Thursday, 25 November 2010

Training news

Great news - I met up with Robin Leonard, who used to coach the Masters section at CCSC until earlier this year, when he very sensibly decided that there was more to life than getting up at 4.30 every Tuesday morning. Anyway, he's very generously agreed to help me get my new training regime underway by writing sets for me. This is fabulous, as it saves me from having to try and manufacture sessions all the time, and there's more chance this way that I will actually do that speed work that I promised myself I would do after the sobering lessons of the Channel swim. Robin is the master of fiendish sets of suffering, so I'm looking forward to a winter of quality training.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Catalina Channel

Exciting news - I've just signed my contract for a Catalina Channel swim on 20 July, 2011.

Life after club training...

It's been a strange week since making the decision to leave the club, but things are starting to come together.

The Masters section coach was palpably unconcerned by the fact that I no longer felt included within the club's activities, and my posting on my Facebook page that I had decided to leave because the focus on pool competition did not meet my training needs was met with a very snotty posting from someone who I had swum with for several years that two new international level swimmers had recently joined and how great it was. Add to this the fact that another non-competing, mostly open-water swimmer was told that because of "over-crowding" on Wednesdays and Fridays, she would no longer be able to use her once-a-week membership on those days (limiting her to days that her schedule wouldn't allow her to attend). The implementation of this concocted nonsense occurred while at the same time, new competing members are being actively recruited, giving the lie to the overcrowding excuse that was clearly designed those deemed to be of no value to the club. So, all of this convinces me that I have made the right decision and I am not interested in swimming in a club that has so little imagination about what swimming is / can be.

At the heart of the recent transformation in the club's ethos is the awarding of Beacon programme status last Spring - a move that has radically shifted the focus of the club towards competition. I did a bit of research about the programme, and for those who don't know, here's an explanatory extract from a paper by Nick Sellwood (ASA Talent and Development Manager):

"The business structure of the Beacon programme is a unit that is an evolving, integrated and vertically managed business unit that creates a quality assured environment for the delivery at all stages in the talent pathways, embracing lifelong participation".

All clear? No? Perhaps this will help...

"The Beacon programme will provide quality assured programmes of coaching and development and where appropriate competition at every stage of the talent pathway from Foundation to World Class Podium and encompassing lifelong participation in aquatics. This is achieved with an integrated programme where all aspects of the development process are effectively and efficiently interlinked".

Aside from the fabulous dissociation of words from meaning in this management nonsense, at the heart of the programme is the goal of focusing intensive competitive training on the country's relatively scarce 50m pools. In itself, I don't have a problem with trying to nurture top level talent; what is not clear is how Masters swimming fits into this, especially since, as the ASA acknowledges on the Masters section of its website, the majority of Masters swimmer don't compete.

Ultimately, I can see why the club might have chosen to go down the Beacon programme route, since it brings with it funds, coaches, pool access, land training and sports science support, and status. Plus, I know that many of my former club colleagues are really enjoying the competition-focused training sessions and weekend galas, which is great. What I regret is that as club members, we were never consulted about the Beacon programme and what its impact would be; and that so little regard is given to other forms of swimming which, with a little flexibility and imagination, could easily be included within even such a competitively oriented Masters swimming context.

So, while I think it's a shame and utterly unnecessary, me and my lifelong participation in aquatics are happy to go elsewhere.

And with that in mind, I'm hoping to have a new coaching arrangement in place shortly, and have transferred most of my training to a pool belonging to a local private school which offers some public memberships of its pool and gym facilities out of school hours. It's close to home, and has the advantage of being open late in the evening (until 10pm) and is always virtually empty after 8-ish. I'm really enjoying being back in the pool and getting back down to training.

More news to follow shortly about training, Catalina, plus a very exciting opportunity next April....

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Big decision...

The big news is that I have decided to leave the City of Coventry Swimming Club Masters section and to go solo. I feel quite sad about this as I've had some fantastic periods of training with the club, and I'm sure that overall my swimming has benefitted from it. However, the ethos of the club is changing significantly, moving increasingly towards a focus on pool competition, and away from what I felt used to be a more inclusive, participatory training environment that was focused on personal improvement, fitness and skill development rather than racing / winning. This, ultimately, is a question of personal preferences and inclinations, and although I regret that there wasn't more discussion with members about a shift that was more imposed than democratically agreed, I wish those continuing to train, swim and compete with the club every success.

As for me, I now need to sit down and work out a training plan that will enable me to build on the work of the last year in the most efficient and effective way possible over the winter so that I'm ready to hit the open water in May.

A big change, and an exciting challenge.

Friday, 12 November 2010

False start

Well, there I was, all fired up with excitement about my new swim challenge and ready to start building back into training when I got walloped by a weird viral chest infection - energy levels up and down; high fevers; generally feeling yuk. Finally, after over a week of just trying to straggle through the working day, I'm starting to feel better, and hit the pool last night for a gentle 1.5km. Hopefully, by next week, I'll be able to going again.

So, a bit of a false start, but there's no rush.

I did, however, have a meeting with the nice people at Elab at Warwick University - they're going to design a website for the research project. More about that when they've worked their magic.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The next challenge...

Exciting news!!!

After a great deal of back and forth, I've decided that my next challenge is going to be the Catalina Channel. It's a similar length of swim to the English Channel - 21 miles from the island of Santa Catalina to the mainland to the south of Los Angeles at similar water temps to the EC, but with less tidal influence. A very exciting prospect, a tough swim, and a great chance to build on this year's swimming.

None of the details have been ironed out yet, but that will get done as and when. The important thing is that I've decided, and now I can start focusing on what needs to be done to make this happen.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Banning Channel swimming?

There was a programme on the magazine TV show Inside Out South East last night which included a segment on Channel swimming. The segment was about the contribution of Channel swimming to the Dover economy, but also included interviews with the English and French coastguards expressing concern about the possibility of an accident / collision, with the French coastguard calling for a ban. You can see the show here (for the next 6 days).

There's been a huge amount of media hype around this story, and I, and many other swimmers, were getting calls yesterday to comment (even though no-one had seen the full programme at that point, beyond what had been teased by the BBC - so, in my case, at least, I declined). I don't know what the reality of it is yet, but do know that while demand is rising from swimmers, the number of boats / attempted crossings has been relatively stable over the last few years, following agreements with coastguards limiting the number of boats etc. Plus, the pilots have considerable expertise (plus navigational and communications equipment) onboard, and safety is unquestionably the top priority... as is evidenced by the excellent safety record within the sport.

I'm sure that life would be easier for the coastguard and shipping if the Channel boats weren't there, but this seems a little melodramatic (plus these comments were prompted by a media interview with very leading questions, so it's not clear how strong the feeling actually is that it should be banned). It remains to be seen what happens with this, but for now, it seems like there's a lot of hype and a good news story...

As an aside, I was delighted to see my friend, and former Channel relay co-swimmer, Jamie Goodhead featured in the film. Unfortunately, his swim was aborted after one of the crew fell ill, but he looks great in the water, and I'm sure will be back next year.

And one final comment on the film - they say that David Walliams is responsible for the growth in Channel swimming, but I'm not sure that that's the least not on its own. The increased demand in Channel swimming is happening alongside the growth of other ultra-endurance sports (e.g. Ironman), so there's clearly something else happening too at the wider social level.

I, in the mean time, have been doing some thinking and making some decisions - more news to follow shortly.