21 11 2011

Yesterday I’d hoped to do a training triathlon at the month end training day with the local tri club (I know it’s not the month end, but it was brought forward a week because of the tri festival next weekend). Unfortunately, it started raining on Saturday evening and didn’t stop for 24 hours. By 9am on Sunday, the local tri had been called off and my chance for one final hit-out before this weekend was washed away.

So, with an eagerness to do a little more than usual today, I took to the pool. My goal was to complete a solid 1.5km swim. Despite sharing the lane for the first 300m, and having a couple of quick stops to stretch and readjust goggles and the like, I tabbed through the first 1km fairly comfortably. After a short (10-20s) break, I stretched myself to another 10 laps (500m). By the end, I’d completed 1.5km and felt like I could do more. Just as importantly, I wasn’t squeezing the swim in between appointments, so I had the time to do more.

By now, I was the only one left in the pool and after another very quick break, I pushed on through another 10 laps. To be honest, these last 10 laps were tiring. I was counting down the laps rather than counting up. I could feel my legs hanging lower in the water, and my form slipping. But I persevered and clocked up my first 2km swim. I’m extremely happy and proud. I might not be the fastest swimmer in the pool (but I’m not the slowest).

Just under a month a go, and I’d only just completed my first ever 750m swim. 6 days earlier and I’d only just completed 200m non-stop. Tomorrow, I’m going to attempt a ramp-to-ramp swim in the lake. That’s a 1km open water swim. If I can get through that, I know I’m ready for the weekend.


An easier swim

16 11 2011

I went out for another lake swim yesterday. Unlike the last, this was a solo swim, my first in the lake. In terms of distance, it was essentially the same swim as before – out to the third buoy and back. In terms of difficulty, it was much much easier. The nerves were gone. There was no fear of not making it. It was just a matter of doing the distance.

Of course that was easier said than done. The wind was up and the water was choppy. The water had a distinct E-W “current” as much as a closed man-made lake can have. On the way out, I was swimming against the current, but it was with me on the way back. I think the round trip was about 25 minutes, not quite half of what it took last time. I still stopped more than I would have liked, but those stops were as much about sighting as anything else.

I’ll be back in the lake tomorrow evening. There is a novice tri group that is having a swim/run biathlon tomorrow, and so I’ll be joining them rather than doing the run/swim that I’ve done for the last couple of weeks.


12 11 2011

  The local Apex group has been running a Biathlon series for the last few weeks now. I missed the first couple of weeks due to week commitments but I’ve made it out to the last two. I’ve never combined a swim with any other exercise before so I was keen to give it a go.

The first was a two weeks ago. As usual, I was running late and made it to the start line with about 30seconds to spare, having registered only a few minutes earlier. The last to sign-up, I was No. 49 and was strangely excited about having a stranger write a number on my arm.

At the start line, I was amazed to see a good cross section of people, male and female, young and old(er). I recognised a couple of local runners who I knew would be at the front of the pack.

After a quick description of the course, we set off, and I started in the middle of the pack. As I settled into a comfortable rhythm, I started to pass a few runners and by the end of the first lap, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in the first dozen or so runners. Since it was a shorter run, I worked hard to maintain a sub 5min/km pace, as per my new self-imposed running rules. Not having had a lot of runs lately, I lagged a little towards the end but came home in 4:48min/km. The advertised 4km course came up a bit short, measuring only 3.5km. Still as I rounded the corner to the transition area, I was feeling the afternoon heat and looking forward to the swim.

Not the quickest transition in the world, but not shabby I hit the water soon. The swim was a suprise. It was a lot hard than I expected. After the run, it was my arms that ached in the water, and as I’d pushed myself a little on the run, I started off a little short of breath. Added to that, the six lap swim was restricted to only three lanes, so it was out and back in the same lane before moving to the next.

In short, the swim hurt. My arms were aching as I started and I with all the stopping and starting as I got caught behind people, I never really fell into a good rhythm with my stroke or my breathing. I over took a few people and got passed by only one. I took a couple of hits. As I came up behind one guy, the bubbles generated his kick went up my nose as I was breathing out and that threw me for a moment.

In the end, the swim was a lot slower than I’d hoped for but I came home in a little under 8 minutes for the 300m. Total time for my first ever biathlon was 25mins flat. I’m fairly certain I was in (or very close to) the top 12 (out of 49).

This week, I fronted up again. Registering just after 6 (for a 6.15pm start), I was number 52, and I think we ended up with about 60. I set out with a single goal –  to improve on my previous time. I’d decided that the key to this was the swim and so in order to do better, I tried to keep my arms more relaxed during the run (especially the latter half) and to be slightly more organised at the transition.

