Category Archives: open water swimming

My next challenge

I’d told myself I’d take a week of rest and relaxation after Castle Howard. The reality though was that I was left with a greater drive to push on. Having put myself under so much pressure to be able to participate in the triathlon it was a relief to come through relatively unscathed. The relief was soon overtaken by the desire to evaluate performance, why did the swim go so wrong? Where could I have made time up? When is the next challenge.


Thankfully the next challenge has been booked for some time. The Great Scottish SwimRun, 800m swim followed by a 5km run. My two weakest disciplines in the triathlon? Swim and Run. My biggest disappointment last week was my inability to overcome the fear during the swim, so to face a swim twice the distance in unknown waters in just 23 days is both petrifying and exciting(ish). 


I’m still trying to focus on my journey and my progress and achievements. I’m fully aware that for many an 800m swim is barely more than a warm up but this is the point that I’m at with my journey. I remember the days of learning to get my face in the water, the days where 2 lengths of a 25m pool was a challenge, my first terrifying attempt at open water swimming. I’ve put in the hours of hard work, tears, tantrums and failures to get to the point of looking at an 800m open water swim. Just over three months ago there’s an entry in my training diary referring to a failed attempt at a 25m swim. It’s been a rough journey so far with so much more to come. How do I feel about the 5km run? Well let’s think about that if I survive the swim. I’m excited and anxious to discover what part the Great Scottish SwimRun will play. 


In terms of personal journey this week has been great for reflecting on how far I’ve come. Don’t get me wrong, being one of the last out of the water and being overtaken by all ages on the bike and run isn’t great for the ego but you can’t judge without knowing individuals journeys. My journey in the last four months from open hysterectomy to triathlete has been a mega rollercoaster, it still is. I feel like I’m chasing my own expectations, expectations that are probably unrealistic, and expectations that are constantly changing. Less and less I’m looking at the performances of those around me, but rather focusing on where I’m at and where I’m going. This new mindset isn’t always easy to maintain, the competition is now me rather than others. Will this mindset help get me through not only the SwimRun but also my second triathlon? Well there’s only one way to find out. 

It’s the journey that counts.

Training for a triathlon while recovering from major abdominal surgery probably isn’t a recommended combination but that’s the challenge I’d set. I had 17 weeks, just under 4 months, from knife to skin until the start of the triathlon. It was a journey with a ready made excuse to take the easy path, to accept failure. There were days when I felt like sitting there and crying, giving up and letting the recovery process take it’s time. There were days when frustration boiled over to anger, days feeling lost, scared tired and in pain, taking one step at a time the start line was in sight.

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Arriving at the venue the nerves were bubbling, looking around everyone looked so fit, I felt like an outsider invading an unknown land where neoprene and lycra were the dress code. In transition people chatted about previous conquests while I worried about where to put my trainers. Wet suit on and the long trek to the lake for the safety briefing. The lake was taunting me like a Dementos from Harry Potter. “Don’t panic, take time to acclimatise and you’ll be fine” I keep telling myself. Suddenly the safety briefing was over, I had no idea what had been said. Into the water, 30 seconds until the race starts. WAIT!! What about acclimatising? I’m not ready. The weeds were everywhere, my head is going crazy, the weeds will pull me down, we haven’t even started yet and I’m not sure I ca go much further.

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The horn goes. Head down, stroke and breathe, No, PANIC! My legs feel like they’re tangled, my hands come out holding green slime. There’s nothing I can do, coordination and rational thinking has long gone. I’ve not felt this scared since my first open water swim. I’m not even 50m into the swim, there’s still 350m to go. Becky stayed with me talking me through each stroke, reaching the turnaround point things were looking up. I was swimming towards the exit, the weeds were virtually gone, I was doing it, I was swimming. Not soon enough the swim was over, a short 300m up hill jog to transition added an extra dimension to the transition.

