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…

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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.

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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!

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Boy bye

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

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…

The Perfect Pool

This afternoon I went swimming for the first time in absolutely ages, I could tell it had been a long time because my arms were aching during the warm up. Anyway, the pool looked amazing, on an aesthetic level, the water was a warm blue colour, the tiles around the pool were a dark brown colour and there were even strange but stylish sun loungers inside, which worked well.

The changing rooms had one section with lockers that were operated by an electronic wristband you get when you sign in. There were lockers on each side, with nice big mirrors on the outside. There was also a section with huge mirrors and complete with a set of scales*, a water dispenser, hairdryers and some slightly odder things: body moisturiser, bobby pins, hair bands and cotton buds. The showers had curtains and free shampoo/shower gel and the shower heads were massive. The showers weren’t the ones that you have to press and only come on for 30 seconds either. So it looked really great, and smelled great too, did they have incense burning somewhere?

I went to poolside, using the complementary flip flops then got in the pool. It was nice having it to myself, but the temperature was a bit too warm for me, so I swam in the middle, away from the hot air/water vents.

But then I realised the perfect pool wasn’t so great after all. Besides the temperature, there weren’t any lines on the floor, making it hard to know when to turn as the pool floor tiles were all the same colours, so I couldn’t judge when to flip. There also weren’t any lane ropes and without the lines on the floor, I found it quite hard to swim in a straight line, especially when doing pull. There weren’t any flag poles either, making it hard to know when to turn for backstroke, but I’m going to stop nitpicking now. Overall I had a great swim, I did a RAF 3km set, with an added 100m IM, just to show off to the other amateur swimmers that joined me later in the pool, haha.

raf set
and yes, the main set did hurt

But then the main problem came with the beautiful changing rooms. My shower was fine, but getting dressed was just a nightmare. When they give you locker keys, they do it in order, so even though there were 40 or so lockers, the four of us were right next to each other, using lockers 1, 3, 5 and 7 (odd numbers on top). There was one small narrow bench, where four of us were trying to get changed. I like to spread out my stuff and take up a lot of space, but couldn’t here. As there were no hooks, I had nowhere to hang my wet costume to dry it.

Then back to those mirrors – great for brushing my hair in, but not so great when there’s three naked senior Chinese ladies and reflection upon reflection of their bodies is going back and forth. Anywhere I looked I could see them, and they could see me. Of course, me being the only foreigner in the room, they all wanted to get a good look at me…slightly creepy, but what else can you do in public changing rooms?

*The set of scales in the gym told me I was 3kg lighter, so I know which one I’m believing.

Image source: http://www.raf.mod.uk/rafswimming/Administration/trainingset3000m.cfm

City of Birmingham Triathlon – Race Report

After a long time without racing, today was finally my day to don the green and gold University of Nottingham trisuit as I competed in the UK Triathlon Series City of Birmingham triathlon. It was a long day, comprising of Olympic, Sprint, Super Sprint and Fun distance triathlons, for all abilities. Some competitors set off at 7.30am, but my race wasn’t until 9.45am so I got a bit of a lie in. Travelling from Coventry also meant that I didn’t have to leave my house at 5am and have a three hour coach drive to the event. It was held in Sutton Park and I was competing in the Olympic distance – 1500m (open water) swim, 40km cycle and 10km run.

I arrived, registered and got my race pack, with plenty of goodies from the race sponsors Mornflake. I had to stick my numbers to my front and back (unlike in other events) and had a bit of a pickle attaching them to my race belt. I could only safety pin my front number when I closed my race belt, which proved slightly problematic as you’ll see later.

I got to transition and stood speechless for a few seconds, looking desperately for my race number and where to rack my bike. I asked another triathlete and she said it’s a free for all system, so I could choose where I wanted to go. I chose a place close to the ‘bike out’ so I’d have less to run with my bike and managed to find an empty rack so I spread my stuff out nicely.

