Guildford 24 – 2 Swim 4 Life

Guildford 24, 2swim4life, one mile on the hour, every hour for 24; time to take on the monster that’s been quietly filling a lot of my thoughts for quite a long time…

Firstly; how much stuff?! For the last few days I’d been laying out things to take. The pile was growing, and growing and growing…until it was a ridiculously huge amount; its only a swim for goodness sake! It seemed to be a common trend on the WhatsApp so I didn’t worry too much and crammed it all in the car and set off…with a quick pit stop in Hereford to pick up my dad (and helper for the weekend). The pit stop involved cramming in yet more carbs – now a portly (but insulated) 80kg, Id aimed for 800grams of carbs Thursday and Friday. Ticked the box Thursday, think I was a little bit down Friday but feeling quite heavy…;)

So much stuff!

When we got to the pool it looked absolutely amazing. Sun was out, water looked superb and as we were early, we almost had free choice of where to set up camp. Game plan was for the five swimtastics to share our big 1970’s tent and have a few other tents for other stuff! The afternoon was spent building camp, moving all the stuff from the cars and saying hi to the many many swim friends these events seem to bring back together!

Final job was to finish the carbing up with dinner in the pub and mix up the drinks for the next day. Previously Ive been using maltodextrin and ribena but in a bid to spice up whats in the bottle, I’d talked through with a nutritionalist who said you can only absorb so much maltodextrin; mixing 2:1 with Fructose opens up another channel to get the carbs in. The only slight problem with this is it is insanely sweet.  Mixed up 24, 250ml feeds with 40grams of maltodextrin and 20 of fructose plus ribena. I hadn’t proven it over distance so bit of a risk going for this but I had enough maltodextrin to change the plan half way if needs be. Each bottle should be plenty to swim a mile so food should just be topping this up.

Saturday morning, First job was to move all the remaining stuff over the road to the lido and park up for breakfast. Aim was 200gs of carbs but Im pretty sure I got nowhere near!

As 9am approached, we all made our final preparations, wandered down to poolside and fought our way through the crowds of swimmers and supporters to the water. Our lane was supposed to have seven swimmers but rather pleasingly, we found out there was only four of us, me, Jo, another solo and outdoor swimmer mag’s relay. The first mile is a bit of an unknown; what pace are we all going for, what pace can everyone do, what can we hold, who wants to try and smash it?! Outdoor swimmer wanted 25 mins, Lydia the soloist wanted a bit slower, me and Jo had both put 28mins so I was quite happy to take the last spot and sit in their draft! First mile felt relaly slow and controlled…cos it was. We swam a 27;56. Perfect! Everyone climbed out and wandered off for their break.

 

My plan was to shower, drink my bottle, wander back to the tent and get changed and eat. The chlorine for the 12 the year before was horrible so I wanted to try and wash off as much as I could and drink my bottle as early as possible. With the sweetness, I just downed it. Done. Back up to the tent, dry, change, eat, sit in the sun. Ideal.

Five minutes before you need to be in the pool, a hooter goes off to call the swimmers back to poolside. We all wandered back in high spirits for mile two. Jo and I had decided before hand to alternate the lead between the two of us so this was my lead. I swam a 28;40 which I should have been comfortable but felt quite fast, looking at it now I think I had set my pace based on 12 miles in a short course pool; this is long course…which is quite a difference! Outdoor swimmer now had a tall lady swimming who worked really well with Lydia, they lapped us a few times but we stuck to our pace; the relatively empty lane made it quite easy for our differing paces.

The day was glorious which made everything a lot easier, all of our kit was drying in the sun, it was warm to sit around, perfect. The miles ticked by, and we seem to have settled just outside our target pace, routine of washing off, downing a bottle in the shower and wandering back up to try and force food down my throat was working well. The water felt really cold but that was just in comparison to the warm air! Sian was lane 2 and finishing her miles first, me and Jo were three finishing second and Lewis and Ros were a bit slower again, wandering back up the hill with about twenty minutes to go. Everyone was going great guns!!

As day turned to dusk, the air temperature started dropping, the mileage was starting to build and the fatigue was starting to set in. I was mildly concerned from about 8 miles onwards how much I was feeling it in my arms, way more than if I’d swum 8 straight…and there was a huge distance to go. I can only put this down to the format, swim, rest, swim, rest, swim, rest. Its relentless, and just enough time for the fatigue to start sinking in before you need to go again. That however is the game, no modifications, one mile on the hour!

