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.

C21w1i9UsAAGDbJ

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.

Changing sports: from football to athletics and other unusual sporting moves

I suspect that due to my fragile feet, my running days may well be over. Although this is frustrating, I’ve been looking at other options. My recent training for Swimathon has demonstrated that my swimming technique is so poor; it’s preventing me from enjoying my sessions in the pool. I therefore doubt I’d enjoy training for a triathlon, the go-to alternative to running for injury-prone runners. Hopefully some swimming lessons will make me consider entering a triathlon in the future.

Former tennis player Martina Hingis walks next to her horse after a fall during a jumping competition – I’ve been there and done that Martina, I feel your pain.

I then started to think about the number of athletes who have switched from running to triathlon. Some switched from running to triathlon due to injury issues, others due to the lack of opportunities to compete as a runner at the highest level. I’m not naming any names but there are several examples.

Although switching from running to triathlon comes with an element of risk, some athletes have made some slightly riskier moves. I found the outcome of some recent research carried out by SBO.net interesting so decided to share it on my blog.

SBO.net created an infographic illustrating some of the athletes who have ventured into new sports in their careers. Some of these moves were successful, some weren’t quite so successful.

  • Martina Hingis, the winner of multiple Grand Slams, took a break from professional tennis at 22 to compete in show-jumping competitions. Martina returned to the court in 2005.
  • Victoria Pendleton, a multiple track sprint Olympic and World Champion, switched from cycling to horseracing, definitely a slightly random career move.
  • Adam Gemili found his fame on the football pitch until he switched to full-time athletics in 2012. I think Adam made the right choice.
  • Rebecca Romero, silver medallist in rowing at the 2004 Olympics, apparently became the first British woman to compete in two sports at the Olympic Games when she switched from rowing to cycling. Rebecca went on to take gold in the individual pursuit in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The research also identified athletes who have decided to downsize when switching sports. Although it’s clear that money isn’t always the deciding influence, I suspect that having enough money to support a career move helps. For example, Michael Jordan took a break from basketball in 1993 and switched to baseball, as a result his earnings dropped substantially. I suspect the majority of athletes wouldn’t be financially secure enough to change sports.

More recently Gwen Jorgensen, the current Olympic triathlon gold medallist ran the 2016 New York Marathon in 2:41:01. Four time Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington is running the London Marathon next month. I can’t wait to see how Chrissie approaches the London Marathon.

If professional athletes can make risky and in some cases rather random career moves, perhaps I’ve still got time to find an alternative to running. Just don’t expect me to enter a triathlon any time soon. It would take me all day to complete the first two phases.

If you had to give up running tomorrow, which sport would you consider as an alternative? I might do a Martina Hingis and return to show-jumping.

2016 review: running highlights & lessons learned

As 2016 is nearly over, I’ve decided to write a review of my running highlights and lessons learned throughout the year. If you don’t enjoy reading review posts then please leave my blog now, I promise that I won’t be offended. I’m nosey and really, really enjoy reading about other runner’s progress, so please do get writing and sharing.

January

Following a slightly disappointing 2015 – stupid injuries – at the start of January I was working my way through the Couch to 5k training plan. I was also nursing a slightly niggly right knee. Rather unexpectedly I equalled my parkrun PB of 27:33 at my local parkrun – Walsall Arboretum – towards the end of the month. I still have no idea where that sub-30 minute time came from. However, the main running highlight of January was winning a place in the London Marathon. While I knew that whatever happened in April I would complete the marathon distance, I quickly discovered that I lacked both the mileage base and fitness required to run long distances. I decided to adopt a run-walk-run training strategy.

February

February was a mixed month. Although I successfully completed the Couch to 5k training plan and achieved a parkrun PB of 26:49, a foot niggle meant that my marathon training was extremely limited.

walsall-parkrun-pbHeading towards a parkrun PB

Once again I was reminded that my left foot and right knee could not cope with running longer distances. I started to feel concerned that any attempt to complete the London Marathon would cause another long-term injury. While I was unable to run, I did my best to maintain my fitness levels by swimming five days a week in preparation for Swimathon.

March 

The swimming, break from running and expensive physio sessions seemed to temporarily cure my knee niggle, and I was able to successfully complete 10 and 11 mile training runs at the beginning of the month. Although I missed the Mash March Madness 10k trail run in Cannock Chase due to a lack of transport, a week later I completed the 7 Pools Run, a challenging cross country run in Sutton Park, without taking a walking break. Unfortunately, I ended March with elbow and knee injuries. Evidently running a challenging 10k cross country event wasn’t very sensible. At the grand old age of 36, I was finally starting to fall to pieces. I accepted that the London Marathon would be a painful and not very positive race experience.

April 

The main focus of April was the London Marathon. My niggly left foot and right knee meant that my training in the lead up to the marathon was virtually nonexistent. Not ideal. Some mornings my niggles disappeared, other mornings I woke up and was barely able to walk. I started to suspect that the ‘niggles’ were all in my mind. Despite my negativity and lack of training, I somehow managed to complete the marathon distance.

london-marathon-selfieOne of my more successful running selfie attempts

I made the fatal error of thinking I could keep up with the Runner’s World ‘run-walk-run’ pacer. I managed to power walk and run to the half-way point. Shortly after running across Tower Bridge – the atmosphere was bloody amazing – I was clipped from behind and jarred my injury-prone right knee. The second half of the marathon was miserable, cold and painful, and as I hobbled towards the finish line in the less than impressive time of 5 hours 59 minutes and 45 seconds, I accepted that my marathon running days were over. I shared my honest review of the London Marathon on social media and the subsequent surge in traffic temporarily broke my blog.

