Ready to go

So, my triathlon season starts on Bank Holiday Monday, which means I’m starting to wind down ahead of the race. And I’m already enjoying the familiar flutters of excitement and anticipation.

I’ll be going back to the scene of my very first triathlon and it will be my third time at this event. That thought sends my senses tingling, remembering the smiles, the exhilaration and massive sense of achievement I had from completing it the first time and immediately thinking I had to do another one.

Training’s been good. Ian put together a great plan for me and I’ve been reaping the benefits of his triathlon coaching. This is the first year I’ve really had a solid triathlon focus with a bit of running, rather than in previous years where I’ve run and then added tri stuff in nearer the time.

On my bike at the Ashington triathlon 2011
My first triathlon where I rode a mountain bike.

As always there are things that could have been better. I haven’t managed to get out on my bike as often as I’d have liked, but I have mopped up more spin and indoor turbo sessions, thanks to Chrissie Wellington’s audio training. There’s nothing like a 4x world champion telling you to imagine you’re racing at Kona to conjure you out of a sweaty gym. So I have spent more time on a bike than in previous years and in the last couple of weekends, getting my road bike out and doing a couple of bike to run sessions (including one on the actual bike route) has perked up my confidence.

I have questioned my sanity as I replaced a couple of spin sessions with pre-breakfast bike rides in the past couple of weeks. But quiet, traffic free roads and knowing I can get out there and survive when it’s freezing cold are quite good training sessions for race day.

My running’s coming good. I’ve done some fast times at parkrun recently and to be honest I know it’s always the part I can manage. Running’s where I started, so it feels like coming home.

My swimming is reliable. I’m swimming consistent times in training and covering much more than the distance I need for a pool based sprint tri. I still have the unknown of how I’ll react to race day nerves and swimming in the churning mass of bodies, but I’ve managed that before and swum well, so it’s just a case of making sure I go through my mental preparation and get myself as ready as I can be.

I swam a 4x400m set at the pool last night, just getting straight in the water without a swim warm up to replicate race conditions. Of course, with no one else in my swim lane I didn’t have the choppy water, but as I started my first set one of the cleaners came round with the machine that looks like a giant hoover. The hum, together with the watery acoustics of the pool made for a really unpleasant kind of white noise and all I could think was that I hoped she would be gone quickly. When she came down the side of the pool where I was swimming, I really wanted to get away from the din and was conscious that my heart and breathing rate had increased a lot. So I used it to simulate the adrenaline rush of the tri swim and battled my way through it. That was the fastest 400m of the four I swam.

In the past I’ve focused on keeping the swim controlled and smooth, often thinking ‘slow down’ to help avoid having to take a time out at the end of each length. But I’ve also managed to pull some quick times out of the swim in competition, when I’ve felt anxious and out of breath. So I should have enough experience to cope with how I feel in the water on race day.

I also did a spot of transition practice with my PT this week. It’s always a balance between keeping moving and managing to stay upright and in one piece, particularly getting on and off the bike. Because I’m a bit of a klutz I usually opt for safety over speed, but even just thinking about getting on the bike and practising putting on all the kit a few times helped me shave a few seconds off.

I can’t do much about the weather, but it is looking like it’s improving. I certainly felt a lot warmer on my bike this morning than I did last week and I know I can battle through some pretty windy conditions. I have the back up option of putting a jacket on before I get on the bike if I really feel like it’s going to be a cold one, but at the moment, I think it’s just Geordie up and get on with it. I’m normally so full of adrenaline I don’t feel the cold anyway.

The sunshine will no doubt taunt me as I take it easy the next couple of days before the race. But I’ll be catching up with my running friends, volunteering at parkrun, and spending time on the farm seeing all the new animals, including a pair of alpacas and two pet lambs I’ve named Bonnie and Clyde.

So that’s it. The training’s done, bar giving the legs a gentle tickover tomorrow. There will no doubt be the usual last minute anxieties, but I’ve coped with them before and know I can again. This isn’t even a target race, but it does feel good to be getting ready to start my multi sport season. Triathlon = 3 x the sport = 3x the fun.

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I passed :-)

On Saturday morning I took the last part of my assessment to become a Level 2 gym instructor and I’m very happy to say that I passed.

It’s something I’ve been working on since September, learning through books and online tutorials about anatomy and physiology, then the principles of fitness and planning a programme. I sat a couple of theory exams in November and presented a load of course work at the end of January, so the final element was to take someone into a gym environment and demonstrate a workout and to be assessed on that.

