Monthly Archives: June 2012

Back to running

Over the last few weeks I’ve felt that I want to get back into running.

I’m not really sure why. The ability to just go off and do it (rather than find somewhere appropriate to swim), is certainly part of the attraction. But, as much as I love swimming, I think it also feels a more natural form of exercise. I mean running is just like walking, but a bit quicker* – I walk all the time, so running is just an extension of that.

I used to run – ages ago I did a couple of marathons (eight years ago to be exact – wow!), then it stopped for a bit and I’ve often nearly, just about, not quite got back into it.

One of the problems I’ve found is that every time I did try to get back into running I would set off on my first run with the “I’ve run marathons don’t you know” attitude. So I’d run far too far, be sore as hell the next day and decide that maybe running wasn’t for me after all – then repeat all over again two weeks later.

In one of my bursts of being a runner I bought a pair of “barefoot” running shoes, inspired by the Born to Run book. I love the idea of them and find myself loving the idea that our ancestors used to run prey to death even more. However, a few weeks after getting the new shoes I got a calf injury – a really deep muscle injury that would flare up again even if everything felt fine again. I’m not saying the two things (barefoot shoes and calf injury) are linked, although there are some people that would argue that they are, but it was certainly a correlation. And more than anything it was bloody annoying.

Then I really got into the swimming.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love swimming, but I think my body is ready for a bit of a change. So I will slowly, but surely aim to get back into the running. While in theory it is easier than swimming (or at least more convenient), as I have to now classify myself as a non-runner I’ll need to retrain my body, so progress will be frustratingly slow to start with, but I’ll give it a go.

The plan will be to get back into things very gently for now, with the plan that once the open-water swimming season is over (mid-September) that I’ll be able to replace much of the swimming training with running for a while.

I think the break and the change will do my body good. I also think that a rest from swimming will make me ready to get back into again (absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that) and then I’ll be able to do a few more drills and specific training sessions with the intention of improving my technique and speed.

So, I’ll be a runner soon!

* I know there’s more to it than that.

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Technological Help

I was lucky enough to be at LeWeb recently to see Runnr.me pitch to the Start-up competition. Runnr.me is an app that, with the help of sensors in your running shoes, helps you to improve your running style and reduce injury.

It’s only in the development stage (you can leave your email address to be notified when the next stages happen), but I thought it was really interesting and it looked great. I was won over. In fact the main comment I made was to see if they could do something similar for swimming.

Well, today I came across this.

Garmin Swim

It’s called the Garmin Swim and that’s exactly what it does – it helps track your training, as well as helping with your technique.

All I’m gonna say is that if anyone wants to buy me a birthday present…

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Oh England!

England has gone out of another major championship at the quarter-final stage and on penalties. There seems to be a pattern forming. Of course one of the main elements of the pattern is that we’re just not good enough and the quarter-finals is, at the moment, our level. Yet still, the performance last night was poor.

Now I know that isn’t really the forum for this (apologies to US readers and swimmers), but in response to another potential Chris Waddle rant, I wanted to outline how I think England could improve. So here’s my Five Point Plan to help England win the World Cup (or at least get a bit better).

Find Roy’s Replacement

I’m not jumping on the sack the manager bandwagon, but what I am saying is that the FA needs to identify the next England manager early – ideally now. Then they need to bring them into the FA system and make them part of Roy’s team. Not part of the first team coaching staff directly, but the head of the Under-21s or similar.

This new / next manager should then be working with the Under-21s in the same way that Roy Hodgson is working with the first team. There should be a continuity in the system – both on and off the pitch.

Then when the time is right the new manager can step up to manage the full team safe in the knowledge that he will know most of the players and that they are all – manager and players – schooled in the same system.

Ignore the World Cup

But when it comes to that system, things need to change. I was impressed with Hodgson’s ability to get the best out of an average group of players. The real test is now to see whether we can get a better group of players together.

This is the big challenge for the FA and one that they need to take seriously and commit to.

To do that means looking long-term. Short-termism got Roy to the quarter-finals, but it has been short-termism over the long-term that means we are no better than a quarter-final team. But to break that short-termism we have to be prepared to do worse than getting to the quarter-finals.

