Friday, 8 September 2017

Training plan for Windermere one way swim.

Planning the training schedule for a 10.5 mile swim ought to be undertaken with at least a small degree of military precision based on a whole cohort of factors like, for example, research, fitness, experience... Instead, armed with nothing but my diary and a (borrowed) unicorn pen, Shark and I found a quiet corner of the cafe to more "hatch a plan' than produce some structured training! The general consensus amongst the small group of two, after a morning of deliberating and pretty much eating our way through the menu was that neither of us had much of a clue.

In honesty I did look on the internet for a training plan to use, but my searches pretty much drew a blank when it came to anything over 10km. There were/are many for up to this distance. I know this as I used one last year, as my very generous children surprised/shocked me with the Mother's Day gift of a 10km swim, and although I didn't follow the plan to the letter, it gave me a great base from which to train. I did need to adapted it slightly to suit me, however it worked a treat. I base this on the fact that I survived the swim in one piece, and enjoyed it enough to do another one after it (although not immediately- I was in shock for a short while after ...).

I did start the planning for Windermere by writing what turned out to be a worryingly long list of my limitations. Some temporary (on doctors orders and physiotherapists advice) and other things I could never do because of my dicky knees and hips, in fact the list turned out to be longer than my actual diary, and so I quickly ditched this approach in favour of just writing down each week and what I hoped I could do, and as I am only a novice swimmer, and far from qualified to know how to plan to train like a champion, I could be forgiven if I cocked it up!

Here's the original plan

And so it began. I stepped back into the pool on 1st March, and gave myself a month to be swimming a mile. Speed didn't matter (no I don't actually believe that either), I just had to be up to that distance. This is a copy of the original, and very un-neat 21 week plan. It only included the dates for the longer swim, and so in the interest of completion here's the rest.

Day 1- long swim - increase gradually according to scheduled week (open water whenever possible).

Day 2- rest

Day 3- steady 1 mile (just turning my arms), loads of stretches.

Day 4- sets and sometimes a training session with a coach focussing mainly on stroke and drills, followed by a steady mile.

Day 5- rest

Day 6- either a 1 or a 2 mile swim. Slightly faster pace than when swimming in long session.

Day 7- rest

And there you have it - with very limited knowledge, a very amateur and basic training plan was cobbled together, and only time would tell whether it would actually be successful.

As I got into the swing of things, I have to say that the original plan (I'm talking about the long swim day here) was working a treat, right up until the day that we had to change venues, as one of us (that be me) had a family party that had to be attended that evening (our usual swim time). According to the plan, that I had been diligently following, I was scheduled to swim 6 miles on this date, and therefore had to change the swim venue. Unfortunately, due to unswimmable swimming conditions (Shark seeing a shark (I know, right? In a land locked lake in Yorkshire...) amidst some unruly weeds in the middle of the lake) led to an abandoned attempt after only a mile (read here for the finer details) still-yet-to-overcome-fear-of-weeds.html before we headed to the cafe to eat cake that we really didn't deserve, but ate anyway!

With no other opportunity to do a long swim that week, I had to wait (feeling tetchy) till the next week to get back on schedule. I must say that it was a great 6 mile swim that followed. I felt surprisingly well, despite the week off, and after much discussion, analysing (loosely) and agonising, Shark and I realised that we had enjoyed not having a longer swim and felt refreshed and revived. We discussed the possibility that swimming a long swim every week was not giving our bodies sufficient time to recover after each one, and that having what was essentially a week off, there had actually been no dip in performance, and we felt none the worse for it, and actually revised the plan after this date to:

20th June - 6 miles
27th June - 5 miles
4th July - 7 miles
11th July - 5 miles
18th Jul - 8.5 miles
25th July - 5 miles
1st August - 9 miles
8th August -6 miles
15th August - 4 miles 

Was the training plan successful? Did I over train? Did I under train? I truly have no idea, but here's what I do know (now I'm post swim). I had trained to swim the length of Windermere for 6 months, and yes there were times when it was tough, it was tiring, the water was really cold, I couldn't find my mojo and some days it just hurt to swim, but I did it! I swam 10.5 miles without stopping (bar the food breaks) and without injury and the knowledge that I had worked hard to get to that point. I exited the lake (in the most inelegant of ways - as standard!) feeling absolutely amazing. On reflection, I have to add that it's not just about the training plan. It's also about having a great group of supportive family and friends that believe you can do it. It's also about determination and self belief and it's about the rewards at the end. I'm talking about the sense of achievement, the sense of accomplishment, the bragging rights and finally the huge slab of guilt free cake!

Finally, if you have enjoyed reading my blogs also I have a "group" on Facebook. Its not really a group, as it's only me, but on it I post more regularly, and I'm also on Twitter and Instagram. You'd be very welcome. Here are the links. 😊

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

We did it! We swam the length of Windermere!

Finally, after 2 cafe stops for coffee and scones (it's not even a two hour drive, but frightened of not eating enough carbs), Shark and I arrive at Windermere. The car suspension has survived the journey, and I'm talking about our over zealous packing, not because I've spent the last 8 days overeating, but passing it off, rather successfully I thought, as carb loading!

