Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Second time around....

Exciting news... I just booked another Channel swim.

I've been thinking about it for a while, but watching everyone do their six hour swims in Malta made me realise how much I wanted to have another go at it. So, somewhere around the 15-20 July, 2013, I'm off for a second time around. I'll be swimming with the same pilot as last year - Paul Foreman, and have a number 2 slot.

And why do it again? Well...I loved last year, but the whole business also had a huge amount of anxiety attached to it. I'm not suggesting that I'm going to stroll blithely into this one, but I'm hoping that now that I've got more experience, and more confidence, I'll be able to enjoy the build up to the swim more and really capitalise on how much I love the swimming itself. This is not about trying to "beat" my previous time (16 hours and 9 mins) - every Channel swim is different, and I just want to see what it's like on a different day...and just to see if I can do it again or whether this was a one-off. But mostly, I just love having that goal there to structure my training, and by extension, my working life too.

I picked an earlier date for this swim than my first one. When I booked my 2010 swim (in 2008), I was very concerned about the cold, but since then I've learned that this isn't really a huge issue for me, so I can tolerate an earlier swim (I think). Also, last year, I allowed the swim to completely consume my life, and while this was part of the fun of it, it's not necessarily sustainable in the long term... and one of my core goals now is to find a sustainable way to stay involved in the sport whilst still having a life outside of it. By swimming earlier in the season, I'm hoping that I can basically sustain my winter training as it currently is (20-30km per week in the pool, plus some running, gym work, core etc), and use May and June to build time in the water and get some back-to-back long swims in. Then Peter and I will still have August / Sept to do some trips together that don't involve him sitting in a boat feeding me jelly babies.

We've also set aside 2012 as the summer of leisure when neither of us will do an all-consuming challenge - a chance to do some walking, cycle-touring etc, as well as some shorter OW events (for me) and bike events / triathlons (for Peter). I'm even thinking about detouring back into triathlon for a change of pace - I'm shockingly bad at it, and a disgrace to the sport, but it's quite good fun, as long as I can find a suitably sedate (and short) event.

So...that's my plan. Of course, Catalina is far from done yet and I don't want to get ahead of myself, but the long timeline for booking a Channel swim means that I have to start thinking about this now.

All very exciting.

Open water weekend

At last, the open water season really gets going...and what a weekend. Unlike this time last year, when unseasonally cold weather had left the water barely in double figures when the local lakes opened for swimming, a week of glorious sunshine meant that both Bosworth and Swan Pool (my usual local haunts) were around the 16 degree mark and ready for some decent swimming...and without so much as even a post-swim shiver.

So, on Saturday morning, I went to Bosworth and did 90 minutes, followed by a splendid breakfast in the van with Peter, who had cycled over, and Penny, who had been swimming as part of her Ironman training. To be honest, this wasn't my finest swim - I felt tired after about an hour and bit out of sorts, and I didn't feel like I was swimming very well. Perhaps I was just out of practice - I know from previous years that it has taken a while to get back into the mind-set. But it felt good to get the open water phase of the training going.

Then, on Sunday, I went to Swan Pool and did another 90 minutes...although this time, I absolutely loved it and the time flew by. The water was crisp and relatively clear, since even though it's been warm, it's too soon for the weed to have come up (although I did have a rather odd coating of green slime trapped under my costume when I got out). This was a much better swim, and I felt more like my old self again, happy in the water.

On Sunday night, Peter and I drove down to Lechlade in the Cotswolds in the campervan, where we joined Neil and Jessica, and Neil's parents, on a campsite right next to the Thames. Lovely. We had originally planned for Neil and I to swim on Monday, with Jessica paddling for us, but unfortunately, Neil had come down with a bug, so in the end, I swam with Jessica in the canoe, and Neil, his parents, and various dogs following alongside on the Thames path (although we lost them at one point when they were lured away by a riverside cream tea). The swim was just glorious, and the higher up the river we went, the more deserted it was. At one point, I thought that we were going to run out of swimmable water as it was getting quite shallow, reedy and muddy, but then suddenly, it opened back out and deepened, and we spent a happy half hour in glass flat, tree-sheltered river completely uninterrupted by anything other than the occasional duck. Perfect.

I had a wonderful couple of hours of swimming, and by the end of it, felt like I'd relocated my distance-swimming head and could have swum for hours. I'm still not in anything like the shape I need to be for Catalina, but this was a great first step....plus a wonderful way to spend a sunny bank holiday. Many thanks to Jessica and Neil for a great day.

In the mean time, Peter was doing a 107 mile bike event around the Cotswolds - a long, hot, hilly day as part of his preparation for cycling the Etape this summer (a mountain stage of the Tour de France). It was fantastic to see him cross the finish line (and in remarkably good shape too).... another step towards his goal.

So, a fabulous bank holiday weekend - wonderful weather, lots of time doing activities that we love (swimming for me and cycling for Peter), and a chance to charge up our batteries ready for the beginning of term.

