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Well-a, Rrrr have swum. One. Hun. Dred. Miles. And-a Rrrr will swim. One. Hun. Dred. Mooore.

24 Feb

Dun-da-dun-Daah (Dun-da-dun-Daah).   Naah, too many syllables to write the rest of that out.

By Anvica (linked to source)

 Yes, I’m halfway there(ish)! And in way of celebration, yesterday I set a new PB for 400m of 6.06.

I haven’t really laboured too much on the fundraising side of things, mainly to give family and friend’s pockets a break from last year, but now the first half is out of the way, it’s time to start raising that total! Not that I haven’t had and sponsors recently – big thanks to Kat C, Alex M and Victoria S for their generous donations.

By Choconancy1

So with 101.2 miles to go and 22 weeks til the Olympics, that means I’m very much still on target. Just to break that down, it’s 4.6 miles a week, or around 300 lengths of a 25m pool.

I’ve got 3 open water events lined up so far this year:

Great London Swim – 26 May
Great North Swim – 24 June
Great Manchester Swim – 1 July

I’m really looking forward to them all, especially as my good friends from ‘Betty’s Buoys’ will be joining me for the Windermere swim – back where it all started in Sept ’09.

By Leo Reynolds (linked to source)

Right, I’m going to have a nice relax this weekend, then it’s on with the journey on Monday.

Have a great weekend and Happy Swimming to you all!

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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…

Lifeboat Swim – Week 10: The Big 50 & Bigger 25!

19 Dec

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Season’s Greetings!

The mulled wine may be flowing and mince pies a’going (?!), but all is still on track here at ‘Lifeboat Olympic Swim Challenge’ HQ. In fact, just last Friday I reached a significant milestone, as you can see from my progress board. That’s right, 50 miles completed! On my virtual swim route that means I’ve so far made it down the coast from Grimsby and all the way across the Wash. However, the past few weeks have thrown up a few hurdles (just swim under them!).

For two weeks out of the past four I’ve only been able to fit in three days swimming, having been on training courses and a short holiday. Thanks to some planning ahead this hasn’t been a problem as I’ve been able to pick up the slack the week before and after. As it turns out, one of the training courses was of significant benefit to my swimming. The course was about building confidence and I learnt that if you believe you can do something, there will be subconscious changes in your body and behaviour that will assist you. This is all part of the ‘ideomotor response’. The popular example is if you hold a key on a piece of string if front of you and will it to move, it will. This isn’t magic, it’s your subconscious making slight movements in your hand to make the key swing. So, how does this help with swimming? Well, often before I swim I watch a short clip of Olympic swimmer Jono Van Hazel (Mr Smooth!) on my phone, then when I’m swimming I imagine that I’m him in the clip. I’ve found that through this visualization, my conscious and subconscious are able to pick up on the obvious, but also the more subtle movements he makes. I find this area of psychology fascinating (as the amount of books I’ve bought on the subject recently testify to).

Oh yes, there’s another piece of news to tell. Quite a big one in fact. I have a new PB for a mile…

25.55

Yes, just last Thursday I achieved my goal of breaking into the 25s by xmas! I was very surprised considering I’ve been getting over the lurgey recently. My plan of attack was to set my tempo trainer on 24.5s a length, rather than the 24.3ish time that, if kept consistent, would result in a sub-26 time. My reasoning was that I tend to go off well, struggle in the middle, then pick up pace towards the last third. If I was on 24.3s, I knew I’d end up being behind the beep midway and start struggling to catch up again. It seemed better in my head to be ahead of the beep, drop back to being on it, then see how far ahead of it I could get. In terms of pacing this is probably not the best approach, but it seems realistic considering my history of mid-mile slump. I’d be interested to hear what any fellow swimmers think about this.

Anyway, it’s been a great way to end the year, particularly considering how modest my goals at the start of the year now seem.

Merry xmas to you all and here’s to more PBs in 2012!

Lifeboat Olympic Challenge – Week 6

21 Nov

imageDon’t worry people, despite my lack of an update last week I’m still swimming towards my target!

First off, big thank yous to Ros, Peter and David for their generous donations – total is now up to £175!

I realised a very valuable thing just this week – sometimes you need to take a step back to move a few steps forward. I’ve been very focussed on interval training (typically I’ll do 8 x 200m, with ~25sec rests) and the odd non-stop mile, but little to no technique work. As we know, swimming is a very technique based sport so it’s really important to maintain that.

On Wednesday I decided to just swim an easy mile without my Tempo Trainer, focussing entirely on technique (drills work just as well here). The main thing I found was that I’d slipped back into not rolling enough to be able to utilise my larger pecs and lats for the pull. If you’re not using these then you’re using smaller muscles that just won’t give you enough power or last as long.

Sure enough, once I’d refreshed that part of my technique the times I’d been struggling with the week before were easy. In my interval set on Friday I had my tempo set on 24.25 secs a length, but was actually able to do 24 secs consistently for the 8 sets. Here’s the thing – if I can manage 24.25 secs over 64 lengths, I’ll be into the 25 mins. Pretty crazy considering my goal this year was to complete a mile in under 30mins (open water admittedly)!!

