Inspired by Sally

I really really enjoyed my swim last week with Sally as part of her 50 swims. And part of the reason I enjoyed it so much was the experience of trying out a new pool and swimming in ‘new’ water.

So when I found myself in Bristol this week visiting friends and colleagues I thought I’d try and swim here too.

We checked pools and there was one both near where we were working and near where they lived. Hmmm, decisions decisions. We couldn’t decide, so I decided to swim in both.

Bristol South Swimming Pool

Bristol South Swimming Pool

The lunchtime swim was at Bristol South Swimming Pool – a great, old-fashioned swimming hall. The paint was peeling, it needed a good spruce up, the changing cubicles on the side of the pool were cramped and in general it was a long way away from its former glory. But I loved it. It felt like ‘real’ swimming. And not only did I love it. All three of the lanes were full of swimmers – there were probably at least 30 people in the pool at the same time as me. But the lanes were wide enough to allow easy overtaking and I had a lovely swim.

2015-03-26 19.26.04

Horfield Leisure Centre

After work I went to the pool local to the house. It couldn’t have been more different. A big, modern leisure centre – Horfield Leisure Centre – with lots of sporting facilities including an 8-lane 25m pool. It was bright and modern and brash with all mod cons, but not the same soul as the baths at lunchtime. However, it was equally (if not even more so) as busy and the water was still water, so I swam again.

And it’s funny isn’t it? Neither swim felt great in terms of the swimming, both felt a bit sluggish, but I enjoyed them for the experience. I timed them, not because I was after a good time, but more because I had my watch on anyway.

At lunchtime my mile was 32 minutes. A bit slow, but I could live with it. In the evening I actually felt more sluggish and as I was finishing I was thinking that if I’m going to start doing more than 32 minute miles then 2swim4life is going to be tough with very little rest between swims. So when I finished and realised that I’d done the evening swim in 29 minutes I was pleasantly surprised.

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An exercise in floating

I’ve not been for a swim in aaaaaggggeees (actually it was Friday with Sally) and I’m starting to panic about 2swim4life. So while I couldn’t make the early morning session today I thought I’d use the 10-11am lane swimming session to just get wet again.

The plan was to do 400m of drills, followed by a gentle mile. Hopefully all done and dusted within about 45 minutes and back to work.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

It turns out that the session only had two lanes set up (slow and medium) – normally it’s four, but those two lanes were full. There wasn’t much chance of a gentle swim as I would always be swimming behind someone, so I thought I’d just do drills – not the same distance, but a good session anyway.

I do my drills in the slow lane as they are very slow. Or at least I thought they were until I set off today. Even my slow, one-armed drills were faster (and I mean a lot faster) than some of the swimmers today. I actually spent most of the time trying not to move forward. Grrrr.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticising the swimmers. They were polite and friendly and more importantly they were using and enjoying the facilities. My annoyance is with the leisure centre that didn’t advertise it was only a two-lane session. If they had I wouldn’t have gone. I certainly won’t go again at that time.

Then to top it off, on the drive to the office I had a couple of drivers in front of me who were exactly the same – you know, 40mph in a 60 mph zone.

And breathe….

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A one in fifty swim

You’ve heard the expression “one in a million”, well this swim was one if fifty – actually part of Sally Goble’s plan to do 50 swims in 50 days (read more here and here).

As I was in London last night and this morning I asked Sally if I could join her. It’s always great to meet fellow swimmers and I tend not to swim when I come down to London, so I wanted to explore possible pools and get myself more into the habit of swimming down here. As part of Sally’s reason for doing this is social she enthusiastically said yes.

Then of course the realisation hit as Sally suggested meeting at Swiss Cottage at 7am, IN the pool. So that meant a trip across London first thing in the morning to find a pool I’d never been to before at a time when I’m not normally awake!

Too early!

Too early!

I set off in good time as I didn’t want to keep Sally waiting – I say good time, it was of course a ridiculously early time and there was very little good about it. But it did mean that I actually got to the pool a few minutes before 7am and had time to acquaint myself with the new surroundings, get changed and even do a few lengths before Sally arrived.

And then, exactly on time, Sally arrived. Swimmers are a funny breed and although we’ve never met before we had a good chat poolside before we set off to swim our respective miles.

