Wetsuits and open water swimming

Outdoor swimming is a curious thing. Generally, people who decide to enter the foray of triathlon have a strong background in running or cycling and often swimming is their biggest challenge. Open water swimming in particular, can make even the burliest triathlete squeak in fear as they take their first steps into a lake or the sea.

My background in running is fairly well documented (*coughs*) and I am a recently converted cyclist. But I have swum for many years off and on and although I have had to re-learn how to do front crawl properly, I do not fear the water and actually I prefer open water swimming to the swimming pool. I think this comes from the fact that I am a confident breaststroker and so if everything went wrong whilst I was swimming, I know I wouldn’t drown and would be able to get myself safely back to terra firma.

However, I am not a strong front crawler and although my lessons have now concluded, I have been continuing to swim lengths in the pool. But I seem to have got worse in recent weeks not better. Swimming in a pool is fairly dull. Even if you go with a friend, as I do sometimes, you can’t chat whilst you swim as you can with running or cycling. Death follows swiftly if you try and chat as you attempt to bi-laterally breathe (on both sides) as you swim up and down. Water in your lungs does not help with buoyancy. Apparently you can get headphones that work in the water via Bluetooth and so in theory I could listen to Take That as I swam back and forth, but apart from the fact that I have faithfully promised my husband that I won’t spend any more money on anything triathlon related, swim dancing is not really a thing in triathlon so that’s not really an option either.

Merida has shown me quite a few swim drills which do alleviate the boredom a bit eg 100m focussing on your arm technique, 100m focussing on your kick, 100m wearing little shovels on your hands which help you with your hand placement and “pull” through the water but even this wears a bit thin after a while. I find my mind wondering and not concentrating on the job in hand and then becoming fixated on the plaster I can see at the bottom of the pool at the 20m mark and then wondering what other hideousness I am swimming in. *shudders*.

With my swim confidence at an all time low, I booked a swimming lesson with John Wood who has been swimming nationally and internationally for 25 years and is also a “Good for Age” GB triathlete. He has coached some swim sessions for my tri club and is also Merida’s triathlon coach. He knows what he is talking about and is also a really nice guy, which always helps.

https://www.tri-coaching.co.uk/about-us/meet-the-coach/

I arrived for the lesson feeling quite low and extremely nervous, but the 45 minutes was possibly one of the best investments I have ever made.  The most important thing I took from the lesson is that I am not a terrible swimmer and when you are lacking in confidence and approaching the business end of your training plan, this is important to hear. I do have a tendency not to look down at the floor enough whilst swimming, which in turn leads to my legs sinking and I am told this is quite a common problem. However, given that I have been working on this now for over 4 months, it’s a bit irritating. But John gave me some drills to practice and I was feeling much better about life.

#notanad but I really recommend John if you’re thinking of perfecting your swim technique.

Pool swimming has been a staple in my weekly training plan now for some months, but, both of my triathlons are in open water this year and both at the distance of 1.9k and so I knew I needed to get out of the pool, and in England, this means buying a wetsuit.

I’ve worn wetsuits before to the beach as our family is a regular visitor to Woolacombe each Summer but a triathlon and swimming wetsuit is very different.

Firstly, even with substantial weightloss, I do not look like most triathletes. My boobs are a 34FF (I was a 42FF), I am only 5ft 3.5 (the half an inch is very important when you’re short like me) and I weigh 90 kilos. Now this is a massive reduction from the 117 kilos I was when I started running, but even so, I am much heavier than your average triathlete.

Wetsuit size charts are incredibly complicated as they work on weight, chest size and height. I didn’t care what the wetsuit looked like on as long as it fitted, but I really didn’t want to buy a man’s one as having had to buy men’s clothes for years due to my size, I didn’t want to go back there.

Unfortunately, my weight meant that I probably would end up having to get a man’s wetsuit but I was determined to try female versions first of all. I ordered from Wiggle (online store, very good and importantly free returns) so I could try them on at home. The box arrived and sat in the corner of my bedroom for over a week. I was dreading trying them on and so was putting it off. But I had also booked myself in (well Merida had booked us in actually as she knew I needed the push) for an Open Water Swimming lesson at the Triathlon Centre in North Bristol on the Wednesday evening with an experienced Ironman triathlete called George Clack, and so I had to try them on.

