Wednesday, 12 December 2012

One thing leads to another...

The thing about swimming is that one thing leads to another, and before you know it, all kinds of new and exciting adventures are in the diary.

So this was the thought process:

I need somewhere to do some distance training in the sea in April if I'm going to be ready for MIMS.
I see Swimtrek are doing their long-distance training in Mallorca now, so it must be suitable there.
I mention it to P, whose eyes light up at the prospect of a Spring trip.
We start to plan; we can both spend some time writing our books (sunshine helps), and he can cycle and I can swim. Perfect.
I start to do a bit of research online about good swimming spots.
I re-stumble across Xtrm Ballearic Open Water Swim Services, and flirt briefly with the Mallorca-Menorca crossing (40km) before deciding that that would be crazy and that I should just concentrate on training.
And then I find the Cabrera Channel...and I'm sold. As I said, one thing leads to another.

There are three crossing options, and I'm now provisionally booked in to do the 25km crossing somewhere during 8-14 April. The water temps should be around 14 / 15, and I'm told that conditions are usually quite calm at that time of year. My only real reservation was that I would have to go over on a boat, and after Catalina, I know that this is not a good start for me. At first, I had proposed that we rest on Cabrera for an hour before starting the swim to let any sickness pass, but the wonderful Toni Conesti Coll has come up with a much simpler solution - we'll just do it the other way, starting in Mallorca, and finishing on Cabrera. Problem solved.

That makes a tremendous roster of three big swims next summer: the Cabrera Channel, MIMS and the English Channel. It's a lot to take on, but such an exciting challenge that I can't resist. And as an additional incentive, as things currently stand and unless someone beats me to it, I would be the first woman to swim the Cabrera Channel. I've never been a record-chaser, mostly because I'm hardly record-breaking material, and by nature I'm more of a cautious follower than a pioneer. But this just makes a really fun thing even more fun. And I love the fact that rather sedate, middle-of-the-pack swimmer like me could ever hold a record, however briefly.

Training's going well at the moment, and in a couple of days we're off to Lanzarote for Christmas, where I'm going to be dividing my time between swim training and reading my way through a mountain of novels, eating ice-cream and generally recovering from a long, tough term. Bliss.

Merry Christmas to all the visitors to my blog, and best wishes for a happy and peaceful 2013.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

More toys....

My penchant for small gadgets is well documented, but I've recently added two new toys - one new, one old - to my kit bag. The first is the new agility paddles from Finis:

These function both as a regular paddle and as a technique tool; most noticeably, they lack the usual straps across the back of the hand, and instead, have a single hole for the thumb. They feel incredibly weird when you first put them on, but their genius is that if your hand is in the right position, with a good catch, they stay on just fine; if not, they drop off the hand and sink to the bottom, and you are forced to endure the humiliation of pausing mid-swim to recover your paddle. I just got a pair of these last week, and my first session with them was not very encouraging - stroke, stroke...and dive to recover the paddle. And again. And again. But what I learned was that my right hand - and it was always my right hand - does a little rotation just before the catch starts, turning my thumb slightly upwards before sweeping out a little and then down. And every time the hand rotates out of its proper position at the front of the stroke, the paddle comes off. It's the tiniest movement, but it's also probably no coincidence that that's the same thumb that I've had injury problems with in past years. So, something to work on. When I concentrate hard, I can keep the paddles on, which in turn massively improves my catch and pull. So these are definite keepers. 

My second gadget is one that I've had for a while, but have felt very ambivalent about - the Finis Tempo Trainer Pro:

Like all the best gadgets, the basic concept is a simple one: it's a metronome (and in fact, it's key competitor is rather pleasingly called the Wetronome). As such, it provides regular bleeps in three different modes: stroke rate (setting a designated time between bleeps, where each bleep equates to one stroke); pace (getting a triple beep after a certain time period, during which time you should aim to have covered a pre-determined distance); and strokes per minute (so very similar in function to the first mode, but approached from a different perspective). 

Total Immersion coach, Terry Laughlin, has provided a very detailed set of instructions for how to make the best use of the TT, especially when combined with stroke counting. The goal here is to use the TT to increase the distance covered per stroke. It makes perfect sense on paper, and I tried really hard to make this work for me. But unfortunately, my wandering brain refused to cooperate and I soon found my mind drifting hopelessly: 

1, 2, 3, 4... I forgot to do my travel expenses ...7, 8, 9 ... I really want to get a dog.... erm...10, 11...or perhaps a kitten would be better ...Damn....[turn].... bleep, bleep, bleep....damn, forgot to count....[turn]....1, 2, 3, 4, 5... that cracked tile looks like a map of Australia....erm....8 maybe, 9 10, 11... 

And so it went on. And then if I really concentrated, I just got really annoyed about all that bleeping. This probably says more about my own limitations than those of the Tempo Trainer, but the end result was that I left it to fester at the bottom of my kit bag. 