Darkness starting to fall!

Super swimmer Sian had a little wobble around here, she was in lane two next to me and consistently lapping me and Jo. Her training had been interrupted by damaging the muscles between her ribs and not being able to swim for two weeks. She is super tough so I wasn’t too worried for her but she wasn’t happy for an hour or two!

super support!

 

At 9pm it was pretty much dark, the floodlights were lighting up the pool, googles had been swapped for non tinted ones and by the time this mile was done, we were half way!  Sian had swum through her pains but Lewis was starting to struggle a bit with pain in his shoulder from about mile 9 apparantly. Realistically this was further than he had swum before so although quite down, he was doing fantastically and still in the game.

At ten PM my helper went back over the road to the premier inn to get some sleep. I hadn’t really needed help to this point and everything was well in hand. Plan was for him to come back at 3am. My swimming was fine although Id started to notice I was struggling to stay with Jo. Although she claimed not to have done much training, she is a better swimmer than me, next lane up at masters, I was starting to find it hard. By 13 or 14 we decided she should be in front and just go.

Under the floodlights!

Lewis was properly chipper at the next turn around. A mixture of painkillers and the discovery that half breastroke half front crawl had perked his spirits up no end! The air was starting to get quite cold now, obviously nothing was drying anymore so each turnaround was spent huddling in the tent and dipping into the reserves of dry towels and swimmers. The five minute hooter signalled the march of the dry robe zombies back to the pool.

getting tough

Ros was starting to struggle with her feeds and was now staying down by the pool. I was a bit concerned but the feedback was she was swimming ok, just struggling to eat/throw up. Sian and Jo were both still swimming strongly…but had disappeared at the turnarounds. I was starting to find it a bit tricky, running out of energy to do anything other than the essentials at the turnarounds. As I trudged back to the tent at about 2am, Lewis and Jade were both sat in darkness in the tent. He was done. Gutted for him…but he had completed 16 miles, ten further than every before so a huge achievement, regardless he was a bit dejected.

Really getting tough

I text my dad asking if there were any more dry towels, Id pretty much run out and everything was cold and wet (air about 5c). Every turnaround I was struggling to get dry and warm, shivering away and having to get back in. My head was down a little bit, this was my little wobble. I knew this time of the morning was going to be tough, Id prepared for it and I pushed through. The turnarounds were tough but everytime I got back to the pool, I knew what had to be done and was still swimming reasonably well. That was the easy bit. Luckily, my dad was back for the next turnaround and just in the nick of time! From not really needing him, now I really did. We swapped the turnarounds from the cold tent on the hill to the heated marquee by the pool. I hadn’t done it before cos I dint have the energy to move all my stuff; seemed easier to stick with plan A. I think 4am I just sat in the warm tent and dad did everything and moved everything down. This was just what I needed; him to do everything and me to just swim! Should probably mention this was also the first time Id seen Ros for about four hours and was pleased to see she was in pretty good spirits and looked like she was swimming strongly. From what people had said I was a bit worried she was struggling but clearly not; super tough, should never have doubted!

The warm tent, sooo happy!!

The next mile or two were much better, pace had drifted out to mid 30 mins but I still felt I was swimming well, despite the second lot in our lane swimming off half hour now catching me fairly consistently every mile before I finished mine. Again this is part of the game, if you cant hold sub 30mins, you get eight fresh swimmers tearing down the lane after you. You either try and sprint…or accept it and let them past. I decided to stop getting annoyed and accept my fate and not fight them!

Sighting off the moon

Finally, the pitch dark started to break, there was light on the edge of the horizon! 6 Miles left. One marathon. Only a marathon.  I kept thinking that’s a huge swim still…but there was not any doubt I was going to finish it. All of a sudden I started thinking about Lomond and how that went wrong quite quickly. Although my shoulders had felt great, there and then I decided to just get to the finish, no fighting, no pushing, drop the pace til it felt comfortable and just go with it. My elbows were hurting a bit and my triceps were very very tired, but nothing was hurting hurting so just keep it going and it would be done. Should probably also note at this point that the drinks had been working extremely well. Id been forcing food down, surprisingly I was going for the savory stuff when I usually go for the sweet things but perhaps that was the extreme sweetness in the bottle! Although it was going well, I couldn’t face eating anymore at this point and decided there were enough calories in the bottle to finish on that alone.

