“The sky is not the limit… I am” T F Hodge
As soon as the words “I’m thinking of trying a 30km swim streak” left my mouth, I almost instantly regretted it.
You see… stick me in a race with other runners, cyclists or even swimmers and, if I think or know they are a lot quicker, I won’t bother my arse to compete… But when I throw my own gauntlet down, I strive to achieve the goal. So the challenge was on.
To facilitate this absurd idea, I’d need to juggle some stuff about. Luckily, my current employer offers flexi-time which is a god-send for a the wannabe Ironman. I can flex hours between 7.30am and 5pm to suit and usually I opt for 7.30-4pm. It means getting up at 5am and commuting over the Forth Road Bridge, but I’m home for 5pm.
For my Big Swim Week, I switched it up. Bannatyne’s have permanent lane availability and open at 6am. Ideal. I’d work 8.30-5, swim at 6am and, traffic dependent, 6pm. I could never have done this at my faithful Cooncil Gym due to limited pool access for *actual* swimmers.
As the week approached, 6km per day hovered in my sights like a big, fat, fuck-off neon sign. My biggest swim week in prep for Windermere (AKA: The One That Wasn’t) was 15,000m and I was 15,000% dead by the end of it.
This. Was. Gonna. Suck. So. Many. Balls.
By this point, I can hear the educated amongst you murmuring something about Junk Miles. And you’d be absolutely correct. Technically, swimming 30km in a pool over 5 days could indeed be classed as junk miles. But… I don’t do junk miles. Even ridiculous challenges like this have a point, because the thing about Endurance training is that as much as we bang on about “smashing it” and “having all the lolz” sometimes it’s fucking shit. Sometimes you definitely do not want to smash anything apart from your face into a pizza. So I chuck stuff into my routine that sounds awful and intimidates me in order to strengthen my mental toughness. It works. The added bonus of swimming is that it’s largely low impact and the best way to get quicker at swimming is…. well…. to swim.
And so it began…
Mood: Grim. Hair: Still glossy. Arms: Attached, if a little nervous.
The first morning was awful. I’d tapered the previous week, reduced strength work and rested for two days before the streak started. I have a nasty recurring trapezius injury which has a habit of flaring up during quick swims, so everything was kept very slow below 1:50/100m. Miles below my current CSS pace of 1:41/100m but enough to hopefully keep injuries at bay.
Unfortunately, someone had replaced the water in the pool with treacle over the weekend. I felt shit. My arms were made of spaghetti.
This was going to be an extremely tough week.
Monday evening’s swim was also awful, and, just to add icing to the cake-of-shit, I was joined in the lane by a Master’s age grouper at the end of my set. Who was a sprinter. And was not even sprinting. Not to sound cocky, but I’m well used to being one of the quickest swimmers in a standard gym pool, but I am by no means fast. This guy was just the most elegant swimmer. And my splashy, inefficient 1:55’s were being destroyed by his effortlessly graceful 1:30’s. I went home feeling deflated and dreading the coming days.
Mood: More Grim. Hair: 8% less glossy. Arms: “pls no”
Tuesday was almost the end of the challenge. I really, truly, 100% did not want to be doing this. “This is a stupid idea” I muttered to myself as I dipped into the chilly pool at 6:02am. The water still felt like solid matter and everything that could possibly irritate me was doing so with a vengeance.
“But this shit is gonna make me nails” I reminded myself, “if I can get through this, surely I can get through the 10k swim.”
Tuesday evening saw the beginning of The Shit Traffic. For some reason, everyone in Scotland decided to head north over the FRB every single evening this week. I was already ragey by the time I got to the pool, so when I saw the lane was hoaching, I knew I’d be in for a quicker swim. Fuelled by anger and impatience.
Elbows out, I slipped under 1:50/100m just to get passed the choppers. (Seriously. If you are slow, do NOT swim in the fast lane if it is busy. And ESPECIALLY if you are gonna do fecking breastroke) See below chart if confused:
Mood: Grim, tired, nose ingrained with Chlorine. Hair: Mess. Arms: “hlp mi pls”
I’d quite simply had enough. My head was struggling to get through it, 3km sessions felt like 30km and my pace was in the gutters. I tried a new set instead of 6 x 500m (which usually feels ok) and opted for 400,300,200,100 x 3. This broke things up, gave me a smidge more rest and I could count the distances down. However… mind that injury I mentioned earlier…? Towards the end of my evening session, the ping in my left trap told me it was time to rest.
Mood: Less Deathly. Hair: Had to resort to neat Argan Oil… Arms: So much nope. And yet I feel like I look like Jonny Bravo.
I gave myself an extra hour in bed on Thursday morning, feebly convincing myself that 27km in 5 days would still be badass and right enough, the rest paid off and I was right as rain for Thursday evening’s session.
I had a lane to myself until my last 1000m, when a man sat and watched me swim for 5 or 6 lengths, before proceeding to jump in and push off RIGHT as I got to him. Not correct etiquette. And oh good he’s much slower than me.
Everyone starts somewhere and I am, by absolutely no means, Michael Phelps, but I cannot understand how a person can be working so hard to stay virtually stationary in the water. I was doing doggy paddle and still catching his toes.
The worst bit? He didn’t stop to let me pass at the end of the length. Oh my god. Rage.
The slow lane was empty. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, thinking this was maybe some weird drill I’d never seen. Or a warm-up. Maybe (It wasn’t) And being too polite to ask him to perhaps consider the alternative lane, I had to keep overtaking. Each time he would splash the water hard as if to tell me to fuck off. Yet each length (I was passing him twice to each of his single lengths) he didn’t bother to stop.
If anything, this kept me occupied and I was relieved to get out of that pool and visit my mum and dad. (Mum is now 1 week post knee replacement!)
Mood: Buoyant (swim pun yaassss) Hair: Ruined. Arms: “ohgodpleasedon’tmakeusswimagain”
Work-based anxiety woke me at 3am. And 3.15am. And every 10-15 mins until 5am when I finally decided to make some toast.
At 6:02 I dipped into the pool alongside a lane mate who exhibited absolutely perfect lane etiquette. We were very similarly paced and while he was doing fast 50’s we managed to time our sets well so we were never in each other’s way. MORE OF THIS PLEASE.
I was pleasantly surprised by the ease at which I was able to get through my 500’s. Due to my trap niggle, I’d switched from my usual bilateral breathing, to right side only every 4th stroke. This helped me relax. 3000m flew by.
12 hours later and I was back for the last swim of the week. And what a difference! My 1:50/100m average dipped to 1:44 for the whole, consistent session.
Despite being joined by 2 choppers (one definitely did NOT like being slower than a lassie), I loved this swim and shoulder tiredness aside, I felt strong and relaxed and above all, finally ready to tackle 10km in Loch Lomond.
27,000 metres. TWENTY ACTUAL SEVEN KILOMETRES IN FIVE DAYS. (Which is 16.77 of your junkiest junk miles). All front crawl. All pull.
I have 100% earned pizza.
Interestingly, along with developing a new love for expensive shampoo and conditioner (thank you Kerastase) I realised, as the week progressed, that the problems I was experiencing in the water were well and truly in my head. As much as I set my own goals and work hard to achieve them, I also set my own limits. The minute I choose a goal, I often choose the obstacles. Even by identifying potential issues, I throw spanners into the works well before I reach a possible hurdle. It’s time to relax and just let things happen.
Loch Lomond – I am coming for you.