Thursday, 30 July 2015

SUP, doc?

Bugs Bunny, the symbole of Warner Bros. cartoons

 Did you know it was dear old Bugs' 75th birthday this week? Me either, but let me take this as an opportunity to dole out a huge load of congratulations to various Bears before I get on to the topic of this post:

- to Sarah, who is both a newly-graduated doctor AND completed Castle Howard Tri (you see what I did there?)

- to Cathy on completing her very first triathlon at Salford despite the horrible weather (bells and whistles much in evidence as me and the kids made some noise for her!)

- to the incredible and redoubtable Sid Sidowski & family who not only completed the full Outlaw Tri on a bloody BMX and in a morph suit!!!! but has, at my last check, raised over £3.5k for Birmingham Children's Hospital. I salute you, sir, you are AMAZEBALLS.

- to our very own Team Bear relay squad at Outlaw (including Rach doing the swim of her life in an incredible 1.02hr) and all of you guys who competed individually and as teams at Outlaw, ThunderRun, Castle Howard and oh god, so many places I've lost count.You're all ace and I'm privileged to know you and cheer you.

Right, ok. Now the reason for the terrible pun in the title.

On the way home from Salford Tri on Sunday, it occured to me that the kids were heading up to stay at Grandma's this week, and that whilst I have more than enough work to be going on with, it's all office hours work. That leaves my evenings footloose and fancy-free, as it were. You know me, if I can get near water, I will do. But I didn't want to "just" swim. And I didn't want to "just" do yoga, much as I'm loving having a more regular practice at the moment. And I wanted to do something more fun than run, though I've just started training again and it's going ok. Maybe I could go kayaking again. I wondered if Cathy or Rach were around for some kind of adventure.

Then it hit me: there's a very interesting little flyer attached to my fridge, from a very interesting and sweet lady we met at Trafford Water Park a couple of months ago.

It means I can get on the water (I do love to paddle!) and I can do yoga. On Tuesday night.

Some very excited emails and texts and Twitter messages flew around, and suddenly Cathy and I were booked onto a class with Magda at loveanddo YOGA to do...

Stand Up Paddleboard Yoga.


Yes. You paddle out into the middle of the lake on an oversized surfboard and then do yoga. On the board. Whilst it's bobbling about in the wind and waves. Need I explain this activity appeared first in nice warm places like Hawaii and California? Not in the North West of England?

I'd never paddleboarded before, but I am getting quite good at standing balance poses - I've been practicing hard after a disastrous session of mawashi geri (round kick) drills a couple of weeks ago, and it does seem to be helping. Eh, I figured, how different can standing up to paddle be to sitting in a 2-man canoe trying to make sure your 9yo doesn't have you spinning in circles? And my Warrior 3 pose is really coming along. It'll be grand.

So Tuesday rolled around and it threw it down. Not quite in IronMan proportions, but enough to be seriously worried that the whole thing would be cancelled. Magda, magician that she is, had assured us the weather would clear after 5pm and blow me down if she wasn't absolutely right. The rain stopped just as I turned off the M60 and pulled into the Water Park. It was still quite breezy - again, not up to Bala standards but at least a Force 3; trees constantly moving, flags out, occasional scattered whitecaps.

Yes, I realise I'm slightly obsessed with wind speeds at the moment, it's a useful skill. Bite me. And make sure you read Loneswimmer's How To Understand The Beaufort Scale.

Just about ready to push the board off and climb on. 
The orange ropes have anchors on for the actual yoga session.
I dithered a great deal about what to wear, having packed my wetsuit, Dryrobe, kayaking gear and my running kit in case I had chance for a lap of the lake afterwards. In the end  I plumped for my UV-protective kayaking top and a pair of running tights. A rather sausagey effect, but who cares: I could move easily and I'd dry out fast if I went in. I like as little clothing bulk under a life jacket as possible, and I would say that was the only niggle about the whole experience - it was quite annoying and next time I'd take it off. But if you're not a strong swimmer and confident paddler, leave it on. In addition, the lake at Trafford does get beautifully warm; I'd guess at at least 22oC in places. But again, it's what you're used to and if you've little open water experience be guided by your teacher and put on a wetsuit if necessary. Cathy rocked up in her brand new Salford Triathlon t-shirt and a great big grin - no wetsuit required to keep her warm!

I actually look quite competent in this picture...
Cathy and I were joined by another two women, and we had about 15mins practice on the paddleboards. The paddles were a bit too short for standing up and it really was quite windy, so mostly we knelt, and when that got too much for me I sat cross-legged like a happy little Buddha. We got blown right down the lake when we all tried standing up and almost had a run-in with the same fisherman we'd upset the second time we went kayaking, but Magda got us all turned around and headed back up near to the main building. It was a little wobbly, standing up, but I quickly found my balance and got to know the board's centre. At this point we really struggled to get anchored - the bottom of the lake is thick with weed and mud and fairly shallow just there - but eventually the five of us were settled and ready to begin.

We started with calming and centreing our breath, just like any yoga practice. Then some cat-and-cow poses, which were a great way to get a feel as to how the board moves as you move. Some waves did splash over a little, which made lying down poses a bit damp, but I also picked up a tiny caterpillar who did some rather good poses of his own!

 We even got some sunshine!

Downward Dog felt great straightaway and within a few of these transitions I felt very much at home on the board and in no danger of falling off. Then we moved on to Sun Salutations, which I'm familiar with but aren't part of my usual practice. They involved quite a bit of standing up and getting back down again. This was no problem in terms of balance, but it did take some concentration to make sure my hands and feet were going back onto the board in a centred way, especially since the boards appeared to be actually windsurf boards and you had to be careful not to sit on the slightly sticking-up bit for the sail!

 Not sure why my board had drifted so far forwards there, but don't we look good!

One of the huge selling points for SUP yoga is that you're forced to be absolutely in the moment all of the time you're out there. There's no space for your mind to wander off into making shopping lists or wondering what you're going to have for tea, and there's definitely no room for fretting about whether your bum looks big in this. So if you have trouble switching off from daily life whenever you try yoga, this is one way to stop that. A little extreme, perhaps, but a superb way of breaking out of a rut.

Taking a Child's Pose and feeling peaceful

So is it hard? Well, everyone will vary depending on their experience, but I can honestly say that once I'd made peace with having slightly slower, more deliberate transitions (no bad thing), I really didn't find it any more difficult than land-based yoga, only having trouble with Half Lord Of The Fishes because seated twists are hard enough for me anyway without a life jacket on (and the irony of that pose name in the face of Trafford's giant catfish myths is not lost, believe me). In fact both Cathy and I agreed that there were points where we both completely forgot we were on a paddleboard. The wind and the waves, and the sound of the trees (and ok, the sound of traffic on the M60); the blue sky and scudding clouds above (and yes, the pylons and cables); the sunshine and the scent of the warm water, plus the odd honking goose...these added a completely different dimension to my practice. Especially from upside down! I honestly can't think of a better way to finish a session in savasana than lying with your fingers and toes trailing in the water, looking up at a blue evening sky. It may not be Hawaii, but it's still beautiful.

I definitely want to go again. It's expensive for a session (or at least for me, who earns very little!), but if you're an "experiences over things" person, this is one to savour.

