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