Sunday, 25 April 2010

Market Bosworth

One of my local training spots - Market Bosworth Water Park - opened for swimming while I was in Malta. Apparently, on 17 April, it was only 9 degrees, and they all just did a 20 minute (wetsuit) dip. But it's a very shallow lake, so warms up (and cools down) fairly quickly, so I figured that given the week of sunshine the UK's had, I should be fine, so I headed down there on Saturday. I took my wetsuit (just in case they weren't happy for me to go in without because of the temp), but it was 12.5 degrees, and the nice people at 1485 Tri Club (who host the sessions) said it was fine (insane, but fine), so in I went. It certainly had a bit of a bite to it, but I decided to aim for 5 laps (c. 3500m) and then see how I felt. The sun was out, and I didn't feel too bad at 5, so headed round for number 6. Half way round, though, I realised that I couldn't really feel my hands or feet and decided to call it a day at 6. I was obviously colder than I had been feeling, because by the time I hit the changing rooms, I was shaking furiously - arms and legs shivering far more dramatically than anything I had in Gozo. It's not a completely unpleasant sensation, but it's just a bit unnerving because it's so involuntary. I kept trying to remember Nick Adam's advice that as long as you don't die from hypothermia, you always fully recover - it just takes some time and gentle warming. Still, I could barely carry a cup of hot chocolate from the counter to the table, and it went on for a good hour, gradually lessening until I started to feel warm again.

So, a good result I think. I've not been in water that temperature since May last year, and then I didn't stay in as long as I did yesterday. I did get pretty chilled, but generally coped okay. I also tried out a much more positive, aggressive approach to getting in which worked well - up to my waist, then straight in without dithering about. I'm going back over there on Thursday to try and do at least 7 laps.

Gozo training (week 2)

This was my research week - the plan was that I would observe the next group as they went through the same training course as I'd done the previous week. However, the Iceland volcano erupted on the last day of the previous tour, not only stranding almost the entire group, but also preventing most of the next group from getting out to Gozo. I felt so bad for them - I would have been so frustrated if that were me. And I was so disappointed as I realised over the coming days that Julie, Lisa and Becky wouldn't be able to make it. I was so looking forward to seeing them. In the end, the tour started with three swimming guests - Ted (from the US), Roberta (from Switzerland) and Paul (from the UK, but who had travelled out before the volcano erupted). Birgit arrived two days later at the end of an epic train journey across the continent from Germany.

In research terms, this wasn't ideal, in that I really needed a greater number of people for the observation to be effective (e.g. to follow interaction / responses / different physical responses to the swimming etc). So, in the earlier part of the week, I divided my time between observing and swimming - so I did the 2 hour swim on the Sunday, and the 3 hour afternoon swim on the Monday - but observed the other swims, including the 6 hours, dividing my time between the shore and the rib. One of the things that really struck me was how hard the 6 hour swim seems when you watch it from out of the water - it seems like such a long time. I was completely awestruck to watch their efforts, and was amazed how you see immediately when someone's going through a bit of a bad patch, or is feeling really good. I was so proud for them when they all finished their six hours.

Something that I realised last week was that there is no time on these trips to do proper research interviews (although I did a lot of informal chatting), so I focused instead on taking fieldnotes, and will arrange to go and visit people to do interviews properly over May. So, when we weren't swimming, I set myself in my temporary office in the hotel cafe to write up my notes and continue working on the interview questionnaire, based on the things that I'd learned during the two weeks...

Sometimes, I love my job!

As the week progressed, I started to worry about my own flights home. I was due to fly home on Thursday evening (22 April), but by Wednesday, Ryan Air had cancelled all flights through to Thursday lunchtime, so I was starting to sweat. But happily, the situation suddenly changed and the airspace reopened, so by a squeak, I was able to fly home as planned. Phew. Although, there are worse places to be stranded if it had come to that....

Thanks to Mia Russell, Andy Williams and Nick Adams for being so accommodating about the research - it's hugely appreciated. Also, thanks to Birgit, Roberta, Ted and Paul for being such wonderful trip companions.

Gozo training (week 1) to Gozo I went on 9 April for the first of two Swimtrek long-distance training camps. I wasn't just being greedy - I had arranged with Swimtrek to go on the first as a swimmer, and then to observe the second one as part of the research. All very exciting.

I was very excited to get back into the open water after a pool-confined winter, but was feeling a bit nervous about it all, although within a day of being in the water, I felt pretty confident that I was going to be fine. On the first day of swimming, we did an acclimatisation swim where we were grouped into three speed groups, and then did a one-hour swim, followed by a further two hours in the afternoon. As always, I found the first hour a bit awkward and uncomfortable, but managed to find my rhythm for the second, which built my confidence for the next day, which I remembered from last year as being very tough - quite a big step up.

