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!!

100 words for snow

The innuit may have 100 words for snow; we cant be far away with numbers of words for sea! Swimming in the sea is awesome, every day its different, its alive, from easy to fighting for survival, there’s something for everyone!

First comes the flat calm, the glass, the swim through the giant mirror. Doesn’t happen very often but its great, peaceful and tranquil. Does bring the jellies to the surface tho!

Next is just your bog standard sea state, pretty flat, pretty smooth swimming.

Somewhere after this comes the swell. Large rolling mounds of water that move like a giant sine wave, lifing you up one side and down the other. Its fun. All of a sudden its three dimensional swimming; sometimes wish the garmin recorded elevation gain on these days!

After smooth you start getting into the waves, the peelers; easy to duck dive under…but grab your tow float and drag you in to the shore!

The dumpers that land on you like a ton of bricks and pound the breathe out of you!

The spillers, rolling breakers the wind doesnt hold up, messy, cant go over, can go under…until they grab your tow float and roll you around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The chop. Yuk. On an easterly wind we tend to get chop. Little rolling waves, breaking in places, solid in places, unpredictable, hard to get into a rhythm, rolling you over and turning you round. Head down crack on! When the wind direction is just quite right, we get an interesting effect of the waves bouncing off the sea wall and the pier and superpose, turning into almost a diamond pattern of peaks and troughs. This is horrible, almost un-swimmable and almost not worth going in for.

 

The washing machine! Big, rough, knarly, waves smashing in from all angles, rocking, rolling; its a fight! This is fun. This makes you get out with a big smile on your face!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The washing machine increase in size and power as the wind comes up, through the forces until you get to storm. Storm starts to get worrying; this is where you need 100% confidence in what you are going to go for. If there’s a doubt; don’t. The bigger in gets the more you get judged from the shore; little do they know how alive it makes you feel, wrestling with an angry sea!

At a point, storm becomes un-swimmable. Mother nature wins, accept it, go home, live to fight another day…or at least run away to an enclosed, sheltered spot…;)

 

Night Swims!

So its winter, the mornings are dark, the evenings are dark. Its not like that would stop you riding a bike or running…so why would it stop you swimming?!

The first time I swam in the dark was an event in a lake, 1500 I think. Every swimmer had a glow stick and the turn buoys were all lit up. Seemed a bit wrong getting into a pitch black lake…but it was awesome! The turn buoys were rubbish; you could barely see them but the night in question had a really bright full moon which made sighting epic!

Night lake swim

Last winter was my first full outdoor winter…and night swimming was a necessity. First time I went in was with Ros; she turned up and swam with a head torch. Not for the first time I thought she was nuts…but it worked! I went for a bike light in the tow float, which lit the whole thing up and was pretty effective. 

Moody early morning swim!

Some of the early morning swims when the sun comes up have really been epic; it is 100% THE best start to a day! Its a different experience from swimming in the light, just head down and swim. Sighting doesn’t really matter, cos you cant see anything, avoiding waves and things in the water doesn’t matter; you can usually hear the breaking waves but you don’t know where they are until they hit you! Even your stroke doesn’t matter too much as you cant gauge speed; its almost irrelevant.

Mention open water swimming to people, they tend to think you’re nuts. Mention you are going in in winter, they think you are crazy. Mention you are going in the winter, skins, in the dark…generally they seem to be horrified and think you are going to die. Comfort zones again…but I don’t see anything wrong with it. These days we always tend to swim with lit up buoys and flashing lights on our goggles to let any boats see us (not that there are any out at that time of day!). Also really important off a beach to put a light next to your clothes bags too to guide you back to your warm towel! Slightly concerned that one day someone will see the tow floats and call the coastguard…but the same worry goes for our big daytime coastal swims too.

Any outdoor swims you have to be confident in what you are doing and your ability; if you aren’t, don’t go in. No exceptions. Big fan of a Plan B…C and D. For every swim, not just the dark ones I carry a phone, an electronic flare and a personal locator beacon in my tow float just in case…

Suit to skins

Two years ago I was a triathlete. Swimming without a wetsuit was a ridiculous notion. Wetsuit is faster and warmer, why wouldn’t you? Now I’m a swimmer. I hate wearing a wetsuit. Ever.