The pool itself was wonderful, clean, cool and with eight busy lanes in use. As I got in there were club swimmers (adults and juniors) swimming in five of the lanes, so just three were left for lane swimmers. It made it busy, but even though the swimmers didn’t obey rule 3 very well it was hard not to get too annoyed as it was just great to see so many swimmers (I certainly tried to avoid breaking rule 5).

The only strange thing about it was that as the club swimming finished the lane swimming lanes were shifted, so from swimming in the medium lane initially (there was no fast lane set up) I was suddenly in the slow lane. Then a few minutes later they opened a fast lane, so I was able to move across there. If you knew to expect it it would have been fine, but seemed strange as an outsider.

In the end I managed 2.3kms – given the extra few lengths I managed before Sally arrived – and it was truly wonderful. I’ve not enjoyed a swim this much for a while, so I was trying to work out why this one was so good. I think it’s because:

I swam – I often say that one of the best things about visiting friends for the weekend is that as you sit and relaxing, drinking tea and reading the papers, on the Sunday you can truly relax as there isn’t a pile of ironing staring at you and you don’t feel guilty about not hoovering. In some senses today’s swim was like that. I just went to swim. I didn’t go to train, to do a set, to hit a distance or time. I just went to swim. And swim is all I did (and chat).

I swam well – not only that, but I swam well. I’m used to how I compare to the seven other people I normally share a lane with in my local pool (quicker than them, about the same as him, not as quick as the guy that gets in for a quick kilometre at 8:20am). Today I was with a new group of people and without racing anyone felt that I held my own in the fast lane.

Breaking the monotony – I’m so used to my local pool that to go for a swim has become almost monotonous and (dare I say it) boring. Today I had to be fully awake and aware of my surroundings just to navigate my way from reception to the pool. It made me swim with my senses fully open and I loved it.

Sally – it was great to meet Sally and a real honour to be allowed to take part in her personal challenge. After the swim we had breakfast and chatted and swapped swimming stories and I have now made another swimming friend.

A great start to the day – but I’m tired now after getting up so early.

The pool in action

The pool in action

Breakfast - why we swim!

Breakfast – why we swim!

Sally & I outside the pool post-swim. Photo stolen from Sally's Facebook page.

Sally & I outside the pool post-swim.
Photo stolen from Sally’s Facebook page.

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Channel Relay Thoughts

This post is intended as a summary of what a channel relay entails and will hopefully provide enough information for you so that you can decide whether it is for you or not.

It’s not an exhaustive list and I’m sure that there will be many things that I haven’t included. I’m certainly no expert. I’ve only ever done one relay and I loved it – although I’ll try to be as unbiased as possible in my summary.

Part of the reason for writing this is that I’m keen to organise and take part in another relay – especially for the Team Bear lot, if there is enough interest. I loved my previous experience, so I’d like to repeat it, plus I think that it gives a great perspective of what a channel crossing is and what it involves, which is great mental preparation for a solo crossing – something that I have on my ‘to-do’ list.

I have been offered the chance to take part in a relay this year, which I can’t do (sorry Michael), so I’m keen to do another one in future years.

What it is

A channel relay is quite simply a swim from England to France in a team (rather than on your own). It can only be done in that direction as the French authorities don’t allow you to set off from France any more.

To start you must be clear of the water on English soil (setting off from Dover, or an adjoining beach) and to complete it you must swim all the way to France and get out and clear of the water on French soil – the closest point is Cap Gris Nez.

You swim in a team of between two and six, with each swimmer swimming for an hour at a time. You rotate through the team until everyone has swum and then you start with the first swimmer again and swim in the same order.

Everyone must swim for a full hour and everyone must swim in the order they have been assigned. There can be no changing this once the swim has started and if any swimmer can’t start or complete their hour then the whole relay is over.

During your swim you can only wear a swimming costume, swim hat, goggles and night lights if it is dark – no wetsuits are allowed. You are also not allowed any assistance from the boat – you cannot be touched, or touch the boat or crew. You can feed during your swim (vital for solo swimmers, not needed for a one hour swim during a relay), but the feed must be passed down to you without you touching your crew – it’s usually attached to a rope and then pulled back into the boat.

Making it Official

The only way that a channel swim (solo or relay) is officially ratified is to do it under the authority of one of the two channel swimming bodies, the CSA or CS&PF. And they only way they will ratify it is if you do it with one of their registered pilot boats to support you.

