The power of the press

As I’ve blogged about before, I recently completed the Aspire Channel Challenge – 22 miles of swimming to replicate a channel crossing. The Aspire challenge allows you 12 weeks to complete it, but I did it in 22 days.

Since completing it I’ve had a couple of articles in the local press. This one in the Nottingham Post and then this one (below) in our village paper, the Bramley.


Since it appeared in the paper I’ve had eight people make a point of mentioning to me that they had seen it. And don’t forget that we live in a small village, I don’t go out much and this was ‘just’ the local free paper. And that’s the people who have told me they’ve seen it – how many others must have also read it.

I’m not sure I’ll be invited to turn on next year’s Xmas lights because of it, but it does mean more exposure for Aspire. And as a PR professional it’s great to see the power of the press in action.

And don’t forget, you can still sponsor me for the swim here:

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Why are we so afraid of nakedness?

An annoying thing happened to me yesterday in the swimming pool changing room.

Just as I was getting dry and dressed after my swim some schoolkids came into the changing rooms – I’m guessing they were about seven years old (Year 3).

But that wasn’t the annoying bit.

As soon as they saw me they sort of giggled and went to a different part of the changing room. In the end the whole class of boys got changed in the top third of the changing room – our changing room is split into three loosely divided sections, as I was in the middle section all the boys stayed in the top section nearest the entrance. Being young boys they chatted and giggled as they got changed.

But that wasn’t the annoying bit.

The annoying bit was when their teacher made a point of asking me if I would get changed in another changing room next week to leave the boys alone in this room.

I wouldn’t have minded if they needed the full room. I can kind of understand it if they didn’t have an adult to be with them. But neither of those situations existed. I suspect that they didn’t want the boys to be in the room with a [potentially] naked man, nor a man in the room with naked boys.

To take the first point – and this is the title of this post – but why are we so afraid of nakedness? Why are we creating a normality in our kids that other people’s nakedness is somehow weird?

I don’t expect us as a culture to become like that strange German guy we’ve all ‘met’ on skiing holidays that insists on walking around the sauna completely naked all the time. But equally we need to be a little more relaxed about bare flesh and even [heavens above] genitals. It’s only a human body and we’ve all got one. An up tight, prudish response to seeing it only leads to further self-repression and potentially longer term damage.

On the second point, so what is someone sees a naked boy. What harm does it do that boy? None at all if it’s innocent (which this of course was). But what if the man was somehow ‘interested’ in that sight, what damage then – you know what, still none. (This brilliant article by Harry Wallop in the Telegraph summarises it better than I could). There was an adult in the room, so nothing could have happened – and if I had been using that changing room for those reasons, swimming almost 4km before hand is one hell of a cover!

I think as a culture we over sexualise kids (clothes, magazines, celebrities etc) and at the same time completely under prepare them for the reality – that can’t be a good mix.

– – –

As an aside, I was in a newsagents the other day with my nine year-old son. When we came out we had the following conversation:

– “Dad, did you see those magazines with the picture of the woman wearing just a bra and knickers?”
– [Hmm, I wonder where this is going]. “Why?”
– “Well, I think they are really inappropriate.”
– [Ok, still not sure where this is going]. “Why do you think that?”
– “Well, what is a young girl saw it and thought that she should dress like that?”

I’m not sure I could love him more.


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From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

I posted the other week about going From the Sublime to the Ridiculous as I returned from swimming in the lovely, warm waters around Crete to swim in the less lovely and certainly less warm waters of Salford Quays.

This post charts a journey in the opposite direction.

One of the things that the SwimTrek holidays do is a video analysis of your swimming stroke – which tips and pointers about how you can improve. When I first had this done in April 2014 it was the first time I had ever seen myself swim. To be honest I didn’t know what I was looking for, so I couldn’t really spot all the faults.

However, revisiting it, it’s clear that I over-rotate on one side, and hardly rotate on the other; that I have a ‘limpy’, single-side breathing stroke; that my catch is weak; that I lift my hands in the reach. In short, it’s a clip of someone that can swim, but it’s not a great, technical stroke.

I can’t be too disappointed with it though – it got me down the length of Windermere, on two occasions.