SUP Yoga class was provided by Magda at loveanddo YOGA (@loveanddoyoga on Twitter and on Facebook) at Trafford Water Park. Sessions cost £25 and run at Trafford, Salford Watersports Centre and in Liverpool. I was not paid to write this post or given any written content to add; many thanks to Cathy and to Magda for the photos which were shared freely.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Repetitive Cowbell Injury

Even if your fingers are falling off and you've no voice left, every bit of support is worth it.

When I was a teenager, I spent a lot of weekends at rugby league matches and out marshalling motor racing. I thought I knew a bit about what supporting a sporting event entailed. I'd done my fair share of shouting at sweaty, muddy men and picking up the pieces (literally) when it all went pear-shaped out on the circuit.

It was nothing compared to what I experienced at IronMan UK. It's Thursday night as I'm typing this and my voice is still squeaky from screaming. My fingers are still bruised from the cowbells. Emotionally I've had a hangover for days; Rach did warn me but this was several orders of magnitude greater than I expected. I've talked through what we did at least a dozen times - everyone at school wanted to know why I was squeaking like Beaker from the Muppets - and I just can't seem to get through to people outside the Tri/Endurance world just what was so amazing about the day. I mean, what kind of twisted person:

- gets up at 4.45am

- stands in a biblical rainstorm in a DryRobe for several hours, holding a dripping flag and squinting at wetsuited nutters to find six people out of 2000

- then moves to a wind-blasted car park, still wet, and being battered by said soggy flags, to try and spot six people jumping off bikes and running past

- moves to a hugely crowded town centre, holds out this sign:

Embedded image permalink 

...and proceeds to scream and cowbell not only at the six people in 2000 she's looking for, but everyone else that gets a laugh out of that sign too, for more than six hours

- stays til the last man is virtually carried across the line and blue-lighted away before his name even comes up on the screen, and then waits for the poor guy that isn't going to make the cut-off well after 11pm?

Rach, that's who. 

Yes, yes, and me too. Neither of us have any voice left! It left me speechless in more ways than one. I have never seen so much grit. Never seen so much courage. Our Bears & friends all came through beautifully, from the so-fast-we-missed-him to the last man home at over 14hrs. It was superb to see our kit out on the circuit, and heart-filling to see the faces of our friends light up to hear us. It was hilarious to have made so many people giggle; to point and shout "YOU! YES YOU, YOU ARE A GORGEOUS AND AMAZING HUMAN BEING!", and then see those same people actually looking for us as they came through on their second and third laps to ask if they were still gorgeous (yes, they were). I can't describe the rush on hearing the commentator shout your teammate's name and the magical phrase "YOU. ARE. AN. IRONMAN!"

So yes, we had a really fantastic day out; it was well-organised, accessible, and ran like clockwork. I'd recommend it to anyone.

I took home something really important for my own head, too. I spent a lot of time watching the run leg particularly, and what I saw were, admittedly, mostly middle-aged white men with a small proportion of women. Aside from the pros (who I didn't really see as they were too fast!), every kind of body shape was on display. Tall, small, built like a whippet, built like a rhino. People that looked like they'd been gazelles in a previous life, and people who honestly looked like they wouldn't be able to tell one end of a bike from another. People so slim they were cold in wetsuits at 19oC, and people who were barely getting into the neoprene. People whose bellies wobbled. People whose boobs were travelling many miles more than their legs were (both men and women!). 

And yet every single one of them could swim, bike, run 140.6 miles; and it didn't seem to make a difference what shape they were. There were as many people who "looked" like athletes struggling as there were people who "looked" like they lived on beer and cigs who made it all seem easy. Body shape was not a predictor of success.

Not one of those people let their body shape dictate their lives.

How amazing is that?

I didn't realise how important it was for me to have seen that until I got dressed into "smart" clothes for school on Wednesday morning. I rarely look in a full-length mirror, since the only one in the house is in the kids' room, but I'd got a new top and wanted to check it out. And my first thought on seeing myself was "This is not a fat body any more. This is a strong body. This body can do all sorts of things."

Yes, I'm still pretty overweight. I have a spare tyre I can't shift and may never get rid of. My stats are all in order, which is reassuring. But having done what I've done, and seen what I've seen...I'm not going to let any fears about that wobble bother me ever again. It's never stopped me taking part, because I'm bloody-minded like that, but I won't deny the churn that's gone through my head every time I change for training, or the six weeks it took me to pluck up the courage to buy shorts for running. That's not going to happen any more.

Thanks, IronMen. From the bottom of my bum. I would say my heart, but my bum is bigger! :D

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Iron Kids

Reckon she enjoyed that?!

It's not often I post pictures of the kids - I try and keep in mind that the Internet never erases anything - but it's impossible not to be proud of these daughters of ours and share the happiness they got out of IronKids this weekend. We took a gang of five children down to Bolton on Saturday - all kids of Team Bear members - and they ran in their various age categories, having an absolute whale of a time. IronMan UK did them proud - a proper medal, great t-shirts, excellent safeguarding and the whole red carpet, big screen, commentator and finish line experience the adults would get the following day. It was a truly well organised day; everything ran spot on to time despite there being 2,500 kids to wrangle, and every member of staff gave the kids as much respect as they would give to adults. Even when Youngest and I ran just after 12pm, the warm-up people were just as lively and encouraging as they had been when we sent off our first runner at 9am.
Small one grinning her way down the red carpet, with Mummy in Team Bear kit.

The kids themselves got a lot out of the experience. As far as we know they were the only ones from their school who took part this year, so they were delighted to go in on Monday and show off their medals. Eldest, who's run cross-country a few times this year and been dubious about running on grass, has decided she loves road-running. She's now very much looking forward to getting started on our training for Glow In The Park Manchester in October. Youngest had a tough start, rapidly being left behind the pack and struggling with pain in her legs as she started off, but she's a fit little bean really. After some encouragement from me she found her feet and we smiled and ROARED all the way home.

Us grown-ups discovered the joys of cowbelling and just how useful it is to have a pair of Team Bear flags in a crowd. And yes, we took every opportunity to get those flags noticed! I also discovered, idly chatting to a few dads in the warm-up pen, that word of how awful the weather was at Bala has spread. It really is a small community and there were a few open mouths on hearing just where I'd done my 10km. So that was nice. I'm always amused when people are horrified at long swimming distances when they can do such amazing things themselves. Tri people really have such a different experience in the water to distance swimmers. 

So that was IronKids. I think we'll be back next year!

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

How Far We Come

“I’m So Proud of You.” | tidak.semua.setuju.

In September last year, the week after I completed Coniston, I finally managed to talk Cathy into coming down to Salford Quays for a dip. I remember very clearly how quickly the delight set in for her - barely half a lap and she was desperate to get the wetsuit off. Well and truly bitten by the bug, and I watched in amazement as that wetsuit never went back on again all winter. She trained like a demon, and when I booked Bala 10k she not only agreed to kayak for me but booked the 5km on the following day on the understanding that I'd return the favour. She also bribed me with cake to take on Great Manchester Run, but that's another story.

