Archive for July, 2012

I actually am hanging out for training tomorrow.

Can’t wait!

The surf is supposed to be big…2.5m forecast for 10am. It’s supposed to be a pretty reasonable day and I do get itchy to get back in some salt water by the end of the week, particularly a tough one!

And there’s another thing. I’m a pretty goal oriented person, so it does help me stay motivated when I’m trying to achieve something.

This winter the crew I’ve been training with have the Icebreaker challenge. To achieve Icebreaker status you need 20 points. The rules for accruing points are:

  • Points must be accrued between 21st June 2012 and 22nd September 2012 inclusive (winter solstice to spring equinox)
  • 4 points – newd ocean swim session or race (aka non-wetsuit)   
  • 2 points – ocean swim session or race in wetsuit   
  • 1 point  – Victoria Park pool swim session  
  • ? points – Coaches’ discretion for a sh*t day

I can’t take full credit, as the hole it my wetsuit has made swimming without it less optional, but I’m second on the table so far (only behind Coach Kingy), with 17 points (3 newd swims, 1 wettie swim, and 3 Wednesday night pool swims). My wetsuit returns to my loving arms on Monday so tomorrow will be another 4 points…which puts me across the line!

I don’t actually get anything for it, but I do like the sense of achievement. For a swimmer like me who is never going to see a podium (short of a Steven Bradbury type incident) it is good to know that I can set and achieve goals that are around participation instead of competition.

And I can participate like nobody’s business! Bring on the glory!

Wedensday night it was off to Victoria Park pool for another Wednesday training session.

Despite struggling a bit for the session, it was quite an interesting one.

I was running pretty late and coach Zoe was talking to a walk-up who was obviously interested in joining, so I hopped in with the rest of the group who were already swimming and did a warm-up.

I think the rest of the group were doing a different drill while I did that, but I checked in and started on a one-arm drill.

This is a good one for building strength, and working on rotation and stability. There are a few variations, but we did one arm out in front (4 o’clock position so ahead but slightly below the water line) and breathing every one or two strokes. Up 50m one arm, then returning 50m the other arm.

The main set was alternating distances hard then easy. This is good for ocean swimmers to learn to push through and swim hard to get through the break, and then do an active recovery to settle into a pace for the rest of the race.

At the end of the session, Zoe had us do a fun exercise…each person to take off and swim as far as possible without taking a breath..then move to the side of the pool to see who made it the furthest.

I was a bit concerned given my past as a dirty smoker, but was actually quite happy with how far I managed to get. I suspect it may have had more to do with stubbornness than lung capacity, though.

Last night I headed off from work to training.

I really struggled…I had a hard time getting away from work on time, there was a bus breakdown on the way that made me late, I was stressed and tired and feeling generally a bit rubbish. By the time I got anywhere near the pool I seriously considered turning left instead of right and going straight home.

Usually when that happens I’m fine once I get there and get in the water, but occasionally that doesn’t happen.

I hopped in and started my warm-up. My shoulder was sore and I just couldn’t get into a rhythm the whole set. I was swimming slower than usual and the voice in my head was feeding me some very negative thoughts.

Swimming, at the end of the day, can be a very solitary sport. It’s pretty social before and after and when regrouping and sometimes at the ends of the lane, but while you’re actually doing the swimming part of it, you’d better get to know the voice inside your head pretty well because that’s all you’ll have for company out there.

And my particular inner voice runs a very steady internal monologue.

It’s a bit of a roller coaster for me too, usually. At least once every race I wonder what the hell I’m doing there. I hate the sport and should just hitch a ride back to the beach. Something hurts and it’s too hard and what was I thinking in the first place imagining I could do this stupid thing.

Luckily at least once I realise how much I love doing this. It’s heaps of fun and I see something new and I feel good and I feel strong and just focus on technique and so on and so forth….

It’s important for me to be very aware of that voice as it tends to team with my aches and pains against me. Usually I can recognise what it’s doing and focus on my technique or something positive until it pulls itself into line.

Last night, though, there was no tricking it. But you know what? It may not have been the best session I’ve ever done, but I finished the set.

I think you shouldn’t let it become a habit, but sometimes you just need to accept that you’re going to have off days, and give yourself a smidgeon of a break. The habit of going anyway and doing as much as you can means that one bad day doesn’t stop you and skipping one session doesn’t lead to skipping another and another….

And that leaves you wide open for the good days!