We head straight down to the lakes edge to see where we would be finishing and to dip a toe in. As we approached the waters edge we were confronted by some very territorial ducks that were diligently parading up and down where we were. Their beaks looked sharp, and I suspect they weren't afraid to use them in a bid to protect their lake.  As I couldn't be sure whether it was food they were after or my feet and not wanting to get a toe injury this late in the proceedings decided to retreated instead to the pub (only for soft drinks- my body being a temple and all that!). We met up with Leon and Al from Swimyourswim to discuss the details for the following day. This was the point I broached the subject of available room on the boat, to which I was pretty much told that it wasn't the QE2 and that silver or waiter service would not be provided during the swim.

Checking out the venue

After our standard pre-swim meal of fish and chips, we head back to the hotel for an early night, but unfortunately despite the comfiest of beds it just didn't happen, so I began to read, only to be distracted by worrying questions going round my head. Not sensible ones like did I pack a spare towel? Or have I added the right labels to each feed? No, it was stuff like will my sandwich taste any good if I drop it in the water? (No, it was shocking, but ate it anyway) Would it be worth putting sun lotion on my hands? (even though I didn't because it was overcast, I should have- I really should. I now have awful tan lines on my wrists!) It must have been bad as usually it's impossible to distract me from a Roy Grace novel once I get reading, but as it stood I couldn't sleep and nor could I read.

The following day, the day of the swim, and I couldn't have been more excited. Breakfasted, we were collected and driven to the other side of the lake where we met up with Al and Leon at the boat. Although Al had given us the limits on size of bags, what he hadn't mentioned was weight, and so taking full advantage of this had tightly packed everything I needed (and more, and was prepared to tell them that the I 💜New York keyring and the peg (long story) I took were actually my lucky mascots and essential to my mental well being for the swim). As we handed over our bags, we also handed over some envelopes. We had provided them with some activities to do whilst they were on the boat. Things like colouring, Mastermind quizzes, Mr&Mrs, reading sonnets (in the style of a sergeant major) and Beatrix Potter stories (with a mouthful of marshmallows) and yoga - that kind of thing. We told them it was to keep their minds and bodies active over the course of the day, however the reality was actually an attempt to stop them being mischievous. You see, they provide a live link (available to watch on the Swimyourswim Facebook page) which mostly charts our progress, and reminds viewers of the Virgin Giving pages for any donations to the charities, but as well as this they use it to keep themselves, and viewers amused (please watch them, they are hilarious- especially the one with Keri-anne Payne (who actually watched it and commented, and then congratulated me on my swim), and Al reading Peter Rabbit with a mouthful of marshmallows). Swimyourswim

From the slipway I did my warm up and then we set off. In my eagerness to get started I forgot to ask the temperature, and I also forgot to put my goggles on! My second attempt at starting was thankfully more successful, and despite being given clear direction from the boat about which direction to take, began swimming towards the wrong buoy. With an eye roll from the boat the more simple instruction was "see those huge hills over there? Head for them!" You couldn't wish for a better, or bigger thing to use for sighting!

The water was a millpond, and the temperature okay, I soon found my rhythm and a steady pace; I was worried about setting off too fast, after all I'd not swam this distance before, and after what felt like no time at all it was time for the first feed. We had planned on every hour and although the conditions were near perfect, it's usual for me to have really cold hands and feet for the first hour or so, and today was no exception, added to this there were some really cold spots in the lake. To help with this I had packed some hot (too hot) orange squash. I asked Al for some of my (Harrogate) water, packed specially to cool it down a bit to which I was told we didn't have time and to stop faffing about and dip my cup in the lake!

An enormous, solitary and curious swan that was in no hurry to move guarded the next stretch. We had a whole lake between us, but were both determined to want to be in the exact spot. We were on the brink of a stand off with a swan, when I realised that I was actually in no position to win. We were eye level with it and very much at a disadvantage. I swear it was sizing me up, and had pretty much come up with an exit strategy when thankfully it flew off further down the lake. Thank goodness. I'm not entirely sure whether me leaping on a small boat, with two people on it and a load of heavy (and quite large) bags would have actually survived the impact and I can say with certainty wouldn't have ended well! Continuing the swim I had been using the "huge hills" to sight, however decided at this point to stop using the landscape in front of me, it just never got any nearer, and instead began using the boat to my left and any buoys to the right, to which I found quite successful although of the whole lake stretching roughly 18km x 1.5km you would thing that I could use a buoy to sight, and not actually touch it, but no, I managed to hit the thing with my arm. You could look at it as a positive though. I am 100% accurate!?!

I began to tire but knew that our next feed was imminent as I'd seen Al rifling through our bags. It had felt like a long hour, and my stomach felt a little strange. I continued swimming until Al indicated he was ready, and this was the point where I think I saw the only fish of the whole swim. I say think because there is a possibility that because I was tired I was actually hallucinating, still, worked a treat and for the next five minutes my pace increased, despite the lack of energy. When we stopped I was ready for something more substantial than a bar or a gel, so ate half of a jam and butter sandwich (the bit I didn't drop in the lake tasted 100% better than the bit I did!) and as I began eating it I realised that the unfamiliar sensation I'd been feeling in my stomach was actually hunger. Something I'd not felt once for the last eight days, since I began carb loading...8 days is far too longer stretch for carb loading.

