Monthly Archives: June 2013

Bournemouth marathon – the false start

Not doing enough of this

Not doing enough of this

Well, I did enter the Bournemouth marathon, which runs on Oct 6th.  After the London marathon in April, I printed off an 18-week training programme, which would have meant starting training at the beginning of June. I’ve promptly ignored the first month and I’m thinking I’ll start training at the beginning of July. But then I’m going on hols so it’s going to be half way through July before I know it.  Where’s my commitment gone?

In my defence, I have been a bit pre-occupied with swimming. On which subject it’s all gone to my head – literally – I’m learning tumble turns now. Future post…

And I have only kind of been ticking over on the running front. Obviously I want to build speed to try to better my time.  Maybe that’s what it is.  London was just a question of finishing. Anything I did was going to be OK. Now I have to get better. That’s a whole another level of seriousness. And now I know what’s involved in training for a marathon, I can’t just go in blindly and imagine any training I do is better than not training.

It’s time to face my second nemesis – interval training.  Actually, I may already be seeing him in the distance. I think this is what I’ve been doing at run club for the past couple of weeks. Runs laps. Rest. Run laps. Rest. Repeat. Different numbers of laps before resting. This is interval training n’est ce pas? Last session was tough, really tough. My hips hurt. That’s a first. I’m assuming it’s because I was trying to run faster.

My ticking over has involved sourcing a 5 mile lap, flat as possible (tricky round Winky), which I’ve been running one lap or two laps, as fast as I think I can.  I haven’t done it too many times. Keep slowing down part way through, so I’m probably setting off too fast.

New mantra:  gotta build speed.

I have a sneaking suspicion this may involve more core work and more strength building as well as running faster. Hugely succinct tweet from @girlwhatruns (Liz Yelling) the other day: “If you want to get faster- you need to train faster… Do shorter reps with longer recoveries and really go for it!!” If it wasn’t so long, I could adopt this as a new mantra.

I have been building hills. In mid May I started doing St Catherine’s Hill again, just started with a couple. Then (I’d been reading again), I decided I needed to make the hills longer, so now I don’t stop at the top of the steps, I keep going all the way to the maze at the top of the hill, and round and down. Repeat.

That was a killer, first time I tried it. Keeping going the first time up to the top of the hill, a snail would have beaten me. It was like I was back to last July, when I’d just started jogging, crawling up one of the (slight) slopes at Farley Mount. Slow and easy. Must complete. Oof.

I’m up to four hill ascents now (well I’ve done four once, three seems to be my ‘normal’ max). The only good thing about going all the way to the top of the hill is that the recovery back down again is longer.

I’m using my shoulders more in running too (as well as the swimming). Trying to get faster seems to involve much more use of shoulders, driving the arms to drive the legs.  Even that’s been hurting (just as well I’ve gone back to the magical Michaela for more physio), a bit like growing pains, or like having air trapped under the shoulder blade, though I’m not quite sure how I know what that feels like.  So far, remedial shoulder exercises not helping this. Feeling a bit self-piteous. My remedial glute exercises worked well, once I finally learnt how to do them properly. I was kind of hoping the shoulder(s) would follow the same pattern.

Shirking shoulders

Glum glutes ... shirking shoulders

Glum glutes … shirking shoulders

One of the best things I read about when training for the London marathon was to visit a physio for a check up (see ‘Glum glutes’). I needed to for the running – no glutes, which are quite important for running. Now that I’m pulling out the proverbial finger with the swimming, I though I’d go back for a ‘swim check up’, not least because I’ve had shoulder issues in the past. You just kind of work around them when you’re not needing to do certain things every day.  Now I’m using my shoulders a lot more, I figured I ought to get checked over so I at least have the best chance of working on decent stroke technique.

Predictably, I still have issues. Now, I knew this. I’ve never been able to do a single press up, for example, and I have exceedingly little upper body strength. I even had to prevail upon my poor neighbour to come to drill a hole in my wall once upon a time. My shoulders, especially the right one, have been getting sore after swim sessions. And my left arm has been getting kind of floppy and weak after enough lengths.

So now I have remedial shoulder exercises. Why am I not surprised? It’s all feeling a little too familiar. I’m sure it’ll all be good for me in the long run (long swim?), but I don’t remember struggling with my remedial glute exercises quite as much as I’m struggling with my shoulder exercises. And they’re tiny, nano-movement exercises. Just really, really difficult (self-pity descends, momentarily).

Still. Target has to be … sort out shoulders … sort out technique … sort out stamina.

There is another triathlon in the offing… (I haven’t even been on the bike).