I was incredibly nervous. It felt way out of my comfort zone and I so wanted to do well. For the past couple of weeks people around me have been telling me I’d be fine, I’d breeze it, I’d put the work in, I’d be sure to pass. And that’s really nice to hear, especially from people whose opinions you trust and people who have themselves taken similar fitness qualifications.

But still, I couldn’t be sure. I’m very good at book learning, recalling facts and demonstrating that I understand the principles behind them. But I’m far less comfortable with practical tasks. And with so much of this course being conducted online, with no direct contact with the teachers, I hadn’t had the chance to see what they were expecting.

I knew I knew it, but could I show it? It was a bit like sitting an interview or taking your driving test. There are things you have to demonstrate safely, but also things you have to remember to show you are doing, like observing the client, getting feedback on the level of exercise, making sure they understand.

Luckily my client for the day, Erika was very understanding as we got to the assessment centre very early and sat waiting in the reception area. Nerves were absolutely on edge as I spotted other people going in for assessment and my time came and no one had been over.

But it was fine. They were just a little delayed and I got chance to look around the gym and check out a couple of the machines before the assessment proper.

The gym is just a regular community gym, rather a nice one actually, but we had to work around other people there using the equipment. That meant I didn’t do things in the order I’d planned in my head. But once I got going, I was fine. I got into the swing of demonstrating and instructing, moving around to watch from different positions and pick up on key posture and teaching points.

The time flew and a couple of times the assessor asked us to move onto the next exercise. As we came to the last set of weights, both machines I’d planned to use were busy, so he asked if I could substitute another one. I even managed to cope with that.

And suddenly we were stretching and it was done. A bit of feedback in a side room, a couple of questions for me to answer based on the session and then the good news that I’d passed. The assessor even asked if I’d thought about taking it on to the next level.

The qualification itself would allow me to go and work in a gym and create weight and cardio programmes for clients, show them how to do exercises safely. And now I have the basics, I could top it up with something like a 1 or 2 day course to teach spinning or an exercise class. But ultimately I’d like to go down the personal training route. So that’s something to focus on in future.

For now, it’s been my first step into seeing if I could do it. If I could manage the demands of working full time, studying under my own guidance and still keeping up with my own interests and training. And I have. And I’ve learned a lot along the way.

This is something I wouldn’t even have thought of doing a few years ago, but I have really enjoyed it and it’s tested me. I’ve had loads of support, particularly from Ian who first made me think about doing it, and Simon from the gym at work who gave up his time so I could run through a couple of practice sessions.

Erika was a brilliant test client, putting up with loads of form filling and getting hot and sweaty on a treadmill. She must have been sick of hearing me by the end of the assessment. And my running pal Diane gave me a big confidence boost when we managed to work out together at the gym. Needless to say, Gary has supported me too and seen first hand the frustrations at not getting things right first time, or my nervousness about taking the exams.

So, if you offered to help me out, sent me a good luck message or tweet, a massive thank you.

Further adventures of the distressingly accident prone

No snow at parkrun this Saturday, but it was bitingly cold on the town moor, so I jogged off across the grass to warm up.

‘Hmm, must tighten my shoe laces before I start. Oh, this grass is about softer than I expected. I’ll run that way to get back on the path. Oh no, that’s even worse!’

The town moor claimed my left trainer. And less than a second afterwards made sure that sock could never be described as white again.

‘Now what? Wet muddy sock inside the wet muddy shoe? Or sockless on my left side?’ The muddy accessory was turned inside out and dumped with my fleece by the fence as I tested out my new barefoot trainer. I was very glad I hadn’t worn my brand new shoes.

Not quite the start I imagined for my first time out in my 50th parkrun shirt, but we were soon off and I was on a mission to chase down a fast run. I pelted off, too fast at first in truth, into the wind and towards Gate 1.

Runners at Newcastle parkrun
Running along Grandstand Road at parkrun

The turn along Grandstand Road, sheltered by the trees and showered by the warming sunshine saw me swipe off my hat and enjoy my favourite part of this route. I recently watched a video on barefoot running and one of the bits of advice that stuck in my head was a subtle thinking about lifting the hips. So I gave it a try, and felt like I really covered the ground more quickly, overtaking a couple of runners.