In all of my training it's around the six mile mark that I struggle a bit, and knowing this in advance really helped me to chose carefully for my next feed. It wasn't a case of choosing what my body needed, it was more about having some home comforts, and bearing this in mind I had packed myself a Fat Rascal from Betty's (the cafe in my local town), and I have to say it really perked me up. It tasted amazing... except the bottom half. That was less amazing having being dunked (definitely not deliberately) in lake water. Next time I'll break it up into smaller, bitesize, chunks before hand. Lesson learnt.

The weather couldn't have been better, and the water was really flat, so it was very much a surprise when suddenly Leon indicated some chop (you can see it on the live video). A boat, that we hadn't seen, had come towards us quite fast and of course caused a wake. I say wake, it actually caused a real wave that stopped us in our tracks. I have never heard Shark swear like that which made me laugh and swallow a large part of the wave as it hit me in the face. This brief interruption was actually really welcome by way of a bit of a change, however my feelings was short lives when shortly after another boat came near causing another smaller wake, which also put me off my stroke for a bit... I was less keen on other boats being in the lake after that.

With one mile to go the feeling of knowing we had nearly completed it spurred me on. I had a sudden burst of energy, and almost euphoria. We were nearly there! The end was in sight, and so was our large, solitary swan again! (I'd at least like to think it was the same one, because I'm not entirely sure that they are usually that large). I'm not sure why it kept appearing, possibly just to keep me (metaphorically) on my toes...

We were finally at the finish with only a few strokes left to do. At the end I had planned to exit the lake a lot like Ursula Andress in Dr. No. In my mind I had it perfected, but unfortunately where we were to get out the ground was covered in large, slippery pebbles and as I stood up to get out to give Shark a "bloody hell we did it!" hug, I slipped and at the same time she stumbled backwards. We both fell back, very unceremoniously, into the water. I tried again to stand but my unobliging body was not having it, so sitting in the water for a breather to come eye to eye once again with our favourite stalker swan, this time flanked by the army of ducks from yesterday, and a sudden grim dilemma hits - there are two ways to get out of the lake and the other is back where we came from... Maybe next year!!
Al, Shark, me, Leon

I just wanted to add - It's been 8 months since my surgery, and 6 months being back swimming. It's been hard work, but it's been worth it. There's been mostly ups, but also some downs, but with the love and support of family and friends, a fantastic swim buddy Shark, Hollie and the guys at swimyourswim, some really hard graft, determination and not taking no for an answer, I did it. Thank you all so much. I am so proud of myself and a week on am still grinning. I can't wait for the next challenge...😊

Two last things - firstly I've been asked by swimmers about the training plan that I used for this swim. I did my own as I was unable to find one online that suited me. I'm more than happy to share, and will write it all out in neat as originally it was done in a cafe in the back of my diary in very untidy writing, and also there were changes made nearer to the swim that are different the original plan. I'll hopefully get it all sorted next week, and secondly, if you enjoy my blogs I have a "group" on Facebook. Its not really a group, as it's only me, but on it I post more regularly, and I'm also on Twitter and Instagram. You'd be very welcome.


Open Water Woman

Friday, 18 August 2017

Final preparations for Windermere

The last twenty weeks have been pretty much full with non-stop swimming/training/ driving to venues etcetera, and so with one week to go till my Windermere one way swim, according to my plan, I will only be doing two short pool swims. I initially wasn't too sure how I would feel about having some spare time on my hands, it felt like I was being lazy, however there is actually lots to do.

Firstly I need to think carefully about my diet, and what I'm going to eat this week. A quick look on the internet revealed that there are various suggestions on how soon to start carb loading before a long swim, and as I couldn't find a one size fits all, decided to stop looking and just go with all week- I don't want to accused of scrimping on my carbs this week, and that way I most definitely will have had plenty. I have only two, very much tried and tested (and actually edible), pasta meals in my cooking repetroir - Bolognese and carbonara. They are both eaten by my family regularly, without complaint, however I'm not sure they would tolerate the two dishes on repeat for the whole week, which means that I spent a morning trying to find recipes that suit everyone's tastes, not easy, so resorted to choosing what I like and I'll be telling them to pick out the bits they don't want (great parenting demonstrated right there!).

Over the last couple of months, whilst my swims have been increasingly getting longer, I have they have pretty much been living on yesterday's leftovers and ready meals for four nights a week. Always served with an apology of course, and a promise that it will only be till my swim is done, and then normal services will resume, to which they suggested (rather tentatively) that when the swim is done they should like to continue with this arrangement. Before I had time to object, they cleverly added that they think I will miss the swimming too much. I'm on to them though. They are not thinking of me. They prefer the ready meals to my cooking, and I have provided them with the perfect opportunity. I'm stuck between being okay with it and being upset that they don't like my cooking (not too upset mind) but their "selflessness" does give me a free pass to continue my swimming...

Recipes chosen I arrive at the supermarket with a list a mile long, including some ingredients I've never even heard of, to find myself migrating to the ready meal selection. My kids are not afraid to say when they don't like something (mostly my cooking), and the risotto they always request does look quite appetising, and they do say don't change anything before a swim, and whilst I'm not sure that extends to family members and their diets, I am not prepared to risk it, and guiltlessly fill my trolley.

Another must on my list for this week has been to write a check list and gather up everything that I need to take to Windermere with me. Once gathered together I realise that it looks like I'm about to embark on at least a two week stay, rather than a couple of days. I've packed more than double food than I've trained with, and if I have a spare of anything, even things that I've never once needed before now when I've swam, they've all gone in ... just in case. I'm not too sure what kind of emergency would warrant 3 pairs of goggles, 7 ear plugs, 2 silver blankets, a peg, a sewing kit and an "I 💜New York" key ring, however will take them all regardless.

