Swimming Comeback and Undeserved Medals

A couple of days ago, I entered my first swimming gala in eight years. I quit the sport when I was 17 due to some club politics, an unsupportive coach and also because most of my friends had quit at that time too.

I decided to come back to swimming in December last year, after working at home, besides my once a week volunteer swim session, all my exercise was done at home too. It was an unhealthy cycle and I wanted to get out and meet new people. I joined a local swimming team in January and have never looked back. I only wish I had joined back in September when I first came back to Nottingham. The coaches are nice, the pools are clean, my teammates are friendly and I’ve been swimming five times a week.

So this weekend it was my first chance to get back in the pool as a competitive swimmer. The meet was especially for Masters (swimmers aged 18 and above) and involved a series of 50m, 100m and 200m events (both individual and relays) – I entered them all. There was a special challenge set by the organisers, to enter and complete all ten races, and by doing so, I won a bottle of whisky. Nice gesture, but as not a hard-drinker, it will probably sit in the cupboard for a long time yet.

The other prizes up for grabs at the event included 1) the Overall Age Group Winner, for the swimmer in each age group who accumulated the most points during the day (points are given for the time you swam for each event – the faster you swim, the more points you get) 2) Nottinghamshire County Champion Medals for the fastest eligible swimmer in each event per age group and 3) Spot Prizes for whoever the announcer deemed worthy, like the person in this race who comes 3rd, has the jazziest trunks on, etc.

In addition to the all 10 races whisky prize, I also won the overall age group prize (a new pair of racing goggles) and all 10 county champion medals. I didn’t win any of the spot prizes, which were bottles of shampoo and other toiletries, haha I’ve written about that before

I won the County Champion medals even though I wasn’t the fastest age group swimmer in all of my races. I was only the outright fastest in my age group for three of the ten races. Only swimmers who swam for teams within Nottinghamshire were eligible for the medals, so even though I was 4th in the 50m breaststroke, I still won the medal for that race, since the other three faster swimmers swam for teams outside of Nottinghamshire, and were therefore not able to win these medals. In theory, my wins were fair wins, in the same way if I went to Shropshire and was the fastest swimmer in the Shropshire County Championships, since I’m not affiliated with Shropshire, I wouldn’t be able to win any of their medals. But still, I feel a bit like most of the medals were undeserved. I swam as fast as I could, but my times were not as fast as they were nine years ago and other people swam faster than me. I’m certain that there are other females aged 25-29 in Nottinghamshire who are faster than me at all of the events I swam at the weekend, so it’s still quite embarrassing for me to call myself ‘County Champion’.

Me and my 10 golds
Me and my 10 golds

More to come on what I will do with the medals…

How not to salsa

I go to salsa most Wednesday nights. There are salsa and bachata classes early in the evening, and straight after the classes, there is a free social salsa night where everyone goes to dance.

Last week, for some reason, I was just on a roll. Everyone wanted to dance with me. Normally I take my place in the corner and wait for a friend to arrive who I can dance with, instead of dancing with a stranger (although I’ve been going for so long now, I know a lot of their faces and have danced with them before, but never really caught their names or stopped to chat with them…shall we call them salsa-not-so-strangers?, because I feel like I kind of know them).

But last week, salsa-not-so-stranger after salsa-not-so-stranger just kept asking to dance with me. I finished one dance and as I ran back to hide in my corner, someone else would invite me to dance, it was so surreal…did this mean I was actually getting good?

Anyway, this guy asked me to dance probably my fourth dance in a row, after a few seconds, the volume of the music went up (as often happens) and I got a really bad headache, I wasn’t concentrating and our dance really did not go well.

He was a better dancer than me (not hard, but still, it’s best to state that), and I just had a lot of trouble reading his dancing signals. He held his hands in the air and actually sighed when I spun and missed the cue to take his hand again. He purposely left his hand there on several occasions and at one point rolled his eyes at me.

After about 20 seconds, when he realised he’d made a bad choice in choosing me as his dance partner, he was actively looking around at other women, deciding who he would dance with next, like he had zero focus on me and was looking for the next one. Fine, alright, cool.

