Swimming somewhere new

I can’t be the only person who really doesn’t like going to a ‘new’ pool. Once I’ve been a few times I’ve generally got it sussed, but the first time always freaks me out a little. I’ve been doing triathlons for close to 30 years, and I’ve moved around a fair bit in that time as well, so I’ve swum in some great pools and some terrible ones.

The thing is, until you’ve been in the pool you don’t really know what it’s going to be like. Additionally, you don’t know when the best time to go will be. Generally the early bird swim is a good option. Will the changing rooms be village style or separate rooms? Will the showers be rubbish? Will I have the correct change for the locker? Will the pool suck? How long will the pool be? Most pools are 25m, but when I lived in Chichester the pool was 33 yards. I could never get used to it, although that is better than many gyms which boast about having a pool; invariable they turn out to be 15 or 20m long, if you’re lucky.

I was on a triathlon training camp in Cyprus and we had the chance to use a 50m open air pool. Fantastic is all I can say about that. I think the nearest 50m pool to me is in Manchester.

Two and a half years ago I started working in Leigh. I borrowed the car on a Monday so that I could go for a swim before work. The pool in Leigh near to the rugby league ground was one of the worst. The water was very warm, the pool was always busy and the ‘fast’ lane wasn’t. I soon found an alternative pool to swim in before work in Howe Bridge. The water was cooler and it wasn’t as busy, although there was a complete lack of lane etiquette, as I blogged about at the time (read about it here).

The reason I mention this was because last week I was visiting my Mum in Salisbury, and as I didn’t have my bike or running shoes a swim seemed like the logical alternative. Less than 1km walk there is a very large sports centre with an 8-lane wide 25m pool, open at 6am. The early opening suits me as I’m always awake at that time, but the price wasn’t to my liking; £5.95 for a swim, plus 20p or the locker which was non-refundable. Between 6 and 8am half of the pool was reserved for the swimming club so the other lanes were a little busy. The one drawback (apart from the price) was that I was slower than everyone in the ‘fast’ lane and quicker than everyone in the ‘medium’ lane.

Last year my job moved near to Bolton and the pool in Horwich is one of the best that I’ve used, which is another reason why I don’t intend to look for a job somewhere else.

May your pool be nice and cool and a lane all to yourself.

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Medals, Medals, Medals…

You love a medal, I love a medal, everyone loves a good medal.

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I don’t have the largest haul of medals by anyone’s standards, but I have been noticing a trend over the last few years, in that medals are getting more ‘bling’. Just look at the medal that I received from Howler events and the one from a winter open water swim. Both very nice.

The very first medal that I received was way back in the mid-eighties at the Yorkshire Individual schoolboy cycle speedway championships held in Heckmondwike. I didn’t do very well but I can remember being chuffed getting a medal, even if it was a bit small.

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Another trend that I’ve noticed is medals for virtual challenges, specifically for running, but I’ve also seen them for cycling. This involves signing up, paying your money, and then if you reach the required target they send you a medal. I’m not sure how I feel about ‘buying’ medals. For that reason I decided to sign up for a virtual swimming challenge in December from an organisation called Swim the Distance.

I ambitiously signed up for the 40k distance, paid my £12 and got swimming. With it being December I had forgotten that the pools would be closed for a few days and that I would also be busy with family. Obviously I wasn’t going to get anywhere near to 40k, but you’re allowed to email to request to change target, which I did. I dropped down to the 20k challenge, even though on New Year’s Eve I went swimming with my beautiful wife and clocked 30k for the month.

You have to send some kind of proof that you’ve completed the distance, so I used the ‘print screen’ function to copy proof from Strava, and then a couple of days ago I received my medal.

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Very nice piece of bling it is too. I might sign up for the January challenge, especially as I’m trying to have a ‘swim’ month.