May 

A week after the London Marathon I felt ready to run again. I guess that walking the majority of the 26.2 miles had some advantages… Not following a training plan for the first time in 2016 was great, and in an attempt to rediscover my running mojo I decided to focus on running shorter distances.

hill-west-runPosing with the smallest medal in the world after completing the Hill West 10k

The highlights of May were running consistently and completing the Hill West 10k in the not too shabby time of 62:18. I met Matt for the first time; it was great to put a face to the twitter name! Looking back, if I ignore the fact I celebrated (?) my 37th birthday, May was a great month.

June

June was a month of running ups and downs. At the start of the month I had a really enjoyable 8.5 mile run around Sutton Coldfield, and completed the Great Midlands Fun Run in a respectable (for me) time. When the official results were published I discovered that I’d somehow knocked 30 minutes off my 2015 time! Unfortunately, due to a slightly forgetful friend I didn’t make it to the start line of the Aldridge 10k and wasted more money on race entry fees. The following Saturday evening I enjoyed a few too many beers, and the next morning had to drop out of the Race for Life at the end of the first lap. Recording my first ever ‘DNF’ made me briefly question my commitment to running.

July

July saw the start of my Great Birmingham Run training and my progression towards feeling more like a ‘real’ runner; the walking breaks were finally eliminated from my training runs! I decided to write weekly Great Birmingham Run training updates – apologies if I bored you to tears – in an attempt to make myself more accountable. Although I didn’t complete any organised races during July, I successfully negotiated the first few weeks of my half marathon training and managed to remain injury free.

August 

My half marathon training continued and I somehow managed to run continuously for over an hour. Both my fitness and my confidence levels were increasing, the half marathon training plan was working. I discovered my love of early morning, and will never forget watching the sunrise during some of my long Sunday morning runs.

parkrun-20-08-2016I’d probably run faster if I actually opened my eyes…

Although I didn’t enter any official races, I finally made it back to Walsall Arboretum parkrun and completed the 5k distance in 28:05. Although I enjoyed running with others, I had got used to my early morning runs and running at my own pace. All in all, August was great!

September 

At the start of the month I completed the more challenging than I had remembered Lichfield 10k. Although I finally managed to bag myself a sub-60 minute 10k, I ran like a plonker and was reminded of the importance of running my own race at my own pace.

lichfield-10kBefore the wheels fell off at the Lichfield 10k

My half marathon training progressed well and I found running for almost two hours both enjoyable and relatively easy. I set out a series of gold, silver and bronze half marathon time goals, and after running 130 kilometres during September, looked forward to the start of my half marathon taper.

October 

One event – the Great Birmingham Run – dominated my thoughts and training during the first half of October. I successfully completed a two hour training run and then caught Freshers’ Flu. Fortunately, my dose of the lurgy coincided with the beginning of my half marathon taper, and I felt more or less fully recovered as I stood shivering in the rain waiting for the Great Birmingham Run to start. The race itself didn’t exactly go to plan… I set out far too fast, ran out of steam at 8 miles, walked more than I ran, was unable to run down any of the numerous hills and hobbled across the finish line in tears.

great-birmingham-runRun a half marathon they said, it will be fun they said…

The highlight of the day was bumping into Matt in the chaos at the finish and getting a lift home. Matt’s kindness meant that I avoided travelling home on an overcrowded train. Thanks again Matt. I got home, had a shower, ate three packets of crisps, drank far too much Diet Coke, sulked and wrote a detailed race review. I sulked some more, reflected on what went wrong, hid my trainers and made myself take a break from running. A couple of weeks later I entered the Cambridge Half Marathon. Cambridge has to be less undulating and more knee friendly than Birmingham.

November

Although November has always been my least favourite month – I’m not a fan of the dark afternoons and evenings – I was determined to adopt a positive attitude. After finally drawing a line under the Great Birmingham Run, I was looking forward to getting back into some sort of routine and starting my Cambridge Half training. I completed a short run at the start of the month and felt like I could have carried on running for hours. Unfortunately, later on that day I started to feel unwell and the toilet became my best friend. Thanks to norovirus I was unable to run for a couple of weeks due to a complete lack of energy, the Birmingham MoRun was yet another ‘DNS’. At least I started my Cambridge Half marathon training feeling very well rested and niggle-free!

December

I’ve just worked out that I’ve run the not so impressive total of 5 kilometres so far during December. The combination of a niggly right knee, the lurgy and working 40+ hours a week in retail has resulted in me completely losing my running mojo. I’ve treated myself to colourful running gear I don’t really need, entered a couple of 10k races, looked at my medals from this year and charged my Garmin. For some reason I just don’t want to run at the moment. I’m starting to think that I should listen to my body and hide my trainers for the remainder of the year.

Perhaps it’s time for me to think about my running goals for 2017? One should be to reduce the amount of times I wear purple running gear.

monthly-distancePerhaps I should just ignore November and December!?

After all, if I ignore the last couple of months, 2016 has been my most consistent year of running in almost a decade. According to Strava I’ve run exactly 700 kilometres during the year, I’ve decided I quite like the number 700.

Do you have any running or health and fitness goals for 2017? At the moment my running goals are to run more consistently, to manage my knee and foot niggles and to hopefully run 1000 miles. As for health and fitness goals, I’m planning on cutting down on the amount of Diet Coke I consume.

Finally, a slightly random question… do you have a favourite colour? Purple isn’t actually my favourite colour!

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.

1487-53

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.

1487-96

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.

1487-123

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

swimathon_logo

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*