Aqua fun

Following on from my last post, I have been reading a lot about how Aqua Jogging can help to maintain running fitness and to build back up through/following injury. As I spend so much time in the pool anyway, I thought this could be a great way for me to add-in another activity whilst easing back on the road running. I bought myself an Aqua Jogger belt online, not really knowing where to start – there are so many different types, some of which cost a small fortune. I decided to go for a slightly cheaper one, not knowing if I would actually like it or how much I would use the belt.

When it arrived I was a bit surprised at how big it was and wondered how on earth I would carry it to the pool on my bike (I came up with a fastening-it-around-my-rucksack solution, though I’m sure it must distract drivers)! Before I braved wearing it at my local pool, I was lucky enough to spot a woman using one during a visit to Crystal Palace pool. Chatting to the lifeguard, he said they had some there and would I like to try it. In at the deep end (literally), that’s the way!

Once I’d got over the weirdness of moving very slowly through the water, very slowly, I quite liked it. It’s definitely a great workout and you can play around with the intensity, creating a kind of aqua fartlek session. After my initial dip, I took the belt away with us on a break and used it in the pool there every day.

Aqua Jogger

Some tips:

  • Make sure you fasten it really tightly (kind of difficult, but worth the effort), so it doesn’t ride up in the water
  • Use the belt in the deep end, so your feet are not touching the bottom
  • Go in the slowest lane possible and smile politely as people give you funny looks
  • Imagine you are rolling a barrel underneath you, creating a nice pushing action, your feet dorsiflexed
  • Drive your arms hard, as you would out of the water, but don’t use them to pull you along

I had a meeting in town last week and, remembering that the Serpentine Lido is now open for the summer, I packed my kit. What a treat! I strolled along the edge of the lake, enjoying the view of the new Christo installation taking shape (I wonder how this will impact on Swim Serpentine…).

Barrel stack

As always, I like to take a photo of these signs and have a little chuckle to myself…

No swimming!

I am always delighted to slip (sort of!) into my wetsuit and step over the bridge that crosses the path below, people looking up, possibly wishing they were going for a swim, or maybe thinking ‘nutter!’ Easing into the water, I went through my pre-open-water-swim routine, let a trickle in, roll onto my back, enjoy the view of the sky, turn over and blow some bubbles. The water was surprisingly warm, so it wasn’t too much of a shock to the system!

I found myself feeling confident straight away, so went straight into swimming lengths of the 100m stretch. I have had a cough recently, so this, combined with the slightly restrictive feeling of the wetsuit, found me wheezing and pausing a fair bit! It reminded me that I need to keep practicing in the wetsuit, it is a very different way of swimming and takes a bit more upper body strength. Up and down I went, occasionally pausing to allow a coot, goose or swan to glide by, looking up to remind myself where I was and, once I had completed my goal distance, flipping onto my back to look at the clouds. Bliss.

Happy swimmer

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The view from the injury bench

That’s right, I’m still sidelined by injury and no closer to knowing what my injury is and how to deal with it. The appointment I had with a consultant back in April was cancelled during the clinic, I got as far as going for an x-ray, then was told the clinic was cancelled on my return to the department. Yes, this was incredibly disappointing, having waited a long time to get to this point. I am currently waiting (impatiently) for my next appointment in June.

So how am I dealing with this? As a coach, I always say to people that they need to take care, rest, respect their body and, if they are injured, a good way to keep in touch is through volunteering. I have continued to volunteer at parkrun, I have been at the edge of the road (or pool) for many races, I volunteered on the baggage trucks at London Marathon and I continue to clap, cheer and holler for my friends as they fly by, smiles wide and hands in the air.

One of the good things about this approach is staying in touch with your community. I enjoy the post-run coffee and catch-up and this is as important to me as the running itself. I have been finding  myself feeling a little sad recently though, as the injury blues kick in and I miss that incredible endorphin rush that comes from pushing yourself hard and hi-fiving your fellow athletes, knowing you have given it everything.

I am keeping it all ticking over, but I can feel my run-fitness seeping away, as I huff and puff, trying to hold a conversation. I am running twice a week, leading my GoodGym group runs, which are a stop-start sort of run, that I just about get away with, hobbling and wincing along the way. I am continuing to enjoy pushing my limbs to be a little more willing at More Yoga and I am, of course, dipping in and out of the water when I can.

