Sunday, 24 May 2009

Sunshine at last

This is more like it - lots of lovely sunshine over the last few days, and especially today, when it was positive baking. The lakes have started to warm up a bit, and even though they're still not as warm as I would like, it's so wonderful to swim with the sun on your back. I went to Bosworth on Thursday evening, and it was so beautiful - the sun was setting, and the water was flat and quiet. I felt enormously happy, and like I could swim forever. Saturday and Sunday were similarly good (Bosworth and Swan Pool), and I finally managed to break 25km for the first time this week. I know a lot of people are doing much more than this, but for me, this is progress.

I'm sure that the weather is a huge part of this transformation into a happy swimmer, but I also think that the hypnosis has had quite an effect as well in some areas. I've been practising the visualisations, and trying to reproduce particular feelings of strength and confidence using "anchors". I can't hold on to it for very long and tend to drift in and out of it, but it definitely makes a difference - especially to actually getting in, which I have never found easy. I'm sure the hypnosis partly explains this really ecstatic feeling I've been getting while swimming. It's really enervating. I feel so excited about going open water swimming at the moment, and am already counting the days until I can go next.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009


Over the last week or so, things have started to pick up again and I'm feeling much more focused about training. After my food failures from a couple of weeks ago, I'm now trying much harder to eat before and after I train, especially around the morning sessions. This is going well and I'm recovering better as a result.

But what the hell happened to the weather? Since the OW season started, it's been cold, wet and grey, and the temps in the lakes have been drifting slowly downwards - even Bosworth, which is usually quite warm because it's so shallow. I chickened out again last Saturday and started off in my wetsuit, then took it off for the last hour - but to be honest, I'm not sure that I could have stuck it out for the whole two hours without one, so it seemed worth it to get the laps in. I'm going to stop taking it with me from now on to remove the option, and just knuckle down.

I've also started running again - over a year after I was forced to stop after my knee injury. So far so good, although me plodding along is not a very pretty sight. I'm toying with the idea of doing the Big Cow aquathlon at the beginning of June, by way of incentive. Not sure, though, whether I shouldn't just keep my rather graceless and slow running under wraps for now.

Aside from starting to inch my swimming distances back up, and venturing back into my running shoes, this week has been "body work" week. I started off with a sports massage with the wonderful Gisela Payne at Warwick Univ - this is never an entirely pleasant experience, but it really helps unknot everything. I've obviously been a bit lax with my stretches, as my shoulders are starting to pull forwards; if I needed an incentive to be more disciplined about this, having to endure her digging in there to unknot everything will probably do it. I always feel so much better afterwards though (in spite of the nice yellow bruises, perfectly symmetrical, across my chest).

And then yesterday, I had my first hypnotherapy session with Adrian Peck - a sports hypnotist / psychologist based in Loughborough. It seems like a long way to go (about 40 miles), but I really wanted a sports person, and his was just about the only website that I could find that didn't have clouds, waves, or people standing with their arms outstretched on hilltops on their webpages - all of which I found very irritating and a bit flaky (this is probably comletely unreasonable, but you've got to have some kind of criteria to choose by). Anyway, off I went, completely terrified but ready to try anything (and it's great research material too....) - the goal is to address negative thinking, find ways of coping with the cold (or post-session, the fact that it's not as warm as I would like), and to hopefully do something about the seasickness (or at least my habitual expectation of it at the slightest movement). Half of the session we spent working on NLP techniques to try and deal with some of my negative thinking, and then we did the hypnosis - me lying on a sofa, lights dimmed, some very floaty music on. It's the oddest thing - I had a very strong sense of relaxation and a comfortable heaviness, but was completely aware of everything he said (which is how hypnosis is supposed to be). I don't think I was very deeply under - he said I probably wouldn't for the first time. He also mentioned that I have quite an "analytical" mind which will make it harder at first (which I think is a friendly euphemism for my control issues). But even so, I am quite hopeful about it in terms of being able to mobilise useful visualisations etc.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

What I learned today...

I went over to Bosworth again this morning for 7am (which means leaving at 6am), ready for a good couple of hours. I managed 9 laps this time, which I was really pleased with. But because the weather hasn't been so good, the water was much colder than last week and by the end of the two hours, I was really cold and finding it hard not to keep thinking about it. When I was done, I scampered into the changing rooms and layered on my clothes, then ducked into the cafe to get a hot drink and catch up with fellow tri club members. But by the time I sat down, I was shivering really hard, much to the considerable hilarity of everyone else; I think this just confirmed what everyone already thinks about me doing the whole session without a wetsuit, and it's very hard to make a convincing case for the joys of wetsuit-less swimming when you can barely hold a drink without spilling it. But this - getting used to the cold - is all par for the course. Every time builds my confidence a bit and I think I'm doing okay with it overall. As I was standing at the shore preparing to get in (definitely the hardest bit), I was trying to find a positive way to think about it, and settled on needing to trust that it would be okay - that my body will take care of itself. It all sounds a bit hippy-ish, but I really feel like that first moment - of the shock of getting in, is, ultimately, an act of trust... that the shock doesn't last, that the body adapts, that it will be okay. This really helped.

