Category Archives: Swimming

Breathing wasn’t so easy today

I’m not entirely sure why today’s swim didn’t go so well, but the one thing that I struggled with today more than the last couple of times was breathing. I was repeatedly running out of breath today when I was not yet at four lengths, unlike the last couple of times when breathing seemed to be quite easy. I’m not sure whether I was trying too hard; I think I might have been. This wasn’t overly obvious from the length times, and maybe that’s a good thing, because maybe it does show me that trying harder isn’t the key, and instead sorting out my technique so that I am not using a lot of effort, but having plenty of time to breathe, is more important.

So all in all, not the most confidence inspiring swim this time. Maybe that’s not a bad thing; the last couple of times appeared to be so “easy” that I was having visions of swimming 30 lengths without stopping today. So a wee kick in the nads isn’t such a bad thing, if it stops me getting carried away.

Another positive swimming experience

After Sunday’s swim, which went much better than any other swim in my life, I wanted to get back for another swim to see whether it was just luck, or whether I might actually be starting to get the hang of it. Either I’m now very lucky, or I might be starting to get the hang of it.

Today, I swam 750m, which I think might be the longest I’ve swam in a single session. I recognise this is not a long distance, and I didn’t do it all at once, but you have to start somewhere. This swim did have a number of major positives.

  1. I did sets of 4 lengths at a time
  2. The last set was 6 lengths
  3. I concentrated on my technique, not my speed
  4. I didn’t have any problems breathing, including when I half choked on some water; I was able to clear my throat and carry on
  5. I didn’t feel too knackered at the end of each set
  6. At the end of the last set, which was 6 lengths, not only could I have continued swimming more lengths without stopping, I actually felt sad that it was time to stop

That last point is pretty major for me. I usually can’t wait to get out of the pool. Today, I felt comfortable the whole time, and a couple of times when I was feeling a bit tired, I slowed down, and it became easy again.

Now, the main issue I have right now is I’m pitifully slow. I’ll be doing 25m lengths anywhere between 35 and 50 seconds, and I’m slowing down during a set. However, I’ve recognised that in the grand scheme of things, I need to sort out some form of technique, and not worry about speed. And I know my technique is getting better – today, for the first time ever, my Garmin Forerunner 910xt did not double count any laps. This happens normally when I swim, because my technique isn’t great, and I’ll occasionally half-drown during a length, and it’ll double count that length. Today, that never happened. Win.

Once I have technique vaguely under control, the speed will either come, or I can concentrate on going a bit faster. Right now, I couldn’t give a flying fuck if I’m not going very fast, I merely want to be able to swim 750m without stopping. Today, I stopped 6 times, so the goal is to try to do 750m stopping less; maybe next time, I should do sets of 5 lengths, and do 6 of them, which will involve stopping 5 times in total. Yeah, that seems fair enough. Goal set for next time.

Man alive, I didn’t think I’d see the day when I was looking forward to the next time I was in the swimming pool.

If I’m going to Tri, I need to swim

Swimming has continued to be something I’ve struggled to get into. After the marathon, swimming was the next thing to do if I’m going to do a triathlon. But then 3 weeks ago, when I went swimming, I felt totally awful the moment I got out of the pool. I struggled to get home, then had to lie down for about 20 minutes, because my head was swimming (sic).

The wife got me some swimming ear plugs yesterday, however, and that gave me the final nudge to get back in the pool this morning. What a difference. Maybe it was psychological, but I don’t think it was; these things kept the water out of my ears, didn’t cause my hearing to be affected (not sure I understand how, but anyway…), and my head felt 100% all the time. It was amazing.

I’m following the Total Immersion techniques by Terry Laughlin. The main advantage for me with the 3 DVDs and the book I’ve bought is that it’s giving me a clue about what I’m supposed to be doing when I’m swimming, in various ways. For example, basics such as where to get the power from, and how to breathe; simple stuff like that. And today, I felt like I was cruising along without much effort and without much problem breathing. I’m not suggesting that I’m the finished article, hell I’ve now only been three times since I got the book and DVDs, but I felt a lot more confident in what I was trying to do today than ever before.

Also, the Garmin 910xt only double counted 2 of the 24 lengths I did today, so I figure my technique must be a bit better.

So, ear plugs and having a clue what I’m supposed to be doing – a good start. I doubt it’ll be 3 weeks before I’m next in the pool.

3 Years In the Planning, Marathon Completed

I did it – I managed to complete the ING New York City Marathon 2013. It wasn’t easy, but if it was easy, everyone would do it. And of course, many things made it far, far harder than it could have been. NYC Marathon Finishers KitBut instead of jumping straight to the end result, I figure now would be a good time for me to reflect on how I came to enter and run the marathon in the first place, because it’s been a long road to get there.

