The workouts you hate

There are workouts you love. There are workouts you hate. And then there are the workouts that you say you hate, you think you hate …. but actually…. you secretly enjoy them. Whether it’s the feeling of accomplishment you get as you’re doing them, the fact you know they are making you stronger, faster, or enjoying gasping for breath and dripping with sweat …. you secretly enjoy them.

This post is about the workouts you actually hate. Yes, they may be making you faster / stronger / whatever, but while you’re doing them, you wish you weren’t. You really are not enjoying yourself and wish you’d stayed in bed. There’s no sense of accomplishment at the end, just relief that it’s over.

There’s a sense amongst “motivational” posters or bloggers that you have to do these workouts:

“Wow, I really regret that workout” – no one, ever.

regret-that-workout

If its not hard, its not worth it

When you feel like quitting, think about why you started.

GBD1dAvg

I like that last one – think about why we you started. We all have our different reasons. Maybe you want to lose weight. Maybe you want to keep up on a club run. Maybe … just maybe … it’s all for fun. I started because I wanted to be able to complete a triathlon. Once that was done, I continued because I enjoyed it. Yes, I want to get faster in each triathlon I do. But actually, the enjoyment I get from the time at the end of a race is tiny compared to the months and months and months of enjoyment from all the little training moments. The sun glinting on an empty pool, mind going into blankness of just stroke, stroke, breathe. Blue skies and a straight road leading out ahead of me. Bruno Mars in my headphones and my legs pounding until I feel I can’t breathe. That’s why I keep doing it – because I enjoy it. That’s why I want to keep going – because training is fun and an integral part of my life now.

IMG_6434

With all that in mind – I firmly believe there is absolutely no point in doing a workout you hate. Here are some tips for avoiding that….

fitness-motivation-quote-train-to-be-a-badass

1) Distinguish between the workouts you hate and the ones you actually secretly enjoy. Do the second ones – they’re good for you. Try everything once, just in case you actually will enjoy it. It is useless to say “I hate swimming 50m sprints” if you have never tried – you never know, you might love it.

271553052501602829_7ht1cIsg_f

2) Find the things you love doing – focus on them

3) Don’t just stay in bed – do something! If the thought of a specific workout is making you stay in bed and press that snooze button, it’s not working for you. There’s no need to stick to a specific training plan. Change it. Do something different. Maybe a long swim instead of sprints. Maybe get out on your bike instead of on the turbo. Run intervals on the treadmill instead of jogging around your block ten times in the dark on an early morning. Pick something different to do that excites you.

4) Change it up. If you’ve started the workout, and are really hating it, don’t continue. There’s no point doing something you hate, life is too short! But don’t stop either …. just make a change. This week I chopped 600m off one of my swims as I was hating the 6 x 300m tempo reps so much. I did 2 x 300m, then considered getting out of the pool and giving up. I swam two slow lengths of breast stroke while I argued with myself. Then I decided to go for a couple of sets of 200m instead, followed by the cool-down. I still swam further than my 1500m race distance. I still got in a good enough workout. And I ended up enjoying myself.

5) Make sure you enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy it, it won’t last. There’s no point being super-fit this year, if after that race you never want to do it again.

Don’t let motivational posters make you feel crap – if you hate something, don’t do it, do something you enjoy instead!

fitness-motivation-exercies

p.s. this one’s true – it is perfectly possible to enjoy doing hard things!

Triathlon training week 6 – back on it

After last week’s training fiasco but social success, I was back on it this week. A total of just over 10 hours spent training, and my training plan looked like this:

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 21.57.54

Yes I accept that’s a lot of orange … but there were reasons! And on top of that I also managed 4 sessions of yoga / strength & conditioning, one spin class, and a few leisurely cycles at the weekend.

Running

Run 1 was a casual 40m jog – up to Retiro Park, around the lake in the sunshine and then home. Apparently I ran my second km in 4.41. This is either wrong, or fully explains the pain in my right thigh I had in my third km, which meant I ended up walking a large portion of it! Average speed dropped to 7.18 per km ….. After that one slow km, the pain in my thigh had kind of disappeared so I picked up the pace slightly for a slow jog home, being super careful all the way. Definitely do not want any injuries.

