Sunday, 25 November 2012

Moving On Up

Those of you on Fitocracy will have seen my ragequit strop on Tuesday...sheesh. Swimming in a public session is just getting harder and harder the more I improve, and I wish I could say that without it sounding braggy. It is pretty difficult to do serious training when you're not sharing your space with like-minded people, in a place where the rules of etiquette are not even explained, let alone enforced. Still. Numpty-dodging aside, I knocked out a straight distance session of 3.3km over approximately 1hr 15mins and gave up in sheer disgust at being able to lap some of the lane hoggers not once but twice over 100m. All told, when I had a clear lane it was great and my first 100m in was 2min 01s! I'm really pleased with that. I couldn't keep it going at that constantly - people get in the way, you stop to fix your goggles, you slow down when you get tired - but I can't have been far off that pace most of the way through. Bodes well. I'm just frustrated not to have been able to go non-stop for two hours. I can't find a single pool locally that has a clear 2hrs of lanes at a time I can get to.

USWIM Masters, yay! Last day of the Swimprove sessions. I think I can safely say "yes, I have improved" but in all honesty I couldn't tell you exactly what's improved. It may be "nothing"  more than confidence. It may be a combination of tiny tweaks all over - I'm pretty sure my arm position is a little better, and that I kick from the hip more than I used to. I need to do a little more work on my breathing, and I want to ask about the "dead spot" I sometimes find with my hands as they move from vertical to hip. Anyway, I feel good, and this week's coach (Claire or Katie - I'm so sorry, I am useless at names!) made a point of saying that I and one other chap in particular should have "no trouble" keeping up with the Intermediates group. I am more chuffed than you can possibly imagine with that! I did join their session for a little while afterwards, after spending a while dithering about whether to do so, and it was kinda fun - and gruelling - to play with the grown-ups. After an hour of solid drills, though, I was pretty tired and decided to head home early so's not to miss tucking the girls in. But I'll be straight into lane 2 next week to see if I can keep up!

Still dithering about Windermere. I almost went "sod it" and entered the 5km earlier this week - and then spotted it was on a Friday, which is quite an issue on a school day. Having not been able to get a full 2hrs in on Tuesday means I'm still dubious about where I stand with respect to getting the 5km under 2hrs by June. The bit on the form that asks "the Date, Event Name and Finish Time of the most recent open water swimming event which you have completed two miles or more" is also a sticking point, since I haven't actually completed an event at that distance, just training. And it was training at the end of September, when I wasn't as improved as I am now and wasn't going at any kind of speed - I was only trying to see if I could crack the Iron Fish and the time didn't matter. Not sure I can see a way around that other than finding a two-miler to do earlier in the season!

I really must get on and book Manchester, though, there's no reason to delay on that. Other than money, of course. I'm not sure what I'm going to do in terms of running/lifting this week; my Coursera classes are all changing over the next fortnight and I'll have to see what it's like in term of workload and what exactly I'm going to commit to for that. And I suppose I'll grudgingly accept that I need to be doing some Christmas stuff too. Bah.

Sunday, 18 November 2012



Borrowed the USwim Masters workout from the first week (thankfully someone had posted their sets on Fito) and tried to see if I could do it. Close but no cigar - I was a bit late going so had only 1hr 35 rather than the 2hrs. Cracked out 3050m in total, sets as follows:

400m Warm Up
4x50m Individual Medley
 4x50m Drills (legs only, catch-up, fists, catch up - they did ripple but I don't know what that is)
10x100m @ 2m 15s 
8x200m @4m 30s
 600m Cool Down

I managed all of that up to the 200m sets and ran out of time after six sets, so I was 800m down there and only did 50m cool down. I wasn't quite on the money for the times but it is excruciatingly hard to time 100m or 200m over a 25m pool when you're sharing a lane with people who basically think floating makes them fitter somehow. Still pretty pleased, though, it proves I could probably hold my own in the intermediate lane. Continuing with USwim Masters is going to require some family juggling, as I'd be coming home later. We're going to give it a whirl, though.

Missing my lesson like crazy. Got out of bed the wrong side this morning, had a driving scare and have been generally irritable all day. Swapped a "daytime fitness" session with my OH - he went for a 10 mile run this morning and I had intended to swim for two hours this afternoon, but annoyingly the lanes were only up for an hour this afternoon due to some crazyass inflatable thing. Not a single local pool had more than an hour for anything, either. So I went anyway and ANGRYSWAM for 50 minutes. Covered 2km but playing "dodge the numpties" really takes a toll on your time and your temper. Seriously, people. If you can see two lanes of folks swimming slow head-up breaststroke and one lane with two fast freestylers in it, and you don't want to get your hair wet, which lane should you choose? I'll give you a hint: NOT the one where people aren't stopping to rest. I must have overtaken this one woman every other lap, ffs. I love that people swim for relaxation and gentle fitness, really I do, but for the love of Pete, have a little sense.

