Monthly Archives: September 2012

10 Swimming Questions

I saw a version of this post on the Fit for a year blog and I thought I’d blatantly steal it. As part of the stealing I’ve adapted it as well as the original post was about running.

Anyway, here are 10 questions and answers about swimming:

  1. What was your most memorable swim? Although in many ways it should be Windermere it’s actually Coniston earlier in the season. That was the swim that made me realise that I could do this and it persuaded me to enter the Windermere swim.
  2. Three words that describe my swimming. Slow, steady, surprising.
  3. What swimming kit do you use? Trunks, a hat and some goggles. That’s it. And certainly no wetsuit.
  4. Do you have any quirky habits while swimming? Not that I know of, but outside observers may say more about this. I’m always surprised at just how blank my mind goes as I plod along.
  5. When do you swim, morning, midday or evening? The training lake is only open Saturday and Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings, so that determines a lot. If I go to the pool, then mainly evenings.
  6. Does the weather stop you swimming? I’ve stopped the open-water swimming for now (although they are thinking of setting up some winter swims at the training lake so I’m looking forward to those – and I’ll probably wear a wetsuit for them!) Of course the weather doesn’t affect pool swimming!
  7. Have you had a swimming injury? While swimming Bala my shoulders were very, very painful. However since then I did quite a lot of upper body strength work. You may not see the difference, but it made a big difference to my shoulders while swimming.
  8. I felt most like a badass swimmer when … to be honest I’m still not sure that I do, but completing Windermere felt pretty good. It’s mainly the fact that so few people have done it.
  9. My next race is … not sure yet, I need to work out my plans for next year and events have stopped for this year.
  10. Swimming goals for 2013. To work on my speed. A lot of that will come from strength work and improving technique, so those two are important too. I want to beat my times for Bala and Coniston and maybe attempt Ullswater – but I’m not sure I’ll do Windermere next year.

So that’s me. What about you?

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My Ex on Facebook

I know that this is a scary topic for many – the power of Facebook to allow us to stalk our exes, or even worse be stalked upon ourselves. Well, sorry to disappoint, but this post isn’t about that.

Instead it’s about the fact that thanks to Facebook I have a really good relationship with an ex of mine.

Of course many years have passed since we became exes and we’re both married with kids now and happily living our own lives. But without Facebook we would have completely drifted apart, never to speak again. Yet when you look at it, for a while at least, we were really good friends, as well as all the other stuff. It would be a shame if that friendship had been totally lost.

With Facebook we can send messages and comment on each other’s updates just like any other friend would do. In this way we know what is happening in the other’s life and we can be supportive and friendly in a really mature fashion – I know, I’m surprised too. We can also check out photos and see how much weight they’ve added, or how grey they’ve become (lots and very for me – much less and hardly at all for her dammit).

I’m not naive enough to think that this is a perfect post-relationship relationship and I’m sure that if we saw each other every day then it might be difficult to smile at the new partner and laugh at their child’s amusing stories. But Facebook allows us to ignore all of that.

This was sparked by a particular comment that was left for me on Facebook recently and it just made me smile and be grateful for the friendship – so thanks Angie and let’s stay in touch.

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The internet doesn’t make us freeloaders

I read this post by @flashboy and I was moved to reply – and by reply I mean agree with him, but using different words.

His post outlines his disagreement with Caitlin Moran’s most recent article. In her article Moran explains why she thinks that the internet is turning us into freeloaders. I haven’t read Moran’s article, so I can’t comment on it directly, but I did read flashboy’s and I think it is excellent. So I’m going to ramble on about some of the thoughts I was having while reading it.

The first thought is about how much it annoys me when people moan about the internet with reference to an old and old-fashioned business model. The most common industry that people talk about when trying to highlight the nasty the way the internet has ruined everything is the music industry. The poor, poor music industry executives seem to have been bullied and had their dinner money stolen by the big, bad, mean internet, or so this particular narrative goes. Well sorry, but that’s bollocks.

I’m no expert on the music industry (or as anyone who has seen my cd collection or heard me sing would testify, on music itself), but the industry only exists to make money from music. Firstly, it is not music, it’s just an industry attached to music, so the art of music is not affected. Secondly, it has made plenty of money over the years. Thirdly, it still makes lots of money as an industry even if record sales have fallen. And fourthly, so what if the industry changes or dies – that’s what happens.

I also don’t believe what appears to be the crux of Moran’s article – that people don’t pay for things now the internet is here. It’s certainly true that the “freemium” model has grown dramatically in recent years and that this model is more prevalent online. But that doesn’t mean that nobody pays for things, or that we are all now pirates.