IMG_6902

Run 2 was a set of treadmill intervals. I’d planned this for Friday morning, then had to go into work an hour early as we had a deal signing. Then I thought I’d get it in Friday lunch time … but my to-do list was about 20 items long and I knew it would be too stressful. I worked through lunch hoping to get out early and do the run then. By the time I ended up leaving it was 7.30pm, I was meeting friends for dinner at 8.30, I was tired and in a bad mood. So the run was put off until Saturday!

It was awesome on Saturday though. I held the intervals – each 6 minutes long – at a 12kph pace on the treadmill. That might sound deathly slow for some, but last summer the best I ever did was a set of 5min intervals at 12kph. They killed me, and I was only able to do them a couple of times at peak fitness. This time? They were fine. Totally, completely fine. It left me feeling really happy – sure, I still have horrendous runs, but in general I am a lot faster than last year and that is great!

Swimming

Swim 1 was a slow set of 6 x 300m. Swim 2 was a “tempo” (fast) set of 6 x 300m. I only managed 5 due to getting tired and really, really fed up with the other swimmers. My pool has six lanes. Two slow, two intermediate, two fast. There was a woman swimming in the FAST lane who could not swim a length of front crawl – she kept trying, and then stopping mid-length, treading water, and finishing with breast stroke. Now, there is nothing wrong with that, we’ve all been there. But GET OUT OF THE FAST LANE. After I had overtaken her several times and almost swum right into her several times, she eventually ducked under the lane rope to the medium lane. By this time there was another guy doing horrendously slow backstroke and I was in an awful mood so cut it short at 5 reps!

Swim 3(!) was my first open water swim of the season. I picked a point to swim to that kept me practically hugging the shore line – not so close I would hit any rocks, but not so far out that a motorboat might not see me.It turned out to be roughly a 10 minute swim away so I swam there and back twice. The first ten minutes went by very slowly – I kept stopping to look around me and tread water, I felt my chest was slightly tight, I wasn’t hugely enjoying myself. I had forgotten that it can take a little while to ease into open water swimming! It is so weird as I didn’t think I was scared or panicking, but the tight feeling in my chest would suggest otherwise! And on my second loop, the tight feeling went away. I was much more in the swing of things, plus by this point I knew I wasn’t going to swim into a random rock and was going to be just fine. The training plan is orange because my swim was nowhere near as structured as it suggests it should be – just four sets of 10 minutes swimming, with some treading water in between.

IMG_6932

Cycling

I do worry that this training plan doesn’t involve enough cycling. It only had one cycle on the plan for last week! So I added in a cycle 1 – just a short 20 minutes on the spin bike at the gym for a good tempo workout.

Cycle 2 was an awesome / awful day out on the bike. I had planned an 80km route, using Strava to find a route that it seemed several cyclists had done. I started by heading into Casa de Campo and doing one loop of the route I’ll be doing at Madrid triathlon. Average speed – 26.7kph which to be honest I am quite happy with. I will be very happy if I can keep that up over 5 laps….. It was quite fun as I overtook a lone woman on a tri bike at the start of the hill. She then kept behind me for about half the way, before taking a turn up front. At the top of the hill there is a dip and then another steep incline – we stayed together on the dip and then I moved out and we had a little race up the steep incline. No idea if she was actually racing me but I quite enjoyed it! Especially when I “won” and then sped off down the hill.

After that one loop I set off out of the park and after about 15 minutes, turned off the cycle path following the route I was doing. I quickly found myself in an area of trail. I could see from google maps that roads were marked very close and thought perhaps this was just one tiny section, so I walked my bike, occasionally cycling slowly when the trails were in better condition.

IMG_6915

I got to the point where a road was marked … and it was just a wider trail (although in even worse condition). By this point I was quite far from where I’d left the road. I just kept walking, hoping eventually I would reach a road, and found myself in the absolute middle of nowhere, literally no roads in sight. It was beautiful but I was annoyed at myself!

