Tag Archives: wetsuit

I have tried to write this blog post several times.  I went on holiday to Scotland shortly after Liverpool Tri and I had every good intention of writing a post. However, the technical problems of uploading photos to the blog continued to plague me and the lure of the outdoor life in Bonnie Scotland scuppered all my plans.

I then started to write this post several times in the last week or so and have been wondering if anyone wants to read about the ancient history that is Liverpool Tri on 14th August? Heck,  can I even remember the details of the day?  But because it was a great race , I can remember. So here we are, a quick recap of Liverpool Tri.

Despite being my local Tri, this was my first time in the race. I was super excited about the transition being right inside the Echo Arena (I am always seeking the elite treatment), less excited about the swim in the docks and relieved to know that the bike and runs courses were pretty flat.

Echo Arena

Liverpool Echo Arena as you’ve never seen it before

Events kicked off on Saturday 13 August as we had to rack our bikes the day before in the Echo Arena. Although it can be stressful leaving your bike behind, having done the majority of the preparation the night before does take the stress out of race morning. I wasn’t sure how much to leave and ended up leaving most of my kit there with a view to just bringing my water bottles in the morning with fresh electrolytes. Some of my friends just left their bikes.

On race morning, the weather was looking good in Triathlon terms: cool, dry, not much wind (always a bonus on the bike, especially near the coast) with the prospect of sun towards the end. I took our trusty camper van over to Liverpool early and had breakfast in the van. Then I made my way up to the Echo Arena to finish off the transition preparations and meet some Mersey Tri Friends. We had quite a walk from the arena to where the swim would start so I was glad of my flip flops. Sadly that was the last I saw of them because I forgot to go back and retrieve them at the end of the race!

When I went in the water, I took a moment to lie on my back and look up at the sky and, corny as it sounds, I was grateful for being in the position to be able to do this triathlon. I was healthy, financially secure enough to afford it and free to do it, not something to take for granted when so many women across the world don’t have the basic freedoms we have here in Britain.

Stepping off my metaphorical soap box, and back in the race, the swim was fairly uneventful; it just seemed to go on forever! When I got out, I realised why, it had taken me 37 minutes and 3 seconds! I had managed 32 minutes in the Midsummer Dock Swim so must confess to being a little disappointed with that time after the race. At the time, I was too busy trying to get my wetsuit off over my Garmin and failing miserably to be worried about a slow swim. You were not allowed to run into the Echo Arena with your wetsuit on; it had to be in a plastic bag provided by the marshals. The concrete floor was slippy enough!

Liverpool Tri - bike

Support from Adventurous Daughter (on the right)

Be prepared for a long transition they said. Well, it was long, but not as long as Leeds so it was a piece of cake for me. We had to run in one side of the Echo Arena and out the other. Out on the bike, this was the most fun I had ever had on a bike in a triathlon! Nice flat fast course along the front. The 4 laps meant that there was always someone around and support from fellow Mersey Tri buddies was great.  I have always said that the bike is sadly one of my weakest areas so I was pleased to come in at 1 hour 32 minutes 47 seconds.

Photo of AM at Liverpool Tri

Definitely a grimace, not a smile…

The downside to giving a good effort on the bike was that my quads were burning as I set off on the 10km run. Triathletes are all familiar with that feeling and I am reasonably experienced to know that it usually subsides after 3-4 km. On this occasion, it never really went away. I spent most of the run cursing and swearing that I was never doing triathlon again! I was even berating myself for daring to think that I could do a half Ironman! Luckily the run was also 2 flat loops of the Albert Dock and finally I got over the line after 55 minutes 51 seconds for the run and 3 hours 15 minutes 54 seconds in total. Not a fast time, but a whole 9 minutes off my previous PB over Olympic distance. Of course, the minute that I was over the line and someone put a medal round my neck, the pain subsided and I was wondering why I had made such a fuss (although I found it difficult to walk for the next few days!).

Photo of AM at Liverpool tri

My quads beg me never ever to do that again!

My verdict on the race is that it is definitely a good one for PB hunters even with the long transitions in and out of the Echo Arena. The support from the people on the course was great. I especially enjoyed the support from my Mersey Tri buddies. I am not sure if I will do the race again simply because I am thinking about different challenges next year. But, unlike Leeds Tri, I would not rule it out because it is a well organised race on a great course in a fabulous city.

Did you take part in Liverpool Tri?  What did you think of the race?

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.

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?

 

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!