But this isn't the most important thing that I learnt today... In fact, I made two big mistakes that I ended up paying for all day and that I really need to work on. Firstly, I didn't eat when I got out, and just had a hot chocolate instead, and waited until I got home (2 hours later) to have some breakfast (although I did have a bagel as I was driving to the lake). I realise now that this wasn't enough and that the timing was all wrong. I don't think I have really been taking into account the extra energy used by swimming in cold water, and I spent most of the afternoon in an energy slump and feeling sleepy and deflated. I had a big lunch, but this was too late and the damage was done. I was also trying really hard not to go back to bed (I always feel guilty going to bed in the middle of the day), but this meant that I ended up just sitting around watching DVDs, mooching around online and dozing in my chair, so the day just sort of dribbled by without me really doing anything useful (and certainly without me doing any of the exam marking I'm supposed to be doing). So, today I learned: (a) that I need to take some kind of recovery bar / drink / food with me for after my swim; and (b) that I should probably just go back to bed for an hour when I get home to catch up on lost sleep and restore myself. Hopefully, this will set me up for a more productive afternoon, and perhaps more importantly, will help me to recover properly for a long Sunday swim as the season progresses.

Thursday, 7 May 2009


I had to miss my usual early Tuesday morning session because I was in London for a meeting about a book project that I'm (a small) part of. It was a wonderful couple of days - lots of interesting things to think about. But I did miss my swim, so when I got home that afternoon, I went for a run at the gym (so far so good on the knee front, so maybe the injection worked after all), and planned to go for a swim at Coventry pool in the evening. But frustratingly, even though I phoned up in advance to check that all of the lanes were available and not being used by clubs (thereby increasing the chance of getting a good swim in a lane not full of sedate breaststrokers), when I got to the poolside, five out of the 8 lanes were being used by a club. I was furious and decided it was better just to go home. This is a long-standing battle with the pool, which is inexplicably unable to provide reliable information ... But at least it's open water season now, so I'll be less reliant on them for a few months.

So, on Wednesday, I decided to head up to Swan Pool (in Walsall) for some open water swimming. There was hardly anybody there, and it was quite windy and chilly, but I braced myself and plunged in....well, actuallly, I slithered gracelessly down the boat slip (which is coated in green gunk) until I reached a watery stop and ploppped in. It was COLD, COLD, COLD. Now, I know that there are a lot of people who go in water much colder than this (including all those people who went down to Dover this weekend for the first training weekend of the season), but I very rarely hit water of 12 degrees, and I really found it hard to cope with and couldn't stop thinking about it as I was swimming. I managed three laps of the lake (about 2400m) before getting out ... well, actually, before crawling up the slimy boat slip on my hands and knees in an utterly undignfied manner. I got changed as quickly as I could on the lakeside, and then scampered back to the carpark and sat in the car with the heating on full. On the way home, I stopped off at a garage to buy a hot chocolate, but by then I was shivering so much that I actually managed to spill it on the floor of the shop. I can't imagine what they thought was wrong with me, all wrapped up and shaking. Anyway, even though I didn't manage to stay in for very long (about 45 minutes), it was really good to experience it and to know that I can do it.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

At last - the open water season starts...

Despite my best intentions, I still didn't manage to do much this week - mostly because I've spent most of it going to workshops and meetings. I was also giving a paper on Friday that I ended up writing in the couple of days before, and which ended up gobbling up a lot of swimming time (although it was a fun event, so I don't really mind).

But the good news is that the lake at Market Bosworth opened up to swimming today, courtesy of 1485 Triathlon Club who organise it all each summer.

Because of all the sunshine we've been having, the lake temp was 14.1 degrees (although I think they take it at the water's edge at the surface, because it always feels much colder than they say). Anyway, this meant that I could swim without a wetsuit (the sessions are governed by BTA rules, so anything over 14 is fine), but I'd taken my wetsuit along anyway, just in case. This was a mistake, because when I got there, everyone was getting into wetsuits, bootees, neoprene gloves, multiple caps etc, and just seeing everybody made me feel like it must be really cold. I really wanted to be able to swim for a full two hours, so I was a bit feeble, and ended up wearing my wetsuit for the first few laps, but I soo started to feel uncomfortable in it after being so used to swimming without one. So, I got out, took it off, and jumped back in for 5 more laps (approx. 800m each). It felt lovely to be back in open water.