In the pub on Saturday night, post-mortem analysis swirled about my head, trying to figure out what went wrong with Rach & Patrick's swim, and what we could do with the Sunday session. We found out others had been hit by the hard winds, and Patrick negotiated (after much stress) with the kayak hire manager that they would supply us with not only a free - and properly checked - kayak, but a free kayaker. This gave Rach the opportunity to swim the 5km herself instead of supporting Patrick, so that she could still put the training miles in. Her 10km had been intended as not only a first marathon but as a training swim before she takes on Windermere in September, so it was essential to get at least something in the bank despite her post-crash injuries and the weather.

By breakfast the following day it was all set up; since we were unsure if she'd be able to find a kayaker for herself or be allowed late entry to the event, she decided to set out ten minutes after the main race so as not to interfere with the start. Bala is the holy grail: a lake which you can swim in at any time. So she was completely within her rights to strap on a tow float and follow along. However, when we reached the lake a brief discussion with BLDSA folks provided not only a free kayaker but late entry to the event. I can't thank them enough for making it possible for us all to complete a swim this weekend. Luck is a big part of every swim and every OW swimmer knows it, but it is an absolute bugger when it happens to you. Being able to pick up at least some pieces made things a lot better.

We scrambled to get ready. Picking up the kayaks from the finish, we hauled them onto a boat to be taken up to the public beach; then followed them in Patrick's car, leaving mine at the finish. When we arrived we started to strap on the Flag Alphas (a pennant you must display when you escort a swimmer so other lake users are aware) and suddenly realised the kayak hire place hadn't provided a buoyancy jacket for me. Patrick and I whizzed back to collect one and made it back to briefing just in time, dumping our dry gear with Patrick's uncle to be ferried back to the finish (how we'd have coped without Graham this weekend, I will never know. What a star).

I honestly had more trepidation at this point than I'd had for the swim because I was a total novice at guiding and my head was on backwards, it seemed. We were setting out from the far side of the lake from yesterday, I hadn't a clue where I was and would have had Cathy swimming in entirely the wrong direction. I was amazed by how well I felt, too, but worried about whether my shoulders would object to a couple of hours paddling.

Seemingly within seconds of getting back, I found myself clambering into a bright yellow and green kayak, which promptly developed a fault - one of the D-rings securing the seat snapped as I tightened it. The poor chap from the kayak hire place went white, knowing what we'd experienced yesterday, and immediately offered to switch boats. So I unstrapped all our gear, loaded it onto his boat and was out on the water before I knew it. I didn't get chance to wish any of our three swimmers luck; I hadn't the faintest idea who was wearing which cap (because that's all you can see from above the water!), and I absolutely failed to realise that although the wind was as strong as the previous day, there were nowhere near as many clouds and I was going to be out on the water in strong sunshine for upwards of two hours. I'd got a UV-resistant long-sleeved top on, but only running capris on my legs. Eh, never mind, I thought, my legs never burn. And off we went.

I picked Cathy out almost straight away - a bright yellow USWIM cap kind of gave the game away - and I was looking about for Rach and Patrick when Rach virtually swam underneath my kayak! I couldn't see Patrick at all. The field began to clear, leaving us with two swimmers breaststroking out to the first buoy across the lake. The safety boat tootled along behind. I worried. It wasn't cold, but I could see Cathy was taking longer to acclimatise than I'd expected, and once I'd talked her into getting her head down, she was veering left and away from me as the wind pushed me down the lake to the right. You can't run herd on someone if you're on the inside of the course, and I discovered very quickly how impossible it is to attract a swimmer's attention.

Eventually we made it to the turn buoy and it was much easier to keep in the right position. I suddenly recalled Cathy describing my 6th km yesterday - the wind changed the appearance of the water so much that it looked like we were going nowhere at all, like swimming on a treadmill. I remembered she had said she'd needed to look at the landscape to make sure we were making any progress at all. We were, but I was rapidly finding out that I was going to spend most of my afternoon paddling backwards to stay on station with her as the wind was pushing me forwards so hard.

She looked strong and confident, and I could see an orange kayak up ahead of us, so I began to relax a bit about keeping us on track. The landscape slipped by, as did a yacht and a few windsurfers. The safety crew nodded and waved, and I glanced down at Cathy's GPS which was strapped to my wrist (she had my Poolmate in the water). Oh shit. The battery's gone and I have no idea what time it is, she wants a feed at an hour. I waved to the safety boat: "What time is it?"

They waved at the sun. "Don't know" came the reply. Oh hell. Well, at least they're not stressing about cut-offs!

I struggled to get her attention. "Battery's gone! What time do you have? Do you want a drink?"

I'd tied her water bottle on a long string to my ankle. It was damn near impossible to get close enough to give it to her, a real struggle. She refused a feed, wanting to crack on. At a guess I'd say we were about 45mins into the swim and making reasonable time. Her pace and stroke were beautiful, so I let it go and tried not to worry about the wheels coming off. The wind was really strong by now and most of the time I was gratefully paddles-down, not having to do much work at all. I had a picnic of Jelly Babies (since I hadn't managed to have any yesterday!) and a bit of a sing-song, and the fields of sheep passed by. My kayak obviously hadn't been drained properly the night before and so my bum was absolutely soaking, but all in all I was having a jolly nice time of it.

We checked in again after maybe half an hour or so and again, Cathy didn't want anything, so we ploughed on. The wind changed direction, so I began to try to herd her over to the shoreline to get some shelter and a tighter line on the finish. This was extraordinarily difficult and I eventually found the only way to stay close enough was to turn broadside on and let her swim at me, then back-paddle a bit to bring her more to the left. I could see the orange kayak having similar problems, and then they disappeared from view. But there was the white house already! I cheered, banging my paddle on the hull to get Cathy to look up. Big thumbs up from both of us, and I watched the land take shape much as I'd seen it from the water yesterday.

I knew two-ish miles was Cathy's longest training swim so far, and as we entered the last mile I watched her carefully for signs of fatigue. I'd been told my own stroke had stayed absolutely crisp and metronomic all the way in (thanks to loads of training with Dave at USWIM over winter!) and I was hoping she'd be the same as it really does help to prevent injury. Her hand position was a bit flat and tired, but otherwise she looked great still. I was absolutely beaming. If I squinted hard I could see Rach's pink bobble hat on the jetty, with a Patrick-shape behind her, and I was cheering again - everyone was out safely and it was up to me to bring Cathy in now. We sailed through the last beautiful stretch of water and out came the cameras.

Here she comes!

Where's the bloody buoy?!

It was an awesome finish. I beached the kayak as quickly as I could and unstrapped her DryRobe off the back, virtually throwing it at Patrick to get it round her. Huge hugs. All the tears. So proud I could burst. How far you've come, my friend.

And then we were all there, hugging and screeching and being thrilled to bits that despite all the weather, all the trauma, all the we were. Swimmers.

There were certificates, and getting wet gear off and getting warm and filling our faces with cake. There was dumping the kayaks, and whizzing back up the lake to get Patrick's car, and more cake at an impromptu picnic. Then the long drive home, dropping off Cathy first, then back to mine so Rach could collect her car for the even longer hike back to Bradford. There was curry, and lots of ibuprofen. There was the discovery that my legs were blazingly red with sunburn. Monday there was physio, and the joyous news that all my pain is simple work, no injury. I got away with it again, it seems.



