Sunday, 16 November 2014

Weekends, training and the first Cold Water Session of 2014.

Weekends are always a juggle. Extra time to train, but equally important, time for the family too. This weekend was a good example of how it usually works, and how everything gets squeezed in...
I've found that if I can get Friday night off to a good start then the whole weekend will be easier. That temptation to skip the final programmed set of the working week is never far from your mind. You're home, the house is warm, its grim and dark out. My wife and I take the dog for a walk, getting out of the house and the noise and distractions is a good chance to talk over the week and everything else that is always going on. When we get back everyone's relaxing..... after a nice tea, and spying a bottle of beer in the rack on the side it certainly doesn't get any easier to think about the brick session on the excel spreadsheet that has my name on in the corner, but experience reminds me of how annoyed I will feel if I skip one, and how that has a knock on effect, making it easier to skip the next day too. All these little lapses can soon add up. With that in mind I grab the laptop and head to the garage for 90 mins on the turbo. Lots of spinning work at around 85 to 90rpm, with some interval sets thrown in to stop it getting too boring. That's the thing with the turbo, no moving ground beneath your wheels, no wind to evaporate the copious amounts of sweat, and nothing stimulating to look at. I found a great film on Netflix though, just short of the 90mins long. I recommend watching 'Blackfish' but promise you'll cancel that trip to SeaWorld after...... After the bike its straight into a brick run of 5 miles at a decent pace of 6:30min miles. I need to get my muscles used to being able to hold this pace for as long as possible come July and my attempt at The Outlaw. By 20:45 I'm showered, in my slobs and waiting for some decent TV at 9. The beer tastes all the better for the earlier efforts.
Saturday morning. This has always been swimming. I wake at 7am, a decent lay in by my usual standards, let the dogs out and feed them. I usually have a cup of tea, but otherwise train on an empty stomach, eating afterwards as quickly as possible to ensure the body absorbs the maximum amount of goodness. Looking out the window when I wake its really foggy and damp. Its barely light. My wife, happy with the cup of tea I have brought her as I climbed back into bed, is all warm and snuggly as she wiggles up close to me. I am so close to sacking the swim off, if I can find the motivation to drag my backside out of bed at this point then anything is possible. If I hadn't bothered the night before I certainly wouldn't have bothered this morning. I know friends are expecting me there though, to train with them, help motivate them through the winter grind. That kind of obligation, however tenuous, is important, because it gives you a responsibility to others and helps you commit long term.

On arrival there's the usual sea of yellow as the Tri Cub begins to congregate and chew over the weekends activities, where everyone is training/racing, how things have gone. Its encouraging to see people from all walks of life there getting involved. The club is little over 2 years old and already has close to 200 members, with around 25 to 30 swimming at any given session in the week. A victim of our own success to an extent, and restricted in the number of lanes we can hire because of the successful swim club we share our facilities with has led to a smaller group of 3 us have taking the step to train away from the club led sessions of late. It gives us more control for the specific races we want to give our best in, and the freedom to train harder and for longer, but we have to be careful to make sure what we do is productive, and that's why its so important that we motivate each other, analyse each others technique and take mutual advise and criticism when it is needed. Despite that it is still important to us all to spend time with the club and get input and updates from other members, and share our love of the sport.

