Sunday, June 12, 2016

Week 19 - "I'm gonna swim as much as possible between now and Keilder"

Taper is here.

It should have started last week but I spent last Sunday convincing myself I have actually done enough training to finish a long distance race - ie. completing an 18 mile run in order to see off a marathon in two weeks time.

After that I talked to my mother on the phone.

"but have you *actually* *done* your swim distance yet?" she asked.

She had a point.

... it hung there like bad news, a bad omen... if you can't make it out of the water properly, there's really no finisher's medal.  I vowed to myself to swim as much as possible between now and race day in order to nail that distance.  I owed it to myself.  I owed it to the last 20 weeks.

First step - no swimming last weekend to put my cold to bed once and for all.  Laying off on Monday too in order to properly rest after that very hot run with some minor sunburn.

Tuesday started with a yoga session where I specifically gentrified any exercises that would tire my swimming muscles.  I also had a long chat with Fiona Kesteven who got silver in Lisbon and manages the gym where I swim.  Our chat only resolved my swim till you drop campaign.

There was the small matter of a run at lunchtime.  An easy 5 miles to persuade my legs I was OK from our 18 miler at the weekend.  It passed with only a minor calf-twinge and I had a good stretch on the lawn afterwards in a newly-discovered shady spot away from prying eyes.

On Tuesday evening the weather was definitely obliging.  I know I can't guarantee weather on race day but race day is a different kettle of fish from trying to churn out 4 kms after a 7 hour day at work.  The water temperature was 21 degrees and the air temperature when I arrived at 5:30pm was 29 degrees.  I did everything I could to ensure success - wrist bands to tie my fingers together when they started to splay and sickness pills to stop me feeling like puking.  I drank a protein shake (slightly counter-productive to the last statement) to make sure I didn't feel hungry.  I stopped short of wearing an extra insulation layer because at those barmy temperatures I'd be more likely to expire from the heat in my wetsuit than get cold.

There was much talk in the changing rooms from people attempting their first skins swim (without wetsuits) and a lot of reluctance from those of us who felt we still needed a wetsuit - whether that was to survive the swim at all or to get around a long distance course.  I would have loved to swim skins but it wasn't to be. There was no way I could do the distance in skins so I struggled my way into my wetsuit, over the sweaty skin from my lunchtime run.

The first lap went well in 17 minutes.  For once the cool patches were welcome relief from the warm water.  I even passed a few people and as more people arrived I was passed back.

A dry sensation in my mouth made me realise I had two choices from the evening - quit because of dehydration or risk a stomach bug from drinking water out of the lake.  I chose the latter.  I was NOT quitting... but I did chose the cleanest parts of the lake with the least weed.

The second lap was nothing special and I forgot to time it so rocked onto the third lap without a glance (it was just under 18 minutes and the third lap 18:21). I knew I could do another and five would be absolutely awesome, taking me up to my distance.

Lap 4 went into 19:17.  I was starting to chill.  My armpits were feeling cool, there was cold water where before there had been none and my little fingers went off on their own.  I started to be grateful for the warm patches of water.  On the back straight, I tied my fingers together and did some breast stroke to fire the leg muscles for a while and burped out the air I had inadvertently swallowed whilst swimming and drinking.

With one lap to go I knew it was in the bag.  I wasn't nearly cold enough to have to stop so pushed through any discomfort to finish.  Feet twinged but I just kicked slower and worked it through.  I headed for shore after 1 hour 25 minutes.  Projected swim time 1hr 30 - though on race day I might manage more through presence of others, there aren't so many others at Kielder.

I was, to put it mildly, elated by my swim.  I was tired but I was on cloud 9.  I tweetered and fafbooked all over the place and ate fish and chips in celebration.

On Wednesday I rode to work.  So nice to get away from the traffic and ride in the sunshine but I was too tired for a long ride home and so I went straight back and relaxed.

It didn't feel like taper was going well.  Taper is normally fraught with anxiety and itchy feet but I was finding it liberating, exciting and relaxing at the same time.  I felt more prepared for this Long Distance race than any I have ever done and I was looking forwards to it.  It feels like the stress of Lisbon has more than displaced any anxiety about Kielder although I am slightly concerned about what happens when I'm half way through the bike and realise that this is actually quite hard and quite a long way.

