Category Archives: Swimming

Zoe is one of the swim coaches at Mersey Tri and a simply awesome swimmer. So I asked her to write a post about swim sets. I hadn’t had any swim coaching prior to joining Mersey Tri, so the coaching sessions were fantastic but some of the terminology was baffling! Over to Zoe…

Photo of Zoe Brunton

Zoe after swimming the Mersey (very brave!)

Triathlon has been a part of my life since I was 7 years old, and 14 years later it is safe to say I love it! I have competed in junior and youth races, and now continue to race in university and adult competitions. At 16, I completed my Level 1 coaching course and this autumn I will progress to Level 2. For me, coaching is a fantastic thing to do, and I would love to take it further as I have now graduated from university and am stepping into adult life! Some of my races (swims in particular) to note, include Windermere End to End, Henley Skins vs Suits and the Across Mersey Swim.

Writing swim sets is something I have come to do bizarrely frequently. I write them for Mersey Tri, for my own training sessions, for my parents, for friends who ask me for help with their programmes and I have also written them for the Uni Triathlon Team.

There are a few important aspects to consider. Who is it for? What is their ability and what is their goal? What does the session need to work on? All of these elements contribute to the set in terms of focus, distance and difficulty.

If we take Mersey Tri as an example, the sets need to cater for a wide range of abilities and they need to be very varied as some members will swim at our sessions twice a week, week in week out. For a regular session such as this, it is important to consider the annual progression with relation to the off-season, pre-season and race season, and how the athletes need to progress. For example, it is pointless to have them peak in January, when no one is racing! But as an opposing example, when I write sets for myself, because I know exactly where I am in the season in terms of fitness and progress, as well as what I need to target, the sets can be a lot more specific. Sometimes, for this reason I prefer writing a programme of swim sets for one athlete rather than a group training session due to the ability to be able to hone in on individual goals, progression, and their training as a whole. That said, I absolutely love the opportunity that group training sessions provide to try out new drills, swim ideas and, of course, the fact that there’s a group of people all doing the same thing alongside one another, pushing and helping each other. The atmosphere of club sessions is one of the best things that sport offers.

A lot of people have a tendency to go to the pool, and hammer out (or cruise through!) a certain number of lengths, or a certain time slot. Whilst this does benefit their aerobic fitness, it also leads to a plateau in training, and isn’t the ideal race prep. Swim sets are a key way of getting out of the same old routine in the swimming pool, they make sessions fun, different and challenging!

Photo of Zoe swimming

Zoe swimming the Henley Mile

Triathletes in particular, spend outrageous amounts of money on the best, newest, nicest looking, lightest, sought after, or whatever it may be, kit! Such as bikes, running shoes, Garmin’s, without even giving a second thought to the minutes they could save on their swim time – its all about shaving seconds off their bike, transition or run, and ‘just getting through’ the swim. Swim technique, and training, could get you out of the water a lot higher up in your age category than a Garmin will get you out of transition!

One to one coaching is the final aspect I will touch on, as it is one of the most rewarding things I do. It gives me as much buzz as the athlete themselves, to see the rapid progression, whether it be technique, confidence or times wise. The smile on their face makes it all worth it! And that is true of all of the coaching I do, swim sets are just the starting point.

Here’s an example swim set:

This swim set would be a set to do during the pre season, as it focuses on technique and pacing.

Warm up 

200m front crawl
50 backstroke
100m front crawl
50 fast

The warm up should be easy swimming, across a range of strokes, to warm up all muscles and increase heart rate. I like to include a bit of pace work at the end of the set to really ensure that the swimmers are warm and ready for the main set!

Main set

4 x 100 as 25 metres drill (see below for the drill) 75 metres swim 

  1. doggy paddle
  2. fists
  3. catch up
  4. thumb to thigh

400m
300m
200m
100m

+20 seconds rest at the end of each set

Race pace swims (consistent pacing)
4×50 as 25 hard/25 easy

Technique work at the start of the main set allows swimmers to break down their stroke at a steady pace and concentrate on any weak areas before taking this through to their normal/race pace work.

This main set is 1km long; the challenge here is to maintain a consistent race pace. This means that swimmers can go into a race and feel confident of what pace they should swim at and be sure that they can maintain it throughout the race.

The last part is a bit of speedwork. I like to include this so they they know they have worked hard! It is also great to know that you can handle a sprint finish.