Future Plans
Aaaaaaaaaaaaargh. Great Swim places opened on Monday and I still haven't booked. I'll probably sort Manchester out tonight but I've dithered over it because none of the charities I would have liked to have supported are sharing the entry costs for the distances I want to do. That means I've had to wait and wait to have the money to do it - Manchester alone is £33 and North is £46 for the 2 miles I'd intended to do. And then I had two very good  swimmers on Fito telling me to get my bloody finger out, stop pissing about with a couple of miles and do a full lap of Windermere this season. That is somewhat unrealistic, given the lack of training time available, but it has got me seriously considering the 5k wave at North instead of the 2 miles. So now I'm in a quandry: do I enter for the 2 miles, knowing I'm already under the time requirement, or go for the 5km with six months to train to get it under two hours? The furthest I've gone in open water was 4km and that took me two hours - but I wasn't pushing particularly hard.

I don't know what to do.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Scattered Black And Whites

Elbow - Scattered Black And Whites

I've done nothing all week...deadlines and family meetings and homework, oh my. How lazy. And I've eaten terribly, too. Back to Manchester Aquatics Centre for lesson two of the Swimprove series. Different coaches this time - Sarah & Jane (I think - unfortunately I was a couple of minutes late cos I forgot I needed petrol and missed their names!). Drills til you're cross-eyed and lots of kind, gentle encouragement from people who really seem to know their stuff. I feel so lucky to have landed up with all these amazing people around me right at the beginning of my open water "career", such as it may be! 

Some different drills today: turns out my right arm is dominant, what a surprise, and sculling on your front is hard. I knocked another stroke off my 50m down to 40, which was nice - again I think probably more to do with a good glide than anything else (and also I was watching video of Rebecca Adlington earlier this week and decided to try 2-3 butterfly kicks coming out of the glide like she does - feels good). I'm definitely noticing my legs are working much better now. I can really feel the kick coming from the hip and there seems to be some more power coming from my arms too. It will be interesting, if I can get the space in our pool, to see whether my lap times have come down at all. I was certainly overtaking people quite a bit tonight but you can never tell whether that's because you're improving or whether they're just slower because they're really focussing on their stroke. Only the stopwatch will tell me that. One thing I was told by the coach tonight is that I need to stab the water with my fingers a bit more - my hands are going in too flat. So that's something to look at next session.

No lesson next week because the Paralympics Team will be using the pool for training (ok, I have to say I get a little squee! of association-with-awesomeness from that!); last one is the last weekend in November. Then I have to decide whether I'm brave enough to make the leap to the intermediate lane and continue with Uswim over winter, or go back to training alone. I'm still worried about being fast enough but on the other hand I think I'd make much better progress with some discipline. The alternative would be to approach a more local Masters group, if I can get over being intimidated by the idea.

Entries open tomorrow for Great Manchester and Great North swims - and Great East down in Suffolk, but that may be a bit far for me to go next year. Certain Fitocrats are also tempting me to consider the Edinburgh Portobello to Musselburgh 2km - I used to love that stretch of coastline when we lived up there so it is truly tempting. I really hope the charity places for Great Swim open up at the same time as the ordinary places. I'm dithering about Great Manchester Run, too...I might leave that til I've been able to get back and do a few solid 5kms; if it's meant to be I'll get it together in time; if not there's always Salford at the end of the season. I have a duel going on Fitocracy with the lovely runforthequiet over the next month, which will hopefully motivate me to get back out on the road again. Damn nippy out there, mind.

Oh, the video above? It's been stuck in my head all week since I woke up from a dream with it. It struck me on the way out of the pool tonight that it's fitting I should be learning all about the physical side of me at the Aquatics Centre. After all, I lived right there for a number of years...I've learnt so much about love and life and my mind in that square mile of Manchester. It makes sense to be back there again, and Scattered Black And Whites is all about that feeling of returning.

Sunday, 4 November 2012


 It's not quite a direct quote, but Dave is very encouraging. Which is nice.

First Swimprove session at Manchester Aquatics Centre tonight; a place which by rights I ought to know well since they were building it next to the halls of residence when I was doing my finals (if I still had my notes they'd be lined with construction dust). I think I've only been once, though, and I certainly didn't realise they had Serious Training Pools in the basement! Now that was a little intimidating, especially since they're 50m, something I'm not used to at all. But there were lots of friendly faces I recognised from Salford swims, and I even bumped into my first fellow Fitocrat in the sign-in queue, which was pretty neat.

