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Intervals … nemesis number two

Heiligenstein in Austria - originally named because the sun "burns like hell" on it.  Makes some exquisite wines now.

Heiligenstein in Austria – originally (1280) named because the sun “burns like hell” on it. Makes some exquisite wines now.

Here we go – interval training. Nemesis number two. Or so I thought. (See here for nemesis number one).

Interval training is supposed to be ‘hard’ where tempo training is supposed to be ‘comfortably hard’. I still don’t understand that. Running’s all hard to me.

Firstly, what is that I kept avoiding? Interval training appears to be repetitions of longer and/or shorter runs over a set distance (or time) with short recovery times between distances. For example two sets of this set: 1,000m, 800m, 600m, 400m, 200m, with 75 second recovery between each distance. Then a five minute rest before you do the set again. The idea is you run faster for each shorter distance.

Why do it? I gather the aim is to build fitness. There’s a word I’m going to have to address in a future post. Fitter than what? Fit for what purpose?

I’ve read that interval training builds speed and endurance. In which case I should be loving it. I think it’s supposed to improve speed and endurance by getting the heart to work harder. I’ve also read more words about building lactate tolerance with interval training. Still don’t understand this lactate stuff. Oh flip, I see research coming … which I’m likely to avoid as I’m doing lots of research for the day job. This involves sitting on my backside in front of the screen, which I don’t really want to do more of at the end of the working day. Oh dear, where’s my running motivation gone?

Anyway, it turns out I’ve been doing interval training at run club, for the last couple of months, since I started up again after a lengthy London marathon reprieve period, during which I chugged along and jogged a bit. Now I’m training for the Bournemouth marathon, intervals it is (along with my long, slow run and a few hills).  Intervals are absolutely fine. Tough – I have to try to run faster which is quite tricky for a one-modest-pace sort of runner. But actually, I think I may be beginning to recognise that maybe I have more than one pace, after all. Another later post, perhaps.

So many learnings. So much to learn. Whoever said running was simply putting one foot in front of the other? Mad fool. It’s much more complex.

It turns out interval training is not a nemesis at all. I turn up to the track. Get told what to do. Do it. Go home. I’ve realised what I don’t like is the idea of creating and managing it all myself. It’s fine (organisationally) down at track because, well, because it’s a measured distance already, we’re given a schedule, we do it and that’s it. Last time the schedule for marathon training (as opposed to endurance training or middle distance training) was 8 x 1km with 75 second recovery between each 1km. I guess I’m supposed to be pushing myself to go faster than how fast (slow) I think I’d run a marathon. But that’s another story. Each of my 8 x 1km was not far off the same speed (8 seconds the difference between slowest and fastest, and the second four were quicker than the first four. Aah, the lure of completion!).

The nemesis bit, though now that sounds just a wee bit too dramatic a word for it, is that I simply don’t want to organise it myself, and measure distances out, and create a structured programme etc. etc. My inherent laziness is raising its lassitudinous head. Oh dear, where’s my running motivation gone?

Nodding to nemesis number one, in the pool I regularly get an ‘ooh, blimey, I’m swimming, I’m not supposed to be able to do this’ thought fly through my head. And to be fair, it’s typically a more robust expletive. But I am swimming, and it’s a fleeting thought.

There’s still too much to be thinking about with swimming, but I’m not solely thinking about breathing. But I do wonder why it’s so difficult to count laps. It’s a simple sequential numbering that doesn’t get unmanageably high and yet I invariably fail to remember whether I’ve done 4 or 5 laps, or 8 or 9 laps. What IS going on there?

Having mentioned the pool … interval training works in the pool, and on the bike, as well as on the track. Blimey – slowly, slowly I reckon. Let’s get used to the track first.

Do you know, even a few months ago, if someone had suggested I would overcome my two sporty nemeses by halfway through the summer I’d have wryly smiled and sadly but gently sighed at their naive and optimistic encouragement. Bugger me sideways though, I appear to have done it.

Tempo runs. Threshold runs. What is this lingo?

Clearly different! (you're SO going to have to be a certain age to get this)

Clearly different! (you’re SO going to have to be a certain age to get this … or use the tiniest bit of deduction)

The thing about wanting, or rather thinking I need, to do a bit more ‘proper’ training, rather than just ‘spending time on my feet’ which is kind of what I think I did for London, is that you need to get to grips with the lingo. And I’m really struggling.

What is a tempo run?

What is a threshold run?

The various magazines I’ve been reading aren’t really that helpful. They tend to assume you know. Here’s a summary of what I’ve gleaned from them over the last six months:

Tempo run: Talking is difficult. Tempo effort is ‘comfortably hard’. It’s controlled, sustained and efficient running.  70-75% of maximum effort. If you’re running too hard in tempo, your heart will be beating through chest, you’ll be puffing vigorously, muscles will start to ache and you’ll really want to slow down. Running at ‘lactate threshold’. Running at this level trains the body to handle lactic acid more efficiently.