Cool down

50 scull
50 back

The cool down is again a super easy pace to flush out any lactic acid and decrease the heart and breathing rates.I prefer swimmers to avoid the front crawl in cool down. Backstroke is great to stretch out the swimming muscles ans sculling helps increase your feel for the water. Breaststroke is great for cool down too. Happy Swimming!

If you want to contact Zoe for more info on her swim coaching, her email address is swimwithzoe@gmail.com.

Delightful Dee Mile

I promised myself that I wouldn’t enter any events between Leeds Tri and Liverpool Tri so as to focus on my training for the standard distance Tri that I did Liverpool on 14 August (another blog post to follow). The lack of organisation at Leeds Tri had put me off a little, if I am honest.

As time went on though, I missed the thrill having a race to go to (the words adrenaline junkie spring to mind!). I really wanted to do the Dee Mile but I was also hesitant because a few Mersey Tri buddies had done the Deva Triathlon on 11th June and had fallen ill after swimming in the Dee. The really nice weather and dry spell in May, followed by heavy rain at the beginning of June led to the bacteria that had accumulated on the ground being swept into the river. Hence the GI distress suffered by many.

As the race drew nearer, some other friends entered it, and I noted that we hadn’t had any really nasty weather so I told myself that the Dee Mile was just a training opportunity to improve my swim times before Liverpool Tri. I have never swum in a river before (not as a race) so a new experience box was also ticked and I found myself in front of the computer screen, with a credit card entering the 2km race.

My family were away in Scotland so I was doing this on my own. However it was a really nice event for families to come and watch. The car parking was in the Meadows in Chester. The weather was kind and lots of people had brought picnics and chairs and were settling down for a nice afternoon.

Photo of goody bag

Goody bag from the race. I liked the handgels and wipes for preventing norovirus.

Registration was quick and easy, I picked up a very nice goody bag and wandered off to the Selkie stall for a look around. Eventually I succumbed and bought a dry bag/inflatable tow for wild swimming which I later used on my holiday in Scotland.

The race briefing undertaken at 5pm, it was time to start the walk to the start. The race was going downstream with the current which was a relief. However it  took about 20 minutes to walk upstream to the start. I had flipflops for this but they were taken off me quite early for transporting back to the start so I had another 10 mins to walk over rough ground in my bare feet. Top tip: take someone with you to carry your shoes!

Also it wasn’t ideal for me as I had to leave my hearing aids at the beginning to be transported to the finish. It was very hard to have conversations with friends without them (sorry guys for having to repeat yourselves so much!). I got very hot at this point too as the sun had come out so it was a relief to reach the start and jump in off a very nicely placed pontoon.

Lining up for the start, I had to keep pushing back against the current not to go over the start line. The usual washing machine start ensued and whilst I tried my best to stay with the pack, I quickly found myself lagging behind. On the plus side, I found I got into my stroke (stride?) quite quickly once I got some clear water. I couldn’t remember the advice I was given before hand whether to get close to the bank or not but it didn’t seem to matter because I seemed to be pushed over to the middle of the river.

AM after Dee Mile Swim

Well earned hot chocolate in my special Dee Mile Swim Mug after the race

I was glad I had checked the forecast and placed my faith in it because the sun was splitting the sky and I had chosen to wear my tinted goggles.  It was simply a glorious evening for a swim.

The finish was at the suspension bridge so when I saw that coming up, I put a final spurt on. We had been told that we needed to place our chips on the timing block at the finish. On crossing under the gantry, there were some confused swimmers, trying to reach what looked like the timing blocks which were high up but it turned out we didn’t need to do this. My time registered at 39 minutes and 36 seconds; a time with which I was very happy.  Even with the assistance from the current, that was one of my fastest ever times and much faster than I had done in training.

One of my friends who did the 1km option said that the start there was a bit more chaotic. It seemed to put off some of the novice swimmers in that race especially when the fast swimmers from the next wave came up behind them because when I arrived at the finish, there were quite a few swimmers holding onto the support canoes. Perhaps the organisers could allow slightly longer between the waves next time?

All in all, even with the uncomfortable walk to the start, I really enjoyed this race. the added bonus was that I was not ill afterwards! Hopefully one for my calendar next year…

My blog is feeling a little neglected these days.  It’s been a busy old time with Adventurous Twins’ birthday, some overtime at work, a few more visits to the doctors for the rest of the family and I have been stepping up my training again.  Although becoming a distant memory, it’s time to go back to Leeds Tri on 12 June and share that experience with you.

