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!"

Sunday, 28 May 2017

First Open Water Swim of 2017

My new wetsuit had arrived on the Thursday, and I'd bribed Shark with cake to come round and be on standby just in case it was more complicated getting in and out of it than I expected, requiring immediate practical and/or possibly medical assistance (she is a nurse - how fortuitous). After much deliberation Shark finally arrives carrying one of those long shoe horn and some Glide. I would have preferred a full medical kit. I think she fancies herself as a comedian! After a tense, and careful 10 minutes (new wetsuit therefore using white cotton gloves provided 😇) I am in! I'm not zipped in, but I'm in. I would award myself with a well deserved pat on the back but I actually can't manoeuvre my arms into that position and I'm far too hot and feeling slightly claustrophobic. I need to get it done up (step in Shark) and take it off again. All this done, and after comprehensively swinging my arms around for an extended period of time, I've decided it fits.

Saturday couldn't come round soon enough. The sunshine that I had so desperately wanted had arrived after a full week of non-stop rain- I'm not talking biblical proportions, but enough for me to consider putting it off. I wanted today to be just right, and that included the weather. Today wasn't about training, it was about taking the time to smell the roses. It has been a long winter of not being able to train after my operation, followed by long and sometimes difficult (mentally and physically) training sessions at the pool regaining my strength and fitness, and whilst necessary, I was really ready to be back in the open water again. I wanted every aspect of the day to be just right. It was important to me to be able to reflect on how far I'd come, and to remind myself of why I have been training so hard ... and if I'm being completely truthful there may be a small part of me that also went for the cake. They make amazing cake!

Shark and I arrived at the lake feeling quite giddy and you'd be forgiven for thinking I was staying the week at the lake, the amount of stuff I took. I was so worried I'd forgotten something (wouldn't be for the first time), that I over packed.

As I walked to the lake side, donning my new wetsuit, I began repeating the procedure for getting into cold water in my head, possibly to distract myself from swearing as I got in, however the water wasn't too cold at 14oC and although I took a sharp intake of breath when I was waist deep, not one swear word escaped (proud moment!). After easing myself in I swam a slow and steady mile enjoying the scenery and the absence of chlorine, lane ropes and other people and their toe tapping shenanigans. The water was crystal clear and the temperature was not too bad for the most part, and although there were occasional pockets of cold (freezing cold - borderline Arctic) that took my breath away I was enjoying it so much hardly noticed. I was feeling quite buoyant (excuse the pun) when I finished, and was grinning like an idiot, even though I nearly broke my neck staggering out. My exit still need work - I'd forgotten that I'm unsteady at best when I get out!

It had been an amazing morning and the standard post swim regime of shower (long) and coffee (hot) and cake (chocolate) followed and returned home feeling energised and eager to be back outside (but a little grumpy as my next swim was back in the pool). Unfortunately not every swim will be able to be this leisurely, there's so much to do in the way of training and I need to remain focussed on the bigger picture, but also recognise the need to stop every once in a while to appreciate all that is around me. I'm especially talking about the lake closely followed by the cake selection at this point (and possibly the good folks that have continually supported me over the last 6 months). 

Friday, 19 May 2017

How Food Trials for my Windermere Swim Becomes a Poolside Picnic...

The money I have spent on different foods to try at the poolside this week for my Windermere swim was actually enough to secure me The Great Star of Africa! I have bought so much that my house is now overflowing with it. I have labelled it all with a large "Hands off!" This is proving very difficult for my kids who has no idea what this concept is. They view a cupboard full of anything edible as a challenge and often when I return home, could be forgiven for thinking that a plague of locusts has swept through the kitchen; they're that thorough! At this stage I'm not convinced that any of the foods will even make it to the poolside...

The following day and after moving the foods to a safer place (the boot of my car), I gather a selection to take with me for my swim, including extra water - just in case, and literally haul it to the pool. I may have overdone it, but I get the food poolside unchallenged and begin to unpack. As Shark arrived it was clear that we had the same mindset as she also turns up with a large bagful and I suspect we may be leaving the pool a little more portly than when we got in! In honesty it wouldn't have surprised me if she were to also rock up with a blanket, camping chairs and picnic basket, but she explained that she had considered it but wasn't sure whether that was pool etiquette or not, and as we were already pushing our luck by having our supplies poolside in the first place, best not to upset the applecart and draw even more attention to ourselves. Good point well made, and whilst would have been funny, not worth risking being kicked out for.