 

 

200 Miles of Swimming

With my final swim of last year I managed to tick over the 100 mile mark for the year. This year I have managed 200 miles, with a couple of months to spare. Why the big increase? A couple of reasons. My wife has changed job which means on the days that I borrow the car I don’t need to drop her off at work first. This gives me a bit more time in the morning to get to the pool. The other reason is that I’ve also moved office, and the pool at Horwich is quicker to get to and is open better hours.

I’m not particularly quick, my technique is a bit rubbish and all that I’m good for is a long steady swim. I really hate drills and at the moment I’m really enjoying just getting in the pool and swimming for 90+ minutes each time. I’ve also put on a bit of muscle on my chest and shoulders, making my legs look even skinnier.

Next year I turn 50 and I’m planning a couple of epic races to celebrate, so it’s good to be getting in the mileage now, although I could do with more cycling. One of the things that I love about triathlons is that you can swap about with the disciplines and concentrate on different ones during the seasons. I would get very bored if I was ‘only’ a runner, cyclist or swimmer.

Hurly Burly

What’s the Hurly Burly, I hear you cry? It was a 10k open water swim in North Wales organised by The Outdoor Swimming Society, who also put on the more famous River Dart 10k.

I’ve been swimming more this year than ever before, but I was still nervous as we headed towards the event, especially after Isoman (read about it here). The swim at Isoman was supposed to be 7 miles, but it based on other peoples Garmins, it was most likely about 12k. It was the hardest swim that I’d ever done, the longest swim I’d ever done and by far the longest non-wetsuit swim I’d ever done. I will stick to wearing wetsuits from now on (read about it here).

The Hurly Burly is set in the village of Barmouth, and goes up the estuary with the tide, advertised as maybe the fastest 10k swim you’ll ever do. I was hoping that it was as I didn’t fancy 3 or more hours in cold water.

Me and my beautiful wife decided to make a weekend of it, staying in a pod at the excellent Hendre Mynach campsite less than a mile north of Barmouth. After the Satnav had a moment of madness we made it in plenty of time. We walked along the beach with our unruly pointer, Nelly, into Barmouth so that I could register. Nelly loved the beach.

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Registration was a bit chaotic, as expected with almost 800 people taking part, but once it had been done we had a walk around the town.

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End of September, and the weather was fantastic. We walked back along the beach the campsite and had an early night. Even though it had been sunny all day, overnight the temperature dropped to 3 degrees, so we were happy in our snug little pod.

Coffee and breakfast, followed by another gentle walk into Barmouth. The swim wasn’t the only event, there was a run-swim, with an 11k run from the finish back to the start before doing the swim, and just a run from the start to the finish. I had decided against the run-swim as I wasn’t sure how much time there would be between the two events. In the end there was almost an hour from finishing the run and starting the swim, so I would have been OK. We cheered on the first runners returning to Barmouth before I changed into my wetsuit and dropped off my bag to be transported to the finish. The organisation couldn’t be faulted with so many helpful volunteers. I was also cheered by how many people seemed to know so many others, it all felt like one big family.

Photo by Jess Rose

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With so many people the start was split into four waves, slowest first, speedy people last. The start was also very relaxed. Over the timing mat and a gentle walk into the water, the complete opposite of a triathlon start. Maybe the fast wave ran into the water with gusto, but the wave I was in definitely didn’t.

Photo by Jess Rose

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The initial shock of the cold water took my breath away, even with my beard, but it felt good to be off. Within minutes we were under the bridge. Quite a few people rolled onto their backs to wave at the hundreds of supporters on the bridge as we were swept with the tide.

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My wife and dog were on the bridge as they were walking to the finish, although I didn’t spot them. Nelly had a bit of a fright when a train went past, but she has been known to be scared of her own shadow.

The timing of the swim is difficult. If the swimmers are set off too early then there won’t be enough water in the estuary, too late and the tide will turn making the last section very tough. After half an hour I spotted a few people standing up, and then my hands started to drag on the sand. I walked with everyone else for a few moments, taking the opportunity to look at my Garmin. 3000m in 30 minutes! I put it down to GPS error as there was no way I could have swum that quick. I continued to swim, guided by paddleboarders and jetskiers.