I kept turning on the power, then easing it off, conscious of keeping my feet light and hoping my sockless state wouldn’t mean blisters. But shortly after 2k and the return to the moor paths, I got a stitch high up in my ribs. I hardly ever get a stitch, so I reflected on a tough week of training, eased back a little and concentrated on my breathing. I managed to shift it, but I knew I’d lost some pace going into the tricky 3rd kilometre.

Back into the wind over the roughest part of the course and it was tough going, so it was a relief to turn back onto the smooth tarmaced path and know there was just 1km to go. I kept thinking lift the hips and used the lamp posts as markers, picking a spot to power on to.

There were a couple of girls close by me who had overtaken me and I managed to catch and pass them. Into the final corner and one of them was close by again, but I knew I still had the push and I powered down the last few metres, overtaking another couple of runners to cross the line in just over 27 minutes.

I was hoping for something closer to 26, but can’t really complain after a fantastic week’s training. The tri day on Tuesday really kicked things off and I’ve enjoyed every session this week.

On Thursday, I trained with Ian on the beach as usual and it was a tough session, but so nice to finish in daylight, with the sun peeking over the rocks. At the other end of the day, I hit the pool for my second swim of the week.

I don’t normally double train on a PT day, but I hoped the swim would help me avoid aching muscles and it meant I could have a complete rest day on Friday. I fell into bed on Thursday night, with the satisfying tiredness of a great set of training.

On Friday morning, I got into work early to do a practice gym session with Simon, one of the instructors from the work gym. It’s the first time I’ve tried my instructor mode, and it gave me loads of confidence ahead of my final assessment in a couple of weeks’ time. Still loads to think about and make sure I cover on the day, so I hope to get a few more practice sessions under my belt. But it’s fantastic to have such great support.

On Sunday, I explored a new route on my bike. It felt fantastic to be out, just enjoying a fairly easy effort, but out for a fairly long ride and finishing off with a rather steep hill. Next time I’ll ride it in reverse!

A good start to training

This has been the first week of my new exercise plan from my PT, Ian. I do love having a plan and a focus for my training. It stops me fretting over the best thing to do, makes sure I have plenty of variety in my training and pushes me on a bit. It also stops me doing too much. Rest and recovery is just as important as exercise, as that’s when you get the benefits of the workout.

Me at Newcastle parkrun
Both feet off the ground at parkrun. Photo courtesy of Mick Durnion

Anyway, this is a great plan that should help me build a great base to be fit and ready to race some great triathlons next year. As far as running goes, I’m continuing to concentrate on my technique, changing my style to become a more midfoot, forefoot runner.

That’s because I believe it’s a more natural way to run and less likely to cause injuries. But I’m hoping it will help me go faster too. At the moment, I’m just focusing on getting it right and not worrying too much about how fast I’m going. But it’s good to see some improvements there too.

I have to really consciously concentrate on my new running style, thinking about how I place my foot on each step, making sure I’m kicking back, keeping my hips aligned and turning my legs over quickly. But I had a bit of a breakthrough  moment this week on a technique session when I realised I’d been singing one of our choir songs in my head to help me keep a good rhythm. That means I wasn’t consciously thinking about how I was moving.

The same song re-emerged as I returned to parkrun on Saturday morning. Last week, it was a big unknown. I had no clue how fast I would go with my new midfoot style. This week I knew what I was capable of, and that I’d felt I could push it a bit more.

So, into the now familiar routine of saying hello to my friends, and lining up with a couple of hundred runners at 9am on the Town Moor. A bit damper and breezier than last week, but it was still a great day for a run.

It felt great to be racing, even when a surge of runners went past and continued to pass me out on the way towards the first gate. As always, I worried that I’d gone out too fast and tried to settle into my run. A thank you to Malcolm on the gate and I was out alongside the road.

Here I felt I was picking my pace up a bit, almost with a sense of falling forward into each stride. I kept with it, enjoying the sensation and started to pick off a few runners in front.

Through the second gate and onto the muddy path, which wasn’t as bad as I’d been expecting. I still felt good here, like I was flying over the ground, and the repetitive tune in my head picked up a beat or two. I just told myself to keep going if I was feeling good.

Kilometre 3-4 is the tester on this course. a couple of turns and some uneven ground, it’s where runners start to fall away a little. I kept my focus by targeting runners ahead and reeling them in one by one. I didn’t even notice I was snapped again at the back of the museum.