So what do you think – into the 25s by Xmas?

Lifeboats Olympic Challenge – Week 3

1 Nov

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First off: Happy Hallowe’en! Happy Día de los Muertos!

Bit late my update this time around – it’s been a pretty busy weekend at my house, as you can see from here!

So week 3 down and another 5 miles logged. I had to get a few extra laps banked early in the week as I went to hang out with one of my favourite bands, Ugly Duckling, Wednesday night and was anticipating being a little worse for wear the day after. I was not wrong.

Still, it’s been a good week and yet another PB set: a mile in 26.44.  At this rate I might be in the 25s by xmas…

On the sponsor side I need to thank Jonathan Stones at DH who has not only donated, but also helped with promoting my challenge – thanks Jonathan!

Lifeboats Olympic Challenge – Week 2

23 Oct

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Well it’s 2 weeks down and all is going great. My total number of lengths is up to 640 (10 miles) and just this Friday I set another PB for a mile in the pool of 27.29. You could say it was an ‘unaided’ swim as I decided not to use any of my metronome pacing gadgets and just do a gentle 64 lengths. My aim for next season is to break into 25 mins – think I can do it?!

On the fundraising side I’ve now had my first donations – woohoo! So that’s £65 raised for the Lifeboat Fund with thanks to my wife Katie and mum and dad.

Break on through to the other side!

7 Oct
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Photo by B5160-R

I could have been king. But in my own way, I *am* king.” Ash

Ok, so I may be exaggerating the enormity of my latest achievement a *teensie* bit, but to me it’s a pretty big one.

My long standing 100m PB of 1.31 has fallen. So long sucka. Hellooo 1.26 🙂

Truth be told, I haven’t really been working on my sprints much since that 1.31 back in March. Still, given all the endurance and technique training I’ve been doing you’d have expected that to drop a bit. Once again, it seems like my recent improvements are to thank. And I think I’ve figured out what they are…

I believe there are 3 aspects that have contributed to my recent PBs:

  • Eliminating any glide before the catch and not applying pressure during it
  • Timing my strokes so that my recovering arm has entered the water and is spearing forward as my stroking arm is starting the pull (almost like a flying Superman pose?)
  • Keeping my core strong and stretching tall

What do all these have in common? That’s right, it’s all about reducing drag! I’ve also found that my stroke rate has increased quite naturally too. It’s all still a bit rough, but I think the basic principles are there.

(200m times are also down from around 3.26 to 3.04 over the last 3 weeks – which I still don’t quite believe yet)

So to sum up, I wanted to highlight once again the importance of swimming smarter. What’s the point of putting all that effort in if you’re gonna be a draaaag?!

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!

We’re heading for Venus (Venus)

24 Sep

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Banana… Check.  Bodyglide… Check.  Morrison’s carrier bag… Check.  Ok, drag your mind out of the gutter, I’m not preparing for some kinky sexy-time session here. No, it’s my last open water swim event of the season tomorrow!

Hosted by Votwo Events, it’s the final of the RNLI Long Swim Series. The venue is Dorney Lake at Eton College in Buckinghamshire, UK. It’s a manmade lake built specifically for rowing and will be used next year in the Olympics for said event.

It’s another mile event (although there’s also 750m and 3.8km distances), so i’ve got a few others I can compare times with this year.  Over the past few weeks I’ve been working on increasing my aerobic threshold, but just this week some piece of technique seems to have clicked. I’ve still to define exactly what that is, but I’ve gone from a 3.27 for 200m to a 3.20, then a 3.10 on Thursday. Over a week and a half that seems to me like a huge improvement!

Of course rather than giving me the belief that I can get a PB tomorrow, I’m actually putting pressure on myself because I’ll be disappointed if I don’t. I guess this is where we start to get into the psychological aspects of sport – something I think will definitely be interesting to revisit at a later date.

Whatever happens, I’ve had a great season and have achieved a lot more than I thought I could. Here’s to the end of the season!

Oh, and a big Happy Birthday to my big sis for tomorrow – love ya!

Swim.. like an avocado!?

21 Sep

Pilates Reformer - Photo by FitnessOrlando

Why an avocado?  Well, because they have a hard centre with a smooth exterior.

In freestyle swimming we should be aiming to have a strong core (ie, torso) but relaxed arms and legs. The main reasons are that it helps you be more streamlined in the water, helps with body roll and also better connects your arms to the rest of your body, so you can use your whole body to power you.

Pilates is a great way to strengthen your core, and in fact a lot of other muscles involved in swimming. It’s a body conditioning routine that helps to not only build flexibility, but also strength, endurance, and coordination in the legs, abdominals, arms and back.  My wife and I have recently started lessons under the expert tuition of Claire Wray at Equilibrium Health in Leeds. We’re only a couple of lessons in, but already I can see how it will benefit my swimming, for performance, but also injury prevention (shoulders in particular). There’s a lot more to learn, and I’m looking forward to seeing more improvements!