Monday, 23 May 2011

6 hours at Swan Pool

I woke up yesterday to the sound of the wind buffeting the side of the house, and knew that didn't bode well for what was to follow - my first 6 hour swim of the season, at Swan Pool lake. My second inkling that it was going to be a tough day came when I was driving to the lake, and at an unexpected exposed point on the M6, the van got knocked sideways almost into the next lane by a gust of wind, forcing me to drive the rest of the motorway stretch at a cautious 40 mph...wipers on as the rain started to fall.

When I arrived at the lake, the wind was whipping up the water, creating white-crested waves that were smacking against the quay. Lovely. But you don't get to choose the conditions, and so, with briefing done, food box set out, suncream on (a triumph of optimism over reality) and vaseline applied, off we went.

It's been a good while since I've done a long swim, and my fitness, while okay, is not as good as it was this time last year, but I was still reasonably confident that I could stay in for the six hours....although I was less confident about how far I would cover. The water was bouncing all over the place at the bottom end of the lake - it was blowing a gale, and the chop was smacking into the quay and then bouncing away, creating slappy, unpredictable waves and generally making life difficult. It was better at the top end, although the strong winds were chilly across the shoulders and were still making enough lumps and bumps to make sighting the buoys difficult. There is something weird about the light at Swan Pool, and when it clouds over or the sun starts to set, it becomes very monotone, and hard to distinguish water from shore from sky - I seemed to spend a lot of time peering about looking for buoys, which in turn caused me to get cramps in my hip abductors after a few hours.

The first few hours were hard going, and I abandoned my original plan to feed every four laps (c. 2 miles, or roughly every hour), and did five laps between the first couple of feeds - having got myself going, I didn't really want to stop and let myself ponder how hard I was finding it all. On my stops, I guzzled down maxim and the occasional jelly baby, which worked their usual magic. I did make one mistake though - I'd got a bit bogged down beforehand in the idea that it would be cold, so had made up half-filled bottles of double-strength Maxim that I planned to dilute with warm water from a pump flask (like I did in the Channel). In hindsight, this was a mistake...firstly, because it made me think about being cold, and secondly, because it was just too much of a faff. I should have just stuck with bottles of ready-to-drink Maxim, which would have been fine.

As the day progressed, the number of swimmers in the water diminished, and various relay swimmers came and went, until only Rachael Cadman and I (both in the pic below) were left. Rachael is training for the Enduroman Arch to Arc this summer - running from Marble Arch to Dover, swimming the Channel, then cycling to Paris. Unimaginable!! Swimmers are allowed to wear wetsuits for the event, which is why she is wearing one for this - her successful qualification swim. Well done, Rachael.

SLCSC President, Richard Davies, handed out certificates at the end - always a nice moment, knowing that the job is done. In the end, I managed c. 12.5 miles (25 laps) in the six hours, which is pretty what I managed in the previous two years - I may be a bit of a plodder, but I'm nothing if not consistent.

I generally love doing long swims...there's something very appealing about starting the day knowing that, for that day, I'm not going to do anything else except swim. No work, no juggling commitments...just swimming. This swim was not quite so pleasurable - a combination of not being quite as fit yet as I would like to be (it's still pretty early in the season), plus the difficult conditions made it quite challenging. I had to dig in a bit during the middle hours of the swim, and although the conditions settled down towards the end of the swim, I was still counting down the laps and looking forward to getting out.

But on the plus side, it feels really good to have done it, and it's nice to have my first 6 hour swim of the season under my belt nice and early.

Many thanks to Dan Earthquake for organising the event (and whose pics I've pilfered for this blog), and to the Birmingham Lifeguards for keeping us safe.

Next stop...Jersey.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Cold water kit

Many of those who have been on Swimtrek's long distance training camp in Malta will have benefited from Nick Adam's really useful seminar on the kit that he takes on a Channel swim. But after the amusement that's been caused down at Swan Pool recently by my little patch of carpet, I thought I'd introduce the contents of my everyday open water kit bag - something which I've refined over the last couple of years and which enables me to get dry and start warming up as quickly as possible. This might be helpful to newer swimmers who are still experimenting with their kit and post-swim routines.

