A new level of tough…

Learning to swim, has seen my confidence in my physical abilities rocket and has seen me,  stick the proverbial two fingers up, at my arthritic joints and difficult lungs. 

Neither of these are going to go away, ever. Nor are they ever going to “get better”, I have, however been encouraged by the increase in lung function, since I took my first plunge in the pool.

Aside, from my health problems, I’m physically fitter and healthier. I’ve found a sport, I truly love, swimming rarely feels like a chore. Every time I go swimming, I feel a little frizzon of excitement, the desperation to be in the pool. Holidays have been chosen or rejected on the quality of the pool! 

Learning  to swim, has allowed me to enjoy many experiences: swimming in the sea, something I would previously, have been terrified to do, taking part in swimathon and being invited to a lunch reception, at the houses of parliament (unfortunately, due to work commitments, I couldn’t attend).

Now, I am preparing to begin a new chapter, in my journey. Joining a “swim squad”. 

I’ve found one, that suits me, it’s non competitive, but it pushes me. The trouble is, it’s 8 till 9am. The first challenge is, that mornings are not my best time, on awakening my joints are stiff and  sore and it can take, several hours for that to settle, particularly in winter. 

My lungs also, take a while to wake up and clear the accumulated junk that has gathered there, during the night. 

The session, one hour, is tough, it’s hard work. There’s no slacking, our coach pushes us, hard. As a former competitive swimmer, himself, he has high expectations. 

Already, I am reaping the benefits. My fitness is improving, along with my stamina. In addition, my front crawl distances are stretching out, so long as my lungs are in agreement. 

Front crawl, is my weaker stroke, I tend to rely more on breaststroke, which has proven to be a bit of a mistake. Squad training, focuses so much more on front crawl, thus my front crawl is improving.
And so, this morning, I’m up at half five in preparation for this, busy getting my stuff together and preparing for what I know will a tough, but fun hour. 

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!

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.

New Resolution makers…everywhere! 

Christmas is well and truly over and we’re a few days past the New Year as well. With this time of year, comes the inevitable “New Years Resolutions”.

On Friday, I went for a swim, a swim that was to prove frustrating. The lanes were not free, being reserved for training, by the local swimming club. Hence, the remainder of the pool, was incredibly busy, it took me a while to work out why. Previous visits, at this time, to this pool haven’t proven to be anywhere near as busy. It was when I heard a family, of six, shouting that they were going to join the gym, go swimming regularly and join slimming world, I realised what was happening. The people was full of people, whose News Years resolution, was to get fitter and healthier.

I wonder how long these resolutions will last, I’m guessing for some, not much past 1st February, as the reality of the commitment, cost, effort and work involved,  kicks in and the excuses build up. 

Some, however, will still stick to it and it will be life changing, for them. 

As the clock struck midnight, welcoming in 2013, I was determined that this would be the year, I would finally learn to swim, properly. 2014 was welcomed I with the same resolution…and 2015. Finally, in April, that year I took my first, tentative steps towards learning to swim. 

It’s taken a huge amount of commitment, to keep going. It’s cost me, literally hundreds of pounds. It’s been hard, it’s been frustrating. My health problems, haven’t gone away, each time I swim, pain is my companion. In my back, my knee’s,  my hip and sometimes, my elbow. Pain, though is not a reason to give up, it’s a reason to keep going. 

Arthritis, is a degenerative disease, by swimming I’m using my joints and in doing so, keeping them mobile as I can. This helps reduce the inevitable stiffness and pain, that comes with arthritis. Last year, a research study showed that swimming is the best form of exercise for arthritis.

I still experience asthma symptoms, I swim at well ventilated pools. One of the reasons, I left the pool as the gym, was because it was in the basement, with low ceilings. My inhaler sits at the side of the pool, and my nebuliser, sits in a bag, with my towel.

Now, nearly two years on, I’m fitter than I’ve ever been, I have more energy and I’ve lost weight.I feel more confident and motivated. I want to keep myself fit, I don’t want to be spending my days, sitting around, feeling sorry for myself and psychology disabling myself, with thoughts along the lines of “I want to do it, but I can because of my asthma etc”. I also want to maintain, as good as quality of life, as I can for as long as I can.

Being able swim, has resulted in some amazing opportunities: swimming in the sea, off Anti-Paxos, featuring on an Arthritis and me DVD, taking part in Sport Relief, being part of the “this Girl Can Campaign and more recently, an invite to a reception at the Houses of Parliment which, to my huge regret, I can’t get time off work for. 

People do ask me how I do it, in view of my health problems. I don’t know, I know my increased fitness levels, help, along with determination and sheer bloody-mindedness. I might be gritting my teeth, against the pain, but I’m still getting to the top of the pool! 

To conclude, this post I what I am trying to say is, that before you dive headlong (no pun intended) into New Years resolution, think through what you want to achieve and what you are prepared to commit to achieving this, though it seem easy at the start, it soon proves tougher. Can you still offer this level of commitment in 3 months, six months, a year, two years? How are you going to maintain your motivation? And so forth

The only other left to say is 

Good luck and keep at it.

2017…what now?

I’ve already posted about what some of my plans are, in terms of swimming this year, but looking even further on, into the future, what next?

I can now comfortably swim, 3km, so long as I train regularly and keep my fitness up, to a reasonable level. I am well aware, that at the current, 2.5km in one, continual swim, is hard going, this is due to huge gaps in my training, but I’m building back up to it. This is not helped, by sudden onset bouts of breathless, as a result of my asthma.

I’d love though, to really challenge myself…so I’ve decided to aim for a 5km. This is going to really push me, I need to improve my speed, to do this, I need to work on the finer points of my technique. 

I’ve decided though, not just to try for a 5K, but to try for a 5km at a special place and time. Sport relief 2018, at the London Aquatics Centre. This is rather tongue in cheek, bit while, I’ll never win an Olympic medal, but I can say that I achieved a medal at an Olympic venue! 

Also, there”s  added, rather cool factor, of being able to say, that I’ve swam in the same pool as Micheal Phelps, Becky Addlington, Missy Franklin, Hannah Miley and many other greats. You can’t say that about your local leisure centre!

It will take a disipline and a huge amount of hard work. I will also have to listen, very carefully to my body and be very aware of my limitations. If it becomes apparent, that my arthritis or asthma really can’t cope, with the challenges that I am placing on it, then I will switch to 2.5km. This will not be a failure, for me, but an achievement.

I will also have to consider my nutrition and they’ll be no late night drinking sessions, before my swim! Everything will have to be focused on swimming, in the days leading up.