Tag Archives: Bala

Swimming Season Over

At least it is for me.

I’ve been injured for the last eight weeks or so and although it’s slowly getting better it’s a long way from fixed. Tonight I finally bit the bullet and cancelled my entries to the BLDSA’s Bala swim. I also withdrew from my place in a Channel Relay team.

The Bala swims were to be one of my training weekends for Windermere – the plan was to use events as long distance training opportunities. Without Bala I’m not going to be able to train enough for Windermere, so that’s out for this year.



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Coniston was better. Better than Bala at least – better from a kayaking perspective.

Coniston has always been my favourite BLDSA swim – it seems to wholly embrace the amateur element of the association, yet is set in such a beautiful location that you can’t help but be awestruck by it. It was while swimming it last year that I realised that I wanted to see it all from a different perspective – to get a wider appreciation for it all. That’s why I decided to kayak.

I’d actually made the decision to kayak before I’d found a swimmer who needed one. So while I was being coached by Ray over the winter I relayed this to him and persuaded him to swim the event. Then at the BLDSA dinner, late into the evening after much alcohol had taken effect I promised to kayak for Jo for the veterans’ event too (not that Jo looks like she should be anywhere near the veterans event!).

So I had a full weekend planned. And after the previous weekend I was very nervous.

I drove upon the Friday afternoon and had packed a little picnic and a pint for me to have in my room in the BnB so that I could catch up on some work – and despite some dodgy wi-fi that plan worked well. The Saturday morning it was time the briefing for the veterans’ event and the shuffle up the lake for swimmers and kayakers.

Coniston is a strange lake for swimming in that there is nowhere to set up camp at either the beginning or end of the lake. So we set up at the wonderfully welcoming Bluebird café which is about 1 mile from the end of the lake.

The full swim starts at Water Park at the north end of the lake, however it is private land at while they generously allow us access to the water, we don’t have permission to park and leave cars there (there wouldn’t be room for them all anyway). While the finish of the swim is at the point the lake finishes to the south, but is a little beach (no more than 6 feet in depth), with a little car park and a road immediately next to the beach. Given all of this the shuffle of swimmers, kayakers and kayaks to the start and from the finish is a mammoth task.

The veterans’ swim is a little shorter than the full one (at 3 ¼ miles instead of 5 ¼ miles), so the start is actually not as far up the lake as Water Park and the finish is back at the Bluebird café. This makes the shuffling a bit easier, but only a bit.

The plan originally was for me to kayak up to the start. This would have given me a bit of chance to regain my confidence and would also have provided a bit of a work out too. It was blowy, but nowhere near as tough as in Bala the previous weekend. However, although the kayak was there for me to take, the buoyancy aid and spray deck weren’t, so I couldn’t paddle it. I have to say I was a bit relieved.

So we got to the start and ready to set off. As the name suggests the veterans’ event attracts the associations older members (I have to be careful what I say here as I’ll qualify very soon) and some of them are not as speedy as they used to be, so there is a staggered start to allow everyone to finish roughly together. Jo was one of the speedier ones, so we started in the last group.

Despite my nerves (and Jo’s last minute scramble for her hat and goggles – which she didn’t find and had to borrow from someone else) all started well.

I had been joined by the spare kayaker and in the end we were either side of Jo providing synchronised support and being the living embodiment of the expression “a rose between two thorns.”

A couple of times I wanted to tell him that I was fine and he didn’t need to ‘babysit’ me. But I didn’t. After my inability to properly escort my swimmer on my last outing as a kayaker I realised that consciously or not I was being looked after and that it was not about my ego, but about swimmer safety. So I shut up and the three of us made serene progress.

Until about 30 minutes in, “SHIIIIIIIITTTT!” came a sudden yell from Jo in the water.

I frantically back paddled and shouted out to her, “are you okay?” It turned out that she was fine, the mobile phone she was fishing out of her swimsuit was less fine! In the confusion at the start she had forgotten to take it out of her costume – storing it there for safe keeping once she gets changed ready to swim. Oops!

The rest of the swim passed without incident, although given the staggered start we managed to pass a few people. And then the Bluebird was in sight and we reached the end.

Jo is a joy to be around on these swimming weekends and she clearly loves her swimming. At the end of every swim she lets out a yell and a laugh and proclaims how much she “bloody loved it.” This swim was no different and it was a real honour to provide support for it.

Cups of tea, a quick dip in the lake myself, certificates, rounds of applause and then back to the BnB for a shower and change. Out for dinner and a few pints, with more swimming chat and back to bed ready for Sunday.