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Transition one was a success, the coconut oil helped me escape my new speedo wetsuit (note to anyone wanting to try OW swimming, an actual swim wetsuit makes a huge difference).Wet suit off, top, race belt, shorts trainers and helmet on I un-racked my bike and I was off, careful not to mount my mean machine until after the white line. Having visited the area recently I knew the first couple of kilometres were nice climbs, what I hadn’t figured was the amount of energy wasted from panicking in the water. As the ride progressed my lower abdomen ached and twinged, almost as if it was reminding me of the journey we had been through. I was enjoying the challenge, the views were great and the kilometres were flying by. I was overtaken by the full age range of people, kids and veterans alike powered past me as I battled through the course. At first this frustrated me, then I smiled, sat up looked at the views, smelt the lavender and reminded myself of how far I’d come. Before I knew it I was dismounting and making my way through Transition.

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Transition 2 was over in a flash, I smiled knowing I only had 4km between me and the finish line. The first kilometre was completed in a PB time of 5:45, probably too fast but my legs felt great (thanks Ironholgs for introducing me to brick sessions in his books) and the ground was firm and flat. As we entered the wooded portion the ground worsened, the rain had taken it’s toll, it was largely up hill making the next 2 kilometres nothing short of an energy sapping muddy trail run. Progress slowed but with every step we were a step closer to the finish line. As we passed the 1km to go sign we noticed the mother in law just 500m back, the decision was easy, we waited for her and crossed the line together.

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I felt a little emotional crossing the line. The journey to this point has been tough, an emotional rollercoaster mirrored somewhat by the triathlon. The physical journey has been witnessed, it’s easy to see the progress from the first walk to the day room (20m) that exhausted me, the first pilates class through to finishing Castle Howard super Sprint. What’s not easy to see is the psychological journey, the fear of not doing enough, of doing too much, the frustrations of slow progress and watching others doing so much more. There have been times when I have been way too hard on myself and those around me, even crossing the finish line I wondered if I could have gone quicker, but for now I can smile, I finished my first triathlon, I pushed through fear, pain, the ups and the downs and I crossed the line holding the hands of those I love and care for. How can I not be content with that.

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Swim, cycle, run, sulk

As I write this I’m laid sulking on the sofa battling the after effects of a hill focused training ride. Whether it was the potholes, the hills or the overall training load of this week catching up with me my abdomen is screaming at me to rest. This is not how I imagined I’d be feeling 5 days out from my first triathlon. As frustrating as this feeling is I have to remember I’m still recovering, I’m little over 3 months post op and even a sprint distance tri is a big ask at this stage. 


My focus needs to change, it should be on finishing the challenge and a personal journey not on racing others. I’d love to take the credit for this change but in reality it came from a vomit infested pool that led to a chance meeting with an Ironman competitor while waiting for pool tests to give the green light to enter the pool. He had just got back from completing Challenge Roth despite falling ill early on the bike section. Our conversation didn’t focus on him but rather a chance encounter he had had with an older lady at an event in South America.  Long story short this lady had told him that it was all about focusing on yourself and that anything really was possible. As he recited the story I could feel the goosebumps on my arms, I felt on top of the world ready to take on any challenge. As inspiring as this was, it was also a reality check. I’ve spent too much time comparing myself to others (namely my wife and mother in-law) rather than focusing on my own journey. Thank you Mark for the lesson (pretty sure my wife has been trying to say this for a while but who listens to their wife?). I’m pretty sure the 5 minutes I spent on pool side listening to tales of triumph has had a huge impact on me and my journey.


Training wise I actually enjoyed an open water swim, the day had started with tears and tantrums as my fear of water raised its ugly head but ended with a steady 1.3km solo swim. On dry land I’ve broken my race-distance (4km) PB by 3 minutes and seen a marked improvement in my cycle times. The training is paying off, I can’t believe how far I’ve come in such a short space of time. Days like today are a stark reminder of what my body has been through. Am I fit? Am o good to go? Not at all, I’m still early in this journey but it’s exciting to see where this path leads.

My wife is fitter than me – When did that happen?