You may remember that I had a chest infection and sinusitis and had to pull out of Edinburgh Half Marathon. Leeds Tri was 2 weeks after that and, while I had managed a few runs and swims, I hadn’t really trained as much as I had planned or would have liked. I still felt a bit tired and under par. Thankfully I was “only” doing the sprint distance as I had calculated previously that it would be too tricky to train for a triathlon after a Half marathon.

I had entered this race last August though and I was determined to share the stage (well, the same race route with the elites!) I was promised a pontoon start for the swim, a blue carpet finish and the chance to watch the elites in action. I suppose 2 out of 3 isn’t bad but the chance to watch the elites was denied to many for reasons you will see later in this post.

Adventurous twins were not keen to come so my sister said she would look after them. Adventurous Dad came with me and I was glad of his support. The arrangements for setting up were complicated! We arrived in Leeds at 4pm on the Saturday before the race and had to register in one of the University buildings. No quibbles there; some very nice volunteers trying hard to find out for me if there was a goody bag and a race T shirt (the answer was a disappointing no). Then, as this was a split transition, we headed first to Transition 2 (T2) in the city centre. This was on some rough waste ground not far from the law courts. I was fortunate enough to be allocated a spot near the entrance so didn’t have far to run in my bike shoes. I didn’t envy anyone who was going to leave their bike shoes attached and try to run in bare feet…

Photo of T1 at leeds

The world’s largest transition area ever?

Then off to Roundhay Park to the north of Leeds where Transition 1 (T1) was. By this time it was nearly 6pm so parking was relatively easy. This transition was huge! Easily the largest I have ever seen (not all that surprising as this is the largest triathlon I have ever taken part in). I felt nervous about leaving my bike overnight but then I realised thieves would be more interested in the shiny carbon fibre bikes than my trusty steel bike!
Finally, I got all set up by 7pm, 3 hours after arriving in Leeds. I was a bit late for dinner with friends who were not best pleased. (Yummy food though so I am eternally grateful!) I felt a bit drained just setting up. The nerves were beginning to kick in so I struggled to get to sleep; tired but wired describes it best.

Swim Start Leeds Tri

Pontoon Swim start – I am the one waving!

On race day, the weather was pretty good for a triathlon. Overcast, not too cold, not too warm. I had a later start at 10.04am. I was really looking forward to the swim on the pontoon. We were not allowed to dive in but it did mean that we were all spaced out nicely and there was none of the usual scrum at the beginning of the race. One of the problems with being hard of hearing was not being able to hear the klaxon on this occasion (not normally a problem for me) and losing a few seconds relying on watching for others setting off.  The lake was beautifully clear. I had a reasonable swim but my time was much the same as previous swims over this distance. I also felt dizzy when I got out so had to take a minute to recover.

Then I had to face the world’s longest ever transition! The run from the lake to entrance of T1 was 400 metres. I then had to retrieve my bike, make sure my wetsuit kit was in the special T1 bag and run out of transition with my bike and the kit bag. The kit bag was to be handed to the marshals at the mount line. By this time, I had run nearly a kilometre. I am almost embarrassed to publish my transition time of 10 minutes and 18 seconds but I really didn’t hang around; it was the sheer size of the transition, honest! I must have run a fair distance in my bike shoes because my cleats were wrecked at the end of the race.

Photo of AM on bike

This lady is for turning…

The mount line was at the bottom of a hill but thankfully it wasn’t as bad as it looked and I was soon away on one of my fastest ever bike legs at 52 minutes 38 seconds. I will admit that a lot of it was downhill but it was also a test of my bike skills to embrace the speed! I like some of the photos from this leg especially this one as I performed the U turn.

Thankfully my run shoes were still were I left them in the wasteland that was T2.  There were a lot of crowds gathering by this time ready for the elite race so the support was great as we ran round Leeds City Centre. The pre race info suggested that it was 2 laps for my 5km run but when I got to the blue carpet, this was the start of my first lap and then it said I had to pass through 2 more times. It was a bit confusing and I couldn’t get it straight in my head so I relied on my Garmin to tell me I had done 5km when approaching the finish. I believe it was even more confusing if you were running 10km and a lot of competitors didn’t do the correct distance and ended up with the dreaded DNF…

I was finally over the line and got my blue carpet finish 1 hour 51 minutes 38 seconds after starting. I felt a mixture of relief that it was over and that, although I hadn’t put in my best time, I seemed to be over the worst of my illness. I choked back some tears of relief, smiled for the camera and soon had some shiny race bling round my neck.

AM at finish of Leeds

Blue carpet finish… at last!