There was a man in a yellow top who I played a bit of cat and mouse with as he overtook me, then I caught and overtook him only for him to catch me again. It helped keep me focused, although I found myself very much out on my own over the toughest part of the course.

Here I was starting to feel the pull on my calves from the new running style and a couple more flat footed moves came in as I negotiated the uneven ground. Once I fall away from the forefoot, it takes an effort of will to get back there. But I did it and made it through the final gate, knowing there was just over a kilometre to go.

I’d made my mind up to kick on a bit on the smooth tarmac path as we turned towards the lamp posts. But the guy in yellow made me push on a bit sooner than I planned. He eventually overtook me and made it stick, but I knew I was close to the finish now.

My breathing was becoming a bit more ragged as I tried to stretch out a little more while not losing my style and trying to make my legs turnover more quickly. I was aware the tune in my head had dropped its rhythm slightly. I picked it up before the dog leg to the finish straight and powered on down all the way through the line. I even missed picking up my timing token as I didn’t slow down enough and had to go back to collect it from the volunteer.

I’d deliberately ignored my watch, save for a quick check at the first kilometre which had told me I was on pace with last week’s run. But I was hopeful I’d done better as I felt faster through kms 2-3. I checked at the finish and I was just a few seconds under 28 mins – a whole 30 secs improvement. So, it looks as though my new running drills are working and I’m getting the hang of this new style.

Stats:

5k in 27:57

1) – 0.62m – 5:43(9:13/m) – 63cal
2) – 0.62m – 5:29(8:51/m) – 65cal
3) – 0.62m – 5:24(8:42/m) – 64cal
4) – 0.62m – 5:44(9:15/m) – 65cal
5) – 0.62m – 5:25(8:44/m) – 63cal
6) – 0.03m – 9(5:20/m) – 3cal

Recovering and reviewing plans

I’m happy to say that after a couple of days of treating my ankle with ice and wearing a compression bandage, the swelling has almost gone and I’ve been able to walk around on it quite easily, although I’ve done my best to keep of it as much as I can.

But managing to get from my car to my desk and from my desk to where I need to be at work without too much of a limp is a long way from the kind of active lifestyle I normally enjoy. So it’s been a bit of a week off from training.

And that’s been hard at times, particularly on Thursday morning when I had to cancel my regular PT session. It’s been part of my life for so long and I so enjoy doing it, that I felt a bit bereft without my usual dose of exercise induced endorphins and encouragement from Ian. I’m afraid I was a bit sulky and low that day.

I am trying to be sensible and not make the mistake of rushing back into my usual activities too quickly and risking compounding an injury that I hope will clear up in a couple of weeks. But it feels like a waste of these splendid autumn days, and so I’m looking at things I can do.

I tried walking on the treadmill at the gym and a short swim on Wednesday night, not really enough effort to raise my heart rate, but I felt the effect enough to know that I shouldn’t push it to do any more.

Even swimming put a bit of a pull on my ankle, so when I went back to the pool on Friday morning, I took my pull buoy with me so I could eliminate my legs and swim mainly with my arms. A pull buoy is just a kind of float. In this case I stuck it sort of between my knees to keep my legs up without the need to kick with them. It’s a good tool to use to help you concentrate on parts of your swim technique, so I used it to focus on my head position in the water.

As I can’t run so much at the moment, it will be good to work on my swimming for the next triathlon season. A very good swimmer on Fetch Everyone has sent me some ideas for exercises I can practise in the pool to improve my stroke.

It may sound strange, but I am missing the hot sweaty buzz that I get from a good cardio session such as a fast paced interval run. Particularly as before I hurt my ankle I was just starting a new programme with a lot of this kind of activity in it. And if I want to keep my fitness up, I need to do something that will get my heart rate up. So I’m going to go back to doing some sessions on the indoor rowing machine and bike. They should also fit in well with next year’s triathlon plans.

Today I volunteered at parkrun and enjoyed meeting up with my friends, shouting encouragement and taking photos of the runners on Newcastle’s Town Moor. It’s such a friendly and social event and today was simply a lovely day to be outdoors.

I also picked up an exercise that I haven’t done since the beginning of the year, trying out a pilates class at my gym. It was a good test of my flexibility and core strength, so I’ll try to make time to continue some of those exercises at home too.