 

Nearly done!

Although there was still a long way to go, it never now seemed in doubt and every mile was a little brighter, a little warmer, and the swimming a little easier. Although my pace had dropped right off, out to 34/35 mins, I was in pretty good spirits cos it was virtually done! Then just like that, it was done. 24 miles in 24 hours, 12 hours 30mins swim time. Everyone was cheering and clapping everyone in, superb atmosphere!

Just enough energy left to tear down the camp and get in the car before I properly zonked out…for the next two days 😉

Team swimtastic!

In Summary, I was expecting this to be super tough. It was the test of the changes Id made to my stroke after pulling out of Lomond at 16 miles, it was the test of my nutrition and it was the big test before my channel solo in a few months time. Everything went really well! Ever so slightly disappointed my pace dropped off as it did…but despite all of the swimming I had been doing, I hadn’t really gone over 20k; and this was nearly double that. It also wasn’t worth getting hurt or tweaking anything so I think the decision to back off every so slightly and accept the drop was a good one. The massive takeaway is my stroke didn’t give me any problems and bar some freaky tides, Ive got the distance of the channel under my belt. Time to recover, re-asses, and go again, shade under 100 days left…

Swimathon!

The swimathon marathon has been and gone…and it was a blast! Swimathon offered me a spot as an ambassador and it was right at the peak training period for G24…and as the dates fell for my local pools, I had three weekends to choose from so I signed up for loads and loads; 10 x 5k’s to be precise!

First one was Swansea pool on a Saturday 23rd March, 5k, the Sunday was two sessions back to back, Id rung the pool and asked to swim straight through for 15k; Swansea pool were great! With the Sunday in mind, I swam the first one pretty steady, was a busy lane so I ended up accelerating a fair bit to pass people which is probably reflected in the 1hr25 (long course) finish. Probably a bit too hot considering but done now! Great to meet fellow ambassador (and work colleagues partner) for the first of her 5k’s.

Second day was short course for the first session, a short break then long course for the afternoon. My friend and all round super swimmer Sian was in the lane next to me, with the same plan, swim through. The morning session was great, I felt I had a pretty strong swim, wasnt too busy, soon it was just me and Sian left. At the end of the morning session I’d done 11,650m in 3hrs 20; Sian was a few hundred metres ahead of me on 13k. We had to get out the pool while they switched it round so probably spent half hour sat on the side; I felt great when i got out but getting back in, the fatigue was starting to kick in a little bit! We had decided to do another 5k straight but were now long course and I had Sian and Sam in my lane. Where as I was feeling tired and slow, Sian was on a whole different level and steamed off into the distance, Im sure she swam that (long course after 13k) faster than she had been swimming in the morning. Not sure if she had been sandbagging or had better things to do but either way it was a very impressive swim! My total was 16,650 in 4hrs 51. Four in 2days!

Next one was the following Friday where I had another double session for 15k and a 5 the next day with my dad! The week was spent recovering, replenishing the body and sea swimming!

Friday 29th, early start, double session. My friend and channel swimmer Cath was in for the double with me…but she hadn’t been training long since the channel. The sessions this time were going to be straight through so no gap, conscious of tomorrow, I swam it steady for a 4.39 finish. Cath was a fair bit slower but considering she had very little training on board, put in such an unbelievable effort to finish it, top work! You can only officially do one swim per session…so to do what we had done, you had to sign up for one swim as a ‘myswimathon’, to be done in your own time…with the medal to be posted out later. Cath was not having this and argued til she was blue in the face she deserved the three medals there and then!! She won…!!

Sat  30th, up to Hereford to swim with my dad! A bit of parkrun tourism first at Hereford race course, then off to the parents. He had signed up to the 400, I was 5k. When the pool had sent out the lane order, he was at one end, I was at the other. Fine. Turn up at the pool and they had tried to be helpful and put us in the same lane…but only us. That was fine, just the two of us itthis was supposed to be the difficult swim, 15k yesterday, 35k in the last 7days. Somehow it didnt turn out that way. Started off just me, tri boys in the next lane so the pace was a little hotter than it maybe should have been…but if youre in the lane next to me, we are racing. With a ten minute headstart, the old man got in. My pace was a fair bit quicker than is head up breastroke but was pretty easy to cruise past….although maybe slightly annoying for him!  I knew I was swimming fast but thought I’d just carry on and see what happened. Swimathons ethos is swim for all….my bad, suddenly the little devil in the back of my head pipes up, Dad is getting out in ten minutes, you’ve got the lane to yourself. Do it. PB it. Go! Not entirely sure where it came from but I didnt drop off and knocked out a 1hr 20 and a handful of seconds, well happy with that after yesterday!! 8 in 8days.