Transition all set up and knowing where to bike and run out of, I got into my wetsuit and went to the race briefing, where 60 ladies in pink hats listened to a marshal explain the course and tell us that the water was 19°C. I got in the water, after not having swam in over a month and waited for the klaxon. Most of the weaker swimmers stayed at the back so the start was quite calm – no kicks in the face, elbow nudges or ducking. We quickly split into two packs and I was leading the second pack until the second buoy, which hit me in the head as I tried to pass it. I lost a few places but carried on. It was a difficult swim because the water was so murky, I couldn’t see past my elbow.

Out of the water and into transition, I found my bike and started to take off my wetsuit, it’s a new wetsuit which is really tight at the ankles. A guy who was setting up his transition for a later race next to me helped me take it off with a few strong tugs. I stepped into my race belt – and only realised on the bike that my numbers were upside down, threw on all my other kit and ran over to the mount line.

The bike course was 8 x 5km laps on a stretch of Sutton Park. It was nice to be racing with some of the Olympic males at the beginning and have the Sprint males join us at the end, but it was kind of frustrating because I couldn’t pick out who I was racing against. Male and female trisuits are pretty similar and if women have their hair tied up it’s hard to see their gender. The course was hilly and winding with no flat straights at all. The tarmac was a smooth relief after the sections where tree roots had made cracks in the path and the ironed out gravel surface which slowed us all down.

Post Race Photo
Post Race Photo

I also had a close encounter when one of the sprint princes* shouted “coming past princess” and got in front of me. He’d just finished his swim and was trying to put his feet into his shoes, but they weren’t going in and he was losing his balance. He was wobbling a bit and I didn’t know where he was going so didn’t want to move. Our wheels clipped but luckily we both stayed up, he got clipped into his shoe and off he went.

Coming back into transition, I re-racked my bike, took off my helmet and set off running. I don’t have special cleat shoes for the bike so didn’t need to faff around changing shoes. I felt so heavy after the bike and the 10km ahead of me seemed really long over the country paths of grass, dirt and stones. It was 4 x 2.5km laps and the third one was definitely the hardest. I ran past some of the male Olympic competitors who by this stage were walking, although some were still running. Then some of the Sprint competitors who started after us, came through so it was quite a busy run. There was also a herd of black cows to pass on two occasions, but luckily they didn’t move whilst I was running past them.

I ran back into the finish line and had my name read out. I was relieved, hot and exhausted, yet I was still buzzing from the race and was eager to see my times. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a receipt-like service to print out your individual results, they were published on a TV screen and it was crowded so I couldn’t see at first.

After my massage, which was great on my legs, I went back to see my time and saw that I came 9th overall, out of 60 female Olympic entrants, and 1st in my category. My time was 2 hrs 53 but the results haven’t been published yet, so I still don’t know my splits.

Female Olympic Age Group Winners
Female Olympic Age Group Winners

I had fun on the course and picking up an age group win feels great, seeing as I haven’t been in the sport that long. My winning goody bag contained a new green and black silicone swim cap and plenty of High Five energy supplements that will keep me going in future training sessions and races.

A big shout out to the event organisers, sponsors, marshals and spectators. Although I enjoyed it, I probably wouldn’t do this particular triathlon again, as the 8 cycle laps became a bit mundane after the third but I would like to tri some other races in the UK Triathlon Series, like the Warwickshire or Stratford 220.

*Not all male triathletes are princes, I’m only calling him one because he called me princess. Some competitors can be grumpy and angry when in race mode.

Motivational Posters

This quote has been coming up a lot on my instagram feed lately and it couldn’t be truer to me at the moment. In regards to my triathlon training, I now feel stronger and better than ever, I feel I’ve made progress in each of the three disciplines and my bike confidence has increased tenfold. Before, when a car would zoom past me, I’d tense up and panic, but now I’ve learnt to keep my cool and carry on.

