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!

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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.

Swimathon 2017 #blogsquad

Cast your mind back to March last year, when I swam 5k at the London Aquatics Centre. Well, I am delighted to announce that I am once again #blogsquad ambassador for Swimathon. I’m so happy to have this goal to work towards, following a bout of (proper) flu, then a chest infection in December and January, my swimming has fallen slightly by the wayside – stripping down to a swimsuit and getting into a slightly cold pool isn’t that inviting when you’re feeling under the weather!

FOCUS!

So now it’s time to focus and build up my swim strength again. After taking on the 5k challenge for the past couple of years, I have decided this time to go for the 2.5k challenge. You might wonder why I would choose a shorter distance, knowing that I can swim the 5, but I really want to get faster! I have found that, when I increase my distance, I get slower. With a summer of triathlons and swimming events lined up, I would love to build my speed and my confidence. On Monday morning I did a post-school-run swim, which felt blissful, it’s such a positive start to the week! I did feel slow though, but this swim was about finding a rhythm and enjoying the water, the pace can pick up later.

Are you signed up to swim the challenge? Why not share you stories in the comments section and tell me about your goals?

Swimathon 2016

*tick*

It was a bit weird – but nice – having a leisurely breakfast then strolling over to the DLR in my civvies, to head to Stratford for my Swimathon at the Aquatics Centre. Usually a Sunday morning ‘race’ involves anxious breakfast timing, laid out kit and a stupidly early start – I even got there early enough to have a coffee and chat to a woman who was running three miles for Sport Relief around the Olympic Park πŸ™‚ The atmosphere in the park was fantastic, very reminiscent of London 2012, with people in umpire’s seats, waving big foam hands around.

2012-esque

2012-esque

As I approached the Aquatics Centre, I got a rush of butterflies, as we entered through the big front entrance (you normally go down some side steps and through a less impressive-looking door) and saw the sweeping vista, while our bags were checked for offensive snacks.

Here it is!

Here it is!

I stood for a while and watched the previous swimmers completing their last few lengths and chatted to a family, who had popped in before going off to run a mile/three miles/six miles. I realised now, that I had better get my kit on and go down to the water’s edge! I was nervous, daunted and a little concerned that I wouldn’t cope well with how busy it might be. The changing rooms were buzzing, all of the volunteers and staff I encountered were lovely, really reassuring and I decided to stop being so daft and get my cap on ready. My *tiny* cap. We had been put into coloured teams, to help lap-counters and to encourage a sense of camaraderie – I was swimming for Team Blue and had to squeeze my head into the teeniest swimming cap ever, I didn’t hold out much hope for it staying put!

Once I was poolside, I located my lap counter and she ticked me off her extensive list – there were to be fifteen swimmers in each lane! Fifteen! As we were in lane three, there was also talk of jumping/diving in to start, no way! So I managed to convince my lovely lap-counter that, as I was second to set off, it would be OK for me to edge over from the steps, promising not to get in anyone’s way. Wuss. At this point I was pleased to bump into fellow #blogsquad member, Lucy. I hadn’t realised she was also swimming at the Aquatics Centre, so it was great to see a friendly face before we all dipped into the diving pool for a warm-up.

I usually avoid warm-ups at ‘races’, finding them a bit pointless, all that weaving from side to side when you’re about to run, but this warm-up was just what I needed. Of course, the bottom of the pool had been raised (which meant there was a pleasant bounce to it) and I had the chance to do a few widths, put my face in, steady my breathing and really get ready to swim. And yes, I did join in some of the side-to-side weaving stuff πŸ˜‰

The first swimmer in our lane hadn’t turned up, so I was told to pause and go on the second horn, so I waited patiently while Duncan Goodhew gave us some words of encouragement and sounded the horn after a countdown. At this point, I realised that the warm-up had really done the trick and I pushed off easily and confidently, starting as I meant to go on. The good thing about a 50m pool is the space you can make for yourself, so it took a while for the faster swimmers in my lane to need to overtake and we all managed to find a space throughout the time we were swimming together. There were moments though, where I had a little inward moan, there was one swimmer who was clearly much faster than everyone else and should have been in another lane. I know people are sometimes a bit inaccurate or overambitious when they put down a predicted time, but he was super speedy. Another man was all over the place, doing backstroke, weaving across the lane, not letting people pass at the end of the lane, so I was constantly having to stop and start. By now I had accepted that my time wasn’t going to be much faster than last year, so settled in to enjoy (endure?) the experience. This kind of distance really is endurance. I was constantly correcting my posture, telling myself ‘relax’ and ‘long neck’ and easing into a meditative state as I counted laps.

