Friday, 25 January 2013

Look what I got today...

I've been meaning to do this for ages, but I finally got round to putting an order in for some print copies of the "Becoming a Channel Swimmer" magazine that I published online last September. And today, a big boxful of them arrived, and I think they're rather handsome.

If you'd like a free copy (or more than one), get in touch by e-mail (details on my research website) with an address and I'll drop it in the post. International is fine too.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Birthday 200's

I'm not a big fan of banging out long pool swims. I prefer to save the longer swims for the outdoors, not least because swimming pools tend to turn me into a carnival of sneezing and snuffling for hours afterwards, and the longer I'm in, the worse it is. But while I generally hover around the 3-6km mark for my pool training, focusing on pace and technique rather than distance, on my birthday, I like to do my 'birthday 200's' session. And so today, in advance of my 45th birthday next Wednesday, I pitched up at the pool to celebrate my arrival at my 40's midpoint by swimming 45 x 200m.

The 'birthday 200's' has become something of a benchmark swim for me, and I am happy to report that things are looking quite promising. Two years ago (43 x 200m - the birthday between my Channel and Catalina swims), I started the set with a turnaround time of 3.45 / 200m, but couldn't sustain it after the first 3km, and dropped it back to 4 mins, which was fine for the rest of the set. So this time, I started with a turnaround time of 3.45, but soon realised that this was giving me way too long a rest period, so dropped it down to 3.40, and then, by the end of the first 2km, down to 3.30, where it stayed for the rest  of the set (finishing in 3.20 + 10 secs of rest). I mixed it up with a bit of pull, plus some pace variations / builds / progressive sets to keep it interesting. And then I did the final 1km as a solid swim with the Tempo Trainer set to 1.40/100m, and cruised in comfortably to finish. I had a few brief breaks to run to the toilets, grab a drink or munch a jelly baby, but apart from that, it was pretty constant from start to finish.

By the standards of a lot of the speedier swimmers out there, this is peanuts, but I'm pretty chuffed, and feel like all that technique work I did last year is really paying dividends now. I'm not really any fitter or stronger now than I was this time two years ago (although the 90km I did over Christmas in Lanzarote has probably helped in terms of general swim conditioning). But I am really starting to feel the benefit of all of the drilling and stroke correction, and am quite encouraged.

I've never been particularly bothered about my age, or the ageing process, and while I feel slightly surprised that I'm nearly 45, I don't really mind. But I do feel faintly pleased that while the conventional expectations of especially women's middle-aged bodies are primarily focused on their anticipated decline, my swimming is still improving. This is mostly, of course, because I started open water swimming with so much room for improvement, but still...

And having said that, I fully plan to spend the rest of the evening engaging in the age-appropriate activity of nodding off while reading in the armchair in front of a roaring fire.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Let the year begin....

At the end of last term, I think I was about as tired as I have been. I'd had a crazy few months of work, plus a big change for me and P as he started his new job in Leeds, and with training on top of all this, I was just about at the end of my tether by mid-December. But thankfully, in the middle of summer, foreseeing this very moment, we had booked a 10-day Christmas trip to Lanzarote for some proper R&R, and on 16th December, off we flew with a case full of swimming kit and a Kindle full of books and by that evening, we were sipping a G&T and watching the sunset in the delightful resort of Playa Blanca.

We soon slipped into a deeply pleasurable routine. We picked the resort for its quietness - it's basically populated by elderly Germans and young couples with small babies, with a couple of small sandy beaches, low levels of wind compared to some other parts of the island and plenty of cafes to while away the hours of almost constant sunshine, with temperature staying consistently between 20-25 degrees throughout. And then there is the swimming:

Every morning, I would swim back and forth along this route for two or three hours a day - a one-mile round trip in gloriously benign waters, completely protected from the various boat / ferry / jet-ski / powerboat traffic which is kept further off-shore by an intermittent buoy-line. The water is clear, relatively calm and teeming with fish, and although my forays back and forth between the bays attracted a certain amount of curious pointing from the promenade that connects the two beaches, I was left splendidly alone to swim to my heart's content. It was hardly hard training - I rarely mustered anything more dramatic than a sedate paddle, and the conditions were so benign that it barely counts as sea swimming. But still, it got some miles in my shoulders and left me intoxicated with the pleasure of it all.

And then we sat around and read, and I gobbled up book after book after book, ranging from  biographies of George Mallory and of Robert Scott, a history of TB, fiction (Rose Tremain, Hilary Mantel, Pat Barker), a book about the strategic incarceration of troublesome family members in lunatic asylums in the 19th century, and ethnographies of mushrooming, women who collect porcelain dolls, and prostitution (that's three different studies, by the way, not one complicated and unlikely one).

The end result is that on Boxing Day, having enjoyed our traditional Christmas dinner the day before of beans on toast (we don't really 'do' Christmas...), we reluctantly made our way back to the UK, replete with swimming and reading, and utterly rested. Not the most exciting of holidays by many standards (although we did have a fabulous day out visiting volcanoes and volcanic caves), but SO appreciated.

Term is about to start and I expect everything will start to gallop out of control again shortly, but I feel like a different person compared to a month ago. I've got an exciting swimming year ahead, but I'm in good shape and feeling pretty optimistic about it all at the moment. Oh....and there's a book to write, which is exciting and terrifying in fairly equal proportions.

Let the year begin...