A couple of weeks back I went along to London Royal Docks Open Water Swimming. I have been here before, a couple of years ago, when I had a little panic because the ladder, used to lower yourself into the water, was broken and we had to jump in. I did eventually overcome my panic and schlumphed in with some encouragement from the lifeguard, who was incredibly patient! This time I decided to join a coached session, to ease myself (literally) into the open water season.

Cable Cars

The open water swim area is pretty easy to get to, just a short walk away from Royal Victoria DLR station. If you want to make an entrance, you could opt for the cable cars, which land just next to the water.

Watery expanse

This view is what greets you as you approach the area, pretty huge isn’t it?! Having been before, I knew that I would only be touching the tip of this vast waterway, so felt reassured rather than intimidated. The coached session was great, with a few of the people having entered events such as triathlons or open water swims, feeling the need to try out wetsuits and get used to the cold (which actually it wasn’t really, my toes were still pink when I got out!). First of all, we paddled about in the water, acclimatising, allowing a trickle of water to enter the neckline of our wetsuits, before turning onto our backs to float and onto our fronts to blow bubbles.

As our confidence grew, we swam out to the first buoy, where we were shown some techniques for going around a buoy, which was a lot of fun. We also attempted a group start, clustering together to see how it feels to swim so close to others and get a sense of how a race start might feel. By the end of the session I had found my feet, as it were, knowing I can now go on and enjoy the open water by myself. I do think my panic will only really subside if I keep on going, spending time in the water, getting to know my ability and building confidence to do my upcoming events justice (I’m entered into the two-mile Swim Serpentine again in September).

With my wetsuit warmed up and ready to go, I’m looking forward to dipping into the Serpentine Lido, more of the Royal Docks, some sea swimming and I would really love to try out the ponds at Hampstead Heath. Here I go on another open water adventure!

 

2017, a round-up

As 2017 comes to a close, I’m taking this opportunity to look back at what has definitely been a year of two halves. This time last year I won a place in the London Marathon and my running year suddenly had a new focus! My training went really well and I enjoyed the challenge of taking my runs further afield, having not run a marathon since 2011, when I ran in Brighton. I trained hard, sometimes getting up early on a Saturday morning so that I could run the last 5k of my long run at Hilly Fields parkrun, the support of my fellow runners pulling me around those hard last few kilometres.

With this dedication to running taking over my life, I decided to step back to the 2.5km distance at my now annual Swimathon, realising I might struggle to fit in the training for the full 5k. Last year I had really enjoyed my swim at the Aquatic Centre, so decided to swim here again, even having a fly-by (swim-by?) from Duncan Goodhew partway round! You can read all about my experience here.

Swimathon

When April approached I felt ready, taking my place at the green start and looking forward to seeing my family and friends along the route through London. Training for and running a marathon is a long journey, with so many factors affecting your performance on the day. I ran well for the first half or so, then took an emotional and physical dip, struggling through the rest of the race. I think I realised that big races are not for me, finding it difficult to focus and riding an emotional roller coaster, whilst trying to negotiate a space for myself. After London Marathon I had serious post-marathon blues and Edward suggested running another marathon, using my training and hopefully achieving the goal I had hoped to reach in London. Five weeks later I stepped out onto the Cyclopark in Gravesend and enjoyed a calm, controlled and steady marathon, with space around to switch off and run my way to a PB. You can read a detailed account of these two events here.

My marathon

As June rolled around, so too did Endure 24. After my marathons I kept everything ticking over, running with my GoodGym groups and tackling parkrun for an extra push. Endure 24 is a 24-hour team relay, where I camped out with my friends and we aimed to have a team member on the 5 mile course throughout the 24 hours. It was an amazing experience, with my endurance training putting me in good stead to complete a total of 30 miles. Our friends had tried persuading us to participate last year, but I had been concerned about needing sleep, not wanting to run through the night. How strange (and delightful) then, to find that my favourite part of the whole event was the night-time run, where I had just the path ahead lit by my head torch and a sense of being alone in the darkness, amongst the trees, beautiful.