After much discussion the plan was to try each one individually with half an hour between foods. Hopefully any nasty reactions would have revealed themselves by then and we could then either add to the "yes" list, or bin it. We would feed back how we felt etc at the end of each half hour.

I lined my food like soldiers up in the order I would try them, and then looked at Sharks, what can only be described as a precariously balanced, disheveled heap of food, and whilst normally I would be fussing round tidying up, on this occasions I was more than pleased that she is a little less tidy than me. Her food was spilling over the side of the pool that happened to create a barrier between our lanes and the rest of the pool making it difficult for fellow swimmers to navigate round in safety, meaning that we would be able to swim with a lane each to ourselves. Great minds think alike and with a little tweaking we were satisfied that only a seasoned long jumper would be able to make the leap, we began our uninterrupted swim.

The first food of choice was a new and untried before gel. I was unsure about trying new ones, as I wasn't unhappy with the ones I usually use, however for the sake of our food trials I was willing to try. I'm not one usually for surprises but was a little excited to see what the "potential benefits" that it promised would be. Only we never got to find out that. Bring on the side of caution I carefully tried the smallest of amounts. The gel was so sour that I needed to remove my goggles as I had developed an involuntary twitch and leaky eyes. Straight on the reject pile and back to my original gel choice.

Not the best of starts, however I was very enthused by the second food as it included chocolate, and what a treat it turned out to be. A Powerbar - chocolate and caramel no less. I didn't drop any, much to my relief and I didn't throw up either, probably much to the relief of the lifeguard! That's a definite yes from me! Sadly Shark can't eat chocolate and that's a great pity for her, but means more for me... always a silver lining!

Not wanting to trial too many in one sitting, we decided that two per swim was enough, and so the following day we were back with our stash for round two. Today the food of choice was a gel with caffeine and some home-made flapjack. The gel was fine, and I'd actually had a coffee before I'd swum, probably defeating the object, but tasted okay and no nasty reactions. The flapjack, although delicious if I do say so myself, is a no. I spent the majority of the the next 20 lengths concentrating on removing seeds from my middle aged gums rather than on my stroke and/or performance. I shall consider adding tooth pick to my new swim bag, It might be useful. Shark said she might add this to her "yes" list as she hadn't had the same problem as I had. She must be lying as she is older than me, and so will make her a huge batch and insist she has some every swim from now till the end of time if necessary, until she caves and confesses that she has been struggling with them too. Which ever comes first!

Day three and for food choice number one I thought I'd try the Mars Bar (for old times sake). Tasted delicious but unfortunately took a long time to chew. I don't actually have this amount of time to spare and there's the added worry of breaking a tooth chewing. I hadn't thought about the hidden dangers of eating during a swim till just now, and so make a mental note to pack Paracetamol into my swim bag- just in case... Food choice number two is a jam sandwich. Note to self - only take food to try that you actually like on a normal day. We'll say no more!

I have prepared day four the night before (when I say prepared I mean I've cut it into bite size portions - who knew this size existed?)  and so I'm looking forward to today above all others, and not for the swimming. Today we are trying cake. Shark looks at my portion sizes miserably, and so in a bid to cheer her up I suggested that we think of it as a starter and have a real slice of cake in the cafe afterwards. This worked to elevate her mood, but I'm not sure it'll work in the lake. Delicious but messy...The other food was a white chocolate rocky road (thanks to Shark) Delicious but too moreish (is that even a word?) Never thought I'd find myself saying no for that reason!

Day five. Today I'm trying a protein bar. It's one a couple of people recommended and so I've high hopes. I love it! It's delicious. Sadly my love for it is very short lived as after twenty lengths it becomes obvious that the bar and I are not compatible. Feeling decidedly queasy I got out sooner than I wanted to, and decided against trying food choice number two for today, but feeling grateful that I'm doing this now. It must have been bad, I couldn't even face the usual post swim coffee. Unheard of!

Day six and so being the belt and braces kind of person that I am wanted to double check that I was still okay with Jaffa Cakes after all it's been a whole year since Jaffa Cakes and I were in a lake together and a year is a long time... Lots can change. Along with this I tried a sports drink. Citrus flavoured (to go with the theme of the day). I am beyond delighted to say that both were fine (especially the Jaffa Cakes) and both shall be on the "yes" list.

