Where was I?.. oh yes… consistency…

Swimming, I was talking about swimming before I was so rudely interrupted, as I am training for an Ironman race, running a weaving mill, and whatever other stuff I said (to try to sound busy and important) I get side tracked from time to time, it’s not that I don’t love you, I’m just busy…so……oh yes there I was…..

Flapping around like a deranged, drowning clown is all good and well for the purposes of humour and of course if it gets you from A to B, well, good for you.

I had set my heart on this Xterra Malaysia triathlon thing and I could operate a bicycle and run so I figured my weakspot was swimming.. so I mainly worked on that, I tried to get in a few swims per week with a long one on Saturday afternoons. The Saturday afternoon pool swimming was always a hot affair and punctuated by kids in the condo pool dive bombing me and swimming in my path, not that it would make much difference to my record breaking attempts. I had a little bit of trouble physically getting the distance up, even getting 300 to 400mts was a real effort. I was self scrutinising and then … I suppose.. sense kicked in and I went online to look at swimming techniques.. Youtube has tonnes of stuff about swimming, some is useful, some very much not so useful.

Of course when you start looking at swimming techniques, you will end up on a video that has 12 milion views and which attracted your attention because of the hot chick in the picture and your short attention span, this is normal, I think it’s some kind of modern internet attention span deficiency something or other. The other things that will halt your studies are the most important subjects currently available for research, kittens… 150 billion views, kitten asleep, 187 billion views, cute kitten, then there’s aliens, ghosts, roller coaster accidents, special forces ops.

Yes indeed, it’s difficult to stay focused.

I wanted to feel comfortable when I was swimming, I wanted to breathe well and fuel my muscles with oxygen and just merrily float along, albeit at a reasonable speed and with some plethora of style and decorum.

As a kid I had certs for all sorts of swimming , I wasn’t a school swimmer but I could swim. I was bullied a lot being from a poor family and being a bit of a scruff at the bording school I was sent to, I took swimming lessons as an “extra” at night, to get me away from the monkeys and wolves.

If you take a skill, make it better, then don’t do anything with it for .. oh, say… mmm, 25 years.. no.. make that 27 years, that skill will surely lose some of it’s ninja like edge right?

In my case, I had forgotten a lot of basics and needed to get my head around some simple stuff like breathing. Fish are great at breathing under water, we are not, we breathe air so, I need to make sure, first and foremost that I can breathe.

I started to practice the most basic of things, breathe in air through my mouth, dip my head under the surface of the water and breathe out through my nose, I did this in a semi calm manner, until I felt I was ready to try it whilst swimming. Of couse as soon as I became horizontal, things got a bit messy.

Breathing out under water is easy, really, don’t think about it just do it, but for goodness sake remember to get your mouth sufficiently out of the water to breathe in the next gulp of air. The minor problem with this is the necessity to lift up the head constantly, which my wife kindly pointed out when I felt I was improving and said how I had “got my breathing right”, she’s not really a swimmer, but she could see my head lifting out of the water, when I thought I was turning to breathe like a pro. Well, at least my air in air out was happening. The technique is simple, turn head, breathe air, turn head back to face bottom of the pool, breathe out calmly and slowly through nose so air is expelled fully, ready for next breath, not too fast, not too slow. Too fast, you will be gasping for air when you come to breathe, i.e. you will be wasting oxygen, too slow and you will have air in your lungs, or more likely carbon dioxide as a small residue and you will have less room for that important gulp of air.

I think I better point out, I am not an expert and this isn’t a class, I’m just sharing as indepth as possible insight into how I figured out my swimming technique, but I do hope my mistakes will help you see yours… perhaps…

The very very very impotant thing is actually to try to get a form, learn it and remove the wrinkles, get rid of all the lumpiness and unnecessary parts till you have a smooth, calm technique.

However, saying this is one thing, doing it is another. You can make your own swim technique, you feel great but it’s totally wrong. You will swim like that for years, hating swimming because it’s “not your thing” or it’s “tiring” or even “boring”.

Lets cut ahead a little here, I have found a peace, perhaps a better word I like to use is Zen. I found that swimming can be peaceful and relaxing, sure I get out of the pool breathing deeply and tired to some degree, but during that time before I stopped, I was almost asleep, breathing consistently, gently pulling with my arms and gliding along, slowly, but with a pleasant constant motion. I have time to think about things, I am not sweating and pounding like I would do when I cycle or run, negativity seldom enters my consciousness in the water, even when you gulp some water or your throat gets dry, it’s all manageable, no problem, just Zen, peace, cooling, flowing water. When people say they don’t like swimming, I think they just haven’t acquired the taste or found the Zen in it yet.