IMG_6916

I eventually found a road and a lovely one it was too – straight, good surface, very few cars. It went all the way up to El Pardo and then stopped – a dead-end. Time to turn back on myself! I then took a turning where the road led up a long but not too steep hill, through the national park, reached the top and then swooped down towards Madrid again. It was fantastic. But I was still nowhere near 80km so I found my way back onto a cycle path. This is where the trip started to go even more downhill …despite the fact I was still cycling uphill…. There was a long stretch of cycle path that was just right beside a motorway, in the blazing sun with absolutely no shade. It looked from the maps like it might be leading somewhere nice eventually but I was too hot and had been out too long to really care. Eventually I turned around and had a fantastic cycle back into the centre of Madrid, mainly downhill and I was zooming. I got home with 77.6km under my belt and 3 hours 35 of cycling so was pretty pleased with myself. I now have plans to rent a mountain bike and go and explore those trails on more appropriate wheels!

Something I’m proud of: that interval run and my longest solo ride yet. A half ironman will be 90km of cycling so I still need to build up that distance, and speed, but I was pretty happy with how it went. Especially given the incredibly slow sections when I was off road!

Something I need to work on: swimming, swimming, swimming. Motivation for swimming. And planning routes for my bike!

Something fun that was nothing to do with training: the glorious day I had on Sunday spent by Embalse de San Juan with friends – a bit of open water swimming, a bit of exploring, a ginormous paella, a good book and the sun on my skin.

IMG_6943

10 steps to a triathlete’s top long weekend in Madrid

Here’s my ten step plan to an incredible weekend when you’re a triathlete living in Madrid:

1) Go out for dinner with new friends on the Thursday night. Drink lots of wine.

2) Sleep off the hangover and then go to the gym for some treadmill intervals. Sweat that alcohol out, listen to Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift, shake it off.

3) Leisurely cycle to Retiro Park. Lie in the sun for a few hours and read a good book. Leisurely cycle home.

IMG_6911

4) 5 x 300m fast reps in Chueca swimming pool. Plus warm-up and cool-down, that’s 2200m. Exhaust yourself so much the evening is spent watching Glee, tidying, blogging and reading.

5) Saturday – set out for an 80km ride. End up completely off-road on your carbon road bike with no roads actually in sight. Work those calves walking your bike up a sandy track, gingerly cycle downhill. Find a road! It’s going in the right direction! 10 minutes later … oh it’s a dead end. End up eventually knowing where you are but on a cycle path that runs in between a motorway and a railway track, with absolutely no shade. Get home after 77km, tired, thirsty and happy.

IMG_6918

6) Take your bike for a clean – lie in the sun while its done. Pay just €5 – Motos and bikes.

7) Sunday – drive with two friends to a lake outside Madrid – Embalse de San Juan. Practice open water swimming in the sunshine.

IMG_6939

8) Eat a ginormous paella. Be so stuffed all you can do all afternoon is lie in the sun and chat with friends.

IMG_6944

9) Drive back to Madrid, spend the evening cooking and FaceTiming with family.

10) Early to bed!!! (Ready to rise and shine for another swim session on Monday morning)

Hope you all had a good weekend!

Toledo

Toledo is a Spanish city about 70km south of Madrid, but only half an hour away on the fast AVE (costs about 20 euro per person). Most people just go for a day trip from Madrid but we decided to spend a little more time and so booked an Air B’n’b for Saturday night. We arrived at Atocha Station half an hour before our train only to discover that it was fully booked … so we booked the next one and went for lunch in Madrid. Toledo tip: book your AVE in advance!

IMG_6780

On arriving there were no taxis at the station so we just walked up into town. We walked up around the side of town but there is also an escalator taking you directly into the centre so the whole walk would only take about 10 minutes.

IMG_6778

The city is on a hill above the River Tajo, and was given UNESCO World Heritage status in 1986 – it is famous for the co-existence of Christianity, Islam and Judaism in the city and for a long time was the capital of Spain, before Philip II moved his court to Madrid. The buildings are all so old! It has been populated by the Bronze Age and its first Jewish inhabitants settled there around 5BC. It was an important Roman city and became an important Visigothic city after the fall of the Roman empire.

IMG_6810

We stumbled into a Visigothic church, just by getting lost in the tiny streets, and were astounded. It was stunningly beautiful. And around the sides of the church were really interesting exhibitions (all in Spanish I am afraid) about the history of the Visigoths in Spain, something I knew very little about.

