Ellerton Park: My First Open Water Swim for 12 months!

Yesterday evening I made my way to Ellerton Park to meet up with Mark Robson to do my first open water swim of the year.

I’d got there earlier than planned and walked around the grassy banks to take in the beautiful view. It’s a lovely place, and the weather, whilst still chilly was wonderfully sunny.

After I’d paid my £3.50 swimming fee, I was chatting to a few divers who were preparing to get in, when Mark and his son Charlie arrived. Mark immediately jumped out of his car and shook hands. It was good to meet the guy who had single-handedly provided me with so much information about open water swimming. It’s the first time I’d met Mark.

“Are you nervous?” he asked.

I decided to stick to the truth, rather than put on any false bravado. I find honesty is always the best policy!

“Yes”, I replied “I’ve not been in Open water since last June, before I had my back operation”. I was also nervous because I didn’t want to slow anyone down if there were plans to swim in convoy, as I knew Mark to be considerably faster than me.

We waited whilst another swimmer, Jo and her daughter Verity arrived and then got ourselves ready for the off.

As we walked to the little jetty Mark casually asked:

“How do you feel about things being in the water?”

Er. “What kind of things Mark?” I asked, studiously keeping any apprehension from my voice.

“Well, there’s a few things down there to make life interesting for the divers. There’s a boat or two at the bottom of some of the buoys, and apparently there’s a caravan down there too. There are teddy bears tied on to some and they look at bit weird as they’re all covered in mosses and things”

“Oh” I said with relief, “That doesn’t sound too bad”

Mark continued “There’s also a manikin doll down there as well, that the divers use to scare the newbie divers, they turn it over every so often……..”

“Really?” I said, as casually as I could manage. Oh hell. Boats and caravans don’t freak me out, but if I saw a human shape looming at the bottom of the lake, I’m fairly sure I would crap myself. However, doing the Channel for me is a massive exercise in pushing myself past any limiting beliefs. So, here was another opportunity to go a little more outside of my comfort zone. That’s how I get used to it. Dive in and get on with it. Every time I swim outdoors, I try to focus on what’s in my mind so that I can keep it calm (but more of this later……)

I reckon Mark would normally jump in straight off the jetty. I don’t do that – I go in three stages, waistline (Say goodbye to the wedding tackle), shoulders (brrr) and finally head (the “Slush-puppy Brainfreeze”).

Mark gladly took the stairs and we quickly got in up to our shoulders. As we breast-stroked to the first buoy I told Mark that I always had to concentrate on keeping my breathing in check when first dipping my head under water doing front-crawl in such cold water. His advice was to start dipping my head in every third stroke of breaststroke to get used to it before going straight into front crawl. It was good advice – it felt a lot easier than what I used to do. Simple yet effective. Thanks once again Mark!

As we approached the second buoy, Jo was already off and running (well, swimming), and Mark set off in hot pursuit. I’ll be honest, at first I was a little perturbed as I’m so used to having a canoe to my side, I felt a little exposed. It just goes to show how much I got used to the comfort factor of either having someone swimming next to me, or a canoe nearby.

Still, the good thing is that it makes you then resolve to get your head down and get on with it. The water was definitely on the cool side, but I was happy enough that the sun was shining and taking some solace in the fact that without it, it would have felt a damn sight colder.

The next stretch was out to the fourth buoy, which is way out in the middle of the lake, and further than I thought at first. The water must be quite a bit deeper there too, as it’s definitely more chilly around that buoy marker. I realised that my sighting (the ability to look up every so often to keep oneself heading in the right direction) had got poor through lack of practice. Never mind, that’ll come back with more visits.

Don’t ask me why, but I always give buoy a wide berth, as the “hairy” rope that disappears down into the depths gives me the willies. I know. It’s totally irrational and shouldn’t change anything, but for some reason it bugs me!

Anyway from that buoy, it’s a stretch back to a buoy closer to shore and then another right turn back past the jetty. Mark and Jo were way ahead, but I was happy with the fact that my swimming, whilst slow, felt comfortable and smooth. Speed isn’t really my forte – I made up my mind 3 years ago to finish each and every swimming event with a smile on my face, rather than throwing up on the shore. I’m not a quick swimmer. I love being in the water, but I’ll never be one of the fast cats.