I always want to slow down, however fast or slow I’m going. And talking is always difficult.

Threshold run:  8/10 effort where you can say a word or two but not hold a conversation. It pushes the boundaries further than tempo. Running on the edge of your comfort zone for longer. ‘Controlled discomfort’; 80-85% of maximum heart rate. At around 85% of max heart rate, or a perceived effort rating of 7-8 out of 10, most people reach their lactate threshold, where lactic acid begins to build up in the muscles, producing a burning feeling.

I’m already way outside my comfort zone even putting on a pair of running shoes.

It seems some people (and magazine articles) use the two terms interchangeably, which confuses me even more, because these two summaries from various mags are clearly different, apart from the lactate thing, which I really don’t get. As in understand. My legs feel like their wasted quite a lot of the time. Not sure I’d use the word burning, though I have seen it written quite often.

I’ve also come across rate of perceived exertion (RPE), which seems to link in with the above.
0 vegging out
1-3 gentle walking, moderate runs. Conversation ok
4-6 tougher. ~60% of max heart rate. Full sentences hard
7-9 very tough. Peak of 85% of max heart rate
10 very strenuous. Sweaty and inarticulate.

I’m sweaty at whatever speed I run, and I’m inarticulate almost all the time.

And if 85% heart rate is what you’re aiming for in a threshold run, what is 100% heart rate? Is it dead of a heart attack because it’s trying to beat too often?  Okay, slightly facetious.  I do know max heart rate is 220 – age.  When I’m concentrating on my running, how on earth am I supposed to gauge 85% of my max heart rate?  I probably could count how often in a minute my heart beats out of my chest cavity trying to escape the exertion. I don’t want lots of gizmos and gadgets. They’re all extra weight to carry, and I’d rather learn what it feels like to be running, develop some muscle memory, rather than have lots of gadgets I need to keep referring to. That’ll just irritate me and interrupt me switching off the mental processes during runs.

Added to which, I usually run alone. I’m going to look even more flipping stupid if I’m trying to have a 3-4 word conversation with myself that I can’t keep up because it’s too exhausting.

And surely all this changes depending on how far you’re running. My ‘full effort’ to run 100m will be faster than my ‘full effort’ to run 400m, which will be faster than my ‘full effort’ to run 800m etc.

More to the point, WHY are we supposed to run at these levels of exertion? And for how long? What is their purpose? Perhaps I’ve been struggling so long to define them, that I simply haven’t registered anything about what is their point in a training program. Do we get fitter? Faster? More Duracell bunny-like (go for longer)? Chattier?

What does fitter mean anyway? There’s a nebulous sort of word. And as I know so well, being a bit run-fit by no stretch of the imagination means I’m any swim-fit.

Drawing board?

Tumble turns

Enough to get your head spinning

Enough to get your head spinning

I must have been doing okay with the swimming, because S and M decided it was time to teach me the tumble turn. Cue dramatic music.

Do a handstand in the pool, then tip over, I was told. I’m very literal. I could do this.

Now tuck your chin down to your neck, breathe out and don’t actually do the handstand, and bend your legs. I could do this.

Basically we’re doing roly-polies in the water I was told. OK I remember roly-polies (forward rolls) from when I was six, and maybe even a bit older. We had gym classes in those days.

Anyway, it got tricky after this.

We moved to the edge of the pool. Put in a half turn I was told.  Oh, I said, how do I do that then?

I managed one, even found the wall.  No idea how I did that. Pure beginner’s luck.

It went downhill after that. I know, I know, there are no hills in water, that’s one of my mantras. It went somewhere funny, then. Weird, rather.

Was I supposed to be rolling then turning, or turning then rolling?
How come I ended up at 90° to where I was supposed to be (against the wrong wall in the corner of the pool?)
How come I ended up going too deep, on the bottom of the pool, albeit the shallow end?
When I come swimming in from three strokes away, breathe, turn, roll? No breathe, look down, roll, turn.
Aim for the T of the black line.
Make a rocket with my arms.

Wayyyy too much information, all at once. I could do the handstand, even the roly-poly without a wall nearby.

OK, possibly not too much information for an intelligent woman, but certainly too much to transform into action. And disconcertingly, I was very quickly, really quite dizzy and disorientated, after just a handful of attempts. Simply had to call time on the training.

Ooh, deary me. I felt quite seriously dizzy, disorientated, discombobulated and nauseous.  I just stood in the shower for a bit, hoping warm water would bring me back to stillness. Very weird sensations. I guess it was just my body doing something it hasn’t done before. Mind you I had to lie down for 45 minutes when I got home, which journey I made very slowly. The headache lasted quite a bit longer.