Team work

A quick look back over those first six months of the year and you will notice that I didn’t really stop. I barely allowed myself time to recover and went on to pay the price. My knee became painful and I found myself hobbling around and even being kept awake by the pain. Hours were spent at the physio, being given different diagnoses, from hamstring tendinopathy, to eventually finding out that my medial meniscus was not coping very well with the continued impact of all this long running. I didn’t have much choice but to continue running, since my work depends on it, but cut right back on track sessions and moved into the pool to keep my heart and lungs strong.

After taking part in the inaugural Swim Serpentine last year, I entered again, keen to have another go. Some time after entering, Swim Serpentine made an announcement about the London Classics, a new event for those who had completed the London Marathon and Ride 100. If you also completed the 2 mile Swim Serpentine, you would enter the Hall of Fame for the London Classics. I quickly got on the phone to upgrade from the 1 mile to 2 mile course and got myself down to the pool to make sure I was fit enough to take this challenge on. Some good, rough sea swimming on holiday in Cornwall was about as much as I managed in terms of open water acclimatisation, so it was a bit of a shock to the system to ease into 15 degree water in September!

London Classics

This year also saw me trying another new swimming event, the inaugural Marathon Swims. A chance to swim again at the Aquatic Centre, this time committing to the 5k distance (though there were people there swimming the full 10k!). I loved this new event, enjoying the format and the atmosphere and, of course, that amazing feeling when you pull yourself out of the pool, having achieved something great.

5k finisher!

There are just a few more days of 2017 left to go, with tomorrow being my annual birthday run, this time at my beloved Hilly Fields parkrun. With a year split between endurance running and water-based activity, it might not be a surprise to find out that I am keen to try my hand at swim run in 2018. There is so much to say about this particular challenge that I will give it its own post in the new year. Until then I will eat, drink (Alkoholfrei) and be merry.

The inaugural Marathon Swims, 2017

After my Swim Serpentine experience back in September, I was keen to find something to keep me motivated to get to the pool over the autumn/winter. I received an email about a new event, called ‘Marathon Swims’ and my finger was very soon hovering over the ‘enter’ button. How could I not?! It was to be held at my favourite pool, the London Aquatics Centre and I would have the chance to try a brand new event, whilst pushing myself over 5k (there was also the option to swim the full marathon of 10k. No thank you!).

I used my usual Swimathon training schedule, as I find it builds up the distance nicely and the instructions are easy to follow. A break over the October half-term disrupted my training a little (though we did go to a super water park whilst on holiday, but I mostly sat in the sauna or jacuzzi. Whaaatt?!), but I got back on it in the week or so before the event. I feel I trained well, but could possibly have done a bit more…I’m still not getting any faster.

Alongside my training, I was reading a fantastic book called ‘Leap In’, by Alexandra Heminsley. It’s a beautifully written journey, following someone who has such incredible drive to swim strong(er) and describes all of those wonderful feelings that we have when we overcome a fear or challenge and the joy that comes with immersing yourself, in particular, in open water. I couldn’t put it down and had a great urge to dip into the icy depths, though sadly haven’t managed that yet.

To the pool!

On arrival at the Aquatics Centre, I was given my timing chip and wristband and went over to look down on the pool. This event was different in that you didn’t just swim up and down your allotted lane for the duration of your swim, depending on a volunteer to count your laps. The pool was set out with a timing mat at each end of the width, with swimmers stepping over this at one end and swimming up and down each lane, ducking under the divider between and using each lane (thus covering 1km) before climbing out and passing through transition. I wasn’t sure how this would work out, but actually I found it really helped not having to keep count and being able to grab a drink and have a quick stretch before getting back in, with the start of each new kilometre acting as a kind of ‘refresh’.

The swim

Before getting changed, we had a quick briefing (which I missed part of due to being mesmerised by the swimmers) and were told how to apply our triathlon-style tattoo number (these are a bugger to get off afterwards, I ended up using nail polish remover!). Each wave of people was lined up along the edge and introduced into the water over the loud speakers, nice touch! Some people took this as a chance to give their supporters a wave and dive in confidently, I stepped over gingerly and then ducked down the steps (maybe 2018 will be the year where I overcome my ‘I’m not a jumper inner’ nonsense…). There had been much talk of pool etiquette and penalties being given to those who overtake in the flagged area and so on, but my first kilometre was spent dealing with a few lane grumps, who clearly hadn’t listened to any of it. A suggestion for next year is to have a sign at the end of each lane, saying ‘If someone taps your heel, let them pass’. Please.