Photo by Sian Lane

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There was a feed station at the half way point, which I completely missed, thinking it was a boat. I was a little concerned when I looked at my watch on the next sand bank and it said 7000m. If I hadn’t seen the feed station by 7k it was going to be a very long swim. There was one final sand bank at 9000m, where the tide was so strong that I couldn’t stand up.

We rounded a corner and I could smell the bonfires at the finish. This was very welcome as my hands were numb with the cold. Minutes later and I was climbing out of the water, handed a blanket and a welcome hot chocolate. I quickly changed and soon managed to get some feeling back into my hands. There is no way I could ever swim that in skins, so I doff my hat to those hardy folks who did.

Photo by Jess Rose

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Once changed I hunted for my wife. There were stalls with cake and Helen had the money. It had taken her longer to walk the route, but when reunited yummy cakes and coffee were purchased. The organisers had put on buses to transfer everyone back to Barmouth, although Nelly isn’t too keen on buses, which she let everyone know by letting out a truly noxious pump. Thanks old girl.

Back in Barmouth and I inhaled fish and chips before heading back to the campsite for a few beers and another early night.

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My finishing time on my Garmin was 1 hour 36 minutes with a distance of 9661m. My official time was 1 hour 39 and 133rd. Without doubt the fastest swim I will ever do and probably the equivalent of a 5k swim in a pool. I loved the whole event and will definitely be back in 2019. Helen has also stated that she intends to have a go as well. A medal or some bling at the finish would have been nice, although a blanket is far more practical.

I can’t recommend this event enough. If you’ve ever fancied a longer swim, this is the one for you. If you can manage an Ironman swim then you can easily complete the Hurly Burly. See you all next year.

 

Veloviewer Leaderboard Revisited

Back in January I blogged about the Veloviewer leaderboards, and how I was pleased to have made the top twenty on one list, notably swimming distance so far in 2018. Not particularly impressive, but you can read about it here. I’m pleased to say that I’m still in the top twenty for swimming distance so far in 2018, but only just. I’m also near the top for swimming Eddington time, with 58 minutes. That means in 2018 I have swimmed for 58 minutes at least 58 times. I’m not going to go through every leaderboard for 2018, as there are quite a few.

The reason that I’ve revisited this topic is because I have made the leaderboard for all years. Swimming only, but Eddington scores for km, miles and time.

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When you look at the overall leaderboards for Eddington Miles, you need to have cycled 120 miles 120 times, but swimming it’s only 5 miles. If you’re not a swimmer you might not realise just how tough a 5 mile swim is. It would take a great dea of swimming for me to get any higher on those leaderboards, but Eddington time, I think by the end of the year I could get up to 80 minutes. 1st place for swimming Eddington time is only 90 minutes. I say only, because a 90 minute swim doesn’t half take it out of you. Hopefully by Easter next year I might have reached 90 minutes, although by then 1st place will probably be over 100 minutes.

As for other leaderboards, my old friend The Prof is into the top ten for his Maximum Cluster, although I am up to 33rd. Still a long way to go.

 

Wetsuit or no wetsuit?

With all of the hot weather that we’ve been having, there has been some talk that IMUK might be a non wetsuit swim. This won’t happen. The organisers will take the temperature early in the morning and probably from a boat near the middle of Pennington Flash, just to make sure that the temperature is below the upper limit. In over 20 years of triathlons I have never done one where wetsuits were banned.

I’ve done some long swims, including Ironman, double ironman (here), triple ironman (here) and a 10k swim in Salford Quays where I ripped my wetsuit minutes before starting. The swim in Salford was on a very hot day, and I didn’t overheat in my wetsuit, although my drinks bottle almost melted.

But, if wetsuits are optional, should you go without?

Hell No!

