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Can I swim the channel in a week?

2 Mar

Linked to Source

No, I don’t mean I’m thinking of swimming the channel in a week’s time – I’d be sliiightly under prepared if I did – rather that I’m wondering if I can complete the distance (22 miles) in the pool (1408 lengths) by the end of next week.

My local pool is hosting a challenge where swimmers can log the miles they swim between now and August, towards the goal of 22 miles. Apparently there are prizes, but I don’t know what yet. Of course, as soon my ‘stealth competitive’ side heard this (this is the side of me that likes racing people in the pool whilst they’re unaware that we’re racing) it perked right up. Swim the channel? Against elderly breaststrokers? Let’s obliterate theeeem!! (Don’t ask me where this comes from, I’m not particularly proud of it. Maybe I’m an attention seeker.)

Anyway, I’ll need to complete 260 lengths a day for 5 days, to add to the 112 I did today (I’ll most certainly be including my warm-ups and cool-downs, which I don’t count for my Lifeboat Challenge).

Think I can do it?

(Oh, BTW, completed mile 105 today)

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Lifeboat Swim Wk 18: Donkey Rides and Water Slides

16 Feb

The two rules of procrastination: 1) Do it today. 2) Tomorrow will be today tomorrow.

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I scream for ice cream! (by Weelakeo)

(Ah, dear blog – I thought I’d lost you down the back of the sofa.)

Here we are then in the ‘big year’ – the inspiration for my challenge target. And it seems we have a lot of news to catch up on…

Xmas in our household was most pleasant indeed and didn’t have too much of an impact on the swimming, even if I did spend the first 2 weeks of 2012 catching up on those missed 4 days of laps. I ended up catching a stinking cold later in January and was back in the same boat playing catch-up – that was worse though as I had to really allow my body to continue it’s recovery on those first few swims back.

My sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew bought me an excellent book for Xmas: Complete Conditioning for Swimming by Dave Salo (available on Amazon). It contains many exercises for general body strengthening, injury prevention, core strength, stretching and stroke specific conditioning, as well as information on diet, and structured routines. Since getting the book I’ve acquired a Swiss Ball, Medicine Ball and stretch cords that are required for a lot of the exercises. For the past few weeks I’ve been following some of the set routines, twice a week for about an hour each time, and I’m really starting to notice the difference. Some exercises, that to begin with I couldn’t do many reps on, are now much easier and some moves I’ve moved to higher resistance cords.

Champion is obviously a biter (by Pondspider)

In the last quarter of 2011 I’d been focussing a lot on building endurance through critical swim speed (CSS) sets, but decided to shift some focus back on technique. As I’ve mentioned before, a lot of times before I swim I watch a short video of Jono Van Hazel from the SwimSmooth Catch Masterclass dvd, but realised that his is not the only technique out there – since not everyone swims the, same perhaps I should be looking at other swimmers too! So yes, it was back to good ol’ Youtube. It was when watching some videos of Grant Hackett and a few other Olympic freestylers I noticed that they all show a particular way of completing the catch/pull – it’s called Early Vertical Forearm (EVF). I’d avoided this before as it’s considered a bit of an advanced technique due to a higher risk of injury if done wrong. Thankfully there are a lot of videos on the net with clear demonstrations and drills for building the stroke up. I should point out that some swimmers use a very extreme version of EVF where the elbows remain almost at the water’s surface – I think this is only possible if you have incredible flexibility, hence why I use a much shallower version. The supposed (I say supposed because once upon a time the ‘S Pull’ was considered to be correct and has since been debunked) benefits are that there is less surface area to create drag (the upper arm is much higher in the water) and also that it allows more force to be exerted. I’ve certainly found that it’s allowed me to make one of those ‘quantum leaps’ in technique level. My sprint times have dropped, quite dramatically in some instances. At the end of last year my 100m PB was 1:26 – now it’s 1:21. My 200m was around 2:58 – that’s down to 2:53. Not only that, but I’m quite consistently swimming 3:04 for my steady 200m. I’m sure that all the core and general body exercises I’ve been doing have contributed greatly too -I really feel like I’m gliding through the water now.

