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!

Monday, 20 March 2017

Tales from... the changing room.

I couldn't get to the pool at my usual time this morning, and so had no idea that the changing rooms had such a high volume of traffic mid morning; it was jam packed. This assemblage was daunting to enter and after giving the room a quick once over, I noticed a space at the far end near the bin. Beggars can't be choosers and so that was where I headed. I've done this a million times before in smaller and less glamorous places (that's a whole other blog...), I wouldn't be long.

I entered the changing room with extreme caution. This is not a place that I recognise. It had changed into a busy and sociably complex place. My first encounter was with an abandoned, overflowing kit bag (this season's of course), surrounded by a sea of wet towels. It's owner has deserted it to jostling for an advantageous place in front of the hairdryers, oblivious to the fact that their bag was causing a bottle neck. My second was more of a near miss than an encounter was with the overflowing bag's wet children, who were streaking through the changing rooms depositing talc on anything stationary, whilst mum engaged in locker room talk at the hairdryers. Today's hot topic - Do children's swim pants truly work or not? - Didn't stick around to listen to the result, I had places to be.

I elbowed my way (politely and carefully) through the bodies and bags being mindful of the wet floor and any moving objects (small persons), for I know from a previous changing room experience that the journey from door to locker can be a perilous one. Once I'd made it the last thing I wanted was for the little tyke to run out of road and end up being spritzed with talc, so being fast was key. Long gone are the days when you could rock up with your vest and pants rolled up in a towel and just get straight in, these days there are so many more things to consider like folding your clothes and making sure  ALL your belongings make it into the locker, including errant socks and possibly one other underwear item! I changed at speed, but in my haste I was almost too busy to notice the unmistakable reason for the gap in which I was changing, and more importantly the answer to today's hot topic. Turns out that swim pants really don't work!

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Tales from the fast lane-Part 3

The one good thing to come out of last week's Aquafitgate (and it's not that I survived in one piece) is the discovery of aqua gloves. Having felt the benefits of them, not immediately that is, but once the hurt had worn off (it took 3 days), I realised that I should be incorporating using some as part of my training. So unsure of the sizing, I ordered some online and hoped for the best.

As well as looking for new and different ways to improve my fitness I am also keen to get started trying different food options for the longer swims. I have to say that I really not sure whether food is allowed poolside but last year I successfully managed to avoid being detected and get away with a whole host of different foods including bananas, gels, Jelly Babies and Jaffa Cakes (only once). It's actually very difficult to be stealthy when the only terrain you've got to work with are blue tiles and windows, so actually it's hats off to me for being so successful! It's all about blending and frankly being a bit sneaky, so felt confident that I'd be able to pull it off again provided I continued using the same winning strategy. And so today's food of choice - a ClifBar. Being organised I had already broken it into bite size chunks in the wrapper to save time and the possibility of being unable to get it out later (looking back the irony is not lost on me). Today's approach for being undetected was to put a load of swimming related 'stuff' from my bag on the poolside making it less likely for the lifeguard to notice the bar, so I carefully choreographed a water bottle, goggles case, 2 spare caps, a float, 1 yet to be worn pair of (possibly child's size) aqua gloves, 4 hair bobbles, 3 earplugs (cant find the 4th) and of course the ClifBar. I strategically placed the objects around and on top of the bar, and began my swim.

I swam half a mile only using my pull buoy before then adding my, on the snug side, aqua gloves. If
I'm honest I'm not sure how tight/loose they are meant to be, but they did take a significant amount of time, and effort to put on-especially the second one, suggesting that perhaps I should have gone larger. I made a mental note to monitor the colour of my fingertips and if they had a purple/ blue hue about them, it will be considered a sizing error. I swam another 10 lengths before deciding to stop and have a bite of the ClifBar. I wanted to continue swimmimg with the gloves, and as I wasn't too sure that they would ever come off again I opted to keep them on. Unfortunately trying to open a small bar wearing gloves whilst being discreet is not something to be undertaken lightly. For starters it's really difficult pick up the bar from between all the swimming clutter I'd put on the side, and after fishing out one of the ear plugs and 3 hair bobbles from the pool (thankful I was wearing gloves, the clean up took no time at all), decided that my best option, without removing gloves or asking the lifeguard for help, and thus blowing my cover, was to use my teeth.