Laid out on the floor in my spare room I realise that I actually not only have to fit it all into my car, but I also have to get Shark's stuff in too. I sent her a message suggesting that we (she) travels light, however don't think she took me very seriously when she sent me a photo of all of her things laid out. I need to contact Swimyourswim to find out how big our support boat actually is for as it stands nothing smaller than a barge will do. I fear that I'll need to be telling them, in the words of Brody (Jaws) "You're gonna need a need a bigger boat!"

I hope you've enjoyed reading this blog. Ive set up a Facebook 'group' Open Water Woman where I post more regularly. Please feel free to join, alternatively I'm also on Twitter Open water woman

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Ditching my wetsuit for a skins swim...

I'd not been off the plane for ten minutes when a friend (and fellow swimmer) Claire called me to ask if I would be able to meet her the next day for a swim and have a coffee and catch up afterwards. Despite having a suitcase of laundry that needed attention, I agreed and packed up my wetsuit ready to go. After a week of sun, sea, sand and a small amount of swimming (in clear, warm, azure waters - sigh!) and the real fact that I'd also eaten my body weight in food, I needed the exercise and there was a real possibility that even getting my wetsuit on would be a long and difficult process, but holiday over, and my Windermere swim a week away, I needed to just rein in the bad eating habits before then.

I arrived the following day and as I began unloading my wetsuit etcetera out of my car (I don't know how to travel light!), Claire came over to say hello and to inform me that I wouldn't be needing it. "We are swimming in skins today." She announced. I must have looked shocked as I had assumed (wrongly it turned out) that Claire wanted a quick swim (in a wetsuit) and to have a catch up over coffee (etc) and to look through my holiday snaps, instead she had conveniently forgotten to share this titbit of information. "It'll be fun!" she added. I on the other hand am not convinced, but I should tell you that a small part of me actually breathed a sigh of relief. Nothing worse (or more exhausting) than trying in vain to get your wetsuit over chunky knees and holiday thighs, however the main part was horrified. I've only swam in skins once before, and that was last year, and whilst it was dramaless (unusual for me) I don't remember it all that fondly either, added to this (and at the risk of repeating myself), I've literally spent the week swimming (slowly and usually with snorkel and mask) in the most amazing crystal clear water at 30 degrees celsius with all manner of colourful and vibrant (and mostly small) fishes. I was both surprised and delighted with myself for actually doing it without panicking, and only hyperventilated once when a leatherback turtle appeared and took me completely by surprise - imagine that, being in the sea and all... 😅 Looking out at the lake on this cloudy and cooler day didn't seem all that appealing in contrast.

Last week

This week

Putting the swimming part to one side, I just wasn't prepared, and I don't mean mentally, a week ago I was beach ready (nails, hair... and the rest). I'd had no warning time to reinstate the pre-holiday me, (that being buffed, scrubbed, polished and prepared till I was pretty much shiny). I'm not making excuses here, but the good folks of Yorkshire should not be subjected to the post-holiday me, which included none of the aforementioned. Thankfully I'd brought my Swimzi and once stripped to only my swimming costume, wrapped myself up in it. It covered, and kept warm all the offending areas (and I love it more for this), so then there was just a matter of getting in without anyone seeing me.

Unfortunately a hundred other swimmers arrived at the same time as me and not one of them appeared to be in any hurry to get in. I thought about running in, but the odds of me breaking my neck in the process were long, and to be honest the bo**ocking I'd get from Leon for not aclimatising properly (even at a water temp of 18.5oc is a must) was just not worth it, so how did I get in? By side stepping at a brisk pace whilst hiding behind a strategically placed swim hat, that's how, and whilst I had planned to strut into the water like a seasoned athlete, the reality was far, far removed from that.

It was always going to be a rigmarole getting in. It was agonisingly slow, very sweary (not sure it's even a word) and with little dignity. There was nothing ladylike whatsoever about it, which was reinforced when I stubbed my toe on a rock and fell unceremoniously into the water. A quick recce revealed no damage, but the remaining week old nail varnish on my big toe was no longer there (no bad thing really - I'd decided a day into the holiday that white nail varnish was not the colour for me, so it did me a favour really).

After the initial shock (and embarrasement) of falling in I regained my composure (once the applause and laughing had eventually stopped) to find it wasn't too bad and after I climatised, we set off. The plan was to swim for 200 metres and see how we felt, and then just carry on from there if we were okay. Claire wanted a more leisurely swim, whereas I wanted to compare my usual time for a mile against in a wetsuit, and so we agreed to swim at our own pace. I set off at a good speed, concentrating on my stroke and how I was feeling without a wetsuit, but it wasn't long before my feet began to feel a little chilly. I realised that the best thing was to up my pace, and as fortune had it a man came from nowhere (a bit like the shopkeeper from Mr Ben - for those of you of a similar age to me) and overtook me (scared the life out of me). I'd like to tell myself that it was in a bid to get warmer that I decided to try and keep up with him, and to an extent it was, however if I'm being honest the real reason is that the competitive me just couldn't bear it. After another 400 metres it was very clear that I was not going to catch him, and I was also failing miserably at getting my feet warmer, when I caught sight of a whopper of a brown, large, camouflaged (I know not entirely as I could see it) fish, nothing like the fish I'd been used to. You'd think that I'd be okay with fish per say after my week pretty much living in the sea - where actual sharks live, but I still let a brown fish spook me. I immediately went into fight or flight mode resulting in the quickest lap I've ever done (discounting the one in the boat where I forgot to turn my watch off - It was a bit of a panic and all as I was being rescued from a lightning storm at the time).