Day seven and my final day of the trial, and I'm grateful. I've have enough really and want to settle into some normal swimming with food I know I'm good with. So off to Betty's to buy my final food choice, a Fat Rascal. Coincidentally I received an e-mail from Betty's Cafe informing me that "Little Fat Rascals are back!" and if this wasn't tempting enough it was chocolate orange! Not wanting to spend any time mulling over which one to choose (and there was a huge queue), I bought one of each. I thought I'd share with Shark, but then thought again, I'm not great at sharing - She can get her own!
*Note to self - buy them just before you swim, not hours before, because you cannot be trusted not to eat it before it even gets to the pool, resulting in a second trip, with equally long queue, to get more! Replacement Fat Rascals and I make it to poolside, but once I'm there I decide against using them during my swim for one reason - we have limited time to feed whilst swimming, and Fat Rascals deserve to be savoured, and so a unanimous decision was made that we would take one (each), but have it once we finished (along with a bottle of celebratory bubbles) when it can be enjoyed properly.

Fat Rascas from Betty's

Food trials completed, and I think I'm all sorted, which I'm grateful for as it's cost me a fortune, not just for the foods for the trial, but for all the treats I've bought my kids as the guilt was tormenting me. They have constantly reminded me all week how tortured they have been and I remember the word martyr being mentioned more than once. I felt terrible until I discovered a handful of "hands off" wrappers in each of their rooms...Seems they aren't as badly done to as they made out, but I did notice one of the wrappers was that of the 'unsuccessful' protein bar, so maybe they have been "tortured" after all, just in a different way!! They've never confessed, and I'll never ask!😂

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Nutrition planning for Windermere

The first race (running) that I ever won in my early teens I attributed to the Mars Bar (my chocolate bar of choice back then) my Dad gave me before I ran, and in the years that followed he gave me one before every race I did, and as instructed I ate it an hour before. It became our 'thing.' Back then anything to do with food, a healthy diet and nutrition fell to my Mum. I just ate what was put in front of me, and my Dad freely admitted since then that he gave it to me as a treat rather than to boost my performance.

I'm not sure whether there was the understanding in the 80's that there is today about balanced diets, nutrition and our bodies, or as much emphasis, but since then there has been loads of research done that connects good nutritional choices with improved performance, a quicker recovery and injury prevention, which has then led to a vast amount of gels, shakes, bars and products coming onto the market that claim to keep you hydrated, provide fuel, boost performance and improve the recovery process, which all sounds perfect for my swim...

I have no experience on what eat during a longer swim. On the 10k swims I did last year I survived very well on Jelly Babies and a couple of gel bars, but this swim will be nearly double the distance and if I don't get it right my performance will be affected, and so I need to ensure that the food I eat during the swim is not only beneficial, but that I can actually tolerate it.

I want to learn all of my lessons before I swim Windermere and the only way to do this is to plan ahead by experimenting with various, recommended food options to see what works for me, a bit like a rehearsal if you will, and once I've tried and tested them stick to these familiar foods for the duration. As I am a 100% non expert I have asked a few people, some with and some without long distance swimming experience for their favourites and since asking it's become clear to me that it's not as simple as one size fits all. What works for one person may not work for another.

There appears to be no rule of thumb with regards to what to eat, however a lot of the recommendations actually echo each other and mostly say they have mainly carbohydrates with a little amount of protein and fat. They find this is the best combination, and as long as you stick to it you can pretty much have what you like, what your body can tolerate and a bit of what you fancy...

What's been amazing is that some of the kind folks that shared their thoughts not only give me recommendations, but have gone on to explain why my body needs these types of food.

It all boils down to the fact that the body has different requirements when you're exercising and that's why you need to adjust your food intake accordingly. It's been explained to me that initially my body will rely on carbohydrates that are already stored for fuel in my muscles, and any complex carbohydrates that I eat just before and during the swim may not have enough time to be absorbed into the blood and then to the working muscles, as this process takes a long time, and therefore it is important to increase the amount of complex carbohydrates for a few days before the swim, to maximise muscle glycogen in advance.