If I had thought that the pre race set up was a palaver, it was nothing as to what was to come next. I queued to pick up my T1 bag but as the queue was quite long we decided to go and get lunch and retrieve my bike from T2. Luckily I had Adventurous Dad with me as he had my warm clothes, money and phone. Suitably refuelled, we returned to get my bag to find the bag drop in chaos. There were lots of angry people who had been in the earlier waves who still hadn’t got their bags. Some had been racing alone so were relying on their kit being transported to the finish. I read later on Twitter, that some people reported waiting for up to 7 hours for their bags. Some people had no phone to contact loved ones to say why they were going to be late and someone said their ticket for the grandstand to watch the elites was in their bag and they missed it all. We had planned not to stay for the elites race as we had to get back to our twins.
In the end, we probably only waited about 30 mins to be told that we had best get to Roundhay Park and get our stuff from there. As our van was there, it was not a disaster, merely an inconvenience. We jumped on our bikes (Adventurous Dad had brought his Brompton which drew a few stares!) and made it to the park. It was a bit chaotic there too but I found my bag and all’s well that ended well for me anyway.

I thought my assessment of the race might have changed with the passage of time but it remains the same, the race itself was great with the swim pontoon and nice swim, exciting bike ride and a city centre run was quite special. The organisation let it all down. The split transition was maybe too challenging for an open race of this size or maybe there was too much emphasis on the elites race.

This race going ahead again next year in Leeds but I won’t be back. I felt I earned my medal more for dealing with the problems with the race! I hope the race directors learn from their mistakes and put on a truly magnificent race next year. They have a lot of triathletes to win over.

Marine Lakes and Mountain Tops

I have a relatively quiet month in May, “just”  the Edinburgh Half Marathon on 29th May. I am building back up my running mileage in preparation for that. As my race number recently arrived, it is becoming reality.

So we will have to be content with some mini-adventures and what better than the start of the open water swimming season!

Photo of AM at Marine Liake

Dryrobe: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…with apologies to Shakespeare…

Bear in mind that the previous session of open water swimming was cancelled over the bank holiday weekend because of high winds and low temperatures. So the fact that the swimming took place at all was a minor miracle (as was the fact that the weather went from Arctic to tropical in the blink in an eye).  I was convinced that I would simply get in the water and it would be so painful that I would simply dash out again!

I kitted up as much as possible: neoprene socks and cap and took my dry robe to stay warm pre and post swim (bought at the Tri expo). I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could get in without too much pain. I then tried to put my face in the water and whoa! Instant ice cream head! I pulled my cap further down my forehead and that seemed to do the trick. I managed a kilometre before I lost the feeling in my hands. Note to self: take gloves next time! I still loved it, looking up to the sky and across the broad expanse of sea (well, across the marine lake at West Kirby where we train.)

I felt inexplicably happy all day after that and I can only put this down to the open water swimming. Probably down to the adrenaline rush that open water swimming brings!

Not normally one for looking back, I thought I would also reflect on my climb up Goatfell on Arran during our Easter holiday. I wrote a brief Facebook post about reaching the top but thought I’d expand on it slightly as not everyone reading this blog follows my page on Facebook.

Arran is a wonderful island off the west coast of Scotland, reached by ferry from Ardrossan. It’s where my husband’s late father came from and where my husband spent his childhood holidays. It holds a very special place in his heart and I have fallen in love with it too. None of the family are left on the island but we go back every 2 years or so.

When we went to Arran, back in the days before we had the children, we always stayed with Adventurous Husband’s Aunt Flora who was a wonderful character and had great stories about island life. On one of these visits, we decided to climb Goatfell, the highest mountain on Arran, standing at 2,866 ft. Not quite a Munro (a mountain over 3,000 ft), but as the climb starts at sea level, a fair hike. We took a long route in from Brodick Castle. By the time we got to near the top,  I felt exhausted and felt unable to scramble up the rocks to the top. I recall that I was a bit overweight and had had back problems on and off during this time but I think the biggest problem was simply a lack of confidence about scrambling over rocks. Adventurous Husband went on to the top without me.

I thought about that day quite a lot over the years. When we climbed Scafell Pike, there was some scrambling to do, I remember being apprehensive but in a better place for fitness levels and managing it no problem.

AM and AD on Goatfell

Me, mini me and Teddy on our way up Goatfell

Now that children are older, we are trying to encourage them to do some more hill walking with us so we hatched a plan that we would all walk it. We had access to some guide books that recommended that we start the walk at Corrie, a shorter route overall.

