Tuesday, 4 December 2012


More of the same in November...gentle progression, the distance work is feeling nice and comfortable and the speed work is hard, challenging and...... fun.  I used to really dislike interval training, but now I am loving it.  Getting into the pool when you’re still groggy with sleep, fall into the water and start swimming the warm up I am thinking, ‘am I going to be able to pick up the pace’ but during the build set the heart starts to beat a little faster and the blood pump a little harder....then I really get into it!!  Loving the sprint sessions....just have to remember that I am training for a long distance swim and not a sprint! 


The kids continue to impact my ability to sleep and during the middle of the month it got so bad that I couldn’t train much for a week.  When I hit a period that I cannot train for any reason it really bothers me.  I almost feel my fitness waning if I miss a planned session.  I know this is the ‘condition’ of the endurance athlete and what drives us to train as hard as we do.  Even though I understand this, it doesn’t help when I miss a session!

On the upside I started strength training this month - a couple of Pilates sessions per week and 2 x strength sessions and a Boxercise class, for variety.  The key thing I noticed about my first Pilates session was how ‘unfit’ I am!  As the sweat was pouring down my face and the inability to do some of the moves well and certainly without any finesse, reminded me that my fitness is swim specific.  The stiffness I felt the following day helped confirm this.  I had been trying to convince myself that I could get away without doing the gym work, as I really don’t enjoy it and just concentrate on more swimming.  Now that I have started to pump a bit of iron I am reminded that during the 24 hour swim I did last year I had no shoulder problems due to the weight training I was doing at the time.  A problem that a lot of the other swimmers were struggling with.  It is a key part of the training, I have faced the facts and am now getting on with it.

I was thinking that the way I have introduced the strength training into my plan may not be the worst way.  I ramped up my swim training in September and gave myself just over 2 months of building,  allowing my body to adapt to the increasingly steady load.  Only then have I added the strength training.  I know I did not plan it this way, but now that it has happened I think this could be the way forward rather than hitting it all at the same time and pounding the body.  I trained that way in 2011, all at once and full on.  That winter I had so many colds and was very run down, that was before we had 2 children to worry about and sleep was not quite so elusive!  I can feel the strength training impacting my swim fitness as my muscles get used to the increased workload.  It is slowing me down and I am having to make sure I warm up and down better (I’d say properly, but that would be a lie!) to work through the stiffness.  I have even started using a recovery drink in the hope it will help me recover more quickly between sessions.   I am hoping that this is a temporary blip and will suddenly have a leap forward in speed and stamina in the water, in the coming weeks.  It’s good to hope.

I have started looking at the events/ races I would like to do next year, to assist my training and give me smaller goals to aim for in the lead up to the ‘Big One’ .  This is what I have so far:

·         March – Eton Channel Swimming Training Camp.
·         26/4 – 2Swim4Life – yes I am a glutton for punishment, but awesome mental training.  Last time I did 12hrs skins and 12hrs with wetsuit, the target this time is obviously to do the whole thing skins!
·         27/5 – Eton 10km -  possibly not the best event to chose in my lead up to the Channel, but as I was the one that pushed HR into putting the race on, I see it as ‘my race’ J
·         15/6 – Champion of Champions – I hear it is a must!
·         End of June – Jurassic coast swim, basically me, a boat (need to find one) and my crew doing a 10 miler along the lovely coast and practising all the things that need practising before the big one.

Thursday, 8 November 2012


October has been a much better month with some consistent swimming and gradual progression.  The sleep deprivation has been at an all time low with both kids vying for attention through the night.  I see this as a great training tool, if I can bang out 4-5km each session on just a few hours sleep each night this will hold me in good sted for the end of my Channel swim.  That's assuming that I have had some good/regular sleep in the lead up - may have to be a tent in the garden!

