Are The Times A Changin?

To borrow a title from Bob Dylan is brave on my part as there is no way my writing stacks up against Bob’s and I am unlikely to write anything that is remembered and celebrated like him, but irrespective of this I will continue to share my exploits.

Back to the main reason for writing, as anyone who has read these before will know over the years I have had some challenges with a certain sport, and that sport is one third of a triathlon and has led me to not have carried on with the challenge of triathlon for the last few years.

For anyone who hasn’t guessed so far, the sport in question is swimming, a sport that those who do it don’t understand anyone who can’t and those who can’t or struggle wonder how anyone can possibly enjoy it.

I am firmly in the camp of how can anyone enjoy it, it takes place in artificially lit plastic boxes with cold chemical filled water, which as if to make it harder gets deeper at one end.

For those of us that struggle with swimming the act of getting from the shallow end to the deep end gets more fraught as you go on as once you get past a certain point you can’t stand up and so the chance of drowning becomes a realistic possibility. The return journey is not as bad as the water gets shallower but I get more tired so drowning remains possible as you can drown in a few inches of water!

Now, it turns out swimming has two major components firstly technique, very important and secondly the mental side which is probably more important as if you can’t relax in the water than swimming is almost impossilbe.

I have struggled with both of these components and frankly thought the idea of ever swimming in a relaxed enjoyable way was not for me, it was something other people did.

Recently I have been thinking about future challenges and triathlon kept coming to mind as I obviously felt I had unfinished business and so it became a simple question of either of overcoming the struggle of swimming or forget triathlon for good, and find other areas to go at.

Unfortunately there is never an easy way to overcome a struggle, and so my approach was simple, go to the pool and try swimming again with no pressure and then find some lessons to sort out the technical side and hopefully the mental one as well.

The few times I went to the pool, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, I did some lengths and tried hard to be as relaxed as possible, it seemed that perhaps there was a chance swimming was possible. The outcome of these trips was that I decided to search out some lessons

Finding appropriate swim lessons is tricky, you need to find someone who you can trust, someone who is able to help you and break the technique down into chunks you can understand. Luckily for me via social media I saw an advert for a course run by someone I met years ago when trying triathlon who I knew was a good swimmer and was now coaching full time.

The lessons were over a 5 week period, and to summarise the course it basically broke the technique down and each week a different element was worked on, culminating in the last week of reassembling it and swimming!

I quite enjoyed the course and whilst it certainly wasn’t easy I did learn a lot and had my first experience of swimming where it felt I was on top of the water rather than dragging myself through it.

Since the course I have been swimming at an open air pool, which is heated and is so much more enjoyable than the normal leisure centre one, it also has the advantage of being open on my way home from work.

This week I had the new experience of a whole swimming session feeling “easy” or rather moving through water and the amount of speed reflecting the amount of effort rather than the effort out weighing the movement.

Perhaps the most important part of this is that I have been enjoying swimming, and actually looking forward going which is making it easier mentally.

The final part of the puzzle is that I have decided to enter a sprint triathlon in July and that is going to be the acid test, where this will take me in the end is unknown but this is a start, and a good one at that.

If you want some swim lessons then look up Bex Tri Fit there are various courses and I am sure you will learn.

Who knew that I would finally find swimming enjoyable and believe that I could again try triathlon.

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One Excuse After Another?

Whilst listening to the Watford game this veining I was trying to calm my nerves by searching the web for advice on how to enjoy swimming, when I came across this interesting piece

Now, the interesting thing about this, was not just the reasons given for not enjoying swimming but more for the comments posted on it. On reading the comments it became clear that many people think that the reasons given were nothing more than excuses.

For me this was interesting as I have always thought of those reasons as reasons not excuses, so it seems one persons reason is another excuse.

So if I think it is a valid reason not to go swimming because I would rather watch football on the TV it seems others view this as an excuse, especially if you are not a regular swimmer or struggle to find motivation to go.