Since that second Windermere swim I’ve had some proper coaching of my stroke by the brilliant Ray at SwimCanaryWharf. Part of Ray’s method is to film your stroke, so I’ve seen a lot of it since the film above, but it was still good to see it again, in situ when I was filmed in Crete.

Of course I could spot some faults and get picky about it, but in truth the difference is like night and day. Previously I looked like someone that could swim, now I look like a swimmer!

I still have a tendency to lift my left hand so my palm is facing forwards, I don’t kick enough and I am too slow on each breath – and so I’m going to keep working on those elements. But equally, I’m delighted with the improvements.

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LetJog Update – Nearly There

As I’ve posted about before there is an online support group that has set its members the challenge of completing the distance between Land’s End and John O’Groats in 2015 through their training and events. According to Wikipedia that is a distance of 874 miles (or 1,407kms).

I’m a member of this group and have signed up to this challenge, although I have decided to extend it slightly to 1,600kms – or 1,000 miles. Initially this blog was about me completing 1,000kms of exercise in a year (a target I didn’t hit), but you can see how much fitter I’ve got as my target for 2015 was 60% greater.

There’s actually a fair chance that I’ll hit this target too. I’m currently about 50kms away from John O’Groats, so I should get there before the end of November. Then that gives me December to complete the additional 180kms or so.

There are no rules to the challenge – other than the distance covered – and most of the people in the group are primarily runners, so will have run just about every mile.

I’m primarily a swimmer, but I run and cycle [a bit] too. I didn’t think that I’d manage to swim 1,600kms in a year, but equally I didn’t want to ‘cheat’ and cycle the bulk of the distance, so I follow a simple algorithm:

  • All swimming distance is multiplied by 3
  • All running distance is counted as is
  • All cycling distance is divided by 4

My totals (with adjusted figures) so far are:

  • Swimming – 357.46kms (1,072.38)
  • Running – 195.07kms (195.07)
  • Cycling – 358.77kms (89.69)
  • Total – 911.30kms (1,357.14)

As you can see I’ve travelled almost exactly as far in water as I have on a bike – although the adjusted figures are then somewhat different. It’s also a pretty good total given that once I’d completed the big 24 hour swim in May I did almost nothing in June and July (a combined, adjusted total of 107.99kms). Fortunately I caught up a lot of my missed distance with a big October – an adjusted total of 220.43kms.

I’ll need to be dedicated through December, including into the Xmas period, but I expect to hit the 1,600kms target.


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It’s not too late…

… to sponsor me for the Aspire Channel Swim.

Screenshot 2015-08-26 14.08.43The challenge, as established by Aspire, was to swim the English Channel (22 miles) in your own pool. To make it more ‘fun’ I decided to swim a mile a day for 22 days in as many different venues as possible. In the end I managed 20 different venues as I had to use my local pool three times due to my son being ill for a couple of days and not having the time to travel anywhere.

– Read about my first mile here.

However, not all of those venues were pools as I managed at least two different open water venues.

For most of the days of this challenge I swam a bit more than a mile, in fact I averaged 2kms per day over the 22 days, but I only counted a mile towards my target. And of course I’ve continued to swim – just not every day. In fact since the start of the challenge I’ve swum about 41 miles – so I’ve nearly completed my return crossing of the channel too.

The challenge isn’t over until December 7th and many people are still swimming and fundraising hard. If you know anyone swimming for Aspire, please support them in any way you can – whether it’s verbal encouragement, a piece of cake or financial support through sponsorship.

And it’s not too late to sponsor me –


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Getting Quicker

Every so often I write a post similar to this (for example this one) – one where I talk about the improvements I’ve made, especially those that are measured by speed. It’s clear that, while I’m not obsessed, it’s obviously an important factor for me.

It’s strange and very much a relative issue. At my local pool I can only think of four other swimmers that swim regularly that are faster than me – 90% of the time that I’m in the pool I’m the quickest one there. In Crete the other week I was in the middle of the middle group, by the end of the week I’d managed to speed up a bit and join those at the head of the middle group. Yet at most BLDSA events I’m in the last two thirds of the event – and the longer the event, the closer to the back that I finish.