I have managed to get out to the Serpentine a couple of times doing an hour each time in around 10c water.  Both days were overcast so meant it felt even colder, good mental prep.  It does start to play with you mind though, when getting toward the end of the hour all I can think of is getting out and getting warm.  If I am struggling with an hour in 10c am I going to be able to make it for 12+ hours in 16-18c water?!  I have to stop the negative chatter in my brain....a 6c increase is significant and having an increase in air temp and maybe even sun on my back will make all the difference.

My wrist is still a little stiff but getting better, hoping it isn't a long term thing.  My right shoulder has started to ache a bit which may just be over use, but could be bad technique.  So I am getting regular massage and plan to get some stroke analysis as I don't want this to grow into something bigger.

Overall I am really happy with the quantity and quality of my training (although I am not going to talk about the lack of strength training ....... shhhhh).  Not working this month has obviously helped to do longer sessions.  Next month I will be back driving a desk so lets see how that impacts training.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012


September, the first month of my new plan, the month I should be gung ho, ready to commit and the most enthusiastic.  Well, that is true......but....it has been a challenging month on a personal level.  My job at the Olympics came to an end after two and half great years.  With lots of goodbyes, everyone going their seperate ways, there were quite a few drinks that needed attending!  Not the best start to training, but some really good parties:)  This coupled with some very difficult nights due to the kids deciding that now would be a good time to stop sleeping through the night have seriously impacted my ability to train.

I finally managed 1 cold water swim at the end of the month - just over an hour and a half in 11c, distance was around 5-6km ( couldn't swim in a straight line so not exactly sure!), not bad considering I haven't done any open water training since swimming in Dover harbour in June.

As for my strength training, i have done that exactly ..... er.... Zero times, yup not once!! How bad is that, but I do have an excuse, it's a rubbish excuse, but it makes me feel better. I fell over one evening whilst roller blading back from the station (great time saver), slipped on a wet surface and landed on my bum and right hand, really painful. I thought (in fact still do) think I may have done more than just sprained it. I left it a day to see if it would get better by itself, it did a bit and didn't seem to hurt to badly when I swam, but I couldn't put any downward pressure on it, so push ups were out of the questions. Absolutely no reason why I can't do sit-ups, squats, skip etc, but I just couldn't get it into my routine. Must try harder next month!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Plan

Now that the current Channel swimming season is all but over I look to next year and 'my' season.... I can't believe I am now properly in the lead up to my swim!

This has been a tough year as my life has been consumed with working at the Olympics. This combined with a young family has made training a little tricky. I have managed to maintain a good base, but my enthusiasm has waned somewhat. However, my fire has been well and truely stoked by the fact that I am into the last leg and the end is almost insight. Well I have finally arrived at the bottom of the mountain and just need to climb to the top now!

I have sought advice from various quarters, trying to determine what a training plan should look like for a successful swim. It has been surprisingly difficult to get this information as no one wants to commit to a winning strategy, as I guess there isn't one! After all, we are all different. Another piece of advice I have followed is not to 'waste' money on a coach.

So, I have taken all of this advice and combined it with wisdom from Penny Lee Dean's book Open Water Swimming and used it put my own plan together. Is it the right plan? Is going without a coach the right move?? Well I will be able to tell you in a little over 10 months time...

Below is the first 4 months of the plan, which takes me to the end of the year, as I started this in September, just didnt getting round to posting the info up then!

Firstly the overall plan for the period: 

I have used Swim Smooth’s CSS pace for testing and training against. If you are not aware of CSS, here is their explanation http://www.swimsmooth.com/training.html.

Below is my monthly test set:

CSS Test (3km)
FC 600
Pull 400
2 x 200
4 x 100
4 x 50
Cool Down - 200

Also, an explanation of the Red Mist session can be found here http://www.feelforthewater.com/2012/07/red-mist-set.html.

For the long swims I use a wetronome to set my stroke rate to ensure that I maintain an even pace throughout.

This is a more detailed look at a typical training week,

The focus of the trainig is 2-fold:

1)Work on increasing my pace (see previous post 'The need for speed')
2)Work on increasing endurance and distance swims

I plan to swim in the open water as late into the year as possible, for the long swims, so that I maintain my tolerance to the cold water.