What does this mean to me then as someone who isn’t a happy swimmer? Well, it has made me think that perhaps I need a new approach to swimming, I need to find a way to doing it that I find enjoyable. It might be I need to a couple of coached one to one sessions to set me up, it might be I need to go to the pool with a plan of what I want to do and then stick to it. Don’t turn up, get in and then think what now?

I know that I can swim, I have proved it by completing two triathlons with pen water swims, I shouldn’t need to have to justify it to myself, but, once more I do and perhaps until I just get on with it, it won’t change.

What I do know is that, if I am going to crack it, I am going to have to do it my way and probably starting with something small and building up whatever.

Watch this space to see if I manage it or I succumb to the mind over matter with swimming.

Physical or Mental?

This week I have enjoyed a good weeks training, I have been regaining the feeling of making good progress and generally the numbers have been reflecting this.

Also this week, I got back in the pool after an absence of several weeks, and funnily enough I quite enjoyed it.

But, and it is still the same but as before, I am still struggling with the mental side of swimming, no matter how hard I try and tell myself it’s not so bad, when I get in the pool I seem to be staying safe rather than pushing myself on and actually fulfilling any potential I may have.

What I find the most ridiculous part of it, is that last year I swam 750m in open water, and yet in a pool with no swim toys I have never done more than 100m in one go.

Give me some fins or a pull buoy and I will happily swim up and down until I become too tired to do any more, take them away and suddenly all my confidence disappears and I want to stop pretty much every time I reach the end of the pool.

There must be a simple answer to this, but as yet I haven’t found it and if I am honest I don’t really know where to find it. it sounds a bit like a song, I still haven’t found what I am looking for!

If anyone out there knows the answer to my problem please tell me as I feel it is the last step to enabling me to crack swimming.

RG Active Open Water Seminar

Following on from last weeks first triathlon, I decided that I needed some help with my open water swimming, well intact I need help with all my swimming but that is another point! I was looking on the Human Race website and came across an open water seminar run by RG Active to be held at Dorney Lake.

The session was 90 minutes long, and promised a 50/50 split between classroom and in the water. Booking was easy, and it was all set for a 9:00am start on Saturday morning.

Unfortunately, Saturday morning bought rain, rain and more rain, but as I was going in the water it didn’t really matter.

The session was run by John Brame, an ex-pro triathlete and obviously a really good swimmer. His presentation style in the classroom was very relaxed and was certainly aimed at making us all feel more relaxed.

The topics covered included, wetsuits, googles, lubrication and some useful advice on starting. For someone as inexperienced as me, this was all useful stuff, especially about how to treat your googles, yes I leave them in their bag, but I spit on them and rub the inside of the lens, therefore removing the anti-fog!

Once the classroom bit was over, we had a session on how to put on our wetsuits correctly, I have to admit mine looks a bit like a battlefield and is in need of some repair, a job for a sunny day in the garden I think.

Wetsuit on, and it was into the lake, the water was a little chilly but following the feet, hands and face steps it soon seemed ok.

We started off exploring the buoyancy of the suit by floating around on our backs, and then it was off for the first swim, this was to give him a chance to see what our swim strokes looked like.

John then shared a simple tip to both lengthen our stroke that utilised the buoyancy of the suit and was simple to put to use.

We enacted a mock start to get us used to the washing machine effect and what it felt like to be hit and battered a bit.

For me, unfortunately on the last swim I got a touch of cramp in my hamstring, it meant a tow back with the canoe, a combination of the cold water and the fact I was a bit tight in the hamstring before I started.

I really enjoyed the session and thought it was good value for money, personally I could have done with more time in the water, and being a slower swimmer I was aware that I didn’t want to hold up the faster swimmers and possibly I should have been more selfish and worried about it. The coach gave excellent information and after the session the other coach (sorry can’t remember his name) was more than happy to talk to me and offer some advice on a few aspects.

You will have noticed I have not really given too many of the actual details of the session and this is deliberate as I think if you attend such things, you should try and give an honest opinion of them so people can decide if they want to attend themselves, not give all the details so people can read them and use them, after all these coaching businesses won’t last if people don’t use them.