As he was looking around, I decided not to look at him any longer. I wasn’t looking for my next dance partner, I was looking for a place in the room where I could sit down and take a rest. As I spun (probably in the wrong direction) I scratched the poor guy’s arm. It wasn’t even just a little scratch, it was like elbow to wrist in length, and then he made eye contact with me, and his eyes just shouted out so now you scratch me, for real?

Add all that to me stepping on his toes and generally not dancing well in his company, I think it’s safe to say we won’t dance with each other again. At the end, he didn’t even say thank you, which is standard dancing etiquette, no? I usually dance alright, it was just at that point I was tired, I had a headache and wasn’t concentrating. Maybe we should have ended the dance early and evacuated the dancefloor*.

*I tried to find a salsa version of this song but couldn’t find one

More salsa stories to come…

You can’t swim with me.

What is it with guys that want to go swimming when girls do? I don’t mean in general, I mean I’m sure most men go swimming because they want to keep fit and enjoy being in the pool, but within the last week, whenever I’ve told a male friend that I’m going swimming, they have almost exploded with a huge desire to suddenly come swimming with me. If it was running, or yoga, or boxing that I told them I was going to, they would not say anything about it, but as soon as it’s swimming, they get animated. But no, you can’t swim with me.

Maybe I am being selfish or rude or just awkward, but there are several reasons behind my refusal in letting them join me swimming.

1. You don’t swim like I do

After years of swimming competitively, I get in a pool and swim at least 750m for a warm up. How many lengths is that? That’s another reason why you can’t swim with me…swimmers like myself not only swim longer and more structured sets than your average public swimmer, but we count differently too. My standard warm up looks like this

3 x (150 S/K/P per 50 +10s)

which to you would be 2 lengths normal swim, 2 lengths using the kickboard (legs only), 2 lengths using a pull buoy (arms only), then rest for ten seconds after doing those 6 lengths. Repeat three times.

I also use the clock a lot, so will be thinking in terms of ‘red top, black bottom’ (which are the same thing) instead of looking at the actual time, seconds count a lot in my swimming session. There is a huge difference between a 10 second rest and a 15 second rest.

giphy1
My swimming style

2. It’s not sociable

Swimming with me is not sociable. I get in, I swim and I rarely stop for chats. If you came swimming with me, what would you be doing besides trying to race me or watch me?

3. You can’t teach me

I’m a very good swimmer, I know the weaknesses of my strokes and I have plenty of sets and workouts for myself. Unless you’re a swimming coach with years of experience, there’s really nothing you can teach me that I don’t already know.

4. I won’t teach you

If I pay for a public swimming session (average price seems to be about £3.90 these days) I want to make the most out of my time and session. Teaching a beginner how to swim is hard and it takes months, even years for a beginner to learn how to swim, it’s not possible to learn in an hour.

So, sorry guys, but actually I’m not sorry. You can’t swim with me unless you are a dedicated lane swimmer who agrees with me about these nuances , until then – you can’t swim with me!

giphy
Boy bye

Parkrun and the blind

About a month ago, through the Guide Running UK website I met a VI runner online and we ran the Coventry Memorial Park parkun together which was my first guide running experience. This week I went to the Colwick parkrun as they had a special awareness day about guide running. I volunteered to run the course blindfolded so now I have experience from both sides.

Guide running can be different every time depending on the blind runner and the guide. Not all ‘blind runners’ are totally blind, some have peripheral, blurry or tunnel vision…this means not all of them will run tethered to their guide. Blind runners have different requirements about which side their guide is on, how long their tether is, when they want obstacles pointed out to them and what type of obstacles are most important.

Guides also have different abilities, even though someone can run a 5km course in 22 minutes, it would be difficult to maintain that pace because as a guide as you have to speak to your running partner throughout. Sometimes a guide will be slower than their running partner, and even though you must go at the blind runners pace, they will slow down if you ask them!