The poster is true when it comes to endurance sports like triathlon because as you increase the distances, intensity and type of training, some parts get do get easier. For example, at the beginning of term, my CSS speed for swimming (the time I should be aiming to swim each 100m at – it’s a fast pace that should be maintained for a while) was 1.47/100m. A few months later, it’s decreased to 1.34/100m. In swimming, a 13 second difference is huge, so I can clearly see my gains there.

Sometimes, if I’m really not in the mood to listen to them, I can find motivational posters patronising. You know when you just don’t want somebody telling you how to act, feel or do? So I scroll past them and find pictures of food or great landscapes. Motivational posters can be really good at other times though, like above when they ring true, or like the ones our coach posts on a Tuesday night to encourage us to get up for the 6.30am swim on Wednesday.

Do you like motivational posters?

A Swimmer’s Apologies

I’ve been swimming semi-competitively for the past nine years or so, on and off. I used to swim for my city, training 4/5 times a week and I specialised in freestyle sprints and IM. Now I’m in the uni triathlon team and it’s the Easter holidays but my training hasn’t stopped. I’ve got a month membership to my old swimming pool and would like to apologise for a few things, as going from a club training session to ‘public swimming’ is very different. Here are some of my apologies to the different people I encounter in these sessions.

Sorry to the swimmers in my lane

  • I’m sorry for making you stick to the clockwise swimming rule, even if you think it’s better swimming one up, one down, it really isn’t for several reasons.
  • I’m sorry for touching your foot and freaking you out, it’s not a game of mine, I’m just letting you know that I’m going to overtake you.
Please!
  • I’m sorry for swimming faster than you in the ‘fast lane’, there wasn’t a ‘super fast lane’ available.
  • Sorry I don’t have time to chit chat at the end of the pool, I get 10 seconds rest which isn’t enough time to tell you the ins and outs of my set.
  • Sorry if the only things you hear me say are numbers – “1.37, black 15, 1.34, 4 100s plus 15”
  • Sorry for tumble-turning and both ends of the pool, I know at the shallow end you expect people to do a touch turn, but I’ve done tens of thousands of tumble turns and can do them in shallow water too.
  • Sorry you thought I’d kick you when I tumble-turn (I saw you squidge up to the lane rope)….again, I’ve done thousands of them and won’t hurt you.

To the swimmers in other lanes

  • I’m sorry if I splash you.
  • Sorry if my hand accidentally touches yours when swimming, it’s not intentional.
  • Sorry I don’t have time to talk to you either.
  • Sorry for spreading all my stuff out all over the changing rooms.
  • I’m sorry if my hand crosses into your lane when I’m doing butterfly.
  • Sorry for being angry at the aquafit class for making my lane so choppy.
  • I’m sorry for taking my last two lengths easy and being a bit of a hypocrite, but I’ve deserved it!
That and tiger turns!

To the lifeguard

  • Sorry for causing a scene and overtaking people mid-lane.
  • Sorry for being the last one to get out of the changing rooms and stopping you from going home.
  • I’m (not as) sorry for checking all the lockers and taking any £1 coins that have been left.
  • Sorry for sticking my set to the lane direction sign, if it’s on the floor it gets wet and I can’t read it.
  • Sorry for doubting your lifesaving abilities when you’re wearing socks, trainers and pool shoe covers.

To my coach

  • Sorry for going to the toilet mid-set.
  • I’m sorry for taking 20 seconds break instead of 10.
  • Sorry for skipping a couple of 50’s.

If you’re a good swimmer that comes across difficulties when swimming in public sessions, leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you!

Swimming: My Escape from Reality

Without bragging, I’ve always been a good swimmer. As I child, I took to the water and my weekly swimming classes like a duck, I still keep a folder of all the Starfish, Shark, Water Skills etc certificates I gained between the ages of 4 and 9. One of my teachers called me a Water baby on a regular basis. After completing my Gold Award, I didn’t really know what to do next. I could have joined the local swim team then, but I’d heard rumours that you had to wake up at 5am to go training and no way was I doing that. With no obvious progression level, I stopped swimming and would just go casually with my auntie and cousin.