But recently, I rediscovered the TT, this time, as a pacer. So, for example, if you wanted to do a time trial of 1km, aiming to hit 100m at, say, 1.40, then you set the TT to give a discrete triple bleep every 1.40. As you approach the wall for the 100m split, if it bleeps before you hit it, you're slow; if you make the turn before the bleeps, you're up on your target. This also gives you a very good sense of whether you're dropping pace over the course of a time trial, or whether you could afford to sneak your interval down by a second or two next time you repeat the trial. Using it in this way has a number of advantages: there is no infernal bleeping the whole time; it keeps you focused on a the task during a longer time trial and stops you from drifting off the pace; and it gives you very precise feedback without having to look at a clock or watch. 

I've got a pretty good track record at knocking out long slow swims when the need arises, and have become increasingly good at building in tough sprint to increase the registers of pace that I have to draw on. But historically, I've been less good at doing those long hard pace swims, especially since I stopped training with the Masters club. But this has enabled me to reintroduce those into my workouts, which can only be a good thing for my preparations for Manhattan. 

You see....gadgets are our friends. 

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

And the captain wasn't pleased....

I have just been sent the link to the updated historical record for 2011, kept by Penny Lee Dean, of Catalina Channel swims. Just as everyone does when reading such a document, I went straight to the bit about my swim (me, me, me...). Like most of the entries, the narrative is taken directly from the swim report, and two things really struck me about it.

Firstly, the report repeatedly states what good spirits I was in. In many ways, this is true, and it would be churlish not to be in good spirits while doing something so exciting as a marathon swim in a (to me) relatively exotic location. But I also recall that swim as being extremely miserable, especially for the first half, when I threw up, suffered from burning acid reflux and burped up virtually every feed. I remember being worried that they would pull me out if they knew how much I was struggling with the sickness and digestive problems so deliberately kept it hidden, which may or may not have been a mistake; but I also remember trying not to dwell on it by 'performing' being okay. Basically, by faking it, I was able to not focus on the problems I was having and try to seek out the positive. As a swim strategy, I guess this worked, since I was able to keep going....and things did improve physically in the second half of the swim, especially in terms of my ability to keep the drink down, which in turn gave me the energy that I needed to pick up my stroke rate / pace. But it does mean that there is quite a gulf between how I remember particularly the first half of that swim, and what it looks like on paper - a curious artefact of perspective.

And secondly, I was very struck, and really quite annoyed, by the statement that at the halfway point "...the captain felt the swim would take 17 to 18 hours and he wasn't pleased". I don't blame him for the pessimistic prediction, since I really was crawling along at that point, such was my level of depletion. I don't even mind that he was displeased, since I'm sure that however supportive, all pilots prefer the faster to the slower swims. But I do resent that he expressed it, and I hate the thought of that conversation going on on board while I was struggling away.

It leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.

But the important thing is that I gave it my best shot, had an amazing experience, and crawled onto the shore at the other end. That's a moment that I would never trade, even to pacify a displeased captain.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Live, learn, forget, re-learn...

I can't believe it's December already, but training is going well. I'm not doing a huge distance at this stage (c. 20 km / week), but am using the sessions to work much more intensively on different registers of pace, and in particular, in holding a decent (for me) race pace. I'm very aware of the cut-off for Manhattan, so am trying to focus on that side of things on the assumption that I know that I can manage the endurance aspects of the swim. So, less plodding for me, and more pace work. On top of that, I'm running on the treadmill a couple of times a week (just 3 miles each time) plus some strength training in the gym and daily stretching and working on the shoulders using bands. I've even been cycling to work, although now that the weather's taken a turn for the worse I doubt I'll be willing / able to keep that up.

So much of this is familiar to me, and even though the focus on pace work is playing a much greater role than previously, I basically know how to train and feel confident that the programme that I've put together will get me where I need to be next summer. But somewhere along the line, I lost track of some of the other important aspects of training - most notably, nutrition. By the middle of term, I was feeling absolutely exhausted, but in spite of that, was having trouble sleeping - a classic sign of over-training, even though I didn't really feel that the amount of training I was doing warranted that.

But then I also started to notice that I was losing weight. As a matter of principle, I rarely weigh myself - scales have a compulsive aspect to them, and I hate the thought of the quality of my day being determined by pounds lost or gained. Ultimately, I don't really care whether I'm fatter or thinner and don't accept that my body size says anything meaningful either about either me as a person, or about my health. But I was unhappy with this unplanned and quite noticeable weight loss, dropping a clothes size in just a couple of months. Combined with my tiredness, this suggested that I didn't have my nutrition right. I went back through my fieldnotes from the Channel training, and realised that I was making much more use of energy drinks and recovery shakes then than I have been this year. On top of that, I've been eye-wateringly busy at work, and especially mid-week, was either skipping the occasional meal, or grabbing a quick pot of soup at my desk, rather than preparing proper meals to support my body-in-training.

So, I've given myself a talking to, and forced myself to re-learn all that I had learned, and apparently forgotten, about nutrition and training. As a result, I'm now using energy drinks (SiS Go - what used to be PSP22) rather than water for pool sessions, and am having either a protein shake or bar afterwards by way of aiding recovery. In addition, I'm being much more meticulous about packing pasta or rice salads for lunch, rather than just buying soups, and have a ready supply of cereal bars, nuts and fruit in my bag and desk. The result has been a complete transformation in how I feel - I have much more energy, my swim times have improved, and I'm sleeping like a log.

Lesson (re) learned.