The Set was 3000m of:
  • 1600m from a cold start at my current intended IM pace. At the moment that's between 6:05min and 6:10min per 400m. Its important to keep it even.
  • 400m Paddles and Pull.
  • 400m Sprinting 25, easy 25. Aiming to time this to work out at equivalent to my previous IM pace from the opening mile.
  • 400m timed kick. (I'm not sharing those times....)
  • 200m of breathing 3/5/7/9/9/7/5/3 per 25m.
Then its out and home ASAP. The dog will need exercise, so I'm keen to incorporate that to my advantage. I walk in the back door and the kitchen is in full swing. Its just after 9am and Sarah has got up, there are some delicious looking homemade pumpkin muffins in the oven. Everything smells amazing. What a breakfast. There is the offer of a fresh coffee and again I am so tempted to sit in the warmth with my family and relax. But the dog can smell sweat, and it knows that means theres a chance of a run, so its stuck to my ankle like glue, sniffing my leg like the loveable little weirdo it is, and so I change as quickly as I can into my running gear and head out the door once more, desperate to sprint round and get back to the delicious looking muffins and the coffee.
Within 1/4 of a mile I'm down the riverbank and away from anyone, and as ever, I'm really glad I bothered. There is always an abundance of wildlife, the ever changing view as the river evolves constantly with the seasons - and not forgetting the cross country effort is great for building core strength. I can never understand why it isn't busier down here, but I'm glad its not.
One day I'll fit a GPS on the dog, and find out how far she runs as she zigzags the fields with ease, putting my efforts to shame.
Within a 200m stretch I've seen a big group of ducks rooting about for weed and squabbling, a family of Swans that I have watched raise their cygnets over the year, now nearly fully grown, and the parents looking sick to death of them hanging about. They certainly aren't the outwardly aggressive and defensive birds they were when I ran past their nest in late spring. Then the kingfisher darts past and a big male heron launches into he air as it struggles to find lift and amble off as the dog bounces around in fits of frustration at being unable to reach it. The heron is always a reminder of how hard things can seem, but how you cannot give up.
Regular runs have taught Titch well, and she is a great pacing aid. I don't need any fancy gadget here, just the surroundings, the dog that seems to know how hard I can push it, and the promise of a tasty breakfast when I get back. I usually take the run as I find it, its productive and important to the weekly schedule, but I enjoy it. The mist, the mud, the crap choice of music playing quietly in my ears, and the surroundings all come together to motivate me this morning and I've decided within half a mile that I will do 10 miles, and I will give it some stick. I have markers on the bank that I know are half the distance to what I want to do from home, so I simply run to the 5mile point and then turn and run back. I'm feeling good and attack the run with the intention of negative splitting each mile. The first mile clocks in at 7mins, so I set out to carve 10 seconds of each subsequent mile. This is ambitious for this time of year, but I mange it down to mile 8, I've bagged a 5:50 at mile 7, and mile 8 levels off with a 5:53, so I try to hold it as best I can for the remaining 2 miles. My last Olympic distance race in September worked out at a 5:46min mile pace for the 6.25 miles, and knowing the wet and the mud make the effort so much harder than the tarmac I am really pleased with the time. I'm holding my pace, and I have a 10k race next week. I'm a bit relieved after a few weeks of abuse from team mates telling me how my training has lost me my edge in this respect, and they're right, because I've been struggling to hit 6:30s off a brick session. I was beginning to believe them. This run quietly puts that to bed and refocuses me. There's nothing like some friendly rivalry and abuse to motivate you to improve.
Its only 10:30am, I'm home, showered, and enjoying the much deserved breakfast with the family. The whole day is still ahead of us and I've bagged all I need to do in my training today.

The morning is then spent hunting for bargains in local charity shops - a real favourite pass-time of Sarah's to then sell things found online. It all helps make the ends meet, and frees up more income for the things we enjoy. I'm lucky. We take the girls to get haircuts, and suffer the most boring hairdresser on Earth. I think a big part of hairdressing is talking to clients, this girl just doesn't cut it. I fall asleep in the chair while I wait, devoid of any stimulation in the place, but power naps are useful so I seize the opportunity. Afterwards I take the youngest to her archery club. She really enjoys the methodology and precision of archery, and I am learning a lot sitting and watching my 10 year old girl, how she approaches the bow, the target, measures it up, and practices again and again, the fine motor control and smallest of adjustments to gain the perfect shot. I think to myself how I must apply this to how I tackle my training, and never simply go through the motions, always studying every little aspect of my technique, approach, pace. I wish I had even a 10th of my daughters concentration. That kind of advise would have cost me a lot from a trainer, and I'm getting it free from my family.
Sundays everywhere are an opportunity for people to grab big miles and plenty of time on the bike. In the summer this is often the case, and I follow suit, but I have come to triathlon from openwater distance swimming, and it will always have a strong appeal. After much deliberation I decided to continue the passion for Cold Water Swimming this year. Not as seriously as other years, but I have still entered a few events non the less to motivate me to train and improve. We have cobbled together a team of 12 of us to travel to London in January to compete in an Ice swimming meet at Parliament Hill Lido. Today is the first day of 'acclimatisation'.
So much of me was worried that I should be sat on the turbo on a Sunday morning, an opportunity to do a good 2 to 3hr set that I nearly didn't commit to the swimming this year, but after consideration I reasoned it was worth it. Here is my logic. I think its important to remember that we do this for fun, for a hobby. Very few of us will ever pay the mortgage with Triathlon, and I love open water swimming, so decided that sacrificing it for potentially more seemingly beneficial training sessions was a bad move because I would be in danger of resenting the turbo, which would make it unproductive. Besides that, while this won't appeal or apply to many people, I think I get a lot of transferable benefits from this niche swimming sport.