I think flashboy sums it up well:

“I am a huge, huge fan of people who create things earning a living from it. I am also a huge, huge fan of giving my money to people who create things I like, or to the corporations that enable them to create.”

I think most of us hold that view. However, industries do need to watch and understand their audiences. It is true that content is now easier to find for free and that many people have got used to doing just that – however, this is just the online version of swapping cds, or recording music from the radio. In fact, when I was a kid (and that’s a long time BEFORE the internet) nearly all of the music I had was free. But that was because I couldn’t afford it any other way – yet as soon as I could I stocked my shelves full of paid for vinyl, then tapes and now cds and I’ve filled numerous devices with digital files of music – in many cases owning (and paying for) music on all formats. So the fact that people get something for free doesn’t mean that an industry is irrevocably damaged. Instead what it should point to is the fact that this particular industry seems to have had its head stuck in the sand for far too long and no longer knows and serves its customers properly.

An industry that doesn’t serve its customers properly is doomed to die – internet or not.

Finally, the thing that caught my attention and got me a little hot under the collar is the assumption that we have got worse morally. This is a line that is trotted out in lots of different guises (“I remember when you could leave your back door open..”) and in nearly every case doesn’t bear scrutiny. Numbers go up and down and new opportunities arise for nefarious individuals, but overall, the moral compass doesn’t go down (or up), but instead turns in a different direction as we consider different things to be more or less “bad”.

Thirty years ago drink driving was something everybody did after a night out – how else would you get home? Now, thankfully, it’s very much taboo. We now believe that it’s more acceptable to download content for free (although I still don’t think it’s much greater than me taping from the radio), but that doesn’t mean we are morally weaker – and it certainly doesn’t mean that the internet has caused it.

With some cases of the supposed weakening of the moral compass the internet has merely made it more visible – the Twitter abuse cases are examples of this. Previously people made stupid, insulting, racist etc comments in pubs to their friends; now they do it on Twitter. It doesn’t mean people are more stupid, insulting or racist – just that their comments are more visible. And possibly more visible to columnists and commentators who may not experience that in their daily lives, but now can on the internet.

Anyway, rant over – read the article by flashboy cos it’s better.

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Shifting the focus

Now that the Windermere swim has been achieved a year early I’ve decided to change the focus of the blog slightly. Here’s the update I’ve added to the About page:

So, surprisingly I managed to complete the Windermere swim this year (you can see the report here and a wider summary here). Obviously that kind of defeats the point of this blog. However, I’ve decided that I like writing it and I’m going to keep it going. I’ve still got the 1,000kms challenge to complete if I can, but I’ve also got more to say.

So the focus of the blog will shift slightly, although the main focus will still be on swimming and exercise, I’ll also use this as a place to waffle on about other stuff as well.

I hope you enjoy and please feel free to comment.

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Next steps for the BLDSA

I’ve been a member of the BLDSA for a year now, so I thought I’d give my views on how it’s gone for me. No-one has asked me for this, but that’s never stopped me from expressing an opinion before.

This post is coming from two very different angles. As I’ve mentioned before my Grandad was a founder member of the BLDSA and my parents were heavily involved for a number of years. So when I was younger (30+ years ago) I spent a lot of weekends travelling to swims and watching the events from the sidelines. However, this year I joined the association as a complete novice. I wasn’t a member of a local club and I had done no open water swimming to speak of before.

I’ll focus on the recent experiences and try not to look back with rose-tinted glasses, but that may be easier said than done.

The first thing to say is how welcoming everyone has been. It has helped that some people still remember my Grandad fondly and that there are still some connections to the association, however it’s been more than that. The people involved have warmly welcomed anyone else willing to genuinely get involved. The fact that I’ve got in and given it a really good go has been enough for most people to welcome me into the club and provide help and moral support wherever they can. For that I’m very grateful.

However, there are one or two areas that I think the association can be more helpful to first-timers. I suspect that for those immersed in the culture of long-distance swimming these points no longer need a second thought, but they do for first-timers and can reduce the number of people wanting to get involved.

A selection of kit required.

The first is the kit involved. In theory it’s very simple – a pair of trunks (or costume) and a hat – easy. However, as soon as you enter a swim that needs a boat to be with you the requirements increase dramatically: a whistle; a compass; a dry bag; but perhaps most onerous – a flag alpha. This blue and white flag is the signal to other lake users that the boat has a swimmer nearby – and is very important from a safety point of view. But as a newcomer, what is a flag alpha and where the hell do you get one from? Maybe the BLDSA should offer a starter bag that all new members can buy – a dry bag containing all the above items. Suddenly the hassle is taken away and we won’t have to try to have home-made versions (as we did for one swim).

