Friday, 7 September 2018

On a scale of 1 to 10....

At the risk of this reading like episode 476 of my injury story., and since I have nothing exciting to tell by way of swimming adventures, I thought I'd offer up a quick update.

The long and the short of it is that I remain injured, but nowhere near as badly as this time last year. I've benefited from the significant expertise and care of my osteopath, Louise, at the Ilkely Osteopathic Practice, and Pilates instructor, Sarah Clough at Space: Fitness and Wellbeing, both of whom have helped me transition from constant pain and neck and shoulder immobility to an almost pain-free everyday existence. Over the year, I've cycled on an endless loop between being able to engage in modest swimming (3-5km at a time) and long periods of injury-imposed rest; each time I thought I had it on the run, back it would come once I passed the threshold of my body's tolerance, no matter how slowly and gently I approached it. I have been performing my prehab routines with religious diligence, do yoga and Pilates several times a week, and have generally been an obedient neoliberal subject trying to take responsibility for my body, but while everything that I have done has helped, nothing has managed to get to the bottom of it all, and the movement restriction and buzzing nerve aggravation in my neck / shoulder persisted. However much it receded into the background, it was always ready to jump to the fore when I got ahead of myself. More recently, this has also manifested itself in a shoulder impingement, just to add to the fun.

Amidst the frustration, I still had a fantastic summer. I kayaked for Patrick Smith in the BLDSA Coniston Vets swim, watching him swim with impressive consistency while being swamped with waves from behind in a howling gale and while I paddled frantically backwards, desperately trying not to be blown down the course away from him. Amazingly, unlike our adventure in Ullswater the year before, I even managed not to fall in, so I chalk this up as a total success. And I volunteered as a timekeeper for the BLDSA Windermere one-way swim last weekend - always a great chance to see some determined swimming in a beautiful setting. I did a bit of swimming myself too, including 4 full 9km laps of Crummock Water (separately) over the summer:

I also completed the BLDSA Champion of Champions event - a total of 9 miles across three separate swims, coming in just under the 5 hour mark - something that I was very pleased about after my appalling swimming performance over the last couple of years:

I enjoyed a glorious there-and-back swim of Buttermere with Amanda Bell too, since there are few ills that Buttermere won't cure:

And I bought an inflatable paddle board, which opened up all kinds of possibilities for bobbling about in beautiful places:

But while I have loved all of this during what has been a quite spectacular summer (who knew Cumbria could have a water shortage!?), it's not enough for me. I can't swim like I want to, and at the moment, I'm not ready to let go of long swimming.

And so, I have recently started working with sports therapist, Adam Smith, who I met through the prehab workshops organised by Active Blu's Emma Brunning, who has also been hugely helpful over the last few years in working on my stroke. After a thorough assessment, Adam agreed with my osteopath's view that this is not a vertebrae/ disc issue, but rather, is a question of tight soft tissue trapping the nerves and causing the problem. And the solution? If the problem is deep in the tissue, then the only way to resolve it is to get in there. It has to be said that this is not a pleasant process, and as a treatment experience, the more gentle approach of my osteopath / Pilates instructor is a far more pleasant way to spend an hour. As anyone who is familiar with deep tissue massage will tell you, it can be exquisitely painful, but the more you can endure, the quicker it goes in the long run. In my first session, Adam constantly asked me to rate the pain from 1-10, calibrating my tolerance for the process and tailoring it accordingly. At 3, I wondered what 10 might be like; in the brief moments that I hit double figures, I concentrated on breathing and thought about swimming. Sometimes, he announces that he's going to 'drop in' to this or that bit of my back / shoulder; it sounds so benign and friendly ('dropping in for tea'), but really isn't. Far worse than the pain, for me, is the occasional moments of what I have come to think of as 'twanging' - the easing into movement of taut muscles by strumming or peeling across them. It's not so much painful as, well..... just weird; it doesn't really hurt, but makes me feel really squeamish, like listening to someone crack their knuckles or scrape their fingernails down a blackboard. I've been trying to find the adjective to describe the whole process. I started off with 'violent', but that's not right at all since the whole experience is collaborative and consultative, as well as voluntary and temporary. Instead, I've settled on 'physical' - it's an intensely physical experience that digs to the heart of the mechanics and sensory mechanisms of the body. On a scale of 1-10, my desire to return to long swimming is about a 15, so it's all more than worth it, especially in the hands of someone who knows what's he's doing and shares my goals.

And the most important thing is that it seems to be working. Adam's theory is that while everything that I've been doing has helped, nothing has gone deep enough to cut to the core problem, and it's a persuasive thesis which is already being proven by the results - a massive increase in range of motion and flexibility, and far less pain and discomfort in my neck and shoulder. The treatment itself is leaving me quite sore and bruised, but this is of a very different quality to the injury pain and feels incredibly constructive. It also leaves me feeling completely whacked, and after each treatment I've slept as if I've done a 6 hour swim, which tells me that there's a lot more going on than I can directly perceive. Only 10 days after my first session, there's a world of difference that fills me with optimism. There are more sessions to come, to be followed by a rehab strength and conditioning programme, but hopefully, with all the necessary work, this is all preamble to a proper return to the water very soon.

So that's where things are. My long swimming days aren't over just yet.