So, back to the thrashing dugong… As I had tried to help my wife to learn to swim (yeah I know.. the blind leading the hopelessly lost?), the first thing I would teach anyone is to float…. makes sense right? Lay on your back and inhale so your lungs are full, tilt your head back slightly and relax… always relax.. as soon as you become stiff or agitated, you sink…

So you are floating, ground control to Major Tom, hey wakey wakey… if you can float, then the difference between 3 feet deep water and 3000 feet deep water is the same. Once my wife could float, she wasn’t so scared of water where she couldn’t touch the bottom with her feet. Then we could focus on actually swimming, because we know we could float if we needed to stop, which helps us feel in control, thus giving us the confidence that clears our mind and allows space to progress.

Sound like an expert don’t I.. oh yeah, I am the man.. well, if could ever swim 1500mts in anywhere near the current Olympic time of around 13 and a half minutes.. I would be an expert.. I am a long way from that.. a very… very…. very… long way.

After my wife told me that I was bobbing around, I started to practice turning my head and keeping my head straight in line with my body when I returned to breathe out as I swam. After some practice, I got this part though my wife commented that I was still a bit high in the water with my head.

Back to youtube…. I started to study the form of swimmers, their position in the water and how they breathe, I was actually kicking like breast stroke and paddling my arms like front crawl, It was working for me, so I decided not to mess with that part, but I noticed with my head out of the water slightly, that my legs would be naturally forced down, causing unnecessary drag, also, if my head was straight, i.e. my face facing the bottom of the pool, it might be a bit more comfortable, as I wasn’t holding my head the whole time in a crooked position.

I started practicing this squid like swim motion I had with a better position and better breathing technique… lo and behold, I found my swim was less tiring and of course that meant I could go further, reaching the massive distance of 500mts eventually. I was tired at the end of that half kilometer, but it was a milestone, I was still swimming with a weird technique but I could breathe and that aside, I could start to focus on other things, like arms, feet, sighting and of course, the total distance of 750mts, which was still a long way off.

 

Rule 3….  Consistency

If there is anything you can rely on, it’s consistency, whether it’s a consistently late friend, a consistently good restaurant or a consistent swim stroke. It’s cool to reinvent oneself, just don’t do it with your swim technique in the middle of the sea.

It’s better to be consistently good at something that sporadically brilliant and infrquently terrible, sure it’s boring to be so predictable, but sometimes, knowing, being sure, trusting in something because it is consistent, will make life a whole hell of a lot easier.

 

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It will take an aweful lot of “Rule 1” to understand what I’m rambling on about

If you want to persevere and continue reading this blog regularly you will need a large amount of “Rule 1”. I am not a specific item that fits nicely on a shelf, I am a lot of things, so why shouldn’t I write about them?

I am a citizen of planet Earth, I am a man, a husband, a weaver, a manager, a trainee triathlete, so in that I am am a swimmer, cyclist and runner, a wannabe Ironman, an artiste manager, I cook, I sew, I fix, install and commission machinery (sometimes), I help produce music, I am a columnist, I am the manager for a textile factory. I watch movies, I eat in restaurants, drink beers and wines and whiskeys, go for jungle treks, I’m a Hasher too and a horse rider from time to time… well, just like you reading this, we are all lots of things, not just our job, or our religion or our family… we are multifaceted and so I don’t need to label myself as anything in this blog, though I’m sure there will be common threads as time goes on.

Today, my first real life “reality” post…25th June 2014, I got up at 7am, had some lovely Vietnamese Dalat coffee and headed down to the swimming pool at our condo.

It’s a 25mt (or 26.5mt to be exact) pool, which is great for getting my triathlon training done in the morning before I start work, as I have no need to travel to a local pool which cost money and wastes time travelling in Kuala Lumpurs chaotic jams. I am starting work at 10am and working till late, if I were on my normal hours, I would wake at 5am and start work at 7am, so I have enough time to get a few laps in before work.

It’s quite refeshing to swim before work, it gets the day off to a good start and I’m quite energetic when I get to work, thanks to the cool water and the exercise, though when I wake up, with all the training, some days I feel half dead, once I get in the pool, I feel invigorated.I’m pretty sure the coffee helps to… one fresh coffee to get the engine started. Being in Malaysia, the pool is never “cold” in fact it’s barely even cool, so slipping into the clear water is never a shock.. it’s an “aahhhh” not an “oohh, brrrr!!”.

I have this lovely salmon pink Ironman 70.3 swimcap, given to my age group 40 to 45 years, probably as a joke, as it might have better suited the ladies, however, I wear it every time I swim to remind me of what I am getting ready for, along with my 2XU triathlon suit and a pair of Speedo Aquasocket goggles that I probably need to change on the day for something with better vision. The difference between pool swimming and sea (open water) swimming is the ability to see beyond waves and quickly pick up the position of bouys in the distance that mark the direction you are going in. I try not to draft or follow other swimmers, it can be a little like the blind leading the blind, if they are not straight swimmers or if they are off course, they will lead you totally astray and that will waste time and more importantly, energy.