There was - and is - the satisfaction of a job bloody well done. For me, my A race is done - all of my A events this year, actually - and now I'm on holiday from serious swim training until I pick a new target (shutupshutupshutup I am not doing Windermere). I need to shift focus again, up my game at karate and see if another grading might be in the frame this year; and get my feet back out on the pavement as I've got another 10km run booked in November. I've got work to do on this year's Aspire Challenge, since I'm not just swimming it in September, but promoting it too. 

For my Bears, I've nothing but pride and admiration. Whether it was your first 5km or a walk in the park, the way everyone pulled together and came back from horrendous conditions and adversity to clear heads and complete the swim was just amazing to me. It's everything sport and teamwork should be about. Next weekend we're at IronMan Bolton, cheering on the next generation of Bears at IronKids and providing support for fellow team mates for the full event. It's what it's all about.

Love you guys. Thank you.

Here's Rach's write-up, and Patrick's two posts for Saturday and Sunday.

Mission Accomplished

This is one of the best things Baymax has ever done! I'm going to do it to my friends from now on. 

I do love me a bit of Baymax.

I am, officially, a marathon swimmer.

Sit down while I tell you a tale...

So. Friday: ROAD TRIP! Rach, Cathy and I headed down to Bala together in my shonky automobile, with so much gear it was ridiculous. We found Patrick at the B&B, then headed out into town for food and to meet some of the BLDSA crew, who made us all very welcome. It definitely helped to settle my nerves a bit. As a first-timer at 10k and a slow one at that, I was a bit worried, but I quickly discovered that BLDSA folks seem to see a swimmer's heart first and not times on paper.

Saturday started with breakfast, and then Cathy and Patrick headed down to the lake first to provide cover for the 1km & 3km races that morning. Rach and I stayed behind to pack our gear for the day and have a good old wobble at each other. I obsessively packed and repacked my bags umpteen times, not having realised my kayak support would need to carry warm clothes for me in case I got pulled out and had to be taken back on the safety boat. DryRobe duly packed into a waterproof bag and satchel of food and drink organised, we headed down to the lake ourselves.

View up the lake from the finish. It's not that far...honest...

Once there, we met up with Rob, a fellow Bear, who was suiting up for the 1km race (and did rather well!). Rob's just as lovely in person as he is on Twitter and although I know now he was lying to me about how lumpy the water was, it was very reassuring to hear it wasn't cold. The temp was something we'd all been concerned about as people had told us over and over that Bala was a cold lake, and given the wind chill we'd had all season at Quays and Trafford, I was genuinely worried about my ability to stay warm for over four hours. In fact Bala clocked in at around 18oC and the finishers from the 1km were in no hurry to get out.

Smiley Bears Rob & Rach

Lunch - or "pre-fuelling" - took place in a blur for me, shoving my traditional apple, flapjack and 9Bar into my face whilst trying to ignore the ever-rising wind. I'd packed the satchel with eight Torq gels (figuring on fuelling every mile or so after the first hour plus extras), Jelly Babies, and two bottles of Hi-5 electrolyte replacement drinks. I've no idea if the latter work, but they were my voodoo charm against cramp. I also packed spare anti-fog, a lip balm, and a drink for Cathy, plus a couple of gels under my cap just in case. Paranoid? Absolutely - I had every faith in Cathy, but not in the strapping down of the gear!

 Here we are pre-10km. 
I look happy enough there but the trepidation was setting in badly by then!

Getting in was easy enough, it really was nicely warm and it took me virtually no time at all to acclimitise. I was determined not to waste time touristing like I had at Coniston last year, so although I'd positioned myself at the back as usual, I got my head down straight away, and spotted Cathy to my right fairly quickly. We'd never practised together, but somehow she knew exactly where to be and she stayed there virtually the whole way up. How, I have no idea.

The first thing I noticed, aside from the comfortable temperature, was the colour of the water - Bala is a peaty lake and somehow that turns even my milk-bottle skin to a delicious golden brown. Aside from that, there was absolutely nothing to see - no weed, no fish, and no bottom. The surface was iron-grey, green to both sides, and a cloudy sky with a few blue patches above. No distractions, which gave me plenty of time to get used to the increasing chop. It was pretty good fun for the first couple of miles, really - more like body surfing than swimming. For once, I had the advantage as a slow swimmer. My stroke was exactly the same period as the waves, so I was able to breathe in each trough rather than take in mouthfuls of water. I couldn't turn to the left, however, as the waves were at an angle and I got slapped in the mouth each time I tried. I really wanted to look for some landmarks on the opposite shore for the return leg, but I couldn't see a damn thing.

At around an hour in I managed a mouthful of my drink, but it was tough to get even that because Cathy's kayak was being pushed and spun by the wind each time. I elected to carry on a bit further as I wasn't really hungry, and being a complete novice with an accompanied swim, assumed the drift was normal. Unbeknownst to me - because all I could see were waves up ahead - disaster had struck three pairs just past the headland, including Rach and Patrick. One pair capsized and righted themselves, one pair called it quits (I think?), and Patrick's kayak seat was found to be defective - he just couldn't get any purchase against a massive squall of wind and so as a fast swimmer, Rach was pulling out too far ahead to be safe. I am gutted for them that they had to DNF for safety reasons, and that my first 10k couldn't have been a joint celebration with one of my dearest friends, but in true Bear style they made the best of it the following day. I'm very glad I couldn't see what was going on as I'd have been filled with doubts and confusion - as a slow swimmer I fully expect to get pulled every time I go out and it would have been baffling to know I'd survived when they hadn't. We were so lucky to have got the good kayak, to have been further behind and closer to the shore. There but for the grace of the lake gods went we.

We paused again after 2hrs for a gel, which was difficult, and I was disappointed to hear we'd covered only 4km. I had really been hoping to be only ten minutes or so off the 5km turn buoy at that point, and I knew under normal circumstances I was looking at another 20-30mins. I'd felt the wind pick up even more as my arms were getting colder, and could see Cathy was having to dig in quite hard to keep straight, but I had no idea how much worse it was going to get. I kicked off the cramp attacking my left calf and ploughed on.

We veered in close to the shore at this point, the sun came out briefly and I had a nice stint in the warm shallows for 20mins or so - near the fence, for those of you that know the course. After that the real hellish conditions kicked in and that last km took forever (40mins, actually). Cathy plied her kayak like an absolute warrior hero - I could see waves breaking over her hull, but she was so fierce there was no way I was even thinking about giving up.

At last the $*)^%*&)££(^ing turn buoy appeared - a tiny orange spot on the horizon, which became a boat, then a little man, then a man laughing as I told him my number and yelled that I was fed up now and which way was the bloody pub?! I groaned as I saw my watch tick over three hours, cramp bit my leg again, and I was convinced the safety boat was about to come over and pluck me out for going over the half-way cut-off. But nobody came - I saw Cathy check in with them, and the rib stayed behind us. I didn't realise, but we took a tighter line out of the turn and Jane & John were now behind us being blown out into the lake in a cross-wind.

The cross-wind bogged us down too, and it took some serious work to keep going into the fourth mile. I grabbed another gel and decided I wouldn't take another unless I got desperate because it was impossible to get close enough to the kayak. So much for keeping hydrated and fed! I know from other swims that 4-4.5miles is my dark patch, and as the rainclouds rolled down the hills to blot out the green I could see Cathy's buoyancy jacket getting soaked, and she was tugging her waterproof up and her Buff over her head. She was starting to look fairly miserable - though I'm told not, it was just taking all her concentration not to get swept forwards - and all of my concern was for her at this point. I was convinced she'd never speak to me again.