Where to begin; well, that’s difficult to say. I’ll briefly summarise the fact that I used to be pretty active, playing badminton 5 days a week for up to 3 hours a day when I was in my twenties, plus various other sports. Then I succombed to a fairly serious shoulder injury at the age of 30 which the physios said couldn’t be repaired, so I had to retire. That happened not long before my health started to deteriorate in 2004, following which I was told I probably had MS in July 2005, and I was finally diagnosed in July 2007. During that time, and up to the end of 2009, I stopped doing any real physical exercise, other than walking the dog.

The main reason for putting a halt on exercise was that my balance was one of the main things to go. As with many things related to MS, you have things that suddenly get worse for a period of time, and then get better, but the balance was something that was generally not that good, and sometimes got worse. I got a walking stick, and was starting to use it more and more often. I’d completely given up any thoughts on doing any sporting activity again, and to be honest, it didn’t seem that bad a scenario, relatively speaking.

But something must have happened towards the end of 2009 which kicked my ass a little. The only thing I can remember is that I discovered that I only needed my walking stick when standing still, and when turning corners, and to start walking. Once I was moving in a straight line, I didn’t actually need it. The legs were strong enough, it was the balance that was the main problem. So, with that in mind, I bought myself a Garmin Forerunner 405 with the intention of running. And towards the end of January 2010, I did just that. I went out for a run.

At first, it was pretty pathetic. Actually, drop the word “pretty”, because there was nothing pretty about it – it was just plain pathetic. It took me quite a while before I could go out for a run and didn’t want to throw up, but after a few attempts (5 to be exact), I clearly remember coming home and realising that I actually felt not bad. This was about a week and a half after my first run.

The ball was rolling, and the addiction was starting to take hold.

During 2010, I entered the local 10km run, the BUPA Great Edinburgh Run. It was my 25th run, and came 14 weeks after that first ever run, and I clocked 56:24. Later that year, I did a half marathon, although it didn’t go so well as I didn’t manage to train as much as I wanted to, and the last couple of miles were really hard. They felt, at the time, like one of the hardest things I’d ever had to do in terms of beating the pain. How times change… But I completed it, in 2:10:19. Painfully (sic) slow.

So then I started to get grand ideas about trying a marathon. I read about the New York City marathon, and how they have a lottery for entry, so I entered the lottery, but failed to get in. However, the Edinburgh marathon is typically in May each year, so I decided to enter that in 2011. Training seemed to be going well, I had managed an 18 mile run one day, and I ran the Edinburgh half marathon in a far more respectable time of 1:55:45. But then, around 6 weeks before the marathon, I was out for a 20 mile run and I ran out of gas at 15 miles. It was very odd, but I didn’t worry too much about it. I tried again 10 days later, and the same thing happened. And then I was hit with a medical issue that completely confused the doctors. To this day, they still have no idea what was actually wrong with me, because although I had clear symptoms that they thought pointed directly to something specific being wrong with me, the tests all came back negative. When the symptoms cleared up, I had one more go, but again came up short. So the marathon attempt for 2011 was abandoned for that year, with the intention of trying again in May 2012. I later ran the 2011 Glasgow half marathon in 1:56:21, mainly to put the psychological nightmare of the previous year to bed.

Into 2012 I went, running through the winter to make sure I had plenty of miles in the legs. And then in the springtime, I started to lose enthusiasm. My wife had started training for the Moonwalk so our training requirements were going to start conflicting, but the main issue was that I just couldn’t be bothered training any more. Fundamentally, I put this down to the Edinburgh marathon course. It’s unbelievably dull; you run in a straight line way outside of Edinburgh, get to a traffic cone, run round it, and run all the way back. I struggled at the best of times to keep my mind occupied when I was out running, and this was not a marathon I was looking forward to. So one day, while I was out on a long run, miles from home running along the Portobello Promenade, I realised that I was cold and bored, and I just couldn’t be bothered any more. So I literally stopped running, and got the bus home. I knew I’d made the right decision by the time I’d arrived home.

Now, before this, around the start of 2011, I had read that you could get automatic entry for the New York City Marathon if you entered the lottery 3 years in a row and failed each time to get a place; you would get a guaranteed place in the 4th year, assuming you applied again. So, since I’d entered the lottery for the 2010 marathon, that meant I could enter the lottery each year thereafter and be guaranteed a place in 2013. So that’s what I did. I didn’t get a place in any of the lotteries, so when the 2013 application window opened, I logged on, and got my guaranteed spot.