I first started swimming again after many years, early last year, 2013, in preparation for the April Xterra Malaysia 2013 sprint triathlon, an off road event, starting with a 750mt sprint swim in the lake at Putrajaya outside of Kuala Lumpur, which transitions to a 20km mountain bike race and a 5km trail run. I could swim, or at least I could still propel myself through the water over short distances confidently. I mean we all go to the beach or for an island holiday and have a splash around if we are confident to do so, but, we don’t swim up and down for half a kilometer, not stop using a trained style, unless we are actually very used to it. I could swim confidently, but I hadn’t swam that kind of distance in oooh, let me see…. 25 years…

I have swimming certificates from my first width, up to distance and speed swimmimg and even survival swimming certificates. We are given the opportunity to swim at primary school in the UK, it’s an invaluable experience and one I would urge parents never to opt their children out of, regardless of fitness, cost or even if for religious reasons, due to clothing etc.. find a way and make it happen, because it can save your childs life and perhaps someday, they might even save someone elses life, besides, it’s tonnes of fun once you get going, great for fitness and easier on the joints than running or weights or even racket sports, where you are jolting around.

Anyway, back to me, after all that’s what this is about… right?

So having lived in this condo for 7 years, it now seems strange that the first 5 to 6 years were spent with almost no pool time. This beautiful little cool box of water, lying there every day, just waiting for me, silently, patiently, just to dip my feet in it once in a while and I never even bothered.

So, I decided that this almost half mile distance would be easy, I mean it’s only 15 lengths of an Olympic pool or 30 lengths of this little pool, how hard can that be right?

So I got my old swimming trunks out (about 15 years old to be precise) and bought a set of big goggles and a nice Speedo swim hat and started telling myself I was going to train everyday and I would be an Olympian in no time, I would mountain bike at the weekends on my second hand Rockbike and as I was a Hasher and spent many an hour trail running, I would just continue Hashing as I was fast anyway, so not much need to train on something I’m good at already.

I’m not sure exactly the date of my first training swim, I just know it was a Saturday shortly after I had confirmed and paid for my entry into the Xterra Malaysia Sprint 2013. I got a little waterproof bag for my gear (to look pro) and with my swim towel, goggles and hat and a water bottle all inside, I made my way to the pool. It was a blazing hot day, as ever in Malaysia and I took a little time to get everything ready. I had a stopwatch to check my record breaking time and took a few gulps of water before slipping into the water. I didn’t warm up, I didn’t stretch, I just got on with a high powered 750mt swim… well….. not exactly…

I got my goggles on, then realised I needed to put the hat on first.. duh.. yes, I know, if you know about swimming it’s obvious, I must have known when I was 13.. it was just memory lost somewhere in the cobwebs of time, I was a little conscious of my appearance, I was about 97kgs, that’s something in the region of 15 stone, I am 6 foot 3 inches tall, so it’s not so bad, but I was certainly a bit… well… blubbery.. I was almost hoping I didn’t get harpooned in mistake for a dugong, but anyway, there were plently of kids in the pool, old folk, bad swimmers etc etc.. so I wasn’t goint to feel too bad about my spare tyre.

Breathe in, out, in, out, in out, bob up and down in the water to “feel” it.. then, with a good old “heave ho”, I set off swimming.

I hadn’t researched open water techniques, despite all the wealth of knowledge and advice on the internet, I just wanted to have a fast time, so I tried swimming front crawl (freestyle) breathing on the 4 stroke, like you see in swimming competitions… yeah.. right!!

It was evident in the first 25mts that my muscles weren’t used to the speed that I was trying to get out of my dugong like body, and my oxygen requirements had somewhat increased from that of my trail running. I also hadn’t turned around like they do in the fancy races, so I had to sort of stop and turn myself around and start again when I had reached the end of the first 25mts, I continued, attempting to get down as much air as possible whilst having a good, slap of the water and attempting to kick, which wasn’t working very well but it was the best I could muster.