IMG_6811

It was the Visigothic empire that took steps towards politically unifying the Iberian peninsula – they managed to conquer pretty much the whole thing and put laws into place to govern and consolidate the peninsular. The museum cost 1 euro, but as the machine wasn’t working, entry was free! Well worth a visit.

From the Visigothic period, Toledo was then captured by the Moors as part of their conquest of the whole peninsula in the early 8th century. It took the Moors 2 years to conquer Iberia, it had taken the Romans 200 years…. it was then to take 700 years for the Catholics to reconquer the peninsula. That’s quite incredible – Spain was a Muslim country for longer than the period between now and the expulsion of the Moors.

IMG_6740

So we also visited a Mosque – the mezquita del Cristo de la Luz. The outside was very pretty with some nice gardens but inside it was nothing special – it is tiny, with an apse added to one side which takes away from the effect of the Moorish columns and vaults.

IMG_6781

Moorish Spain was amazing in that it was incredibly tolerant of different religions. Indeed, many of the Jewish people in Spain were really pleased with the Moorish conquest as they no longer suffered persecution from the Christians. Toledo was known as the “city of three cultures” due to the coexistence of Jews, Muslims and Christians within the city.

IMG_6782

One of the main tourist attractions in the city is the Synagogue of El Transito, which also has a Sephardic museum in it. I’d never been to a synagogue before. This one was really interesting and incredibly beautiful – it actually reminded me a bit of parts of the Alhambra in Granada. And I was very interested in the women’s gallery – as women weren’t allowed to worship with men but were able to watch them from above. Why are all religions so awful towards women?!

IMG_6783

It’s not currently a synagogue in use, however. After the overthrow of the Moors, Catholic Spain became increasingly anti-semitic and anti-islam, seeing the Jews especially as a “fifth column” within Spain. They were expelled from Spain a couple of months after the fall of Granada, in 1492. The synagogue was eventually converted into a church, and then into the museum that it is today.

Back to Christianity – Toledo Cathedral is absolutely incredible. We went into it about half an hour before close which I think was the best time as it was almost empty. It wouldn’t be the same with hundreds of people in tour groups wandering around. It’s quiet and cool, peaceful and beautiful. It’s a gothic-style cathedral with some beautiful art in one of the chapels.

IMG_6741

Talking of art – Philip II eventually moved the court of Spain from Toledo to Madrid, meaning that the city lost its economic importance – but art gained from this! One of the city’s most famous artists is El Greco and a house in the Jewish area of town has been converted into a museum, meant to be a representation of the house El Greco lived in in the city. Lots of great art and a beautiful building.

IMG_6749

All the culture done, we got totally lost in Toledo’s tiny, winding, cobbled streets, stumbling on ridiculously beautiful buildings hidden away on quiet corners. We had drinks and tapas in tiny bars all over the town, and then went to Locum for dinner on a recommendation from a friend. It was quite a couple-y restaurant but we were happy enough and had an incredible meal. We shared a starter, which was a degustación – the chef’s choice of three dishes. So we had tuna tartare, a chickpea soup (where the liquid was poured into the dish at the table) and scallops. The food was delicious and I’d really recommend it if you go to Toledo.

IMG_6744

On Sunday it was alternatively beautifully sunny and hot, or torrential rain. The rain meant we went into the Alcazar fortress, now a military museum, which we might not normally have gone into … but it had some Roman ruins, stunning views over the river, and hosted a ginormous exhibition on all of Spain’s military history.

IMG_6779

Just one weekend, but one jam-packed, chock-full of culture and food weekend. It was fantastic. We caught the AVE back on Sunday afternoon, tired, sleepy and very very happy.

Details:

Accomodation: “Casa roja en casco historico” – for £74 a night. The cleaning fee was quite high for this place compared to the actual cost but it was beautifully clean, well decorated, very close to the centre of town, and the owner was extremely friendly and helpful. Would definitely recommend staying here. It had one room with a double bed, and in the living room there was a day-bed that became a single bed, and a sofa that became a double bed.

Transport: the AVE – €20, 30 minutes, super-fast, super-easy.

Food: Dinner at Locum

The Silence of the Sea

I had to stop reading the Silence of the Sea (by Yrsa Sigurdardottir) about half way through. Not because I didn’t like it, I was absolutely hooked, but because it was completely, utterly terrifying and my only time for reading was last thing before bed.