I’m always striving to do better in everything I do and as I came to swimming so late (I could always swim, but I only started entering events three years ago) I think I still have a lot of room for improvement. In a group of people the definition of a ‘good’ swimmer is so subjective (I’m the crazy, open water swimmer amongst my pool colleagues, yet I’m the guy at the back in the BLDSA events), so it’s best to use an objective measurement of improvement – and speed / time is that.

Friday morning's swim time

Friday morning’s swim time

On Thursday I went to the pool mainly because I couldn’t be bothered to go to the gym. I was still tired after being out on Tuesday night, so I was planning / expecting to plod out 2km and go home. I only started my stopwatch to help me count laps as I thought I might lose concentration. However I joined two of the aforementioned quicker swimmers in the lane and I didn’t want to hold them up, so I got on with it. I got on with it so much that I did the fastest 1km that I’ve ever recorded – 17 mins and 33 seconds (an average of 1:45 / 100m).

Then the following morning, less than 12 hours after I’d got out of the pool, I was back in for my regular Friday swim. It involves 500m warm-up, 1,000m of drills, 400m of relaxed swimming, then a timed 1km set. I wasn’t expecting much after the previous evening’s unexpected exertions. Yet I matched my new PB to the second!

I put these improvements down to a few factors:

  • The work I’ve been doing with Ray from SwimCanaryWharf has made HUGE improvements to my stroke
  • The week in Crete with SwimTrek gave me a few additional pointers that I’ve worked on since getting back – raising my left hand, taking too long on my breaths, being a ‘lazy’ swimmer (my words)
  • I’m probably at the fittest I’ve been for a while having done a lot of gym work in October
  • I’m enjoying my swimming again

I’m aware that my speed isn’t much compared to some of the faster swimmers I know in real-life and online, but I’m pleased with it as not so long ago I would have been delighted to get below 20mins for 1km. Also, having never been a swimmer as a kid I still don’t tumble turn, so compared to someone swimming at the same pace as me I might be losing as much as a second a lap (20 seconds total) over a tumble turner.

What is important to me though is not how quickly I can do 1km in the pool, it’s all about getting my body used to swimming at a quicker pace, so when I want to go longer my 80-90% speed has improved.

My best time for Windermere is 7 hours and 40 minutes – an average pace of just over 27 minutes per kilometre. Imagine if I could reduce that average to something like 22 mins – well, you don’t have to imagine, it would mean a 6 1/4 hour swim!

So I’m going to keep trying to speed up in the pool, keep celebrating any improvements I get there, but also keep my eye on the bigger picture (and swims).


Filed under Motivation, Swimming

Bash the PR…

I don’t normally post work related stuff here, but here’s [yet another] exception.

Earlier this week a Nottingham blogger blogged about how he had been ignored by a PR agency hired for the launch of a new hotel. He took the very easy route of assuming that the PR agency was therefore incompetent. I tried to engage with him on Twitter, but he didn’t reply. So I thought I’d drop my thoughts here instead.

Before I start though, a few caveats:

1 – I don’t know the PR agency in question and I don’t know anything about the hotel or the launch event (I clearly wasn’t invited either). So I’m not defending anyone in particular.

2 – I don’t know the blogger, Tony. He seems to have a lot of followers on Twitter, but I’m not one of them. So nor am I attacking anyone in particular.

3 – From what little I can see (and not withstanding the below) it seems that Tony probably should have been invited to this event…

Ok, caveats over, here’s my view on this.

The Brief

Before you can pass any judgement (positive or negative) over a PR project you have to know what the brief was. Other than the agency and client in question I suspect that nobody knows the exact brief or what was considered a success for this project. It may well have been about a ‘treat’ to contacts they already knew; targeted at a very specific audience; or alternatively maybe Tony was the perfect person to be invited and they cocked up. The point is we don’t know.

The Cost

Planning a PR event guest list is a bit like wedding invitations – “We can only invite 100 people and I’d really like great Aunt Emily to come, but then we’ll have to invite her seven kids too and we don’t have room for them all.” Maybe Tony was carefully selected and was the 21st most influential person on their list – the problem was the agreed budget was only for 20 people.

Followers isn’t Influence

This is a mistake that many people make on social media – it’s an easy trap to fall into too as we’re all sold the lie and follower numbers. However influence isn’t about quantity, it’s about quality. The two most important factors are:

  • What you say
  • Who you say it to

And not, how many you say it to.

