Swimathon: I’m sinking rather than swimming

Last year, I was asked if I’d like to be a member of the 2017 Swimathon BlogSquad. After an elbow injury meant that I was unable to complete my personal Swimathon challenge last year, I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to redeem myself.

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I dug out my swimming costume, dusted off my goggles, consulted the internet and wrote myself a training plan. I hadn’t been near a swimming pool for several months and the first training session was enjoyable but challenging. I’d lost all of my swimming endurance. Last year I’d made myself swim 1500m; fast forward six months and I found myself struggling to swim a length.

That’s correct. Even swimming 25m was difficult.

After three training sessions I could swim the not so grand total of four lengths or 100m. Feeling slightly despondent I researched adult swimming lessons. Unfortunately, the timing and cost meant that swimming lessons weren’t an option.

December was more or less a complete write-off. I was juggling two jobs and working seven days a week. My local pool always seemed to be open when I was work and closed when I was at home. For the first time I regretted accepting a place in the Swimathon BlogSquad, I felt that other bloggers would have been able to devote more time and resources to the challenge.

Not a natural swimmerTaken during the 2016 BlogSquad session – work prevented me from attending the session this year.

Once Christmas was over I had more time to dedicate to swimming. I treated myself to a new swimming cap and costume from Zoggs – new kit always motivates me – and allocated time in my diary for training sessions. By the middle of January I could swim for 15 lengths on a bad day and 20 lengths on a good day. The good days started to outnumber the bad days and my confidence in the water started to grow. All I had to do was swim another 40 lengths…

At the beginning of February I managed to swim 1000m. I took me a long time and I felt shattered, but for the first time I actually felt like a proper swimmer. A combination of the lurgy and a re-occurrence of my elbow niggle unfortunately meant that after that epic 1000m swim, I only swam four more times in February.

I started to panic and the self-doubt made an unwelcome reappearance.

March arrived and I realised that Swimathon 2017 was weeks rather than months away. I taped up my elbow and returned to the pool. My first training session back was quite stressful as I was acutely aware that I was far too slow for the slow lane. It’s easy to move out of the way of faster runners during a race, it’s not quite so easy to swim out of the way of faster swimmers. I completed 10 lengths and then relocated from the deep pool area to the shallow water area. When you’re nearly 6ft tall swimming in shallow water is difficult. I went home feeling quite deflated.

The following day I returned to the pool, ignored the other swimmers in the slow lane and made myself swim 1000m. My confidence increased and mid way through the month I swam 1250m. Only another 250m to go! Six days later I experienced what felt like a panic attack while I was swimming. I tried to stand up mid-length, discovered I couldn’t put my foot down and swallowed loads of water. It was a scary reminder of the day I got into difficulties in the same pool as a child. I had another panic attack the next time I attempted to swim. I felt fine for the first few lengths and then started to panic.

Just thinking about going swimming and writing this post is making me feel anxious. Stupid I know! The weekend of Swimathon 2017 is now rapidly approaching and I don’t think I’ll be able to complete my personal challenge.

Does anyone have any tips for overcoming swim-related anxiety? I don’t want to let the organisers of Swimathon and the BlogSquad down a second time.

A mixed weekend…

On Saturday I should have completed my personal Swimathon challenge. Unfortunately, due to an elbow injury I had to postpone my 1500m swim. After putting in a lot of training I was feeling devastated. I felt that I’d let the Swimathon #BlogSquad down. I then realised that thanks to SimplySwim I’d be able to complete the 1500m in April. Watch this space!

Yesterday I completed the annual 7 Pools 10k cross-country race around Sutton Park in the not so awesome time of 64:44. Although my time was far from impressive, the 7 Pools Run is one of my favourite local events.

7 Pools 2Photograph: 7 Pools Run 

The 7 Pools Run cost me £12 to enter (£15 on the day), was extremely well organised with friendly race marshals and volunteers. The route around the seven pools located within the boundaries of Sutton Park (Wyndley, Powell’s, Longmoor, Little Bracebridge, Bracebridge, Blackroot and Keeper’s Pool) was undulating, muddy in places and challenging. Perfect!

7 Pools Keepers PoolPhotograph: Ron Reynolds

There were no fancy personalised race numbers, no timing chips and no goody bags. Cotton t-shirts (available in a range of sizes) and cups of orange squash replaced medals and bottles of water at the end of the event.

7 Pools 4Photograph: a lovely runnerfrom Kings Heath Running Club.

Personally, I love these smaller local events and try to support them.

