Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Congratulations, Lisa

The big news of the week is that Lisa (who I met on the Swimtrek Malta trip) successfully swam around Jersey this weekend in an impressive 11 hours and 9 mins. Well done Lisa - you are amazing. Things are certainly looking good for her Channel swim at the end of August.

She has been raving about the great swimming down there in Jersey, and about the wonderful hospitality she's been enjoying while she was waiting for her swim, and this has got me thinking about whether I should have a go. I e-mailed the club and there is a slot in mid-September. I'm really tempted... Will decide by the end of the week.

While Lisa was forging her way around Jersey, I was down in Brighton for a training weekend with some of the members of the two relay teams. It was nice to be able to have another go in the sea and to build on what I learned in Dover. Fortunately, I didn't have any of the balance problems I had last time, even in choppier seas, so that's a relief. We did a few hours of swimming, but it was mostly a chance for those who haven't been in the sea yet to get acclimatised and see how their training is going. The swimming was lovely - great weather too - and I didn't want to get out.

It's been a long couple of weeks at work, which has really eaten into my swimming time, but I'm now officially on study leave until October 2010. I'm going to be writing a book about obesity surgery, but the study leave means that I am much freer now to organise my research and training time more flexibly.

Off to Dover this weekend - hopefully to meet up with Julie and John, and maybe Lisa too.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

My first dip in the Channel!

I finally took my first dip in the Channel yesterday! I went down to Dover for the BLDSA Champion of Champions - three races in Dover Harbour of 5 miles, 3 miles and then 1 mile. I went with Julie Ryan (who kindly shared her camper van with me for the weekend), and before we knew it, we were in the water, lined up for the start of the first race - 5 laps of the course, marked out by 4 yellow buoys. This first race was a real struggle for me, and I was really disappointed with my time (2.47). For the first hour, I was having the same problem that I had with my first choppy swim in Malta, and was getting really disoriented by the movement. I wonder if it's an inner ear thing (?). Also, after all these weeks of training in lakes, I found the saltiness of the water really hard to cope with at first, and kept wretching and coughing every time even a small amount (and occasionally a big mouthful at the choppier end of the course) got into the back of my throat. In the end, I decided that now was the time just to swim, rather than trying to achieve a fast time, and to use the event to get used to the unfamiliar conditions - although it was hard not to feel a little deflated when I was lapped by the eventual winners towards the end of lap 3! By lap 4, I was feeling much better and felt much less disoriented by the movement of the water (and had finally got the hang of keeping my mouth tightly shut when not breathing!) and was swimming much more comfortably. Not my finest performance, but a good learning experience.

(Julie gets warm after the 5 mile race)

We grabbed recovery drinks and a sandwich, and an hour or so later, it was time to get back in again. Having only just got warm, this was really hard, especially as the weather was starting to close in and it was threatening to rain. Julie and I waited until the very last minute before stripping off, Vaselining ourselves up and picking our way back over the stones (note to self: flip flops are useless for walking on stones - I need some more suitable footwear) and being counted back in to the water. I enjoyed this event much more. I forgot to start my watch, so I don't have a time for it yet, but it must have been just over 1.30, which is not fast by any means, but closer to what I'd been hoping for. I felt much more comfortable in the water this time, and didn't have any of the problems of the first race, and before we knew it, we were out and trying to get warm before having to go back for the third event. Knowing that this was only a single lap, it was much easier to get in for this one, and I enjoyed this last race even more....and finally managed to squeak in a sub-30 min mile.

So, all in all, a really good learning experience - that it takes me a little while to adjust, balance-wise, to being in the sea; and that you have to be mentally prepared to get back in the water (good to bear in mind for the relay). It was great to see Becky Lewis there (who I met on the Malta trip) with her parents - she stormed round all three events and came third overall among the women. Well done, Becky.

It's a long drive (about 4 hours one way), but after this weekend, I definitely think it's worth persisting with going down there as much as I can for the rest of this summer, and definitely next summer, because it's so different from being in the lakes. And after a weekend in Julie's van, I'm more determined than ever to step up my search and get one - I'm really not sure that I've got it in me to do all this and have to camp as well!

Tuesday, 16 June 2009


It's been a busy week, so not so much swimming - this is not such a bad thing as it gave me chance to recover properly from the 6-hour swim on Sunday. Lots of marking (just one more week and then I'm done - hallelujah), and then on Friday, I went up to Blackpool to meet a very good friend of mine, Judy. She lives in New York now, with her husband and three children, but sadly, her dad died, and I went up for the burial. It was a sad day and horrible circumstances to get together, but so nice to see her and to catch up a bit. She was trying to persuade me to spent part of my research leave next year in NY - I have to admit, it's pretty tempting.