Tony may have a lot of followers, but if they aren’t the demographic that this project was designed to hit (see The Brief above), then he isn’t influential for this brand. It’s as simple as that.

In closing his piece, Tony suggested he would like to start his own PR agency as he could probably do it better. I’ll let him have these three points as his first bit of training for that.

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From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

Last Saturday I got at 7:30am to go for an early morning swim in 23 degree waters in Crete. Ah, sublime.

This Saturday I got up at a similar time to go for an early morning swim in 12 degrees water in Salford. Hmmm, ridiculous!

Actually, it was lovely. Properly ‘fizzy’ on the skin. Lovely people to chat to (and ‘bob’ with). Great chat (and cake) afterwards. And a nice actual 3-lap swim of 1,200m.

That said, I’m not sure I’ll do it again in November!


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More on Crete

I thought I’d extend a bit on my Crete trip after my short initial post. I’ve also written a post for the SwimTrek website, which should be here (once they publish it).

I flew to Crete on the Saturday, with the intention of meeting fellow swimmers on the Sunday as we shared a transfer from the hotel to the airport (I stayed near the airport on Saturday night). But soon after the flight had set off I heard two people discussing swimming behind me on the plane, and it turned out they were on the same trip. They were self-medicating for flight nerves with some strong medicine that seemed to deliver headaches the following morning!

We transferred to the resort the following morning and arrived to an almost perfect beach resort scene. So bags dumped we were on the beach in swimming suits almost immediately and the first swim of the week took place. To be fair, it was more of a ‘bob’ than a swim, but it was lovely.

The following morning was the start of the trip proper and the official acclimatisation swim saw us split into groups, based on speed. I was in the middle group and the first couple of swims saw me very much in the middle of the middle group.

The groups are a very important part of SwimTrek trip, as by swimming with people of a similar speed they allow the guides to monitor the safety of everyone. They also allow the guides to judge the groups and distances and have everyone finish the swims roughly at the same time.

The swims in Crete are mainly coastal hugging ones and for the first couple of days we would jump on the boat in the morning, find a new bay and then swim along it and the next couple of bays – then back on the boat and back to the hotel. All the while enjoying the glorious sunshine we had been blessed with. What a life!

One of the plan Bs was a trek across the island.

One of the plan Bs was a trek across the island.

Unfortunately the weather changed in the second half of the week – the danger of going at the end of the season. The wind whipped up and although it was mainly dry, it made the swimming conditions much tougher. It also meant that we couldn’t take the boat out as the coastguard wouldn’t let out pilot take passengers out to sea. However, the SwimTreks guides were fantastic and excellent plan Bs meant that as swimmers we a) didn’t have to worry about it; b) still got a great swim in.

From a personal point of view, for some reason I didn’t relax and couldn’t enjoy the first couple of swims. I came out of the water wondering whether I’m just not cut out for sea swimming and whether I should abandon my idea of swimming the Channel. I was genuinely concerned. However, something changed over the last few days and while the conditions got tougher my love of the swims increased dramatically. I loved it.

One of the main changes was that our middle paced group had effectively been split into two and I started at the back of

The great group on the last night.

The great group on the last night.

the quicker group, with the other swimmers generously waiting for me every now and then (although swimming off just as I stopped for a breather, like we used to do with the fat kid on cross country runs at school!). Then a combination of a couple of pieces of advice about my stroke and a realisation from me that I was swimming lazily meant that I could keep up and play (swim) with the cool kids.

All in all I swam just over 21kms in the week – so not a huge amount, but substantial. But most importantly I have made some more great swimming friends.

The week got a thumbs up from me. Photo courtesy of Miriam Zendle.

The week got a thumbs up from me.
Photo courtesy of Miriam Zendle.


Filed under Swimming

The Crete Escape

I’ve just got back from a great week swimming in Crete. It was an organised week, run by SwimTrek (I have done their Long Distance Training week previously) and I LOVED it.

I’ll write a bit more about over the next few days, but what can be better than a week in warm weather (and warm water), lots of swimming, great food and drink, and lovely people? Not much!

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