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…;)

 

End of year review!

First off December, standard. Loads of cold dark sea swims! I was supposed to be doing a cold km in Portishead lido, it was 6.5 degs and would have been the perfect step down…but a lady had a problem with her recovery on a shorter swim and the rest of the event was cancelled! Did manage to get a second place in the 33m butterfly first tho!!!

 

British Ice Swimming champs just after the new year so focus now is to try and go cold…which is proving difficult as the freshwater isnt much colder than the sea…and its all too warm! Did a km the other day in keepers pond at 6.4 degs which was pretty good…but the forecast is a freeze before the weekend so fingers crossed it wont be too cold!!

Right, review of the year. 2017 was a bit of a silly total. 2018 crushed it. Garmin officially got 830km, 531 of that was open water. I’ve done a bit more in my endless pool…but garmin have updated the app so i cant fudge it anymore! That’s a big number and I’m super happy with it.  One of the really scary things for the channel was the cold and I’ve proved to myself I ca deal with that this year. One of the really interesting graphs is distance verses temperature. Always a difficult one to know how far you can push it in the cold but there are some pleasing distances on there! Also proved I can handle quite a silly training load as long as I’m sensible!  There’s a lot of great stuff this year that gives me loads of positivity for the sillyness of 2019! Some really memorable swims this year, roll on 2019!

Edit; stumbled across a meme today that highlighted the difference between 99% over a year and 101%. Time to crack on!

.99^365 = 0.255

1.01^365 = 37.783

 

Fun week!

Lots happened this week…

Firstly I entered all my swimathon sessions; worked out as a triple, triple 5k. 45KM over the three weekends. Breakdown below but the intention is to swim 15k on the two days where there are two sessions and 5k a day on the other three days, one 5km a day.

Wales National Pool Swansea : 23/03/2019 13:00 – 16:30

Wales National Pool Swansea : 24/03/2019 09:00 – 12:30

Wales National Pool Swansea : 24/03/2019 13:00 – 17:00

Wales National Pool Swansea : 29/03/2019 08:00 – 11:30

Wales National Pool Swansea : 29/03/2019 11:30 – 14:30

Cardiff International Pool : 06/04/2019 11:30 – 15:30

Cardiff International Pool : 07/04/2019 11:30 – 15:30

 

Secondly; all the tides were late; cue the dark swimming. (Lots of it!)

It was pretty windy, cue the swell! Big push coming back into the slip!

And there was an event! Cue the racing!

Just after Christmas is the British Ice Swimming Champs…so me and Lewis thought we better go to the second Chilly Dippers event and get some cold racing metres under our belts. Water wasn’t mega cold at 7.8C on our thermometers and it was four laps of 200m to make up the 800. Pleasingly I hit the front at the first turn buoy and dint look back; first out the water, with Lewis coming in fourth!

Scouring the statistics on my garmin later, I realised I’d hit another milestone, I’ve swum through 500 miles for the year. That’s a pretty pleasing mark, especially considering I didn’t garmin a single swim in January! I was trying to ignore the numbers to a certain extent this year and I have failed miserably. I’ve tried to work on the basis of enjoying my swims and not obsessing over the numbers, the total distance, the pace, the number of swims. I’ve not pushed through when its started to hurt, but I have amassed a huge total; mostly in part to the silly training for Lomond I think with over 175k in one month. Still leaves me with the big question of how to train for next year, 45km of swimathon (over a couple of weekends), Guildford 24 (which i’m pretty scared about), and the English Channel solo. No rush for the meantime I don’t think abut after Christmas I need to have the plan…and start the execution; its going to be a fun year!!

Swimathon!!

Really excited to say, Swimathon have offered me a place as an ambassador for 2019!

Swimathon is basically a mass pool swim to raise money for various charities. Each year they hold swims from 400m to 5k at loads and loads of pools up and down the country, sign up to your event, pick your pool and away you go! Its a real mix of abilities, strokes, ages, pick your challenge and get involved!

2017 Swansea pool had three days to choose from, I decided to do a 5k every day. I remember being a little annoyed on Friday that a lady had signed up for the morning and afternoon sessions…(annoyed because I hadn’t thought of it!). Great fun weekend all the same!

Swimathon 2017; 3x5ks!

2018 I made up for it by signing up for a 5k in every session, two on Friday, one Saturday, one Sunday…and I got the bling to prove it 😉

4x5ks!

2019 is obviously my channel solo year…and I’ve booked some ambitious events in the run up, namely Guildford 24 miler…which is 3 weeks after Swimathon.  Swimathon is perfect for me this year because they have introduced a triple 5k; three 5k’s over three sessions! Given the training swims I’ve done this year…and my schedule for G24, I’m looking at hitting two triples over a weekend, 15km Saturday, 15km Sunday. The big back to back swim really are great!

Also so lucky that Swansea pool has a Friday session the week before…and a Cardiff has sessions the weekend after…so I’m looking at quite a few triple weekends…watch this space!

In the meantime, I’ve been given a discount code for friends and family, 50% off the distance (and pool) of your choice! Enter on the Swimathon website and put in the discount code: SWIM19TOM

 

The rules.

Whatever your sport, when you toe the start line, you are agreeing to play by the rules. All of them.

‘A Standard Swim Costume’

(for both sexes) shall be of a material not offering Thermal Protection or Buoyancy and shall be Sleeveless and Legless : “”Sleeveless”” shall mean the Costume must not extend beyond the end of the shoulder onto the Upper Arm; “”Legless”” shall mean that the costume may not extend on to the Upper Leg below the level of the crotch.

lol!

As I’ve mentioned before, my background is triathlon. The only triathletes that wear budgies are the super swimmers. The guys that have been swimming at a high level since they were a kid. The guys that can really swim. I swam a lot as a child but mostly lifesaving,not competitive speed work. When I came back to sport in my 30’s, I went for the decent, dignity maintaining option, the knee length jammer. Like a lot of triathletes, I then slipped into the bad habits of bouyancy shorts. Knee length neoprene shorts that act like a pull bouy, floating your hips high in the water and saving your legs….with the old triathlete excuse, “Ive had a big leg day” or “Ill be racing in a wetsuit”.

Truth is, its not good for your swimming. Your body is in the wrong position and doesn’t know how to hold itself without the extra help.

When I signed up for the channel, I signed up to play by there rules. Budgy smugglers in, floaty pants out. Cold turkey. I reckon it put my pace back a good 5 seconds per hundred, felt like I was swimming against the tide and confused the hell out of my body. All of a sudden my legs had to do things, they couldn’t just sit there, dead in the water. I hated it. I couldn’t swim.

It was only the ultimate goal that kept my resolve. Over the ext month or two, my body learnt how to hold my legs, how to kick enough to support my body in the right position. Slowly, my times started to come back. The feeling of being one with the water started to come back. I learnt how to swim again.

Looking back now I really do think floaty pants hurt my swimming. I didn’t really progress for probably a year. It didn’t matter too much as a triathlete as Id hit the point where my swim was pretty strong…and in all honesty its not worth wasting time trying to get that last five percent when the bike and run account for far more of your day.

With the change in goal, its all about trying to develop the most efficient stroke I can hold, which pleasingly has brought about a nice turn of speed and far better technique than I had before (all shoulder power!). Its a constant battle to develop the stroke and hold the technique but my swimming is in a pretty good place right now, budgies and all!

One of the super swimmer types told me back in the triathlon days, ones you turn to the dark side, you wont go back. The rules might be the reason…but I’ve fully embraced the inappropriate swimwear, the more horrific the better, and I’m not going back 😉

Black Friday; a whole new winter wardrobe!!