Category Archives: Motivation

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).

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Swimming the channel

Taken from my JustGiving page – https://www.justgiving.com/patrickJPRaspire

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Thank you for taking the time to visit my page.

Starting in September I’ll be swimming 22 miles – the equivalent of swimming across the English Channel – to raise money for people who have been paralysed by Spinal Cord Injury.

Every eight hours someone is paralysed by Spinal Cord Injury. It can happen to anyone at any time, and there is currently no cure. Every pound that I raise means that Aspire can provide practical help to a spinal injured person, allowing them to live a more independent life, so please donate as much as you can and help make a difference.

Although I’m a swimmer, this is still a challenge, but to make it ever harder for myself I plan to swim 1 mile per day over 22 days in 22 different local pools. I suspect that this will be a logistics challenge as much as a swimming one.

I’m also working with Aspire to help raise the profile of this event, but will be doing the challenge and hoping to raise money as a regular participant.

I’d be grateful for your support.

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Aspire does great work, so I’d love your support.

But as I mentioned, I’m also working with them to raise the profile of this event to pools and leisure centres. If you want to persuade your local pool to get more involved in the challenge please let me know (you can do it without their direct involvement though – just swim!).

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Half a man

Sorry, that should actually be half an ironman. At least that’s what I hope I’ll be next year.

Team Bear LogoOnline I mix with a right group of nutters and some of them did the Outlaw half ironman this year – as it’s local to me I went to watch it. And although the swim bit is way too short and there’s far too much cycling and running involved it seemed like a fun event and a challenge that I’d like to take on. But you know… one day… not now.

My priorities are and always will be my swimming goals, but I realise that they are actually quite a long way away and the lack of a more immediate ‘big’ goal has seen me drift since the 2swim4life swim.

It’s not just the recent heat that has made me become a bit listless. I had a bit of a reality check the other day and realised that I needed to have a challenge, to start training again (for my mental wellbeing as much as physical), and lose that bit of weight that has started creeping back on. So I pre-registered for next year’s Outlaw half ironman.

That doesn’t mean that I’ve committed to it, but after more conversations with the aforementioned nutters, it my own mind I have committed.

Of course I have some worries:

– That I am as rubbish at cycling and running as I fear
– That it’ll break me for future swimming
– That I’m just doing this to distract me from my current single status, but it will actually restrict me from ever being not single – you know: “That was a lovely date, when can we do it again?” “Well, I have a gap in my training schedule in 12 weeks time.”
– That real life and work reasons will get in the way and I’ll be undercooked by event time – I’m not sure I have enough time to do all the swim training I want to do
– That it’ll get addictively expensive – have you seen some of those tri bikes?
– That I’ll just be the rubbish fat bloke at the back of the field

I’m pretty sure the nutters will help me with some of these fears. I think a bit more training will help me to overcome some of the others and well, who knows.

So, when the email comes through for registration it looks like I’ll be signing up.

*Gulp*

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A Change of Pace

I’m a big fan of the Team Bear ethos of “Suffer, but never surrender”. In fact I like nothing more than being the first into the lake and the last out, or pushing myself so that I can hardly breathe at the end of a sprint session in the pool, or using the weights and feeling an ache the next day in places that you didn’t realise you had, or doing a cardio session and almost literally having to wring your t-shirt dry afterwards. I love all that.

But I’m not sure I can do that anymore. Or at least not right now.

Let’s face it, I’m not getting any younger (none of us are, sorry to break that to you) and how I have adopted the suffer but never surrender mentality up until this point is to think that unless I’m suffering, then it’s not worth it. So, if I can’t run 10k, then why run? Or if I can’t swim at least a 3k pyramid session, is there any point going to the pool at all?

It’s that attitude [of mine] that has to change. Because it leads to one of two things: 1) not doing anything – “I’ll only manage a short swim, so why bother” or “the pool will be full and I won’t be able to do a proper set, so I just won’t go”; or 2) breaking myself. And the two are usually linked, as I break myself when I push too hard after not doing anything for a while: “I can do this, I’ve done it before, so what that I’ve not done it for three months… OUCH!”

Instead of suffering, for the next few months I want to just enjoy moving around. I’ve not got any big events planned this year, so no reason to suffer, and my previous mentality might have seen me become a bit of a couch potato. Instead I just want to be more active. It doesn’t have to be big and macho, but a gentle bit of exercise to counter balance all the sitting around I do for work.