The main thing when you are guiding is definitely communication between the guide and the runner, both before, during and after your run.

  • Do you want to run a little faster? Tell your guide
  • Is there a child running in not a very straight line? Tell your runner
  • Does it feel like your shoelace is untied, but can’t see it? Ask your guide
  • Are they feeling up to a sprint finish? Ask your runner

These are all things that I’ve had to ask when guiding and being guided.

To some people guide running may seem really daunting, but it’s a great thing to do, and even if you just walk the course with a runner, it’s getting them out and doing something and the runners are always grateful for your time and company.

What I learnt today from being blindfolded was just how many things can affect your running and footing – running around tight bends, tree roots on the path, and especially a change of surface from gravel to grass to tarmac which is a really bizarre feeling.

How was it running blindfolded? Well at the beginning it took me a while to get my rhythm because it was a bit crowded and the noise of everybody’s feet hitting the floor made me feel like I was going to run on top of people’s feet. But when people spread out and there were wider paths I got my confidence and ran at a faster pace. I felt at the end I could have done another lap! I was surprised we overtook so many people and finished with a great time of 30:07, I’ll have to go back to Colwick to see what time I can get on that course without a blindfold, but 30 minutes is very respectable for my first effort.

Having a guide was obviously a BIG part of today, I wouldn’t have been able to even walk the course without Paul, so a bit shout out to him and all the other regular volunteer guide runners.

If you’re interested in running, guiding or even being a marshall at a parkrun, here are some useful websites

http://guiderunning.uk/
http://www.parkrun.org.uk/
http://www.ulearnathletics.com/qualification/299

 

 

 

 

Swimmers’ Coats

During these Olympic games, as with many others, swimming is one of the highlights for me. I like the excitement when half the field is separated by hundredths of seconds and you never know who will win going into the pool.

But what I always find amusing/confusing is the big coats that swimmers wear on poolside before they swim. I used to swim and at meets everyone was in their costume the whole time, maybe we’d put on a t-shirt but never the big jackets and trousers that top level swimmers wear.

michael-phelps-prerace-face-memes
Just look at his huge padded coat!*

Swimming pools are really humid and even in winter, as a lifeguard I would wear shorts and just one t-shirt when on poolside, never a jacket because it gets so hot. These swimmers wear huge jackets, coats, trousers and trainers as if they’re going skiing!

I’m sure the coats have their purpose, to keep the swimmers’ muscles warm before they race as well as advertising for the brands that sponsor them, but you don’t see this in other sports like athletics.

What I also find strange is that when they take the coats off, they don’t even look hot. They never break out in a sweat. What do you think about the swimmers’ coats?

*Image source: http://www.popsugar.com/fitness/Michael-Phelps-Prerace-Face-Memes-42192858

Strava Improvements

I love Strava, I’ve been using it for over a year now to track my cycling and running sessions and I can’t believe it took me so long to get into it! It records your movements by connecting with GPS and you can connect it to compete in segments (mini races on short stretches of roads) against your Facebook friends, running/cycling club and other athletes. But there are some things which I think would make Strava* even better.

‘GPS connected’ notification

When it’s sunny outside (which is often in summer), I go outside and can’t see the screen well because of the brightness, let alone the little GPS bars in the corner which you need to look at to see if you’re connected or not. If my phone could vibrate or beep to let me know when it’s connected to GPS, it would be good.

‘GPS lost’ notification

Ever been out and had a really amazing split for one of your runs (or a really bad one), then realise that mid-run, your GPS had dropped out and you didn’t notice? Just look at this map, I was doing circular laps on the running track but my GPS thought otherwise. Again, if there was a notification to say hold on a minute while we connect you to another GPS satellite, it would help a lot.

GPS dropped out
When your GPS isn’t connected and makes a really strange pattern!

Link heart rate data from Fitbits

I have a Fitbit that tracks my heart rate as well as all the other data, and you can link Strava with heart rate monitors to see your heart rate throughout your activities. But for some reason, Strava doesn’t link the data from my Fitbit.