I’m not the strongest swimmer or the most efficient, so for me it’s a no brainer. A couple of weeks ago at Isoman (read about it here), because I was only doing the swim I went without a wetsuit. I didn’t get cold, but I was seriously tired at the end of the 7+ mile swim and would have been much quicker if I’d been wearing my wetsuit.

I have raced once without a wetsuit. I did the Cockerham Triathlon in 2007, my first race after moving to Lancaster, and because the swim was less than 400m, the time I would have saved from wearing a wetsuit I would make up with not having to remove it. For me, if the swim is 500m and the water isn’t too cold, then I would possibly go without a wetsuit, but for all other races, I will be wearing one, no exceptions for me from now on.

Isoman Race Report

or to be more exact, Isoman swim only race report.

Why only the swim? Why not the whole triathlon? Me and my beautiful wife had both entered the triathlon. I was doing the full race and my wife just the quarter distance, although the quarter still had a 1.75 mile swim, so not an easy race. We arrived at the race venue on the Friday and had a look around the lake. All good. We had a look at some of the run route. Again all good. We still had an hour before registration opened so we decided the drive one lap of the bike course. The lap was approx 15 miles, I would have to do it four times and my wife just the once.

We set off in the car and the bike route immediately took us onto a dual carriageway, and turned left onto another dual carriageway. Worrying, but not too bad. The next few miles were kind of industrial until we popped out onto another dual carriageway, uphill, busy, with a left filter lane to negotiate. The photos below were from the race the following day.

The route turned off the dual carriageway and headed into the countryside along some very pleasant roads, before once again throwing you straight out onto the dual carriageway. Back at the venue neither of us were happy about the cycle route, so after a chat with the race director we dropped down to swim only entrants. Back in the 90’s the Bournemouth Olympic Distance Triathlon used to be mainly on dual carriageways, but one lane was coned off and the race was early on a Sunday morning. I would have been on the bike at Isoman from 11 to 1-ish, on a Saturday. Far too busy to be safe.

The race director apologised but said that there wasn’t a lot they could do in Redditch, as there was so many busy roads. Maybe don’t hold the race in Redditch!

The morning of the race was far more relaxed as we didn’t need to rack bikes or set up transition. Instead we ambled to the swim start and waited for the off. The full race/swim was off at 7am and Helen would be off at 10.30. As I was only doing the swim I decided the make it a bit tougher by going without my wetsuit.

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There were only three of us without wetsuits. As we waited in the water for the gun to go off I spotted TC, the numpty, arriving late and rushing into the water after the start. At least I wouldn’t be last out of the water I thought with a smile. The water temperature was fine without my wetsuit and I was soon into a nice rhythm. The long swim involved eight laps and I planned to stop for a drink at the end of laps two and four. It was a lot harder than I expected and was glad that I had a couple of gels with my water bottle.

At the end of lap five I was feeling tired, but I spotted Helen next to the feed station which gave me a boost. Lap seven was really tough and I seriously considered stopping, especially when faster swimmers from the half or quarter overtook me like I wasn’t moving. Half a banana and a drink and I knew that I could manage one last lap.

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I dragged myself out of the water in a time of 4 hours and 34 minutes. Not last. My longest swim both time and distance, and my longest swim by a very long way without a wetsuit. It also appeared that each lap was a bit long, as most people took longer than expected and recorded more, so it was probably nearer to 7 and a half miles instead of the advertised 7.

Originally I had planned to head back to the car, get changed and faff about for a bit before seeing Helen finish her swim, but I had taken so long she finished only a few minutes after I did. My beautiful wife was well pleased, it had also been her longest open water swim and she had enjoyed every minute of it, except for losing sight of a buoy one time and having to swim a bit extra.

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In the heat I was very pleased not to be doing the whole triathlon. In previous years the winner has taken just over nine hours, this year only the winner went under 12 hours. We were finished and back at Helen’s brother’s house by 1pm and Helen had enough energy to go for a short bike ride while I had a sleep. The swim only event meant that we could enjoy the weekend and go out with the outlaws for a posh pub meal, so it all worked out in the end.