My friend Ros had been away but had signed up for Cardiff the following weekend. Her plan was 15k sat, 15k Sunday. I had Guildford firmly in my mind and resolved to swim just the 5k each day, I’d done enough, taper. It was an afternoon swim so Parkrun to start then shoot to the pool; Ros had already done 10k by the time we started. Lane was busy and there was a guy in there who was swimming like lightning!All worked out really well in the lane despite the differences in speed, think I was about 1.25 for that one. As well as ros, Rachael, Justin and Tracy were also swimming 5ks so we went for a well deserved pub meal afterwards!

Sunday I swam a steady 5k, again with lightning boy and a few others from my club; Ros had done 5k before and was planning on staying in and doing another 5k afterwards. She was swimming so strong for 25k in in two days, really impressive! I couldn’t let her swim alone so stayed in and knocked out another 5300 I think! It was just the two of us left at the end…but a real impressive achievement  even if no one else saw it!

Just like that it was over! 57km in 6 sessions, 17hrs and 1 minute swim time! It was great to have swum with so many different people in the sessions, really have to thank Swimathon for letting me get involved, hope I added something to the party and I definitely had a lot of fun! It was a lot of swims but the circumstances had aligned and it just worked, didn’t really feel like Id done too much so all in all a great booster for G24 in two weeks time.

Milestones!

Just clicked up a few milestones to note!

First one was the polar bear challenge 2018/19. Object was to swim twice a month, every month from November to March, outdoors and skins. Each swim was to be 250m minimum and 5000 total for the whole challenge. To be honest it was a lot easier this year than last year (as it hasn’t been anywhere near as cold) and an awesome week of evening tides had March ticked off and my certificate and badge open!

Second one was a bit more hard fought! Two years ago I was full on into triathlon, huge swim bike and run distances…then I got injured. Running and biking was a problem…so I turned to swimming. I’d done a few 5k’s and 10k’s…but 10k is too far for Ironman training in my opinion, it gets in the way of the bike and run training. I was probably swimming 3 times a week and hitting maybe 20-30k a month….which is quite a lot right? Er, no! Joined some full blown swimming facebook groups and there were people there posting one million metres, 1000km in a year. That’s 83km a month. 20km a week. Every week. 2.75km a day. Every day for a year. That’s huge….and surely impossible?!

Well I’ve just knocked out a monstrous pool swim (20k) training for Guildford…and somehow that’s pushed me over that milestone I’m chuffed to bits!!

The back of it was broken in training for Loch Lomond where I swam some huge swims, repeatedly. I don’t think I’m going to be training that way and hitting that kind of mileage again so really pleased the slightly more sustainable training has still pushed me over!

Its a bit of an odd one maybe as at the end of the day its just a number that only I can see…but there no getting away from the fact it does represent a consistent, huge investment in training time and effort and hopefully that will see me in great stead for the year ahead…only time will tell!

 

 

Relay time!!

Got offered a place on a five person English Channel relay for early June off Sea Leopard; seemed like a great way to refresh the memory with what I am going to have to do in August so I snapped it up!

Paperwork has been sent in, qualifier and medical to go. For a relay its a 2 hour swim in water less than 15.5 degrees…within 1 calendar year of the relay swim. I thought I would have loads to use for this, turns out I was wrong!! Last year the temperature was cold for quite a while, then shot through the roof. Turns out that was early June…so almost all the early season swims of last year that are cold enough fall outside the calendar year. After Loch Lomond in September I dropped the distance massively so don’t have a long enough swim late season after the temperature dropped. Eventually found one that should suffice, a 3hour swim at Oxwich in the Gower with an average temperature of 14.3. Luckily, it was with several friends so I could get them to sign it off. I just want this as a backup, intention is to get a qualifier with the team this year as temperatures allow but worst case, this should let me play!