When Steve McLaren failed to get England to the Euros in 2008 it was rightly seen as a failure. It was a failure because we didn’t qualify due to the fact that we had no idea, no plan and we were floundering in the group. However, if we have a long-term plan and we are aiming for beyond Brazil 2014, way beyond that in fact, if we are aiming for a better England team over the next few decades; then to perform badly at the next World Cup, or possibly not even qualify, is not a failure.

The FA needs to have the bottle to ignore the next world Cup in terms of plans and goals – whatever we get is a bonus, but let’s look at the [much] bigger picture.

Juggle Your Balls

The main thing we need to do is to be more comfortable with the ball at our feet. For too long English football has been about things like “passion”, “desire”, “commitment”, “engine”, “big man up front”, “get it in the mixer” – but not about skills. It’s time for that to change.

We need to develop a culture and a generation of players that actually want the ball and do can something with it. I’m not always a big fan of the Spanish tiki-taka style of play, but at least they want to receive the ball, look after it and give it to a teammate – and not just hoof it forward.

I heard Chris Waddle moaning that the English team can’t pass the ball, but it’s more than the pass, it’s the desire to receive. Not only do we need players who are comfortable on the ball, we need to understand how to play without the ball, how to work the space – both to receive the ball and then to pressurize the opposition when we don’t have it. Usually if a pass is made badly it’s because there was no-one in a good position to pass to.

The FA needs to focus on developing young players with these key skills. There are people who know more than me about how to do that (smaller pitches, no eleven-a-side matches for juniors etc etc), but that needs to be the priority and focusing on making that actually happen is worth missing out on the next World Cup.

Get Green

However, to have enough kids to come through the system at all we need to allow them to just play the game (and to be fair any other game) with their mates. But as green spaces disappear it’s getting harder and harder for kids to do that.

The FA needs to implement a system that protects some of the green spaces in our bigger cities. It sounds like a big project, but it’s not much compared to the amount of money in the game as a whole – and without it we won’t have any kids playing football (apart from on computer games) within a couple of generations.

One way maybe to use 5% of the Premier League prize money to fund local purchases, or maybe it could be part of the job of the club’s academies to do this. Alternatively the FA could work with schools to protect local playing fields. But they need to do it.

But one final element is that this can’t be about the clubs buying up land and players. However it is done, it needs to be just about green spaces and kids playing and having fun. Don’t worry, footballers will come from it – and cheap at twice the price too.

Hearts and Minds

The final element to all of this – the hardest bit – is to get the public to agree to it. The culture of football in this country needs to change if we are to be successful and the FA has to be brave enough to do it.

There is precedent for this, over the last twenty years or so football has dramatically reduced the culture of hooliganism and racism that used to pervade the game. That was needed if the sport was ever to survive as an acceptable pastime and become a commercial success. Now if we want to generate some success on the field too we need to change the culture again.

It’s going to be tough, but we have to bite the bullet and make some serious changes.

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Open Water Swimming Advice

I don’t claim to be an expert at open water swimming, but I’m doing more and more of it and trying to follow this advice myself. So if you are planning to get some swimming done in the great outdoors, here are some tips:

Lube up

You’ve probably seen people getting into the channel covered in goose fat – and that’s really important if you are swimming without a wetsuit. I still need to work out what is best to use as insulation and I’m sure I’ll write more here when I do.

However, what most people forget is that even with a wetsuit it’s important to lube up. You don’t need to do it for warmth in the same way, but unless you have a really old, worn suit you’ll need to do it to avoid chaffing. Make sure that you put some Vaseline (or equivalent) around your neck so that as you breathe you don’t rub your neck on the wetsuit. You may want to consider other areas too that will rub – under your arms, your groin etc.

Sighting

Swimming in a pool is easy – the lanes are clearly marked and you’ve also usually got lines in the bottom of most pools. So navigation is pretty easy. That’s not the case in open water, so looking where you are going becomes really important.

If you’re in an event you can usually follow the herd (unless you’re winning) and although you shouldn’t rely on that if you follow the masses you’re not going to go far wrong.

But even to follow you need to be able to see the people in front. If you swim crawl in theory you will rarely look forwards (down and to the side when you breathe – sure; forwards – less so). So sighting is the process of doing just that.