At secondary school, I met a teacher who’d change my life. Mr Burder. Do you Cally kids remember him? He was a triathlete and he also led training sessions for the athletics team before and after school. After my first few years on the athletics team (and rounders and netball teams) I got a bit bored. The hurdles got higher in competitions and I didn’t clear all of them all of the time (I still have the scars from that awful first race I did in year 7 where I only cleared two hurdles and fell at all the others). So I told Mr Burder I wanted to quit athletics. He wasn’t happy so took me and my friend to sit in the old PE office as he told me why quitting is never an option. I pleaded my case and told him I just wasn’t into athletics, it was too hard. So he posed the question, what sport DO you want to do? And I’ll help you get involved.

I told him how I’d always loved swimming, so he set me up with a trial at Coventry Swimming Club. I remember being very nervous, but after my first four widths, they told me I had a place in the Aqua squad. I was 14, so already too ‘old’ for the age group competitions but it did not stop or hinder me at all. Over the next few years, my swimming skills would develop greatly, I would perfect my butterfly stroke, I would enter races (win a few) and make ever-lasting friendships.

Standard aged 15 Myspace selfie!
Standard aged 15 Myspace selfie!

As a teenager, we all go through mental and physical changes. For me, swimming was an escape from the homework, the arguments at home and the rest of the world. When swimming however many lengths we swam, I would concentrate on counting the metres and remembering the next part of the set.There was no way I was thinking about fractions or anything else whilst I was in the water. The years I swam with Coventry were mostly positive. As a group (Team Aqua), we did so much together, we had crushes on the same coach, we played games and chatted when doing kick and we’d try to figure out the rules of waterpolo. There were water fights in the showers, where someone would fill a cap with cold water and throw it and there were donuts for everybody if it was someone’s birthday. We raised money for Marie Curie Cancer Care in the Swimathon and we went away to meets together, cheering for each other, whether we got PBs or not. Looking back, it’s a shame I had to quit, but with some physical issues and a lack of support from the club, there was no other option.

My first of 3 big sponsored swims
My first of 3 big sponsored swims

I stopped swimming competitively when I was 17 and although I casually went swimming, I was never part of a club or did any proper tailored sets…until now.

I decided to join the university Triathlon team as it’s kind of been a lifelong dream to complete one (inspired again by Mr Burder). Whereas in second year, I’d swim in the local pool and do my own thing, now I’m back in the lanes, touching my friends feet to overtake them and doing silly drills with even sillier names – head tap, finger trail and tiger turns (which are my favourite part of the Wednesday 6.30am training set).

What I love so much about being in the water is that it’s a time where I’m left alone with my conscious mind. There’s no music, adverts, Facebook notifications or text messages to distract me. I feel freer than ever when I’m in the water and the smell of chlorine after is a reminder of how swimming just pushes all those anxieties and worries out of my mind. My mind may occasionally drift to what cereals I’ll have for breakfast tomorrow, but the pressure of remembering the set and concentrating on my stroke is first and foremost.

That teacher was right when she called me a water baby. I love being immersed in the water, whether it be chlorinated or salty. The sea is an even better way to show those lingering problems where to go as I’m concentrating on the waves, currents and looking out for jellyfish.

Now I’ve got back into swimming as part of a team that encourages you, smiles with you and cries inside when the coach says vertical fly kick, I don’t know how I managed all these years without one.

Me at a gala
Me at a gala

One thing I should mention, is that after all these years swimming, I’ve come to love the feeling of water in my ear as the joyous moment when it finally comes out is made of dreams. Possibily because I, ashamedly, still have difficulty keeping my cap on my head!

A big thank you to everyone who has supported me in my sports, especially swimming as it’s very important to me. A special shout out to my Mum for taking me to all the training sessions and galas, my coaches at City of Coventry Swimming Club and most importantly to all the members of Team Aqua who have helped me in ways unimaginable.