How did I feel swimming without my wetsuit? After the initial shock (both from the surprise of doing it and the cold water) I did feel quite vulnerable when I got in, but once I'd relaxed into my stroke and concentrated on listening to my body, I actually quite enjoyed it. It wasn't as alarming as I thought I would be, and as long as all the fishes stay out of my way (could do with someone to corral them into a corner whilst I'm in) I managed to relax a little. Acclimatising is vital if I'm to do it going forwards and ensuring that I've warmed up fully before I get in, this should mean no cold feet, or indeed no cold anything. I think the worse bit for me (and this will come as no surprise to the that know me) was the fear of the unknown (fish), however I am sharing their environment and it's just part of it, however if seeing a fish is going to mean my lap time increases as it did today, I'm pretty sure I can learn to live with it... Eventually!

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Swimming solo without my buddy...

I still cannot believe that Shark has the audacity to go on a family holiday, leaving me to open water swim alone... I tell her the reason that I swim with her so I'm halving my chances of anything having a nibble at me, and I'm not lying. If I see anything moving under the water (more worrying if it's above) I am prepared to swim over her to save myself - even if she is asthmatic. That's the truth. (same applies for thunder), however what I don't tell her is that I am missing my partner in crime (and we do get up to all sorts), my left hand swim buddy (always left - my equilibrium is off kilter if she changes side), our voice of reason (for I have no good sense) and my fellow cake connoisseur.

So this week, I find myself alone, by myself and unaccompanied with no swim buddy (I know she'll read this, so I'm really laying it on), and only my over active imagination for company. What could possibly happen when you arrive lakeside to swim in 19.2oc water with not a ripple in sight, the sun is out and the safety boat has been checked😂?

As fortune had it I happened to arrive at the same time as a lady called Karen, who told me that she was just returning to swimming after breaking her leg, and was just having  "just a steady 1.5 mile swim." As I am buddy-less I asked her if I could tag along. She said yes, she would like that, however assured me again that she wouldn't be that fast. Fine with me I replied, as I'm tons older that her. I have to build up to fast. At my age this takes time. Steady is good.

Post swim- I look tired, Karen doesn't!

We set off, and by the time we had reached the first buoy I realised that her"steady" was actually my "really, really fast." I was committed now, and despite knowing that the likelihood of me keeping pace was less than slim, really wanted to have a go, even if it was a lot faster than I expected.

There was actually a point very early on in lap one that I thought that in order to keep up with her pace I was probably going to have to die trying - so be it! I literally gritted my teeth and cracked on!

After a while (once the shock had been replaced with determination) I settled into a steady(ish) pace, and for a brief moment believed that I just might be able to keep up, and in fact there was one occasion when I did actually over took her, very briefly, when I was spooked in an unexpected glimpse of the bottom of the lake (yep, that's the level of fear we are working with here), and a fish (looked large to me, and I'm sure it had a fin). Honestly, I challenge even an olympic athlete to have kept up with me at this point. I was practically supersonic.

The second lap was equally as speedy, and I was tiring. This neck breaking speed was an eye opener I have to say, and the thought that this was her pace, AND she had just been laid up with a broken leg was really inspiring. Pretty sure after today that the Olympics are out of the question for me, and that was quite sobering as I really thought I might have a go for it! 😂 I didn't have too much time to dwell though, I was far too busy trying to breath and swim whilst keeping up with her.

The last straw, thankfully approaching the end of lap two, was when I was spooked by my own hand. I realise at this point, that despite having only swum a mile so far, I'd rather be out of the water being ridiculed (fondly), than in it being paranoid and jumpy (oh and exhausted. I mentioned this woman was a machine, right?). Definitely time to call it a day.

When I got out, I explained why I hadn't swam the two miles. I'd had very real issues on this swim, however feel I was not really taken seriously when their response was (and this is the bit where I thought I was going to be told the science part about refraction, but no), and this is a direct quote "is that the lake shark that's often referred to as a minnow?" Leon Fryer @swimyourswim (2017) to which there was much chortling, laughing, ridicule and general falling about. He then went on to promise me that the lake was only filled with (and I quote Leon again here) "brown goldfish and baby sea horses." I did not buy it. He gave the game away as he could not keep a straight face. Leon is a terrible liar.
With Karen and Al @swimyourswim.
that's not a strange growth on Al's head- it's me!

I got changed and waited for Karen (who maintained her pace for another lap, unlike some...) to get out, and laughing (only on the outside, inside I was still in shock) I enquired about her definition of "steady" because for sure our interpretations were pretty much poles apart, and here's where she dropped the very large bombshell (to be fair, I hadn't asked beforehand, and it didn't pop up in our conversation) that she is a Team GB athlete! Speechless for the second time today (first time I actually couldn't catch my breath to speak after our neck breaking mile).