First time I swam without, maybe two years ago, was a bit of an eye opener. I didn’t die….but I couldn’t swim. Wetsuit gives you so much extra bouyancy, your body is in a very high position and you are naturally faster…even with poor technique. It makes you lazy, like the triathletes other favourite toy, pull buoy and bouyancy shorts. Numbers were rubbish…but it was strangely exhilarating!

Almost a year ago I signed up for the channel, CSA rules; one pair of speedos, pair of goggle and one hat. The neoprene had to go. I think it probably took me six months effort to loose the pull buoy and floaty pants after becoming a slave to them in the pool. My swimming went to pot. A triathlete relies on numbers; mine were rubbish. 5s per hundred slower probably on average. I stuck with it and as my body learnt how to hold itself in the water, my times started dropping.

Next challenge was the cold. You don’t tend to carry much body fat as an Ironman and I was no exception! Those first few skin swims were short. As the summer went on I built up the time and the distance. Last winter I swam all the way through, no wetsuit. As the temperature drops, the swim length drops and its incredibly important to learn the signs of when its time to get out and how to warm yourself back up afterwards!

Fast forward to today and all but the hardiest triathletes have now ditched open water swimming for the winter. For them there’s no real point, you wont gain anything from ten degrees, they wont be racing in it….which I think is why you get the looks, and the comments! That’s half the fun if I’m honest! The video below got taken the other day; I did have a good laugh at some of the comments posted online! Thing is my body is now pretty well acclimatised and conditioned to it and the temperature at the moment (11 in the sea) really isn’t a problem (for the distances we are swimming).

Yesterday I raced the first cold swim event of the year, 550m in 9 degrees. The event is pretty relaxed and lets people wear whatever they are comfortable in, its just there to promote winter swimming.  I’m a firm believer you need to do what you need to do, forget what everyone else is doing; I started next to a guy in a full wetsuit, gloves, boots and a hood, I was wearing a jazzy new pair of budgies and a hat. Bit of a tingle all over when we got in but nothing to stop me putting my face in the water and swimming hard from the get go, dropped the wetsuiter at the second turn and didn’t look back; really pleased with the pace and I was first out the water! Real sense of achievement in the shed afterwards where everyone had their certificates and medals presented; for some it was their first winter swim, for others it was the same feeling I had after my first swim; happy to still be alive!

First swimmer back to the beach! Water 9.1degs

On the way home we hit up Clevedon marine lake for 2km at ten degrees. The cold was starting to soak in after half an hour and I did have a good shiver afterwards…but nothing too drastic. The real cold is however coming and then the game changes significantly…

Clevedon Marine Lake; water 10.4degs, 2km swum

Off The Slip?

I live in the sleepy Welsh seaside town of Porthcawl on the Bristol Channel. Our house is the last one on solid ground before the sand dunes start. When the tide is right, this is the question that pops up on my phone.

Anyone in for a swim?

yep.

Off the slip?

Yep.

Sun, rain, shine, wind, hail, snow, ice, early late, dark; question is the same…and almost always, so is the answer!

As a kid I swam a lot and had a reputation for shivering and vomiting. By the age of 12 I’d done just about every badge I could and drifted away from swimming. In my early 30’s I took up triathlon, and took swimming back up again! After 3 Ironmans I got injured and started hitting the swimming really, really hard to make up for the lack of bike and run. I discovered I didn’t need a wetsuit, I discovered I could go quite long, and I discovered I really quite enjoyed it!

This year I have swum a 12 mile pool swim, the channel as a relay, and swam for 8 hours (and about 16miles) in Loch Lomond. Its now November and we are still swimming everyday off the slip, in just our speedos.

Next year is the biggy, 24mile pool swim, English Channel solo. The blog is here to record the ups and downs of the next ten months and see where the journey goes!