Kilometers 6 and 7 were much quicker - we must have got into a better patch of wind - but fatigue was starting to set in. I didn't recognise a damn thing on the opposite side of the lake, my goggles were misting badly, and if I risked a glance to the left all I could see were fields and fields and fields of sheep. I knew I needed to be seeing woodland on that side, which would mean I was coming within sight of the white house at a mile away from the finish. I did shout BLOODY SHEEP a few times under the water! Despite that, and some fairly stark pain in my neck, I wasn't ready to give up. My arms were going all by themselves, so I settled in and sang myself a few tunes, punched the water and counted in Japanese for a bit, recited my yoga mantra sthira sukham asanam (meaning "steady, comfortable posture") and then finally - FINALLY! there was the beginning of the woodland. And there was the safety boat again, shit. I was well over 4hrs at this point and so disappointed and scared of getting yanked out as the 5hr cut-off approached.

And yet, still no "you must finish now".

Hey, wait, is that a flash of white on the shore there?! I managed to yell up to Cathy "Is that what I think it is?!"

"Yep, think so."

"That's a mile to go, then! Fuck, let's crack on!"

Yes, I was a bit sweary by this point.

Then I could just about make out buildings. That must be the end of the lake!

Hey, I can see cars!

I can see the colour of the cars!

I can see the yacht that's docked near the end!

I can see the race controller in her bright yellow jacket!

Oh my god, that's the finish buoy!

Cathy is grinning her face right off! Maybe she doesn't hate me after all!

I'm going to finish. I really am going to finish, and it's over five hours, bloody hell.

Oh! Oh dear god, that's Rach's pink bobble hat just there, thank all the gods, she's out safely. And there's Patrick too!

Oh god, they've got cameras.

I can hear cheering! Where's Cathy gone? Oh, she's round the orange buoy to go in. I need to slap that yellow one and shout 26. I bet all these people are SO pissed off having to wait around in the rain for me to come in last. Why didn't they pull me out?


Oh god, my legs have gone. I can't stand up. Wobble. Cramp. I need to get these earplugs out. There's Patrick waving my Crocs, I should put shoes on. I can hear the kayak scraping.

Oh, this is the biggest hug in the world. Oh, she doesn't hate me. Oh, hell fire, we made it. We made it!

Where's Rach? How long? Wait, what? DNF? But you're ok, not injured? Shit. Shit. Right. Let me get dressed and then I can try and make sense of any of this.

Hang on, there's someone else coming in. I wasn't last?! Flabbergasted. Thought I was an hour or more behind everyone else. Holy crow. Oh crap, my ankle's gone. I can't walk. I need to get dressed and out of this tent so that poor chap can come and get out of the wind!

Oh hey, would you look at that. A certificate and a purple swimming cap with Llyn Tegid on it! 5 hours 23mins 51 seconds. That's SO much more than I was aiming for. Misery. Oh? The wind cost everyone forty minutes, even the speedy ones? That's much better. 4hrs 40 is reasonable, considering I did 8k at Coniston in 4hrs 15 in perfect conditions. Bit of an improvement, actually! Maths later.

Ok. Now I need a hot shower, a face full of cake, a large steak and to find out what the bloody hell just happened...and to somehow find the energy to kayak the length of it again tomorrow!

Here's the GPS trace from Cathy's watch - look how close we stayed to the bank on the way out, and how much we got blown into the middle coming back!
Split times - you can see how much longer it took to get up the lake, and then when I got really tired near the end. And just how quick and exciting that last km was!

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Pre-Bala Jitters

Forgive me, fellow sporties, it has been almost two months since my last post. Not uncoincidentally, that's exactly how long it's been since I last ran, too. Swimming took over all of my time with increasingly longer hours in the pool (thanks to rubbish weather meaning I haven't been able to clock up enough hours outside), and karate stole all of my brainspace until the last two weeks, when Eldest and I earned our purple belts at last. Small One requires more kata practice and we hope she'll grade to red next time.

I am pretty relieved grading is done now. As ever I spent weeks winding myself up and not being able to take in adjustments, only to find it was pretty much up to requirements on the day. I'm now enjoying learning the new kata, heian godan, which is coming together more quickly than I expected despite lots of new skills and a jump that I'm hilariously bad at so far.

Between cramming for grading and constantly upping my swimming distances, me, Eldest and a handful of Bears spent a Saturday getting our BCU1* kayaking awards in order to prep for some of us being kayak cover at Bala. I'd completely forgotten how much I enjoyed it and thankfully it all came back so quickly that I was very confident by the end of the day. Eldest picked it up like a champ and we're looking forward to more adventures at Trafford Water Park and beyond over summer. Can't speak highly enough of the organisation and tuition from Peak Pursuits - they really were super. And I can't wait to be back on the water!

In terms of swimming I followed the Dart 10k training plan quite faithfully up to the largest swim at five miles, which unfortunately fell three days after grading, two days after a day kayaking and swimming, and a day after I had a very painful sports massage (not the physio's fault, I was just very knotty!). I had to split the swim across two sessions, and by the time I'd finished that, then been in school for two days, up at 5am for a client meeting in London on Friday and prepping Youngest's 5th birthday party in the cracks of time between, I was exhausted. I had an absolutely horrible swim at Quays on the Saturday - didn't even manage a mile due to my own patheticness - and it was only because some of my awesome swimming friends lifted my spirits afterwards that I was able to write it off as "the crap dress rehearsal before the main event". Honestly. I'd forgotten to eat, couldn't find my anti-fog, and I'd smashed my finger in a car door on Friday so that really hurt too. Heart and head gave up and body just whimpered along behind. That really doesn't happen often and was quite depressing.

Following that, my head's been in a pretty bad place all week. Everything hurt and I couldn't bear even the thought of the scent of chlorine. So I haven't been in the pool for nigh on two weeks. Meanwhile I'm fretting about how my dear Rach, also swimming the 10k, is going to manage after a cycling accident; and sharing "fed up" grumbles about overtraining with Cathy. I honestly think I fell out of love with swimming for a bit there, and a feverish virus-thing a couple of days ago really didn't help.

Thanks to Great Manchester Swim (the wetsuitedness of which led me to be worrying about Cathy overheating as the temperatures shot up!), there was no USWIM session at Quays this week, so I had to drag my reluctant carcass over to Sale. I like Trafford Water Park well enough - in some ways it's prettier than Quays, though I could do without the weed. But I'm used to Quays, it's my home and I missed the people and the organisation. I missed the feeling of safety I get from knowing how it all works and how I work on that course and in that water. I'm not familiar enough with Sale yet to avoid the neck strain from having to sight a lot, and I don't really like the schlep back to the changing room without my glasses, especially in the rain (hot showers are a luxury I don't need, either!). Instant access to my kit is something I love about USWIM's set-up.