Swimming not drowning, volume 6 – swimming

OMG. I can swim. I can be in the water and control the panic, not even panic, regulate my breathing, and not have my stomach roiling with volcanic fervour. Wow. I have to say I wasn’t sure I’d actually meet this nemesis head on, let alone have a chat and wave him goodbye. This is huge. HUGE. Even huger than that. This is bigger than running a marathon, at least in terms of the mental hurdles, barriers and invisible pitfalls.

OMG. I can swim.

May was a big month. I went from the trauma (too big a word? Didn’t feel like it at the time) of the hideous triathlon swim at the beginning of May, to being able to swim at the end of May. Now, whether I can swim in the washing machine turbulence of another triathlon is another story, but I’m a happy bunny for now. Big month in personal development.

I’d gone straight back to the pool after the triathlon determined just to do lengths, and build up. I jettisoned my training program, did my 16 lengths, moved up to 20 lengths and built to 40 lengths (1 kilometre) by the end of the month. By mid June I’m up to 50 lengths.

I’d drawn a line in the sand half way through May – regardless of my headspace, when I can swim a kilometre, I’d say that I can officially swim. Actually with hindsight, I could probably only draw that line because I could already feel the imminence of actual swimming.

Adding lengths has been tricky. I’ve been getting kind of floppy with extra lengths, stroke technique kind of goes out of the window, but I guess it’s just because I get tired. It’s hard work swimming that far.  I need to build strength and endurance. And stroke technique.  I know my legs are virtually useless in the water, trailing behind me like some sort of split ribbon of uselessness.  Training’s probably going to get tough now…

But … the playing field is finally level. Now I really can start to work on form, function and performance.

I can’t tell you how much of a difference it makes to have the splendid S and marvellous M there, not only to listen to my every nano-improvement, but they make encouraging noises and even offer praise. Take the mickey too occasionally, but that’s no more than I deserve, like S retorting to my enthusiasm at having swum my very first kilometre (40 lengths) … a mile is 64 lengths.  Yeah, OK. There’s another target. Happy with kilometres for the moment.

Rhythm and blue really was a seminal mantra for me. Head rotates totally skyward. Plenty (relatively) of time to breathe. And any issues I have with breathing, I just have to think languid arms, high elbows, slow it down, all the time in the world to breathe. And if that’s still not enough, I can breathe every two strokes rather than three. Basically I have breathing strategies now for when things aren’t totally smooth.

My heart rate is another big winner. Up ‘til quite recently, my heart would be racing away at 130-140 beats. I so can’t keep that up for long, it just exacerbates a panic response. But my heart rate has calmed. I’m now finishing my lengths with 100-110 beats, which is totally calm and manageable.  Everything’s calmer. And, just like running, I need 4-5 lengths to warm up (10-15 mins running) – where my heart rate does increase quite dramatically before settling into an exercise rhythm. This is just warm up, it happens with running, it’s not panic and desperation, just normal warm up. It all settles down as the rhythm establishes.

Not sure if I’ve mentioned my stomach-panic before. It seems to have been my third location for panic response. Didn’t the Romans or the Greeks, or someone, think the stomach was the pit of emotions? When I first started this swimming lark, I tried to think about cooling my stomach by imagining a block of ice in it, then I decided that would make me sink. You know, 90% of icebergs are under the water. But how something imaginary can make you sink I don’t know.

I have been aware that after a while my left arm seems to lose the plot of stroke formation. It’s all a bit weak and not pulling its weight, or indeed mine. I’ve been struggling to get it to rotate on its long axis properly, not able to get my elbow out of the water first, or get little finger out of the water first. It was a bit like it had atrophied on the spot and was this useless thing half lifting, half flopping all over the place. I’m sure it wasn’t that bad. Felt quite like it though. Not that I panicked. I’ve just been doing my running thing of plodding on. You know, if you just keep going, the distance gets covered. Wow but I need some swim endurance and strength building.

But it all seems to have fallen into a rhythm that I can do. I’ve got a breathing pattern I can handle. My heart rate is no longer going nineteen to the dozen. Everything’s been happening. I just have to think about, concentrate on doing the distance. Now it’s like running, one step in front of the other. Now I can build endurance.  Now I can re-focus on form, function, technique, even speed a bit further down the line. A whole new world is opening up. The playing field is level. And just to mix my metaphors, I am finally on the first step.

And have I mentioned I can swim?

Swimming not drowning, volume 5 – rhythm and blue

Rhythm and blue? This is all blue (Freycinet Peninsula, Tasmania)

Rhythm and blue? This is all blue (Freycinet Peninsula, Tasmania)

This is a sea-change mantra. If there is a pun there I fully intended it.