Running through all the garmin data, I was a little bit surprised at what I’d achieved last year in terms of long cold swimming. To elaborate that a bit, the really cold stuff is a different game. 3, 5, 8 degrees, its just a matter of time until you become hyperthermic and eventually die. You need to recognise the signs and get out. At some point on the thermometer, there is a transition to ‘sustainable’…where you are cold, but your body can maintain core temperature. Early season I found this a difficult thing to balance. After a winter of short sharp swims, its difficult to know whether the body is actually struggling (and you should get out)…or you are just cold and miserable and get on with it! Needless to say, that particular game is about to start commencing for 2019; I would like another fresh two hour qualifier for the Relay and I need a 6 hour for the solo.

 

Let the games commence!

Early season pool training

I am an open water swimmer. Given the choice I’d choose it over the pool every single time. Winter swims are great…but its too cold to do any significant distance. This caused me a huge problem last year as I didn’t really do much in the pool until it was too late; a few weeks out from Guildford 12 I realised I hadn’t done any mileage and shortly needed to swim 12miles! Needless to say it didn’t go particularly well! This year is going to be different; as well as the Channel I have I’ve signed up for 50k for Swimathon in March and the 24hour Guildford swim in April…and there’s no way that will get done with no training! The 12 was really difficult and the thought of the 24 has been plaguing my thoughts for some time; keen to learn from all my mistakes in the past and ensure this year goes as smoothly as it can. After Christmas my focus shifted from the cold to increasing pool swims, so I would be ready.

So pool regime; Ive always swum the tri club session, an hour a week focusing mainly on drills and freestyle based around CSS training. CSS being ‘critical swim speed’ or your threshold pace. Similar to running, once calculated from a 200 and 400 time trial, this gives you different zones to train in, based on your pace per hundred and designed to maximise the bang for your buck from pool training.

Back in the autumn when the temperature started to drop, I joined a master’s session. Several reasons for this, primarily because it’s a regular swim; three times a week. Secondly it’s a lot of different sets, intervals and strokes, most of which I would not do by myself. Which is great for using different muscles and mixing things up; something I am usually really guilty of if left to my own devices. Short sessions…but all good quality stuff!

100×100’s for 10k (6.2miles)!

This session pushes very hard on short intervals with little rest and I found it a struggle to start; all of last summer spent swimming long and slow had left my cardio not quite as sharp as it used to be and my top end a little flat! I’ll be honest, I nearly quit in the first few week’s but good things happen outside your comfort zone right?! Cardio has come back a little bit, top end has sharpened up a little bit (although ill never be a sprinter!). My backstroke is still awful but I am seeing that, the butterfly and the breastroke more as cross training than anything, using muscles I don’t usually and stretching things out.

8 x 1mile at G24 target pace, swimming off 30 minutes; promising!

Has it been of benefit? Well, I was working on a CSS of 1.34 at the end of last year. A test before Christmas dropped it to an eye opening 1.28, and I really feel the need to go again because I think its lower again. Is that useful for distance? Undecided. Leaning towards yes as I’ve knocked out a few big swims in the last few weeks, 100×100’s on the ‘abacus of doom’, an 8×1600 set and yesterday a 15k pool swim at a pace that has surprised me a little.

swum as 150×100’s off two mins!

 

The plan now is to continue with masters and tri club during the week, aim for some huge pools swims at the weekends to build in the distance for Swimathon and G24…and try and keep getting in the sea where I can to maintain my acclimatisation ready for the spring and the warmer weather! Roll on the warmth!

Sneaky Bonus Swim Camp in Jersey

All of last year I managed a little niggle in my left shoulder. I’d changed my stroke quite a lot which had made it better….and I did a serious amount of mileage last year which was really promising, but needless to say there is still a little niggle there and it needs to not be.  A little while ago I posted a video on facebook of my stroke, asking who can fix my shonky left shoulder, one of the replies was from channel swimming legend, Sal Minty Gravett; “Come to Jersey, I can help”.

I am very very keen to take all the advice on board I can and give myself the best shot at the channel. When the person offering has swum the channel every decade for the last five, has a world record for the oldest England-France-England swim (in 36 hours!), countless other marathon swims including round Jersey (several times) , an MBE and is an indictee to the marathon swimmers hall of fame…that’s the kind of opportunity for advice you cant ignore! Cheap flights booked, long weekend in Jersey for a bonus swim camp it is!