In summary, a good session and one from which I leant a lot, and has given me a little more confidence in the water. Would I recommend it? Simple answer yes, if you are a beginner like me then it is ideal.

A Bit Lapse Of Late

It is true that recently I have not written much,and frankly that is poor, what is the point of having a blog if you don’t use it?

Well it is now time to rectify this, at least for now. Recently I have seen an improvement in my swimming, it has come from a combination of things I think.

Firstly, just doing more of it, over time you should improve if you do enough of something, even swimming. Secondly, the lessons have given me the opportunity to practice basically in a lane of my own most weeks, and that is a real advantage. The third thing, and maybe it is more of a result of the others is that I am now starting to feel slightly more confident in the water.

Confidence in the water is, for me, the biggest thing. I need to feel in control and that I can safely get to the other end.

Another confidence increasing factor has been the opportunity I have had to have a few swims in an outdoor pool wearing my wetsuit. This has really helped as I can now feel the difference it makes.

I am hopeful that by the time my first race comes round I should be able to just about get through the swim, and that in turn might provide a further boost in confidence.

Before, all of that though, next weekend I am off to Lincoln to ride the Lincoln Grand Prix Sportive, apparently it finishes with a cobbled climb in the town, should be fun, and I will write a review of it next weekend.

Stick To The Plan

This week was a significantly tougher week, the intensity of the training has gone up a notch and this led to me finishing the week a lot more tired than usual.

One of the contributing factors was an additional run on Friday lunchtime, this was probably to soon after Thursday nights pain fest, and even though the run wasn’t overly hard it was long enough and fast enough to leave me tired in the evening and this led to me have two boughs of cramp whilst swimming.

Now I don’t know how others found having cramp whilst swimming, but it is tricky. Firstly I got it in the hamstring and lucky just moving my foot whilst still swimming got rid of it. But, the second time it was in my left foot, and whilst I got to the end of the length it was difficult to get rid of, it did go but wasn’t pleasant.

I think that this week I would have finished it more tired than usual but the additional run I think certainly helped, and as this run wasn’t on the plan this is where I am currently laying the blame.

This started me thinking, what if I hadn’t done the extra run, would I have been so tired? Well, this is something that I could never answer for sure, but there is one additional factor I have failed to mention so far, and that is a reasonably late night on Friday and a few beers, now this didn’t affect my swim on Friday but it certainly was a contributing factor to the overall tiredness.

What does this all mean then? Well it is simple, the plan says on this day do this, and make sure you rest, eat and sleep properly and if you don’t stick to it then there will be some impacts.

We all need to go out and have a few nights out and so I don’t feel guilty about it and so I just have to accept that if the week is a high intensity one and I have a night out in it then I will be tired. It is a hard life but if it was easy why do it!

When Does Visualisation Become Reality?

In many sports you often hear coaches talking about visualising the activity or outcome, see it in your minds eye and then translate this to your physical performance.

The whole idea of visualisation is interesting, can you see yourself doing something, can you picture what it looks like in your own head? Until I started to learn to swim I had never actually been told to think about it or even try it, I was told to sit down and think about the aspects of my swim stroke and what it would look like in practice.

I am told that if you can picture it in your mind, it is easier for you to then translate this into the actual physical activity. So on this basis I have been trying to visualise my swim stroke to help my progression. I will admit it took a bit of time but in my head now I can see what my swim stroke should be, I see it from the external perspective as though watching myself swimming.

When I see my swim stroke in this way it seems to work well, but my problem is translating this into reality. I decided to do some reading on the subject of visualisation and found an interesting article from the Australian Institute of Sport, which explains the concept in clear terms. You can read the article here.

From reading this and some other articles I have started to wonder whether I spend enough time on my visualisation, I tend to picture my swim in my head and think of it for only maybe 10 seconds and then move on, I think that I need to actually visualise entire lengths and invest some quality time in this, it might lead to improved confidence and relaxation, but time will tell.

I know that not everyone will agree with the concept of visualisation and some will even suggest it is a load of hippy nonsense, but, with the mind playing such key role in sport it might be the key to unlock the hidden performance.