By the end of my first 50mts I was feeling tired, I wasn’t sure if I should stop, but I decided to carry on, just taking a few extra breaths at the end of each 25mts. I did feel like my heart was pumping overtime and my arms were getting like lead by the time I reached 100mts, normally if I have issues like this when running, I stop and walk.. there’s not much of a way to do that in the pool, so I slowed down my arms a bit, which made me feel like I was going to sink through lack of momentum and just persevered to 150mts, at which point I had begun to feel very very tired, arms were like big dead oars, just slapping away trying to keep me moving and as I lookad at the tiles on the bottom of this shallow pool, I seemed to be crawling, despite my best efforts to break the world record, though what record that was I wasn’t sure. I would like to say I “managed” to get to 200mts, before I was brought to an exhausted stop. I hadn’t actually managed anything, just a very strenuous battle over a terribly short distance. As I got out of the pool, I sort of went wobbly and staggered around a bit, I can’t say if it was dizziness from all the flapping around or exhaustion from the sheer effort of the trauma I had just put myself through.

I tried to pass it off as something to do with the muscles not being used for years and my age. I had recorded a time a time of around 6 minutes something for the 200mts, putting me in the 22.5 minutes marker for the full 750mts. That was my maths at the time, I just take 200mts of thrashing like a dying squid and multiply it by 3.75 and that’s my time. Ah, Rob, you silly boy…. As I could barely manage 200mts at that effort level, how could I do 750? The staggering around wasn’t cool either, I mean what if I do that on the day.. I’m going to look like a total plonker if I don’t just pass out and get stretchered away. What was I thinking when I registered for this thing? Time is a great healer as is “Rule 1″… sleep is also helpful, nutrition too, but the key is training.. getting on with it, building muscles and repeatedly thrashing around until you are able to thrash around up to 750mts… obviously………

 

Rule 2….  Perseverance

When you know everyone else can do what you want to do and you think you are more than capable of it, perseverance will be of great use, it will eventually, somehow, someway, someday, get you where you want to be

When added to Rule 1.. Rule 2 will help the one legged centipede dance the salsa

The first thing you need to know. . .

The first thing you need to know is that I make the rules, it’s my talk time, it’s my view and my stories, it’s my life and I make the rules…

Well, sort of, I mean there are government rules that I have to obey and religious rules I try to obey and then there’s the laws of Newton I am forced to obey, oh yes and my emotions and intellect which are constantly driving me off in different directions and I suppose there’s the inherent conditioning I have had from family, teachers, friends, TV, opinionated passers by, who have swayed my judgement and caused me to think or live differently and the things I have read of course… but….. apart from all that.. I am in charge and I make the rules…

It’s not easy being so free and totally independent of thought and will, I have to say. Sometimes I am right on the edge of oblivion, looking into the abyss of my mind and wondering if I will fall and never hit the bottom. Yep, I’m a wild, free spirit, untamed, reckless even, just making the rules up as I go along, hoping each decision will not be my last, praying that somehow I’ll just get through this crazy life in one piece, some days I wake up wondering if I’ll be doing the same thing tomorrow or will this be the last time I get to stagger out of bed and see the sun and hear the birds……

So, who am I, that I can write the rulebook of life? What audacity!!, What a pompous, self interested, conceited, son of a… hey.. hey.. wait just a minute, I’m not telling you how to live your life, I couldn’t care less, it’s hard enough trying to live my own life.

Realistically of course, I’m a boring soul, I don’t jump out of airplanes, don’t do one armed selfies at the top of skyscrapers, I don’t own a Ferarri or Ducati, don’t have any Bourne Incidences and I am definitely not a Walter Mitty, I guess I’m just a very average Joe.

I am a forty something man, married, no kids yet, I am a weaver (or textiles manufacturer) by trade, I write a column for a national newspaper and I am the artist manager for my wife, as of now I am also a blogger….  

Oh yes, I forgot, I am  Hash House Harrier, also called a Hasher, we run in the jungle following paper in what would be described as a “paper chase” type game, started in Malaysia in 1938 by the British and now a world wide running and beer drinking club,  I am an amatuer, very amateur, triathlete, I am an Ironman 70.3 finisher and will be driving myself into the ground in a few months at my first full distance Ironman, I was a diver for a short time and I help produce music from time to time. Those are not really who I am.. they are just what I do….

Who was I? Well, I was born in a small northern English town called Blackburn, the very same one in the Beatles song, to a Polish father and English mother and I lived there until I was in my twenties, whereuopn I met a young dragon and moved in with it in a small apartment in a nearby village by the name of Oswaldtwistle after which we bought a cottage and settled down to a life of torment for several years before I moved to Malaysia to start up a weaving operation as a joint venture between my English boss and a Malaysian manufacturing company. That was fourteen years ago and I am now married to a human, though I didn’t manage to slay the dragon, I am pretty sure it won’t bother me anymore.

What is this all going to be about? Well, I suppose you can read it and find out.. .. 

Rule 1…

Patience 

When all else seems to be breaking down, when there is no end in sight, when you are at the back of the queue at the discount sale… Patience, it’s free, odourless and fits in any wallet….