Its extremely obvious with Sal, she lives, sleeps eats and breathes swimming. Every wall in her house is covered in super impressive swim tracks, world records, certificates and awards; pretty sure she has done it all! Had a great weekend of talking swimming, asking questions as well as three pool swims and three open water swims in 72 hours (and a bonus of squeezing in Jersey parkrun!)! The sea was a balmy 8 degrees there, I stayed in for ages! In the pool its extremely obvious she is a very talented swim teacher and gave me a lot of confidence and positive feedback as well as making some fairly subtle changes to my stroke.

Changing your stroke is difficult to do. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of repeated actions ingrain the movement in your muscle memory. Making your body remember and perform a subtle change to this movement is hard. The changes she made seemed quite small and the tips she gave me seemed to make it stick. Stroke count was down, and it felt powerful through the water. Time will tell if it helps the shoulder but I was certainly swimming a lot further per stroke…which is a good thing for the tens of thousands of strokes required to get to France!

All in all, an awesome opportunity, and a fantastic weekend…but now the hard work begins. Ingrain the tweaks into my muscle memory and make it second nature, force my body to make that the natural default movement when I’ve swum a long way, the mind is wandering and the body is exhausted. Now the work starts!

Ice Ice Ice Baby…or not, as the case may be.

5 Degrees, the magical cut off where cold swimming become “ice” swimming. The completely made-up line in the sand that makes one swim cold and another one ice.

Sunday 20th I headed to Cotswold lakes for a cold km with top swimming buddy Pete. The event isn’t billed as an ice event, its a participation event for cold swimming…but Pete had an ice mile coming up and I was keen to get an ice km after we missed it by the half degree at Hatfield. The talk in the car all the way there was we hoped it would be cold…but not too cold! It had been frosty so 4.8/4.9….but not 3, we both hate it when its that cold and it hadn’t been cold enough to train for it in all honesty.

On arrival, again, arrrghhh, not to be! The official temperature was 5.1! Official temp is measured on a jetty with no access…so we were reliably told, 3.5 right on the edge, 5.1 off the jetty where the swim would be. Fine. Annoying, but we were here!

 

The swim was cold. First leg out to the buoy my hands were feeling cold. Five laps, this was going to be a long swim. After three laps, my hands and feet were pretty chilly, in the back of my mind I had the briefing ringing in my ears; “if you don’t feel right, stop”. This is where ice swimming and events doesn’t work.  If I was at home, I would have got out….but this is an event, I’m finishing. I cracked on, finished the swim and got straight out and off to change. That was way way harder than Hatfield and only half a degree colder. What was going on? Recovery was tough. In the changing room Pete didn’t look great…but I was concerned about me too, so sped through my routine and moved to the heated hut for some epic shivering.  Shivers so hard my back was tightening up and hurting, shivers so bad I wasn’t sure I was coming back! Rule number one of cold swimming; its not over til your’e warm! Me Pete and the other two guys from our heat /shivered and laughed and slowly came back. I hadn’t realised at the time as he is so tough in the cold, but Peter had struggled too. All the talk in the hut was no way that was 5.1. No way.

Afterwards I looked at my watch which records temperature, 4. This was a real mix of emotion to be honest,  relieved it wasn’t 5 and I’d struggled…but gutted it wasn’t going to count as an ice KM! Does it matter? Guess not, just annoying to have done it and not to get the kudos! Does that matter?! Probably not!

Chalk it down to experience and move on!

Swimathon Ambassadors day!

Saturday 19th Jan: Swimathon ambassadors day in London!

As part of the ambassador role, I had received an invite for the launch event, talks and a quick dip with Swimathon president and Olympic gold medallist, Duncan Goodhew. That kind of opportunity doesn’t come along everyday so I grabbed it with both hands! After a frantic but ultimately fruitless search to find a way to London incorporating a Parkrun, I jumped on an early train bound for London!

It was a bit of a mix of emotions, awesome opportunity for some swimming, slightly nervous about the video/camera pieces that were going to be required as I haven’t really done any of that before! Three hours later I rolled into London and with a bit of time to kill, strolled across town, taking in the sights and doing the tourist thing!