I have also been told that the body needs the carbohydrates replenishing regularly as it can't store them for much longer than 60-90 minutes and whilst complex carbohydrates, which are slower to digest, will give me enough energy initially, they will need to be topped up with simple carbohydrates during the swim, simply because simple carbohydrates are digested faster. This is important, as when exercising hard the body diverts blood away from the digestive tract and essentially prioritises by sending it to the rest of the body giving it the oxygen it needs to work the muscles. Also, carbohydrates need less oxygen than fats or protein to burn which makes it the most effective fuel source. This is really helpful when our bodies are already struggling to process the oxygen it needs.

It has been suggested that I start taking on simple carbohydrates early on in the swim when my body is less tired, and my digestive tract is working better. This will mean it will be easier to process the sugars which seems to make sense. I don't want to be leaving it too late when my energy levels are already low, if my liver runs out of glycogen I will literally hit the wall, and a recovery will take time and possibly put the kibosh on my swim.

I am aware that there are other factors that may contribute to my performance on the day, for example: the weather, the temperature (air and water), the tide (yes, Windermere is so large that it has a tide!), whether I've slept, are my hips/feet ok? The point is that if I can successfully find what foods works for me and combine it with a well balanced diet before the big day, it will be one less thing to worry about. As I said before, I'm not an expert, and I'm not an athlete. I don't follow a rigid schedule, but I do want to be able to enjoy the swim- it's a long time in the water to not! I want to get out the Lake and be able to brag (probably indefinitely) about my achievement.

I have been offered some great suggestions, some of which I would never have thought to try, and others I'm definitely not trying (anything with Marmite - I'm a hater). I think it's a good thing to have a variety of foods, and I have already included my beloved Jaffa Cakes and, for old time's sake, a Mars Bar, on my 'yes' list, and and have just returned from various shops ladened with supplies of gels and snacks and a severely reduced bank balance. All in the name of getting it right! I'll keep you posted...

Finally- sports science is still evolving and last thing that I've learn't, that I absolutely feel compelled to share as I am both surprised and delighted to learn, was that in a very recent studies at Kensington University they proved that dark chocolate can boost performance, and it gets better, they're not talking an odd piece, but a whole bar a day (fingers crossed it's one of those 200g ones!!!). How amazing is that?

For those of you that want to read more about this happy news here's the link
 Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition

There may be someone reading this that does not agree with some parts, but I would just like to say that no-one offering me the benefit of their wisdom and/or advice are specialists in the field. Thy are just a bunch of kind individuals that wanted to share their own understanding and experience to point me in the right direction for which I am very grateful.

Friday, 21 April 2017

A nostalgic visit to the lake at Hatfield.

Cold day but glad to be here, and look at that lake...!

As I began my (pool) swim today I was hit by a bout of nostalgia. It was brought on by a visit to one of my swimming haunts at the weekend, and whilst I didn't even put so much as a toe in the water (far too cold yet), just being by the water, with the regular crowd (some of who didn't give it up for the winter) had me wishing for the warmer weather to arrive as soon as possible so I could be swimming outside rather than in.

As we (shark and I) were visiting it only seemed right to go along armed with cake. The bar was really high last year. Our fellow swimmers there really know how to bake, and I felt the pressure to pull something great out of the bag (unlikely). We had told Leon and Al (Swimyourswim) that we were coming, and would be bringing cake, so there was no getting out of it. I am relying heavily on Shark as our baking efforts up to date have been 80% hers and a measly 20% mine (she is such a pro, whereas I am not).

I committed to making a sugar free Jaffa Cake cake. I'd not made one before but Shark had (she gave me one to aid my recovery), and armed with the recipe I started. I am actually not too bad at baking, and can usually rustle something edible and I've had no complaints at home. Having said that I have also taught my children great manners and whilst usually knowing they are polite gives me a warm feeling, I'm all of a sudden not confident they have always been completely honest with me.

FaceTime with Shark.
Hers and mine.
It actually went really well, despite the pressure, and although my first attempt was less than presentable (even there dog wouldn't eat the bit that fell on the floor), the second one was actually ok. I was feeling quietly confident until Shark FaceTimed me to ask how I was getting on and showed me her amazing looking cake. As a face saving exercise, whilst mine was cooling, I hot footed it to Betty's Tea Rooms to purchase one of their lemon and lime cakes. I am at this stage prepared to pass it off as my own (making sure I had removed all evidence of fraud). Fast forward two hours and surprisingly it's not looking too bad. It's not burnt and it hasn't sunk. I have put on the topping - not the original chocolate topping though, as in the time it took me to go out to get the reserve cake and back it has been eaten. I made do with an orange glaze that looks ok. No-one has owned up to eating the chocolate, and I have threatened to not bake until the culprit owns up. Funnily enough no-one so far has...

