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”….

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A little update, from me!

It’s been a couple of weeks since, I last updated my blog and I do have a post, in the pipeline. 

However, at the minute, I’m been kept out of the pool, by some sort of viral infection and my lungs, being the narcissistic bitches they are, have opted to pitch in. 

At the minute, I am resident to a sore throat which had reduced my voice to a hoarse whisper. Luckily, so far, other than affecting my asthma, it hasn’t developed beyond this.

It’s frustrating, but unfortunately, my lungs are sensitive to chlorine, getting in the pool right now, would be idiotic. Usually I can overcome, this easily, by using my “blue inhaler” before I swim, but as I’ve learnt, to my cost, pre-existing angry lungs, will only get angrier when faced with a pool full of chlorinated water!

I don’t have reason to complain though, my asthma has been pretty good for the past four and half months. That, for me; in a winter, is brilliant. 

So, for me, it’s now a case of “riding it out” increasing my chest physio, in the hope it doesn’t develop into a bacterial chest infection and hope that I can get back in the pool, by the end of next week.

Swimming and fitness

Today, this Swimming article, appeared as a “pop up” on my web browser. I am not really a reader, of “The Guardian”, nut it makes interesting reading and provides useful advice on correct technique.

I particularly found the information, on front crawl. interesting. I recently swam front crawl, the way I did, before I learnt to swim. Head up and essentially, splashing down the pool. It was exhausting!

 

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!

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.