Saturday, 30 March 2013

Tynemouth For Easter


How gorgeous is that! That's Tynemouth Beach, on the North-East coast. And I was swimming in there this morning!

I'd more or less planned a swim this weekend whilst we're visiting but I was nervous about going alone, even with a watcher, at temperatures like these. Thanks to joining the Outdoor Swimming Society, though, I came across the Tynemouth Outdoor Swimmers who'd posted an open invite to join them this morning. They very graciously let a total sea-novice tag along and looked after me very well. I had an amazing time!

Proof! That's me on the far right with the red cap and the big bum. 
Thanks to Tony Greener and Paddy Lavery for the pic.

Don't let the photo fool you. It looks beautiful; it's about 7oC air temp and quite warm if you're out of the wind - it's a bit cutting if you're in the breeze, though. Official sea temp was measured at 5.1oC just off those rocks to the right; they reckoned it was more like 3oC further out where we swam. So definitely a personal record for me in terms of temperature. I must say that it was nowhere near as cold as I was expecting and I haven't figured out why - when I swam at Salford in November it was incredibly painful at 10oC, and the pain in my hands made me get out after 15mins/400m. Possibly the dank air was a factor then - the sunshine makes a big difference! This time I did have gloves, admittedly, but I'd forgotten earplugs and so was expecting sinus pain at the very least. I think I had done more mental prep for the cold - I could probably recite Lone Swimmer's Golden Rules of Cold Water Swimming in my sleep now - and so it wasn't a shock beyond the first three minutes. By six minutes I was quite comfortable with the temperature.

What I wasn't prepared for was the waves. It looks pretty calm from that picture, but further out the swell was more than I was expecting and I didn't learn the trick of diving through the waves until I'd been thoroughly ducked a few times (and thank you to the person who taught me to do that!). I did find it frightening and am thoroughly grateful Dave put us through so much hypoxic training this winter. After my first couple of scary waves I was able to have faith that my lungs wouldn't explode and I would surface, but it's a lot to deal with all at once and the back of my nose is a bit raw! The taste, too, was something I hadn't considered - it is such a huge difference from freshwater, although the local swimmers say you get used to that and don't notice after a while.

In terms of swimming I didn't really manage a great deal of distance - this was all about learning to deal with cold and waves and I don't think I got far enough out to have a proper go. By the time I was getting to grips with the waves quite a few people were turning back so I thought it wise to join them, and even the hard-core swimmers were coming up the beach before I'd got more than half my wetsuit off.

All in all, I'm pleased, though - I did fine with the cold, didn't panic (much), and managed 13mins in. My kit all works fine (and I found a new red cap that fits!), so I'm more than ready to hit the Quays in a few weeks even if it's not warmed up that much. And as ever, the people I met were awesome and I'm looking forward to more sea-swimming in the future.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Swimming With The Black Dog


The above goes to a really nice article about physical exercise and writing; the writers in it exercised because they are writers; a sedentary profession if ever there was one. I'm coming at it from the other direction; I got into endurance first at a young age and it does give me the perspective I need to not worry too much about how long it takes to write. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running has been on my to-read list for ages and I'm looking forward to diving in later this week.

Anyway. Sadly I have not been healthy over the last few weeks, again - I think I've had a permanent cold or throat infection since the end of January and the kids just keep bringing them home from school, joy. Because I've needed my voice so much for work I've had to let sport go for the time being - I'd already lost enough money due to snow cancellations. I ran my last classes this weekend, though, so bar the financial tie-up I'm a free agent now and no doubt the children will be delighted if I lose my voice again.

Not going swimming (or anything else) for a few weeks has, as ever, lead to a bunch of Bad Head Stuff - I'm sure you can imagine the way the black dog chases it's own tail. You're stuffed up and exhausted so you don't go, and the more you don't go the more your fitness falls off; you reach for the comfort food (ah, my old nemesis, the Chocolate Digestive); you feel more tired and well...why would you bother going? You won't be able to keep up and it'll really hurt the next day. The duvet's siren song gets louder than the call of the water even though you can't damn well sleep anyway. Oh, god, don't step on the scales. And then it snows so you can't get out at all.

Despite all that I hauled my carcass to USWIM Masters tonight and was pleasantly surprised to pull off 3.3km, including sprints (which I am rubbish at). My hypoxic breathing has improved, I didn't get cramp and I don't feel like toast. I do feel mentally muddled and could do with some external appraisal - I've learned so much about the technicalities this winter that I can't really feel what I'm doing any more. I noticed a horrible crossover in my stroke tonight, for example, and that's never been a problem before. I was getting quite down about it all the way through the session, and then coach Katie got us to do an open water simulation 600m at the end (that means you turn before the wall). She compared it to a big lap at Salford and suddenly everyone was very cheered up to realise that it's only 27 days to the beginning of the season. That was a huge lift and I came out feeling a lot better. I'm far less worried about Swimathon 5k at the end of April now. I don't think I'll have an issue completing it, though my time might not be as good as I'd hoped.

My rental wetsuit arrived last week and I have gloves and boots also. If the weather picks up a bit and it doesn't look too rough, I'm aiming for a quick dip in the North Sea next weekend. It looks about 6oC at the moment. I might only be in for ten minutes but I'm excited to give it a try!

Saturday, 2 March 2013

March "Madness"

I get a fair bit of flak about my swimming, mostly about the cold but sometimes about the distance as well. I don't really care. You won't understand how amazing the water is - or the sense of achievement - unless you try it in the first place and even then it might not be the thing that turns you on to sport. Everyone's different, and I can't wait to get back in the Big Pool in eight weeks or so. I was gutted not to be able to get to the last polar session today (4.4oC!), particularly since it was so beautiful. But no more; I will be finished with Saturday work in three weeks' time and able to go whenever possible.

I've had around three weeks off sports over February, sadly - between the snow and ice, and the whole family catching a horrible head cold (which is still lingering for me, causing lots of headaches, poor sleep and general grottiness) I've missed a few Masters sessions at Aquatics. Not been for a run for ages, either. In the last week I've managed to go back, and also joined a Swimfit group locally so now I have two Masters level sessions a week for a total of 3hrs and around 5.5km if I work hard! I'm hoping to carry on going to the public session on a Tuesday for a straight distance swim as well. I'm plagued with cramp, though, which is doing my head in because I can't see a reason for it and I'm pretty worried it's going to dog me into the new season. I also tore the Mind swimming cap I'd been using since Great Manchester last year and haven't found a replacement - I've bought two now and they're too small, which in turn yanks my goggles off. Still, I've been working on bilateral breathing for the last few sessions and that is definitely improving; I need someone to check it though as I'm sure my turn to the left is pretty rubbish.

Distance for Feb: A pathetic 7.8km of pool swimming and nothing else, but let's hope that's the last of the rotten bugs for this year. If I can stay healthy I'd like to be pulling that distance on a weekly basis, if not more; I'm very aware Swimathon is practically on the doorstep and I still haven't managed to get enough time in to do a 4km, let alone 5km.