After the horrible tri swim on at the beginning of May (see Sprint finish, shame about the start), I went back to the pool two days later determined to do my 16 lengths, if nothing else to prove to myself that I CAN do them.  I did. It wasn’t easy, but I did. And I still didn’t drown.

Aside: I met someone else the other day who was in the same swim wave as me. They said it was totally like a washing machine in the pool. Good and accurate description, I reckon. And horrid, too!

Back to the pool.  I also tried counting strokes per length.  34.  Not great, I’ve read the ‘norm’ is between 11 and 30 (ouch). The splendid S said I need to stretch my arm out as I reach forward.  And she told me, yes, my legs should be straight and kicking from the hip, not the knees (back to buttock-clenching I guess).

I decided for the rest of May, I’m not going to restart my drills, I’m just going to do lengths, and just going to do crawl. I’m just going to keep going. Must complete.

I upped my length count to 20 by the middle of May. Clearly I can do it. It’s not that I can’t do it. All the screwy stuff is just in the head. My head. I was discussing it with G on the arbor. She convinced me to work on the whole experiential learning as a method to overcome. I can evidently do the mechanical stuff so I don’t drown. The rest is in the head.  If I keep doing the swimming and don’t drown, surely there comes a point when the brain will give up telling me I can’t do it. Surely?

I think I know what went wrong in the triathlon. I never got into a rhythm. Swallowed half the pool in my first length. Panicked. That was it. Game over. I need to let myself absorb the fear, slow down, as in think calm heart, calm head, calm stomach (not necessarily slow down my stroke), and let myself ‘settle’ into a rhythm. I need to draw on parallels with running.

I must always think about parallels with running. I started off there with 5 mins jogging. Now I have run for 4 hours (less is better over marathon distance). It always takes me 10-20 minutes to ‘warm up’, to get into a rhythm. The rhythm is dictated by my breathing, okay, so clearly that’s what I need to work with.  But swimming is rhythmical, there are set places to breathe. I can control my stroke rate/speed etc so that I can breathe when/how long I need.   Mmmm interesting thesis…

Here’s my new mantra:  rhythm and blue. As in blue sky and rhythm of stroke. As well as rotate my shoulders 45° with the high elbow out of the water part of the stroke, also rotate my head (yes, I know I’m already supposed to rotate my head, it seems I keep forgetting that bit). Then my head is facing nearly all the way upwards, facing blue sky (okay (i) if I was outside and (ii) if it was a sunny day). Anyway with all that I get to go ‘blue sky, breathe’ I can pause my high elbow if I need more time to breath. Simples. Surelys?

The splendid S reckons I’m over-analysing (no reflection on normal life then, at all) and I should think about something else entirely.  She does her times tables. I suppose I could bring across from running my imaginary conversations with my buddies. Could I do that? Could I possibly reflect and plan while I’m swimming? Even the thought of it (of not thinking about breathing) is causing a stir of anxiety in the pit of my belly as I write this.

I bemoan the fact that it’s not getting any easier (by which of course I mean the panic/ breathing thing). The marvellous M prosaically points out that when I started back in October I could only do half a length then had to stop/tread water/do breast stroke because I was exhausted. And now I’ve just done 20 lengths and only one of those breast stroke. My heart rate still ends up at 130+/minute but maybe that’s another story.  I got to 20 because I was going to do 16 (so 8 x crawl, 1 x breast, 7 x crawl – my original tri strategy). But I decided to add on 4 x crawl, just to see if I could. I could.

I definitely need to bring across more running stuff – completion.  I reckon I need to just do lengths, and more lengths. Don’t necessarily time myself. Although both M and S (must be a joke there somewhere, whichever way round I write them) talked about doing the same number of lengths faster. Maybe later.  So maybe 24 lengths next time. Or 20 without any breaststroke.

A huge running import thing is the time it takes to settle into a rhythm. In swimming I need to allow myself 4 – 5 lengths of panic/analysis while I find whatever it is I optimistically call a rhythm.  Go back to early running days. What did I do? How did I improve, replicate that approach in the pool. So longer runs/swims; fewer walks/rests ‘til there are none; must complete, must complete. Don’t worry about time.  Increase speed later. I’m only now thinking about strategies to increase my running speed (nemesis number two). In the early days it was all about time on my feet.  So now it needs to be all about time in the pool, pocketing lengths…

It’s the third week of May now.  I know I need to move my headspace from “where’s my next breath coming from?” to “I can swim now”. My last four visits I’ve jumped straight in and done 20 lengths (half a kilometre), no warm up or anything, so, like running, using the first 4-5 lengths as warm up.  What I have recognised – like running – is my breathing wants to be, not erratic, just – changed – as I move from static, stationary, resting, to active, running/swimming. This is normal (I keep telling myself). This is not a panic response to being in water. Recognising this I’m hoping will be a sea-change moment. These ‘warm up’ moments pass and I move into what I’m hoping will become the normal rhythm of swimming (as it does with running).