So, on to the lesson. There were eight or so of us in the novice class and Dave took us through some basic drills, very similar to what I'd done at Salford previously but with some extra dry-land work. He got us to count our stroke over 50m as well, to show the improvement when you've corrected your style. This is something I've been working on by myself after reading Total Immersion, and I was getting a bit disheartened as it was about 16 over 25m. I knew that was ok, within range (aiming for 13-17 - things like height play into stroke length and mine at 5ft6 is definitely going to be different to a 6ft chap!), but I wasn't either getting a lower count or increasing my speed when I paid attention to it; there was just no change at all. Stroke count gives you an idea of how efficient you're being, which concerns me a lot more than speed at the moment. Over 50m my count was 41, and it turned out to be the lowest in the class (highest being in the mid-60s). Everyone else improved nicely over the hour, from what I could tell, but mine stayed stubbornly at 41. 

Personally I think my count is a bit misleading because I have a very strong push-and-glide off the wall, getting well beyond the backstroke marker pennants every time. From what I could see most people weren't getting that far, so I need to find out the impact of that and correct if possible. I may not need the glide in open water but using it saves me energy in the pool, meaning I have a slightly skewed idea of how the distance feels and what my speed is. Anyway, the good stroke count and Dave's comments suggest I'm already doing a lot of the right things, which is good to know! In fact I was one of three who was told to switch to the intermediates lane after the lesson if I wanted to stay and swim some more. I'd have liked to try it, but I have no confidence in my speed - getting in the way of others really bothers me - and anyway, it was time to head home and tuck the kids in.

I enjoyed the lesson a lot; I'd definitely encourage anyone who wants to improve to try it and I'm looking forward to next week! It has screwed up my desire to start running again this week, though...I kicked rather too hard on one of those glides, hit the wall at an awkward angle, and sheared my big toenail half off. Luckily the nail bed is hardly damaged, but it's very tender so there is no way I'm wearing trainers for a while. Oh well.

Saturday, 3 November 2012


That's Salford Quays at 9.30am today - Uswim Polar Training. It was awesome. A bit like the first time I ever went, actually, although this time I knew to turn my rental wetsuit the right way out!

The water was a brisk 10.3oC and the air temp was probably about 3oC - it was 1.5oC when I set out at 8.30am, but Salford's usually a little warmer than here. I reckon there were 50-60 of us, and as you can see not everyone was in wetsuits: about ten people were brave enough to go for skins. Me, I had neoprene socks and was cursing myself for not picking up gloves as well - the pain of such cold water on your hands is incredible at first. Luckily the nice chap from djB Hearing was dishing out free earplugs which really helped to keep away the ear pain that was starting to bother me at the end of the season. I must get some custom-fits for next year.

I hadn't expected the ice-cream headache - I do suffer from sinus pain a lot and I should have guessed that would happen. I need to find out how to manage it. Although I was starting to warm up fairly well after one lap, I decided not to push my luck and hopped out for a nice hot drink. Not exactly at the top of my game right now - haven't been running in ages and only sort of got back to lifting - and with five weeks of term left I can't risk another infection even though I probably could have done a couple more laps. Also I've booked onto the Swimprove course with Dave from Uswim for the next three Sundays and I really don't want to miss that! Thankfully it's indoors so I will be getting some work done whatever the weather. Really looking forward to finding out what I can fix with my stroke (and mildly scared because whilst a wetsuit is revealing it's not actually semi-naked, you know?).

In terms of actually being in the water this morning I was really happy to be able to get in fearlessly -  I'd expected I might need to do some deep breathing to get used to the shock, but it was fine and I set off with only a few minutes acclimatisation. I think I probably went too fast initially, but the joy of being back in the water with a nice easy stroke was just off the scale! After a while I felt I was breathing quite shallowly so I eased off, did some breaststroke and just enjoyed my time and the strange things around me. Things like seeing your own breath ghosting across the water, or the way the struggling sun was hardly getting below the surface - between less vision and the dampening effect of the earplugs it was harder to be aware of other people nearby. It was only a lucky pause for breath that meant I spotted the safety boat zipping past to pick up a tired skin swimmer - good job too; a wave-slap in the mouth would have had me gasping.

I feel great, if tired, now. Everyone was laughing and saying how brilliant it was; I didn't see anyone the worse for the cold afterwards (although there were a few shivering around their coffees - standing still is not the best policy, it seems). I have spent the day eating All The Things, of course. Sadly that's probably it for open water now until April at the earliest. I just can't get to any of the other polar dates because of class, but hopefully this will carry me through the winter and perhaps I can get to a different venue on a weeknight when the weather warms up. Fingers crossed.

I do get the odd "you're mad" comment. I'll admit there's an element of masochism to long-distance open water, or cold temperatures, just as there is with the extreme ends of any sport. To that I say "give it a try" - you never know what you're capable of until you have a go, and being able to conquer the internal "you can't do it" voices is...bracing. :)