Best effort since…

Sometimes you do a run or a segment and you know you won’t get a personal best on it because you’ve had an injury, moved country, are having a bad season or any other reason. So I think if you were able to add a significant event that affects your performance and then have a new set of times taking that into account it would be beneficial for people who can’t get those pb’s anymore. For example, with the pollution and conditions in China, I knew I wouldn’t get a pb on my 5km time very easily, so getting a ‘Best 5km time since moving to China’, that would be a great boost.

Extra voice notifications

When I ran in China, I heard other runners’ apps talking to them. While Strava says Distance 4km. Time 21 minutes, 43 seconds. Previous kilometre in 5 minutes, 12 seconds , the Chinese apps said all kinds of stuff!

You’ve just ran 5km, waheyyyy! You’ve ran 5km in 23 minutes and 24 seconds. You ran the last kilometre in 5 minutes 12 seconds. That’s faster than the last kilometre, keep going, you’re great!!

It was a much more personal notification and a lot more upbeat than the computerised Strava woman. There could be options as to whether you get the standard simple notifications, and then extra notifications which could be positive and motivating like the Chinese one, or even slightly negative to get you running faster. Imagine if your running app told you to pick your feet up, run faster or even told you that you’re slower than a turtle!

*I use Strava on a Samsung phone, Android operating system and have a free account

GeoPark Palm Sprint Tri

For the second year in a row, I entered the GeoPark Adventure triathlon. The race report for 2015’s Standard distance is here. The 2016 sprint is the first triathlon I’ve done in a year, and I was really looking forward to this race, only a couple of weeks after I’d landed back on British soil.

But unfortunately, this year I was quite disappointed with the event. It is a small event, but I feel it wasn’t organised as well as the previous year and there are still some issues that need addressing to make it even better next year. Most of this post will focus on those niggling errors, because this event has so much potential and I really want to be satisfied next year. It really is a great course and a fantastic triathlon to end the season with, especially when we have the weather to match.

Numbering: Numbers are always written on athlete’s bodies, but they were written on wrongly. Instead of being written on my shoulder and outer calf in a vertical direction (so people can read them) my numbers were written horizontally across my ankle and on the back of my hand. My gloves covered the number on my hand and nobody could read the number on my ankle. Let alone the people who wore compression socks for the run.

Swim: The buoys were a little small and not that easy to spot…also was this year’s swim too long or last year’s too short? As if you compare the times, there is a big difference! Last year the 750m was completed by most in 13-15mins, but this year the sea was calmer and it was 17-19mins for the ‘same distance’.

Bike: The no drafting rule, although important, could not be enforced for this course, before getting out onto the roads, there are lots of traffic lights and athletes do get caught at these and bunch up together at the lights. I saw some plenty of people drafting off others after junctions with lights. Also, it looked like some people did the whole course as a pair, swimming, cycling and running together…is this allowed?

Run: A lot of the parts on the run are narrow paths, and some places had a lot of overgrown thorns and bushes. If they could have been trimmed back a little, it would have been easier when passing athletes. If you need a volunteer to do this, get me a pair of scissors and I will do it!

Cheating: There was definitely some cheating going on in this race, whether intentional or not, there was someone who cut off a whole corner of the swim, and looking at the results, it seems that no penalties have been added. If you are local and know the roads, there are plenty of places where you could veer off and skip out sections of the course, including the big hill in Galmpton at the end. Although there were marshalls at the half way point of the run, there was nobody checking that when you ran down that last set of stairs, instead of running on to Broadsands, you didn’t just run straight back up again. It’s frustrating when you play by the rules, and you see others that don’t…and then realise they haven’t even been penalised for cheating.
“Goodie bag”: The goodie bag is usually one of the highlights of a race, although not everyone will admit to it, I look forward to seeing if I’ll get energy gels, cereal bars, bike wipes, porridge, vouchers or something else exciting…the race pack hyped this year’s goodie bag up up

Check out the Goodie Bags for a little something for the children or not, you if you get there first!