Moaning aside, it was decent swim, as these things go - a bit on the slow side, which I put down to sighting. Very sunny and warm at the beginning, with the water between 17-20oC and flat as a millpond. That is, until I set out on my third lap, when the wind and rain suddenly made life about as lumpy as it's ever been all season. I had to have some firm words with myself about how I've trained all year in wind and chop this bad, and that got me round until I could clearly see the safety boat chasing everyone in. I wouldn't normally be bothered by rain but we've had a lot of lightening over the last week and it could have been scary out there.

Since rain stopped play, I awarded myself a sherbety ice-cream, then came home to slob about in my Great Manchester Run t-shirt, slightly more optimistic about the swim itself and slightly worried about an ache in my right arm that won't go away...

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Great Manchester Run(ner)


Well, duuuuuh, of course you did, I can hear a few people saying. And a bit "well, duh" from me, too. Once I'd forked over that money there was no way I was coming home without a finisher's pack, was there...I'm too stubborn for that!

 Mah shiny

I've learned an enormous amount. The event was absolutely bloody huge, completely unlike even the biggest swims I've done. The crowd, the finding my way around beforehand, the fretting about the weather - these things led me to be anxious, far too early, too far forward in my wave and definitely overdressed (to be fair, I wasn't the only one shedding a wind jacket after 2km!). I really wasn't prepared for the noise from the entertainment/supporters en route, either. I often run at night on fairly deserted roads with just my MP3 for company, so getting any kind of focus was desperately difficult in places. And of course as primarily a long-distance swimmer, silence is kind of important to me!

I (naturally) didn't put in quite enough training to consider it a complete success - even having run virtually the entire distance bar 10m in training, I did walk a significant chunk of the third kilometre, and off-and-on from 7km. Despite the walking, it was still a PB - 1.26.08, not stellar by any means but at least improvements will be easy to see! Thankfully I don't appear to have particularly aggravated an injury I picked up a couple of weeks ago, probably at the karate tournament (for which I won a shiny silver in the kumite, by the way). Nor have my shonky Achilles given out. I did, in fact, sprint over the line, mostly because I saw my previous PB coming up on the clock and I was trying to beat it - turns out my TomTom disagreed with my timing chip by about a minute, so I was well under. I'm glad I did, though, as Eldest spotted me ("Mum, your ponytail was flying!"), and I was so hoping for that. I want my girls to see that sport is normal whatever your age or size.

I didn't run this race for charity, I ran it to prove a point to myself. The point's changed a number of times during training, and I'm not really sure what it is any more. Partly it was to prove that I could stick to a commitment - that shouldn't really be an issue, given the rest of my life's record, but I wondered if I could stick to something I didn't enjoy at first, and do it til I got better. Turns out I could.

I also wanted to prove that I really could #sufferbutNEVERsurrender and truly earn my Team Bear colours, as it were, since HQ were kind enough to get a vest to me in time for the day. Swimming is easy (stop laughing at the back, you triathletes ;-) - ok, I struggle to get faster, but I'm like a wind-up toy - plonk me in a lake and I'll see you on the other side. At least, that's my attitude: Bala will test that in July. For running I really have suffered - it's painful, there have been days when I've cried on my way out of the door, days I've defiantly taken a nap instead of running, days when literally every wheel on my little red wagon has fallen off. There have been really big changes in my life work-wise (i.e., I'm actually doing some work/study/training every day now), and rounds of illness for us all, plus changing commitments to other sports, so making time has been challenging. But whilst I suffered on the course on Sunday, there was no way I was giving up.

I think I did earn my colours this weekend. I worked for it, and I got what I worked for - a PB that could have been even quicker, a shiny piece of bling for my box, and some pretty serious proud faces from people who know what I've worked through since I had this whole crazy idea.

Cathy promised me cake if I finished. IF?! 
Also, how mad is my hair. I look like Einstein's younger, slapheadier sister.

Bit of a hot button topic going on at the moment - does this now make me a runner? Opinions vary on the very definition. My opinion for me is that yes, I am now a runner.

Not because I completed a race (I've done that before).

Not because I ran most of it.

Not because I enjoy running. I still don't like it, but I don't fear it any more and that's actually HUGE.

Not because I can now tolerate my body in capris and a vest. Why yes, I have had a problem showing my bare arms and legs, and covered-but-wobbly belly to the general public. This is despite being able to strip to a swimsuit and jump in at a moment's notice, ask random strangers to zip up my wetsuit or be completely blase about the existence of free-range nipples in change tents around the UK.

Not because a friend who is a multiple GNR-veteran innocently asked what my next event was, and just grinned when I said I'd got another 10k in November plus a 5k my Eldest is doing as well.

I'm a runner because I can't imagine my life without it.

That's all.

And I don't give a rat's ass what anyone else thinks.

Friday, 24 April 2015


James made me giggle earlier this week with a great blog post about life as a sporty couple. I nodded along at quite a few points, but life as a sporty family is a different kettle of fish again - and that kettle mostly involves laundry and passing each other like ships in the night. Here's what our week often looks like:

Monday: School swim for Eldest, sometimes a run for me (one load of kit) or yoga, karate for me in summer (whites-only wash then iron). Youngest has PE in school (no kit to wash)

Tuesday: Short pool swim for me (wash kit with normal load), sometimes a run for me. Eldest has PE in school (no wash til half-term)

Wednesday: Karate for Eldest, Youngest and me, (load of whites then iron), run for DH (different load)

Thursday: After-school swimming lessons for Eldest & Youngest, longer pool swim for me (one complete load of swim kit)

Friday: Run for me (wash kit with school uniforms)

Saturday: Karate for both kids and me in winter, or OW swim kit in summer (whites load then iron, plus Robie etc in separate wash; dry & check wetsuit for repairs if used), sometimes also my running kit and Eldest's occasionally

Sunday: Run for DH, god knows what else as sometimes there are karate seminars or extra swims.

And I have to keep on top of all the non-laundry kit too - four pairs of goggles, caps, three sets of sparring mitts & pads & gumshields & belts, MP3 players, TomTom and Poolmate, goggle demister, earplugs, snacks, shampoo, water bottles, gels, memberships, licences, attendance cards...sheesh. The cycle is endless and the only way I keep it all together is by immediately reloading each person's bag as soon as the kit is dry, having duplicates, and paying for as much as possible in advance - or keeping a sharp eye on having enough cash available to pay various instructors. I also need to keep up with the endlessly-changing timetables for three or four pools, cherry-picking the free sessions as much as possible (we are very blessed with these in Blackburn!).

What does it mean for us as a family? For the girls, it's actually not too bad - it's quite structured; we do karate mostly together so there's lots to talk about, and DH gets to watch their progress through the summer period. There's a quick handover from Mum to Dad on Thursdays as I head straight out from their lessons to hit a known quiet session at a more distant pool. Eldest fits in three music practice sessions a week for both instruments as well, plus homework, and this will get more complicated as Youngest gets older and develops her interests in different ways too.

As partners it does mean DH and I never get to train together as someone always has to be there for the girls. This is no bad thing, really, as his running pace is a lot faster than mine, and since my work/college hours are less than a full working week, I can do a fair bit of my training flexibly on week days and leave him free to train in an evening or Sunday morning. We also don't need two lots of expensive kit and can share a GPS watch, emergency kit, running lights etc.