My run time was very similar, 15seconds better than last week. The transition was faster. Relaxing the arms during the run had helped and the swim felt easier. Despite the congestion in the pool again, I swam better and came home in 23m22.

A whole 1m38s better, which may not be a lot, but to me it is. I’m looking forward to next week and am hoping for a sub 22m30 time.

Open Water

12 11 2011

I’ll start with a clarification. I’m not sure if a lake qualifies as “open” water, but that’s what I’m calling it. The major point is that it isn’t a pool swim.

Yesterday, I joined a few of the local triathletes in an open water swim in preparation for the triathlon at the end of the month. Of the 6 who were there, I was the only one doing the sprint tri. It was the ultimate for the rest, although one was only doing the run leg as part of a team. Of the six who were there I was the only one swimming in open water for the first time. Of the six who were there, I was the only one who was thoroughly petrified.

Swimming in the lake wasn’t my only first yesterday. I also swam in my new wetsuit for the first time. The first of my concerns was getting the wetsuit on. Being that I’m still overweight and have a broad back, I had trouble finding one the right size, but eventually I came across the blueseventy axium, an entry level wetsuit. Despite my concerns, it went on relatively easily, and seemed to be a decent fit. Perhaps a little tight across the chest but otherwise ok.

First hurdle overcome – the wetsuit fits. But it was the swim that concerned me the most.

I’ve given some thought to this and come up with a short list of things that I’m afraid of about the swim – not touching the bottom, not being able to touch the side, not being able to see the bottom. In short, drowning.

I found it extremely disconcerting that I couldn’t touch or see the bottom and that I didn’t have the side of the pool (or lane ropes) as a safety net. I don’t use them in the pool, but just knowing that they are there is a comfort. When I started swimming properly, I needed them. I felt uneasy in the water, unnatural, even scared, but I always had the ground and/or the side there for comfort/security/piece of mind.

But not this time, and it was TERRIFYING. The others were swimming across and back, a two km swim. For me, I’d set myself a goal of the third buoy and back, which in the absence of a waterproof GPS I’m estimating at around 750m. (It’s 6 buoys across, evenly spaced. If you include the distance between the shore and the buoy at both ends, it’s be 8 buoys across, or 125m between buoys)

For the most part, the wetsuit did it’s job. I’d been told that if I got into trouble, or need a breather to roll onto my back and I’d float like a cork. Of course I tested this out, and it was right. Thankfully. The first couple of times I did it to test it out, the next few times it was more to give me time to calm myself. I was letting myself get a bit worked up and I had to work to overcome my own fear. And there was a lot. Remember, I was TERRIFIED!

Other than not being able to touch or see the bottom, I found the water temperature itself hard to adapt to. In the pool, it’s always the same. In the lake, one stroke my face would be in warm water, then cold, then warm. Very very weird. A few jetskis were out and about and the waves from those were also a first from me, especially when I turned to breathe and instead got a mouthful of jetski wake instead.

Not being able to see the line at the bottom of the pool meant I couldn’t sight properly. My goggles were a little fogged and the first half of the swim was directly into the sun. Sighting the buoy was nearly impossibe.

The wetsuit may have helped me float, but it was tight across the chest so I didn’t feel like I could get a good deep breath in when I needed to (which was always when I was trying to take a minute to calm myself down).

In short, I hated it. I well and truly gave free rein to my fears and had to fight them all the way home. Never have I been so happy to feel the ground under my feet as I was at the end of the swim.

Had it not been for my swim coach who stayed with me the whole way, I would have truly been in trouble. Steve was fantastic and he stayed close to me all the way, encouraging and calming me in equal measure. He knew I was scared, but he also knew I could do it. He patiently listened and let me voice my fears and then calmly took the lead and we’d get going again. Until the next pause, and then we’d start the process again. It wasn’t a fitness issue – it was pure and utter psychology. The water and conditions had got into my head and instead of focusing on swimming, I focused on fear.

In the last quarter, I changed tack. I swam in 60 stroke sets. I counted my strokes, breathing bilaterally every three. At 60, I’d stop, get my bearings, test the buoyancy of the suit, and then start again for another 60. In doing this, I stopped thinking about the conditions and started thinking about the stroke and I found it a lot easier. Now that I wasn’t facing the sun, I could see the shore and that helped as well.

But I make no bones about it. Steve got me through. It wasn’t even a scheduled session. He did it because he chose too. He could have easily done the full swim like he planned too when he arrived. I am and was grateful. When we were back on solid ground, I shook his hand and thanked him.

We’re going out again next week, and I’ll do better.

Challenge Completed

25 10 2011

A few days ago, I set myself the challenge of completing a 750m swim non-stop. When I set the challenge (6 days ago), the furthest I’d ever swum non-stop was 200m.