The first thing to be aware of is that getting into a wetsuit is exhausting. They have to be tight, very tight and they are quite grippy and stick to your skin. If you have long fingernails, file them off as it’s very easy to put a finger nail through a wetsuit which immediately renders them less helpful.

I’d had PT at lunchtime on this day and had done cycle sprints and weights and I think getting into and out of 3 wetsuits was even more exhausting. I’d ordered 3, a cheap, middle and more expensive one and I started with the most costly: dhb Aeron Lab. I couldn’t even get this past my hips. I was gutted and had a sinking sensation about the other two. Zone3 Women’s Advance was next and it took 10 minutes to get into it with the assistance of my long suffering husband. Although it was tight (understatement – he almost had his knee in my back at one point trying to get it done up) once it was zipped up, it felt ok. I could breathe, it wasn’t too tight on the neck and I felt ok. It was like wearing SUPER spandex. I finally tried the last and cheapest on: Zone 3 Women’s Azure.  WetsuitThis was by far the easiest to get on as it seemed to be the most stretchy…..but once in it, I couldn’t really move my arms (much like the time I had to be cut out of a Boyzone T-shirt that I had bought stupidly thinking that “skinny fit would be ok…it wasn’t) so sadly that one was a no. But finally, I had a wetsuit, and I was delighted. I look a bit like an Avenger (if you squint really hard and almost cover your eyes) and I feel like a superhero in it.

So now, just to get in the lake. The following evening rolled around and I arrived at the lake with 20 minutes to spare. I have swum in the lake previously last year, but this was in the midst of a heatwave and so I didn’t need a wetsuit at all. One this evening, it was freezing cold and the sky was grey. I dragged myself off to get changed and was relieved to find a lady in the changing room who I knew from running. She helped to zip me into my wetsuit and I did the same for her. Anyone that wears a wetsuit needs help and I have discovered that people are not afraid to ask for it. On my past two visits to the lake I have zipped and unzipped 3 complete strangers, men and women into their suits. Merida arrived and we set off the side of the lake where George the coach, and 4 other people were waiting for us.

What I have learned from two open water swimming lessons so far with George are as follows:

  • No matter what the temperature is officially, the water hits you like a brick when you first get in and it’s hard to breathe. You have to take time splashing the water on your face and onto the back of your neck and try not to scream out loud as the water seaps in naturally through the zip. Do NOT, as I did, open the neck and allow a flood of water to seap in quickly. On Wednesday the temperature in the lake was 12.5c. When an Ironman Triathlete coach says “it’s cold tonight. There will be no shame if you decide to get out early. You will never have to compete in temperatures that are this cold”, you know it’s going to be a bit fresh.
  • It’s most important to swim as slowly as you can to start with, almost in slow motion. Also, and bear in mind that I have spent the last 4 months learning how to breathe on both sides after 3 and 4 strokes, in open water swimming, you breathe on the same side and after every two strokes. HALLELUJAH. I find bi-lateral breathing hard and so this is brilliant news.
  • Even better, you float in a wetsuit. Completely. This means that your legs float too so no more sinky legs for me. Hoorah. I still need to keep my core tight and be mindful of my legs, but it’s MUCH easier in a wetsuit. Swimming is easier in a wetsuit, full stop.
  • When the lake is cold (and it’s cold, make no mistake) my googles steam up. My teeth are also affected as when I open my mouth to breathe, some cold water comes in (which I spit out as I breathe out under water) but before long, my teeth go numb. It’s a very weird sensation.
  • Whilst my body gets, eventually, warm in the wetsuit, my feet, hands and face are not. You hardly kick whilst swimming in a wetsuit (important to save legs for the cycle and run so this is good news) but this means that your feet are essentially just suspended in very cold water. Arthritis in my bad ankle is affected enormously by the cold and so I’m going to get some “wetsuit material” socks to try and keep my feet warm.
  • When you leave the lake, you are cold. Much colder than when you initially got in. You need to rinse your wetsuit and so have to take it off, in the fresh air. This is a whole new level of cold. Getting changed after swimming is a challenge as I started shivering so much I couldn’t do my bra up or do my laces up on my shoes. Ugg boots are the answer and probably elastic laces for the tri. Thermal vests are important and I don’t need a hairbrush as I towel my hair off and then put a woolly hat on.
  • A post swim cup of tea is absolutely essential, as is a warm bath when you get home afterwards.