I’ve been making progress with my Level 2 gym qualification too. I’ve now worked my way through all the anatomy and physiology sections and am starting to learn about working with clients. It’s really interesting stuff. Luckily I’ve had such great experience with my PT, Ian from Inspire Fitness that a lot of it seems like second nature or common sense to me and it would just be the way I’d do things. But I want to take my time to take it all in and not take anything for granted.

I need to do a bit of revising, but I hope to take my first assessment in anatomy and physiology in the next few weeks.

All this is helping me keep a positive note on my injury as it’s really not the end of the world and people have far worse to deal with. But when you love what you do, like I do, you miss it when things change. Reading the notes on changing behaviours and setting goals for clients as part of my studying today made me realise I need to do a few of these things myself . And actually changing the way I do things could be good in the long term, as working on my cycling and swimming skills will really help me improve my performance during next year’s triathlon season.

All three disciplines – weekly round up

It’s been a good week of training and really the first one with my mind focused on the next big race, the Great North Run on 16 September.

On Monday I enjoyed my weekly kettlebell session, a good weights workout on the beach, with a little devil of a leg finisher at the end. Probably not ideal preparation for a fast, flat 5 mile race the following night, but I still managed to coax a decent performance out of my legs for the Bridges of the Tyne race.

On Wednesday I punched my way through a boxercise class – always a good way to let off steam, sweat out some calories and energise me out of a mid-week slump.

Then Thursday was my usual early morning PT session with Ian on the beach. A no kit workout this week, just using my own body weight for a good mix of core, cardio and resistance work and a good chance to catch up on goals and progress.

With a fair weather forecast on Friday, I decided to brave my first cycle to work. I’d scoped out a couple of routes last summer, but never actually tried them in week day traffic. I opted for my trusty mountain bike as the safe and sturdy option and because I planned to take a bit of an off road route that I thought would be a short cut.

I set off nice and early, allowing myself plenty of time to get to work, and hoping to dodge most of the traffic. My bike felt heavy and I immediately remembered why I enjoy riding my road bike more – the gear changes are so much smoother. But my mountain bike is solid and the riding position gives you a good view of the road.

My off road short cut was over rougher ground than I remembered and with lots of overgrowth and a bit of an upwards incline, it was hard work. I’d planned on the journey taking just over an hour and 30 minutes in, I felt I still had a long way to go.

Luckily, the rest of the journey was mainly on the road and away from too much traffic, so I found that much smoother going. With a few stops and starts for traffic lights and busy road crossings, I made it to work in 1 hour and 7 minutes and felt really awake and ready for the day.

During my lunch break, I took took advantage of the new cycle option on Google maps to see if I could plot a slightly easier route home. With a combination of electronic and paper maps, I worked out a slightly different alternative, but it would only be clear what the terrain was like once I’d ridden it.

The return journey was a bit easier. I told myself it was downhill to the coast and I soon covered a good number of miles on the road section. Traffic wasn’t too bad either, with a long run of cycle lanes. It was only when I got to a large roundabout and tried to find the off road paths that related to my map, that I really slowed down.

I couldn’t find the exact one I’d plotted, but with a bit of exploring and heading in the right general direction, I got onto the gravel paths of a country park and then onto the smooth tarmac of the waggonways. Now it really was down hill all the way and I was zooming along, happy to be almost home and hungry! When I do this again, I need to plan a better mid afternoon snack to fuel my return journey.

Anyway, I made it home in the slightly quicker time of 1 hour 4 mins on a journey of 11 miles and a round trip of just over 22. I wasn’t really cycling hard or fast in either direction, as I was just happy to manage to get some bike miles in and fit them around my regular day.

On Saturday I went to help out at Newcastle parkrun, catch up with some of the usual crew and meet John, from the Brighton parkrun, up here for a stag do and volunteering on the course. Now that’s parkrun dedication for you!

Home for a few chores and the usual pottering about, then off to join the Tyne tri club for a swim at Blyth pool. It’s been ages since I swam with the club and I knew it would be a tough session.

This week, coach Sean advised me to try and keep one of my goggles in the water when I turn my head to breathe in, so that I’m looking at the water, rather than up towards the walls of the pool. As always, it’s one thing at a time with me and my swimming, so any effort at pacing was lost as I tried to get to grips with this advice.

A couple of times, I ended up spluttering with a mouthful of water and broke into a bit of recovery breast stroke. But I like to think I was making progress, and I did get a good long swim in, thanks to lane newcomer Kerry who kept me going. Needless to say, I slept very well on Saturday night after an hour in the pool.