Of course the next area is the boat itself. Kayakers (and rowing boat crew) are vital safety components for the swims, but as a first-timer I didn’t know anyone that could kayak. I didn’t have the support network of a club (the BLDSA is my swimming club), so I couldn’t ask around there. Yet upon further inspection there are many people willing and able to do this vital task. I would like to suggest to the BLDSA that it runs a list of such people, it doesn’t have to be an endorsement of them, but it can at least offer some names and numbers to get a newbie started.

That said, there won’t be many more newcomers that come in and enter if the website isn’t improved (have a look here – but be warned!). Without wishing to insult anyone – it’s terrible! Nowadays it must be easy enough to get something that looks a bit more modern and inviting and doesn’t hurt people’s eyes as they enter. I’d even be willing to manage the project myself if people were willing.

All of this leads to a general point about the stature of open water swimming and the role of the BLDSA within that. I would suspect that open water swimming has never been so popular that it is right now. While most of it is in wetsuits (which is against the purist nature of the BLDSA), there are thousands of people getting into lakes and rivers every weekend during the summer. The BLDSA should be at the forefront of that and leading the movement, yet no-one I speak to has ever heard of it. No doubt, like much of what I do at work, this is down to a combination of missing a strong message and ethos for the association, as well as finding the opportunities to speak and enter the national debate. It’s something that Joshua PR would be willing to do on a pro-bono basis if the desire was there.

The final area is me harking back to the “good old days”, but I suppose that was bound to happen – it’s about the fact that there are no “personalities” involved any more (or at least not many). Now there are probably a number of reasons for this, not least the fact that when I was traipsing round the events as a kid most of the founder members were still involved – you’ve got to be a bit of a nutter to want to form an association like this in the first place, but that came across in the best way possible (at least for me) during the events themselves. Of course it may be a generational thing and I may just have missed the people this year, but in my opinion it needs a few more people that can hold the attention of a crowd (swimmers or not) and can welcome, put at ease, relax and inform a newcomer with just a few words. It’s not easy and it can’t be forced, but it would be great if they were there.

But apart from all that, and I mean this sincerely, I’ve really enjoyed this year and I’m looking forward to next year – although maybe without a Windermere swim at the end of it.

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I’ve swum Windermere

I often struggle to celebrate my own successes – and I’m sure I’m not the only one like that – but over the last two weeks since the Windermere swim I’ve tried to look back on it and allow myself a smile or two.

The thing is, people were congratulating me for the swim itself which just felt wrong to me. It was tough, but once I’d got in and got going I knew there was no way I wasn’t going to finish. So it seems strange to be congratulated for something that was self-evidently going to happen.

But as I’ve thought about, what I have allowed myself to be pleased about is not completing the swim, but that fact I got myself to start able to complete it. My very first post on this blog was on April 23rd this year – and that is when I committed to the plan of swimming Windermere. However what I was committing to was swimming it next year! My very first outdoor swim of the year was on May 13th – and that was in a wetsuit! And then on June 2nd I did my first proper event – a 3 mile swim in Budworth Mere – and I thought that was a long way at the time.

So in just over 4 months I’ve gone from deciding to do it; in 3 months I’ve gone from swimming 3 miles and being delighted with that – to now, swimming 10.5 miles.

That’s what I’m most pleased about.

I said as I was getting in, what gave me the confidence to set off was knowing that I’d done everything I could to prepare for it – I would have liked to do more, but for me I did the maximum possible. I knew that if I didn’t complete the swim, then I could hold my head up and be proud anyway. That’s what I’m most pleased about.

All the Olympics stuff this summer has seen a narrative of “If you want something enough, then you can win the gold.” To be honest, much of that is bollocks. It should be: if you’re talented enough, lucky enough to have the opportunities and you want it enough, then you can [win Olympic gold / the Tour de France / US Open etc].

But what is true is that to achieve anything worthwhile (Olympic gold, or coming last at Windermere) takes a lot of effort. Well, I know that I put the effort in and that’s what I’m most pleased about.

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Live Tweeting … sort of

Just a quick note to say thanks if you followed the “live” tweeting I did on Saturday and apologies if it confused anyone.

What I was actually doing was tweeting as if live, 14 days after the swim. However, all the timings and thoughts were accurate from the swim although I didn’t actually tweet while swimming. I tweet a lot, but not that much!