But all in all, I love open water swimming. The start waves have been published for the 113 triathlon and there are 6 waves, all setting off at 10 minute intervals. I am in wave 2, starting at 6.10am (I’m trying not to think about what time I’ll need to get up at the moment). My biggest fear isn’t that I can’t complete the swim, it’s that faster swimmers from the following waves will catch me up and swim over me or I’ll get punched in the head during the swim. I need to also work on swimming with lots of people around me. I’m booked in for more open water lessons and I know we’ll be working on this I the coming weeks. But for now, I still haven’t swum the entire 1.9k required of the tri, but I’m going to the lake after work tonight and this is what I’m intending to do.

Practice and consistency in the lake will be key over the next 4 weeks….oh and sunshine. Please keep your fingers crossed that it warms up a bit as whilst it’s just about tolerable at 12.5c, it’s always more enjoyable if it’s warmer and my teeth don’t go numb….and even more important if you’ve immediately got to jump on a bike straight afterwards. But that’s a worry for another day.

The Lake May 2019

The Triathlon Centre run lessons every Wednesday and I heartily recommend them -suitable for experienced and inexperienced swimmers and triathletes.

Details can be found on the website: https://bristolopenwater.co.uk/   #notanad

 

To cleat, or not to cleat…

In January I ran 51k, cycled 80k, swam 2825m and attended 6 PT sessions.

I’ve had to drop my trained sessions with Dr Crane down to one a week as I was struggling to fit everything in around home and work and so now only attend PT on a Monday. The half marathon is now only 4 weeks away this coming weekend and so the long runs are back with 10k becoming frequent and a 14k run planned for this weekend.

Watch 1500m swimSwimming is ongoing and some swims are good, and some are not. Some weeks I can’t remember all that Triton has taught me and it’s a bit hap hazard, but my distance is improving even if my technique leaves a lot to be desired. This week I swam 1500m which is the furthest I have swum since I was at school.

The largest part of any triathlon is always the cycling and as I have documented previously, I love cycling. I love my bike, Shiny Sheena, and I’m learning to love the padded shorts and cycling clothes that accompany the activity. However, what I don’t enjoy about cycling is how technical it is and how complicated and baffling it is to a beginner.

I am someone that will always research anything new that I am undertaking and I also enjoy the research process. This is true of anything I do– we are currently are researching Labrador breeders as we hope to add to our family later this year with a puppy. I dream of running through the woods and fields with my dog running beside me, off lead, in the vein of the Dalmation Mamas that I stalk on Instagram. They have magnificently combined the activity of walking their dogs whilst running and it looks glorious – beautiful scenery, fresh air and enormous blue skies. I want some of that in my life. One of these ladies have even set up a business doing this. If you want your dog walked whilst she runs with them, send me a message and I’ll put you in touch. (I’m not on commission by the way, I just think they are fabulous).

So back to cycling. When you decide to cycle, you think you will jump on the bike and start peddling. You then quickly, reconcile yourself to the fact that your bottom will never like you again and may well never recover from being made to sit on such an uncomfortable saddle, but apart from this it’s fairly straight forward.

Then, someone suggests padded shorts as they will help your bottom – so you get some and it does help, but still you experience discomfort.

Chafing.

Now I have experienced chafing before whilst running on a few occasions. The friction that is caused by material (often damp from the sweat) moving rhythmically hundreds and thousands of times, often tiny little movements which causes the skin to rub away. You are usually unaware of it until you get in the shower and experience a scene not unlike Hitchcock’s Psycho where you scream so loudly the cat falls off the windowsill and your daughters storm into the bathroom with fear etched across their faces terrified at what they might find.