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The management at my local pool were kind enough to allow David and I to take a bit of film footage for something charity related I’m putting together for work. You know how you can close your eyes and picture yourself doing an action, then when you see yourself on video you realise you look nothing like that? Well yeah, I watched the footage and I didn’t like what I saw. In my mind’s eye I was Van Hazel, Hackett, Thorpe, etc. In reality I was like Moussambani. Ok, maybe not that bad. My main beef was with that stupid little whip-kick that I thought I’d stopped doing months ago. Cue daily kick drills with the Finis float. I made a lot of progress, but just couldn’t get the timing of a 4/6 beat kick right – I’d always felt that a 2 beat kick felt more natural for me, but never really gave it much attention. For the last week I’ve actually been doing it pretty consistently (making sure to point those toes!) and much like the EVF, it seems to have made quite a difference – I’m now gliding along even more. Obviously there’s still pleeenty of room for improvement, but I’m hopeful that with a bit more CSS training I can break the 6 min barrier for 400m within a week or two. I haven’t swum a mile in a while, but I’m confident that I can beat my previous 25:46 time – my aim is to get into the 24s by the Great London Swim at the end of May.

As you can see from the route map and progress board from last Friday, I’m still well on track for my challenge – I may have to pop into Great Yarmouth for a 99 with a flake very soon. I’ve only got 8 more swims to do to reach 100 miles – I might have to have a mini-celebration when I do (or perhaps another 99).

I’ve got plenty more to write, so stay tuned!

UPDATE:  Yesterday I hit 6000 lengths!  That’s 150,000m.  Nearly half way…

I felt the neeed… and I had the speeed! (Event: RNLI Long Swim @ Dorney Lake 25 Sept 2011)

3 Oct

When I go out to race, I’m not trying to beat opponents, I’m trying to beat what I have done …to beat myself, basically“.  Ian Thorpe

Despite some of the faces, it was a pleasant 18°C-ish

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I swam my last open water event of the season at Dorney Lake last weekend.  Only 3 weeks before then I’d set a personal best for a mile with a 29.25 – I was pretty pleased with that as it was over 20 secs faster than my previous best, although I made a few mistakes and lost about 10 – 15 secs.  With all the improvements I’d made in the pool the week before Dorney I was quietly confident (but nervous) that I could maybe dip under 29 mins and beat my PB.  What I wasn’t expecting was to absolutely smash it…

Prior to the race I was much calmer than I’d been at previous events – perhaps it was knowing that I was certain to swim under 30 mins, which, after all, was my actual goal for the season.  Once all the race preparations were done and we were waiting for the start I was surprised by how calm I actually was – no excessive fiddling with my goggles at all (my main sign of nervousness).  This was a floating start and since there were only 48 other swimmers it wasn’t too crowded (compared to the 3.8km race, which had 175 competitors setting off at the same time!).  Dorney Lake is predominantly a rowing venue, so there were lane buoys all along the course, however it was pretty easy to spot and avoid by the anchor rope along the bottom.  The 1 mile course was simple enough, set out in a triangle – one large orange buoy out, back to a smaller white one, back across to the start and repeat.  As with some of the other smaller events the finish wasn’t very well marked.  Whilst I’m talking about the event itself, it appears someone had made quite a balls-up of the registration process – I was down as being a female doing the 3.8km swim.  The people both in front of me and behind also had the wrong details.  Also, for an event that was sponsored by RNLI, there was not a single tent, flag, poster to promote them.  Nothing.  Pretty strange for a charity really?

1 mile and 3.8km courses

One thing I need to remedy for next season is my goggles – every pair I’ve had have fogged up shortly after the start.  For this event I used some Aquasphere spray 30mins beforehand, and whilst that did seem to work, about 50m in I was back in Cloud City.  With each event I’ve done my sighting skill seems to have improved, but there was no way I was going to spot anything with the goggles as they were.  So I had to make a decision: press on and hope for the best, or stop and do something about it.  I decided on the latter – better to lose 5 secs now and see properly the rest of the way I figured.  So I made like an otter, rolled onto my back, stuck a finger in one lens and rubbed.  Hey presto, I could now see!  The rest of the swim was pretty straightforward so I just go into the zone and ploughed on.  In fact, I even had the presence of mind to consider the Swim Smooth blog post published the Friday before, which talked about the catch.

A look of confusion if ever there was one

I checked my watch as I exited the water – 27.05.  Surely that can’t be right?!  I spotted my folks and told them, but they thought I’d been in the water longer than that.  Much like the Henley swim, I was able to check my time instantly on the provided timing computer.  There it was confirmed – official time of 27.09!  Hmm, perhaps the course was actually shorter than I thought.  I checked with two officials who confirmed the distance as 1600m.