Here is my strength plan;

The aim is to do this 2/3 times per week:  You will note that I am not using weights in this plan, I am just using my own body weight to build endurance and strength. The reason is pretty simple, I need to build my training into my family life, spending hours in the pool and the gym is just not feasible!

I will try and post a monthly update on how the training is going and comment on what works and what doesn't.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Dover for the first time


On Sunday I finally made my way to Dover to get my first taste of the Channel. I was a little apprehensive as the last long swim I had done was the 10km a couple of weeks ago, the water temp had shot up to a scorching 19+C in the lake and the sun was beating down on us. A complete contrast to Dover, it had been miserable for the week leading up and the wind was out showing off a little of what it can do, the sea was looking cold and choppy.

When I checked in with the beach crew i discovered that the water was a mild 13.5C, so the 3 hour swim i was given was looking to be nice and fun! I quickly changed and stood In line to have Vaseline applied generously by another member of the helpful beach crew. The infamous Freda called us all together for a quick briefing - only swim as far as the last pole that way and see how choppy it is when you get to the other end, the first feed will be at 11. And that was that. Although swimming is pretty straightforward and not particulary complex I was expecting more, but in hindsight, what else could she say?

Without further ado we made our way to the water front, there we nothing left to do but jump in and get swimming. There was a little bit of a shock and the inhalation reflex (can't remember the technical term) but after a feĊµ quick strokes had my breathing under control and actually started to feel warm! I wasn't expecting that, I kept up a good pace so that the cold wouldn't get to me, I felt good. I headed toward the groynes not sure how far to go. I followed the other swimmers, as we passed the first groyne the sea seemed to boil and churn....ooh this was getting more interesting. The challenge had just got harder. I dug in and tried to feel the rhythme of the sea to work out the best way to swim with the motion of the water rather than against it. Well that was the idea any way. I got a few mouthfuls of sea water as I turned to breathe. Spluttering, I continued on as close to the wall as possible and then turned to head back against the current.

At one point I looked around to see where the other swimmers were and couldn't see a one. There must have been about 30 of us setting off at the same time, all wearing bright red swimming caps and I couldn't see one of them, it was that choppy. My mind wanted to go on a wander and start to panic me, but I put an end to any nasty thoughts before they could take root.

I didn't want to check my watch until I did one full lap as I didn't want to be disappointed at how much I had left to do. I started to let my mind wonder, realising that I rarely do when I am swimming. I am always counting laps in the pool and lakes that I can't let my mind loose, this was different all I had to do was swim for 3 hours without having to count anything. 1st lap down in half an hour, almost the perfect distance for a lap swim, 4 per hour, nice and easy, but enough variety and turns to keep it interesting. I started to think that as this was going so well, that I might stay for an extra hour and clock up 4 hours on my first Dover visit...

Finally I spotted some of my fellow swimmers, I didn't realise quite how far from the beach I had swam out, as I moved closer to the shore I could see more and more of them. Comforting, some how.

As the 2 hour mark approached I could feel the difference the choppy water was having on my shoulders. A stiffness was creeping in. This was not a good sign, I didn't think it would stop me from completing the 3 hour swim, but I did think how am I going to be able to do this for 12+ hours next year? Well it certainly made me realise that no matter how much time I spend in the pool I need to get my arse down to the coast a lot more often, oh and some time in the gym to build more strength into these shoulders.

I joined the rest of the swimmers at the beach for our feed. I had heard of Freda's legendary maxim mix and I was not sure I would be able to stomach such a potent sports drinks. As I neared the shallows a cup was thrust into my hand which I gulped down, it was delicious, absolutely delicious, warm, sweet and gloopy. I reached for a second which went straight down, I stood hovering considering a third before I was snapped out of my reviere with a brusk "off you go". Without thinking I turned and dove back into the water to complete my last hour.