On Saturday, I drove up to North Yorkshire to stay with Julie (who came down for the swim last week), ready for the BLDSA Wykeham Lake 5km race. The weather was stunning, and the water was lovely. I had decided to really go for it to see what I could do - a chance to try and challenge my habit of bottling out and not sustaining effort. I was aiming for 1.25, and was completely on track for the first three laps, but I really slowed in the 4th km and was really struggling with myself...."it's not worth it, I can't do it, I'm going to just slow down and finish at a steady pootle"...but I managed to give myself a good talking to, refocused and pressed on. I dropped about a minute, but then picked up again for the final lap, coming in a 1.26.13 (4th among the women, 15th overall) - which I was pretty pleased with. I spoke to Robin (coach) today and he said that it may be that because our Weds / Friday training sessions are about 3-4km, I'm maybe not psychologically prepared to push beyond that at higher intensity. So I'm going to do a few Tuesday sessions starting a bit earlier so I'm doing the higher intensity stuff when I'm tired. So, a good learning experience, and a decent performance (for me). Julie had an excellent swim too -another step closer to the Channel.

I'm developing a very marked hat stripe on my forehead; one of my students said I looked like I'd slapped on fake tan in a hurry!

Down to Dover for the Champion of Champions this weekend - my first UK sea swim!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

A good weekend of swimming

In spite of the rather revolting weather, I've had a tough, but fun, weekend of swimming. On Saturday morning, I went to Bosworth as usual, but only swam for just over an hour as I was trying to save myself for what was to come. Then, in the afternoon, Julie Ryan (who I met on the Malta trip and who is swimming the Channel at the beginning of August) came down and we drove down to Milton Keynes to do the Big Cow 1km open water race. As distances go, it's quite a bit less than I'd normally do, but I do this race every year (with a wetsuit), if I can, so it's a good benchmark for my progress. It was a big, fast field, and I ended up coming in 32nd overall (out of 99), 11th of all the women, and, as far as I can tell, the first female veteran. But I was really pleased to see that I had taken 1 min 20 secs off last year's time - so perhaps all the training is paying off after all, in spite of my frustrations last week at my feeble sprint times. Julie had a great swim, too - her first ever race. She caused a huge stir by doing it without a wetsuit, and when she finished, the announcer told everyone that she was going to be swimming the Channel. Lots of people came up to wish her luck, and there was a lovely, friendly atmosphere (there always is at those events - I'd heartily recommend them to any triathletes out there).

Then today (Sunday) we went off to Swan Pool to do our real challenge for the weekend - a 6-hour qualification swim, organised by Dan Earthquake of the Sandwell Lifeguard Channel Swimming Club. The weather was vile, and it was bucketing with rain as Julie and I drove there, our hearts sinking by the minute. By the time we got there it was really unappealing, but we set out our bottles on the lakeside, Vaselined ourselves up, and at 11am, off we went. The first couple of hours were pretty grim - everything was very grey and it was pouring with rain (although it's quite nice being at surface level and seeing the rain hitting the water - you have to take your entertainment where you can during a long swim!). But the water was warmer than we had feared, and we all trudged on until we were finally rewarded, after about four and a half hours, with a glimmer of sunshine through the clouds, which lifted the spirits enormously. I felt like the acclimatisation work I've been doing really helped with the water temp, but I did find the swim quite tiring, and I really noticed the difference between the long sea swim I did in Malta and the lake swim, where there is less bouyancy. By the last hour, I was starting to get groin pains and a bit of lower back ache, which I never got in Malta. But none of this was hugely problematic, and I was in pretty good shape when I got out (although I did have to be momentarily propped up by Dan as I was getting out as the shift to vertical sent me a bit wobbly). Julie had a fantastic swim too and is clearly in great shape for her upcoming swim. Well done, Julie.

So, in spite of some very unpromising weather, a good weekend all round and some really good, confidence-building swims.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Making progress

It's exam marking season at work, so swimming has been a glorious relief from the piles of exam scripts - especially because of the beautiful weather. Last Thursday, I'd been marking all day and was feeling stiff and grouchy, so went up to Bosworth for an evening swim. By 8.30pm (the end of the session), the sun was setting, and the water was completely flat and still - just beautiful to swim in.

Saturday morning was equally lovely, although the lake was really busy, mostly with wetsuited triathletes. It's fun when it's like that, but what I really like is to be on my own (or feel like I'm on my own) in the water. I love the peace of just swimming, and there's always a really nice 20 minutes or so towards the end of the session when most people have got out and you can just swim without thinking about anything at all. This tendency to just pootle happily along is, of course, why I'm not a fast swimmer, and in training terms, it's probably not a very efficient use of my time, but I always feel so happy afterwards that I don't really care. After swimming, I was standing around chatting with tri club friends, and we suddenly noticed that lots of huge fish (carp?) were milling around the boat slip and jetty. To be honest, I prefer a strategy of denial about any wildlife in any water that I swim in, so don't really want to see them, but still...they're really beautiful:

Even if my open water swims are a bit on the ploddy side, Robin is still putting us through our paces in the pool. On Tuesday morning, we did 35 x 100, with 15 of them at max, interspersed throughout the set. All of my times hovered between 1.32 and 1.35 for the max 100's, which I know isn't fast by many people's standards, but is a definite improvement for me. Even so, I find it completely infuriating that I can't get below 1.30, no matter how hard I try.... yet.
But my distances are creeping up, I'm injury free (so far so good) and I'm really enjoying the swimming. I'm about to start doing some racing and longer training swims in the next few weeks, which should step things up another notch.