The most important thing to remember when you cold water swim is that it isn't distance swimming, you are not looking to go and rack up 5miles in preparation for an end to end swim of Windermere or The Channel. It is a dangerous extreme sport, and it is about the physical and more importantly, mental control it gives you over your mind and body. Nothing focuses the mind and makes you concentrate like swimming out into a lake in water a few degrees above freezing, with numb arms and legs, your body burning at the sting of the cold biting your flesh, reading every little sign of your body as to how much further you dare push it. Analysing for signs of hypothermia, deterioration in stroke, and metal function. All of these skills are things that could give me the edge come race day, being that much more tuned into my body, understanding its absolute limits, and knowing how far I can push myself. Besides that, swimming in very cold water gives me a distinct advantage come race season. I am always amazed at how many people I hear getting into the water before a race talking to others around them saying "Wow its cold in here, this will be tough". Its great to see new people in the sport all the time, but I cant help but think it is irresponsible and a poor reflection of the effort of people entering an open water event where they have barely trained for that kind of swim. It couldn't be more different from the pool. Its important to find a decent facility to train in, but the more exposure you have the better you will become, and by swimming over the winter without a wetsuit I will feel positively warm and more than comfortable come early spring while the competition shivers around me.

Aside from the mental edge I'm hoping this gives me, on a purely physical level exposure to very cold water produces a shock response in the body. It acts in a manner similar to that of a violent injury or illness. The body quickly produces an excess of white blood cells in anticipation of the infection or damage it expects to come its way, and have to endure. These white blood cells are the bodies defence against disease, and this forced overproduction is a fantastic way to keep you healthy over the winter training regime. A natural dose of antibiotics.
Its been a warm autumn, and this has kept the lake temperature up. This is lucky because it means I can get in today at what is an unseasonably warm 8degrees and now swim regularly as it drops down to 2 or 3 degrees and even lower over the next few weeks, acclimatising and hardening off gradually as the temperatures (hopefully) plummet.
Setting off while Leon of prepares the safety boat.

20 minutes later I'm out, 1500m under my belt @8degrees. A great start to the training and I'm glad I came. I can't feel my hands or my feet, but the exhilaration of the achievement is unrivalled. I know there is free hot chocolate and bacon rolls in the hut next to the changing rooms, and I rush out to get changed and warm up. I know there's about a 5 minute window where I will feel great, the air will feel warm, before my heart starts to pump blood back to my limbs and I experience 'afterdrop'.

Afterdrop is what happens at the point the body realises it is out of danger and can begin to warm up.  The blood cools rapidly as it flows into the arms and legs and chills your core and heart significantly as it is stripped of its heat that is transferred back to the muscles of the limbs that the body constricted blood flow to in a desperate attempt to preserve heat in my core and fight to keep me alive. This is a dangerous time, and needs careful monitoring. I know what's coming... I will begin shivering violently for a good 20 to 30 minutes, feel dizzy and strangely cold and wet inside my skin. I cant explain it any other way. That time can be well spent though. Cold Water Swimmers are a truly friendly bunch, people come and go, but it is incredibly easy to get on with them. Unlike the transition pit and starting line of a triathlon there is no ego here, no posturing, no bravado or bragging. Nothing beats sitting and shivering so violently while you share stories that you throw tea uncontrollably all over yourself in a vein attempt to look normal. Its a great leveller is shivering. The man that does 100m has an opinion as valued and interesting as the woman that thumps out 2000m. They are all thinkers. Interested in personal limits.

There were a few first timers today, and it is always an honour to share in the exhilaration of their success. For a thing that looks and seems so stupid a thing to do I am amazed how nobody seems to dislike it after they have tried it. I am lucky to live so close to a local hot spot for open water swimming, and we can claim no less than 5 Ice Milers - It is a true measure of how far the body can go, the extremes it will endure. It is beyond the limits of my skinny frame. I know that. There are 90 people worldwide who have achieved this feat. That's 5.555% of the Ice Mile world population around me to get unbeatable world class advise from. This includes Leon, the man in the photo starting the boat above, who gives great support and safety, allowing you to push your limits in the knowledge that if something does go wrong then you will be in the best possible hands in the business.

Halfway into the swim I noticed a cop car/ambulance at the bank. My first thought was that there had been an accident, but I hadn't heard the whistle so I decided to push on. I would be no use to anyone in a shivering numb state anyway. After I got out and went to warm up it became apparent that the copper had been driving past and thought he better investigate what looked like a bunch of suicidal idiots trying to drown themselves. He hung around and looked very confused. I don't think he'll be back with his towel next week, but it was good to see some decent & friendly community policing in action.

Warming up afterwards.
I'll get round to writing a separate page on CWS, there is too much to write....
I'm warmed up and home. A nice hot shower followed by a delicious lunch of pulled pork and a double yolker fried egg.
After that its clean the cars out, a nice dog walk with the wife down the river bank to stretch the legs before another 75min interval session on the turbo followed by a sprint brick of 4miles. The legs are tired and it is hard to hit 6min mile pace. I have to remind myself I am coming to the end of the 3 week cycle and I should be tired. All in all a good weekends work. All ready for a 7am endurance set at the pool in the morning....

Oh and finally, I almost forgot, we found a newt on the drive on Saturday night. how cool is that?