The difficult bit is attending events, either to compete (such as it is, since neither of us are exactly top athletes!) or support. Many of my events this year are falling on a Sunday or over a full weekend, which steals his Sunday morning training and we have to move everything around to accommodate it. It also means I can't respond as much as I'd like to when people say "ooh, come and swim at Pickmere/Gaddings/Budworth/Copenhagen", because it's not just my schedule I have to consult, but three other calendars! It's often a negotiation as delicate as UN peacekeeping to fit everyone's training around extras.

Also we kind of eat like horses and the rare evenings we get that aren't dominated by training, preparing kit for the next day, study or work tend to involve beer, popcorn and a colossal amount of telly...but we're mostly having fun, mostly fairly fit, and we have an enormous number of friends we've met through sport. Life is pretty good!

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Baby, it's cold outside (and we're going swimming)

would rather jump
and know
the freeze of the water,
the shake of my bones,
and the stinging
of my skin
than spend my life
clinging to the rails
and staring down 
at the current

- Tyler Knott Gregson

So Janathon ended with a whimpering plank each day as life just got too icy, virus-y and busy to do anything more with. February has been incredibly difficult - a planned operation for DH which fell at the same time as both girls attempting to scare the living daylights out of me with bug after bug, leading to almost a whole week off school for Youngest and a fairly miserable time for Eldest. I also caught one of the bugs and a not-at-all fun time was had by all. I owe a great debt of thanks to the friends who kept me afloat. Then there was a tired, gentle half-term we managed to fill with a little swimming, a little cinema and a lot of cuddles.

We are recovered. Some training has been missed, some not even started. Spring is coming, though, and now events can be booked, plans made and fun things looked forward to. The year's starting to take shape, starting this weekend with a Polar swim at Salford Quays on Saturday for me, and special seminars with Sensei Matt Price on kata and point-scoring kumite for me and both girls on the Sunday. Youngest is now working on becoming a Cadet Leader, too, and doing a fantastic job of it for a kid of only four and a half. She won't be able to join the rest of the cadets for some time as she's simply not physically big enough or skilled enough yet, but she has confidence in bucketloads. I'm quietly looking forward to tournament in a few months - my kata's come on very nicely in the last week or two, though I know my kumite needs work. I can hope for a June grading, too, though of course that's never a certainty til you get the official papers.

I'm completely giddy about Saturday's swim, and there's another at the end of March before the season kicks off properly. I have just one swimming event booked at the moment - the Aspire Night Swim in Liverpool in October - but things are starting to take shape for Bala 10k, which I guess is my "A" event this year. That does involve learning to kayak again, something I've not done since I was 14, so here's to another new string to the bow, as it were. USWIM series races are also pencilled into the calendar, and I'm open to being persuaded into other swims if they're affordable and reachable. I'd certainly like to get to Gaddings this year, and up to the Lakes even for a paddle. But mostly I plan to hang out at Quays a whole lot.

For my own curiosity and the edification of fellow and new Quays swimmers, here is a graph for your delectation. I went back through my training logs, which start in mid-2012, and noted all the water temperatures I'd recorded.

I just thought it was really interesting to see 2013's slow temp rise and sharp peak (that being the only time a Great Manchester Swim has been wetsuit-optional) vs 2014's much warmer start (relatively speaking!) but flatter summer period. Unfortunately I didn't get to do winter swims in '12 or '13, but I'd like to keep updating this for the next few years. Given that it's reported as already around 7oC, it's to be hoped the 2015 season will be more like '14 than '13 and I'll be able to get some good distances in early on. I'm getting to that really difficult stage of winter training when the coached sessions are coming to an end and my motivation to mix it up with the public is at an all-time low.

I haven't been able to take on running particularly yet. The kids are still excited about IronKids in Summer, and I've found a place we can run laps on a decent track for not much money, which I think will be safer and more motivating for them (since there's a playground right next door and it's where we go for them learning to ride their bikes) than trying to slog up and down our hills.

I'm going to be needing to get my finger out, though. Because there's this:

You have successfully entered The Morrisons Great Manchester Run 2015 

Oh, shit.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Polar Bears Go Swimming

...but I could have done, and will do, better in future.
This, I hope, will be one of those "what went wrong" posts, rather like Patrick's Windermere post last year - mostly for my own record so I don't make these mistakes again, but also in the hope that it helps someone else. Because even though nothing actually went wrong, it definitely could have gone better. It's a little embarrassing to admit that this swim really bloody hurt and there was next to no cold water euphoria. I'm a bit annoyed with myself because if I'd done everything right it's quite possible I could have gone around the buoy or even twice around it. Still, everything is a learning experience, right?

Welcome to Boundary Water Park in Cheshire, a place which is difficult to find since apparently signage is optional, but so pretty it's worth the trip. I'd swum here once before in high summer, when the weeds were just a week or so away from making it impassable. It's gorgeous and I'm keen to bring the kids down for a paddle when it warms up. I knew a few things about it: it's generally easier to just strip off and get in than use the changing portakabin; it's an easy, sandy entrance and exit; and the whole lake is shallow so it would be much colder than Quays. 

Reported temp on the day: 2.8oC. Cold enough for an ice mile - and whilst I'll never attempt that myself, I am delighted to congratulate Hazel Killingbeck, the youngest Ice Miler in the world, on hers! The lake had been down as far as 0.4oC and frozen a few days previously, and although we had a good chuckle about the ice bath USWIM provided, it was definitely colder out there (I stuck my arm in to test it, you see. I'm clever like that).

We hung around for a while, pretending to socialise but really working up the courage to get in (well, I was, anyway). There weren't many of us - maybe eight in skins and half a dozen in suits? I wasn't really paying attention to numbers. Eventually we stripped off and there was mistake number 1 - we should have got straight in instead of mucking about doing silly photos like this:

Spot the Team Bear polar bears! And yes, Marylyn, the lady in blue is so determined not to miss out that she has a plastic bag over her wrist-cast. Nothing short of heroic! <3

It was a lot of fun and I don't begrudge it, but it was a contributing factor, I think, because although I'd meticulously organised my bag and heap of clothes beforehand, I knocked it all over putting my glasses away and didn't sort it through again before getting in because I wanted to join in with the silliness. This was an idiotic thing to do because virtually every item of clothing I was wearing was black, so it took extra time to find everything in the right order when I was getting dressed. I will wear coloured things in future!

Mistake number 2 was forgetting to anti-fog my goggles. AGAIN. I always remember at the last minute, hope it'll be ok, and it never is. I should know better because foggy goggles make me very anxious and that's never good.

Getting in was ok. I'd considered putting on my neoprene socks - they'd been a big help getting into the sea because I really hate scrubbing sand off afterwards, and I knew it was a sandy, squishy entry at Boundary. But it was much better than I expected and I don't think I needed them after all. So I'm only counting that as a half-mistake because it was a distraction, not a difficulty.

Let us be honest: this was very, very cold. It's five degrees colder than I've ever done in skins. Five degrees difference is an awful lot. It really hurt; spiky, stabbing hurt - and yet the bit that's usually so awful, when the water laps at your kidneys - that wasn't so bad. Since I was distracted by trivial bits and pieces, my overwhelming feeling was that I just wanted to get it over with, and that's when I made mistake number three, the biggest and potentially most dangerous - I didn't tip the back of my head into the water. Nor had I done my usual ritual of wetting my neck and face: since there was no way I was getting my face in the water, especially not with a head cold and rapidly disappearing voice (which, let's be fair, was because I was up half the night nattering to Rach!), it didn't seem to matter. 