Once I'd got dressed and had a recovery coffee, I headed home to download the data from my swim, desperate to find out how I'd done. I knew it was fast, however when my watch revealed that I had burnt off 21,203 calories. For a mile swim? I wish, and after a short investigation (I turned on the computer and looked online) my watch also told me that I'd been swimming for 2:28 hours and had covered 52.92 miles! News to me! Something was obviously amiss with my watch, as it couldn't possibly be that I could forget to turn in off when I got out and then drove home... And so I've come to realise that I don't just need Shark as a deviation from a possible fish attack, I also need her to tell me to stop my blessed watch! I am completely useless without her - as is proven today, however I have also learnt, and this wouldn't have happened if she'd been here, that I can swim really quite fast when it's a life of death situation, and whilst one could argue that being spooked by your own arm was not life of death, I challenge you all to use your imagination (dig deep) because it actually could so very easily have been an eel or such like. And no, I'm not one bit paranoid!

Please feel free to follow me on Twitter @Openwaterwoman_  and on my Facebook group @ Open water woman for more shenanigans 😊

Friday, 14 July 2017

Learning the hard way the importance of a pre swim warm up...

Having the wettest June since records began in 1910 has meant that temperatures in some of the lakes I swim in has been cooler than is usually expected at this time of year. Cooler? Who am I kidding? It's really bloody cold!

This is not helping with my training one bit. I am a fair weather swimmer (I do not mind admitting), as I really feel the cold and with the Windermere swim less than 2 months away I don't have the luxury of cherry picking the warmest days (of which there are none at the moment). I have to stick to my training plan, whatever the weather, and that currently means cold and wet.

Last week, after another difficult and frustrating swim, I realised the my usual routine when open water swimming (get suited and booted, get in, get swimming, get out, get to the cafe) was not proving very effective. For the first mile of a two mile swim I was really cold, my shoulders were uncomfortable and I just wasn't managing to get any rhythm. I got out feeling bone cold, sore and miserable. I then spent the next hour in the cafe scoffing cake and having a moan about it. It was at this point as I looked out at the swimmers, clearly with more good sense than I have, lining the bank in various states of dress and undress, stretching, jogging on the spot and doing windmill arms (some more vigorously than others), all looking rather smug and more importantly - warm. Finally the penny dropped ... In my previous two swimming seasons the water was a lot warmer, and although my routing was definitely not great, as the water temperature had been higher, I hadn't felt any effects that the cold water had presented, and (in my limited experience) had been unaware of.

Once I got home (and after a long, hot soak), I began reflecting on my swim. I realised that almost half of it had been affected by the fact that I was cold and I had actually deprived myself of a really enjoyable swim. One thing was for sure though, the wet weather was forecast to stay, and so I needed to reconsider my pre-swim routine sooner rather than later.

So how do I better prepare myself for swimming in cold water? I hit Google search to find out! (just to let you know, all the information in this bit (and more) is what I've read and can be found in the links I've added in a bibliography at the bottom). I was astonished to learn that when you swim in cold water the heat loss from your skin can be far, far greater than in air of equal temperature, some claim 25% faster (and some say even more than that) (water is a much better heat conductor than air), and also that doing an activity in cold water, like swimming, actually then increases the heat loss further, so there's little wonder I was so cold and so quickly ...

"When water temperatures fall between 20oC to 16oC, there is very pronounced vasoconstriction, a decrease in oxygen consumption, a decrease in peripheral and central temperatures, pronounced phenomena of hypothermia, and a minimisation of performance." (Serafeim Alexiou 2014). 

The body just doesn't respond well to cold water, and sudden emersion into it can even lead to thermal shock and hypothermia, so I'm thinking now that actually a pre swim warm up is far more important than I realised. It won't only to make sure that I'm limiting my chances of injury, increasing my performance and just generally having an enjoyable, and warm swim, it's actually potentially life saving!

On the back of my new found knowledge I set to work thinking about my own warm up. With my limitations I needed one that took this into account (being hyper mobile is so annoying!), which realistically means mainly a passive, and waterless warm up. I began by thinking about my earlier people watching and their different warm up routines and how I could incorporate this into my own.

Firstly- there appeared to be no uniform lake side when it came to warm ups. Some were in costumes/Speedos flexing their stuff. One man should have been dressed in more for when he attempted some very challenging (and interesting) stretches, as it what turned out to be a very revealing (please not deliberate). My eyes were scratchy for some time afterwards! And others chose to wear warm looking swimming coats/parkas/jackets, and either were doing various stretches or drank warm drinks. I'm thinking the latter looks far more appealing, and much, much warmer.

Secondly-  I recognised lots of the stretches as ones I do diligently before I swim in the 32oC pool, but don't do for open water?!? Makes no sense why I don't do it for both, perhaps because I'm already cold and just want to get on with it? There were some very impressive, yet tricky, looking yoga style stretches which looked far beyond anything that should be attempted by my very inflexible self without having the emergency services on speed dial! In fact one man really had the 'rest in corpse' pose to perfection, although he could just have been exhausted. I couldn't tell, but was afraid to leave until I saw movement...

Thirdly- shoeless jogging on a river bank. Where lots of geese reside? I think, for me (being clumsy and all), that would be foolhardy (and slimy I imagine), and on this occasion I thank my lucky stars that I am officially not allowed to run/jog/go faster than a standard walk (doctors orders). I can see why they would (I probably would too if I'm being honest, even with the goose poo!), what could be more perfect when it's not practical to do a swim warm up to raise your body temperature, elevate your heart rate and get your circulation going? However in my case it's just not an option.