I had a few frustrating moments due to not managing to overtake, or being stuck behind people who refused to let me overtake, so there were stretches of time where I might have gone faster, but equally, I had stretches where I had nobody in front or behind me and felt free to go for it and really enjoy the water, bliss! Towards the end of my third kilometre and for the rest of the swim, I was plagued by hideous cramp, with my toes curling and my calf muscles seizing up. I took a ‘kick it out’ tactic, which must have looked pretty odd to any swimmers behind me! In transition, I would give it a good stretch, hoping it might go away (it didn’t).

Throughout the whole event, there was a running commentary, with the finishers of various events being congratulated and interviewed and new swimmers being welcomed into the water, which made it feel celebratory and inclusive. Alongside this was a soundtrack of upbeat tunes (though I only really heard these in transition), keeping everyone entertained. I found the whole set-up made the swim seem to go quite quickly. Of course, I had moments of tiredness, as my shoulders started to really burn, but each kilometre ticked off nicely and I was soon heading down the last lane towards the finish and my medal!

At this point, I spotted my friends Siggy and Stephen, here for Stephen to also take on the 5k swim as training towards an Ironman next year. It was nice to see some friendly faces and share the experience. Will I do it again next year? Yes, absolutely! Where do I sign up?

A big thank you to Zoggs, who sent me this rather fun package as a prize for sharing my post-swim selfie on Twitter. Lots of fun for Hector in here too 🙂

Swim Serpentine 2017, the London Classics

I took part in the inaugural Swim Serpentine last September, swimming mostly a panicky breaststroke for the mile of open water, chatting to marshals as I went. I vowed to nail this open water thing and return this year to ‘swim it properly’. Of course, a year goes very quickly and this time various marathons and endurance events have got in the way, so there I was on Saturday, wetsuit on and feeling decidedly nervous. The weather last year was glorious, the hottest September ever (or something like that) and I remember being in a t-shirt and sandals. This year was a little bit more grey and almost scarf weather.

Grey and big

As I skirted the edge of the Serpentine, hot drink in hand, I observed the wave of swimmers who were just entering the water, looking closely at those at the back, ‘Ah, good, breaststrokers!’ I thought. To the changing tent I went, chatting nervously to fellow swimmers, ‘Is this your first time? Are you nervous (too)?’ and was delighted to feel a tap on my shoulder and see my parkrun friend Bonnie, who was swimming in the same wave as me. Hoorah! Squeezed into identical wetsuits and caps, we took some pre-race photos and pootled over to the start area. Now the water had been going up and down in temperature during the week and had politely settled at 15 degrees for us, thank you! Feeling brave, we ventured into the ‘dunking’ area to acclimatise (best way to do this is to lean forward, pull the front of your westuit down and let in some of the icy cold liquid, shaking it down your body with a shriek and a shiver). It really was chilly and I wished I had left my dip until nearer the start, as we stood around getting cold, listening to the pre-race briefing.

All waves at this event are special, with one mile swims and, for the first time this year, two mile and even a ‘Super Six’, giving those magical mermaid types the opportunity to swim six miles over the course of the day! Our wave was special for a different reason, the ‘London Classics’ was announced not long ago, for those people who have run the London Marathon and cycled Ride 100. By swimming the two mile Swim Serpentine, we would enter the Hall of Fame and earn a really rather smashing medal for completing all three disciplines. A quick round of questioning amongst us established that many of these people ‘are not swimmers’ (yeah, right) and were there for the massive medal!

Last year, as we entered the water at the start, I held right back, allowing everyone to go ahead of me. This time I decided to be bold and go for it, keeping to the left and jumping forward into the dark depths (my reasoning was simple, in a two lap race, I didn’t want the fasties to catch up too quickly, or for the next wave to be lapping me on the first mile). After all my sea bobbing in Cornwall in the summer and my self-pep-talks, I was still head-out, breath-short-panicking. The first stretch felt so cold, my face resisting the water and I looked to my left and the bank, seriously considering finding a spot to climb out. ‘Don’t be silly!’ I thought, ‘The medal! The supporters! Hector and Edward! The hot tubs! The medal!’ and I kept going. I reasoned that, if I could get to the purple turning buoys ahead, I would be facing the right way to complete the first lap, so on I went, counting in sets of twenty to keep my focus and not panic.