On the day, we had nice sunny weather although in some places it was quite windy. Unfortunately Adventurous Daughter said that she did not feel 100%  about just over half way up so they went back down. I carried on with my sister in law and niece Meagan.

Photo of AM at the top of Goatfell

Finally at the top of Goatfell

And we made it! It really wasn’t that hard a scramble after all but it is amazing the difference that the level of fitness makes to confidence. On the way back down, I kept vowing to myself never to get unfit again.

Top of Goatfell

I could almost reach up and touch the clouds; the view from the top of Goatfell

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hiking and open water swimming are two of my favourite mini adventures you can have all the time and are relatively inexpensive. Being close to nature is supposed to be one of the best tonics for our busy plugged in lives so I urge you to try one or both!

Have you had any hiking or swimming adventures to share?

 

So what have Adventurous Kids been up to? I did promise some ideas about how to get kids more active and we haven’t seen hide nor hair of them! They have been active, I assure you. Here’s a little round up of their activities.

January

We went to the Big House near Barmouth which I mentioned in my post about Helsby Half Marathon. For 4 years we have been going to an activity weekend. We call it indoor camping as we go with a group of friends who we camp with in the summer. We get to do all sorts of fun activities such as archery, team building games, ropes courses and zip wire.

I think the best thing to do is to show you some photos of the kids having a great time. Just look at the enjoyment on their faces. Even when we retreat to the house, they have a fantastic time playing Nerf gun wars and hide and seek in the house with no-one to tell them to be quiet!

20160116_100902

Bullseye!

Whoo- hoo! That was fun

Whoo- hoo! That was fun

 

 

 

AD on zip wire

Adventurous Daughter loves the zip wire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February

AD with bronze medal

One happy cub with her bronze medal

 

Both my twins took part in a Cubs swimming gala. Adventurous Son had done this two years ago when he had just moved up to cubs. I didn’t make it along to watch him that time but apparently he got a round of applause for being the plucky finisher as he took a long time to finish his length. This time he is one of the older cubs in the pack and, although he did not qualify for the finals, he swam well.

Swimming is Adventurous Daughter’s favourite sport so she elected to swim in the Backstroke heat. It was initially unclear if she had qualified for the final but eventually we learned that she had. She went onto win the bronze medal! One very happy girl.

 

AD with mile swim cert

Still smiling after swimming a mile!

Adventurous Daughter had also decided that she wanted to swim a mile for Sport Relief. Like a lot of people, we watched the Sport Relief Bake Off. She was very moved by the plight of the two young boys living on the street in Kenya and decided she wanted to help. Her swimming school agreed that she could use a lane to do the challenge along with 3 other children. I really wasn’t sure how long it would take her to complete the challenge, so she surprised me in doing it in just over an hour. She was so fast that the swimming school instructor missed her and some of the other children finishing!

To date, she has raised £192.00 so she has raised enough money to help get some African children off the street and into school. One even happier girl.

March

AD at TKD grading

Nice walking stance from Adventurous Daughter…

Both Adventurous Kids do Tae Kwon Do. It’s been a while since they graded for a new belt so the time was looming where they would have to bite the bullet and take the test. Some intensive schooling at home from yours truly meant they performed well on the day. Adventurous Daughter was pleasantly surprised to get a pass plus.

AS at TKD grading

Adventurous Son demonstrating his best pattern moves

 

 

 

 

Go ape photo

Adventurous Mum pretending that she’s all cool with this…

We also ventured to Go Ape in Delamere Forest. We had agreed to team up with our friends Pam and Isaac for this particular adventure. Adventurous Son was not well so I had to take his place. Despite my adventurous moniker, I am not fantastic with heights. So the children were busy completing the course (about 3 metres off the ground!), I was gingerly making my way round. I loved the zip wire though and my only complaint was that it was too short. I did the course twice and it was definitely easier the second time. Adventurous Daughter loved it and wants to go back. Maybe I will be brave enough to try the adult course next time!

 

 

What have your kids been up to over the winter months? It should be easier to get them out more now that the clocks have gone forward. We are looking forward to warmer days and more time outside.

Confession time

Here’s a big confession – if you are reading this and don’t know me in person, I haven’t yet told you about something that makes me uniquely me. If you do know me, then thanks for being kind enough to repeat a few things you say because you already know that I wear two hearing aids and have about half my natural hearing. I was unfortunate enough to contract the measles about ten days before my first birthday and this is the most likely cause of my subsequent hearing loss.

