I'm very excited about all these plans, but at the same time, feel quite flat and demotivated - the inevitable consequence of the end of an exciting season, but also the loss of focus that having a swim booked for the next year provides. I've also been struggling with a niggly back injury - the result of that fall at the beginning of my Catalina swim - which has been a bit demoralising....although things are definitely improving on that front, slowly but surely.
So....what to do? I've decided that it's time to go back to basics.
Firstly, I've started a programme of Strength and Conditioning to try and improve my strength, stability and flexibility throughout my body. My shoulders, upper body are pretty good, and my core strength isn't bad, but particularly my lower body is not terribly stable, which can't be good in the long term. I'm steadily building a programme of exercises, starting slowly with foundational ones, and then, eventually, moving on to swimming specific ones. It feels like a long job and I'm frustrated with how hard (and unrewarding) I'm finding some of it, but I need to give it time....and if you'd seen me trying to do some of even the most basic exercises, you'd appreciate the need for some of this basic bodily work and general maintenance.
The second element of the back to basics is a cautious return to some running. I've been running on and off for years, but also have a touch of arthritis in my knees and am far from gazelle-like. However, I love running, and find it quite therapeutic and physically satisfying, even at my very modest level. But, in the interests of building up gently after a long period of not running (plus being wary about my back), I have returned to the very beginning and am following Hal Higdon's introductory 30/30 programme - 30 days of 30 minute sessions involving 1o mins of walking, 15 mins of walk / run, then 5 mins of walking. Then I'll move on to a 5km programme, with a hope of completing some kind of event by Christmas. As I said, back to basics, but the most important thing is that it has to be sustainable and I don't get injured. This, combined with the Strength and Conditioning, is pretty much all that I've been doing for the last week or so since I came back from the States.
And very shortly, I'll move on to the next step - back to swimming basics. I know that with a decent amount of training, I can do the long swims, but I am also locked in to a plod-pace and I think that I can be a better, faster swimmer if I spend some time now working on my technique - especially my weedy left arm catch, and whatever weird thing I'm doing with my right hand to cause the recurrent tendon problem in my right wrist. All my bad habits are thoroughly ingrained, so I'm about to start a programme of careful drilling to try and relearn that muscle memory. I'm going to have some video analysis to guide the process, and plan to work on the drills five times a week, for 30 mins each sessions through to Christmas. Then I'll re-evaluate, but hopefully, I'll be ready to start building in more sustained swimming by then to consolidate what I hope will be an improved technique. This is not simply about enabling me, for example, to do a faster Channel swim; it's more about that extra pace opening up new, and even more challenging, possibilities in terms of swims that I could attempt but which I wouldn't necessarily want to try at my current pace.
All of this, however modest and unspectacular, takes me some distance out of my comfort zone. I'm a very inattentive swimmer who simply loves swimming - this makes me very good at being in the water for a long time, but not great when it comes to developing my skills and increasing my speed and efficiency. I don't particularly enjoy the detailed work of breaking down a stroke and building it back up. But I'm hoping that, in the long term, this will be time well spent. Indeed, one of the most common practices shared by many of the most accomplished and enduring swimmers that I have met in the course of the research is their insistence on regular drilling, as well as strength and conditioning work.
So, those are my three key areas of focus for now: (1) foundational, and then, swimming specific strength and conditioning; (2) modest but regular running, building up to the 5km, and maybe 10km, mark for cross training and a change of pace; and (3) to work concentratedly on my technique in order to improve speed and efficiency in the water.
I'm still working on what comes next in terms of marathon swimming goals. I'm stewing on a few possible ideas but prefer to keep those to myself until I've got a firm plan of action in place. So for now, it's back to basics for me - a new challenge.