This is very important as the English Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world with enormous cargo boats travelling up and down it. You need someone that is experienced and qualified to get you through that lane – it has been described as being like a snail trying to cross the M25!

The pilots

Not only do the pilots have the knowledge to steer you over to France, they also have the experience of taking hundreds of swimmers over – they know the tides, the weather, they can spot if a swimmer is struggling, they can predict if the weather is going to change and make the swim dangerous and they can be the difference between a successful swim or not.

Once you set off the pilot is in control of the swim, they have the ultimate power to pull you out of the water if they think you won’t make it, whether it’s the weather or you that is deteriorating, their first concern is the safety of the swimmer and the crew on board.

In fact even before you set off the pilot is in charge. They pick the start time, based on the expected weather and tide – so you can’t choose to set off at a leisurely 10am, you start when the pilot tells you to. Equally though they may not let you set off. Sometimes swims are ‘blown out’ and the weather may kill your chances – it is one of the ‘joys’ of channel swimming.

Cost

So now we come to one of the sticking points for many potential solo and relay swimmers – the cost. And there’s no way to butter this up as it’s not cheap. The pilots can differ slightly, but expect to pay £2,750 for your crossing. And that is just the pilot’s fee, you will also need to factor in accommodation, food, kit and any training fees etc. It’s not cheap, but compared to a brand new tri bike it’s a snip!

Requirements

The other major sticking point seems to be the qualifying requirements. You will obviously need to have a medical form signed by your doctor, which needs to be done in the year of your swim (and can be another cost given the way most GP practices are run).

However, it is the swimming qualification that catches some people out. For a relay swim you must complete a two-hour swim in water below 160C (for a solo it’s a six-hour swim) within 18 months of your relay. If you’re training up and a channel relay is to be the pinnacle of your swimming efforts, then this can seem like a lot – again though it is for your safety, you must be able to show that you can cope with both the temperature and the swimming that will be required.

Training

Other than being able to do the qualifying swim other training to think about is:
– exposure to cold water – don’t just do your training in a pool where the water is a lot warmer than you’ll be swimming in on the day. If you’ve not swum outside before it will feel cold at first, but I promise you your body will adapt if you repeat the process often enough
– sea swimming – sea swimming is actually more buoyant that fresh water (thanks to the salt), so it some ways it can be easier. However it’s a good idea to practice in salt water so you can get used to the taste of it (!) and also the rolling waves – a lot different from the local pool
– night swimming – at some stage during the relay your team will almost certainly need to swim at night and it may be your turn to swim, so practice it. In my experience once you get used to the dark then it is a beautifully peaceful experience and possibly my favourite bit of my relay
– distance – make sure that you can swim for an hour, then another hour and possibly another hour or two after that

Wildlife

We can’t ignore the fact that the English Channel has some ‘wildlife’ in it. It’s rare to see any large wildlife – the busy shipping lane tends to put them off – but you will almost certainly see some fish and worse than that some jellyfish. If you’re unlucky you may even ‘shake hands’ or ‘kiss’ a jellyfish.

I’m certainly no expert on marine wildlife, but my understanding is that the jellyfish in the channel are ‘babies’ when it comes to their size and stings. I’ve heard them described as like a nettle sting – so noticeable, initially disruptive, but nothing you can’t swim through. No-one will pretend that it is pleasant to swim into or through a jellyfish, but you can and should be able to carry on if you do.

If this element of the swim is likely to be something that you just can’t overcome your fear of then you are best not signing up for a channel swim of any sort.

My thoughts

In the channel

In the channel

As I said, I’ve had the good fortune to do a channel relay in the past and I loved it. We did a four-person relay and I would argue that that is the perfect number. With a six-person team it is very possible that you’ll only get two swims each, in the four-person team I had four.

I also started the swim at 1:30am and despite my advice above I had never swum at night before. After overcoming the initial fear (of both night swimming and the responsibility of starting the swim) I loved it! LOVED IT!

While relays are easier than solos, by completing one you will still join a select group of people that can say they have swum across the English Channel. The camaraderie and companionship of other channel swimmers is enormous – as is the jealousy of some swimmers that haven’t done it!

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Enoch Tarder

This weekend it was the BLDSA‘s annual dinner and AGM, so I went along. It was a great weekend.