As I've said before, I'm a 100% non-expert, but I don't think you need to be one to see that all three types of warm up work, and most people (with the good sense I seem to be lacking) have adapted their pre-swim warm up to suit their own needs and preferences. I just need to fathom out what's best for me. I can do the limited stretches that I do at the pool (and should really already be doing here), and a few windmill arms, but that's really as much as I can do, and as I'm not moving around, my main concern is that I need to be able to raise my body temperature without the exertion ... A coat it is then (and coffee)!

I had considered buying a swim jacket earlier this season (also around Mother's day, birthday and even Christmas last year) I left my family enough hints around the house, you know the usual - changed the screen saver on the computer, open magazines with highlighter on them, that kind of subliminal thing, although I perhaps should have taken a more direct and more obvious approach being that I was still coatless (not counting the several every day coats I have already)!

Anyhow, now that there is actually a genuine reason to buy one, it's not just to fit in with the crowd (never done that before anyway), or to just keep the rain off. It's not just "another coat" it's an essential part of my warm up routing, and is completely justifiable.

As always I hit the internet first to see what was available, but really I needed to be tactile - how am I going to know if it's right unless I wear it? And so literally accosted some fellow swimmers (I know them all), and by way of research, tried their various coats/parkas/jackets on. Cost me a fortune in promises of cake, but eventually came across a jacket (a Swimzi XK) that covered all on my tick list, which was in a nut shell to get me warm and keep me warm. (And incidentally I since found out was designed for the GB Farallon Swim Team (Escape from Alcatraz in on my bucket list) good enough for them and all that ... )

My new jacket shortly after it arrived!

And then lakeside before I warmed up.
And so after agonising and frankly feeling a bit hacked off with idiot self over my swim last weekend, in contrast, this week I actually felt pretty smug. Despite it being a lengthy eight mile swim in the very chilly conditions, in and out of the water, it was also an amazing swim. I had decided (this is all new territory to me so will need adjusting) on a pre swim warm-up, which included a short walk, windmill arms and some stretches whilst wearing my (very warm) jacket, and I have to say, it is so far so good. I had none of the usual aches, stiff arms and general feeling of tired when I set off, and fewer than usual when I got out (I'd just done 8 miles, I was never going to have none), and whilst I was unable to use the jacket to its full potential once I'd got out thanks to curious swimmers wanting to try it on (touché) I have to say, what a gem of a find!

Bibliography part




Saturday, 24 June 2017

Still yet to overcome the fear of weeds...

With only 10 weeks to go till I swim Windermere (my stomach flutters every time I think about it) I have to be diligent with training and stick to my plan with military precision, so when I had to change my schedule this week, thanks to a family birthday party, it meant a change of venue. I don't mind admitting it threw me a bit- creature of habit that I am ... however being given the un-enviable task of 'entertainment coordinator' for the party I cleverly thought that a 6 mile swim would give me enough time to plan, seeing as though I'd left it till the eleventh hour!

Shark and I arrived at our alternative venue to be immediately informed by the only other swimmer there (and he was getting out) that the temperature was okay, but that there were tons of weeds. When I enquired as to where they were he did a sweep of the arm in the general direction of the lake. I was confident at the time that we wasn't being all that specific; now I know differently. Determined not to be put off Shark and I discussed how many laps we would do (20) and when we would stop for feeds (laps 9 and 15) and set off. 


Swimming in weeds is no fun. Fact. For starters my imagination was running riot thinking about what's in amongst them. This was not helped by the website for the venue who advertised the you can fish there too, and to demonstrate how well stocked it is with mature and extremely well fed fish, there is a photograph of a proud looking fisherman, with what can only be described as a monster pike in his arms, on their home page. This does nothing to taper my vivid imagination. Don't those things hunt in packs for crying out loud?

We were sufficiently spooked enough to stop after one, record breaking lap, to gather our wits. Shark looked ashen and actually suggested that we just get out and call it a day already and head for the cafe (which happens to do the most amazing lemon meringue pie). I was tempted as it wasn't just a handful of weeds, we were pretty much swimming through spaghetti (I'm talking The Second Task kind of problems here). Sounding braver than I felt, I suggested that we carry on. We had driven for over an hour (would have been less if I hadn't thought I knew better than the SatNav...) to get there, and seemed such a waste to get out so soon. Also, this was our one opportunity this week to do our long swim. We needed to get over ourselves and get on.

After another neck breaking lap Shark stopped again. I knew it wasn't because of the pace, but rather that she wasn't happy. I have to admit that I wasn't all that over thrilled myself. At this stage we hadn't even swum a mile. Shark complained that her goggles kept leaking, to which I suggested that if she un-furrowed her brow this might help. We needed to slow down and try and relax. There was little chance that we would be able to maintain the pace, and if I'm honest if I were to be hunted down by aforementioned pike, I'd need to conserve some energy for the chase.

