re-entered the water. There was little improvement, it felt like a slog. Nothing seemed to be coming together. It just felt such hard work.

Clambering out at 800m, I considered my options. Get out and go home or keep going, aiming for my orignal target. Going home, meant giving up. I wasn’t prepared to do that! I pottered over, to the sauna.

A sauna that was packed! I then proceeded to be an unwitting audience member of conversations relating to failed relationships, dumping your fiancee, for another woman, heavy drinking and cannabis smoking! I sat, rested a while, while these converations, swirled around me, trying not to judge others and the lives they choose to lead.

I headed back into the pool, I had decided to swim 1500m, 60 lengths, and that was what I was going to do. It still felt, like it was far harder work, than it should be, it still felt challenging. I had however, come to the acceptance that this was going to be, one of my “bad swims” and to getnon with it!

I was at 1200m, with just three hundred to go and suddenly, it all seemed to click in to place. I was swimming comfortably and with ease. It was fantastic, I was so happy I’d stuck with it, not given up. I reached my goal of 1500m and decided to continue to a mile, after all, it’s only 100m more and the tide might of been a bit higher, on the day my grandad swam it!

I did contemplate considering going on, to 2km, but it was rapidly approaching 2pm. The time when children are allowed back in the pool after the lunch time “Adult only Swim”.

This week is deemed, according to my training plan, from Keri-Ann Payne, to be my “rest week”. It doesn’t mean no swimming, it just means less swimming. It’s time to give my aching muscles and sore joints a rest.

Friday night

Back in the 90’s Whigfield sang about “Saturday night” the song often blasted out, in my student halls, while it’s residents, often tipsy on Lambrini, acted out the moves, along the corridors. That was the 90’s, that was Saturday night…this was my Friday.

I made plans, early on, as to what to do that Friday night. I was pretty skint, given that my last pay day, was a distant memory and I’d had to pay for both Christmas and New Year. There were no wild parties, just lots of trips to visit my family, who reside in various parts of the country.

I already had a swim planned, at my hotel. I did think, that I would maybe meet up with a others involved with Swimathon, but as it transpired, they were staying in a different hotels.

My first consideration was food, but my budget was very limited! I decided to go for a walk, get my bearings, enjoy some time to myself, some fresh air and food for tea!

It was already growing dusk, but the weather was a considerable improvement, to home. For one, I could walk, without risking falling over and making an idiot of myself. Staying on your feet, is always good!

I really enjoyed my walk, taking in the sights and sounds of London. I sorted myself out with some food. I decided on a bit of picnic tea: salad, fruit, yogurt and other bits of nibbles. Having a fridge in my room, was certainly of an advantage!

Tea bought, i headed back to my hotel. After enjoying a bit of a picnic, in my room, was time to head to the pool.

The pool area was really lovely and relaxing. There was also a sauna, jacuzzi and steam room, which unfortunately out service. The pool, was at most, 15mtrs. More like a bath than a pool! This however, cost me the nominal fee of £3.50. Cheaper than what it costs, to swim at my local leisure centre, the day before.

The pool was, initially empty, I was joined, from time to time, by others. Once the were six of in the the pool, it was packed! I decided that as the pool was small, not to concentrate too much on distance, but rather use it as technique and tumble turn practice session.

I am aiming, to complete my 400m, as all freestyle and use tumble turns, in opposed to open turns. Tumble turns, are those used in competitive freetyle. They also help to improved your time. I am being realistic however, in recognising that with others in the lane, some of whom may be less experienced, than I, it may not always be safe.

Tumble turns, once learnt, are relatively easy to execute. They must, however be taught by an professional swimming teacher, because there is a risk of injury, if they are not carried, correctly. My swim coach, knows of a swimmer who burst both his Achilles tendons, while doing a tumble turn. Ouch!!!

Although I can now, complete a tumble turn, correctly, I still get water up my nose, which hurts! This leads to streaming eyes subequently, I can’t see where the hell I’m swimming.

The next hour, was spent practicing tumble turns, without getting water up my nose. It wasn’t always successful and i knew my sinus’s would play up, if I wasn’t careful, leading to me sounding like I had a heavy cold. This wouldn’t be a great outcome, come the following day, when I was being filmed

Overall though I was happy with my progress, I realised that if I consistently breathed out, through my nose, as I turned, it prevented water, from going where it shouldn’t!

I also decided, when the pool was empty, to practice butterfly. Butterfly, is an anti-social stroke! The pool, was empty of people, when I started. At the end, I think I had nearly emptied the pool of water and three people had joined me in the pool. Oops sorry!

Swim completed, it was time to head back upstairs to prepare for the following day….

View from my hotel, at night

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”….

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!

Early morning training

Saturday swims, are a bit of a challenge, as last Saturday demonstrated. Even though pools, try to accommodate everyone, people interpretate “the rules” differently! 