Sunday was long run day. And the weather was perfect – bright, sunny and warm with a bit of a coastal breeze. I’m changing my focus to running now in preparation for the Great North Run. I’ll still keep my other training going, but now my most important sessions will be the weekly long slow runs, gradually increasing in distance so that I can confidently tackle the 13.1 mile route.

With a good week of training behind me, I just decided to relax and go easy today and not worry about pace. So I kept it deliberately slow, with easy breathing as I set out along the coast. I was about 2km along when I realised I hadn’t heard anything from my Garmin and when I looked, I wasn’t getting any pace or distance readings. I stopped and reset the GPS, making sure it picked up the signal this time, then set off again.

I really had a nice run. It was good to be out in the sunshine and greeting the many other runners out doing the same. With no pace or time targets, I was just free and easy and taking my time. I ran out towards the lighthouse and then turned back, mentally allowing for 12km and adding the 2km I’d run earlier but not recorded.

As I came up off the promenade and past Spanish City, I felt good and strong, relishing the easy miles at the start and began to stretch out a little, mentally in ‘cruise mode’ and relishing the fitness that allows me to just do this.

At this point I saw Diane, a Tyne Bridge Harrier I know from parkrun, coming towards me alongside another runner. You could see on her face she was feeling the same as me, just out, running and enjoying the sunshine. It was great to see her and I lifted up my sunglasses, gave her a shout and we high fived as we passed.

The nice easy running feeling stayed with me as I clocked up 12km, so I decided to continue and finish the 14 I had on my plan in one run, effectively treating the 2 I’d run but not recorded on my Garmin as a warm up. I kept my focus on just turning my legs over nice and easy, picking my feet up and shortening my stride, never really getting to a speed that stressed my breathing in any way.

The extra couple of kilometres did turn out to be a little tough and I started to feel my hips knees and ankles beginning to strain. But a bit of focus on technique and relaxing my thoughts and I managed it, grateful for the early pace that felt a little too easy, now giving me the endurance to keep going. With my mileage and a bit more done, I stopped and enjoyed a cool down walk and stretch and felt good about my first long run completed.

Further adventures in open water swimming

I’m almost scared to write this in case I jinx it, but it feels like I’ve made real progress with my open water swimming.

Immediately after my first open water swim triathlon, when asked about the swim, I replied that it had been ‘okay’. Not fantastic, not amazing, just okay. But buoyed by the adrenaline of completing my first race at this distance and enjoying a fabulous day with my friends, that got lost in the general high.

I know I struggled to calm myself during the first part of the swim and was frustrated by my breathlessness. I know I had doubts in my head even as I swam and wondered how I would ever be able to get over them and swim further. But I did it, which was all that mattered. And knowing that I had done it would give me confidence that I could do it again and do it better.

And then a strange thing happened. I was happy to take a couple of days off to recover from the tri, but when I got back into training, I had a real desire to swim again. And not just in the pool. I wanted to go back to the lake and swim in the open water. Like the itch of a run after a good while static, I felt the pull of the water and wanted to be swimming again.

Last Thursday

The open water swim sessions are on Thursday evenings. I usually train with my PT early, before work on a Thursday morning, so it’s quite a demanding ask for me to make both sessions. But I really wanted to go. Even with the prospect of a race on the Saturday evening, that I knew I’d be wise to rest for, I wanted to swim.

Ian was kind and we did a light training session, still enough to wake up my muscles in my legs and upper body. And all day I watched the weather, wondering how it was going to turn out and whether he would, as he hinted he might, make it along to the swim session too.

Once out of work, I was quickly at the lake, changed into my wetsuit and ready to go. Chatting to a few tri club mates and comparing race stories before I spotted Ian and Lee and we all got in the water together.

Me swimming in the lake at the QE2 triathlon
In the swim at the lake

With different groups doing fast sets around the buoys or longer swims further up the lake, I was just happy to pootle round the buoys at my own speed as I have done in previous sessions. Although it felt great to be in the water, and it was clearer and even felt a bit warmer than during the tri, I soon found myself flooded by the familiar feeling of being out of control, nervous and breathing patchily.

I was having to coax myself to put my head in, fighting the panic response and wearing myself out too quickly. Once round the buoys with a mix of breast stroke, doggy paddle and crawl and I was once again thinking, “Why am I doing this?”