Results (I finished 241/307) and (free to download) race photographs were available on the evening of the event. Some of the larger and more commercialised events could learn a lot from these smaller events.

7 Pools 3Photograph: 7 Pools Run 

The only negative aspects were the lack of distance markers (I’m pretty unobservant but I doubt that even I could have missed them all) and the lack of a drinks station on the course.

Next year when my legs won’t be stuck in marathon training “plod mode” I’ll make sure that I put in slightly more effort. I’ve never finished a challenging 10k race feeling so fresh and so full of running. I’ll also make sure that I remember to bring some money.

Not being able to buy a post-run ice-cream was pretty devastating!

Race Ratings:

  • Cost: 10/10
  • Course: 10/10
  • Medal: N/A (t-shirt 8/10)
  • Goody Bag: N/A

Swimming with Duncan Goodhew

Last December, as a member of the official Swimathon 2016 #BlogSquad, I was lucky to be invited to take part in a training session with Olympic gold medallist Duncan Goodhew.

As I walked towards Cally Pool in Islington I felt really, really nervous. I worked out that I hadn’t been near a swimming pool for 10 years. What would happen if I couldn’t remember how to swim? Would I understand Duncan’s tuition? Would I make a complete idiot out of myself?

Sometimes I worry far too much!

I successfully located Cally Pool and met up with some of the #BlogSquad team: Adele, Lucy  and Victoria. Unfortunately Tess was unable to come to the session. Hopefully I’ll get to meet you at an event in the future Tess. We were handed our Zoggs swimming costumes and goggles, and got ready to start the training session.

After having a few photographs taken with Duncan and his Olympic gold medal, it was time to enter the water. By this stage I was feeling really nervous.

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The session started with some warm-up lengths, this allowed Duncan to observe and to give us some initial feedback on our technique. We were then given some drills to work on. Duncan was great at identifying our individual strengths and weaknesses. I was reminded to relax while I was swimming and to not be afraid to put my head in the water.

I found the drills really enjoyable and could feel my technique improving as my confidence in the water increased. Duncan’s passion and enthusiasm for swimming was infectious and I found myself really enjoying myself. Towards the end of the training session I was even brave enough to progress from breaststroke to front crawl.

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Duncan then demonstrated his Olympic gold medal winning breaststroke. Wow! So that’s what breaststroke should look like!

We then did some filming as a group and posed for some more photographs.

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The hour session flew by and I was actually quite reluctant to leave the water. After our training session we filmed a short video and discussed our proudest swimming moment, our inspiration and our personal motivation for completing the Swimathon 2016 challenge.

With apologies for my Brummie accent!

I would like to thank Duncan for giving up his time and for being so patient with a nervous swimmer. I would also like to thank Sam and his team for organising the training session and for taking what felt like dozens of photographs during the evening. I don’t think that as a runner I ever expected to be given the opportunity to swim with an Olympic gold medallist. Getting to hold the gold medal Duncan won in Moscow 1980 was a slightly surreal experience.

I can confirm that Olympic gold medals are heavy!

10 things swimming has taught me

As it’s now less than a month *panic* until the Swimathon #BlogSquad team take on the Swimathon 2016 challenge, I’ve decided it’s time for an update. Personally, I have found training for Swimathon 2016 a positive experience. Swimming on a regular basis has improved my fitness levels and stamina. I now have the confidence to tackle a triathlon. Training for Swimathon 2016 has also taught me some new skills and has had a number of other benefits.

1. Improved time management. Although I successfully completed my PhD, I have never been very good at planning what I should be doing on a day-to-day basis. In addition, my time management skills have been pretty non-existent. As I don’t have access to my own private swimming pool (wishful thinking), my training for Swimathon 2016 has involved me looking at the timetable for the local swimming baths, and working out when I can safely complete my swimming sessions.

Swimming organisationI quite like the sound of Saturday Splash.

2. Organisational skills. Running is easy. I get up, put on my running kit, go through my warm-up routine, head out the front door and then run. Simple! Swimming, however, takes a lot more planning and preparation. After forgetting vital pieces of kit including my swimming costume (it’s generally impossible to swim without one!) and goggles, I’m now far more organised. My swimming kit checklist has been a lifesaver.