Last Saturday, I tried to make best of my training swim, by attending an “adult only swim”, starting at 7.45am.

The pool is 9 miles, or 30 minutes away, it takes me a good hour, to get ready. Getting ready for me, includes taking my medication, doing chest physiotherapy, checking my peakflow, completing my asthma self management plan, getting my joints moving and working and getting my early morning pain under control. A lot more complicated than two weetabix and a cup of tea!

At 7am, while still dark, I climbed in my car, thinking “what the heck am I doing?”. Actually, it was a lot stronger than this!! The weather was freezing, my car iced up. 

It transpired to be a quite a good swim, I enjoyed a lane to myself. I spent my first half hour, completely drills, to improve various parts of my stroke and the other, swimming. 

Again, I really struggled with front crawl. I think at least in part, it was due to anxiety, as to how my asthma might react to me swimming that early. The same fear held, too with my arthritis. I couldn’t seem to relax into the swim, as I was constant alert to what was happening with both my, joints and lungs. 

Thankfully, there wasn’t any real problems with either and while it was a really enjoyable swim, I’m not sure as to whether or I can face getting up, that early every Saturday morning, after a very busy week at work, just to guarantee a lane to myself!

Missing a few essentials. ..

Tonight, I had a bit of a coaching session, working on my freestyle. I had arranged this before Christmas. 

This morning, in my usual rush to get to work, I left everything that I needed, by the front door. 

I arrived, at the pre-arranged venue, at the present arranged time. After parking my car up, and giving false hope to someone, waiting for a lift, I got out, walked round the back, popped the boot open and looked in it with a sinking heart. No swimming bag…stupidly, in my rush to get out, I’d clearly left it the house.  

There is a sports shop, down the road, from the pool (my house was too far away). It’s a pretty rubbish one, but still a sports shop. 

I lept back in car, checked the time and barrelled out of the car park. I had 20 minutes, to get there and back!

Every traffic light was on red, as I drove down the road, and I was forced to wait, impatiently for them to change. Arriving at the large retail park, where the store is situated, I practically ran in there. Breathlessly, I grabbed costume, hat and goggles, before heading to the till. Twenty three pounds lighter, which I can barely afford, I headed back to the pool, and again every light was on red!

Twenty minutes after leaving I parked up, for the second time, at the pool. Unfortunately, there is then a maze of corridors to negotiate, before arriving at the pool, itself. 

Quickly changing, I dived into the pool, only to discover the googles I’d purchased, were absolutely rubbish and even at the tightest setting, they let water in. I may as well, bought two tea-strainers, for what good they were! Thankfully, I was able to borrow a pair. 

It was only a short 20 minute swim, but I was able to work on my front crawl, arm pull, something which I am still not doing, to full effectiveness. However concentrating on my arm swing, resulted in getting my breathing pattern, wrong. This wasn’t helped by the fact, that my lungs were already grumpy,  due to the sudden dip, then rise in temperature (weather wise).
Now the challenge is, just to fit the two together, correct arm pull and breathing pattern. 

Training off to a great start

My training started in ernest tonight and I’m really happy with how it went.

The pool was much quieter, than is has been of late, I’m suspecting the colder weather and threat of snow has put a few people off. Possibly some of the “New Years Resolution Gang” can’t face the idea of going outside , after swimming, in to the icy wind. Cold weather, in all likelihood, sorts some of the wheat from chaff, when it comes to making a long term swimming commitment. I’m making a assumptions here, of course!

Anyhow, I started with a 50m warm up. I was amused to reach the end of the lane, after my first 25, to witness a couple, who had got in just after me, having a massive argument. She was resorting, to splashing him with large amounts of water, as a means of marking her ire with him. Saves throwing plates, I guess. Maybe its a damage limiting exercise,  go to your local pool for an argument, instead of throwing crockery in frustration and smashing the furniture, throw some water instead! 

I was quite suprised, on the return journey, swimming front crawl, that my lungs felt uncomfortable. Clearly there was some inflammation/muscle tightness in my lungs as a result of my asthma. 

I decided to swim, mainly breaststroke in the early stages of my swim. This is a difficult call, I usually alternative breaststroke and frnot crawl, with distances of equal length.  Breast stroke is much easier on my lungs, bit puts much more pressure on my joints. Fortunately, as time went on and I became more “warmed up” my lungs improved and front crawl became easier

The other thing, I was working on today, along with completing a long swim, was prevent or at least reducing the painful cramp I experience in my feet and ankles. I’ve read a number of articles,which suggest dehydration is a culprit in causing this. 

Usually,  when I swim a distance, I don’t like to stop, but this means I can be swimming up to two hours, with out fluids. If the gym, you know how much fluid your loosing, in the pool you have no idea. Therefore, I built regular, fluid breaks into my swim. This also allowed me to have two puffs my salbutamol inhaler, each time I stopped.

