Monday, 28 February 2011

Swimming pool snuffles

I seem to have reached that point in the winter swimming season when the constant and ever-longer pool swims trigger allergic reactions that just run into each other, making me sound like I've permanently got a cold - a proper, sneezy cold. I know that a lot of people get this, and I always have a good burst of the sneezes when I get out of a long pool swim, but this seems to have moved into a whole new league. After my 6km swim yesterday, I couldn't stop sneezing, and then I woke up in the night, nose and eyes streaming, and chest all tight and wheezy. I took some anti-histamines, but it was too late, and I ended up getting hardly any sleep. All very odd - it was nowhere near this bad last year. I didn't swim today, so I'm all back to normal again, but I really hope that this isn't going to happen every time. I think I might try taking the anti-histamines before I swim and see if that makes a difference.

I was foraging through my netbook looking for something today, and came across some photos I'd taken of Jamie Goodhead and family when we were all in Jersey last July. I've got some clips of video of Jamie doing his 6 hour swim in St Catherine's Bay - it was a stunning day, and the water was glass-flat and looks utterly delicious. Happy days.

Is it nearly spring yet?

Monday, 21 February 2011

Favourite bits of kit

One of the only things I've always slightly regretted about swimming is the relative paucity of gadgets and kit that come along with it. I have quite a weakness for small electronic gadgets, and when I was running more and doing some triathlon, I always enjoyed using heart rate monitors and GPS trackers, as well as the technical clothing, nutritional supplements etc. Triathlon, of course, is perfect for this, with three sports' worth of toys and gadgets to play with, and multiple charts and graphs to download to the computer. The ridiculous thing about all this is that I'm not at all technically minded - I have no idea how most of this stuff works, and to be honest, have very little interest in that side of it....but still I love the gadgetry of sport.

And swimming, which, of course, is largely (and disappointingly) gadget-free, but nevertheless, over the last few years of training, I've refined my kit preferences and thought I'd introduce my absolute favourites. Kit for long distance swimming is very personal - what suits one person perfectly just doesn't sit right with another, especially over several hours of swimming, when even the slightest imperfection of fit can lead to problems (a hat sliding off, or a costume chafing). Most swimmers I know have a strong loyalty to particular brands of costumes, goggles and caps, honed through trial and error. It's definitely quite reassuring when swim day comes around to slide on familiar suits, caps and goggles - one less thing to worry about.

For me, I especially love my pink Swimtrek cap, or the Zoggs one - both a perfect fit, staying firmly put without clamping around the forehead and causing headaches. And, after a great deal of searching, trial and error, I have finally settled on the fabulous Blueseventy Element mirrored goggles. They don't leak, even if they are kept fairly loose (which is more comfortable over long periods); I had them on for 10 hours straight during my Channel swim and didn't have to adjust them once. I only wish they made a clear version - I still haven't found the perfect pair for night swimming yet.

But there is one piece of proper gadgetry that I wouldn't be without - my Poolmate watch.

I never used to use this so much when I was training in the 50m pool, and it wasn't really necessary when swimming with the club, when lane counting is a collective affair. But swimming on my own in a 25m pool has exposed my quite pathetic inability to keep count when swimming - my mind wanders when I swim, and even over 100m sets I can't always be 100% sure whether I've done 2 or 4 lengths a lot of the time. In the past, I've tried various watches and devices that you have to tap at the end of a lap, but I found this to be too much of an interruption, and I would forget to do it as often as I would remember anyway. So this is perfect - using accelerometer technology, it senses the turn and counts for you. My only complaint about it is that it's quite big but that's not a problem in the water. I understand that the new one has a mechanism for downloading swim data onto your computer and draws charts and graphs of your progress (be still my inner gadget fiend) .... but for now, I'm resisting....

So, if anyone knows of a waterproof heart rate monitor for swim training, or a good, waterproof, small GPS system for open water swimming, then let me know. In the mean time, I think I should probably just be grateful, for the sake of my finances, that there aren't more gadgets around.

Saturday, 19 February 2011


This week, I ventured some distance out of my comfort zone and did my RYA Powerboat Level 2 qualification. I say "out of my comfort zone" not because it's something too hard for me to do (although see below...) but more that even though my job is one of ongoing learning, I very rarely learn a new physical skill. I've had stroke correction sessions, and have had several Total Immersion sessions, but these were in something that I already had the fundamental grasp of. A better parallel might be the handful of water skiing lessons Peter and I had in 2004 in celebration of my first book being published; or more recently, the two years of cello lessons I had before swimming took over my life. This unfamiliarity of task, plus the fact that I have undeniably quite poor co-ordination, reactions and kinaesthetic sense, made me rather full of trepidation about the whole venture, but excited about trying something new (plus, I need this to work for Swimtrek, so it's part of that next bit of the swimming adventure too).