Starting with the bag - I use my Coventry Triathletes bag, which is roomy, water-resistant and generally robust.

This has a separate section in the base which is intended for wetsuit storage, but which is the perfect place for my crocs (easy to get on when cold; easy to identify on the beach in Dover among 30 other pairs); vaseline and latex gloves; sun screen; and most importantly, my little square of carpet...perfect for when you're changing on gravel paths (Swan Pool) or stoney beaches (Dover). It may look a bit daft, but it's a nice bit of comfort.

At the bottom of the main part of the bag, I keep some goggles, hats and a spare swimming costume... I can't be the only person to have driven an hour to the lake after work only to realise that I haven't brought a costume! So now, I always keep a spare in there, just in case. Plus, it's always good to have some spare goggles in case the light conditions change from what you expected, or a pair start leaking or just feeling uncomfortable for some reason.

And next...a woolly hat. Any regular open water swimmer knows how important it is to keep your head covered when you get out. This is a key part of the "routine" that people learn with Swimtrek, and down in Dover - swim hat off, give your hair a quick rub, then woolly hat on. (Then you change your top half completely, adding on all your layers, followed by your bottom half - it should all be done as soon as you get out - no standing around chatting etc). I like this one because it covers my ears too.

Some other bits - a whistle (at Swan Pool, you have to carry one down your cossie in the water in case of emergencies), plus a bottle of water to sip on before and after a swim. I also carry some wet wipes and some anti-bacterial hand gel - in general, it's better to warm up slowly rather than hopping straight into a shower after swimming (plus a lot of venues don't have showering or changing facilities), but I prefer to wipe off vaseline, suncream, and any weedy lake-gunk, at least off my face and neck, and if I'm going to be eating post-swim (which I usually do), I'll use the gel on my hands (although given how much I've probably already ingested, this may be something of a futile gesture...).

My final bit of everyday cold water kit is my padded jacket. It packs down into a nice small stuff bag - about the size of a micro-sleeping bag - and easily squeezes into the bottom corner of my bag.

And then it opens out into a light, warm jacket that really helps with the warming up process. It was quite expensive, but worth every penny - I don't go anywhere watery without it.

There is one more piece of cold water kit that's worth mentioning, although this is something of an indulgence rather than a requirement.....Bob, our campervan: a place to change out of the wind; an endless supply of hot drinks and snacks; plus, a duvet and a place to lie down should you need it.

So that's it - my cold water kit. The important thing is that you know exactly where everything is that you need, and that you can access it quickly and easily. I've found that the more you can get those routines in place, the easier it is to recover especially from colder swims, and the more you can focus on the swimming itself.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Injury uncertainty....

I've been having problems with my right wrist / thumb since I did Jersey to France in 2010. It comes and goes, mostly depending on how much swimming I'm doing, but I experienced a real flare-up of the problem while I was away with Swimtrek at the beginning of April, and it's been quite achy ever since. I was starting to get a bit concerned about it as the hard training phase for Catalina approaches, so finally made an appointment to see my local sports physio. He did a whole series of range of motion and resistance tests, and all of them were negative - the only obvious problem emerged when he poked the little square at the side of the wrist, sort of where the thumb ends (the "snuffbox".... named because that's where people would place snuff to sniff), which hurt like hell. He said that when I first told him about the injury, he thought it was maybe de Quervains - a tendon problem, which, to be honest, is more like the kind of thing I was expecting. But since the tests didn't seem to support this, he settled on the notion that it may be a stress fracture of the scaphoid. He is writing a letter to my GP to get me referred for an MRI to check this. But when I posted this tentative diagnosis on Facebook, a couple of people, including a hand surgeon who undoubtedly knows her stuff, said that this was extremely rare and an unlikely cause of the problem. So now I'm not sure what to do or think about all this.

In a way, it doesn't really make any difference, in that it's not (at the moment at least) bad enough to stop me from swimming, so it probably wouldn't change the course of action (rest where possible, try to work on my hand entry problem anyway, and press on with the training). But it's frustrating not knowing what's causing it....and there's always the worry that it will get worse and start affecting my ability to swim.

