Tag Archives: swimming

Life is an endurance sport

Endurance events look easy when you watch them on from the comfort of your Living Room.  We get used to watching professional athletes performing amazing feats, it becomes the norm.  We tend to overlook the hours of training that go into the preparation and the effort of the event itself.  They make it all look too easy.

Last weekend I watched my first “real” triathlon.  It was a bit different to watching the Brownlee brothers!  It looked much more like the kind of activity I might be able to participate in!

Historically there were lots of reasons why doing a triathlon was a crazy idea, not least the fact that I was a physical wreck.  Having got myself into some sort of shape it seems a lot less crazy now, and given my exercise regime includes both swimming and cycling, I’m almost there as far as the training is concerned.  My most compelling arguments for not doing one would largely come down to my ignorance, so I decided to educate myself.

It all looks a bit brutal to me!

It all looks a bit brutal to me!

The swim held the biggest fear for me (and still does to be honest).  I have never been much of a swimmer.  When I’m in the pool, much of my effort is invested in the avoidance of drowning; little energy is left over for propulsion.  The thought of having to battle with hundreds of other participants for space was a scary one (although this was perhaps naïve, and based on watching too many open water events on TV).

As it turned out, it all seemed rather civilised, down to the staggered start, the coloured hats (to tell the athletes apart), and the polite overtaking (requested by a tap on the foot and offered willingly). I found the range of swimming strokes, techniques and speeds reassuring too. You don’t have to be an ex-Olympian to participate (although I’m sure it would help if you were!).

I was particularly heartened by the over-exuberance of some of the participants that resulted in them going out a bit too quickly on the swim. Some were even kind enough to give us a running commentary on their level of fatigue at the end of each length as they struggled to catch their breath and summon the energy for the next 25 metres. I’m sure some people were caught out by false confidence gained from watching too much TV!

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Having selected a triathlon as the target “goal” for this winter’s training, I plan to balance armchair reconnaissance with some solid physical effort, building on the base I’ve built over the past year or so.

With just 10 days to go until the final big event of the summer, Ride the North, it’s exciting to look to the future again and identify some challenging goals. However, first things first…

I’m a Swimmer not a Fighter

… actually I’m not much of a swimmer either, but I’m doing my best!

This morning saw a new low in my battle against all that is frustrating about January.  When I arrived at the pool at around 7 a.m. it was busier than ever.

So it could have been worse!

The Swimming Club were using 4 lanes leaving just 2 for Public use.  Each was packed with people trying desperately to mind their own business and enjoy their morning exercise.  I hesitated before heading into the Changing Room to get ready, but decided that I’d come this far so I may as well make the most of it.

I’m still very much at the “confidence building” stage of learning to swim.  I can make it up and down the pool, but I know I’m not relaxed and recognise that is a major reason why I find each length so exhausting.  I think just spending time in the pool will help, but under the right conditions.  Having other people in close proximity does not help create the right environment.

I’m not sure whether it’s purely the fact of avoiding people that makes me uncomfortable.  I certainly don’t find it easy to time my lengths to prevent me catching up with people in front of me, or holding up people behind me.  I also find it off-putting watching out for people coming in the opposite direction.  All too often I end up snagging on the lane ropes as I try to take up as little space as possible.

Maybe this is the way forward!

I sometimes think it would be easier if I was a fighter.  I could swim over the top of, or around, other people without a care.  As it is, I spend a lot of energy avoiding the worst scenario of all… touching someone!!!

Let’s face it, human kind was not designed to be in such close proximity to so many other “strange” human beings wearing so little.

Perhaps I would benefit from seeing a sports psychologist to get help relaxing under such circumstances?  Maybe my issues are more deeply seated!  For the time being I’ll continue with the good old fashioned British approach… stiff upper lip, look ahead and pretend it’s not happening!

September; A good month to join a gym

Today I did my first early morning, pre-work swim of 2014.

I haven’t been too hard on myself up to this point.  The dark, cold mornings are difficult enough to deal at the best of times.  Having thoroughly enjoyed the long relaxing Christmas break, getting up for work has been enough of a shock to the system without trying to get to the pool.  I therefore gave myself a little time to ease back into the routine.  Given most of December was spent trying to fight off colds and sniffles, it’s been a while since an early morning swim was part of the routine.

The pool was very busy.  Some say it’s a myth that January is the busiest month at gyms, but I put the new faces down to New Year Resolutions that are yet to fall by the wayside.

If you are planning a “get fit” campaign, I would strongly recommend you do not start in January.  No wonder people find it difficult to stick with their Resolutions… everywhere is crowded, it’s really not pleasant!

Now, if you could just find yourself a space…

Apparently Gyms rely on over-subscription and a significant drop off in attendance as the month / year goes on,   If people only experience a gym or swimming pool in January, I can completely understand why they don’t enjoy it.

Wouldn’t it be great if, rather than doing New Year Membership Promotions, your gym focused on its existing members.  They could re-open admissions in February.  I know New Memberships are 50% higher in January, but it would send a good message. 