Sunday was a different proposition and although kayaking for Jo had calmed my nerves, they hadn’t got rid of them completely. I had asked Ray to swim this event so that I could kayak. He had come all the way up from London just for this – and although he was clearly looking forward to it, there was more riding on it for him than there had been for Jo. Also he was speedier. He was as quick as Rach and I’d failed to keep up with her the week before.

Fortunately all the shuffling at the start meant that I forgot my nerves and before I knew it we were off.

The weather was windy again, but it was a tail wind, so it was [kind of] helpful. It certainly meant I wasn’t having to kayak into the teeth of it and as I’d borrowed Jo’s kayak again I was actually able to relax and enjoy it.

Ray was great to kayak for – a strong swimmer who didn’t actually need any support above the BLDSA requirement and we soon moved towards the front of the swim. I tried to count and I thought we were the 6th or 7th swimmer in the lake and given Ray’s speed it was amazing to watch those ahead of us speed away.

My one criticism of Ray’s swimming (beyond the jokes I made with him about his technique – he is my coach after all) was that he needs to trust his support boat and be willing to swim a little closer to it – but given my recent experiences I couldn’t be too demanding of him.

We made great progress down the lake, occasionally seeming to gain on those in front of us, but never quite reaching them. The wind seemed to be a little bit swirly so we occasionally swapped sides. I tried to navigate as straight a line down the centre of the lake as possible and we continued to make progress.

Now I was experiencing the swim from this angle – and thoroughly enjoying it – I thought about even more ways I could experience a swim. Swimming the damn things seems like such a small part of the process and I was acutely aware of just how grateful I am to all the people that have supported me during my swims – from the kayakers to the safety officials and the event organisers.

Then we were passing the Bluebird café and the end was in sight (for me in the kayak at least – I’m pretty sure Ray couldn’t see it yet). But not only were we nearing the finish, but we were gaining on another swimmer. One last push and we might overtake just before the end. C’mon Ray!

He did push, but so did the other guy and we finished a couple of minutes behind him, but in a excellent time of 2 hours 40 minutes. Not bad for a southern softy!

More cups of tea, congratulations and certificates. And during the presentation Jean who organises the swim so brilliantly announced that she’d like to step down from the job and asked if we knew anyone that might be willing to run it in future.

Well, I had been saying to myself that I wanted to experience a swim from a different angle and Coniston is my favourite swim on the BLDSA calendar, so I might* have volunteered.


*I did!

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Sunday was better

After the disaster that was Saturday, Sunday turned out to be a better day.

The kayak hire place (that hired out the kayak on Saturday with a broken seat, that made my experience quite a lot tougher) offered us an actual kayaker for the Sunday swim, so that we would have someone with more experience and skill if the water got as choppy again. What it actually meant for us was an extra body and Rach no longer had to kayak for me and could actually swim – getting back at least some of her lost swim from Saturday.

Originally Rach’s plan was to set off as a solo swim after the event had set off. She had informed the safety boats and had promised to keep out of the way of championship swimmers. They knew she was competent and would have a tow-float, so had promised to keep an eye on her too.

However, the BLDSA being what it is, as soon as the organisers were aware of this – coupled with the fact that they knew they had a spare kayaker – she was immediately placed as a late entry into the event.

So three of us from Team Bear set off to do the 3-mile one-way swim.

After the previous day, the berating of myself and a poor night’s sleep I wasn’t feeling on top form. But equally I had made the decision not to mope and attack it properly as I felt it would have been disrespectful to Rach to do anything else.

While the weather wasn’t as bad as Saturday, it was still a ‘little’ choppy. The first 500 or so metres across the lake from the start were certainly tough, then we turned to swim down the lake with the wind and chop [mostly] to our back. A breeze pushing us down the lake is predominantly helpful, although it can disrupt rhythm at times and increase the likelihood of taking in mouthfuls of water. So a couple of stops mid lake to spit out water and regain my rhythm aside, I pushed on and swam hard.

Rach beat me (as expected), but I was pleased with a time of 1:34.

And to top it off, Cathy completed the swim – her longest ever and after she had kayaked through the horrible conditions (and kayaked it all) the day before.

There are more thoughts to be had about the Saturday (which may well be blogged), but in the end it turned out to be a successful weekend and a lovely bunch of Bears to spend it with.

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Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit

So far I’ve not had a DNF as a swimmer. On my first attempt at providing kayak support for a swimmer I’ve had just that.

I’m so sorry for ballsing up your swim Rach.