You know how after last week’s Saturday training post, (and the week before for that matter)I may have gone on a bit about how gloriously clear the water was and how beautiful winter swims can be?

Well this week’s session blew them all out of the water!

I should do a bit of a build up, but it’s too exciting to wait….we swam with WHALES!!!

We were on a bit of a swim safari down the south end near Icebergs. We’d stopped to regroup when Jules got a bit excited and told us she’d seen a whale!

There was a bit of swell, and whales do spend time under the water in between breaching, so it was a minute or two before anyone believed her (and there may have been the odd implication that she was hallucinating). We were all treading water and looking out to sea.

I’ve seen whales off Bondi before (from the shore) so was looking out towards the horizon and looking for splashes.

And then, about 400m away a whale breached. All I saw was this massive whale belly. It was un. be. liev. a. ble.

There may have been some squeals of delight….and that was just the boys! We stopped swimming and just watched as it made its way across the bay.

It was a truly awe-inspiring and breathtaking experience, one I won’t forget in a hurry.

It was almost enough to make me forget how cold the water was…still sans wetsuit!

Whales at Bondi

Credit to Coach Zoe

When you swim through winter, a wetsuit is an important part of keeping you warm and comfortable. It can also be quite an investment! Those things don’t come cheap, and it really seems to be a case of getting what you pay for.

Once you’ve made that investment, you want your wetsuit to last. I’m currently in the sorry situation of being without mine for at least a week due to a hole in a very unfortunate place.It started a bit of conversation at training about caring for your wetsuit, and I guess I’ve been a bit hyper-sensetive tuning into any information on the topic.

My training buddy Paul posted this link about caring for Triathlon wetsuits. Whilst I’m no triathlete, the tri-wetsuits are certainly the go for ocean swimmers. I did most of my first winter in a surfing spring-suit and they certainly aren’t a patch on a tri-suit. We need more flexibility and as close as possible to a full range of motion in the arms. So wetties designed for swimming (instead of surfing) usually have a different panel in the shoulder. There are often also other features that are useful…a hydrodynamic design, and textured sections to increase drag in the areas where you “catch” the water.

I also found some excellent hints on the website of the lady who is currently doing the repairs on my own wetsuit Aquasea Underwater Products. I figure if there’s anyone who knows what not to do, it’s going to be the lady who fixes things when everything goes horribly wrong. I’m willing to bet she’s heard every story under the sun!

I have to admit that I’m (clearly…look at the results) not always good at that side of things. I’m usually trying to get the thing on too quickly running late at the start of training and catching up with friends while I do so. At the end of the session I’m usually trying to get the damn thing off in a cold shower when I’m tired and cold and there’s a coffee beckoning….

But now, after the hassle of doing without, perhaps I should take my own advice and look after my lovely warm wettie a little better.

Wednesday night it was off to Victoria Park pool for my second Wednesday training session.

Things went much more smoothly in general this week…

For a start I knew where I was going and I chose a route with less traffic to get there, so in general I was on time, less rushed, and less flustered.

The weather was much kinder this week with no rain and decidedly less chill in the air. Whatever issue they’d been having with the pool temperature there last week also seemed to have been rectified, and all in all it made for a far more comfortable swim.

The start of the set was exactly the same as last week:

  • Warm up
  • Kicking drill (I am soooo bad at those!)
  • 3-5-7 breathing drill
  • Weak-side breathing drill

Once those were done it was on to the main set. We did a pace-line. This consists of swimming in order from fastest to slowest, and sticking right on the feet of the swimmer in front of you.

The first swimmer swims pretty hard, in theory at their 1km time-trial pace (ie as fast as you can sustain for a kilometre). The people behind can keep up because in swimming (like in cycling) drafting is extremely effective. It varies from situation to situation and swimmer to swimmer, but I have read that you can gain up to 30% extra efficiency using this technique.

At the end of each 100m, the lead swimmer breaks off and waits and joins the back of the line. The second swimmer then takes the lead, in theory then going a touch slower than the first swimmer and so on and so forth.

It’s actually quite a strange experience. You spend your time adjusting to the pace of the group, and about half the time wishing they would slow down and half the time wishing they would speed up. Then when you think you’ve figured it all out, you end up a the front of the pace-line and realise just how much difference that drafting has made and all of a sudden it feels very difficult to drag your arms through the water.

In addition I swim with my chin tucked in and my head right down looking directly at the bottom of the pool to compensate and correct my natural body position in the water, so I’m afraid I spend a lot of time tapping the feet of the swimmer in front of me and hoping they don’t get too annoyed with me!