To existing members it would say:  “We care about you.  We want you to have access to the facilities you have paid for,”

To Prospective members it would say:  “We want you to take your membership seriously.  We know that if you join in January, chances are that we won’t see you again.  Wait a bit.  Think about it.  If you’re serious then we’ll welcome you with open arms…  Oh, and when you are a Member, we will look after you too!” *

Of course, (in the Northern Hemisphere, and particularly in Scotland) the issue is exacerbated by the winter weather… heading outside isn’t exactly the most appealing of propositions.  The weather is made for a onesie, a roaring fire, a box-set and a glass / mug of something to warm the insides.

Instead of January, I’d suggest you start your fitness campaign in September.  Get the Summer holiday out the way and then get yourself fit.  The gyms will be quiet, the weather temperate, the days long.  You’ll have a natural head start, you’ll feel great and you should be in the swing of things by the time January and the winter blues come around.

Anyway, I managed to fight my way through the crowds for a reasonable swim.  With a Turbo Trainer session this evening I’m feeling tired but satisfied.  Time to kick back in my onesie!

Onesie

How can a man look so cool and so cosy at the same time?!

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*  I recognise this is selfish and elitist.  It is also largely irrelevant for me and the many thousands people that use Public Facilities.  We just have to suck it up and make the most of it.

Seeing the light

My swimming kit is simple (isn’t everyones?): Trunks, Goggles.

I upgraded my trunks some time ago. Since I started swimming seriously regularly I decided that beach shorts probably weren’t performance enhancing… they were literally a drag.  As I lost weight, they became a liability… literally a threat to common decency!

So I upgraded to something a bit sportier and a bit snugger. Job done!

My goggles were fine. I acquired them while we were in the Middle East. I remember being presented with a very limited selection at the local sports shop and selecting the best of a bad lot.  They had orange lenses.  I presumed they were light enhancing, but in reality they were just orange.

These aren’t an exact match, but you get the idea!

On Sunday I discovered my goggles were missing.  I had obviously left them in the changing room.  Being such a fine pair, I assume they had been “re-homed” rather than being handed in to lost property. Of course, their new home could be a rubbish dump!

Last night was my first outing with my new goggles.  I had gone for a simple pair with clear lenses.  When I tried them on, I discovered the lenses were slightly larger than I’m used to.  They looked a bit like googles goggles that you’d wear if you were Wing-Walking, or Driving a Vintage Car.  However, they looked like they’d do the trick.

My new goggles look like they could be multi-purpose!

When I got in the pool… WOW!!!  What a difference they made!

It seems fairly obvious in retrospect, but I had no idea how different the under-water experience would be with clear lenses.  There was light!!! I could see!!! (Actually I could see a little more than is required for an enjoyable swim!).

The environment was exactly the same as I’d experienced in the past, but the way I engaged with it completely changed that experience.  It was a real eye-opener!

I appreciate that in itself this is not a life changer… but it’s got me thinking about whether there are other things I do that could be similarly enhanced by small, simple changes.  I’ve got my eyes peeled!

The thought doesn’t count enough

Today was to be a swimming day.  Having been on the bike the past couple of days I was looking forward to a swim with no time pressure.  It was an opportunity to enjoy being in the pool, to get some lengths under my belt.  There was the added bonus of being back home before anyone else in the family got out of bed.

I have been tired so I didn’t set my alarm.  I’m still getting back into the normal routine having enjoyed the relaxation of the festive period a little too much.  My internal body clock has always been fairly reliable so I was confident that would wake up naturally in time to make the early morning session at the pool.

As planned, I woke up at around 7.30.  It took me a few minutes to summon up the energy and the courage to look at the clock.  7.35… still plenty of time.  I then had the inevitable dilemma… stay in my warm bed for a long Sunday lie, or move (fast) to swim.

The decision wasn’t straightforward.  I had made the mistake of thinking about it.  I should have just been up and out.

Two thoughts finally got me out of bed (1) I reminded myself why I was doing it in the first place and (2) that the exercise counts twice as much when you don’t want to do it! (See “Twice the satisfaction“)

After a very light breakfast, I headed to the pool…

The car park was surprisingly quiet.  I allowed myself a self-satisfied thought to myself:  “So, the New Year Resolutions don’t apply so much on a Sunday morning!”.

It was also quiet inside the pool.  Too quiet.

Receptionist:  “We have a gala here this weekend.  All weekend.  The pool’s closed.”
Me:  “Aaaarrrrrrggggghhhhhhh!!!”

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I guess it serves me right, but I’m not entirely sure why.

So, if you’re reading this over a leisurely breakfast, having had a long lazy lie, you can be satisfied that you have done exactly the same amount of exercise as I have so far today… without even thinking about it!  Sometimes the thought just doesn’t count enough!

Hanging around the pool

Nephew #3 was the highlight of our New Year gathering… just two year’s old, he’s a cheeky chappie and full of life.

Constantly on the move, he alternates between bouncing and running, vigorously waving “Hello” and “Goodbye” at each end of his frequent journeys.