I am normally a very pragmatic person; I don’t believe in ghosts, I’m not scared of the dark, I am not easily spooked. But as I turned my light off I could have sworn I heard someone breathing in my room… I tried to go to sleep but lasted 5 minutes before I got up the courage to turn the light back on and turn around to make sure there was nobody in the room. I picked up my triathlon magazine and resolved to finish Silence of the Sea at the weekend.

isbn9781444734485-detail

It is an Icelandic crime fiction novel which tells the story of what happens when a luxury motor yacht crashes into the harbour in Iceland, with nobody on board.

Aegir, his wife and their twin daughters are in Portugal on a holiday while Aegir sorts out the paperwork for a luxury yacht his bank have just repossessed. When one of the yacht crew is injured, Aegir agrees to help sail the boat back to Iceland, with his family onboard instead of flying home. A trip of a lifetime. But from the moment of cast-off things feel slightly wrong – the crew resent having a family onboard, the yacht has a reputation for spooky occurrences, and the whole family feel horribly seasick. A surprise discovery sets off a chain of events that end with the boat arriving, empty, in Reykjavik Harbour.

Interspersed with the unfolding of the events of the boat are chapters following Thora Gudmundsdottir, an Icelandic lawyer employed by the parents of Aegir to find out what really happened.

The tension is built slowly and spookily as with every chapter on the boat the fear picks up amongst the characters and also amongst the readers. It’s a clever plot device to build suspense – knowing that ultimately everyone on board will disappear but not knowing how or why.

The wonderful For Books’ Sake described the book like thus:

This novel is an example of true perfection. The dialogue is crisp and believable, the plot both terrifying and tense, the characters natural and engaging. The sea itself becomes personified as a background character, casually stalking the investigation and punctuating the narrative with a dialogue which is both alien and strangely understandable to the reader. If anyone ever tells you that crime fiction is engaging but poorly written, give them this book as proof to the contrary.

However, I can’t fully agree with the first sentence. I thought Silence of the Sea was fantastic, was really gripped, absolutely terrified, and really enjoyed it. However … it wasn’t perfect.. It is not a 5* read mainly due to the last chapter. So many books I have read recently seem to hit an issue towards the end where it is as if they are approaching a word limit and are trying to wrap everything up quickly. This is definitely what happened here, so quickly that I almost missed it! Having one person describe to another what happened is a quick way of tying up loose ends but is not the most dramatic or interesting of endings.

Another issue was one that you get often in books that have been translated into English – the language can be slightly stilted and conversations especially don’t run as naturally as they do in real speech. There were a few jarring moments lie this in the book where the language didn’t flow as smoothly as it might have done, but nothing to really distract from the story or the suspense.

So – would I recommend the Silence of the Sea? Yes, definitely. Although it has its limitations, it is well worth a read. Just not right before bedtime!

Triathlon training – REST WEEK!

I take my rest weeks seriously. Maybe slightly too seriously on occasion. When people hear I do triathlon and that I’m going to the gym at lunch time having run for an hour in the morning, they say things along the lines of “you’re so dedicated … you must really love it”. I am sure we have all heard similar! But I can switch off in an instant. If I don’t have a full timetable of workouts to do, I can easily go a week with nothing and barely miss it. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy it – my previous posts this training cycle will show how much I love it – but somehow it is very, very easy to get out of the spin of things.

Especially in a rest week. I moved my programme around a bit so rest week would happen this week as it was going to involve a lot of travelling. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get any workouts in over Saturday and Sunday so thought it would be a good chance for a rest week. Well here’s how it panned out.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 20.58.57

Hmmm. After so many green-filled weeks, there’s quite a significant amount of reds and oranges on that schedule! Only just over 3 hours in total. But on the bright side, I made the most of a rest weekend to do a lot of socialising and say yes to things I would normally have said no to….

Running 

Only the one run, a long 80 minutes fasted pre-work. It was slow and tiring, but still nice to be out in the fresh air in the park before work.

