Tag Archives: SwimCanaryWharf

From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

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

This post charts a journey in the opposite direction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Coniston

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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Thanks Ray

I’m sure I’ll write plenty more over the next few days / weeks about the swim, but I did want to say a huge thank you to Ray at SwimCanaryWharf. I swam 24 miles over the weekend and not once did my stroke break down and cause my swimming to suffer. There is no way I would have survived without Ray’s help and work on my stroke.

In recognition of that I wore my SwimCanaryWharf swim hat for the last mile.

Setting off for mile 24

Setting off for mile 24

Finishing. 24 miles completed!

Finishing. 24 miles completed!

If you have any doubts about your swimming, or you’ve got some big swims coming up, then I strongly advise you to seek him out.

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Homo Openwaterus

*David Attenborough voice*

“Here we are, privileged to see this fascinating species in his secondary environment. Normally found in the lakes and seas around the UK, this time we encounter homo openwaterus in a pool…”

“Our cameraman was very brave to get these shots and could easily have been eaten – homo openwaterus needs to retain a healthy layer of blubber at all times and often eats anything in its path.

Fortunately this specimen was at play and we have this amazing footage.”

– – –

Thanks to SwimCanaryWharf and Endless Pools.

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Hell Yeah

I want to high five everyone right now.

I’ve just had another session with Ray and even I can see the massive improvements in my stroke over the last few weeks. Don’t get me wrong there is still a LONG way to go, a lot of drills to do, a lot of new muscle memory to build. But despite all that I’m a MUCH better swimmer now and I’m on the right track (lane).

I’m feeling very happy with it all right now 🙂

Happy Friday!

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It’s working

Something clicked today, with both my mind and understanding of what I should be doing with my stroke – and also my time.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been working on my technique under the watchful eye of Ray from SwimCanaryWharf. I go to see Ray once a month and then work on the drills he gives me between sessions.

This morning, towards the end of my drills, something clicked in my mind about the stroke and how Ray wants me work on it. I’m not saying that I’ve cracked it, more that I’ve got over a mental barrier that I hadn’t realised was there. There’s still a lot of work to do to train the body to actually *do* it, but I feel that I now instinctively, rather than theoretically, know what *it* is.

So after 2k of warm up and drills I finished the session off with a timed 400m – something I do fairly regularly just to see how I’m getting on. The result was my fastest 400m yet.

6:43. My fastest ever 400m.

6:43. My fastest ever 400m.

I’m really pleased with that. Not least because I wasn’t feeling it this morning and had to drag myself to the pool, and the pool was busy, so it wasn’t an easy and smooth 400m, I had to fight through a bit of traffic.

However, perhaps the most pleasing this is that this wasn’t an *effort* time, it was a *technique* time. You know what I mean, we can all smash a time that is good and quick, but we’ve put so much effort into it that we can’t speak properly for five minutes afterwards. This wasn’t one of those. I was focused on getting on with it, but wasn’t racing and certainly wasn’t smashing it.

I obviously don’t really care about an individual 400m. What I want to be doing is putting together 20, 40 or ultimately 88 of those in succession. But to do an individual 400m quicker, smoother and easier* than I ever have before is a big leap forward and gives me the confidence that it is starting to work.

*It’s not easy and has taken 4 months of drills to get to this point.

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Two different swims

Last night I went to see Ray at SwimCanaryWharf again. The summary – some big improvements, but still plenty of work to do.

This morning I went to swim here:

London Aquatic Centre

London Aquatic Centre

It was great to treat myself to a 50m pool and just swim without all those nasty drills that Ray gives me to do!!

I’ll try to get a full review of my experience at the Aquatic centre later, but you could read Simon’s from H2Open in the meantime if you like.

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Bilateral Breathing

When I first got back into swimming in 2012 my plan was always to train myself up to be able to breathe bilaterally. I always considered that to be part of what constitutes a ‘proper’ swimmer.

So I’d try – and I would really try – but I just couldn’t master it.

It wasn’t so much the breathing part – I could always technically breathe to both sides, it’s just that when I breathed to the right I couldn’t seem to swim at the same time. I seemed to lose all momentum and power and as much as I worked on it I just wasn’t getting any better. So after a couple of weeks of diligently working on it I’d give up again.

Then when I did the Channel Relay I noticed that all the swimmers in my team only breathed to one side during that swim (even Mike Read, the king of the Channel). My attitude then was ‘bugger bilateral’.

Until now that is.

Unfortunately during the first technique session with Ray from SwimCanaryWharf there was a misunderstanding and I thought that he had said that bilateral wasn’t important. However, during the second session he was disappointed that I wasn’t breathing bilaterally during normal swims (ie when not working on the specific drills). So this morning (the first chance I’ve had to swim since I saw him last week) I committed to breathing bilaterally.

And I can do it!!

With just two coaching sessions (and me working on some drills myself) I can do it. It was clearly all to do with the way I would ‘lean’ on my right arm as I was swimming and now that this is better (but by no means perfect yet) it has freed me up to be able to breathe bilaterally.

Not only that, but this morning’s swim felt wonderful and relaxed and I swam with a sense of perpetual motion and not a ‘limpy’ hard working stroke.

I’m feeling really confident about the changes this will make to my swimming overall.

– – –

I’m writing a book – Open For Business: business advice from a fresh [water] perspective.

Please check out my crowdfunding site to pre-order a copy – https://www.sponsume.com/project/open-business

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London Calling

I used to live in London – but we moved out on purpose. However, I still visit regularly for work – and most of the time it feels like work. I kind of like it, but it feels a bit too big and busy for me and I’m always glad to be going home.

I’ve had a great trip this time though.

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