Still, it’s a good technique to know how to do, and I’ve definitely used it in races before. It’s also interesting to have to adjust your pace to someone else, and ignore the signals from your body and your inner voices telling you when to speed up or slow down, or when to push harder or back off. Quite good for practising pushing through all that stuff and just swimming.

I’ve written a lot about cold water swims here so far. Probably because it’s, you know, winter here and the water is kinda getting a touch chilly.

Every week at Saturday training, there is a mix of people who wear wetsuits and those who don’t. At the moment the former are winning, but like everything, there are pros and cons and reasons different people might make different choices.

Firstly, I should point out that lately the water temperature at Bondi has been around 18°C. It’s a bit chilly, but it’s definitely not putting anyone at risk of hypothermia swimming out there for an hour without a wetsuit. Since I’ve been swimming there the lowest it’s been has been down to 15°. This was before I had a wetsuit and whilst it was certainly not particularly pleasant, it was manageable.

So there are a few reasons people choose to swim with a wetsuit:

  1. Skinny people who don’t have much body fat feel the cold more. (I don’t think I qualify for this).
  2. Coaches who may not be swimming hard the whole session, but stopping to check technique or provide instruction, or swimming at a slower pace than they normally would.
  3. Wetsuits provide extra buoyancy and therefore an extra bit of reassurance for less-confident swimmers in rougher conditions
  4. The extra buoyancy also helps with getting on and staying on waves when body surfing, so it can add to the fun!
  5. Some people (and I place myself firmly in this category) just like to be warmer when they’re swimming, particularly in between sets if the wind is up and you’re standing on the beach shivering…..
  6. And if you have a wetsuit, it’s pretty tempting to just wear it if it’s chilly out. Nothing wrong with that, per se.

Conversely, there are reasons why people may swim without a wetsuit (otherwise known as swimming “newd”).

  1. Not everyone has a wetsuit. If you’re only new to the sport and not sure how much use you’re going to get out of it, it can be a big investment.
  2. Some people just don’t mind the cold as much. One of my coaches is a New Zealander, and she’s been swimming newd all winter.
  3. Sometimes it’s a matter of pride. One fellow swimmer made it through all last winter without suiting up once. Made a point of it. Mad? Stubborn? You decide….
  4. I have heard rumours of groups that have a no-wetsuit policy. Yikes! Not for me…..I like the option.
  5. Logistics. Those things are hard work to get on and off, and they’re heavy and bulky, particularly when they’re wet. If it’s not that cold and there’s a good reason (like when I had to get straight to the Megaswim afterwards on a motorcycle) it might not be worth the effort. Plus there’s always the chance someone may have ordered one that hasn’t arrived, that’s in for repairs….et cetera, et cetera
  6. The down side. The extra buoyancy has the advantages I discussed above, but it does have disadvantages as well. If the waves are big and there’s a lot of pull it can be hard to get as far under waves or for as long as you need. This can make it actually more difficult to get out the back and require extra energy for your swim.

So there are the points anyone needs to consider. Like everything, it is a personal choice and depends on the person, the conditions and the circumstances on any given day. Me? I’m hoping and praying my repairs are done in time for Saturday. 🙂

I came across this interesting article today on the “perfect” swim stroke.

It made me think of two things….

First: if even the most elite sports scientists can’t agree on what is perfect, none of us should feel too bad about the flaws in our technique so long as we are all trying to improve and trying different things and different advice to see what works for us.

And second: I like the way they say at the end that the finding are probably best for “most swimmers, whether elite or recreational”.

So that’s what I’m calling myself now. A recreational swimmer!

I’ve written previously about general thoughts on goggles in a  previous post.

Over the course of the last 2 years, I’ve had the opportunity to try quite a few different types of goggles. Everyone’s different, and this is only my opinion, but I recently tried out a new pair of Zoggs Predatorflex, and thought I might like to share my thoughts in case they are helpful to anyone out there.

These goggle have been gaining popularity in my training group over the last couple of months, so last time I was putting in a kit order I added a pair of these to my basket. I’ve been using them for a couple of weeks now and I can see why they’re popular.

Here’s a list of the pros…..

  •  These are a good fit for women’s faces – a little narrower.
  • They keep a good seal even with sunscreen on my face
  • These have polarised lenses and I love that for ocean swimming. You can see clearly even in overcast or high-glare conditions.
  • The lenses are quite big and give a good range of visibility
  • These are very comfortable and stay on well (so far) even in bigger surf.
  • They seem fairly resilient. I have a different pair of polarised goggles and they were brilliant, but they scratched and wore badly fairly quickly.