So how on earth did I drop 2.15 over 3 weeks?!  I spent most of the journey home that day trying to calculate and justify my time and decided that based on the pool times I was doing during the week before, it was entirely plausible.  In the pool I’d been doing between 3.10 – 3.20 for 200m, so an average split of 3.23 for a mile seems about right.  When you combine that with my improved sighting and being much calmer pre-race, it all just seemed to come together.  At previous events I think my relatively poorer technique and mistakes had negated any benefit gained from wearing a wetsuit, but it seemed to have actually helped this time.

So what lessons can I take from this into the winter training?  Firstly, I need to continue doing pilates.  The key areas of strengthening the core and stretching tall have really helped in my opinion.  After all, reducing drag should be our main focus.  Secondly, more catch work.  ‘Feel for the water’ still seems the most elusive part of the freestyle stroke.  But it seems I’m heading in the right direction!

It’s all for charidee, mate

17 Sep

WWF Blue Mile Swim - 4th Sept 2011

Back in 2009 when I took part in my first open water event, the Great North Swim, it was a perfect opportunity to raise some money for charity.  In the end our team raised over £1000 for Marie Curie Cancer Care.  This year, since I had entered 7 events I thought it would be another great chance.  I already make donations to the World Wildlife Fund UK so made that my charity of choice for the season.  This is their mission in their own words:

As part of the international WWF network, WWF-UK addresses global threats to people and nature such as climate change, the peril to endangered species and habitats, and the unsustainable consumption of the world’s natural resources. We do this by influencing how governments, businesses and people think, learn and act in relation to the world around us, and by working with local communities to improve their livelihoods and the environment upon which we all depend.
WWF uses its practical experience, knowledge and credibility to create long-term solutions for the planet’s environment.

A very worthy cause I’m sure you’ll agree.  Unless you happen to live on the moon.

My latest swim (review to come) was actually an event organised by WWF-UK themselves – The WWF Blue Mile.  This one was all about raising funds for their work protecting our rivers and seas – if you’re interested in swimming, and since you’re reading this I’m guessing you are, then you’ll know how important this is.

Now that I’ve said my piece, should you wish to support this worthy cause (ie, the planet), just click on the justgiving link next to my picture.  Or click here.

Chug over and out.

In the shallows

13 Sep
Swimming in Lake Windermere

Image via Wikipedia

“H2O: two parts Heart, one part Obsession”

Sometimes, perhaps you’re the same, I find I have all this information and experience in my head that I need to just… get out there. For the past 20 months it feels like I’ve been verbally blogging at my wife. She’s been a terrific supporter and my No.1 fan, but although she can swim, she’s not what you’d call ‘into it’. In much the same way that I’ve never been into needle-point and craft-making I guess. So after seeing her successful example in the blogosphere, and with her positive encouragement, here it is. My very own brain-dump.

Although I’ve swum all my life, it’s only really in the last 2 years that it’s become what I’d call a passion. For a start, I’ve always only swum breast-stroke – I can’t even remember having tried freestyle. I suppose that’s partly because I was actually pretty good at breast-stroke (well, I had good form anyway), but also because as the years have progressed I’d become more and more reluctant to make a fool of myself in front of the lifeguards at the local pool – ridiculous I know, I’m sure they really couldn’t care less. So, this story really starts back in mid-2009 when a few work colleagues had decided to enter the Great North Swim – a mass participation open water swim event held annually in Lake Windermere (more about the Great Swim Series in later posts). Without knowing much about it I agreed and began swimming more regularly to ensure I could do the mile distance. I’ll post a review of the event later, but suffice to say that the whole experience was exciting, exhilarating and also very picturesque! Part of me wonders if had I not finished only 10 seconds behind my boss, would I have gotten so passionate about this sport – after all, he was doing freestyle, I did the whole thing breast-stroke. In reality, I’m pretty sure I’d been bitten by the bug anyway. In January 2010 I decided that if I was going to get any faster in the water I really needed to learn freestyle. I set out in my typical fashion of trying to teach myself, using any and every resource I could. That included websites, books, youtube, gadgets, etc – I guess this is why I consider myself a swim geek.

Through this blog I plan to document what I’ve discovered along the way, and continue to discover. Expect gadget reviews, event reviews, general musings on aspects of technique/training and whatever else catches my fancy. I’m in no way a coach, I have no qualifications, and I’m completely open to be corrected – this really is a journey for me. My hope is that my experiences and thoughts help to inspire, interest and motivate my fellow swimmers out there.

“The water is your friend…” (Popov)