IMG_6865

I had meant to do the second run – another slow 50 minutes before work – but instead it was suggested that I go to watch Andy Murray at the Madrid open the night before. Watching one of the world’s best play live tennis? Yep sure! Then Federer’s match dragged on… and Stotsur’s match dragged on …. and Murray didn’t start playing until after 1am. As I didn’t get to sleep until 3am there was no way I was getting up any earlier than absolutely necessary!

IMG_6860

It was completely, utterly 100% worth it though. What’s a 50 minute run compared to great seats at some fantastic tennis?!

IMG_6861

Cycling

Only the one … a 30 minute spin class. It was really hard though. I was sweating so much my hands were slipping off the handlebars. I love spin.

Swimming

Only the one… the drills workout above. I had definitely intended to go again Friday morning, but then I was awake until 1am reading the Hunger Games. Whyyyyy. I’ve watched all the films, I know what happens… but I still couldn’t put the book down!

Brick work out

Again … intended I promise. Firstly intended on Monday morning, which I had as a holiday and so was back in the UK. However a few too many drinks with friends on Sunday night put paid to that, plus my “easy” 10km PB apparently wasn’t quite as easy as I’d thought as my muscles were really, really sore Monday morning!

Then I planned to get the workout in Friday afternoon but sadly a signing at work got in the way. The whole office was off at a retreat except me (as I was flying back to the UK again Friday evening) and so I had expected a really, really quiet day. Then a signing got pushed backwards and although I kept hoping for a quiet few hours to get out and go to the gym, it just didn’t happen. Quite fun to be coordinating the signing of a multi-million pound transaction though!

Then the weekend was a write-off as it was either spent travelling, or at James’ parents’ wedding. They’ve been together 30 years but just decided to get married now. We had a really, really lovely day with the family and the sun even came out after the ceremony.

IMG_6887

Then it was back to their house for pictures in the garden, champagne & cake (what an incredible cake) and then a huge dinner with lots of glasses of wine.

IMG_6893

As I was only up in Newcastle for such a short period of time I didn’t want to waste any time by heading off on my own for a run so wrote the whole weekend off a while ago. And I don’t regret it in the slightest!

IMG_6890

Something I’m proud of: not much excercise-wise this week I’m afraid. It was a bit of a fail of a week. Having said that, I’m definitely not disappointed! These weeks happen and I had a great time. It’s important not to get too hung-up on always getting the workouts in so that we miss out on life.

Something I need to work on: Errrrm not staying up past midnight reading the Hunger Games probably! Although hopefully I won’t need to work on this as I finished the Hunger Games trilogy in three days and am now almost finished the Divergent trilogy. After this I promise I will put away the Young Adult fiction and get back to proper books I can read more slowly and actually put down when it’s bed time!

Something fun that was nothing to do with training:

Errrrm where to start this week?! From watching Murray play at the Madrid open, to a casual few glasses of wine in a leafy Madrid plaza on Thursday night, topped off by a fantastic  weekend back in Newcastle for a family wedding – it has been a great week.

IMG_6889

Open water swimming – some advice for beginners

As we are now into May, most of us with triathlons planned for the summer will be thinking about getting ready for open water swimming. If you are like me this year, desperate to pull the wetsuit on and get back into the cold and calmness of swimming in a lake, this post is not for you…. If you are like me last year, dreading the swim, wondering if you will manage front crawl at all, concerned about whether you will be able to finish – this post is for you!

IMG_6712

My first open water swim was horrendous. It was an end-of-May triathlon, my first ever event, in a year when we had seen snow in the UK at the beginning of the month. Luckily it was a “super-sprint”, for beginners, so the swim was only 400m (and the run a mere 2.5km), but unluckily the weather had put many beginners off and so there were only five of us in the event!

first tri wetsuit

The Olympic distance and the sprint distance racers set off, and there were left just five people in wetsuits, new, old and borrowed, standing shivering on the shoreline, watching the other swimmers set off into the far distance. The race director called us all to the water and pointed out our much shorter route. We got into the water and we were off! I put my head under and immediately the cold closed over me, my heart rate felt sky-high, I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I panicked. I ended up swimming the 400m almost all breaststroke, occasionally getting brave enough to put my head in for another few strokes but immediately resorting to breast stroke again.

jilli swim

At the end of that year, in September, I did the Sprint triathlon in the same location. I was really hoping to manage front crawl, but again, really struggled and swam breast stroke most of the way.

triathon swim

Fast forward to the next June – another sprint triathlon. This time I swam front crawl all the way, swam the 750m in 14 minutes and was the second woman out of the water (soon to be overtaken on the bike but shhhh). In my first Olympic distance tri, I managed the 1500m in 28 minutes and really enjoyed myself.