Maybe I just tried to do too many all at once.

After further sessions, I’m pleased to report this has been a once-only experience. Maybe it was as simple as me not having informed my brain beforehand what it was about to attempt. Anyway, I’ve done several more tumble turn training stints without incident. And without being able to do them, but I’m getting better. I can see progress.  Mind you all this is from a stationary start. Not sure what will happen when I come at the pool edge having swum a length…

My first race for run club!

Here’s another positive from having to rest from tennis and swimming … no tennis meant I wore my club colours for the first time the other day. In a race! Well, I borrowed a new mate’s vest for the occasion, anyway.

It was a bit daunting to be racing in a club vest. Lot’s of responsibility, somehow.

It was a bit daunting having done a really tough endurance training session the evening before (well I found it really tough, the last to finish by quite some way I seem to recall).

It was a bit daunting that club colours are yellow and black … nature’s sign for danger. Way too much expectation. I don’t feel at all dangerous or threatening when I’m running. More like gasping for air, struggling even to achieve my ‘must complete’ mantra.

It’s probably good for me to run a few races. Not necessarily to compete, but to get used to other people. I’m so used to running on my own with open views and just my own pace to think about. I reckon I did in this race what I did in the marathon – went out (too) fast because I was trying to get past people to give myself space in front of me. It just gets so tough part way through.

Learning how to run races – i.e strategy combined with capability – is evidently another huge hole in my knowledge.

It’s quite disparaging having folk overtake one. Undoubtedly something I need to get used to. Fortunately most of the folk who overtook me in this race were WADAC people, who said words of encouragement as they passed me, which was fortifying of the spirit, but sadly made no positive effect on leg speed. Kinda nice to be part of a team, though, rather than always running solo.

The league seems frightfully complicated. You don’t get timed, you get a place (I was the 13th woman to finish). So you get an individual position and then ranking, which seems to include how many of the 10 races in a season you’ve run (maybe not). And you don’t run for a particular club team, but the team claims their first three women (five for the men) past the post, then the next 3 (5) for the next team etc. So I was the sixth WADAC woman to finish on the night, which meant my finish position made our B team. There seem to be lots more calculations but the teams are all ranked. And there look to be about 70 teams in this league, from 10 clubs. Wow. I never knew.

There were more than 330 runners, more than 120 of whom were women. I beat 90% (just) of the other women so I’m kind of thinking coming in no. 13 wasn’t too shabby a job.

May have to invest in my own club vest…

Utterly Buggerly

Wonderful Wimbly

Wonderfully Wimbly

Well, I’ve had a very depressing visit to the hitherto magical Michaela, my physio. I guess she has only mere human powers after all. My shoulder’s not been improving. If anything it’s been getting worse.

I’m now on enforced rest for two weeks to see if that sorts it out. Well three weeks if you include an upcoming week’s hols. I can run but I can’t hide. No, I can’t swim or play tennis, i.e. got to rest my shoulder.  I’m allowed to do leg work in the pool, i.e. lots of kicking drills, as long I’m not rotating my shoulders. The marvellous M will undoubtedly think it appropriate. He still laughs, good-humouredly, obviously, at the uselessness of my legs.

No tennis either. Tedious. I like the cross-training aspects of this fitness and training thing. I don’t feel like I’m only using certain bits of me (wearing out certain bits of me). And I know, oh I so know, being relatively run fit doesn’t mean you’re swim fit or any other fit. So it’s good to do several things. Which reminds me, I need to get on the bike again at some point. Maybe not a good idea for the next few weeks though, bike certainly uses shoulders.

Maybe it’s a good thing to focus on the running. I’m already behind with marathon training. And it’s amazing how much fitness one loses – I’ve lost – since April’s London marathon. Wow, that all falls apart quickly.

I’d been consciously laying off the running a bit, just keeping it ticking over (a) because of focusing on swimming and (b)  in anticipation of starting proper marathon training in July. I guess I get to pick up the running a bit earlier than I thought. I’m slightly daunted by that prospect. There’s so much expectation now (from me). I just had to finish London and that was always going to be brilliant. Now I have to be better, i.e. faster. That’s tough. Michaela says I need to build up to 50-60 miles a week. Ouch. I’m not doing more than 10 miles at the moment. Long way to go then, on the legs. Only 13 weeks to go, on the clock. Twelve if you exclude hols. There’s a different utterly buggerly.

I guess I need to get to grips with the fact that if I’m going to do sporty stuff, injury is an occupational hazard. At least I can run. And I need to put in some miles, given my very poor beginning of training for Bournemouth. Always some positives. That’s a good thing.

And I get to watch some Wimbly tennis this week, so definitely not all bad.

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.