We began our third lap at a steadier pace, however as we approached the middle of the weeds Shark took a sudden ninety degree turn and literally swam sideways, away from me. Confused, I stopped to see what she was doing, and my feet found themselves in amongst the weeds, not that I could see them. This sent me into a panic and a high speed swim to the less weedy part of the lake. Shark in the mean time was wind-sprinting down the other side and back to the jetty. You would be forgiven for thinking that she were being chased, however she confessed when I caught up to her (I did this slowly - if she were being chased there was no way I was swimming straight into the arena) that she had actually seen a sunken boat (this is there, amongst the weeds, for the divers) and, wait for it - thought it was a shark (Yorkshire is full of them😂) and fled for her life. 

After thanking her for leaving me, it became clear that neither of us were going to get in 'the zone', and I was never going to be able to drift off and think about organising party games suitable for a seventy year old with a dicky knee. It was a relief to get out truth be known, and although we laughed (me more than her) nervously about Shark's Olympic speed sprint afterwards (for quite some time), it became clear that even if we are in a lake 'alone' we are never actually going to be- weeds or not. The weeds aren't going to hurt us it's the Yorkshire river bound, boat shapes sharks hiding in it that will!

Saturday, 10 June 2017

The lake is at its best in glorious sunshine ... unlike me today!

I've been fortunate enough to have had glorious sunshine for every open water swim this season so far, and today was no exception, but it turns out that a sunny day and perfect conditions do not always make for a good swim ...

Water temperature today 19.9oC

All was not well from the off. I'd had a bad night's sleep and instead of heading to Shark's house to pick her up was on auto pilot and went the wrong way heading towards work instead (and on a Sunday, which is completely outrageous😐). After performing a seven point turn (no laughing this is seriously impressive for me) I eventually was on the right road only to pass her coming the other way heading to my house. She hadn't seen me and I knew phoning her was pointless as her phone wasn't synced to her car, so followed her all the way back home. Anticipating that it might be one of those days my tired and slightly grouchy self rechecked my bag before we left again. It would be just my luck today to have left a crucial part of my kit at home. All present and correct I (we) set off again.

We had decided on a three mile swim (9 laps) but would stop at 6 for a drink and to consider whether or not we wanted to continue. As soon as we set off I looked back at the banking to see fellow, and more diligent, swimmers warming up - Whereas we had just got in and hadn't - unlike us, but too late now. Half of the first lap in and my shoulders already felt tight, my watch was too loose and kept catching on my wrist and I was struggling to see out of my new "anti fog" goggles. The rest of the lap I spent talking myself out of getting out and calling it a day.

As we completed the first loop I stopped (well away from the buoy) to sort out my watch and my goggles. Whilst I was faffing about I was quite literally swum over by a swimmer doing breast stroke (and no apology offered😒)!?! How I wasn't seen I do not know, but on the plus side the large involuntary gulp of water I swallowed negated the need to get out to get a drink saving a little amount of time.

Setting off after our unauthorised stop my goggles once again fogged up. I was struggling to get into my stride without being able to sight properly. It was very unsettling. I didn't like it and knew I needed to stop again. This was forced sooner than I expected when I accidentally toe tapped Shark at the first buoy at which point she caught my eye and smirked, making me smile. The movement from which made my cloudy and not fit for purpose goggles leak ... This was not my day! We stopped again as I readjusted them. I persevered for a couple more laps with limited vision in one eye and almost none in the other. Enough! I got out at the start of the next lap, put on my spare goggles and got back in. Fog free we set off again.

It's especially busy at the moment with people training for the Great North Swim, and in previous years it has never bothered me, however this year all the time that I am swimming I am in self preservation mode. I'm really guarded around other swimmers and concerned that they will knock me or tap my feet. Added to this I was especially cautious after last week when whilst swimming as we went past the third buoy I managed to scrape my toe on the bottom. I thought I'd seen a huge fish and just panicked. The water level is particularly low at the moment and as it happens the 'huge fish' was actually the bottom of the lake. I limped back and after a brief examination from Shark was told it was a graze and to get over myself! I'm not sure I liked her bedside manner - and she's a nurse!

With my new all seeing eyes I was finally relaxing into my swim, that was until I got to the third buoy, and now that I could see again panicked when I saw the bottom (still very shallow after no rain) and pretty much swam over Shark to move to deeper water. As we finished this lap Shark stopped, and after a heartfelt apology and explanation she suggested that we swap sides swimming. I am a creature of habit. Shark always swims on my left side, and I really didn't like the idea of change, however I liked the idea of scraping my toe on the bottom again even less, so to avoid further injury I agreed, and during the next lap gave myself a lengthy internal talking to, yet despite this did exactly the same again, only this time not to Shark, but to the man from early doing the breast stroke! There's Karma at work right there! After a fleeting (and I'll admit not very heartfelt) apology I carried on, swimming more towards the middle of the lake, incurring no further injury. Phew!

I was tired from the off, and usually would be considering some food to combat this, but I was tired due to a sleepless night, not from swimming and wasn't convinced that any amount of Jelly Babies or food would have perked me up, so kept going. We completed the swim and although it hadn't felt fast (probably due to all the stops), surprisingly it was. Feeling uplifted there was one final hurdle - to get out of my wetsuit in one piece without injury or exposure. I think I managed it, I say think - I definitely didn't injure myself, and nobody near by looked particularly traumatised or alarmed, so assume I didn't unveil anything I shouldn't have 🎉. Relieved we head to the cafe for well deserved refreshments. Usually we would also have been analysing our swim, however today the very brief general consensus, as we sat enjoying the sunshine, was that it was just "one of those days!"