I am not fastidious about presentation. I don't need to be for I have secret ingredients and real unicorn tears in my cake that promise cake Nirvana. Shark on the other hand pulls it off and sends me a photo of her seasonally decorated cake worthy of a WI rosette. It doesn't really matter though as I shall be turning up at Hatfield and claiming it as a joint effort.

This is the after shot of Shark's cake.
My before and after aren't all that different. 
It was great to see everyone and to be lakeside again. I was surprises at how many swimmers there were, and not one of them swore when they were getting in. I must ask them how they do it as I'm yet to manage that one! It was a lovely sunny day, but chilly. The lake looked inviting however 11.2oc is still too cold for me, and so we stood on the side drinking coffee, eating cake and putting the world right, oh, along with Al pointing out the new buoys on the lake, with large numbers on (he told me he chose large so my middle aged eyes could see them - they're also bright orange, I'm unlikely to miss them, but thank him for thinking of me all the same...), and some new signs.

Al pointing...

All very smart, but this sends me into a bit of a panic. The lake is ready, but I'm not! I've yet to order myself a Dryrobe and a wetsuit and even need some polarised goggles, and whilst I have been extolling all of my wonderful virtues in the baking world (there are literally hundreds you might be able to tell), I've proved that I'm not a ringing endorsement for the organised person I claim to be. Being at Hatfield has made me realise that I hadn't considered that if there was a freaky bout of early warm weather and the water warmed up a few degrees I'd want to be in the lake rather than in the pool. I need to galvanise myself into action if I'm to be ready. No more baking for the time being (some will be relieved), only essential shopping!!

Sunday, 9 April 2017

The Importance of Rest Days.

It's 7:24 on a Sunday morning and I'm still in bed having a lie in. Not much of one since I'm wide awake and forcing myself to stay put. My slightly competitive self is tortured. I am already tetchy thinking about to the lack of progress when it comes to the speed of my recovery and the fact that Windermere is only 4 months away. It's only been just over a month since I ventured back into the pool and I would say that during this time there have been very many lows with a scattering of highs, so having a rest day does not sit that comfortably with me. I mean, rest days? I'd been pretty much bed ridden for 7 weeks. I don't need another rest day!

As I eat my breakfast I mull over the possibility of bending the rules, after all a rest day doesn't mean sitting on the sofa with a box of Jaffa Cakes watching the Sunday matinee does it? I have a lazy dog that needs walking (although I can't rely on her to cheat the system), and my kids have asked if I will play badminton in the garden with them (I'm not that keen on this, as I am yet to win any game - they too are competitive, but I am tempted, after all it's not the winning...). Suddenly I'm thinking Mr Miyagi in Karate Kid might be onto something, and although I'm not all that enthused by a game of badminton, my car does need a polish and I do have a fence that could do with a lick of paint (I think I actually need staff!). Definitely drawing the line at balancing on a log on one foot, not with my dicky hips and feet. It'd be carnage. It's an accident waiting to happen. I confess, playing badminton and painting fences is not all that appealing if I'm honest, but my kit bag is. This rest day doesn't feel beneficial, it feels lazy and I'm all out of sorts with myself. I need convincing that it's going to benefit me. Once again I resort to the internet to find the information I need, and if necessary prove a point that will enable me to go for a guilt free swim.

As I (re)search it becomes clear very quickly that rest days are very much considered an important part of any training plan, and there's heaps of evidence to back this up. There are different opinions about how many you should have each week, and when, however it's the reasons why you should have them that has surprised me. I've never given any thought about what my body would be doing whilst I'm not swimming. I just assumed it was about resting sore muscles and a free pass to have a lie in, but it's so much more than that.