The second lap went OK too and everything felt OK. I was initially worried that the flu I had recently would have effected me, but apart from a few underwater coughs, all was well.

On the 3rd lap I had what I would describe as a “moment”.

I have these mini-panic attacks from time to time when swimming in open water. I’ve never had to be hauled out or abandon a race because of it, but it’s unnerving when it strikes.

Whenever it happens I just flip on to my back, control my breathing and rather than think “Oh my god, the water’s deep, it’s too cold, I’m getting cramp, it’s too far to shore, I can’t make it” I put a heavy lid on that panic, and remind myself that I’ve done a lot of open water and never failed to get over any problems.

I then look up at the sky and remind myself how grateful I ought to be to be able to swim in the open on such a fine day. Once I’ve brought my mind back to enjoyment and gratitude, it seems to dissipate the fear. Once settled and sorted, I flip back onto my front, swim a little breaststroke to ensure all is well again and finally get my head back in and pick up the front crawl again.

Now, I know that these little panics are nothing more than the result of letting that bit of my brain that allows negative thoughts to take over. Each time I beat it, those bits of my brain get squeezed to be a little bit smaller. Each time I carry on, I kill off a limiting belief.

So in the end I managed 3 (OK – 2 and three quarters. I said this was an honest blog) laps of the buoy marked circuit. I clambered out feeling pretty good, and saw Mark and Jo complete an impressive 5 circuits each. In the meantime Charlie had found a tree and was attempting to break previously unbroken limbs by falling out every so often.

“How was it?” said Mark after he came out.

I told him about my mild moment, but I don’t think he was worried. Perhaps he doesn’t get them too! I’m sure I’ll settle with experience. After sharing a few of Sarah’s homemade brownies and some of Mark’s goodies (we’re allowed, we’d just been swimming), we waved ourselves off. Mark was kind enough to give me one of his copies of H2Open, a new Open Water Magazine. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but on the cover there’s an interview with Kari-Anne Payne (the UK’s silver-medalist open water swimmer from the Beijing Olympics 10K) it says in big letters “If You’re Scared, You’re In The Wrong Sport” on it. Oh dear. Let’s hope not.

Once home and dry I got a kind text message on my mobile from Mark asking if I’d got back OK. I replied Yes, and that next time I go up there I’ll do 5 laps.

My mobile buzzed again “At least 5 laps!” Mark’s text said. Rocky’s trainer has nothing on this man!! His text also said I was welcome anytime, so he can’t have be too disappointed that I’m a slower kind of swimmer. Thanks Mark – it was a great swim, and great to meet you, Charlie and Jo. As you say, next time it’ll be 5 laps.

At least!

Posted in Mindset, Training, Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Aiming Higher Works!

Hi there

Well, last week shot by. Following my discovery that Mark Robson was busy doing 27Km a week compared to my measly 16Km, I raised my game. Last week I managed 1075 lengths in a 25m pool, so that’s 26.75Km. A much better looking total, and thankfully my trusty arms are feeling good rather than sore as a result. On Thursday, I did 250 lengths in one go, which felt great.

My next target is to get to 350 lengths (8500m), which is a quarter of the channel (admittedly easier though, without tides, waves, wind and jellyfish!!). I reckon I’ll take that challenge on Friday.

Speaking of Mark, I’m very much looking forward to my first outing into open water this Wednesday at Ellerton Park. I just hope that I don’t screech too loud when I get in. I’ll try to be dignified and scream silently on the inside. It’ll be great practise for Dover this weekend!

On Wednesday we had the Yorkshire Evening Post over for an interview about my progress and they’ve taken the best photo ever of Archie – he’s laughing his head off and the photographer (Tony) has captured him brilliantly. All being well, it’ll be in the paper sometime this week.

Take care & just keep swimming!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A Timely Kick Up The Backside!

Well, I was happy thinking that I’m making reasonable progress in terms of training, but as I’ve mentioned, I don’t really have a frame of reference. Then I came across a brilliant website by a chap called Mark Robson http://swimmingthechannel2008.blogspot.com

There’s lots of quality info on there, and anyone interested in open water swimming is strongly advised to check it out! http://swimmingthechannel2008.blogspot.com

I was looking at some of the training sets that Mark has built up to, and they simply dwarf my efforts. Now, Mark is obviously an incredibly good swimmer whereas I class myself as an average swimmer with incredibly high persistence. However, it’s given me a good yardstick against which to up my own game. Cheers Mark for putting such a good site together.