But cycling chafing is a whole new ballgame of horror. It’s also not something anyone ever warns you about either (unless you know them very well) as it’s a bit embarrassing. Luckily for you, I don’t care about being embarrassed so I am here to share my wisdom and experience with you.

When you cycle for an hour, even with a padded bottom (do not wear underwear, this is critical), the movement of your legs rotating around on the peddles causes friction in your nether regions. Obviously, I can’t comment on what the situation is like for men, but for women, it is staggering. There is a lot of skin and erm…flesh down there, right in the hot spot of all the action, and it rubs. It rubs a lot.  The thing is, you’re not aware of it when it happens the first time. Basically, your whole bottom hurts from the saddle so the specifics of chafing are unknown……. until you need to use the toilet. I sat on the loo and waited for the comforting trickle to start unware of what was about to happen.

Oh, my goodness. The horror. The burning sensation. It felt as though the urine was physically burning a hole into my…. bits. Imagine a soldering iron……ARGH. I was in a public toilet when this first happened to me and I had to bite my hand to stop myself from screaming. The cat falling off the windowsill would have been the least of my worries if members of the public had heard my toe curling screams of agony. And the worst of it was, that this was the half way stop point and I then had to cycle home again. I won’t dwell on this further, but it was not nice and unlike anything that I had ever experienced before, and I had had no warning. I asked Merida what I could do to alleviate the pain (I didn’t go into details as an accomplished cyclist herself, I knew that she would understand what I was asking about) and she did. You can buy creams and lotions to put “down there” – liberally is my advice – and it definitely does help to mitigate the unpleasantness.

When husband and I cycled to Bath on my birthday mid-January, I took a little “travel pot” of cream and re-applied it for the journey home. One of my largest concerns about the triathlon is how I am going to apply this cream to my nether regions in the transition phase, after a swim in a lake and getting out of a wetsuit, without anyone seeing anything that they shouldn’t. Should I ask my Mum to make me a “modesty robe” so I can get changed in public without showing my wares to all and sundry, or should I adapt the philosophy that nobody will care what I am doing as they’ll all be worrying about their own stuff anyway? More on this in months to come I am sure.

So apart from comfort, the other technical bit about cycling is power. For a 56 mile cycle, I want to get it completed as quickly as possible and therefore want to have as much power going through my feet as possible which will in turn, rotate the wheels quicker. This means cycling shoes. I have seen people wearing these before and frankly they look weird. The shoes have “cleats” which are bits of plastic that are screwed into the bottom of the shoe, which you push into the pedals resulting in a pleasing “click” noise. You are then secured in and become part of the bike. This increases your power as you not only push down when you pedal, but you pull up too – which doesn’t happen when you pedal in trainers.

I received cycling shoes, cleats and pedals for Christmas but up until a few days ago, they had remained in their box. Dr Crane is very enthusiastic about cleats and as I am training with him to keep my cadence (technical word for how many times I rotate the pedals in a minute) to 80-90 a minute (fast!) cycling shoes and cleats will help this.

Shoes and cleats

Upon opening the box, there were no instructions as to what to do or how to assemble them. They are a reputable brand and again this was annoying. Once you’re in the cycling club, you’re in. But finding this stuff out at the beginning is hard. Merida came to my assistance once again and now the pedals and cleats are ready to go. I’m too scared to try them out on the open road just yet as if you don’t clip your feet out quickly enough when you need to put your foot down, you fall over sideways, usually a road junction. So, for the time being, my bike is attached to the indoor trainer and I will spend the next couple of weeks practicing clipping in and out as I cycle in my back room.

I have also bought a gadget called a cadence sensor, but already exhausted from the cleats fiasco, I haven’t had the enthusiasm to open the box yet. I’ll report back next time. I need to practice with cleats as Team Fearless (myself, Merida and RubyRed) accompanied by the Baron are planning a 75k cycling in 3 weeks’ time. 75k?! I will need the power, the cream, the padded shorts and probably an ambulance, but we’ll see what happens.