The do was held up in Ellesmere Port, so after a lunchtime swim in the pool I set off up there. Once I’d got to the hotel I had time for a quick shower and to scrub myself up.

Scrubs up well

Scrubs up well

Unfortunately I didn’t have quite as much time as I thought (mainly because I hadn’t read the ticket details) and I got down to the dinner just as it started at 6:30pm – sorry all for being late.

The first bit of the evening was a review of the year – with awards handed out to some of the amazing swimmers and for some amazing swims. Well done to everyone, all fully deserved.

Then it was time to eat (and drink). I managed to do both!

Speeches followed the meal and as part of that we were treated to a great speech from Emma France about her amazing swimming year in 2014 – and the sneaky channel swim that she managed to do ‘under the radar’.

After the speeches we were let off the leash to socialise (drink) and chat – again I managed both quite well! While we were doing this another trophy was being challenged for – it’s called the Enoch Tarder trophy. It was inspired by a sadly missing former member of the association Maurice Ferguson. After his death the committee decided to create an award that honoured his spirit and the fact that he would swim with his glasses stored down the back of his trunks. The trophy goes to the person who can roll a pound coin closest to it over the course of the evening (the losing pound coins are collected and donated to Maurice’s favourite charity – UNICEF) and it actually an old pair of trunks and a pair of glasses sprayed gold and attached the a slate bed.

Receiving the trophy

Receiving the trophy

It’s clearly a matter of extreme skill and to be honest much harder than swimming the length of Windermere or Loch Lomond. Although nobody wants to admit it, this is actually the one trophy that everyone wants to win – but it can only go to one person and I think this year it went to a worthy winner – me!

After that, more drinking, chatting and making merry – until we all stumbled to our rooms at about 2am. A great night – thank you all.

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Breezy 1km

I’m quite pleased with 17:37 for 1km after a tough day in the office. It would have been a bit quicker too if that bloke had got out of my way!

image

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Goggles stopped play

A gentle 200m warm up.

400m of drills.

A relaxing 800m swim.

A short rest and ready to go again when:

Goggles stopped play

Goggles stopped play

 

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MWC 15 Summary

This is a work-related post, specifically about a recent mobile conference in Barcelona. If you’re hoping to read more about swimming nonsense, then please come back later ;-)

– – –

As I have done every year except one for the last 12 years I was out at Mobile World Congress last week. I spent two days at the show itself, two nights out in Barcelona and had two flights that were mainly full of congress attendees. Based on that short sojourn here are the key points I picked up from the show.

‘Mobile’ is dead
Although the show is ‘Mobile World Congress’ the term mobile is now pointless / redundant / undefinable. Does ‘mobile’ mean the handset you have? If so, where do we classify tablets, or even watches? Or maybe we use it as a verb and talk about ‘being mobile’ – but what about laptops or even fridges connected to data with a sim card? Or the fact that wifi is where all the ‘mobile’ traffic is now?
Throughout the show people were struggling with the concept of mobile and defining it differently for their own purposes in each different meeting attended.

Disruption of the network
One of the biggest issues that I came across was the fact that the OTT players are now the new norm in the content & platform part of the industry – leaving the operators in their wake. The next level of disruption they seem to be targeting is the network itself. This is of course linked to the announcement of a Google MVNO and Zuckerberg’s push for more free data to be offered to users.
This is all without talking about the event’s biggest elephant in the room. Apple never attends MWC formally, yet I heard some chatter about them ‘creating’ their own network. An iPhone-sized disruption to the network layer…?

Lots of buzz
There was lots of positivity around in Barcelona last week, possibly more than I’ve witnessed in the last few years. It may of course have been linked to my own positivity (I have a renewed enthusiasm for the show after a couple of years of it waning), but there were a lot of stands, visitors and, if the overheard conversations are anything to go by, deals struck.
And of course the biggest measurement of ‘buzz’ – there was plenty of beer drunk and ‘good times’ had.

A sleazy side to Barcelona
We have seen a sleazy side to the show in the past that appeared to be cleaned up by the GSMA (although apparently CBoss were back again this year). However this year we saw the sleazy side to the city with ads from the local ‘massage parlours’ being targeted directly at the show’s attendees.
While we can’t expect to speak for the city for the other 51 weeks of the year, there is a sense that the GSMA has to place itself above the likes of FIFA and when spending this much money demand a certain level of ‘behaviour’ from the city.