Anyway, must dash, as I’ve got to leave work, feed kids, get them bathed and in bed and then hit the pool to get my weekly total up!!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Week 16 Target: 700 lengths (10.87 miles)

So a new week and a new target. I reckon 5 trips to Virgin Active and do 140 lengths each time will be the way to go.

I have read a training schedule by a great Channel Swimmer Nick Adams, who recommends not just going for distance swims, but to mix it up with some sets of pyramids.

Pyramid sets are where you do sets of increasing lengths and then decrease at same rate. For example 50m then a short rest, then 100m then short rest, keep increasing increments and then come back down. Typically it would end 250m then rest, 200m then rest ,150m,100m,50m.

This sounds like a sensible idea to build up extra strength for when tides and waves are being unkind. besides – I’ve learned to take the advice of previous channel swimmers as gold dust – after all, they have succeeded where so many others have failed. I intend to model any successful person I can find!

I’ll figure something out from one of Nick’s sample plans I found on this channel swimmers site http://www.thechannelswimmers.com

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Week 15: 610 lengths (9.48 miles)

After a mad week and an equally mad leaving do at work (farewell Alison – have a blast in Oz!) it was back to the pool last night to finish off my target of 620 lengths this week.

I keep forgetting that the pool closes early on a Sunday, so had to up the pace quite a bit. In the end I did 138 lengths in 70 minutes. Not too fast, but considering the massive Sunday roast I’d had earlier it was good enough!

Just nipped on to the donations site for my son Archie’s school www.justgiving.com/peteswims and the chap that I bumped into last week in the pool has donated £20 to Archie’s school for disabled children. Thanks Jamie! What a star!!

Whilst I’m talking donations, if anyone wants to donate any money at all, know that 100% of your money goes STRAIGHT to the school. I am not taking out a single penny out of the pot for the cost of the swim (which is £2300). It always felt wrong when someone does something for charity and raises lots of money and then takes out a whopping chunk for costs!

You can rest assured that if you donate any money it ALL goes to the school and is very well spent. Little Archie and his wheelchair-bound buddies salute you!!

If you want to donate any amount, please click here to go to the donation site www.justgiving.com/peteswims

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Good Night’s Work!

Morning All!

I’m in a fab mood today. Last night (thanks to Sarah and Archie’s brilliant carer Anna) I was able to go straight from work to the health club. Virgin Active in Leeds is brilliant. It’s always busy enough for some atmosphere, but not so busy that you can’t swim or get a decent workout.

Since I’ve been going a while now, I get chatting to some of the staff there. Last night the lifegaurd was Matt, who always has a natter before I jump in the water. Matt is a mad keen sportsman, particularly enthusiastic about footy and plays regularly in a local team. Tragically, one of Matt’s team mates died since which he and the team have been making great efforts to raise charitable donations and have a trophy for him.

Matt said that his team now choose different charities to serve each season segment and offered to put forward The Friends of Penny Field as one of the charities they target. How fantastic is that!! Good on you Matt, and good on your team and the great things they are doing.

Meeting folk like that just makes your day. And I can’t help noticing that the more charitable stuff you do, the more often you bump into people like Matt who have a great attitude to life.

Also got chatting to a fella called Jamie Tweddell. He was flying up and down the fast lane at a fair old pace so we were kinda keeping in sync. He’s a runner who’s branching into swimming with a view to entering triathlons. He looked like a triathlete – they always have about 4% body fat!! I on the other hand could only be accused of looking like a channel swimmer – I have a good bit of blubber to keep me warm!!

He was impressed that I was taking on the channel this year – but as I always say – don’t be impressed until I’m standing on French sand with a beach pebble held high in my fist!

Just in case you thought I did nothing but natter last night, I did 224 lengths. Yay! And best of all, I’m not feeling too knackered this morning! Can’t wait for the training in Dover to start in early May. Now THAT will wake me up. Nothing like freezing cold sea water to focus the mind on the task ahead!

Posted in Mindset, Training | Leave a comment

How Do You Train To Swim The Channel?

I’ll be honest – I don’t really know. I’m making this up as I go!