20140601-222520-80720250.jpg

So what changed?

I learned to love open water swimming. I spent last summer regularly getting up at the crack of dawn and driving through central London to Stoke Newington, or out to Richmond, to swim with the RG Active team. I really, really recommend their swim sessions. This year they start on the 16th May so there is still time to get your wetsuit and plan your transport!

ham lake

They are based in Ham Lake, Stoke Newington Resevoir, Hampstead Heath and Redricks Lake – I have attended sessions at Ham Lake and Stoke Newington. Coached sessions are on Saturday mornings and start at 7.30am (yes, I know, but it is beautifully quiet and so worth getting up at that time). They also have a just swim session at Ham Lake for 5 quid on a Tuesday morning (at 6am – pre work) and Sunday morning (7am). They are really friendly and welcoming and not only are perfect for beginners, but often offer more structured swim workouts as well for those who are stronger swimmers.

photo1 (6)

Here’s my blog from when I first went last year…

photo 4 (2)

But if you can’t make it to London and an RG Active open water training session, here are my five top tips for getting comfortable in the open water and then improving your performance.

photo 5 (3)

1) Practice! See above – that one was easy.

2) Get in early – get in the water as soon as you can. I always thought this was stupid advice, why would you want to get cold sooner than you need to? That was very, very wrong. You won’t get cold, you will in fact warm up! Start by putting your hands and wrists in and wiggling them around in the water, do the same with your feet. Go in gradually.

photo (8)

3) Expect your heart rate to rise – especially if the water is cold, when you get in your heart rate will rise and your breathing will quicken. It’s a lot less scary if you know it is going to happen- it is a natural reaction to the shock of cold water and not your body telling you “you can’t do this“. Tread water and try to breath as naturally as possible until your breathing comes back to normal. Now is the time to put your head under. Take a deep breath and fully submerge yourself. When you come back up, your breathing will be fast again! Tread water and wait for it to slow as before. Repeat if necessary. See what I mean about getting in the water early?! If you just jump in immediately before the start, you will be swimming / racing while you acclimatize. If you are anything like me, you might panic, think you can’t do it, and breast stroke the whole way round when really all you needed was a minute or so to settle :)

serptentine

4) Sighting – this is important, as otherwise you may end up swimming a lot further than necessary and nobody wants that. It’s another area where practice comes in handy. I know I tend to swim slightly off to the right and I try to sight every 6th breath or so. I would recommend getting into a rhythm and counting in your head “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, look!” or something along those lines so that you remember to do it. The trick is to only lift your head a tiny amount, like “crocodile eyes” – so your eyes are out of the water but nothing else. At RG Active I was told to lift my head up before I turn it to breath, but I couldn’t quite get my head around that. I find it easier to breath and then swivel my head forwards to see where I’m going. Whatever suits you best.IMG_4709

If you look and you don’t see the buoy, don’t stop. Don’t keep looking. Put your head back down and take another stroke. Sight on the next stroke and do this until you spot the buoy. This is much quicker than treading water while you look around you!

IMG_4718

5) Don’t be scared. By swimming in open water you get to be in some of the most beautiful, peaceful places imaginable. The difference between a noisy, hot, crowded lane swimming pool is just huge. I find open water swimming so incredibly relaxing. The wetsuit helps – the fact you can just float with very little effort at all if that’s what you want. One of the things we love about running and cycling is the ability to get away from it all, especially if you live in the city. To find hidden spots of beauty, incredible views, peace and stillness that you just can’t get otherwise. Open water swimming is the height of this. There is no reason to be scared, there is every reason to fully embrace it and fall in love with it!

orgon lakeNB: don’t be stupid though – if you can barely swim 20m, good on you for wanting to improve but please don’t get in a lake entirely by yourself with nobody on hand to keep an eye out for you!

jilli coming out of the swim