Last night’s run was the perfect example. A nice 20 minute jog around a lovely village (I’m lucky to live somewhere beautiful) on a lovely evening – and all while my tea was cooking.

So from now on my plan is to take the chance to be active as much as possible and to ignore [some of the] goals and targets and just enjoy it. So more walking, more running, more gentle weights sessions at home and more quick dips in the pool and lake.

Of course it won’t last forever and at the back of my mind is the thought that I’m probably not all that fit at the moment. Instead of being fit I have trained my body to be able to perform one particular task – and even then I’ve broken it slightly as I’ve had a shoulder injury for the past week that will keep me away from swimming until at least the weekend. So a slightly more wholistic approach might improve my general fitness and put me in a much better position to be able to suffer in the future.

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It’s back…

Last week I’d lost my swimming mojo. In the comments of my post Bryn suggested that I’d find it in Colwick Park (today’s BLDSA swim).

I’m somewhat reluctant to admit that he was right!

I wasn’t sure about today’s swim at all. After 2swim4life it took me two weeks to feel fully recovered, in fact it wasn’t until yesterday morning that I felt I was back. I still wasn’t convinced that I’d swim today, but I packed my swimming kit last night and we woke up to a beautiful day today, so what the hell…

Getting in was chilly. So I still wasn’t sure… But Bryn was right, if a little ambitious. It wasn’t lap two, but as lap three started I realised that I was actually enjoying it.

I’m not planning a major swimming season this year, but it’s good to feel like I’m ready to go an enjoy the swims.

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If found, please return to…

I’ve lost my swimming mojo. If you find it can you let me know?

I don’t think I realised quite how much pressure I’d put on myself for the 2swim4life event. It was obviously a lot more important to me than even I was aware of going into it. It was certainly (by a LONG way) the biggest [swimming] challenge I have ever undertaken and I knew it would be a great marker for other challenges that I want to take on in the future.

However, now it’s over and now all that adrenaline and training and pressure have been released, well… I can’t quite motivate myself for anything else.

And you know what? I’m not going to beat myself up for that. I’m going to allow myself a couple of weeks off. It may mean a DNS at my next event (but better that than a DNF), but there’s no point going through the motions only to find this “meh” feeling lasts longer. Instead I’ll wait until I really want to get back into the water. I’m sure it won’t be long, but one thing’s for sure: it’s not happened quite yet.

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Next Stop Guildford

This weekend I will be spending a bit of time swimming – in fact almost 24 hours!

The time has finally come round for the 2swim4life event down in Guildford. Starting at 9:30am on Saturday morning I will be swimming one mile every hour for 24 miles / hours, so all being well I will set off at 8:30am on Sunday morning for my final hour. It’s fair to say that the current mood is a mixture of excitement and nerves.

Continue reading

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Swim hats

I’ve banged on about this often enough now, but I’m swimming the 2swim4life event in a few weeks time. If you’ve never read this blog before then it’s a mile swim on the hour, every hour, for 24 hours.

I’ve been trying to pull together everything I need for the event. I managed to borrow a tent. I’ve bought new trunks and goggles. I’m thinking about the feeding routine and preparing myself for that. I’m even planning to pack pain killers and caffeine tablets as well, just in case.

The only thing that is left on the list are my swimming hats.

Swim hat collectionAs you can see in this picture, I’ve got a few already – mainly from my BLDSA swims over the course of the last couple of years, as well as Swimtrek, SwimCanaryWharf and Team Bear (not in the photo).

I see this swim as a chance to remember / promote / pay homage to people, swims and institutions that have helped me over the last few years – I will also hopefully be able to draw strength from them as I face the inevitable lows. But not only to the people that have helped me – to any swimming inspiration.

I’ll be doing 24 separate swims, so I’d love to have 24 different hats and wear them each for specific miles.

If you have a particular hat that you’d like to lend me (I’m happy to return them), and a particular mile that you’d like me to wear it for (with a story as to why), then get in touch. I’ve got specific plans for miles 23 and 24, but other than that you can ‘have’ any mile you like.

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A right fat git

BLDSA dinner

BLDSA dinner

I’ve had a few people recently tell me that I look like I’ve lost weight. In particular after I posted this photo online. And while that’s nice to hear, my immediate response is “maybe, but not enough.” And then I think it over a bit more, realise that I’m still nowhere near what I want to look like / weigh and just assume that I must have been a right fat git before if people think that this is better.