The atmosphere at the Aquatics Centre was brilliant, but it’s kind of lost on swimmers, who only hear the swooshing and wooshing around their ears! I would pop up at each lane end and catch a little bit of music, with David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ really giving me a little lift. Gradually, the faster swimmers and those swimming a shorter distance had got out and I was sharing the lane with two other swimmers. A big smile as I realised I only had ten lengths to go (this would be twenty in my usual pool!) and picked up the pace a tiny bit. Now only four and now two. I looked up and my lap-counter was now a man, who was shouting encouragement (I think it was encouragement, he might have been shouting ‘Stop! You’ve already finished!’), but I kept going, just in case. What a wonderful feeling to reach the end, little victory fist-in-the-air and a moment to find out how much time I had taken. Apparently I’d been in there for 2 hours and 8 minutes, surely not?! I queried this, reminding him that I had had to wait at the beginning (he had me down as first swimmer), which he said he would check. Anyway, I had swum 5k and I was happy. I climbed out somewhat creakily and went to collect my medal from a very jolly lady, who seemed to genuinely enjoy celebrating with people. I then had my photo taken and enjoyed a hot shower immensely.

Official photo

Official photo

While I was doing all this, Edward and Hector had been at junior parkrun, volunteering and running, then had leapt into the training pool, after checking how I was doing of course. I got a big wave and thumbs up, then they got dressed and joined me for a family hug.

Did it!

Did it!

We were now in the danger zone…food must be eaten! I was well and truly swammished and quickly ushered everyone out of the building so we could eat ASAP. All around us were people with various medals, all looking very hungry, but mostly very happy. We ate lots and, while we did, Hector made me a little napkin certificate…perfect πŸ™‚

Awsome

Awsome

Social Swimming

Just over a week to go until Swimathon 2016! Oh, my!

Last week, I decided I should get some practice in at the Aquatics Centre, since that’s where I’ll be taking on my 5k. I armed myself with my instructions, written down from the excellent training plans and a bottle of water, found a lane that looked nice and quiet and set about swimming 4km, the furthest I’ve swum since last year’s Swimathon. It was hard work. I do like the training plans, because they include breaks (of only twenty seconds or so, but still) and these kind of ‘refresh’ your stroke and your determination each time and break up what can be quite a tedious chunk of time. Yes, I said it, tedious! It’s not like there’s much to look at, though the Olympic pool is simply awesome and I catch my breath when I remember where I am, but the constant up and down can get a bit boring.

Awesome

Awesome

I do try to find ways of breaking the boredom, but it’s hard to daydream or drift off when you’ve got to keep count, so it becomes a kind of meditation, listening to the counting in my head, the swooshing sounds around my swimming cap and looking into the tiny bubbles that flutter towards me as my fingers pass through the water. I notice the roll of my body, readjusting as my shoulders start to tense, reminding myself that I should see the surface of the water, the lane divider and not the ceiling. I enjoy the deep, deep inhalation and the hard exhalation, the flutter of my legs and the power through my torso. I look down to the bottom of the pool, noticing lost hair bands, scrunched up plasters (urgh) and the depth that kind of hangs underneath me. I catch up with the swimmer in front and widen my stroke outwards into a slow breaststroke, secretly enjoying the little break and new view, but plotting my overtake at the lane end. All of this passes through my head during the up and down of eighty lengths of a fifty meter pool.

Today’s distraction tactic was to swim with friends. I say ‘swim with friends’, a social swim is an odd thing, with the swim itself involving us finding our own lanes and carving our solo paths, but the meeting up, travelling together and the post-swim lunch makes it all so much more fun.

Swim friends

Swim friends

…though the lunch that we inhaled at speed didn’t really ease the level of swamishness that we had reached πŸ˜‰

I love swimming

Really, I do. This is me trying to remind myself, with Swimathon now just four weeks away, that I do, in fact, love swimming. As the training for the 5k distance increases, so does the time spent in the pool and, of course, this gets harder to squeeze into an already busy week. Last week was half-term and I didn’t make it into the pool once 😦 so this week is all about rekindling my love of the water. As part of the Swimathon blogsquad, I was lucky to be invited along to a swim training session with none other than Olympian, Duncan Goodhew! Yes, I was very, very excited to be meeting a childhood hero – I used to watch him on TV in total awe. This was a fantastic opportunity to meet and learn from a swimming legend and also to meet some of the other blogsquad team: Lucy, Emma and Victoria. Sadly, Tess wasn’t able to come, but I hope to meet her some time in the future. First of all, I met Duncan and got to hold the gold medal he won at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. It is very heavy!