Runing in the Forest of Dean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January and phase two….

eliz and me boxing dayChristmas has been and gone in a wink of an eye. It was predictably busy and mince pie filled but I somehow managed to keep my training on track with PT and as many runs as I could fit in. A “little and often” was the mantra and this included a lovely Boxing Day trot with my sister Queenie who has really caught the running bug since last Summer. She’s entered the Bristol 10k and I think we will be racing…!

I had very determined plans to run Eastville Parkrun on New Year’s Day and get my 2019 off to a positive start, but alas I was still fast asleep at 10.30am following a 3am bedtime and epic kitchen disco the night before.

Unfortunately it got worse and shortly afterwards, I came down with a hideous cold that lasted the rest of the week and meant that I didn’t manage any other runs, cycles or swims. Back to work followed on the Wednesday and I was a bit frustrated at the, not exactly, flying start to the year.

At my first PT session with Dr Crane, the following week, I was presented with the next phase of my training plan. It had ramped up a notch or two and now included swimming and cycling and I was relieved to see them both on the plan. In addition to the two PT sessions, the plan now had a swim, a longer cycle and a longer run but the runs were only increasing by 5 minutes and for January the longest run was to be only 70 minutes. I could feel the panic set in as I read it as in order to complete 21.2k on the 10 March (the Big Half) I would need to be at least be running up to 14k by the end of January, as this is what my previous plans have entailed. 70 minutes probably wouldn’t even get me to 10k (although I am ever hopeful..)  Dr Crane explained calmly that although I am running the Big Half, I need to decide what I’m actually training for here. I didn’t quite understand what he was asking me until the penny dropped. I’m training for a half Ironman distance triathlon, NOT a half marathon. Essentially, the half marathon is going to be a training run as part of the triathlon programme. With this in mind, I won’t be tapering in the run up to the half in the same way that I have previously and I also shouldn’t race it…..(well no promises there obviously!)

For this week, this has been the plan:

MONDAY: PT – weights and cycling
TUESDAY: Swimming 1200m Run – 30 minutes
WEDNESDAY: Rest
THURSDAY: Swimming lesson
FRIDAY: PT – cycling and weights
SATURDAY: Run 60 minutes
SUNDAY: Orienteering Cycle for 60 minutes

We tweaked it a bit and added in one extra short run as I like to run with my friend Lady J whilst our daughters play hockey on a Tuesday evening and this is just a sensible use of time, but apart from having to flex the days here and there for work stuff, the first week has largely been ok.

The sections in italics were not initially on the plan I was given by Dr Crane but I have added them in. My swimming lesson on a Thursday needs to keep happening and my swimming bock of lessons I have paid for doesn’t finish until March. The lessons aren’t strenuous at all though as they are largely technique driven meaning that all swimming is doubly slow as Triton encourages me and my 4 classmates to slow the entire movement down to perfect it and learn it properly. I am constantly told I am going too fast as believe it or not, it’s hard to swim front crawl as though you are in slow motion. The point is that the swimming lesson is not strenuous.

Now the plan is quite full and busy as you can see, but I am committed. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for other things though. My youngest daughter was 11 last week and apart from her birthday presents, the thing she was most looking forward to was running parkrun solo. As I had to run 60 minutes according to the plan, it would have made much more sense to have just taken myself off for a plod on Saturday morning alone, but as well as being a trainee triathlete, I am also, and more importantly, a Mum. So I was going to parkrun too. We got there early and I started running straightaway around the park. I was able to get to the start just as everyone else (647 of them on Saturday morning) were setting off and so as my usual parkrun time is 38-40 ish minutes, this would leave me with only 5-10 minutes to run at the end which would make a lovely cool down. This was all fine and worked pretty well. My daughters completed their Parkruns in respectable 30.32 and 31.45 and husband was sub 30 as usual.

lois and i parkrun

I felt ok but I did push myself over the final lap and so knew I needed to stretch properly afterwards. All would have been well if I hadn’t promised my daughters that I would take them to town in the afternoon as they were keen to spend the rest of their Christmas and birthday money. Despite a shower and a good stretch, I could feel my entire body start to physically seize up over the course of the afternoon and I was practically begging them at 6pm to go home and not just because I had spent 45 minutes in the Primark changing rooms. I did 25000 steps on Saturday and I was exhausted.

