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 needs 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.