I hate being late for things and rocked up to the pool really early; the pool had a full blown Swimathon display out with all the advertising posters and balloons: I think I had found the right place! The guys from Swimathon and my fellow ambassadors began to arrive, we sparked up some swimmy conversations and had a quick get to know you in the foyer! Most of the other ambassadors hadn’t come too far but some had travelled from as far as Newcastle and Glasgow and we had a complete mix of abilities and distances signed up for.

Official proceeding began with an inspiring chat from Duncan on the beginnings of Swimathon, the fantastic work and money raised for the charities over the years and the overruling message of Swimathon being a #swimforall, regardless of your background, there’s a challenge for everyone and its simply about involving as many people as we can and raising as much money for charity as possible! I wish I had recorded his talk or at least written bits down but I particularly remember the statement along the lines of, you will need to get out of your comfort zone and think of all the ways you can to get people involved with swimming and Swimathon. OK, noted! Already out of my comfort zone to be honest!

Next we ran through the ambassadors, it was pretty inspiring to listen to some of the others, their backgrounds and their challenges. Some of the guys had only recently learnt to swim, some had great stories about their swimming journeys, all amazing stuff! I was the first ‘triple 5k’ ambassador to stand up, and I almost felt bad that my background is a lot of swimming and my challenge was just going to be pushing the distance for 45k…but that’s my challenge! Bad at least until Ester stood up and said she was doing two 5km Swimathons a day for ten days…for 100k; now that’s a challenge I’d struggle with; well jell (and secretly plotting to see if I could slip a few more in!!!). It was clear there was a complete mix of abilities and challenges; exactly the spirit of Swimathon, swim for all, pick your challenge and get involved regardless of who you are or where you have come from, there’s something there for everyone!

After a quick lunch, I went for a piece to camera. Out of your comfort zone, got it. I watched one of my fellow ambassadors do their piece and was really impressed with their fantastic, coherent, answers; I just hoped I could hold my own! Before I knew it, my piece was over, I tried to get across my love for swimming…but I did find it really hard to think on my feet and give a decent answer, really hope its ok! On the way back upstairs I went back over some of the questions and came up with much better answers…too late now! Out of comfort zone, tick.

Back in the room I got chatting with Duncan, I dint really know what to expect before hand but he was super easy to talk to, giving us anecdotes from his swimming past and listening carefully to our stories and answering our questions. His love of all things swimming is abundantly obvious and I soon found out he swims regularly outdoors open water all year round, the guy just went up significantly in my estimations!

Once all the pieces to camera were done, we went for our swim lesson! Back in my comfort zone! Between the ten of us we had two lanes so quickly sorted a rough lane order and set off for Duncan to have a quick look. Over the next 45 mins or so, we swam various drills, looked at parts of our stroke and Duncan gave us tips and individual things to work on; mine I knew, push all the way through! It was a cracking opportunity for a lesson with someone hugely passionate about swimming! A tip I found a fascinating insight was to constantly move your hands through the water when you are on the wall. We always talk about feel for the water…well why aren’t you feeling it when you are in it?! Its a great question!!

After the lesson we reconvened for a quick debrief, and another reminder of our roles; get as many people involved as we can! There was just time for a quick selfie and a signature in the book he kindly gave us…and it was time to sprint back across London for the train home. What an awesome day!

On the way home with Duncan’s words ringing in my ear, I started plotting to get out of my comfort zone and try my best to get people involved!

edit; two days later I was well out of my comfort zone again, filming a quick piece for the National pool and Swansea council. I kinda thought I could keep in on the low down…but that’s really not how social media works! It has already been seen over 3 thousand times and was quickly doing the rounds of my friends! Just found out its on the local paper too!! Outside your comfort zone; that’s where the magic happens…!

https://www.swansea.gov.uk/article/47760/Tom-takes-the-plunge-for-Channel-swim-at-Wales-National-Pool-Swansea

Edit two; Amazingly, my dad has now signed up for the 400m at his local pool! Luckily, I had that day spare…so I’ve gone and signed up for another 5k too to keep him company!

British Ice Swimming Champs 2019!

Ice Swimming – standard cossie, one hat, goggles, less than 5 deg water. Scary. Painful. Horrible. Not quite sure how I got an entry to the British champs, I blame Lewis. Or Cath. Either way, 1km swim in bloody cold water on the cards!