He’s at that wonderful stage where he wakes up every morning with no idea what is going to happen during the day but confident that whatever it is it’s going to be great!

He’s almost talking, but not quite.  He can communicate with sound but with few words.  He makes himself understood… mostly… he makes himself heard… always!

He’s a real star and more than happy to be the centre of attention, selecting different members of the family to accompany him as he goes about his business of the day.

New Year really wouldn’t have been the same without him around!

Brother & Nephew, Father & Son

With the weather hampering plans to visit play parks, we decided to go swimming together – a favourite pastime of Nephew #3 and also a chance for me to get some proper exercise.

Abingdon Leisure Centre has a large Toddler’s swim area next to a wide, shallow main pool, all within one huge open area.  It was a bit different to the claustrophobic box (relatively) I normally swim in.  The width of the main pool accommodated 6 lanes with room left over for a recreational section next to the Toddler’s Pool.  Although there were a quite a few swimmers, there seemed to be ample space, it certainly didn’t feel crowded.

I was to arrive early, about 45 minutes before my Brother and Nephew, so I could have a “proper” swim first.  They were to join me for the fun bit at the end.

A simple plan.  What could possibly go wrong?

After 45 minutes I started looking out for them.  They hadn’t arrived yet, so I did a few more lengths.

50 minutes passed, then 60… more lengths.

“What could possibly go wrong?” I thought to myself again… this time actually looking for answers.

The lengths were becoming more challenging as I got increasingly tired.  The rest breaks became longer and more frequent… I was definitely now “waiting” rather than “swimming”.

It then struck me how difficult it is, as a middle-aged man in this day and age, to innocuously “hang around” a swimming pool…  I began to feel increasingly paranoid and self conscious.  Parents appeared to be getting uncomfortable too, at least one eye on me at all times.  I’m sure an extra Life Guard was drafted in specifically to watch me.

Time continued to pass…

Having considered my options (at length by this stage), the only two viable alternatives appeared to be (1) to continue to swim, doing lengths for as long as I possibly could or (2) to leave the pool, get changed and start again when the rest of the party arrived.  I really couldn’t see anything good coming from waiting in the Changing Area, the Toilets, or in the Showers.

So more lengths it was.

Eventually, after 80 minutes, Brother & Nephew #3 arrived, chirpy and raring to go, without a care in the world.  After an indeterminable further wait they emerged from the Changing Area… I could feel everyone breathe a collective sigh of relief as I joined them.  The additional Life Guard returned to do whatever member of the Life Guard SAS do when they’re on a break… Threat Level Green.

Abingdon Leisure Centre

After a few minutes of splashing, Nephew #3 started to cry.  Not being able to say exactly what was wrong some frantic pointing ensued.  It was not clear what the issue was.

I’m no expert, but I could sense he was not happy.  The crying continued…

Brother:  “He’s never usually like this.  He loves his swimming”

Not today!

And so, after about 7 minutes of fun family swim time we called it a day.

Eventually a packet of Quavers managed to quell the flow of tears.  The trauma receded, finally being laid to rest by a pre-lunch nap… and Nephew #3 got over it eventually as well!

Little Questions

untitled (64)Life has posed me many new questions over the past seven months.  Despite major “life” events, there been surprisingly few significant questions with real long term implications.

I have discovered that some big decisions are made from a series of small questions that are posed on a frequent basis.  I have to make decisions on what to eat and drink, for example, many times a day.  Decisions like this are easier because some of the big parameters have already been set… low fat, no alcohol, low salt,  no caffeine, low sugar… generally healthy I guess,

The same goes for exercise; I’ve already committed to doing it.  The question of “swim, cycle or gym?” is usually answered well in advance of the actual event.  I know I’m going to push myself, but not too hard.  So it’s all a bit of a “no brainer”.

Today I was posed a new question that I would not possibly have dreamed of before the Heart Attack…

untitled (65)I received a pair of underwater headphones for Christmas.  I’m still struggling to extend my swimming range, and I don’t imagine the ability to listen to music while swimming will help, however I am hoping it will help make the experience of trying more enjoyable.

So to the question… what music is best to swim to?

Today was my first attempt to answer it.  Overall it was a little less successful than I had hoped.  The “lunchtime swim” was a popular event, the pool was very busy.  Organised as ever, I only had time to upload a single album.

In retrospect I could have chosen more wisely… it turns out that some of Eminem’s lyrics are not entirely appropriate for a lunchtime swim in a community pool.  I am a big fan, but there’s definitely a time and a place.  This was neither.

Of course I was the only person that could hear the music but the imagery wasn’t “right” (or even close to being right!).  I found it difficult to look some of my fellow swimmers in the eye, and it’s not acceptable to look at them anywhere else!  As a result, the trial run with the headphones was successful, but it didn’t last long.

imagesUXL0IA3YNext I’m going to try a little Beethoven.  I hoping that if I can get the genre right I’ll take a huge step towards answering the question.

In the mean time, any guidance, advice or recommendations would be much appreciated!