Running shoesSo that brings us forward to 2013. Over the winter, I didn’t do any running at all, I just cycled. Indeed, I had started cycling to work nearly every day from around April 2012, so I kept doing that over the winter to retain a reasonable level of fitness, with the goal of starting my running training 6 months before the marathon, which would mean around the start of May 2013. That worked out quite nicely in terms of when I managed to fall off my bike taking a corner a bit too aggressively; a broken left thumb, broken right wrist, dislocated left humerus, significant contusions on all four muscles of my rotator cuff and a deep puncture wound in my shoulder (as well as various other scrapes of lesser note). All of the plaster casts and splints were off by the end of April, allowing me to start running training on time. At first I could barely run 2 miles, but I quickly got up to 12 miles with little problem. Indeed, I got up to 19 miles a full 14 weeks before the marathon, so was a massive 10 weeks ahead of schedule.

And that’s when it all started to go wrong. That 19 mile run injured my right foot, I’m still not quite sure what happened but one of the metatarsals was quite badly hurt, which meant I could barely walk, never mind run, and when I finally managed to go out for a run once it had improved enough, I immediately injured the outside of my left foot by wearing a new pair of ill-fitting running shoes, on the basis of “internet advice” (lesson learnt). That prevented me from training for 5 weeks, but with 9 weeks to go, I was back into it again, and I did 3 hard weeks of running to get up to 20 miles. Another 2 weeks later, I did a 20.5 mile run, in 2:55:55, and confidence was very high, as I was 4 weeks away from the marathon. The next week, with only 3 weeks to go, I then did a training run half marathon in 1:47:52 to beat the PB of two friends of mine… but disaster struck, and again I had injured my left foot.

The next 10 days were extremely tough to get through. Not knowing whether I’d be able to run the marathon so close to the event was a massive concern, and although I could pull out and get guaranteed entry again for next year, the amount of money spent on flights and accommodation for myself and my family, not to mention getting authorization from their schools to pull them out during term time, was not something I was wanting to waste. I ended up going to the running shoe shop for advice, and they thought I’d be ok if I continued to rest the foot, which I had been doing, but also suggested I go to a physio just to make sure I hadn’t damaged it badly. So I did that, and he agreed that I should be ok to get to the start line and to continue resting. So, another 3 weeks without running, directly before the marathon. That’s taking “tapering” to a whole new level.

Opening CeremonyBut I did make it to the start line, and I even got a spot at the Opening Ceremony. Scotland were not given their own individual place in the march, but there were enough of us in kilts plus a couple of lads with large flags that we made it look like we’d got our own spot, as we marched separately from the UK people.

As for the marathon itself, it was freezing, and you have to hang around for ages at the start before you can begin. For example, I left the house in Brooklyn at 05:15, and I didn’t start running until 10:08. I had to leave at that time to get the 06:15 Staten Island Ferry, and I was at the start around 07:40. Waiting for two and a half hours in temperatures around 5°C with a 20mph wind, thus feeling literally like it was at freezing point, was not that pleasant, but surprisingly time did go fairly quickly.

The run itself was slow. 4:44:11 was my official time, and with 4 weeks to go, I had been hoping to break 4 hours. However, the injuries played a big part in that, but the huge number of people running the race also played a huge part. There were over 50,000 people running, and quite frankly there was not enough room for us all to run. The first mile of a race such as this is usually slow, but the first mile of this marathon was horrifically slow, over 11 minutes to get it done, and after that, we averaged 09:15 for the first 10 miles. It was truly terrible if you were going for a fast time. However, I wasn’t really too bothered, because I knew I had next to no chance of breaking 4 hours due to the injuries.

And that became crystal clear at mile 10. Normally, when I’m training, if I run further than I have done recently, the front of my thighs will start to ache around the point where I am into new territory. Ideally, if my training had gone ok, I would have expected that to happen around mile 22. Instead, it happened at mile 10. I knew I was in trouble. At mile 16, I had to tell my running partner to go on without me, because I was going to have to stop to try to stretch my legs to ease the pain, but it didn’t really do much good. I tried that at least half a dozen times, each time without much success. And with each passing mile, the pain got worse and worse. By mile 21, although I was now into new PB for distance territory, the pain was so bad, it really was a psychological fight to keep going; but it wasn’t a fight I was going to lose. There was no way I was going to give this up, not after 3 years of planning. So I kept going, and managed to keep running, aside from leg-stretching breaks and water breaks (where you had to walk, otherwise your water cup contents would end up over your face, not in your mouth), pretty much the entire way.

MedalThe end resulting time was not glorious, and is the only thing I could consider disappointing about the marathon. However, taking everything into account, it was only about half an hour slower than I would have run if training had gone well, because of the number of runners slowing things down, so not really that bad.

But overall, the main thing I’m most happy about is that 4 years ago, I needed a walking stick. On Sunday, I ran one of the World Marathon Majors. Not only that, but the running has helped my balance improve so much that I can play racquet sports again – not badminton, as my shoulder can’t cope with the constant overhead shots, but I can play squash now, which 4 years ago didn’t look like ever being possible.

What next? Triathlon. It’s time to learn to swim properly.