The next day, Sunday, Daughters and I were orienteering at Ashton Court at 10am. I absolutely love orienteering. If you’ve never done it, please try it. You don’t have to run and plenty of people walk it. I spent the most glorious 55 minutes running around woodland in beautiful countryside and for the first time ever, I completed the course without getting lost.  Now orienteering was NOT on the plan, but I love it so did it anyway. To my mind, balance comes in different forms doesn’t it? Straight after orienteering we had a mad dash to get Eldest daughter to a hockey match up in Failand. Sandwiches were eaten in the car and then I had a 60 minute cycle on my plan and 3 changes of clothes packed to make the day work. My husband is very supportive of my exercise endeavours and I know that I am lucky in this respect. He cycled my bike up to Failand to watch the hockey and then we swapped. He drove the car and daughters home and I then cycled to meet RubyRed’s husband, the Baron, who had very kindly volunteered to meet me and join me on a cycle ride. I am not that confident on roads and I’m still struggling a bit with the gears so I was grateful to have an experienced rider in charge.

We cycled out towards Barrow Gurney and he shouted helpful instructions about gears, how to manage climbs and I absolutely loved every single second of it. I learned that cycling down steep hills is terrifying and I was shouting to myself “I’m going to die” as we descended at speed. As we sped past the airport we peaked at 51 kph. That is REALLY fast and I haven’t even got my special cycling shoes and pedals on yet. THe Baron and I went our separate ways not far from Temple Meads and when I rang our doorbell, husband opened the door and looked visibly shocked to see me. “You were fast?” he said. I replied, “I KNOW” with a big grin on my face. Big thanks to the Baron for Sunday and to my amazing friend RubyRed too.

So as you can see, it was a busy week and exhaustion has been quite a feature of the evenings. Training in December, when work is quiet is one thing, but training in January which is one of the busiest months of the year when you work in recruitment is something quite different. I haven’t barely managed to catch a breath. School run, work, PT, family birthdays and training commitments have made for a very tired Claire indeed. I have also lost 11 pounds since New Year’s Day which whilst I am pleased about it, does seem to be quite a lot. I am eating well and focussing on protein for muscle recovery but the weight is dropping off quickly and this again is making me tired.

When I arrived for PT yesterday, Dr Crane asked how I was and I was honest and said that although I wasn’t sore (30 minutes of tortuous foam rolling had taken the edge off that on Sunday night) I did feel a bit weary. I wear a Garmin watch which gives me millions of statistics (most of which I don’t understand) but one thing I do take note of is my “resting heartrate”. This is how many times your heart beats in a minute when you are asleep and is a fairly good indicator or overall health. Mine is usually 51-54, but on Sunday night it was registering at 61. I started on the treadmill for the session of scheduled sprints which started with a 5 minute jogging warm up but my legs were not playing ball at all and my heartrate was through the roof. I felt dreadful. Sweat was pouring from me and it just wasn’t happening. Very quickly Dr Crane came the conclusion that sprints were not happening (even if I had wanted to do them) and we went and did weights instead. He also sent me some poignant reading material about how rest is important! Today I have rested and worked from home and have spent most of the day eating protein as I was hungry. This is a new and challenging process for me and I know now that I am going to have to listen to my body and rest when I need to rest. Orienteering on Sunday probably wasn’t the best idea from a training point of view and it is almost certainly what pushed me over the edge, but I loved it. So if I need to rest today in order to do something I really enjoyed off the plan, then so be it. I know Dr Crane is supportive of this but this is new for me. Not going at 100% all the time is going to be essential if I am going to complete the triathlon in one piece.

It’s my birthday tomorrow and I will be 44. To celebrate (and the plan has been tweaked to allow for this) I’m taking a day off work (or at the least a few hours) and Husband and I are going to cycle to Bath for lunch and then cycle back. I hope it won’t rain, but even if it does I don’t care. This training is hard work and I’m going to have to dig deep to get through it, therefore doing things I really enjoy is going to be important if I am to survive the next 6 months at all.