Image credit: Swimathon

Image credit: Swimathon

Once in the water, we got stuck straight in, with Duncan first of all taking a look at where we are currently at. I was pleased to be told I ‘have a lovely stroke’ (phew) and was given some drills to work on, with the goal of lengthening my reach a little and for me to think about bilateral breathing (oh yes, that one). I loved the drills, being someone who normally just carves up and down the pool, you can really feel the difference when you focus on one aspect of your stroke. After focussing on freestyle for a while (a few of us are working towards triathlons, with the aim of swimming freestyle throughout), Duncan showed us how breaststroke should really look. At this point we all went very quiet, with a little gasp hanging above the water. Disappearing under the surface, Duncan only reappeared after he had covered about half of the pool, when we had the pleasure of witnessing that gold-medal-winning style. Wow! Then we had a go…

Image credit: Swimathon

Image credit: Swimathon

I could have continued all night, hanging on his every word, soaking up the tips and eagerly trying to put it all into practice but, of course, it was over in no time and we were saying our thank yous and goodbyes, wishing each other luck in our various challenges. But not before doing a daft pose in the water…

Image credit: Swimathon

Image credit: Swimathon

Yesterday, I had a bit of time where I was going to be near a pool, so took the opportunity to get back in the water. I had my notes in a little waterproof bag, my pull-buoy and a bottle of water (well, half a bottle of water, since it decided to turn upside-down in my bag and pour itself down my back), so eased into the water with a goal. But it wasn’t to be. The first few lengths were great, I had lots of space, the sun was pouring through the windows and I was gliding. Then two men got in and took over, the lane Mafia I called them in my head. Overtaking, cutting up, glaring, pushing in. It was too much for my sensitive little soul, so I climbed out after 1km. Defeated. Today was a different matter though, I wasn’t going to let my head take over and I did reach my goal. The schedule said 3,400m and I swam 3,400m. I had the lane to myself for some time, then shared with a faster, smoother woman. When a school class came in, we shuffled across to the ‘middle’ lane , but this didn’t stop me, I was set on that goal and I did it!

Lane Love (or Hate)!

When you’re training hard for Swimathon, you get to spend many an hour carving up and down a lane. You also develop a very strong sense of the rights and wrongs of lane etiquette. I really do think there’s a place for everyone in the pool: back-strokers, side-gliders, freestylers, dry-hair-crews and duck and divers. This will only work though, if the pool has enough lanes to cater for everyone and if people think about those around them.

Yesterday we headed over to the London Aquatics Centre in Stratford for some mega Extreme Aquasplash fun. While Edward and Hector threw themselves and each other off this:

Extreme Fun

Extreme Fun

I got a long swim in, with the odd pause to smile as they flipped each other into the air. As the majority of the pool was given over to inflatable craziness, there was just the one lane for swimming. At first it was crowded, with all sorts of paces and styles vying for space. Over the course of the one-and-a-half hours, people came and went and things thinned out a bit. I do find that, over a fifty-meter pool, it is easier to spread yourself out and not encounter too much jostling, as long as people are in the ‘right’ lane. This was different, of course, but a little bit of patience and a bit of understanding and everyone can enjoy their swim.

Once a week, I pop into the pool while Hector has his lesson and encounter the same ‘challenge’, with lanes being used for teaching and everyone else piling into one mixed-up channel of grumpiness. It also happens when I visit on a weekday morning, as schools pile in for lessons. So basically, this kind of thing happens a lot, so why can’t people get the hang of negotiating a bit of space through a polite nod and the odd bit of overtaking? Sometimes everything clicks into place: you find yourself in the lane with someone who will happily pause at one end, allowing enough space between you to avoid slipstreaming or water-treading. At other times, you are huffing and puffing at the end of the lane, as a ‘lane knob’, as I call them under my breath, squeezes past impatiently, tumble-turning so close to your face that you fear for the safety of your teeth and then slows down in front of you, causing a tailback of tutting swimmers. If someone is constantly catching up with me, fine, I will pause for them to pass every so often. If I find myself constantly catching up with someone, I might politely overtake where space allows. It doesn’t take much for everyone to have an enjoyable swim!

Adele’s Lane ‘Rules’

– look at the sign at the end, slow, medium, fast, but also look at the people in those lanes, are they your sort of slow, medium or fast?
– look at the arrows on the sign, clockwise or anti-clockwise, swim in that direction (really)!
– if you constantly catch up with someone, gently tap them on the foot, so they know to let you pass at the end of the lane. Bear in mind they might not know this signal and could kick you in the teeth for stroking their ankle
– if you start off in the fast lane, then decide to do a slow back-stroke, move lanes, it is allowed!
– if you’re going to tumble turn (go you!) be nice about it and don’t plant your feet anywhere near me, thanks
– just because you’re the fastest person in the lane one day, it might not be the case on another day. It’s OK to be overtaken by a woman, get over it (some) men!

Minor rant over. I love swimming and I love seeing all sorts of people taking to the pool and, when you get chatting, it can be a wonderful part of your day. Let’s share the space and let everyone do their thing.