It’s funny how we react to things like this isn’t it? I’m the same when anyone tells me that my swimming is better / faster, it’s nice to hear but I react with a combination of not quite believing it and seeing just how much more improvement there is still to make.

I’ve been meaning to post this for a couple of weeks and then on the Facebook page of Team Bear someone posted a link to a great article by Chrissie Wellington about Beating Body Confidence Issues. Then we started discussing it in the group.

In the article itself a couple of lines jumped out at me:

“…really, our bodies are not the external form, but the internal – muscles, bones, blood, tendons and, of course, the mind… Our focus should be less on what our bodies look like, and more on what we can do with them each and every day.”

“Whether or not we have a spare few pounds around our waist shouldn’t define us, or our emotions. So please – be kind to yourself.”

And then the Facebook discussion yielded some excellent insight:

People make the mistake of judging by physical appearance.

“The godlike men and women at the lake turned out to be relatively normal and very nice people.”

I get far more inspiration from reading running and triathlon blogs from the average people that you describe, who are fighting similar battles to me, rather than the fitness models and the professionals that are on another level.

It’s interesting to learn that some of you have those negative images that I would look at and think I wish I looked more like that.

So here’s my attempt to say something clever about it all.

I can’t say what things are like from a girl’s / woman’s perspective, but I think that body confidence issues are ones that most people (regardless of sex) suffer from. The media is particularly cruel to women, but is rarely positive about any ‘normal’ shape. I know that I always had issues throughout my younger life and still do now. The difference now is that while those issues are still there, they aren’t anywhere near as important as some of the other issues – some which are genuine life stuff (work, family, money etc) and some which are training related (I’m more concerned about my swimming times than my waistline).

I like the sentiment that my body should be defined by what it can do, rather than what it looks like. And I’m very proud of some of the things that it has done – that doesn’t stop me wanting to be slimmer too.

For many people a very positive step to having a better body image (both a better body, and a better image about it) is to take part in sport and to realise just what your body can do with a little bit of pushing / training / effort.

However, it can also be very intimidating to get involved initially. And unfortunately sometimes articles like this one by Chrissie can be part of the problem.

For any competitive person (me included) you are always comparing yourself to people better than you. I’m the same with my swimming as I am with my weight. I know, deep down, that I am both a much better swimmer and a much fitter person (and I can even admit to being a bit slimmer too) than I was when I started all of this three years ago. However, at every stage I am comparing myself to those that are one step ahead of me – those swimmers who are still faster than me, those blokes at the gym who are slimmer than me. The fact that it is now different people (and I am faster / slimmer than the people I was originally comparing myself to) doesn’t really register in the dark, negative recesses of my brain that seem to take over my thought patterns in times of self-doubt.

As an aside on this, I do it all the time with my swimming. If I mention swimming Windermere to people most are amazed at the feat. However all I do is compare myself to the Channel swimmers I know and think that I haven’t even done (literally) half of what they’ve achieved.

The problem then becomes that we become the people that newbies are looking up to. I can’t quite believe this emotionally, but I can accept it rationally, but there are people out there who are wishing they could swim as fast as me and are wishing they had my body shape. And yet all I do is moan that I’m not like the people over there. How disheartening must that feel to newbies?

And the answer – I don’t claim to know how to solve this for everyone, but a little bit more love wouldn’t hurt.

Love of yourself. Take Chrissie’s words to heart – it’s about what your body can do. And don’t forget to celebrate those achievements. When people tell you that a particular thing you did (sporting or otherwise) was amazing then try to believe them, try to feel amazing, even if only for a few minutes. Cos, you are amazing!

Love of our kids, friends, teammates. Tell them all how amazing they are. Don’t tell them that they look amazing, tell them that they are amazing. The looks bit isn’t important, the being bit is.

And even love of strangers / celebrities. You know what, let’s not buy the mags or click on the links that tell us about “the shocking cellulite” of an actress that plays that character who’s name we don’t even know in Emmerdale. Who cares? We shouldn’t. She shouldn’t.

And if we just try to love ourselves and everyone else a little bit more, maybe we can all be a bit less concerned with how we look.

*Right off to weigh myself to see how many calories typing this has used up!*

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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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