So, my plan of action for now is to speak to my GP next week (when he's got the letter from the physio), and maybe think about getting the MRI done privately if it's not too expensive if the NHS one is going to take ages.

I've been pretty fortunate overall in terms of injury, so I can't really complain. But I don't like uncertainty, and much preferred my previous strategy of being in total denial about the fact that it was hurting!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Finding my swimming head...

At last, I had one of those swims yesterday. I've been swimming regularly, churning out two hour swims and enjoying the improving water temps, but it's not been feeling particularly easy - I've been feeling quite tired and have really had to concentrate during some of the swims to make myself stay in. And then suddenly, yesterday evening, I had the most glorious swim at Swan Pool. The previous day, I'd done 7 laps in 1.45, but then yesterday, I did 8 laps (an additional 800m) in the same time. Everything felt like it was working well; I felt co-ordinated and strong; I had my swim head on. Lovely.

It helped that the water was very calm and the weather mild. Except that when I got out, the guys on the shore told me that they'd been trying to get a photo of me with the lightening in the background!!

Dan Earthquake, who runs the sessions down there, took some great photos on the previous day - lots of wind and chop on the lake, but lots of people down there having fun. There's more photos from the session on Dan's website, Cold Water Culture.

Amazing picture

This amazing picture was taken by Michael Ellis and posted on the Channel swimmers' discussion forums. With his permission, I've copied it here because it's just such an extraordinary image. You can see Dover harbour in the bottom of the picture (by the plane's engine), and in the top left, you can see the French coast. It looks so close!

Thanks for sharing this, Michael. I bet every Channel swimmer will have this on their laptop and phone for inspiration before the end of the day!

Sunday, 1 May 2011

What a difference a week makes...

It turns out that we had been lulled into a bit of a false sense of security by last week's toasty-warm water, and even though the weather has been unseasonably nice over the last week, lower temps, plus a brisk wind, meant that the water at Bosworth and Swan Pool has dropped back down a few degrees, hovering around 13-14. Not unmanageably cold, but certainly brisk. Nevertheless, it was the first open triathlon session at Bosworth on Saturday, and over 200 people went in during the two hours...although most only went in for a relatively short time, so it wasn't too crowded. An impressive amount of neoprene was on display - not just wetsuits, but hats, bootees etc. I'm not mocking - it's better to be in the water wearing whatever makes you comfortable than not being in at all. But I have to turn a bit of a blind eye, especially at the beginning of the swim - seeing people get all rubbered up makes me think about the cold too much. I did my two hours, followed by breakfast in the van with Peter, Penny and various others dropping in as soon as they spotted that we had pastries and coffee on board.

This morning, I drove over to Swan Pool for another 2 hours...but it was a tougher swim than yesterday - a bit cooler than Bosworth, as always, plus quite a stiff wind blowing across the top of the lake, chopping the water up and blowing cold across the shoulders. I managed the first hour just fine, but then had a bit of a dip - I felt tired, and then really cold, and then generally a bit sorry for myself and was even thinking about getting out. Whatever next. I reminded myself that there are no emergencies in long-distance swimming, and there's nothing so pressing that it can't bear a 30 minute wait and that's what I did. And time speeded up, the sun shone and all was well. So, that's a decent four hours this weekend ... a good start, ready for the May build-up (and warm up, hopefully).

It was great to meet the swimmers from the Big Rick's Channel Swim Team, who are training for a relay this summer. They're aiming to break the record for the fastest relay with an average age of 40+, and are a pretty speedy bunch with impressive swimming pedigrees. They lap me every so often, but I don't take it personally. Check out their website. I was delighted to see my square of carpet feature in last week's blog.... You may mock, guys, but you know you want one.

And finally, many congrats to everyone who did the insanely hard 2Swim4Life challenge - 24 miles in 24 hours, with each mile starting on the hour. Brutal. Well done to Mark Robson and everyone else who completed the event in Guildford, and to Donal Buckley, Lisa Cummins et al who did a parallel swim in Cork. Deeply impressive.