I did reach the turning buoys, I didn’t speak to the marshals, I continued on to the big yellow buoys and eventually to the bridge and the next turning buoys. I was doing this! At this turn I could see the finish area, how very cruel! To my left I sensed some swimmers in the same silver caps easing towards the finish, ‘they must have got confused’ I thought, but no, they were actually finishing, a whole lap ahead of me! Machines! And off I went again, one more mile to go. I started to feel a bit dizzy now, coldness taking grip and, as I neared the Serpentine Lido for the second time I was overwhelmed by a hideous stench, which made me feel nauseous. I turned my head to the other side, where the smell of petrol from the little safety boat hung in the air. Keep going, keep going, get away from the smells! Now the fast swimmers from the next wave caught up, splashing by, churning the water up and I felt that surge of excitement you only experience when the end is in sight (though I now felt as if I was swimming backwards and the finish wasn’t getting any closer!).

Embraced by the long orange edges of the finish funnel, I attempted to pick up the pace, but I was exhausted, hungry and cold. At the exit ramp, a kind volunteer took my hand and steadied me, helping me out of the water but, as I tried to walk, I discovered my toes were so numb, I could only hobble! I grabbed the side and paused, as a fellow swimmer asked if I was OK, at which point I also realised my mouth was so numb that I couldn’t speak either! Oh dear, what a sorry sight!

But I had done it!

Right now the hot tub was just what I needed, squashed in with a bunch of strangers who had most likely weed in their wetsuits along the way. I wasn’t moving though, until I could feel a tingle in my toes. On clambering out, I was asked for my name by a chap with a clipboard, ticking me off for having completed the London Classics, ‘Go over and collect your two medals’ he said. Two medals! One for Swim Serpentine and one very big one for the London Classics. I was over the moon!

Giddy kid

This medal meant so much to me. Each of those events had presented me with a real challenge, they didn’t come easily, two London Marathons (2009 and 2017), Ride 100 (2016) and Swim Serpentine. I’ll say it again, this time next year, I WILL conquer my swim panic and I will be back, stronger, faster and braver!

London Classics

Swimathon 2017

When I took on Swimathon in 2015 and 2016, I made sure my time slot was nice and early. I do like to tackle my activities first thing, finding my energy levels are good and I can then float around in a fuzz of endorphins for the rest of the day. This year my Swimathon wasn’t until 3pm, so I was up on Hilly Fields, Run Directing junior parkrun and cheering on eager 4-14 year-olds around our 2k course. Once we had cajoled, hi-fived, timed and applauded our runners, I was free to head up to the Olympic Park with Edward and Hector, to enjoy a pre-swim lunch in the sunshine and to soak up the Swimathon atmosphere.

Like last year, I was swimming at the Aquatics Centre, my favourite pool and, when I arrived, it was tantalisingly empty!

Dreamy

I was signed in, handed a swimming cap (bright yellow) and wristband and asked to get changed and be ready at the poolside for the 3pm start. I had my usual numerous visits to the loo (totally unnecessary, but nerve-induced) and gathered at the edge with the rest of the swimmers. I was in lane 8, so made my way over to meet my lap-counter. Not all pools provide a lap-counter, so it’s best to check before you head over (in my first year, I was very lucky to have my friends Emma and Susan counting my 5k swim). I met the other swimmers in my lane, a mixture of 5k and relay groups, with my 2.5k seeming a little cheeky! As I mentioned previously, I had decided to ease back to the 2.5k this year due to the commitments of training for the London Marathon, which I think was a good decision, given that so much of time has been spent on the road, pounding the pavements!

As we chatted, Duncan Goodhew appeared and made his way round, shaking hands, being in selfies and giving people last-minute pep-talks. He wished me luck and we were soon gearing up to jump in. Yes, JUMP IN. Those of you who read my blog regularly will probably have gathered that I’m not a natural jumper-inner and certainly not a diver. My lap-counting assistant told me I was first in and, no, you’re not allowed to climb down the steps and duck under the lane divider. Oh dear. I surveyed the drop and considered the depth of the pool, stepped from one foot to the other and, at the last minute announced ‘I can’t jump in!’ He wasn’t impressed, but didn’t have much choice, as I skipped over to the steps, climbed in and ducked under. I know, I know, what a rebel! So, maybe there’s my next challenge, right there, get over my fear of the jump! Any advice/help/encouragement most welcome.