All finishers will receive a goodie bag, treats and souvenirs of the challenge you have completed. There is also a discount code exclusively for GeoPark Triathlon finishers to enter any other GeoPark Adventure events 2016

But when I crossed the line, I was handed a banana and a bottle of water, along with a rubbery medal on a plain green cord. I asked where the rest of the goodie bag was, and I was told they were cutting costs.

The most disappointing part was that later on Instagram, I looked up #geoparkadenture and found that the medals we got, that said GeoPark Adventure Triathlon 2016 were actually what seems like leftovers from the Torbay Triathlon they organised earlier in the year.

13239288_846755415468347_1129424253968396909_n
Reused medals and incorrect hand numbering

The medal was a step up from the mug I got last year which has been lost somewhere at the back of the cupboard, but I feel I’ve been cheated a little by getting a medal that other people have for doing a totally different event.

I love the concept of the GeoPark Adventure events, they are tough, hilly but so rewarding when you get those amazing views across the bay. What’s even better is that you don’t have to pay a fortune to enter, but next year can we please have an actual goodie bag with treats and souvenirs as promised?

 

Oi oi – Harrassment

I’ve been sporty for a quite a few years now and I’d never really been heckled, harrassed, taunted etc whilst playing sports until a week or so ago. Sure in China I was stared at and people took photos of me when I was running because I would run on the roads, rather than just on the track but there was never any malice from anyone.

A couple of weeks ago, I went out cycling with the Warwickshire Ladies Cycling Club and their pink cycling jerseys attracted a bit of attention when cycling on some of the roads around Binley. (I say it was the pink jerseys, but it could have been anything).

We got shouted at twice, once was “Oi oi sexy!” from some young lads in a polo and the second was a long and slow “Ohhhh myyyy Godddd”, as the car slowed down and drove past us, several men peered their heads out of the window to stare at us.

It’s just ridiculous how this happens and I asked the women if it happened regularly, one lady said not usually, but it is something that happens. Then I asked one of my male cyclist friends if he ever receives any similar treatment, he says he gets shouted and beeped at, but nobody ever calls him sexy which is something only women seem subject to.

Nobody’s ever shouted at me when I’ve been out cycling or running on my own (only when in a group), but I have heard stories from (female) friends who have either been told to ‘run faster’ or ‘get a move on’ or have been complimented on their ‘nice legs’. And this is harrassment. There’s no doubt about it.

No wonder there’s so few women out on the roads. No wonder it’s so hard for me to buy a women’s cycling jersey in sports shops. No wonder there’s just a ‘Women’s bikes’ section with 8 bikes for sale, compared to ‘Mens Hybrid bikes’, ‘Mens Road bikes’, ‘Mens Mountain bikes’ sections which have 8 bikes each.

Sure there are plenty of groups, clubs and rides specifically for women, but at the same time, I’m sure with a quick search on google, I could find sites and forums that either troll female cyclists for their cycling abilities and/or fetishize female cyclists for their bodies. Let’s just look at this.

Pretty different, don’t you think? Male cyclists are associated with Olympics, winning and medals, whereas the female cyclists and associated with death, disqualification, mistakes and their bodies. (I wonder why ‘presents for female cyclists’ came up and what presents are suggested)

Cyclists in general do get a lot of abuse from motorists on the road, regardless of gender, that is definitely true and should not be ignored, but I feel it is women who are more vulnerable to gender-based abuse and harrassment. It’s the same for female motorists, who have a lot of stick for ‘bad driving’, right? Road users should respect each other, no matter which vehicle they’re using and no matter what their gender is. Let’s stop harrassing each other.

Running into Danger

Running can be a dangerous sport, just take this year’s Guangzhou marathon where 12,000 out of the 20,000 runners were injured. For me, one of the biggest dangers when I go running is what is also called ‘man’s best friend’…that’s right, dogs.

In the UK, it’s better, dogs are usually kept on leads and I’m pretty sure there aren’t any stray dogs, also see Ben’s post about the running and the seven stages of dog . But here in China, dogs aren’t always kept on leads and there are lots of stray dogs.