Tales From The Riverbank

This week my training seems to have involved water in all but one session. The only exception being my turbo session (luckily) as that was in the safety of my garage.

My other sessions, run, swim and bike all certainly had water elements in them. Lets start with the most obvious, the swim, both my swim sessions this week were not as good as I would have liked, I can’t put my finger on the reason but for whatever reason I was slightly off. However, on my Friday night swim when things were not going so well rather than stopping and getting out of the pool I dug in a bit and do some more lengths, they were not much better but it was more the mental side of pushing on even when it wasn’t all roses.

My run involved water in a slightly odd way, I was running up a hill and had just got over the top when a car came towards me, there was nowhere for me to go other than the grass verge, seemed like a good idea. Here is the but, as I put my foot on the grass it sunk and when I tried to pull it out my shoe came off, luckily it wasn’t stuck in the mud but it pinged out in front of me, and of course I put my foot, minus the shoe, down straight down in a puddle, the result being one very wet soggy sock, lovely!

You can probably guess the water involvement in my bike ride, there was so much surface water on the roads it was hard to believe that it would ever all dry up. One road in particular was flooded right across it, and it was nearly up to the depth of the bottom of my forks, luckily I didn’t have to stop else I fear I might have had to swim for it.

Overall, this week I have been feeling better, I am eating more which is helping and my cold is finally going so it could be onwards and upwards.

Am I On The Turn?

A strange thing happened this week, and something that took me by total surprise, I enjoyed going swimming.

I feel I need to elaborate on this some more, on Tuesday I was really tired whilst having my swimming lesson and didn’t get through the amount of work I would normally, but I felt different in the water like I was actually picking up speed with the same or even less effort, I sort of put it down to being a bit tired and it probably being the same.

Moving on to Friday night, I was sat at home trying to find the motivation to go swimming and when I eventually made my move to go I sort of felt a bit take it or leave it. On arriving at the pool there was a problem with my card, they tried to charge me even though I pay monthly for it!

Once in the water I proceeded to swim probably the best I have ever swum, my first 50m went by at a speed I couldn’t believe, in fact it took we by complete surprise. The next 50m were just as good, but I managed to slow them down. I even did some sets with a pull buoy and they were ok as well.

I am hoping that this really is a turning point both in terms of me enjoying it and finally making some real progress. Guess what though, just as I want to carry on the local pool juste down for 2 weeks over Christmas, I will have to find another pool!

So there you have it, a positive blog about swimming, next for me is to push on and gain more stamina and then to enter some more events for 2014.

Some running, cycling and a little swimming

This past week has been a little trying for me, I have been wondering about certain things and whether or not they are really worth the effort, and yes swimming was one of those but not the main one!

I had a couple of different and new running sessions this week, both of which were great fun to do and showed the advantage of having your program set for you as I would not have designed either of those sessions myself. The first one involved running a set time at a low heart rate and then at the end of the time running back to the start using a slightly higher heart rate. It was amazing how much difference it felt to be able to use the extra 20bpm I was allowed. The second session involved 1km hill reps and having a set time to get up and down the hill. Good fun especially as I did it off road running through the woods in dark with a head torch on.

The cycling part of the week was good fun, another different turbo session which made me work and the Sunday morning ride was an easy paced affair.

Now, the swimming, well on Tuesday in my lesson I made some good progress and improved an aspect of my stroke that made life a lot easier. I was actually looking forward to my other swim session to put it into practice. So imagine my disappointment when whilst the part from Tuesday went well, another part fell apart. IN fact I was that fed up at one point I threw my goggles out of the pool and went to the changing room. I did go back to the pool and swim a bit more, but this illustrates how hard I find the water element. I always feel I am almost there with swimming, only for something else to impact it, I will crack it eventually, and If I don’t then I will never be able to do a triathlon.

Now that December is here, I am sure the nights out are going to affect training but my aim is to still do as many sessions as possible as I don’t want to ruin the progress made so far.

I also hope to write some more positive and entertaining entries soon, so please stick with me it will get better I promise.