And of course the cons…….

  • These goggles come with a cloth pouch instead of a plastic case. I’ve put them in a different one, because nothing lasts long in the bottom of my swim bag without decent protection. Sand is amazingly abrasive.
  • The lenses are pretty dark. I won’t wear them for pool sessions because I can’t see. Not a bad thing overall as they are great in bright sunshine, but it means I wouldn’t pick these if you want to have only one type of goggles for all occasions.
  • The larger lenses are good for visibility but that makes them not very streamlined. That’s not really a problem for me, but if you were super-competitive this might affect your race times.

On the whole, I’m really happy with them for me. I only wear them for ocean training, not in the pool, but they do a pretty great job and they look really fancy! You can see me wearing them in the photo in this post.

In case you’re wondering, this is not a paid endorsement, just my opinion. I imagine I’m about as far from commanding paid sponsorships as you can get…short of not swimming at all!

It was raining and cold and dark (not because the sun wasn’t up, but because of the rain clouds) when I woke up this morning to get ready for swimming. It’s been quite a week at work and I admit I may have been tempted, just for a moment, to stay in bed where it was warm and cosy and sleepy.

Just for a moment.

Instead I was up and about and getting ready.  My usual carpooling buddies Ronene and Fiona were depending on me to drive. Plus another swimming buddy Vanessa (who lives in the same apartment complex as me) had asked the night before if she could have a seat in the car. She hasn’t been swimming for a little while, but she was at the charity trivia night last week and we may have put a bit of peer pressure on her to come join us for a swim. In my experience, no matter how much you love an activity, whether it’s ocean swimming or extreme ironing, it’s always good to do it with a friend (or two, or three or more) as there are always going to be days when you aren’t 100% sure you want to get out of bed. Having someone else relying on you being there can sometimes just be enough to get you over the line.

So off to the beach we went. It rained even more as we headed off, but the swimming gods were with us and it cleared by the time we got there.

Last week I discovered a hole in my wetsuit. Luckily it was pretty discrete, like right on the butt. *Cue all sorts of jokes that I’m sure you’re capable of imagining all on your own*. So, I was swimming sans-wettie again. *Cue cold shivers!* It may have stopped raining when we arrived, but the air was colder than it’s been so far this winter, and it was pretty breezy.

I maaay have even had a few misgivings as we walked down the beach towards the water. And then a few more as we walked out to our acclimatisation/warm-up to find that the water was pretty damn refreshing!

After a few minutes of procrastination and whingeing, I managed to get my goose-bumpy body under the waves and finally started swimming, Within moments I was past that stinging and tingling cold and had started going nicely numb. Initially when the water is cold like that I find that I get a bit short of breath while my body adjusts. Unfortunately this tends to be right about the point where you generally start having to get under the biggest of the waves to get out the back. Ronene hadn’t been particularly well during the week and I knew she had also been a little apprehensive about the swim. As we were heading out on the warm-up I looked over at her and she commented on the same thing. Ronene and I have been friends for years, but for various reasons she started swimming a year later than I did and this is her first winter season. Although she’s now generally faster than me, on the odd occasion I still have a word or two of advice to offer and I suggested that she relax, that it’s normal to feel short of breath and to just slow down and swim through it. Then I decided to take my own advice, relax, slow down and swim through it.

Before long I was acclimatised and having a ball. The sky may still have had some dark clouds over the horizon, but the water was crystal clear and green and amazing. The conditions were pretty much exactly what I dream of…waves with a bit of power, rolling sets in one direction that drive along into the shore (without smashing you down into the bank). With all the movement of the surf up top, and the clear water I could not believe the way it looked under the surface: it was truly amazing. There were shifting sands and currents and fish…all looking like it could be trapped on the inside of an emerald. I don’t even know how to describe how gorgeous it was.

The set was a good one too – some longer swims interspersed with a bit of wave-catching action. We also had a go at catching the backpacker special: the nice quick rip up the North end of the beach. Rips often get a bad name, but if you know what you’re doing they can be a lot of fun….we jumped in at the start and took a nice quick ride out the back, then swam parallel across the beach and safely back in further south of the rip. It can be quite exhilarating getting zipped along like that…and there are sea grasses and lots of schools of fish to look at along the rocks there….too much fun!

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