We drove out to a big, wide bay, and followed an out-and-back swim route of about 800 metres. It was a cloudy day, with a nippy wind blowing across the surface, creating a bit of a chill. I think that everyone found the first swim (2.5 hours) pretty challenging, and a few people were quite hypothermic by the end of it. There was some quite spectacular shivering when we had changed and were trying to warm ourselves up on hot drinks and pasta. I felt okay, but like everyone, it was quite hard to get back in for the 3 hour swim in the afternoon; I just kept reminding myself that it is always warmer in the afternoon than the morning. As always, it took an hour to settle down, but somewhere during the second hour, it all seemed to really come together for me, and I managed to find that quiet rhythmic head space that I had settled into last year. After that, the swim just got better and better for me, and I picked up the pace a bit in the final hour which felt really good.

Then came the 6 hour swim. I felt much better about this than I did last year - much less nervous, and in much better shape physically. But still - if you think about it too much, 6 hours seems like an awfully long time to be in the sea. I was bumped up into the pink hats, which bothered me a bit as they were all quite competitive, with an impressive turn of speed when pressed, but I tried to remind myself that while I don't really have much speed, I am fairly consistent over distance so with any luck, it should balance out over time. We did two hours in Xlendi Bay, which is a bit dull as it's fairly small (I did 6-7 laps per hour), but this gave me chance to get my awkward hour out of the way and to settle down properly. Then we headed out of the bay and along the amazing coastline - dramatic, vertical cliffs, dropping into deep blue water. The morning clouds had cleared into beautiful sunshine, and there was a rolling swell, but it was quite regular, and I quickly found a gentle rhythm that enabled me to go with the rolling waves, rather than fighting them (as I had done on my first coastal swim last year). I had none of the problems with balance that I had last year, and found myself slicing happily through the water. It felt amazing.

We fed once outside the bay off the boat, and all the rest of the feeds were at the bay steps (I'm in the middle of the picture at the front). I was fine with the maxim, but found that I was not able to keep any of the chocolate treats we were given down (mini-rolls / milky way) - good to know for the summer. I can't believe that my body is rejecting chocolate...what is the world coming to?

By the time the final hour came around, I was feeling a bit fatigued, but it was all going really well. I had no injury pain at all - just general tiredness - and although I had slowed down a little bit, I still felt good and like I was swimming comfortably. In my mind, I told myself that I could just poddle round this last hour, and then I'd be done, but then Nick Adams (one of the guides) drew alongside me in the rib, leaned over, and yelled "SWIM FASTER!!" We'd talked the previous day about the potential need to really go for it in the final stages of the swim to beat the tide, so this was clearly practice for that. I resisted the urge to yell something rude back, and mustered as much effort as I could for the last 45 minutes. My shoulders burned, and although I felt like I was racing flat out, I'm not sure how much my pace actually picked up....but still, good practice.

And then, it was over, and I climbed out to a congratulatory hug from Freeda Streeter. Job done, and another major milestone towards my Channel swim ticked off.

Although I'd felt fine in the water, I was suddenly overwhelmed with tiredness once I'd got out, making dressing a bit of a struggle... especially whilst trying to limit the amount of flesh flashed at passing strangers who were suddenly confronted by 15 people stripping off and then piling on layer after layer of clothing, even though it was gloriously toasty out and everyone else was wearing shorts and T-shirts.

But once we were dressed and warming up, there was time to reflect on our swims and enjoy each others' successes.

The next day, we were rewarded with a play day - a trip to Comino. We tried to swim across, but encountered a huge cloud of jellyfish and had to pile back into the boat. Then we motored the rest of the way into a beautiful bay, where we moored up, went for an amble, tucked into a delicous lunch on the top deck, and then settled down on deck for a snooze. Then, we went for a second dip in the bay, ducking through caves, and paddling lazily along the cliff sides. Lovely.

So, all in all, a good training week for me. I felt great in the water, swam well, and managed to tap back into that quiet headspace that seems to work for me in terms of long distance swimming. It felt like a really good start to the next phase of the training.
Many thanks to Swimtrek, and especially to Nick Adams, Mia Russell and Freeda Streeter for looking after us and keeping us safe.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Radio interview

I got a call last week from the producer of the local radio morning show, who'd stumbled across my blog and wanted me to go on and talk about the swim. I went this morning, and was interviewed by the lovely Annie Othen. I always find this kind of thing terrifying, but I think it came out okay. You can listen to it here for the next week. (my bit is 10.30 into the show). If you have chance, you should also listen to the interview (at 42.15) with fellow Coventry triathlete, Mick McCann, talking about a friend who first inspired him to take up running, and who was sadly killed in a car accident. It's really moving stuff, but a lovely way to remember a friend.

Only three days to go before I'm off to Malta - I can't wait...if only for some sunshine. My cold has all gone, and I'm raring to get my teeth into the really serious portion of the training - with just over 4 months to go until my swim, it's time to really dig in.

Thursday, 1 April 2010


Aaargh - I can't believe I've caught another cold. I was up all night feeling absolutely horrible, and am no better today. I just hope it's a bit of a sniffle, and that it will come and go before I go to Malta. I guess this might explain why I felt so tired after the 9km swim - I was probably coming down with it but didn't really realise. But it's SO frustrating.