317357109090284597

When I see a dog out on a run, first, I look around and see if there’s an owner nearby who would be able to call it over, or keep it nearby, which they sometimes do automatically. If there’s not an owner, I assess the situation and try to figure out if it’s safer to run past it or turn around and run back. Most of the time, dogs don’t see me coming (I must run light-footed) so I have about 30 seconds to make my decision. I look at what the dog’s doing (can I run past it without it noticing me?), how fast I think it can run (would I be able to outrun it) and if it’s clean or dirty (I don’t want to get rabies). I also look for trees that I could jump up to get out of the way, ridiculous I know, but that’s fear for you.

There was a time when I ran through a small village at the back of the university, the paths were small and interesting, there were fat chickens waddling around, old people sitting on doorsteps etc, but there were also guard dogs. The guard dogs were locked inside front gardens, with leads and big metal fences, but when I ran past they barked really loudly and aggressively. I was so scared I’ve never ran that route again, despite it being really beautiful and natural.

I know that dogs actually don’t want to bite people, I’m not sure where my fear comes from and what I’m actually scared of. I thought I’d gotten over it a few years ago, but the fear is still there, especially when I’m running, which is when I feel most vulnerable as I’m often on my own, running in quiet places and without a mobile phone.

 

 

Olympic Dreams

Without really realising, I’ve always liked a lot of sports. I remember Saturday morning spent at Ernesford Grange sports centre, where I’d go swimming 9-10am, trampolining (with wet hair) 10-11am and then badminton 11-12pm. In primary school I played football and did cross-country running. Then in year 7 I joined pretty much all the sports teams: athletics, swimming, netball, rounders, basketball and I even went to 8am fitness classes with a couple of other guys before school at 8.50am.

But I never really specialised in any sport until I was a lot older. I was always good at swimming, being labelled a ‘water baby’ by my swimming teacher. But after I got my gold award aged 9, I stopped swimming. Sure, people had told me about joining ‘the squad’, but I’d also heard rumours about 5am swims before school and I wasn’t ready for that.

When I finally decided I wanted to swim, I was 14, my inspirational PE teacher Mr Burder, who was (and I hope still is!) a triathlete got me a trial with City of Coventry Swimming Club (COCSC) and I got in! I started just by swimming casual lessons on Friday evenings, but then I was later spotted by another coach, who bumped me up into the proper squad, where there were more training sessions and the chance to compete in races. It was great, I loved the training and my closest friends are still the swimmers from COCSC. When it came to racing, I was already in the oldest age category (14+). I saw younger swimmers who were incredible and wondered why it had taken me so long to start swimming.

Anyway, after quitting swimming, I have taken part in other competitions and tried new sports, but I always feel like I’ve left things too late.

DSCN7747
With the Olympic rings behind me in 2008 Olympic sailing city Qingdao

Recently, two of my friends have been selected to represent Team GB at international triathlon events, I know an Olympic gymnast from school and a girl from my Spanish class is a champion jiu jitsu-er. I know a Team GB canoeist too. I used to think top athletes were on a totally different level from ‘average people’, but from my friends’ experiences, I can see that maybe it’s not that hard after all.

At university, I only started triathlon in my final year, and I know if I started it in my first year, maybe it could have been me in blue, red and white too.

I dreamt the other night that I was swimming and after the session, I asked the coach how I did. He said I’m one of the best swimmers this city has seen, but I’ll never make the Olympics, I’m too old. It was devastating to wake up from that dream.

Although I’d love to be in the Olympics, I think I like variation too much. I can’t concentrate on just one sport, even multi-sport events like triathlon…I’m always doing something else on the side to switch it up. Maybe I’ll never be a black belt in taekwondo, or maybe I’ll never specialise in one given sport, but I think I’m ok knowing I won’t be in the Olympics any time soon (it’s too late for Rio, and I don’t want to go to Japan). But dreaming about my failed Olympic dream sparked a whole range of emotions about my sporting life so far…