A bit of time out in the shallows and a quick chat with Ian who was having problems with his goggles and I set off again for another lap. A little better this time, but still struggling to get my head in, breath out and smooth my stroke. Still feeling anxious, frustrated and worn out by a relatively short swim.

‘Oh well, something to work on,’ I thought as I headed back round for another rest. One more lap for tonight and then I’d call it quits. That third lap was somewhat delayed as the fast group came round and I let them get out of the way. Meanwhile, I’d also found Ian again, still suffering leaky goggles, and another girl who was quite happy chatting to us.

Eventually we set off again. And whether it was knowing that Ian, who I trust, was swimming nearby, or that I’d given myself time to get used to the water and finally relaxed, thinking it was to be my last lap, but suddenly it worked. And I was swimming. Nice slow, easy strokes, giving myself time to breathe to both sides. Striking out towards the buoys, head in the water and making progress.

I swam to the first buoy and then swam alongside another girl, drafting her to the second. The cool green water flowed over and around me. I watched the bubbles emerge beneath the surface and came up for air, glimpsing at the trees and the lake. Round the second buoy and back towards the shore, I boosted my kick and felt myself glide through the water.

By the end of the 250m lap I was grinning like a loon, and Ian spotted me, saying I looked strong. “I’ve just got it,” I replied. “That’s so much better than swimming in a pool.”

Filled with confidence and enjoying the water, we did another lap, not really swimming together, just being conscious that there was someone near by. And I had another lovely smooth swim, all the way round front crawl, just lifting my head to sight and enjoying the swim.

I don’t seem to have suffered any bad effects from a double session Thursday before the Blaydon Race on Saturday. In fact, given the weather, you could say the swim was good practice for the run!

And on Sunday, when my legs were aching after racing, where did I end up? Yes, back in the water at the pool this time for a nice leisurely shake it out swim. And I was cool, calm and felt like I could have swum all night. It was a great recovery set.

This Thursday

Another Thursday and another sunny start to my day, down on the beach, training with Ian. A complete body workout to strengthen muscles, improve balance and work my core. We talked a lot about training in general and the benefits of a complete programme with weights and resistance as well as the cardio work. I like the way it makes me feel and the hour passes quickly.

After work, I got to the lake early, looking forward to the swim. With the sun out, the lake was warm – 17C, we were told. But there was quite a breeze and the surface was a little choppier than I’ve been used to.

I took my time getting in the water, floating on my back and trying to relax before I set out to swim around the buoys. Consciously, I felt calm, but as before, I couldn’t convince myself to put my head in the water until part way round the first lap. And when I did, I was holding my breath and then struggling to control my heart rate.

A bit of breast stroke and treading water to settle myself and I kept trying. Swimming with my head out of the water inevitably resulted in a gasp of water as a stray wavelet hit my face. I did have moments of it coming together and feeling quite pleasant, but they never seemed to last long enough to allow me to swim one complete side of the triangle consistently.

But I managed 3 laps, around 750m in total and it’s all good practice. Maybe I had set unreasonable expectations, hoping to get in and instantly feel at ease. I should be happy with feeling more under control and less panicky.

Thinking about it on my drive home, I realised, although I enjoy the open water swims, they are probably the most stressful thing I do. Although stressful maybe isn’t the right word. They are the thing most likely to make me feel anxious, not in anticipation, but while I’m doing it. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop.

Because how fortunate does that make me? That my biggest worry is something I can and am controlling, little by little. That it’s something I choose to do and actually something that I can glimpse I will enjoy. I wish all my friends could exchange their troubles for such easy anxieties.

There was a moment when I thought once again, why do I want to do this? What’s the sense of putting myself through another open water tri? But if I want the adrenaline high, the confidence and self belief that my last one brought me, that’s the price. It’s like riding the roller coaster or travelling on the ghost train, you have to have the scare to get the thrill.

And this is far from an unbeatable challenge. It’s a manageable one. Even if I was twice as scared, my sheer stubbornness would get me through. But actually, I do quite like the challenge. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be a test. And I know, because I’ve felt it, that open water swimming can be joyous and liberating. Even coming home smelling of rubber and duck poo, I was gratefully not to be snotty and sneezing from the chlorine.

I’ve no doubt, I will go through the ups and downs of swimming again as I seek to improve on both speed and distance. I have one more open water, and a couple of other tris that I’m looking forward to this year, and big plans for 2013 already. So, as Dory says in Finding Nemo, ‘Just keep swimming’.