Every 15 or minutes, I would stop, have a few sips of water, 200mcg of salbutamol and off I’d go again. Intrestingly, cramp was much less of a problem, today. It also proved to be a good way, of breaking down a long swim. Next time, I will try half an hour and see how I feel, before deciding when to fit in my fluid breaks. 

The pool, did get busier as time went along, from 7pm-8pm, it was ladies only. There was only myself and one of two other’s seemed too be undertaking serious swimming. It clearly highlights to me, just how many adult’s,  seem never to have, had the opportunity. I also noticed, that quite a large majority where excercising mainly, their mouth. It’s good, that the pool provides a social space, bit how many will return home, thinking that they have completed a decent amount of swimming, when in reality have achieved little in the way of aerobic exercise, one of the greatest benefits swimming can, if done properly provide. 

As I swam, I became aware of the fact I was experiencing a significant amount of.pain in my right wrist and shoulder. Clearly my arthritis was accompanying me, in the pool! Fortunately, it didn’t get to the “unbearable point” and I was able to carry on. 

On Monday, I had been forced to abandon my swim, thanks to, two ladies swimming side by side, chatting. This time, I decided I needed to be brutal. If someone was in my way, rather than getting frustrated and give up, I knew I had to find a way of keeping going.

Most of the time I was able to swim round them, even it meant swimming a slightly greater distance,  but a couple of times I was forced to swim through them. 

On one particular occasion,  half way up the lane, four ladies were swimming a slow breaststroke, side by side, chatting. A shoal of women! Not wanting to sound like an exert from “We’re going on a Bear Hunt”, but I knew that I could get round them, nor could I swim under them. I couldn’t stay behind them, as their pace was far too slow. I just had to go through them, and I did. Head down, arms outstretched, I put myself into the gliding position, literally barged my way through the middle. It wasn’t the most decorious way, to deal with it or, if the truth be told, polite. But it was, the only way to continue. Coming back in the opposite direction, I saw them again, in their little pack, coming towards me, so did they and they scattered, swimming off, in different directions, before again reforming their ranks, re-comencing their conversation!

I would like to take the opportunity here, to apologise. I probably come across as opinionated and bitchy. I don’t intend to, it’s just sometimes, it gets frustrating. 

It’s impossible to run sessions for social swimmers and serious swimmers, it just wouldn’t be practical, but sometimes I wish I could, get in the pool and “just swim” without having to be considering how to circumnavigate round other people.

I also had a couple of folk crash into me, easy done and their apologies are accepted. If you’re swimming with your head up, you can see me in advance. For most of my swims, I’m looking, mainly at the pool floor, I don’t have a periscope on my goggles, unfortunately. Nor am I able, to take my eye out, lift it up and look round, like Mr Potato Head in Toy Story! 

Despite all of this, I had a great, first training swim. Along with the 50m at the he beginning, I swam a further 2300m in one hour and thirty minutes. My previous best for 2500m was one hour 51 minutes, so this shows to me, a marked improvement in speed. 

The last 500 metres, was exhausting. I felt like I had nothing left, in the tank, despite raiding my work’s Christmas sweetie tin, earlier in the afternoon! It felt like, every single stroke, was a hard work and I knew I was depleting already depleted resources, but I had decided to swim till 7.50pm and I was determined to do this. And I did. 

I climbed, gratefully out of the pool, really happy with my swim, but desperate for a rest. I ached and my left hand was tingling, telling me that I had irritated the nerve damage, in my upper spine. 

To help me recover a little, I parked myself up in the steam room. It was great, not to have to share it it big, burly blokes, dressed only in their speedo budgie smugglers. Where else would it be perfectly normal and acceptable, to sit in a room with a group of blokes, clad only in, in essence, their pants? It was nice too, to be able to relax, without being surrounded by blokes vying for supremacy, with each other, in someway. 

Five minutes later, I emerged from this steam fIlled enclosure, feeling revived. I spotted a thing of beauty. A empty pool, it’s surface, like a millpond. It was opportunity too good to miss. With four minutes to closing time, I got back in. 

I still felt, utterly exhausted, but to be able to swim in an empty pool was too good an opportunity. It had to be taken. 

I swam a further three lengths, 50m butterfly, reaching the end of the pool the lifeguard shouted “we’re closed love, time to get out”. Please, one more back to the bottom?  I set off, to find all eyes on me, as I flayed my way to the end. 

Yes the pool was closed to the public, but the local swimming club had just arrived for training and these were the elite swimmers. Goodness what they all thought, as they saw me splashing my way down the pool. I might judge other other people’s swimming style. 

Anyway I will end with a summary of the main swim, today. 

, they must have had similar thoughts about me!