3. It’s never too late to learn a new skill. After a couple of lessons with a very patient instructor (I’m a slow learner), I’ve now progressed from breaststroke to front crawl. I’ve also overcome my fear of putting my face in the water. This has enabled me to more or less master the art of breathing correctly. My 50p charity bookshop find Swimming without stress: Lessons for Land Lovers has been invaluable. Next on the swimming skills list are

4. Technique matters. Although I was taught how to swim as a young child, after years of not swimming I was aware that my technique was poor. Since signing up for Swimathon 2016 I’ve had swimming lessons, read some really useful books, and spent far too much time watching swimming videos on YouTube. I’ll never be a fast swimmer but I’m now feeling more confident that I can swim 1,500m.

Not a natural swimmerHopefully I’ve improved since December!

5. It’s important to relax. To start with, I found going swimming quite a stressful experience. Whenever I got into the water I immediately felt tense and found it hard to relax. As a result my swimming suffered. Now that I’m more confident in the water, I feel more relaxed and my swimming has improved. Now I just need to learn to stay relaxed when I start to feel fatigued.

6. I’m not very good at multitasking. Keeping track of how far I have run is easy. I have a GPS watch that does all of the hard work for me. Simple! I’ve found that keeping track of the number of lengths (laps) I’ve covered during my swimming sessions slightly more challenging. I thought I was quite good at counting but it turns out that I’m not. I’ve added a swimming lap counter to my list of things I need to buy.

7. It’s okay to be slow. I have accepted that I’m a slow swimmer. A really slow swimmer. To start with, as I found myself being overtaken by everyone I got really frustrated and stopped enjoying my swimming sessions. Why wasn’t my swimming improving? Why was I so slow? Why wasn’t getting faster? After a while I realised that it is okay to be slow and enjoyed my swimming again.

8. Swimming pool etiquette. I could write a blog post dedicated to the initially confusing (to a runner) world of swimming pool etiquette. There are designated lanes for “slow”, “medium” and “fast” swimmers at my local pool. Swim in the wrong lane at your peril. If someone taps your foot it means that they want to overtake you, let them. Don’t freak out if someone accidentally touches you, it happens.

9. The smell of chlorine lingers. Chlorine is used to keep swimming pools free of bacteria that can be hazardous to humans. This is a good thing. Chlorine has a very distinctive smell that a lot of people on public transport seem to find unpleasant. This is also a good thing. Unfortunately, the smell of chlorine seems to linger with intent with each swimming session topping up the smell.

10. Post swimming hunger. I’m always really hungry after I’ve been swimming and have to eat something within an hour of going swimming. Apparently although no one knows why swimming makes people feel so hungry, it is completely normal.

*You can find out more about the other members of the Swimathon #BlogSquad here and can follow their progress on their blogs over the next couple of months. If you would like to take part in Swimathon 2016, please visit the Swimathon website to find your nearest participating swimming baths*

Rediscovering my love of swimming thanks to Swimathon 2016

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After posting about my Swimathon 2016 challenge towards the end of last year, I was lucky enough to be invited to join the official Swimathon 2016 #BlogSquad. This means that there will be more swimming than running related content on my blog over the next couple of months. Perhaps I should consider changing the name of my blog!

Taking place between March 18th and 20th 2016, Swimathon is a nationwide swimming challenge that has been encouraging swimmers to swim a distance challenge since its first event back in 1986. Swimathon accounts for all levels of fitness, all abilities and all ages. Participants can choose to take on the individual 1.5k, 2.5k or 5k challenges, team 1.5k and 5k, or the SimplySwim for those who are unable to attend an organised session.

I personally will be tackling the 1.5k distance at Wyndley swimming baths in Sutton Coldfield on Sunday March 20th. As a relatively inexperienced swimmer this will be a huge personal challenge. Luckily I love challenges!

My training for Swimathon has been slightly sporadic. Last month I downloaded the 10 week beginner 1.5k training plan from the Swimathon website and managed to complete a number of swimming sessions. Once I learnt how to relax in the water (and that swimming is easier if you are willing to put your face in the water!), I was really starting to enjoy my swimming again. This month, due to illness, I’ve only made it to my local swimming baths once. With less than 10 weeks to go I’m aware that I need to increase my training.

There are no excuses! As a member of the #BlogSquad I was lucky enough to be kitted out by the official Swimathon brand partner Zoggs with some amazing swimming gear. The Zoggs Native Chic Scoopback swimsuit I selected fits well and is really flattering. I’ve been provided with all of the swimming gear I need, the rest is down to me!

It’s time for me to get my face and hair wet! Please stay tuned for updates and to follow my progress!

*You can find out more about the other members of the Swimathon #BlogSquad here and can follow their progress on their blogs over the next couple of months. If you would like to take part in Swimathon 2016, please visit the Swimathon website to find your nearest participating swimming baths*