That was STUPID. I didn't give my brain the "cold water is coming" signal, and so my breathing didn't settle down at all, it was too fast. I set off with a rapid breastroke (not my best stroke!), determined to touch the buoy and get back again before anything went wrong. I'd turned around and was heading back before the rest of the group had reached the buoy and that was a bit sad, really, we usually do this together. I also hadn't set my watch off, which was another daft thing to have done - both distracting and potentially dangerous, though given we had good support and were close to the shore, it wasn't essential like it is for a solo sea swim. Another rookie half-mistake.

I got out ok thanks to a helping hand (you almost always need a helping hand out of the cold!) and dove thankfully into my shiny new DryRobe. That was brilliant. If I hadn't had that I'd have suffered a great deal more from the delay caused by rummaging through my clothes. However, I wasn't shivering at all, I had no giggles (a dead giveaway for being at my limit - later discussion revealed everyone has a different "tell", how funny!), and I really don't think my core temp had dropped a great deal. I was in less than ten minutes from first footing, anyway, and covered 50m. Which, it occurs to me, now means I could take part in a number of Chillswim events next winter, having proved to myself that it is possible.

Once dressed and with coffee and cake securely in my mitts, I finally started to smile a bit. Ok, a lot.

Three Bears: Rach, Cathy and me. 
We are silly and made of cake, love and a healthy attachment to pain.

USWIM provided for us famously, as ever - there was a fire to huddle round, and Cathy and Marylyn even went in the ice-bath straight afterwards (Cathy, an OWS in her first season, is now so tough she sheds ice-cubes when she takes her cossie off!). The coffee flowed freely, there was cake, hot sandwiches, music...everything you could have wished for. We ate a lot of cake, chattered to everyone and it was a great day, in the end. It was a good achievement, I learned a lot from it, and we had an excellent natter with a Mersey Mermaid we're keen to hook up with for river swims later in the year. And there was cake. Did I mention that?

There's one last mistake.

I'm reading Cmdr Chris Hadfield's An Astronaut's Guide To Life On Earth at the moment. It's a fantastic book; he writes warmly and engagingly and I'd recommend it to anyone, particularly those of us in the endurance sport community and especially to anyone taking part in relay or team events. I was standing in the kitchen making the tea with my Kindle reading to me, and I started laughing as I recognised a scenario straight from swimming. He's describing a training simulation of an accidental splashdown in the Soyuz capsule. There are three astronauts: himself; Max, a cosmonaut on his first command; and an astronaut named Andre who's as big as you can get and still fit in a suit. It's summertime, they're wearing pressure suits which need to be changed for water safety suits, and it's getting ridiculously hot in the cramped little capsule...

"Just when the heat felt the least bearable, I fake-shivered and said "Brr, it's cold!". It provided not only comic relief, but, for whatever reason, a bit of physical relief as well, so we all started doing it and for a glorious moment or two almost believed we weren't bathed in sweat."

What did we forget to do this swim? Not one of us said "eeee, it's TROPICAL!", not in my hearing anyway. Nobody flat-out denied the cold, no singing of Club Tropicana. We didn't even have the now-traditional War of the Roses over whether Lancashire or Yorkshire lasses can get in first (though I must point out I often win that one :P and hopefully that will set the scene for next time!) . We didn't do anything to shift our psychological state from fear to respectful mastery of the cold, and that temporary loss of humour, I think, made all the difference to me.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Janathon Week 3

 Third time's the charm?

The derailment continues. Thundersnow is apparently a thing, and it happened to us a week last Friday. Except here being here, it wasn't snow, it was 2ins of hail, which promptly went into the usual thaw-refreeze cycle. So running was right out because I don't have any ice skates and it was patchy enough to make YakTrax impractical. I had to wear hiking boots for the school run most of the next week as it then snowed on top of it. I also haven't completely shaken the horrible cold; it's actually come back and settled in my throat and lungs. Between the ice and that it's been hard to do more than I'd usually do, so I've spent some of the last week catching up on the remedial stretching and yoga I should be doing for my feet and hips. I'm trying to be ok with it - last year and the year before, ice and illness stopped me running completely. This year I'm viewing it as a blip in the schedule, not a dead loss.

However, we've had some really bright spots this weekend and that makes up for everything!

Friday 16th: 1hr 20 Yin Yoga: I'd been promising myself this session for a while but had to cut it short a bit as I was anxious about getting to school in bad weather, particularly since I'd promised to pick up one of the neighbour kids too.

Saturday 17th: Karate: Felt much better and spent some of my time working on doing combinations whilst sparring with the little ones - making sure I complete a block with a reverse punch, that kind of thing. Not doing terribly well with my kata, but it's early days yet.

Sunday 18th: The roads were scarily icy so I skipped USWIM with a heavy heart and worked through some Hatha for the core and spine.

Monday 19th: Too icy for running, too bored of yoga, so worked on my kata for a while. I forget how much hard work it is even when you do it really slowly!

Tuesday 20th: A real low with the head cold and weather: a 30s plank. Nice to know I can still pull that out of the bag whenever, though.

Wednesday 21st: Karate: hideous but fun; mostly due to a tough warm-up. Cheers, 8yo Cadet Leader.

Thursday 22nd: USWIM Blackburn: A really satisfying session; I feel like I'm improving every week and starting to get an actual feel for the water rather than wallowing through it. My timed 750m was 20s slower than last time but I'm not dissatisfied with that - different pool, different lane mates, and a cold. Still under 16min so I'll take it!

Friday 23rd: An overly busy day so just 10mins of Hatha for the feet - it turns out if you do Downward Dog with your feet braced against the wall, it hurts almost as much as Broken Toe pose.

Saturday 24th: On Thursday, Youngest (4yo) announced that she'd decided she wanted to be a Cadet Leader, which completely took me by surprise - Eldest has never shown any interest (she prefers not to be the centre of attention, she says). Sure enough she went and asked Sensei before class on Saturday, who took her at her word and let her try out. For that I'll be forever grateful, whatever Youngest decides in the future. So picture my tiny daughter at the front of a class of thirty-odd students, every single one older than her by a significant amount, all grades, lots of adults - and she took us all through the regular stretching routine with barely any help. Clear, loud enough without shouting, completely confident - I was absolutely blown away. So were we all. She got a huge round of applause afterwards and is looking forward to doing it all over again! She won't be able to take part in Cadet Leader classes for a while as she's just not physically big enough. I don't know if that'll put her off or give her focus: whatever happens, I hope she's understood that she has every right to give things a try.

Awarded by the whole class!

On Saturday afternoon lovely Rach came to visit as Eldest is due to take her ASA Level 7 Swimming Award soon and had asked for some help with her butterfly. It was a fairly quiet "kids' fun session", so there was much larking around on floats and trying to unglue Youngest from the wall (she's just come out of her armbands and lacks confidence), but I think some progress was made in both butterfly and freestyle.
Our Sunday lake swim deserves a post and photos all of it's own, so tune in later for "how I screwed up and still got a temp PB".