Ripping open a package with two gloved hands and your teeth should be an absolute doddle, so imagine my surprise when a piece shot out of its wrapper so fast I barely had time to react. In it's bid for freedom it bounced off the rope and plunged, at the speed of a bullet, into the neighbouring lane. In an attempt to salvage the situation and not draw the attention of the life guard, I used the gloves to propel me, at neck breaking speed, over to the offending escapee to retrieve it. I began to reenact last week's Aquafit class by using the scooping move to gather up the errant piece of bar, which to add to the drama, had by now divided, making gathering it up a bit like trying to herd cats! Some time later, and after what can honestly say was a not too shambolic effort of avoiding the attention of the life guard to the escalating situation, all the bits were successfully recaptured. Did I say only one good thing came out of Aquafitgate? Actually I'd go as far to say that there are now two good things. The first being how great aqua gloves are for helping with your training and the other is how amazing they can be in an emergency situation...

Sunday, 12 March 2017

1 week back in the pool

In truth, once I had the green light from the consultant that I could start swimming again I had visions of entering the pool full throttle, clocking up a few hundred lengths and dissecting it, metre by metre, in the cafe afterwards with Shark over a coffee. In reality I managed 50 careful lengths using a pull bouy, which included a couple of water stops, which may also have doubled up as a rest (what a happy coincidence re the timing). I couldn't help it, but I just felt a failure. It was going to take longer than I thought.

I explained how I had got on and how I was feeling to my physiotherapist. She immediately reminded me of what I'd been through and told me that I was doing far too much and to do less. In her rather lovely way she was giving me a polite bollocking. Once she had checked my exercises from the previous week, she told me that she would like to do some acupuncture on me. I've had it before for migraines, and really rate it, so was quite happy. After signing the relative forms I was told to lay on my front. And this was the point where she told me that it would be in my backside. Once the initial shock had worn off my thoughts turned to more practical matters like: Was I wearing suitable underwear under my leggings (yep, still wearing them)? Would it hurt? Would I be laid there exposing my backside or would it be covered? Is there a substantial lock on the door? How do I bide the time whilst my rear was being exhibited? What was an appropriate conversation to have in these circumstances? Is there any type of appropriate conversations in these circumstances? One topic of discussion we did have was that I should feel better after one session, however for more chronic conditions it would take longer... I'm going to have to learn very quickly to leave my dignity at the door in the name of a speedy next exposure/treatment is on Tuesday!

Friday, 10 March 2017

Tales from the fast lane - Part 2

In a bid to increase my fitness level I thought I'd have a bash at Aquafit. My Mum does it, and can still manage to walk straight afterwards, so how hard can it be? I even worried it would be too easy for me, even in my current state of unfit. However I can honestly say that I have underestimated my Mum big time! And following today's shenanigans I have a new found respect for her.

Before I even got to the exercise part I had no idea there was so much protocol to get through. After a brief chat with the instructor (I'll call her Claire, in fact all names have been changed) we decided that I would be best placed near the side, I was then welcomed into the fold by Marion, and after revealing I was an Aquafit virgin I was walked through how things were done at Aquafit. She talked me through who Beryl was (Head Honcho it turns out), who stood where (fine by me, didn't want to step on anyones toes - excuse the clever use of double meaning), how I could get the best out of the class (brilliant), why lots of the ladies choose to wear some kind of aqua sock, which were white and toeless (toeless?) for Aquafit, and that she thoroughly recommended them (all very new and a little amusing to me) and finally she told me that I would be standing in the middle left of the front. I suspected at this point that foul play may be involved as I know too well from bitter experience (badly stubbed toe many moons ago), that there is a drain at the exact spot that she instructed me to stand...and so whilst it appears that Beryl runs a very tight and organised ship, I actually now suspect she may be trying to kill me (I'm thinking worse case scenario here). Unfortunately (for Marion) this was the point where I had to inform her that I would be standing near the edge of the pool rather than follow their seating plan. There was an audible gasp from Marion at which point Beryl arrived out of nowhere, similarly to the shopkeeper in Mr Ben (love that programme), and told me that I would "be better positioned" elsewhere. After a short standoff where I said I would be staying put and offered no explanation as to why, Beryl marched to her pre determined place as best she could, wearing her white toeless socks and aqua gloves, with Marion closely following in her wake!