I have so far actually been completely missing the point. Why didn't I do this sooner? Whilst I've been thinking that my body hasn't been doing anything other than taking it easy, in actual fact it's being anything but lazy. This rest day isn't a rest day at all. My body is working hard, and time off provides it the opportunity to strengthen, recuperate, rebuild and recover. It's about giving my immune system time to repair, which if not given the opportunity could leave me susceptible to injury, (this should be incentive enough - If I'm injured I'm on bed rest again and back to square one). There's plenty of research, but it's Dr Vern Neville at Loughborough University who really struck a chord for me. He says "recovery isn't just important, it's a biochemical necessity." A rest day allows my body the opportunity, and time for all of these essential biochemical processes to take place. And in return? I will be stronger, I will have more resistance, I will be less prone to injury and I will have more energy. In brief, I will see an improvement. Yey!

Up until now I had always thought that the more I trained, the bigger the gain, but now I understand the importance of a rest from swimming and I shall use the remainder of my day wisely by continuing to improve my understanding, oh and also may spend some time researching spa days for next time. And as I am now following it to the letter, when my kids come to me and ask if I'd like to go and play some badminton in the garden with them... I shall decline, after all I am on a necessary rest day!

Saturday, 8 April 2017

In search of the perfect swim bag...

I'm not entirely sure if it's the ethos of being a Girl Guide that is so embedded in me that I just can't help myself. I feel the need to carry absolutely everything I may need for any emergency around with me everywhere in an overly large handbag. This includes: hair grips, pen and paper, plasters, a bandage, a safety pin, tape measure, string, torch, peg, cotton and thread, face cloth, Tiger Balm, buttons and so on. It's the fear of never knowing when an emergency will happen and the need to "be prepared." I've not actually ever had a real emergency situation thank goodness, but I do worry because although I have pretty much have everything I think I might need, that age old statement 'all the gear, no idea!' would truly be appropriate when it comes to me. I really wouldn't have a clue what to do if faced with one.

I have decided this year to purchase a swim bag and after an exhaustive research I've opted for a rucksack. What I love are pockets, lots and lots of them, and this one fits the bill. My decision to replace the garden bucket that I used last year to transport my wetsuit etc. from home to venue and back again was based on the fact that there was nowhere to put my stuff and with limited space there's nothing more embarrassing than getting your towel or wetsuit out to find that an item of underwear has also vacated the bucket, sometimes when you weren't even aware, and you have to deny the escapee is yours, forcing you to go home commando.

Now my bag has arrived my Girl Guide self is already filling it like a master packer with 'what if' items: What if I cut my finger? (plasters) What if there are no washing facilities? (wipes, tissues, liquid soap). What if I get cold? (silver blanket). What if Shark needs saving mid swim? (whistle), and so on and such forth till all pockets are allocated. In fact I've covered pretty much every eventuality almost to the detriment of the stuff I actually need to swim with, however manage to compress the essentials, namely wetsuit, goggles, spare goggles, towel, anti chafing balm (not that I chafe you understand), ear plugs, spare ear plugs, drink, swim cap, flip flops, clothing, contact lenses, snacks, Jaffa Cakes, money and finally my lucky mascot into the remaining pockets, and after a long hour of careful packing I was feeling decidedly chuffed with myself and decide a dry run is in order.

This is the moment that I realise there are two things that I haven't considered. Firstly how on Earth am I going to successfully and swiftly deal with an emergency when all of my 'what if' items are squirrelled away in the bag that's teeming with pockets? I would have to perform a scavenger hunt around my bag looking for it, thus wasting valuable time. Secondly, how heavy the bag is. Even with my beefy arms that would even impress the likes of Geoff Capes, I am struggling to pick it up, let alone put it on my back. The solution? Empty the bag, remove the less essential items (that'd be possibly the silver blanket and the liquid soap), produce a spreadsheet/inventory of its contents and their location, and repack in a more orderly fashion.

So with a plan in place I begin, and immediately discover another flaw. If you put your wetsuit and your clothing (namely spare underwear) in the same bit, your 'clothing' is very likely to leave the bag at the same time as the wetsuit, sometimes quite spectacularly and sometimes unbeknown to you, leaving you possibly compromised (depending on your point of view) similarly to the bucket, and so now the penny has dropped and I realise the the underwear absconding isn't because of the bucket, or the rucksack, it's because of me - let's call it human error... Wetsuits and underwear should always be packed separately at all costs! See, always learning...Perhaps if I'd worked this our sooner I wouldn't have had to go home without as it were, or had to fork out for a new bag after all, but then again I have to ask, can a girl have too many bag- swimming or other?