One weekend, three injuries

I think I’ve excelled myself this weekend, with three separate injuries. Two are, I’m fairly sure, quite minor, mind you.

Injury number one – cycling home at the end of the week, actually now I think about it, this was Thursday evening, so I’m stretching the definition of “weekend” here. But anyway, the weather was foul (not as bad as today though, the first day of the Tour of Britain and I’m pretty sure Wiggo wasn’t pleased to be in Peebles) and I think I was hunched up quite a bit to protect myself from the wind and rain. So later that evening, I discovered that my neck was stiff, and I struggled to get comfy that night in bed. It’s still that way today. I can barely move my head left or right. I’m such a softy.

Injury number two – running 16 miles on Saturday morning, and the 4th toe on my left foot gets a touch sore during the run, and continues to get more sore during the day. It’s not so bad today though, so hopefully it’ll wear off before I go out again either tomorrow evening, or Tuesday evening.

Injury number three – potential broken finger. This was a classic – I’m swimming at the Commie and as I’m coming to the end of a length, while practicing the new Total Immersion techniques that I’ve been reading about in the past few days, I punch the handrail at the side of the pool because I’m too close to the side. Rather than punching it like I’m Floyd Mayweather, however, I punch it with the proximal phalanx on my first finger. It’s quite sore. But, to be honest, I’ve been in hospital too many times this year, so rather than head in again today, I figure I may as well wait and see how it is in the morning. After all, I went 6 days with a broken wrist before heading into hospital, so… well, that’s justification in my book.

If I manage to do the marathon…

If things continue to improve, and I no longer have any crippling injuries that prevent me attempting and finishing the marathon, I will be back on to thoughts of doing a triathlon. I have to admit, a standard triathlon isn’t the goal I’m aiming for. Clearly, an Olympic distance one will be a good first step, but a half ironman would be the main goal, and if I can do that, then you never know, maybe a full ironman after that, if the body and mind hold up.

To which end, I need to learn to swim properly, and I’ve not been for ages. Tim Ferriss has an article on swimming which repeats a lot of things that a couple of guys at my work have said about swimming, so I might start some light reading of the books/DVDs he’s referred to while I’m preparing for this marathon, ’cause I’d like to hit the ground running after the marathon is over, rather than let things slide and get out of shape.

910xt and swimming: another attempt

Tried another swim with the Garmin Forerunner 910xt and much the same as yesterday, it reckons I’m doing far more lengths than I actually am. Some people seem to have zero problems but for me, it literally counted double what I actually did today. Granted, I need to improve my technique since I’m just learning, but I’d have thought it would have been possible to merge lengths together once uploaded. Alas, no…

Garmin Forerunner 910xt: First impressions of swimming

My Garmin Forerunner 910xt finally arrived yesterday. Win! And it looks awesome. You probably know what they look like, but just in case you don’t, they look like this:

The amount of fields you can choose on the thing is amazing, but instead of whittering on about that, I thought I’d first talk about swimming.

Now, I’m useless at swimming. Why buy the 910xt, you probably are thinking. Well, I’m aiming to do a tri at some point, and since I can already run and cycle, I just need to learn to swim properly. Before Christmas, I had never tried to do anything other than breaststroke, and that I do poorly. I’m a terrible swimmer. But I decided that a tri was the next logical thing to try to keep me in shape, and therefore I need to learn to do the crawl.

I’m therefore attempting to teach myself, with the odd kind word from work colleagues who also go swimming at lunch time, and also from Mr Smooth, which is surprisingly useful. I’ve only been about seven times, so I’m still crap, but you have to start somewhere.

So on to the 910xt. How did it do? Well, not that great. Here’s the data on Garmin Connect:

First, it thinks I did about 5 more lengths than I actually did. Second, it thinks I did backstroke for a while, and it also thought I was resting at a point where I wasn’t. Granted, I rest a lot, but I’m still trying to figure out how to breathe.

Now, the reasons it didn’t do well may be to do with my crap swimming style. I shall therefore have to concentrate more on a smoother style and see how it gets on. Sometimes it correctly identified a length, but on one occasion it thought I had done three lengths when I had merely done one. It also missed a length at one point. Not ideal.

But it’s early days. I suspect there are glitches in the algorithm and I also suspect Garmin might decide to add some options to allow you to tell it, for example, that you can’t possibly do a length quicker than X seconds, and as such, it might be able to be a bit more reliable in terms of counting your laps. I mean, I have no clue how the heck it is managing to figure out lengths at the best of times, it can’t be easy, but if you’re paying £400 for a watch that is supposed to be capable of determining when you’ve spun around at the end of a length, you’d hope that it is indeed capable of this.

Early days, both in terms of firmware and in terms of my swimming ability. Yes, I know my times are terrible. You should see me swallow water; I’m really pretty piss poor.