I am always open about my hearing (or lack of it) but I also would rather get to know someone before I disclose the fact to them. I have had some experiences where I have mentioned it to someone and then they start to talk as if I am a bit dim rather than hard of hearing. With my hearing aids, theoretically, I should be able to hear just as well as the next person.

The problem is that when it comes to being active near water, I cannot wear my hearing aids. This has proved a bit tricky while swimming and learning to canoe. I recently found out Siemens has developed a waterproof hearing aid but at the cost of £1,495 each, this is a bit beyond my means. On the plus side, it is good to see hearing aid technology moving on as it is my impression that it hasn’t really changed much during my lifetime and  it doesn’t receive much funding on the NHS.

AM on bike at Wirral Tri

Not wired for sound…during the Wirral Sprint Triathlon

Although it costs me time in transition 1, putting the hearing aids back in after swimming has not proved to be a major problem at triathlons. The only hiccup I had was during the Wirral sprint triathlon – my first triathlon after 10 years or so – and with the excitement and lots of noisy and enthusiastic supporters during the first transition, I forgot to put them back in for the bike leg! I didn’t realise until I was about 500 metres along the road that something felt different. Although it was risky, I made a conscious decision that I would be relatively safe in a crowd of competitors and thankfully, that was the case. The hearing aids went straight back in my ears for the run leg and all’s well that ended well.

I was curious to know if I am the only person to wear hearing aids for triathlon so I posted in 220 Magazine Triathlon’s forum asking that question. There were no replies. I assume that there must be other hard of hearing triathletes?

As for canoeing, during my training, I couldn’t wear them as we practised capsizing at every lesson. As I have posted elsewhere, this does make it difficult to follow the instructor. Again they have been incredibly patient when aware of the problem.

So, the moral of this post perhaps, is don’t let anything minor stand in your way of what you want to do. I didn’t hesitate to get back into triathlon in 2014, even though the logistics of competing with hearing aids can be a bit tricky. Also remember to put your hearing aids back in after transition 1!

I would love to hear from you if you have a hearing problem or maybe other disability that makes it slightly harder for you to take part in active or water sports. Perhaps we can share stories to encourage others to get started if they wanted to do something but felt that their disability was holding them back?

 

 

Not just parkrun tourists…

We went away to Edinburgh last weekend to meet up with our niece, Meagan. She is on an adventure of her own as she is having a gap year before college and working as an intern at the Scottish Association of Marine Science near Oban. She is a keen swimmer and runner so I was very happy to have a partner in crime for the weekend activities.

Photo of Cramond

Windswept and interesting – Cramond Prom

First stop: Edinburgh parkrun. The weather forecast was not promising but the course is nice and flat along the prom at Cramond.  There were about 350 people there all ready to brave the best the Scottish weather could throw at us. Strong headwind, rain, icy darts of sleet on our faces and temperature not really getting above 3 degrees Celsius. The course is an out and back along the prom so was grateful again to turn round and have the wind behind us on the home straight (see my post on the Mad Dog 10K). The Forth Road and Rail Bridge could just be seen in the distance, spurring me on to the finish. Not a PB according to my parkrun stats as this is a full 5 km unlike my home parkrun in Birkenhead but my Garmin trumpeted a new PB of 26:36 so I had to be happy with that.

AM and Meagan

Smiling before parkrun..if only we had known how strong the wind was going to be…

This was Meagan’s first experience of parkrun and I think she was impressed that so many people would get together on this basis and arrange a free event. With weather like that, she admitted she may not have got out for a run otherwise! I didn’t disagree with her.

Sunday now means long run day to me. The last time I was in Edinburgh I ran out to Portobello beach as this follows the marathon route. I had only been to Portobello once before in my life with my Dad when we came to Edinburgh to watch the World Pipe Band championships so there was some nostalgia involved in going there. So I went there again. It’s a great place, nice prom with cafes, vans selling coffees and a wide range of human experience on display from families playing in the park, dog walkers, runners like me, and in this case, open water swimmers in the sea! In February!! I was very much in awe of their adventurous spirit.

AM at Portobello

Portobello beach – swimmers behind me!

Meagan came with me for part of the run and then had a mini adventure of her own as she took a wrong turn on the way back. She successfully navigated her way back thankfully. Neglectful aunt!

We then continued our Edinburgh adventure with a hike up Arthurs Seat, the impressive volcanic hill behind Edinburgh. I was concerned for my leg muscles after running 10 miles out to Portobello and back. But climb it we did and the views were worth it. All of Edinburgh was laid out before us and right out to sea along the Firth of Forth. Adventurous Twins were more interested in playing in the thin layer of snow than the view. Maybe one day they will learn to appreciate the beauty of the natural world around them; meanwhile who could begrudge them some snow fun seeing as we have had some atrocious weather but precious little snow.