Last year was my first winter and I did two swims below 5degs; a 3.5 in keepers and a 3.5 in the sea during the beast from the east. Both swims were horribly painful, like your hands and feet and face had been shut in a car door. Every since I’ve been quite cautious of ice swimming.  I’ve dealt with the cold a lot better this winter, two weeks ago we swam a km in 6.4degs and I felt pretty good, reasonably quick and not too painful! Temperature in Hatfield was similar to this…but I am acutely aware that small drops in temperature have big consequences…so when i saw three nights of frost forecast this week, I was nervous!

Lewis starting his swim

As we drove up to Doncaster, the temperature started climbing. it was zero degrees by Birmingham and 6 in Doncaster! Official water temperature was 5.5…which was a bit of a shame (as the swims wouldn’t be recorded as ice swims…but equally a bit of a relief that it wasn’t a huge step down from where we had been training!

Lewis in for the win!

The lake has two pontoons, 25m apart and six lanes divided off between the Pontoons, so lane swimming, but in a really cold lake. There was to be a series of heats with 1 swimmer per lane, 40 laps, 1km as fast as you can. Simple! 1km open water I wouldn’t even bat an eyelid at, but 40 lengths seemed a really long way! Weird how you mind processes things. Heats were set up slowest to fastest from the estimated times you had put in. Lewis had put in a slow time so was in heat two, I was in heat five and had also put a ‘comfortable’ time in! My experience is you slow down a lot in the cold so I thought it was justified!

me about to start!

In his heat, Lewis was first down the ladder into the water and on the whistle, went charging off down the lane opening a half length lead quite quickly. Ironic cos all morning he had been saying he needed to start slow so not to repeat his mistake from chilly dippers a few weeks before! He swam strongly all heat but started to slow towards the end, was overtaken in the last 10 lengths but the guy in the lead seemed to be struggling and was stopping for a few seconds at the end of each length. Lewis caught and passed him on the last length to take the heat win!

neck and neck!

Recovery is very well organised at these events, straight up to a room, dressed and recover in front of a few doctors and medical types. Before we knew it he was out and shivering but all smiles! He told me the water was fine, pretty comfortable temperature, didn’t get cold….which made it worse for me, I just wanted to get in and swim, I’d been waiting around for ages and had a few doubts building up I could complete in that temp; no pressure!

My heat was after lunch so I ate early and retired to the car wit the heating on; standard around for 4 hours I was a little bit cold! Nicely warmed, I set my clothes up in the recovery room and headed to the briefing, where they run through all the inf, again, build the tension a bit more and walk you down to the pontoon!

Walking down, nerves had gone, race face on, lets go! Stripped and got in, water felt cold but not too bad. Almost straight away we were off! I had a swimmer in the lane either side so I could see we were level, I just tried not to get too excited and swim too hard! Within a length or two I had pulled in front and just relaxed into my stroke, trying to maintain nice technique…which is surprisingly difficult when the water is that cold! Obviously there is no blue line in a lake…so I found myself hitting the lane ropes every now and then which was spoiling my rhythm so I reverted to open water sighting every length. Probably slowed me down a bit but I was swimming in a nicer rhythm.

In the excitement of the race, I’d started my watch but had absolutely no idea how many lengths I’d done…and in all the excitement, completely forgotten they had a big counter board on the pontoon! It was quite a relief looking up on the next lap and seeing I was halfway already! The safety guys on the pontoon were great, shouting encouragement at every turn, it really helped!! Quick diagnostic check, yep, everything ok, water didn’t feel too cold, technique still nice, didn’t even get an icecream head when i got in, this is ok! Towards the end I started to catch the guy next to me which was nice for me…but not so great for him, sorry! Last two laps I started to kick to try and push on and finished in around 16mins 55 on my watch. Not bad, happy with that!  I’m quicker in the pool…but that’s not too far away, considering it was 5.5 degs and I was sighting every lap, well happy!

All smiles climbing out, the support guys got me dressed in my robey and sent me up to the recovery room to get dressed and sit out the shivers!!!

 

Final results placed me age group winner (which isn’t a big deal as there weren’t many in each age group!!) but 5th male overall which I was super happy with! Lewis also won his age group and was well happy with his swim too. That was supposed to be the end of cold swimming for this ear, concentrating on the pool now in the run up to swimathon and G24…but it did go really well, so you know…;)