It was getting harder with every stroke, whilst the drink had revitalised me somewhat there was still the feeling that liquid cement was leaking slowly into my arms and legs. Thoughts of doing a 4th hour were quickly dropped as I did my best to focus on a quality stroke and get through the last hour without losing too much morale. More mouthfuls of sea water didn't help, as the wind picked up and the chop got choppier I started to slow ever more. Finally I was on the last lap and before I knew it heading to last turn back toward the beach. I checked my watch, 4 minutes early! So, on I swam each minute seeming to take 5 to pass.

Turning toward the shore to finish, digging a little deeper to swim against a current that seemed intent on taking me further out to sea, I contemplated where I am in my preparation. I felt tired, sure I could have swam on if absolutely needed, but not for many more hours. The positives though...I didn't feel cold, mentally I felt fine and I didn't get bored.

A few days later there is a little post swim stiffness but nothing too much which suggests I am in reasonably good shape....just need to get in even better shape :-)

Saturday, 23 June 2012

The need for speed

Last time I talked about needing to go faster, so what is my approach to speeding up?

When I first started out on this quest the one piece of advice I consistently received was to sort my stroke out. This is generic advice to everyone making the attempt (although I did need some serious sorting out, see the early posts)as it is so important to have the most efficient stroke possible. So I had some coaching and video analysis which improved my stroke and efficiency no end. At the time I had read a lot on stroke technique all of it different from each other with conflicting ideas, which just helped to confuse me. Once I had done the analysis I knew what I had to work on and didn't have to think 'is this the right way to do it'. I could focus in tweaking my stroke.

With good technique comes good consistency, which is the key to improvement in any sport.

I have made a conscious effort this season to focus on my weaknesses. How do you know your weaknesses? Simple, think of all the things you really don't like doing and they are likely to be your weaknesses. One of my biggest is kicking, I used to hate kicking, but over the past few months I have incorporated it into my daily sessions and have noticed a significant improvement in my kick. I wouldn't say I love kicking now, but I certainly hate it less!

Next is the most obvious point. If you want to swim faster, then you have to......swim faster. There have to be mixed sessions each week where you really push yourself to the point where you may not complete the planned session. BUT when you increase your stroke rate it still has to be a quality stroke. I used to literally throw my arms and legs all over the place when I sprinted. This had 3 effects, I made a big spash and, as my limbs were moving all over the place, felt like I was going faster and thirdly had very little improvement on my speed! Now when I speed up I focus on keeping the stroke and body position the same, but increase the stroke rate and the strength of my pull. This has had a significant improvement on my speed.

I try to give 100% every session and not plod along. I tell myself that I cannot afford to be complacent in training if I expect to make it across the Channel. I have to push myself harder each time if I am to build the strength, speed and stamina needed.

Having said that, it is important to know the focus of each session. I do not sprint 6 days per week. I have devised a progressive schedule which builds the intensity of the pace sessions and the distance of the long swims each week. It is important to have a mix of sessions as I have mentioned and to progress each week. Overall progression can only be seen if you push yourself. It's no good going to the pool for a couple of hours and spend an hour of that at the side of the pool 'resting' or chatting. If I have a 2 hour session I swim for at least 95% of it.

Finally you have to know that you are improving and keep yourself motivated. The best feedback is to do regular test swim sets. Here is a simple set I do, swim 10 x 100 with 10 seconds rest. Time the set as a whole, deduct the rest period, divide the remaining time by 10 to give you your average 100 pace.

To recap, my tips for going faster are:

1. Technique, eliminate weaknesses
2. Quality and consistency
3. Swim faster
4. Push yourself
5. Weekly progression
6. Variety
7. Measure

Now go and get faster.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

What is the key to success?

Ok, so this is a bit of strange thing to post as I have yet to attempt let alone succeed in my Channel swim.  However, I believe that speed is the key to success in the Channel.  I base this on a considerable amount of research. 