Arthur's seat

Are we really going to climb this?

Tamsin on Arthur's Seat

Can it be? Is it really…snow?

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Monday, like fitness tourists, we made a trip to the Commonwealth pool. I went last summer so that I could experience swimming in a 50 metre pool. Sadly, the pool was divided up into two 25 metre pools on Monday so the kids didn’t get that experience. It is a beautiful pool; clean and because it is so big, not crowded at all even through it was half term. There were diving lessons going on in the diving pool which Adventurous daughter wanted to try. The rest of us looked in awe at how high the 5 metre board is.

The moral of this post is that running and fitness can take you to places you may not have visited. I would never have gone to Cramond had it not been for parkrun. Running to Portobello brought back happy memories of my Dad. Climbing Arthur’s Seat was a great shared experience that I hope my kids will say “Do you remember that time we went up Arthur’s Seat with Meagan?” I now love running as a great way to explore places and see a bit more of them than I would otherwise have done. Google maps built into phones make the process a whole lot easier too, especially if it is a place with which you are not too familiar.

Do you run when you are away from home? Are you a parkrun tourist? Any stories to share?

 

Top 10 tips for open water swimming

  1. Get a good fit on your wetsuit.

This can make or break your swim. I got mine fitted in person at Swim the Lakes in Ambleside. I recommend that you get some specialised advice on fitting especially if it is your first time open water swimming or doing a triathlon.  It needs to be snug enough to form that nice layer of water next to your skin to keep you warm. Too much and you will feel like you have the lake in your wetsuit! I have had a great experience with mine. Which leads me onto tip number…

  1. Buy the best that you can afford.

    Bala open water swim

    At the end of the open water swim at Bala

I went for a mid range suit (blueseventy Fusion) which cost around £230. You don’t necessarily need the top of the range (some of which can cost several hundred pounds) although don’t let me stop you if you fancy it! I am assuming that most people reading this will be thinking about open water swimming for the first time and will be on a relatively tight budget so buying the best you can afford means that you feel happy with the suit but haven’t spent a fortune if open water swimming is not for you. Look for features such as thinner neoprene in the arms to allow room for your arms to move while swimming.  Mine are 1.5 mm, while the body is 3 mm.  It does feel quite restricting to start with but as you break the suit in, it soon eases up.

3. Invest in good goggles

I don’t have particularly fancy goggles (Aqua Sphere Kaiman Exo) but they do have larger than average lens and side vision which is useful in the open water. I have a plain and tinted pair depending on the weather. Sadly the tinted pair don’t see as much use but they are good for those rare sunny days. I realise that this is extra expense but it does mean you have a spare pair if anything goes wrong with your main pair. Anything that takes the stress out of race day is a good idea.

4. Ear plugs and nose clip are a must (for me anyway!)

I always swim with ear plugs as do most of my tri buddies. The first few times I swam without them, the cold really got into my ears and made the swim a bit unpleasant. When you try to get out of the water, the cold can really affect your balance. It’s a bit embarrassing staggering around like a drunk at 8am in the morning! I use the Zoggs silicone ear plugs which mould to your ears although there are lots of different types so experiment to see what suits you best. I always swim with a nose clip as the chlorine in most pools irritate the lining of my nose. I tried swimming without it a few times as the irritation wasn’t going to be a problem with fresh or sea water. I found it best to have it on mainly because I was used to swimming with it. Again, experiment with what is best for you.

5. Don’t forget the lubrication…

I learned the hard way with friction burns on my neck the first few swims. After that, I have always used Run Glide (same thing as Body Glide which you can get on Wiggle) and have never had a problem since.

  1. Take off your jewellry

It is a good idea to swim without any precious jewellry. When you are cold, your fingers will be slimmer, and you don’t really want to lose your rings at the bottom of the lake. A friend of mine lost his wedding ring on a night swim!

  1. Bring a hot drink

This is really crucial for your well-being at the end of the swim. Obviously you can’t do this in a triathlon! I take an insulated cup (the type you take camping) and leave it in the car. It is absolute heaven to have a hot coffee to warm you up when you come out of the water.