The main reason for doing was to try and explain the scope of the swim. For many people they might have seen a tweet of mine in the morning then gone out and spent their Saturday doing whatever it is they do on a Saturday. Later in the afternoon checking Twitter again they would have realised that the idiot was still swimming!

If you want to catch up with the tweets, they are under the hashtag #1000kms, although I’m not sure how long you’ll be able to view them. And if you want to follow me on Twitter I’m @PatrickJPR.

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Not Feeling Well

I’ve been pretty ill for the last week and it’s really frustrating. Although the big swim is done, I still want to complete the 1,000kms challenge and to do that I need to be exercising. On top of that I’d signed up for a triathlon for next weekend to keep me motivated and give me something to aim for after the swim.

Now I’m going to have to cancel the triathlon and I haven’t done any proper exercise since Windermere.

I’m pretty sure that the illness isn’t related to the swim (ie it’s not something I drank), but the timing is possibly linked – after the swim while I was at my most physically run-down it’s not surprising that I’ve picked up a bug and caught it more severely that perhaps I would normally have done.

The only thing to do is to wait it out and make sure I’m better before I start again, but still… GRRR!

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Windermere Report

It’s taken me a while to do this partly because there’s almost too much to say and yet too little – all I did was a bit (okay, a lot) of swimming. And also partly because I probably won’t write it as well as this post.

But I’m going to bite the bullet and do it. The pretentious “too much to say” stuff I’ll leave for another post and instead I’ll write about the day as it happened.

The Day Before

It all started quite relaxed with a leisurely drive up to the lake district on the Friday afternoon. I had a few friends and family coming along (most with rowing or childcare duties), so I was able to relax and be driven, which meant it was even more relaxing for me. We also got chance to go to Fell Foot and see the start which helped to settle the nerves, letting me know what to expect for the morning.

We were staying just near the water at Bowness in a pub and we just found that and after a quick walk to look at the water again in Bowness it was time for lasagne and chips for tea. I was sharing a room with Joshua, my 6-year old son (my wife had to be away in Germany for the weekend), so I took him to bed and settled down myself, although I didn’t get a lot of sleep. It wasn’t terrible, but not quite what I was hoping for and the 6am alarm felt a little too early.

Swim Day

But here it was, swim day, so I got up and got on with it. I wanted to give myself plenty of time to stretch and get all my food (including making some jam sandwiches) ready. At 7:20am I dropped Joshua off with his baby-sitter for the day (my cousin’s husband) and we set off back down to Fell Foot. It’s funny though, as I said goodbye to Joshua I couldn’t stop crying. I knew it wasn’t “goodbye” and that I would be safe, but I felt really emotional and I sniffled for the next 15 minutes or so.

As I said it was a real family affair, as swimming as well as me was my cousin Sonny and we had a load of family members in our boats. I had my uncle Graham, my Grandad‘s eldest son,  and his wife Margaret – herself a very good long-distance swimmer and the person who persuaded me to enter this year’s event – in my boat, along with a friend of theirs. Sonny had his mum Veronica (or Ron), my uncle Tony (Ron & Graham’s brother) and Tony’s daughter Alison. I hope you’re following all that, there’ll be a test at the end!

Anyway – we all met up at Fell Foot and did all the family hugging, wishing of good luck and then hanging around a lot and slightly getting on each other’s nerves – it was like Xmas!

The wait did seem a long time at the start and while there was stuff to do (check the boats, buy tea for the flask, organise the food bag again, strip off to our swimming kit, have the safety briefing etc) there was also some time with not much to do. I was quiet during most of this – not nervous exactly, but certainly thinking about the task in hand.

I was as confident as I could be. I knew I’d done all the training I could have managed in the time I had, I also knew that I’d been in similar situations (running a couple of marathons) and I’d survived. So it wasn’t nerves, more a healthy respect for the task at hand.

And They’re Off

But then it was time to go. We’d been told the water was about 17 degrees, it felt colder getting in of course. But once we’d all managed that, at 9:22am we were on our way.

Swimming with rowing boat

The first thing we had to do was swim around the corner to where the boats were and then as the swimmers our job was just to stay with the boat – they guided us down the lake and got us to the end. And this is the point to say a great big thank you to my crew for that. They had to sit there for 8 hours while I plodded down the course and they did an amazing job. As I’ve said before, we swimmers couldn’t do this without the willingness of the kayakers and rowers to support us and in Windermere this is even more important. So a massive thank you to Graham, Margaret and Stuart for their support during Windermere and another thanks to Jon for Bala and Lucy for Coniston.