So, I put myself in the very capable hands of the nice people at Edgebaston Watersports, and, looking for all the world like a tellytubby in my multiple layers of wetsuit, salopettes, thermals, fleeces, hats, sweatshirts and jacket, I set forth to try and get to grips with powerboating. Firstly, let it be noted that, in spite of wearing so many clothes that I could barely reach over to tie my shoes, it was absolutely FREEZING on the water. All those hours of cold water swimming have apparently made no difference to my tolerance for cold and it wasn't long before I was wishing that I'd done this at a more civilised time of year.

But in spite of that, it was a really positive experience, mostly due to the relentlessly positive, constructive and clear instruction from our instructors, Ben and Jake, who bore my inadequacies with an impressive degree of patience and good humour, and did a great job at helping me to get my head around it all. I wasn't terrible at it, and I definitely got better as we went along and did eventually get my qualification, but I'm also not a natural and I think it's going to take some practice yet to really embody those skills. It reminds me of learning to drive - when you have to think about every movement really carefully and you can't imagine how people can do it so effortlessly. Hopefully, this will be the same. But even though I've still got a lot to learn, I finished the course feeling like I was able to exercise reasonable control over the boat, and be safe (for myself, and for others), so that seems like a good enough result to me.

As an aside, my heart is still definitely IN the water, rather than ON it. Particularly on the first day of the course, the wind was very gentle, and the surface of the reservoir looked thick, glassy and delicious; all I could think about was diving in and swimming, and how nice that would feel, especially compared to my frustrated sense of awkwardness and unfamiliarity at the tiller of the boat. I really can't wait until the Spring and we can get back into the water.

But thanks to everyone at Edgebaston Watersports for providing a safe and enjoyable course, and especially to Ben and Jake for their fantastic tuition - I heartily recommend them to anyone in this neck of the woods needing to get their qualifications.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Research website - quick quiz

In the mean time, while I've been going back and forth on the training and trying to find some kind of even keel, I decided to revise the project website and include a quick quiz - it's a very abbreviated version of the interview questions, but with text boxes so that people don't have to write something more narrative and can just fill in and submit via the form. Within a couple of hours of launching it (on Twitter, Facebook and on the Channel Swimmers Google group), I'd had four responses already, including some great new links, so that's looking very promising.

How much is enough?

Well, I managed to get myself back in gear after a really work-filled, training-free week and have done plenty of running, core and strength training, and swimming this week - five swims and 4 gym sessions in all. Hopefully, the previous week was just a blip where work got away from me.

But as I was swimming today, I was wondering about how much training I should be doing. I think that everyone worries about this, and I dealt with this first time round by training as much as I possibly could. Consequently, in some ways, I think I did more than enough....although I think that I needed that for my confidence, and that this really helped me when things got difficult during the swim. But I think that it should be slightly different now - after all that intense build-up over a couple of years, I feel like (hope?) that I have enough "distance in my arms" to be able to work on maintaining during the winter and then intensifying in the few months leading up to the swim. I don't want to skimp, or squeak through on just enough, but at the same time, I want to be able to keep the swimming within manageable proportions on an ongoing basis rather that just for this few years.

So, as always, part of me is very unsure as to whether I'm doing enough, but another part of me feels like I need to have a bit more faith in my swimming and my ability to do this. Tricky...I guess I'll find out in July.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Too much work, not enough swimming...

It's been fantastic to get my new research website up and running, and last week, I gave my first seminar paper on the research data, which felt like an important step forwards for the project. But the downside is that the training has had to take something of a back seat to the work involved, plus maintaining my usual teaching commitments. I finished the week completely pooped and motivation-free, and am now feeling very frustrated at myself for letting it all slip (again). It's ridiculous, because I LOVE swimming, but sometimes it can be just too hard to drag myself back out in the evening, especially with a pile of work still waiting to be done.

It's the old problem of work-swimming balance, but I think that I've perhaps developed too much of an all-or-nothing approach to training - if I can't go for a full training swim, I tend to not go at all, rather than going for just 30 mins, or going to the gym to do a bit of weight training. So my goal this week is to do something every day, even if it ends up being a short session.

It's beginning to dawn on me that Catalina is just over 5 months away, and I'm a long way from where I need to be to complete it. Time to pick it up a bit.

Friday, 4 February 2011

New research website

Good news - my research website - "Becoming a Channel swimmer" - has finally gone live. I want it to be a vehicle for communicating about the research, but also, hope that in time, it will become a useful resource for swimmers - for example, I'm in the process of building a big library of organisations, information sites, videos and blogs which some might find helpful. It's a bit scary putting it out there, but it needed to be done, not least because I've spent days playing with pictures, link and layouts - all of which is far more fun than the marking that I have to do, but I can't put it off indefinitely...

You can find it by clicking on the link above, or in the list on the right of the blog page. Enjoy!