When I started swimming in October last year, I could barely swim 50m without feeling exhausted. After a few sporadic swims, I gave up for a while. In August this year I started again, and the situation was the same. I was unable to complete two laps of the 25m pool without stopping, and when I did, I was exhausted. My lungs were burning. It literally hurt to breathe. In short, I was crap. So I engaged a swim coach, and he set about correcting all the things I was doing wrong. The first few lessons were painfully slow and repetitive – change was slow. It was a slow two months, but I finally started to make some progress. From that point onwards, I’ve improved in leaps and bounds. First it was 4 laps straight, then 6, then 8. 5 days ago, I did 10 laps straight for the first time ever, and yesterday, I did 16.

Sixteen was a bit of a milestone, because at 400m, I’d covered the swim portion of this weekends triathlon. The local tri club has a “training” day at the end of every month and for the first time since winter, there is a swim component. So, I should be able to complete all three legs now without too much difficulty.

The next step was obvious – 750m non-stop. The distance of the swim in the Elite Energy triwagga Sprint Tri at the end of November. I’ve blogged a couple of times that I could do further than the distances I’ve been doing, but have been limited by time and circumstance. Today, I had no such limitations. I literally had the entire pool to myself. So I decided it was time to see what I could do.

And I did. I completed the distance, non stop. In 18m30s. For good measure, I added another 10 laps, bringing my total to 40 laps (or 1km) non stop. To say I am happy is somewhat of an understatement. I’m ecstatic. I’m almost bouncing off the walls. I had the tiniest of pauses at the end of the 750m to stop the timer on my watch, but the pause was literally a couple of seconds.

Challenge Completed!

So what now? Other than practice practice practice, I need to continue to work on my stroke. I don’t kick much when I swim, which is the polar opposite of what I did when I started. So I need to continue to work on my kick, although there are obvious benefits to having somewhat fresh legs at the end of the swim.

The other thing I’ve noticed, is that I’ve never done more than four laps straight from the outset. I get in the water, I do a couple of warm up laps, have a break, do another 4 laps, have another break and then I swim properly (because of this, my actual distance today was 1150m) It takes me those first few laps to feel like I’ve got my “rhythm”. So I need to be able to just jump in and go.

And finally, my swims to date have almost all been in the 25m pool. I feel a lot more comfortable in that pool because I can touch the bottom along the entire length. If I get into trouble, I can just stand up. That’s not the case in the 50m pool and it makes me feel less comfortable, less relaxed in the water.

Which leaves me with the following minor goals over the next 4 weeks:

1. More leg work. Stronger kicking will help me get my time down to closer to 15min over the next month.

2. Swim 750m non-stop, from the first lap. No warm up-laps.

3. No more 25m pool. From here on in, it’s the 50m pool only. Except if it’s raining. Or it’s a coaching session and the coach says so.

1km non-stop. Oh yeah!


21 10 2011

A hard session in the pool today. I doubt I even did twenty laps and I struggled through every single one of them. I think it’s a combination of a few things:

1. Nearly 2.5km in the pool this week

2. A week of 5am starts

3. A sprint at the beginning of todays session that left me feeling less than ordinary

4. Hayfever flare-up all day.

I’m planning an easy weekend , with absolutely no swimming. Think I’ll try and take a ride after work on Sunday, and a run early on Monday.

Confidence and Enjoyment

19 10 2011

I’m really starting to enjoy my time in the pool. For me that’s a big thing. When I started I hated the pool, but as with my riding and my running, it’s slowly winning me over. Perhaps it’s the endorphins, perhaps it’s just the enjoyment that comes from improving at something at which you previously sucked. But for the third swim in a row, I didn’t want to finish. I just want to keep swimming but I had places to be and was squeezing in the swim as it was.

Today, another 750m, again without any aids. It took me a while to settle into my stroke, but once I did, I felt like I could just keep going. At the beginning, I did 4 sets of 2x25m laps, to settle in. Once I had my stroke and breathing working well, I did 2 x 3 laps, then 2 x 4 laps. I finished off with 8 straight laps. That’s 200m straight. For me, who struggled to swim 200m in half an hour when I started (through sheer exhaustion), I am over the moon. As I said, if I’d had more time, I would have kept swimming, but I promised myself I’d stop at race distance (750m).

The biggest thing for me is overcoming the fear that I’m going to drown through sheer exhaustion. The idea is stupid especially since my feet touch the bottom along the entire length of the 25m pool. It’s a different issue in the 50m pool, but as my distances increase, so to does my confidence.

As I was swimming today, I realised that it was a shade over 5 weeks to go before the triathlon. If the local tri club have a full tri option as part of their month end training day in 11 days then I have till then to swim 400m non stop. But I realised in the pool that I wouldn’t be happy with that, so I’m setting myself the challenge of swimming 750m non-stop by the end of the month. Challenge accepted