I just couldn’t keep up with her in the conditions and so as a safety precaution we both had to get out – again sorry Rach.

I was trying as hard as I could and was just not moving forward – she was swimming great and so swimming away from me, I was kayaking on the spot and was no use to man nor beast (nor swimmer).

Bollocks! I am heartbroken about it.

Sorry Rach.


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Ghosts in the water

When I’m swimming, especially when I’m swimming in the lake, I get the sensation of another swimmer on my right hand side. It makes it all the stranger as I only breathe to my left, so I rarely look right. It sometimes comes out of nowhere and catches me by surprise, but then I realise what it is and it’s all ok again. Of course when someone is actually swimming next to me on my right hand side that then catches me by surprise all over again.

I was thinking about it more while I was swimming on Saturday and trying to work out what it is. I narrowed it down to three options:

– A bit of my goggles strap dangling in the water and catching my eye
– A reflection of my left arm in the goggles (or my right arm under water)
– The ghost of my grandfather swimming alongside me

My grandad was one of the pioneers of open water swimming and a founder member of the British Long Distance Swimming Association (BLDSA). While I don’t consider my decision to start swimming to be directly influenced by him – I don’t think I’m doing it in his honour – I am aware that without his involvement in the sport I would never have started.

When I was a kid we spent lots of summer weekends travelling up and down the country to watch swims. My grandad, by then, was more involved on the beach (or boat) than in the water, but he’d also persuaded both my parents to get involved too (although both of them stayed dry throughout their BLDSA ‘careers’). In the summer that I turned seven my dad was the President of the BLDSA, so they went to pretty much every swim, and my brother and I joined them for nearly all of them.

I loved that. I loved being the son of someone important. I loved watching all the people get ready for their swims. I loved getting to go on the launch boats and watch the swimming close up. And I also loved selling programmes on the beach and telling all the tourists what was going on (especially at the Bala swim). But at the same time the water looked cold and the swims were long and I thought that the people who took part were pretty stupid.

I’m still not sure that anyone that swims for that long in water that cold isn’t a bit stupid.

During this period my grandad and his friends were the lifeblood of the Association. My grandad was a fairly unassuming man, but there were people such as my ‘uncle’ Johnny who could never be described as unassuming. As a seven-year old I just hung around with them all and soaked it all up.

Like Grandfather like Grandson

Like Grandfather like Grandson

My decision to swim Windermere was inspired by my grandad. A couple of years ago my cousins and I were thinking about doing ‘something’ and because of grandad’s love of swimming and because of the special place that Windermere has in the hearts of swimmers it seemed like the right thing for his grandkids to aim towards. In the end, for a variety of reasons, there were only two of us that set off to swim Windermere and I was the only one that completed it.

I was thinking and talking about my grandad much more recently. On the SwimTrek training trip I recently went on a few of the people there knew him, so we chatted a bit about him (I also spent some of the trip trying to ‘defend’ the BLDSA – and of course I can’t avoid thinking about him then).

Again, while I’m not doing this ‘for’ my grandad and I am very aware that he has inspired some of this in me. I also know that if we was still alive he’d certainly be very pleased that I have followed in his footsteps (or possibly trunks!), he may even be proud of me too.

But of course he’s not swimming alongside me, it’s just the strap of my goggles.

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Bilateral breathing

One of the [many] things that I want to work on in preparation for more swimming next year is my bilateral breathing. Previously I have only ever breathed on one side – my left – and therefore taken a breath every two strokes. If possible I’d like to work on it and breath every three strokes and therefore breathe from alternate sides.

This isn’t something that is an absolute must for me – let’s face it, I swam all of Windermere only breathing to the left, but I do think that it could help. If nothing else being able to breathe on both sides (even if I don’t actually do it much) will help in choppy water if I have to miss a breath because of a wave – which happened a couple of times in Coniston.

Me breathing to the left (only) in Bala

Me breathing to the left (only) in Bala

So I’ve started to practice it a bit.

As I’m just getting back into swimming / exercise after a busy summer I’m not trying too hard in the pool right now, so it’s the perfect time to teach myself. I’ve got a very gentle little routine at the moment:

– 400m – warm-up, alternating lengths between breaststroke and crawl (two-stroke breathing)
– 800m – crawl, bilateral breathing only
– 400m – alternating lengths between breaststroke and crawl (bilateral breathing if I can)

Already I’m noticing a difference and surprising myself that I can do 800m bilateral. My body still needs to get used to it as I find myself a little out of breath – although not too much. What I really need to work on though is my body position when I breath. I can feel myself lifting my head and turning my head only, instead of rotating my body in the water as I should. Of course when I lift my head my legs sink and I slow right down.