I’ve done quite a few swims in Open water

  • Budworth Mere
  • Coldwick Park
  • Albert Dock
  • Bala
  • Coniston
  • Dover (Champion of Champions)

But I’ve not done any outdoor swimming this year – I’ll probably get my first taste of Open Water in late May when I pop down to  Harbour where I’m hoping that the informal training sessions are happening in the Harbour.

In the meantime, it’s Pool training at Virgin Active in Leeds. Now that Sarah (my missus) is much better following her operation, I can restart my training in earnest!

This week my target is to go to the pool 5 times and swim 124 lengths each time. If that goes well, I should have notched up over 9.5 miles. It’s going well despite having a bit of a cold – but for some reason I always find the first 50 length a pain, and after that it becomes easier. Let’s hope that it gets easier the further I have to go!!

Posted in Training, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What Do You Think About When You’re Swimming?

Quite a few people ask me this question pretty often.

“What on Earth do you think about when
you’re swimming for hours on end?”

The answer is: it depends!

If I’m pool swimming then there’s no boats, waves and such to look out for. Also, a line on the bottom of the pool is easy to follow.

So with all that, pool swimming is pretty straightforward. Which means your mind wanders all over the place. I try to focus on technique (more on the “total immersion” swimming method in later posts), but often times end up humming a tune.

Open Water swimming’s more challenging.

There’s water traffic to keep an eye out for, buoys or markers to try and keep in line with. And boy do I miss a black line six feet below me to follow! So when in open water, I’m normally busier mentally trying to keep rhythm and keep on course to do much singing. Although a quick blast of “Take Me To The Hospital” by The Prodigy do help if I’m getting tired. Yes. Despite the title. A banging tune helps you blast through tough moments!

Tonight was pool swimming. Come on – it’s January – I’m not going near cold water till the summer!

Tonight’s tune was called “Breathe Me” by Sia. A truly awesome tune. It’s a really simple, chilled out tune, but perfect for gentle controlled swimming. It’s nice when you’ve gotten into the pool feeling generally hacked off or fed up and after an hour swimming get out feeling terrific.

That’s how I want to swim. Not thrashing around and making waves. Just coolly cutting through the water with slow relaxing strokes.

Having said that, I did do a mad length of butterfly when it was near chucking out time.

See – not a single post on my blog without a massive contradiction!!

Posted in Mindset, Misc, Total Immersion Swimming, Tunes | 2 Comments

Bluurrggghhhh…..I Dot A Bunged Dup Dose!

It’s official. Colds (or Man Flu as I prefer to call it) are rubbish!

I was getting into my stride, but sadly succumbed to the nasty bug that’s been doing to rounds. So, swimming has had to take a back seat for the last week.

Still – looking on the positive side of things (which is always to be recommended!) – I have been able to spend more time with Sarah this week. We even got out to the flicks to see the Colin Firth film tipped for oodles of Oscars – The King’s Speech.

It was a great film – very inspirational. Just what I needed in fact. A film about a bloke overcoming adversity to achieve great things – just what I’m trying to do!

Posted in Misc | Leave a comment

The peteswims blog is back!

Crikey. The next time I change web hosting accounts, remind me to learn how to back up a blog first!

Two years blogging lost. Never mind!!

Well, after a few setbacks, I’m hoping this will be the year I swim the channel. I’ve paid my deposit to the boat captain, so the next step is passing the medical! Hopefully all traces of glandular fever have gone now, but I guess they’ll test that.

I remember a while back reading (I think) Alison Streeter’s blog (Queen of the Channel) that the best advice for swimming the channel is….

“Train like mad, eat like a pig!”

Excellent. One bit of training I particularly enjoyed over Christmas was eating like a pig! I think I may have overdone it it though – I’ll have to find out what fat percentage is ideal, as I’m about 29% at present.

Current schedule is pool swimming only as getting back up to scratch following my back operation. To be honest, the best thing I’ve ever found for relieving backache is a good swim. Since the operation I’ve had no trouble, so went for it after Christmas.

As ever, I probably overdid it. I did 120 lengths one night, and kept doing more until I was up to 250 lengths. At the time it felt OK, but a week doing it with a cold certainly wasn’t bright and I found myself getting overtired.

So for the time being, I’m going 120 lengths a night. Next week I’ll do 130 lengths a week and so on. Gentle increments, although frustrating, seems to be the way to get up to high numbers consistently, without getting burned out!

Posted in Training | 1 Comment