Once the class started it became obvious that I would be unable to full participate in the class, but under the guidance of Claire, who was amazing, I managed quite well, although there were times when the whole class were going in the opposite direction to me, actually it could well have been for the duration of the class for all I know, I was a bit oblivious to everyone else, but I was ok with that, unlike Beryl et al, who if I'm reading their disapproving looks right were less enthused by my efforts. Now I know that it is only the foolhardy who would turn their back on their enemy, but I found that I cared even less if I didn't have to see their judgemental stares. By the end of the class I was confident I had pretty much mastered most of the moves, albeit an adapted version.

I have to admit I had no idea how much hard work Aquafit was, so hats off to my Mum, Beryl and Marion. I was very impressed, and seriously considering booking to do it again and even buying some of the white toeless socks. That was until the moment that we were getting out of the pool and Beryl slipped and took a bit of a tumble off the bottom step, falling unexpectedly backwards into the arms of a very surprised Marion. No-one was injured, but this was the moment that I discovered why the white aqua socks had holes in the toes - it's simply to let your dignity leak out!

Monday, 6 March 2017

Tales from the fast lane- Part 1

I am very grateful that at the moment that the pool I swim in is unusually quiet, and that today I've been able to have a lane to myself, so when I am swimming I can concentrate on my stroke, rather than focussing on the possibility of someone kicking me. I have learnt though, over the last couple of years, that just because there are free lanes (plural) it doesn't always mean that you actually get one to yourself. Some people just want to share!

One such occasion happened just after the morning rush. The pool was empty except for myself and another lady at the other end of the pool, when an older lady arrived. She entered via the steps of the fast lane, where I was swimming and stayed there. She began doing some quite technical stretches using every resource handy to her - the steps, the hand railing, the rope. It was all very impressive, in fact one such stretch I was worried that she would require assistance to un-pleat her legs it looked so complicated. It is usual in my pool that when someone enters the lane you are already in, you stop and establish whether you will keep to a side (usually when there's just two) or rotate. I stopped, and asked her if she minded keeping sides, or alternatively she might prefer another lane where there was more room i.e., one of the other empty three lanes. She declined the other lane offer, but thankfully agreed to keep sides. I set off again only to find her on my return lap in the middle of the lane doing back stroke. The less selfish person would have given the lady the lane and moved, but unfortunately I wasn't feeling very benevolent on this particular day. I just felt hacked off. So making my point (I really wish I'd not bothered and moved) I carried on.

The lady had an impressive repertoire of strokes, some I'm not entirely sure have a recognised name,
but got her from one end of the pool to the other safely none the less. My swim was becoming less and less enjoyable, and more of a self inflicted challenge. The lady weaved her way from side to side, up the middle and across our lane, whilst the others remained empty. It became quite a feat of navigation at times, however after studying her training pattern for the previous (and long) half an hour (it became almost obsessive), I was pretty confident I knew where she was headed. I was tempted to move after several near misses, but by the time I had seen reason I had only a handful of lengths to go, and this is when the incident occurred. I had managed to navigate my way past her many, many times, and only once made contact with no blood being shed and no bones broken, however she suddenly pulled out an unexpected manoeuvre as I was about to overtake her (on my side). She went from her side to the middle leaving me nowhere to go - nowhere that is except under her... And that's exactly where I went. I have no idea why, I have no idea at all, only when I was under her there was no going back, or to the side or to the front, as once I had committed to this unusual manoeuvre, she decided to go faster. There I was in a compromised position, running out of room, running out of air and running out of steam, whilst the lady was completely oblivious, or so I thought.

We reached the end of the pool with synchronised timing. I emerged from the deep gasping for air and decided to finally threw the towel in and call it a day. After I had caught my breath and was about to get out, the old lady stopped her swim and said to me with no hint of irony "these lanes are really far too narrow to be swimming under water like that dear. It's really quite dangerous." I couldn't have agreed more!