  1. Swim in the open water as much as possible

    Aberdaron

    Contemplating a dip at Aberdaron

Find out about any tri club sessions near you. I went to as many organised sessions as I could before the Wirral Tri. I took my wetsuit on holiday with me wherever we went and got in the water as much as possible.  Here’s me at a bay near Aberdaron, much to the amusement of my family…

  1. Remember that it is natural to be scared

You are likely to have it ingrained in you from dire warnings as a child that swimming in lakes and rivers is unsafe. I was always told as a child not to go anywhere near the river across the road from us.  Try to recapture some of your childlike sense of adventure if the prospect of getting in the water is nerve wracking. Or remember that organised sessions have good safety cover. At Mersey Tri, we have 3 spotters on the shore and a safety canoe. Or remember that when you have completed a session, the adrenaline hit is huge!

  1. Relax and enjoy!

    West Kirby marine lake

    Sunset at West Kirby Marine Lake where I swim

Remember to look up at the sky and take a moment to appreciate the wonder of nature around you. This is my favourite part of swimming in West Kirby marine lake on a sunny day. I can look over to the hills of Wales and look up to the blue sky above. John Lennon’s quote – above us only sky – always comes into my mind.

I hope this helps if you are new to open water swimming. If you are an experienced swimmer, perhaps you could share your thoughts, other tips and experience?

As a newbie blogger, I don’t have any arrangements with any of the brands named and these are all my honest recommendations.

 

Baby, it’s cold outside…and in the water!

With Boxing Day and New Year dips on the radar, it’s time to explore the wonderful world of open water swimming.

I seem to be a fairly rare beast among triathletes because I love swimming. For me it is one of life’s little pleasures when you first get in the water and feel the power of the push off from the pool wall and start to swim.

I mentioned in my last post that I had a back injury in my mid-twenties. I tore a muscle while shifting furniture during one of our house moves. So I had to work my way back to fitness and swimming was part of that. We lived near a swimming pool so I used to head down there 3 times a week and eventually built up to swimming a mile (64 lengths) in around 30 minutes.

I never had any swimming lessons as a child apart from the few lessons at school but I seemed to take to it like a, er, fish to water. I remember, though, that going swimming was my favourite thing to do and I used to pester my sisters to take me and then when I was old enough to go on my own, pester my friends to come with me!

As we all do these days, I took to the internet to research how I could best prepare for my first open water swim as part of Wirral Tri. One of the first companies to appear on my search was called Head to the Hills (now called Swim the Lakes) who organised a half day event training aimed at triathletes and those taking part in open water races. They also offered to do a wetsuit fitting if I signed up to the course. As it was in Ambleside and my sister has a caravan there, my fate was sealed and they soon had my credit card details.

The course itself was excellent and Pete and Andrea’s enthusiasm for their sport was infectious. I was keen to get out to Lake Windermere for the practical part of the course. However, I was in for a nasty shock just as to how cold it was! Although it was mid-May, the air temperature was about 14 degrees and the water temperature was later judged to be about 12 degrees. I later found out that the triathlon rule book states that wetsuits are compulsory when the water temperature is less than 14 degrees and that open water swimming should not take place if it is 11 degrees or less. So far, so cold!

I was fine wading in and even getting the water up to my neck. The problem started when I tried to put my face in the water and found that it was just too cold. All the other swimmers on the course seemed to be fine while I was at the back, hyperventilating, all confidence gone and wondering where my swimming mojo had gone. When I finally got out of the water, I was absolutely freezing. I couldn’t move my hands and that meant I couldn’t open my camper van. I had to put the key fob in my mouth and press the button with my teeth.

It was safe to say that I was now in shock and was seriously wondering how I was going to do this triathlon. I had already set up the Just Giving page; I couldn’t back out now.  The only way to do this was to get back in the saddle as soon as possible. So I did some more research and discovered that Mersey Tri did open water sessions at the Marine Lake in West Kirby, near my home. With a deep breath, I joined and turned up to the sessions. By now it was June and the water was marginally warmer. The first session was still scary and I had salt water to contend with but I emerged thinking that it was going to be OK. I reached a point that I was actually enjoying the open water and genuinely looked forward to getting up at 6am on a Saturday for the 7am swimming sessions, I kid you not!

Liverpool Dock Swim photo

At the finish of the Liverpool Dock Swim. Relieved to have survived the jelly fish!

I also entered a stand alone open water swim in Liverpool docks which took place about 3 weeks before the triathlon. I thought that it would be a good idea to get some experience of open water racing without the complications of transitions, bike and run. It turned out to be a great boost to my confidence, not least because I swam through a load of jellyfish without freaking out!

My top tips will follow in another post but here’s my first tip, it is perfectly natural to freak out in cold water!