Monday, 18 April 2011

What seasickness looks like...

This is what seasickness looks like....

Courtesy of Julie Ryan, this was taken on the boat in Malta on our play day to the island of Comino....and the wind howled and the boat rocked...and my inner ear gave up trying and I spent hours wanting to die. I am genuinely very rubbish on boats, but I really wish I could find a way to stop it - not least because I'd just love to be able to help out on Channel swims. Ho hum.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Technical problems

As regular readers might already know, I have a weakness for small electronic gadgets, and especially those that monitor, measure and record various sporting activities. This has been a great source of frustration for me in the world of swimming, since the opportunities to acquire kit are fairly limited. However, watches remain one area of possibility. I wrote a while ago about my Poolmate watch, upon which I am heavily reliant to keep count for me in pool training. However, splendid though it is for the pool, it is quite big, and the screen visibility is not great, so I prefer not to use it outdoors. So...enter my lovely little blue Timex Ironman ladies watch, which Peter bought me for my birthday in January - small, good screen, and nice to look at.

I took it to Malta with me, but sadly, for all its prettiness, it turns out that it's not sufficiently waterproof, and on day 4, it died a sudden death and couldn't be revived. I knew the game was up when I pushed one of the buttons and water squirted out. All very disappointing.

I really needed a watch for the trip, so asked my dear friend, Julie Ryan (who was coming out to the second Swimtrek week) to pick me up the cheapest thing she could find that wasn't too big, didn't look like it had been made in the 1980's, and promised to be waterproof. And this is what she found - for the princely sum of £17:

It's not beautiful, but it's small and light, and it ended up surviving multiple dunkings, underwater button-pushing and general abuse and lack of care. So... my new policy is to avoid the expensive sports watches for OW swimming, and stick with the cheap ones. At least if this one breaks, it won't cost a fortune to replace.


I just got back from a couple of weeks working for Swimtrek on two of their long distance training camps in Gozo, Malta. These were my first guiding trips, and I was on a pretty steep learning curve but a few things stand out. Firstly, I only learned to drive a powerboat on a weekend course a couple of months ago, so becoming more comfortable with boat handling was a top priority. I was a bit like a driver who has just passed her test - basically safe, but lacking the spontaneity and embodied comfort that comes with familiarity and practice. So, I was assigned lots of boat time to get my hand in, and after just a couple of days, was feeling so much more comfortable and confident at the helm - a nice feeling after the awkwardness of the beginning. One of my tasks was to pick up the buoys out of the bay at the end of the swims - the perfect chance to practice pulling alongside an object (or person) in a controlled manner without mowing them down. However, necessarily erring on the side of caution, I didn't always get it quite right first time, requiring some very undignified leaning and reaching...on this occasion with a camera-wielding audience!

But when I wasn't dabbling about with the buoys, I was pootling around the mouth of the bay in the gorgeous sunshine, keeping an eye on the swimmers. Glorious.

When I wasn't in the boats, I was helping out with feeds, offering encouragement and occasionally helping to shepherd wavering swimmers back into the water. I loved this part of the trip - it's quite inspiring to see the swimmers really pushing themselves to stay in and complete the swims.

It was also amazing to see how much support the swimmers gave each other, and I lost count of the times that other swimmers paused to encourage a wavering swimmer to keep going, or when swimmers who had already got out jumped back in to do a few extra laps alongside someone who was having a wobble. I think that one of the finest moments of the entire trip was the sight last week of four women swimming the final hour of the six hour swim together, all side by side in a line, supporting one swimmer who had already far exceeded her own expectations of herself that day but who was starting to struggle a little. From my position on the boat, it was utterly inspiring to watch.

And perhaps my favourite moment of the whole trip - our little jaunt out of the bay and along the cliff base during the six hour swim in the second week. Sadly, the conditions had been too rough in the first week to do this, but for the second group, the weather was blissfully calm and they were able to enjoy two hours of glorious sea swimming, free from the more psychologically challenging task of swimming round and round the bay. The scenery and conditions were just breath-taking as you can see below (I'm in the little white boat you can just see in the middle of the picture).

Sadly, it wasn't all plain sailing, and a relaxing day-trip to the island of Comino in the second week proved to be something of an ordeal for me. The wind was howling, and the hours on a rocking boat took its toll on me so that by the time we were heading back through the swell, I was virtually incapacitated by seasickness, unable to focus my eyes or move. It's so frustrating, and embarrassing, but I just can't find anything that stops it happening. All suggestions gratefully received.

But hats off to all the swimmers over the last couple of weeks for their hard work and fantastic swims. And thanks to Mia, Nick and Freda for their support and advice during the trip.

And now, it's back to training...and with just 3 months to go, I need to pick things up a bit and get some serious work done. Exciting, though....especially now that the open water season is about to start. Let another summer of swimming begin.... plus, I may have some news soon about exciting future plans which I'm currently cooking up...