What I find when I do get it right is that the swimming bit in between the breathing feels stronger and better. I can spend a whole set of strokes just propelling myself forward and not breaking up my stroke to breathe. It also means that when I get the rotation right I have a nice motion in the water.

I just read an article on it that suggests that it takes about two weeks (or six sessions) for it to feel natural, so I’ll keep working on it then.


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Favourite Posts of 2012

Like many people, I’m going to have a look back at the year that was, however I’m going to do it in blog format and pick my favourite posts of the year.

– By far my favourite has to be this one – I’ve only gone and bloody done it – posted soon after completing my Windermere swim.
– I then followed it up with a full report of the swim – Windermere report.



– This post about needing a canoe turned out to be a very important one too as it helped me to find Jon, who canoed for me at Bala, and also helped to persuade my friend Lucy to canoe for me at Coniston (read her summary here).

– Outside of the training though a few other posts made the grade – this one about me falling in love again has a lot of personal resonance as you would expect, while this post about a Caitlin Moran piece in the paper was the first wider post I wrote.

However, it’s not all about me. Part of the process of creating this blog has been getting into the community of bloggers out there writing about similar stuff, so here’s some of my favourites from their posts.

– Firstly Chatter, who has used the training and the blog to make a massive difference to his life and lifestyle. He may well have replaced previous addictions for these new fitness ones, but read this to see the impact it has made – First 5k.

– Another person that has used training and blogging to change their life is triingtosurvive. Read this post about her accepting a blogging award (that I nominated her for) to get a feel for her.

– Another person I enjoy reading is Sligowarriorqueen and her laid-back view on life – this is a great post that sums her up well.

– While if you want to read about a real swimmer visit Ellathemermaid’s blog, this is a great post about the dedication required for her to achieve her goal of swimming the English Channel.

– While another blog I like to read is Tri Fatherhood and this post dedicated to his kids remembering their premature birth is simply amazing.

Finally, a couple of other places I’d love you to visit are the new websites for the companies I run (which I’m very proud of – the companies and the websites) – this one for Joshua PR and this one for BoothChat.

See you in 2013!


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2013 Challenges

Originally the plan was to swim Windermere next year – so my plans were quite simple: keep swimming. Now, having done it a year early I need to revise those plans, or at least reconsider them.

Windermere was obviously a big thing for me so I’d like to do some significant challenges and not just drift back into my old slobbish ways. That said, training for Windermere took a lot of effort and time and I need to be able to do other things with my time (not least family and work).

The compromise I’ve reached is that I’d like to set myself some big challenges for 2014 and that 2013 will be a bit of a “transition” year. I’m not fully decided on what the 2014 challenges will be yet, but it may be (and please don’t tell anyone just yet) a half ironman triathlon (I’ve done the Olympic distance previously) and another marathon (I’ve done two – London and Dublin – but way back in 2004).

So, to prepare for those, 2013’s challenges look a bit like this:

– More swimming. I want to re-do Bala and Coniston and to beat my times. So I’m aiming for 4hrs 15mins for Bala and sub-3hrs for Coniston. I also want to do the 7 mile Ullswater swim.

– Triathlons – I’d like to do at least three sprint triathlons next year. Luckily for me there are two organised in my village every year (run by One Step Beyond).

– Running – To help me focus on the running a bit more I’ll enter at least two 10k events.

– Cycling – Of a triathlon, it’s the cycling element that I enjoy the least, so rather than ignore it I need to “face the fear”, so I’ll enter at least one long cycling event.

– Three Yorkshire Peaks – on top of all of that I’m going to do the Three Yorkshire Peaks next year. It’s the year I turn 40 and an old mate of mine and I decided a couple of years ago that we’d do something to celebrate this landmark year. What we really wanted was an excuse to have a weekend away drinking beer, but this attempt to prove that we can keep up with the youngsters appeals to us as well.

Hmmm, busy year then 🙂



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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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Reminiscences of a Long Distance Swimmer

I’d like to recommend another blog to read if you’ve enjoyed this one (although first of all you should probably take yourself to one side and give yourself a good talking to – enjoyed this one? Get a life!). Anyway, if you have enjoyed this one then you should read Reminiscences of a Long Distance Swimmer.

In particular you should read the post about the Windermere swim that Mark completed last year. Not only did he swim Windermere, but he raised over £6k for charity.

He also swam Bala this year (beating me by an hour) and is planning to do Loch Lomond this year. Good luck Mark.

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