Back to Thursday yoga and this time eating instead of running at lunchtime, then in the evening it was back into the water at Hatfield with Doncaster swimmers.  Work kept me in till 5:30 which meant I had a fraught fight through the traffic to arrive at 6:15.  I struggled into kit asap and had no sickness pills but still got my elastic bands on and remembered to change in the cool changing rooms before heading out in to the sunshine to be zippered in by Leon.

This time I thought I'd use the ear plugs since there were no anti-sickness pills.  An interesting experiment since the last time I swam with both anti-sickness and ear plugs I'd had to call it a day at 1 mile anyway.  The weather was playing again as I entered the 20 degrees water, I didn't even make any whimpering noises that usually come when the water reaches my zip and pours into my lower back.

"Like Swimming in the Ocean"

Some of the weeds at Hatfield had separated and drifted this week so clumps of flocs hung, suspended in the water before my face - occasionally bouncing off my nose or hanging onto my face like a moist, fluffy moustache.  The water at Hatfield is deep and clear though and weed shapes look something like jelly fish, sea slugs or deformed starfish that had lost a few limbs to a crab.  In this respect it really was like swimming in the ocean but without the waves, salty taste or cold.

Hatfield Swim Your Swim (c) Alistair Beatie

The first lap seemed oh-so-long.  The out, back straight, the third side.  The thing is, with Hatfield though, when you pass the third side, the finish is so close - it's so easy to keep going.  18 minutes for lap 1 (50 metres longer than Harthill).  

On the back straight of lap 2 I suddenly started to feel bad.  More ill than cold but shaky.  I removed my earplugs so I could hear and instantly felt better although a little stiff in the legs.  I had a bit of a back stroke which didn't really help so I tried hitching up the legs on my suit, thinking that might be the reason I was feeling lethargic.  I instantly felt more flexible.  I mustn't have put the suit on properly in my rush to get out.  The back stroke also seemed to have raised my pulse but I taped my fingers for a while and I got going again.  With all the faffing, lap 2 took nearly 21 minutes.

I set off on lap 3 with a renewed sense of vigour.  It was 7:18pm.  If I did lap three in 20 minutes, I would have enough time to complete 4 laps, still over the magic 3km boundary where one more lap seems like a physical possibility. I even took my hand bands off because I was feeling so good and it felt like they were slowing me down and interfering with my stroke.

I have been experimenting with holding my breath during swimming.  All the experts say, "don't do it! Would you hold your breath whilst cycling? Or running?" and I understand the scientific reasoning of CO2 build-up and heavy legs but then yoga has so frequently taken me beyond scientific reasons and there's more strength to be gained from peace and serenity  and that is what I experience when I fly through the water, silent and breathless and then the bubbles come and they thunder through your ears until the next bright, blinking above-the-water-intake of breath and then there is silence again and flight for two strokes.  It works most of the time and I might just stick to it.

So the end of lap 3.  I thought about checking my watch but then I saw a hat swimming off for another lap ahead of me and decided to try and catch it to at least get through my last lap as quickly as possible.  I didn't want to make anyone late but then I could hear Vicky Stott saying, "don't ask permission, beg forgiveness" so I started following the orange hat and no-one was shouting so I kept going.

Along the back straight the sickness returned but again, I flipped over, watched the horizon for a bit then powered on to the third buoy.  That seemed to wake up my body just nicely and I flipped back on to my belly and swam for all I was worth to get in to the jetty.  I got out at 8:05pm.

"I should say 'Sorry' but what I actually mean is 'Thank You'". Leon shrugged his shoulders.  Of all the people who know how important it is to me to get this swim in, Leon and Jane have to listen to my ramblings almost as much as Andrew.  It was too nice an evening to have to complain about standing by a lake.  I discovered that the man I had set out trying to catch was the manager of the pool at ponds forge.  Hardly surprising that I didn't catch him then.

After swimming, about 12 of us went for chips.  It was nice to socialise vertically with a bunch of people I'm more used to splashing about with.

I ate a second meal when I got home then on Friday took Phoenix out for a ride to make sure all of my waterproof clothes still fit me properly.  Unfortunately that resulted in a boil on my bum flaring up and a rather uncomfortable ride home.  As it turns out, not everything is perfect in taper week.

Lessons learned:
Vicky Stott is right.
I need anti-sickness pills to swim long distances.
I can adjust my wetsuit in the water without drowning.
Backstroke and breast stroke work well to get my Heart rate back up and let me burp.
I swim pretty well with a yogic breath.
Temperature is not everything but it helps - a lot.

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