One good sign is that I wasn’t too flapped by my unconventional and slightly stressful start and quickly got into it, finding a nice rhythm, as my fellow swimmers caught up and overtook. The great thing about doing your Swimathon in a 50m pool is the space, you very quickly make your own path and everyone has enough room to stretch out and enjoy the water. I was definitely the slowest in my lane, with the others swimming at a very similar pace – this resulted in them bunching up and, every so often, catching up and overtaking me en masse! In previous years, I have been very methodical about my swim, breaking it up into manageable chunks, pausing every twenty lengths to take a sip of water. This time I just got on with it, reasoning that ‘it’s only 2.5k’. It certainly felt easier, swimming half the distance, but I still had to focus, readjust my form and think about my breathing.

At one point I lost count a bit, so it was great to know that my lap-counter (I’m sorry, I didn’t get his name) would be giving me a ‘two lap warning’. As I neared this point, I sensed a slick swimmer gliding through the water and up popped Duncan, giving me a few words of encouragement – there’s nothing like an Olympic swimmer easing up alongside you to make you kick your legs a little harder! One more length and I had finished! As my fellow swimmers continued, I felt a bit ‘lightweight’ climbing out at what was their halfway point! I think I will go back to the 5k distance next year, a real challenge for me. I picked up my lovely medal, gave others a cheer and got dressed, before meeting the boys, who were swimming in the training pool. I will definitely be back next year, with Swimathon now a big part of my training calendar, motivating me to get in the pool through the winter and try and beat my time. Don’t forget to read about the experiences of the other #blogsquad members too and maybe sign up next year…:)

Medal!

Swimathon 2017, training with Duncan Goodhew

Yes, how exciting?! The other week, I was delighted to be able to pick the brain of gold medal-winning Olympian, Duncan Goodhew. I was invited along to the St Pancras Square pool, just up from King’s Cross station, along with Tamsyn, another member of the Swimathon 2017 #blogsquad. It was great to meet a fellow swimmer and to hear about how she is fitting in training alongside bringing up her gorgeous little girl – I feel lucky to be able to choose a time to swim, now my ‘little one’ is that much bigger!

First of all, Duncan asked us a bit about how our training was going and what it is we would like to focus on in the session. For me, it’s all about getting faster, I just seem to be stuck in a swimming rut, carving up and down the pool at the same pace each session.

Pre-swim chat

We were quite soon in the water and swimming up and down to warm up, with Duncan’s critical (but ever-so-supportive) eye on our swim stroke and any little quirks that might need ironing out. My stroke is OK, it seems, but I do have a habit of lifting my head up a little, thus lowering my legs (a result of swimming in usually busy lanes, maybe?), so I worked on this for a while, in the luxury of a quiet lane, following the line along the bottom of the pool.

Smiley coach

Now the revelation…to get faster, I need to train faster! Hmmmm, you would think, with my experience as a running coach, I would could have worked this out for myself, but no, it hadn’t even occurred to me! Of course I need to do sprint drills and push myself harder, but I go along to the pool each session, plod up and down and wonder why I’m so slow. Duncan had me swim some lengths with a kick-board, firing up my legs and engaging them fully so that I could drive through the water. I soon realised what an easy time I have been giving my legs, as the lactic acid built up and I felt the burn!

Kick!

This added power also saw my legs lift a little and my head dip, all good stuff if you are trying to be more streamlined! I worked on alternating the kick-board work with some flat-out sprints…which had my heart pumping and my breathing increase, something you never see me do down at my local pool! Taking a quick look at the clock during these sprints, I could see a marked improvement on time; so this is how it’s done! All it should take is incorporating this work into each session, making sure I do some sprints, really pushing myself and, over time, my speed should increase.

Time for a warm-down and some photos.

Relaxed swimming!

We only have a couple of weeks to go now so, if you haven’t already signed up, you can do so here, with distances ranging from 1.5k to 5k, with relay/team options available too.