Sunday, 1 September 2013

What's next? The Long Swim takes a break...

Lots of people have been asking what's next? In particular, there's been some speculation as to whether I'll be having an end-of-season crack at the Channel after my cancellation in July. Well, I can guarantee that the answer to this is a resounding NO. I'm done for the season and am happy to finish on a high. I'm tired from a long season of training and swimming, the swimming coffers have been scraped clean by the unplanned but utterly splendid return to New York and I need to turn my attention to other very pressing matters - new job, house move etc. In addition, my swimming book is still far from written (although I'm finally making some progress with this), and Peter and I are looking forward to spending some time together walking, cycling and generally getting to know our new home. There is, so I've heard, life outside of marathon swimming, so it's time for a break from long swims to focus on some other things for a couple of years.

Having said that ... at the moment, I do see this hopefully as a hiatus rather than an end to my long swimming career, and I still have a wish list tucked away (some or all of the 8 Bridges; the Arizona SCAR swim challenge; Lake Tahoe; Zurich....). But for now, these all get to stay on the 'maybe one day' list.

So instead, I'm going to focus on my swimming technique, trying to chip away at the many flaws and bad habits that are (a) slowing me down; and more importantly, (b) causing injury. I've been having niggles with my left shoulder this year, and this escalated significantly during the swim last week. It's fairly obviously a combination of a stroke defect compounded by overuse, so it should be easy to fix - both by not overusing it for a while, and by sorting out the problem that's causing it in the first place.

I set myself a similar challenge in the winter of 2011-12, focusing on stroke correction and determined drilling; the end result was a stroke that was greatly improved (in some key areas, but not others), and an increase in long-distance pace from around 2.95-3 km/h to 3.15-3.2 km/h. It's hardly earth-shattering as great leaps forward go, but it's something, especially without any significant increases in fitness. However, bodies really cling to their habits of movement; my flailing, elbow-sinking left arm was never really resolved and the rest of me tends to fold back into its comforting old ways over time and distance, especially given my tendency towards inattention when swimming. So now's the time for another go at sorting that out...and with any luck, I'll not only deal with the shoulder problem, but also pick up a bit of extra pace. For the 8 Bridges, for example, some of the stages demand a long distance 27-28 min/mile pace, which I'm still a good couple of minutes short of, so if I want to aim for that in the future, there's work to be done.

So, that's the core plan - to work on my stroke without the distraction of a pending long swim. It is  time-manageable goal and an investment for if / when I return to long swimming. I still need to find myself a stroke correction coach to work with, but at least I have a goal to focus on. And in the mean time, I've been watching the Swim Smooth Catch Masterclass DVD, which seems like a good place to start - the opening sequences might as well be entitled "all the stuff Karen needs to sort out". Mostly, though, I just watch it and fantasise about moving to wherever that pool they use is.

The second element of "what's next?" is a cautious return to Masters swimming. By all accounts, the Leeds Masters Swimming Club is a thriving and welcoming training community, running multiple sessions each week. I must admit that the thought of going back to club swimming fills me with some trepidation after a good few years of training largely alone - I can hold my own when it comes to swimming a long way slowly on freestyle, but after that, it's not pretty. But it's a chance to learn, and perhaps to become a better all-round swimmer, as well as giving me a venue for keeping up my general fitness and the opportunity to make swimming friends in my new home town. Plus at some point I really need to learn to tumble turn without swirling my arms around in frantic windmills, so this might be my chance.

And the final part of "what's next?" is that I've been all take and not a lot of give with my swimming recently, benefitting hugely from the volunteerism of others without necessarily being in a position to reciprocate. I can't go on the boats for Channel swims and the like because....well, if you've ever seen me on a boat, you'll understand... but I do have a kayak and am hoping to offer myself services as a paddler next summer - perhaps for BLDSA events, since I know that a lot of people new to the sport want to try those but are stuck for kayak support. If anyone reading this finds themselves in that position, do get in touch and if I can help out, I will. 

So that's what's next. It doesn't have the spectacle or excitement of a long swim in the planning, but it's a way to keep a toe in the water while I'm busy with other bits of life. 

I've also decided to retire the blog for a while. I'm quite attached to my little blog, and it's fun to play with a different style of writing from my working life on a topic that I enjoy, but I think that it will be good to let it rest for a bit, for two reasons. Firstly, I doubt that the everyday reality of stroke correction and drilling in between writing new lectures is going to make for thrilling reading so I'd rather take a break than bore everyone to death; and secondly, a very tiny minority of visitors to the blog seem to have forgotten that it's just a bit of fun and it's only swimming. I've received a small number of extremely unpleasant anonymous messages recently - about my decision to cancel my Channel swim, and also following my return to New York for the MIMS "Quiet" Swim - and given that I'm not going to be up to much of interest anyway, I think it might be useful to step back and let everyone take a breath. Hopefully, both me and the blog will be back, refreshed, rejuvenated and with a much more disciplined left arm, at some point in the future. 

So it's been a great summer. And now, onto what's next...