I think the moment is not far off when I might make that headspace movement. I can at least envisage a time when it will be so. In fact, I’ll draw the line in the sand.  If it doesn’t happen earlier of its own accord, I’ll force my hand (head?) when I can swim 1 km (40 lengths) without pausing at any end.  That will surely mean I can swim…

Rhythm (after warm-up) and blue (sky breathing). Repeat. Nothing else matters.

Swimming not drowning, volume 4 – strength

Nearly swimming at Roland Garros at the end of May

Near-swimming at Roland Garros at the end of May

Strength always seems to be associated with endurance. More strength, better endurance.

It’s now early April on my watery plough to meet nemesis number one. I do hope it’s a happy ending.

M had suggested so much new stuff to do last time, I think I’m going to call this the beginning of the new regime:
a)       do existing programme
b)       add in drills with flippers and paddles
c)       take fewer rests between drills
d)      spend more time in pool – build endurance
e)       keep a log e.g. of times/heart rate

I’ve decided to deal with a) more time in pool and b) start with shorter rests rather than no rests. Baby steps…

M reckons it is my leg work that’s making me exhausted/breathless. He pointed out a couple of swimmers in the pool who’d been doing lengths for ages. But he said, barely using their legs. This makes sense for me. I get very breathless when doing my ‘just legs’ drills, with/out floats. Maybe I do need to re-evaluate this after all. I thought hindsight had suggested my breathlessness was in my head, but maybe it is a combination.

Legs not efficient. I think I’m still trying to build in the idea that legs should be straight. That’s a lot of buttock-clenching to do that. In fact I read about someone who clenched a literal or virtual (I can’t remember) monetary note between his cheeks. I occasionally think about that in training, trying to do the same myself to see if it might help. Actually, I should count as measurable progress on another scale because it means for that instant I’m not thinking about breathing.

M also said flippers/paddles would build strength because of the resistance. I’m so obtuse, that didn’t occur to me. I just thought I was shifting through the water like some sort of whizzy torpedo thing.

Anyway, back to the patting one’s head whilst rubbing one’s stomach scenario.  Early on this is what I decided arms and legs were doing – separate things that both needed to work together to do their thing.  I can do the original pat head/rub stomach, I said to myself. Though I’ve clearly been failing to achieve its equivalent in the pool. Ho hum. Keep plugging away.

I’m sure my legs ARE getting stronger you know. And if I say it often enough maybe I’ll start believing it. I still find it weird that I can run for miles but struggle to do two laps in the pool.  Although I was reading about running efficiency the other day – long running is about NOT using much energy, so it’s about doing stuff without too much effort/exertion (it sure doesn’t feel like low effort when I’m running). Anyway, to continue my aside on the running front – maybe I need to start doing speed work after all to build some strength into my legs. Oh, blimey. Over to nemesis number two. And maybe that’ll help in the pool too.  Ooh, connected nemeses, do you think? Does that make them nemeses squared?

Using the flippers is giving me a different perspective on the whole breathing thing. Have you noticed I’m a bit fixated on this?  I’ve realised I’ve been trying to get my arms to move as fast as my feet, or in synch (somehow) with my feet, which obviously they don’t do with flippers. So … learning … legs go at one pace, arms go at another. And I think that’s OK.  I have to keep my arms going at a pace that gives me sufficient time for breathing. And importantly I can slow down my arm rotation to increase the breathing time. That’s a good learning.

Not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but I have learnt there’s such as thing as breathing too much. If I breathe too much in, there’s not enough time to let it all out under the water.  Intellectually I realise I could breathe every five rather than three strokes, but I’m really not going there just now.  And actually with running I don’t have huge inhalations.  Every now and then, running, I take a big sigh and sort of recalibrate or reset my breathing, but not that often. Must be able to translate this across to swimming… surely?

Strength and endurance didn’t get off to too great a start. In one mid-April session I had a serious amount of breathing panicking. I was trying to do the session with fewer and shorter rests. No time for heart rate to subside. Instead there was lots of gulping, and lots of breathing fear.

Just have to get back in the water next time and start again… experiential learning … I keep not drowning.