Saturday, 1 September 2012

There And Back To See How Far It Is

My grandad used to say that when you asked him "where are you going?". I am a bit like that with running and walking - I can't just "go out for a walk" and wander aimlessly, I need a destination.

 Salford Quays a few weeks ago - look at that skyline. 
This is about the midpoint of the first leg of the long course.

Great swim at Salford today - twice round the big course, 1500m total and just over 20mins/lap. I never, ever thought I'd manage that in freestyle. Before doing a coaching session with Uswim I'd get completely exhausted after a single 25m lap of the pool, flailing all over the place. That training session was on 21st July, just seven weeks ago, and now I can pull off 1.5-2km happily. Good, eh? It's not fast, I will grant you that, and I know I have plenty more tweaks I can make to my form to improve on that. From today I can say I do need to look at the head position/breathing/body roll again because not only my right shoulder was aching but into that side of my neck too. I'm really happy with how my endurance is coming along, though.

Crappy cameraphone pic from today just to prove you really can swim in there :P

I really, really wanted to go for a run straight after swimming today but couldn't due to family stuff happening. I went tonight, though, and knocked out 2.5km, including conquering my bete noire of the hump-backed railway bridge and some uphill I don't usually tackle. That's ok, I feel more or less on target for next Sunday. For which I have my race number now. Gulp.

I have changed a great deal in the last year, you know. Last September I was in bits because I couldn't pick the girls up without pain and I had nothing to wear for Dunc & Cathy's wedding. Today my first thought on getting out of Salford Quays after swimming 1500m was "Damn, I wish I had time for a run now" and I spent much of my drive home envying the cyclists out in the lovely sunshine. WTF.
I posted that on Facebook when I got back in - I am genuinely a bit baffled by this transformation and evidently so are some of my friends because one asked "How did you get to this point?". I've been thinking about it all day since and here are my ideas.
  • My husband is awesome and I'm not just saying that cos it's his birthday. :P No, he really is. He encouraged/goaded me into picking up the weights in the beginning and nursed me through the early tears and wails of "I can't do it!" in the first couple of months. He's always been a good example and role model, picking a target (Manchester 10km) and going out in all weathers to make sure he could reach it. I was so proud I nearly popped when he brought home that medal, I can tell you. And he's always given me the space to follow my joy - me running 3x a week and him twice, plus my two swimming sessions, has meant we've not had many full evenings together each week for a while (mix in my study and his work and it can get a bit ships-passing-in-the-night sometimes!). I think we've both recognised it as a fair trade for our goals and health, and hopefully we'll be able to pursue some of those together as the girls need less supervision.
  •  I found a great community in Fitocracy and Uswim. Whatever your level of fitness I've found both of these to be very welcoming and supportive to newbies, and now I'm moving down that line and supporting newbies myself (I spent a lot of time zipping up wetsuits and reassuring people it wasn't that cold today!). Community gives you not only praise and support but people to chase, too - I've got to know a couple of chaps lately on Fito who both swim at Salford and though we've not met in the flesh (and may never - the Internet is like that!) I can see from their workouts that they too were once where I am now. That gives me enormous hope and I'm not working in a vacuum - I have good examples to learn from and targets to aim for. Likewise you can't help but chat as you get changed at Salford and people there have been lovely - there is a real lack of judgement. I am fat and an obvious new starter - yet people toting Ironman bags and wearing t-shirts with enormous distance swim events on them will say "yes, you can do this"; and often simply assume I'm better than I am. People of all shapes and sizes turn up at the Quays and nobody bats an eyelid if your wetsuit is an S or an XL. Disclaimer: I may simply be oblivious to snark. Your paranoia levels may vary. Void if unsealed. Er...
  • I changed my mindset from "I must get thin" to "I want to be fit enough to achieve that". Surprisingly, my actual weight hasn't changed a whole lot over the last year (although I am now looking at nutrition more seriously and expect changes to come), but I am visibly different. I definitely have swimmer's shoulders developing! One of the best ways for me to do that has been to track my progress and enter events so I have a real targets to train for. When there's money and pride riding on it, I slack less and work out more. It's as simple as that.
  • I learn from each session. Doesn't matter if it's a flying mile in the pool or a horrible run into the wind with wet trainers, I try and take something home each time. What did I do well? What affects my mindset or feels like it may cause an injury? Which set of conditions please me best? Even if it's as simple as "that song doesn't really work on that playlist", each tiny adjustment moves me forwards.
  • I seek flow.  "Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity." I'm not looking for perfection. I'm looking for the joy. If I'm not enjoying what I'm doing it's much, much harder to keep going back and working on it. I was lucky enough to hit that early on with running and I've always had it with swimming, though it's a heck of a lot easier to find in open water.
  • Challenge is important. I need a destination, or at least, milestones along the way. That could be a race or an event, it could be achieving a distance or getting a time down, or it could be being fit enough to try something new. I love the idea of functional fitness (aka "surviving the zombie apocolypse") and one of my aims for next year is to have enough upper body strength to have a go at rock climbing. Having SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound) targets is essential to the way my brain works. Fitocracy plays into this beautifully by gamifying fitness and giving me achievements to work towards (Iron Fish, you will be mine!) as well as providing a great tracking environment.
  • Costs are affordable. I am extraordinarily lucky to live in an area which has free swimming sessions for residents. My Tuesday swim costs me nothing and running outdoors is free once you have your kit. Uswim is more than reasonable at £5 a session - and the coaching is free whenever you want to join in. This has meant I've been able to invest in good kit which pleases me and makes training easier - things like a waterproof MP3 player (that does duel duty - it's nice not to fret if your electronics get caught in a shower whilst running!); prescription goggles; wetsuit hire; a lap-counting watch; running shoes that fix my horrible pronation; comfortable running clothes; and a fantastic running bra (my mother-in-law refers to it as my "superwoman bra"!). I could do everything I do without most of those things - I think the shoes, bra and goggles are the only things I can't live without, and they're mostly to fix physical issues which would make training much harder. And I really appreciate all of these things.
  • I am privileged. I have advantages some people don't. I have reliable childcare. I have disposable income and I don't have to work excess or unusual hours to feed or house my family. I have time. I have education. I have an Internet connection. I have no physical or mental disabilities which can't be fixed easily with the application of money and a little knowledge. I have safe spaces to run and swim in when it suits me (I usually run at 10pm-midnight any day I choose and my pool is open til 10pm weekdays). I have my own transport at least some of the time. I have access to the finest health service in the world, free at the point of need (for now, anyway). I have living examples around me (my husband, father-in-law and brother-in-law are all runners of 10km+ distances). If you have all of these things it's your choice what you do with them. If you don't have these things, it may not be a choice available to you.
So there you have it. That seems to be what's kept me going for the last year. I don't know how things will change in the future.