Reality hit home this week, my wife is fitter than me! When did that happen? Now before I go on let me just say I am immensely proud of the work she has put in. In the last 8 months she has lost 4 stone and turned around her health and fitness habits. I love the change in her and the happiness it’s brought. It’s also amazing to share the enjoyment of fitness with her rather than feel guilty about leaving her to train. The reality remains though. As I’ve battled with il health and recovery my fitness has dropped as hers has increased to a point I can only aim for. Great for her, not so great for me! It’s a reminder of the last year, it’s proof of the progress I’ve made since surgery, but also demonstrates how much can be achieved through hard work and perseverance.


The circumstances surrounding this realisation was a simple post-swim run. As we transitioned from our wetsuit to running gear a nervous anticipation built in the pit of my stomach. Running has been the slowest discipline to improve post-op and I knew Becky had had some recent PB success over 5km. We set off, almost immediately alarm bells rang as the pace picked up and I settled at the back of the group, a position I hate. My watch alerted me to the 1km mark, completed at a pace 30 seconds quicker than my post-op best, my legs, brain and lungs screamed at me to stop, this pace was not sustainable. There was no get out option though, I had to continue. I took a deep breath and continued, counting down to the turn around Mark at 2km I resigned myself to hanging on at the back of the group. Just then Becky informed me we had just over 500m before turning around, looking at my watch that would be 2.5km, since when were we running 5km? Holy S**t could I actually keep up?


 The burning and screaming of various body parts continued far beyond the turn around point. I dropped further off the pace as the enjoyment of the run continued to drain quickly. Suddenly the sign post was in sight 200m and we were finished. A new 5km PB, the run was over and I’d survived. 


The run came at the end of a busy training week. Swimming, cycling and running have all progressed. My biggest achievement was a full solo (I.e. Out of arms reach of Becky) open water swim, my first ever and a full kilometre. Smashed it! Progress is coming, the triathlon is rapidly approaching, doubts are creeping in. Can I complete the challenge and defeat the demons of open water and doubts about fitness? 

swimming forwards but stepping back.

When I was thinking about this weeks blog I thought I would write something profound about lessons learned, or self improvements (who knows these blogs may still come). Mark the 12 week mark with a bang. What has actually appeared on paper is reality, a story of celebration, frustration and stepping back to move forward.

 

I have written before about my relationship with water and battles with open water swimming. This week I took my first tentative steps away from the safety of the pool and into a lake. Walking in with Beck by myside, the cold murky water  filled my wetsuit, my heart rate rose and the arguments bounced around my head. Four hundred metres later and I dared to go solo, each stroke became slightly less nerve racking. Suddenly the realisation hit, I was swimming in a lake, ALONE. Holy S**t I was alone in a lake (ok there was other people around but not actually with me), I could sink and nobody would realise. Stroke, stroke, breath, stroke, stroke, PANIC, stroke, stroke, breath.  400 metres further and I am out of there, wet suit off and I sit down watching the real swimmers continue. Realisation set in, I’d just swam by myself in a lake, an actual lake, and I’d survived. In my world that is grounds for celebration.

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Celebrating achievements is great, as is looking back through my training diary from the last 12 weeks. The frustrations of recovery are still present though. At this stage I feel stuck in a kind of no-mans land. I’m not ill or injured but then I’m not fully fit either. I’m making progress but it seems the progress is coming in every area but my core, and this is holding me back. For the second week running gymnastics seems to have aggravated my abs, this made Pilates tough as every other movement brought uncomfortable twinges or pain. The continued battle between pushing through and listening to my body was ever present as I participated in a class yet felt like an outsider, watching others I had been at a similar level as make it look easy. I have so much to be grateful for, recovery could have been much more complicated and the improvements I’m seeing in my swim, bike and run are reassuring and evidence I’m moving in the right direction. The problem is I know the true mark of recovery from this surgery lies in the core. A lack of core strength/endurance can lead to so many problems and injuries. This knowledge is another reminder that I need to take more time to get this right.

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This week I came to the realisation that I’d miscalculated the number of weeks until the triathlon, oops. Its now just five weeks until the big day. Realising this, I’ve made the conscious decision to take a step back in training. anything that doesn’t directly benefit either my core or the triathlon is taking a backseat. That means gymnastics, zuu and body pump are on hold, at least for the next few weeks. A frustrating call to make and one that feels like a huge step backwards, but a step back may just be necessary to move me forwards.