There is a lot of talk about insulating the body with an extra layer of fat, which I plan to build in the lead up to my attempt.  However, this is not the silver bullet soltion that I had first thought it was to fight the cold.  One comment from a self proclaimed 'cuddly' swimmer said that he still felt the cold aplenty.  This got me thinking, if just getting fat is not the answer what else can I do to fight the cold.

Its obvious really, when you give it some thought.  You need to generate and maintain a descent level of internal heat to get across.  It also helps to get across as quickly as possible.  The research I have read of young girls and boys without any significant body fat getting across really made me think. If I can go faster my chance of success is much greater.  Training at one speed and 'hoping' to make it across is not the answer.  I don't believe you can enter into this kind of challenge having 'hope' as one of the things you rely on.  I recently spoke to a successful channel swimmer who told me that when he entered the water at Dover he knew he was going to make it across.  He said that he was that confident in his preperation.  That is where I want to be when I rock up next year.

So, what have I done about this discovery?  I have added more pace work than I have ever done before to my training plan, but not just added it, I am attacking it with gusto.

I dedicate one session per week completely to Pace training something like:

400 FC ez
300 pull
200 kick
2 * (10*100:10)
400 cool down

I also put a pyramid session in each week, this is a really fun session as I get to do lots of different things in one session.

The other sessions are more dedicated to longer straight swims, only now I will do 200m fast for every 800m swam as a continuous swim for 7 - 10km and on the last km I alternate 200 ez 200 fast.  Its a real shoulder burner, but well worth it.

Another fun session I enjoy is to do a long set such as 8km, do the warm up, then 3km straight swim followed by 10*100 then straight into another 3km straight swim.  Its a hard session, but by having done this for a few months now I am faster on my 'ploding stroke' which is a good sign. 

I am also getting more confident that I will be able to attack the tide and currents when needed, to avoid getting swept backwards and not having to spend an extra 6 hours in the water waiting for the tide to turn.

More on speed next time.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Back in the driving seat

Well it has been a very bright and, at the same time, a very dark winter.  The brightness came in early Autumn with the arrival of my beautiful daughter.  The darkness came with what seemed like endless months of not sleeping at all due to the needs of a baby coupled with the never ending stream of colds and coughs my son brought back from nursery to share with the whole family.

Obviously this has all had a significant impact on my training.  Through the Autumn until the end of the year I basically did what I could, trying my best to get to the pool 3 to 4 times per week.  Some days I was literally swimming on empty, but was suprised that even though I couldn't keep my eyes opening, sometimes I felt great in the water.  Other days though, I felt like I was swimming through treacle with concrete running through my veins.

I started to look on the really hard sessions when I had had very little sleep and no energy as excellent mental training for the Channel.  I know there will come a time when I will feel so cold and tired that I will want to give up.  Thanks to my children I have now come close(ish) to what I imagine that feeling to be, on a regular basis through the winter and have started to train my mind to deal with feeling like this.  Plenty more mental training to do and I am sure the kids will oblige with many an opportunity!

In the new year I wrote myself a new training plan and set my self a goal - Eton 10km at the end of May, no wetsuit this time.  I continued to struggle with consistent quality sleep and therefore training sessions until the end of February.  Finally as the evenings started to get lighter we saw the last of the family colds disappear and we all started to get a little more sleep.  Amazing how much difference this has made.

My plan had been to get into the open water in Feb to start accliamatising, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it.  The water seems so much colder when you're tired.  I opted instead to follow each of my pool sessions with an ice cold shower.  I was pleasantly suprised that it didn't take long to get back into the swing of it.  Finally in early March I took the plunge and did my first open water swim of the year at the Serpentine in Hyde Park.  The water was a civilized 8 degrees C.  After the initial shock I was able to put my head down and cruise through just over 1km and around 17 mins in the water.  Again I was pleasantly suprised that I could cope.  Granted it took a good hour, a long hot shower and copious amounts of hot coffee to stop shaking but I had done it. 

Since then I have done a 2km and 2:5km open water swim and my weekly average is now up to around 20km.

The plan this weekend is to extend the open water swim to 3km and eliminate the shakes within 45 mins!