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Choosing a wetsuit? It's a minefield out there...

There are five things I ask myself when I'm shopping for new clothes. I have successfully been guided by these questions over the years and avoided several possible fashion disasters, all bar one involving pink striped jeans, a ripped t-shirt and an over large denim jacket with shoulder pads. All circa 1988 and perfectly acceptable back in the day. These days I can't look at the only photo taken of me that year where I happen to be wearing it without wincing. Why did nobody tell me that outfit was so awful? Anyway, despite this one setback I am confident that my sartorial measure works and I shall be using the five question approach when choosing my new wetsuit. The summer open water season is soon to be upon us. Last years blueseventy on its last legs, and I have a Christmas present (an I.O.U a wetsuit) burning a hole in my pocket. It's time to start some serious looking.

Tick list in hand, I began my search only to find that the more I looked the more obvious it is that my list was not going to cut it. As I pore over various websites, taking all sorts of different jargon, I notice that there are actually far more things to consider than I realised, and my tried and tested go-to questions are not fit for purpose in this instance (as demonstrated below) and therefore for the purposes of buying a wetsuit I need to rethink. My modus operandi is usually as follows:

1. Do I like it?
It's a wetsuit. It keeps me warm, afloat and offers a layer between me and any possible fish attack. I like all of those, especially the last one.

2. How much does it cost?
I am a Yorkshire man's daughter and being frugal (or plain old tight as my Dad likes to say) is embedded from birth. I want the best, value for money and a discount.

3. Is it appropriate for the occasion?
I can't imagine anything else doing a better job, so I'll go with yes.

4. Does my bum look big in it?
Won't know till I try, however they do mainly come in black, and as black is known to be slimming, I am therefore quite hopeful.

5. Is it orange?
Should be ok as mainly come in black or black, however even orange stitching would result in it being a big fat no from me. I don't do orange unless it's sitting on a layer of cake and topped with dark chocolate.

I have read several different account and opinions about buying the right wetsuits. My head is spinning with information and may well explode, but the general gist of it (if I've got it right) is that I should instead be asking the following:

1. Does it keep me warm?
I am always cold, and as I will be swimming in water that varies from 14.5 (our agreed getting in temperature) to 20 degree Celsius (everything crossed we reach these dizzying heights this year) I therefore would be better with a thicker one, but with a risk of tiring sooner than if in a thinner one due to movement restrictions, however a thinner one won't keep me as warm...

2. Does it keep me buoyant?
I'm not convinced I need too much help with this one... Nuff said, but most definitely need to buy a womans. It's to do with the buoyancy profile, but the thicker it is the higher the risk of becoming too buoyant and I'll be swimming too high to the surface and therefore be less efficient.

3. Will it help me to swim faster?
If I get the buoyancy right then it should in theory make me more efficient and therefore faster.

4. Is it comfortable?
I'll need to be sure I can move my arms and legs independently of each other and that I can move my head. That means it's got to be flexible - unlike me!
Also, I had particular issues round the neck resulting last year in Al at Swimyourswim 'customising' the neckline of my last one. I say customising, I mean taking a knife to the back of it and cutting some of it off. Not to be recommended, and only did it because I knew I needed a new one and it was the back end of the season with only a couple of swims left, but worked a treat.

5. Is it orange?
It won't be. I won't order an orange one!

It's clear that it's not a one size fits all and there are so many variations of density, flexibility and buoyancy, but here's the thing -I'm not particularly fast and will never make the Olympic squad, although this isn't for the want of trying! I just want to have enjoyed every swim I do without feeling cold or restricted and to be able to get out in one piece, and so with this in mind I intend to buy a few different makes to try on at home (with free returns of course), and although I won't be able to try them in the water I will be standing in my lounge swinging my arms round like a pendulum a few times, checking I don't need a shoe horn to get it on or off (important to be self sufficient) and hoping that I've hit the jackpot in so much as the one that feels the most comfortable is also happens to not be orange, be the least expensive, makes me swim like a dolphin, keeps me as warm as toast and is the most flattering... When making what I feel are important decisions like this though, there is one person, my Dad, that I can always rely on to say the right thing at the right time and put things into perspective. His words "in a life or death survival situation no-one's going to be looking at your backside..." is a really good point, but I'm just not entirely sure I'm prepared to risk it on this occasion!