From that point on it was just the swimming that needed to be done. Pretty quickly I could tell I was last as there were 3 safety boats that sped up and down the lake checking on the swimmers. Well every time they got to me they would chat to the boat crew for a minute and then turn round and set off back up the lake – obviously there was no-one behind me to check on.

I can’t remember too much about the swimming itself. I just got on with it. And without my glasses on and with only ever breathing to one side I don’t see much of the scenery either. The weather held, but I just swam … and swam.

Half-way

After 3 hours and 43 minutes we crossed what is nominally known as the halfway point which is the ferry that crosses over the lake just south of Belle Isle. We were on the western side of the lake by now and so swam behind Belle Isle and found a spot to allow me to get a bite to eat. I’m not very good feeding on the go and I wanted to make sure that I got enough food inside to keep my energy levels up.

We stopped in the area known as the Lillies and I had a jam sandwich, a piece of flapjack and a couple of mouthfuls of tea. Even while feeding though, I had to be careful not to touch the boat and once finished I made sure I walked backwards a few paces so no advantage had been gained. We set off after “lunch” at 1:45pm, or 4 hours and 23 minutes after the start.

It was around this time that we realised that Sonny had got out – he just wasn’t enjoying it and after over 5 miles of swimming decided that he didn’t fancy another 5 miles. However, I was feeling pretty good at this point and I noted 5 hours to myself as the longest I’d ever swim and almost certainly the furthest too.

Nearly There …

The first hour or so after lunch was good and I swam strongly, but soon it started to catch up with me. After about 6 hours I could really feel it and it became a real battle of willpower with myself. I was confident I would complete it, but I needed to keep reminding myself of that fact. I didn’t have the same searing pain as at Bala – and that in itself was a huge confidence boost as it meant that my training had been effective – but it did hurt and I had to dig deep to keep going.

At the start I’d written “S & J” on my hand (Sylvia and Joshua) and this was the time that I needed to keep seeing that to help me to keep going. The other thing that was keeping me going was seeing Joshua at the finish.

And then we could see the finish. It was still probably about a mile and a half away, but we could see it and it got a little bit easier for a while. At this point we had to cross back over the lake from the western edge to Waterhead in the north-east corner and I got my head down and tried to do just that.

As we were crossing one of the safety boats came up behind us and I heard them shout out “two thirds of a mile to go.” It was a great thing to hear as I knew I’d finish then – there was no way I wouldn’t complete it. But strangely that knowledge also took all the “fight” out of me and for a while it felt as if I wasn’t moving forward at all. Clearly I was, because soon my boat was waving at me to dig in for the last few hundred metres to the finish.

To finish you have swim past the short piers at Waterhead and turn into the beach, with the finish in line with the end of the last pier. I only breathe to my left and the piers and the beach were to my right, so I couldn’t see them at all. All I could see was my boat and Margaret urging me on and I just followed the boat, turning when it did and begging for the whistle to blow to tell me I’d done it.

And then it did and I had.

Finished

I looked up at the beach and there was a big crowd of people cheering – not only all of my family, but many other swimmers and the race officials, although I’m sure many of them were just cheering because it meant that they could pack up and go inside to get warm! All I did was look to see Joshua and give him a wave, it’s all I cared about at the time. Then someone came in to help me up the beach and I was out and had a Union Jack put around me. It felt a bit surreal, so the only thing I could think to do was the Mo-bot!

The Mo-bot, with Joshua

Hugs and handshakes were exchanged in equal measure and as I was just coming to terms with it all (and getting used to being vertical again after nearly 8 hours of being horizontal) a woman came up to me. She was clearly just a passing tourist or local (i.e. not part of the swimming crowd) and she said she’d heard what I’d done and though it was “bloody marvelous” or words to that effect – it was very touching.

All that was left to do now was to get dry and warm. Fortunately it was quite a mild day, so it wasn’t too hard to do both. And then that was that.

I had swum the length of Windermere in 7 hours, 42 minutes and 36 seconds.

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Windermere Report … Soon

I promise it’s coming soon.

It’s just .. well it’s probably going to be quite a long post and to be honest I’m being a bit lazy. But I’ll aim to get it done by the end of the week. Although I’m not sure what I’ll say – there was some water … and then more water … and then 7 hours of water … then I finished. I’ll try to spice it up a bit.

I’m also thinking of “live tweeting” it this Saturday – i.e. tweeting as if live the whole swim using the hashtag #1000kms.

If you think that’s a terrible idea let me know in the comments, otherwise, look out for it on Twitter this Saturday.

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