Basically, every 4 strokes or so glance up to check your position relative to where you’re headed. The idea is that you take an elongated breath and so don’t break your rhythm. You may need to do it with a couple of consecutive strokes so that you can see enough.

One good lesson that I was taught is to swim in open water towards a clear target (eg a buoy) and then swim about 10 strokes with your eyes closed. Then stop and see where you are in relation to where you should be – for me I was way over to the left. This means that when I’m swimming I always aim just a little bit to the right if I’m unsure of where I’m going as that usually straightens me up.

Turning

Even when you can see the turning buoys ok, there is still a trick to turning. I don’t mean the roll technique with your stroke (which I’ve never mastered), but two more basic things.

The first is to actually wait until you’re at the buoy before you turn. What many people do when they are first swimming in open water is see the buoy, swim a couple more strokes and then start to turn. What they forget is that you don’t swim as quickly as you run or even walk. If you look up and see the buoy 5 metres away swim a few more strokes and it will still be 3 metres away. Turn only when you’re actually at the buoy.

The second is that in open water swimming there are very few rules about physical contact – what that means is that people are allowed to knock, bash, hold or swim over you. Most people are fine and wouldn’t do this [on purpose], but at a turning buoy is where it is most likely to happen. So just be careful. Or use it as your chance to get your own back!

Enjoy

Having said all that, it is great fun, so enjoy it.

I hope that helps. See you out there.

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What next?

I’ve done my first event, but that’s only the start. Now I need to build up to the big one – swimming Windermere next year.

I thought I’d jot down a few of the thoughts I had as a result of the swim at the weekend.

The first was how much I enjoyed it and how keen I am to keep going. As I’ve mentioned before, my Grandad was one of the founder members of the BLDSA, so as a kid I was dragged round to all of these swims. When we arrived early on Saturday morning I got an incredibly nostalgic whiff of sweaty swimmer, lake and liniment – it sounds terrible, but it felt very welcoming. I also chatted to a few people that knew my Grandad and so have now joined the “club”.

But beyond the enjoyment I also realised what a big undertaking this is. Obviously I need to keep up the training, but it’s a little more than just swimming. My plans are to use this summer to do as much open water swimming as possible – so far I’ve got another 3mile event lined up, as well as a 6mile one and a 5.25mile one. But that only takes me through to the end of July, so I’ll try to do at least a couple more in August.

However, after the summer, or at least once the end of this year and my 1,000kms target is reached (or not) then I need to change my training slightly.

I need to lose a bit of weight, that much is now certain (mainly based on the photos my wife took as I was getting into the water). Subconsciously I’ve chosen an event that requires you to carry a little bit of extra body fat for warmth, but I’m overdoing it a bit at the moment. This isn’t ever going to be a blog about my weight, but as for many people all of the exercise stuff started as a way to get fitter and a bit thinner. I seem to have managed one so far without the other.

I also need to spend some time strengthening my shoulders and upper body. Swimming the crawl is all about upper body strength – in fact you should hardly use your legs at all – so that’s something I need to improve. Obviously the swimming itself will help, but my plan is to use the gym properly to help me with that over the winter.

The final area I want to work on is to improve my speed. As I’ve talked about before it’s going to be a hell of a long swim if I keep to my current speed, so I want to work on that. Currently I’m so keen to put the miles in that I don’t want to be doing sets or focusing on sprint drills, but once winter comes then I want to use the time in the pool to speed up, rather than just swim up and down.

If I can spend the first 3-4 months of next year on those three elements, then I should be in good shape to get back into the open water next spring and work on a plan that will see me complete Windermere by the end of the summer. That’s the plan anyway.

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Proper Swimmer

Today I completed my first proper event – the Budworth Mere swim
Organised by the Warrington Dolphins. There were a number of different events (including a wetsuit event – people would be spinning in their graves). I did the 3 mile event.

Unfortunately it was an overcast day and the weather outside the water was cold. In the water it was lovely though.

I enjoyed the swim and, even if I say so myself, swam really well. I was hoping to finish in under two hours and managed 1hr and 47mins. Perhaps more importantly I loved it and am looking forward to doing more.

So I’m a proper swimmer now!

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I love this photo.

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