I loved it
Screenshot 2015-03-09 17.31.14My final point, as I’ve mentioned above, is I loved the show this year. Partly due to the fact that of where I stayed (thanks Helen), partly due to the Joshua PR sponsorship of Swedish Beers (and what a fun night that was!), partly due to the happy clients, partly due to people I met and partly due to the meetings I’ve already arranged on the back of the show’s activities.
Roll on MWC ’16!

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The dream is over

I have finally decided that I can’t do the Coniston 14 run in a couple of weeks time. I’m supposed to be out for a long 2 hour run right now as I type this and I’m not…

The original plan was that I was going to run a 10k or two at the end of last year and so the training for the Coniston 14 would only be a case of topping up. That didn’t happen – injury stopped me. So instead of topping up my training I had to start from scratch this year – and I’ve just not had the time to get to where I want to be.

At the moment my life has three priorities which, in order, are:

– My son
– Work
– Swimming

Running comes just below that and can only ever be, at best, fourth on the list.

Since Xmas the top two have taken priority and although I’ve been out running it has been tough. The reason that I’m not running this morning is because having just come back from an industry event last week I’m excited to get back to the office to work on the leads that I gathered and keen to continue to progress existing projects for clients – I don’t want to ‘waste’ two hours (or more) running.

I did however take Friday off work, and then spent [nearly] the whole day swimming – a total of 9.5k over four different sessions as they keep opening and closing the lane swimming sessions. That was a great way to get my mind and body back into action and clear out all the effects of the industry show (lots of walking, standing, thinking and drinking!). It was also a great reminder that there is still a LOT of work to go before I can feel ready for 2swim4life, so again I want to focus on that and not run.

I’m pleased I’ve got this far with it. I’m pleased that I can run 10k plus – especially after the injury. But it’s unrealistic to think I can run 14 miles, so I’m going to have to withdraw.

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I know how to stop radical extremists…

The current language and rhetoric around the ‘problem’ of ‘radical extremist Islamists’ is making me more and more annoyed. Today this new potential policy was revealed on the news and it has compelled me to write this.

The first thing to note with all of this is that this isn’t a problem of religion. It isn’t Muslims who are causing terror. It is terrorists who are doing it in the name of Islam. It might only seem like a minor distinction to many people – but it is a very important distinction. I’m certainly no religious scholar, but from all I’ve read and heard the Muslim faith is as peace-loving and tolerant as any other (including Christianity).

Of course there some passages of old religious texts that can be misrepresented, but that is true of any religion. (If you want an example of how the bible can be misrepresented that watch this amazing scene from The West Wing). But just because somebody quotes an old religious text to support their backwards views, it doesn’t mean they are religious.

But the main point I want to make is that the way to stop extremists is first to stop disaffection. It is a pyramid effect and extremism can only survive is there is a strong base of disaffection.

So, if we want to destroy / remove / halt extremism, then we should work on removing disaffection.

The next question is how do we do that?

Well, one of the first things we can do is stop the tone and language of many of the supposed policies – such as “The document reportedly proposes a number of new measures, including tightening the rules on citizenship to make sure new residents embrace “British values”.”

What does that mean exactly? Who defines “British values”? Why are we talking about “new residents” as if to assume that immigrants are all potential terrorists? If I was currently disaffected, then this kind of language and policy would be more likely to push to extremism than pull me back into ‘mainstream views’.

Linked to this of course is the rise of UKIP and the increasingly loaded political debate around race, immigration and ‘otherness’ (and to fair to promotion of disaffection in the white, christian (with an intentional small ‘c’), working class population). By pandering to this the mainstream politicians are helping to fan the flames and ultimately increase disaffection in all quarters.

Why can’t they be strong enough to tell UKIP just how wrong they are? Why can’t they show the value of Europe and immigration to this country – economically, culturally and socially? Again if I was disaffected all of this rhetoric would be more likely to push me to extremism.

This is just a quick Sunday morning rant and I know I don’t have all the answers, but the current approach doesn’t seem to be working. Can someone not be brave enough, foresighted enough, compassionate enough to actually take the long view on this and to understand that aggressive responses only fuel further aggression? Please.

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