We know that many of you northern hemisphere athletes have had a break at the end of your season and are worried about how unfit you're going to be on your return! If that's you, here's a short story from Paul Newsome, our Head Coach, about his recent return to the water:
Back in September 2009 we posted a brief article on the www.feelforthewater.com called "Six Is A Magic Number" where we discussed how six sessions are often needed to make a change to a technical aspect of your stroke that you are working on. What we didn't say is that this six-session-rule can also work for your fitness too - especially when coming back from a break!
I recently got my backside back into gear and I am currently swimming about 4 times per week. It all started a few months weeks ago, and trust me, it wasn't a pretty sight! I haven't really trained what I would call 'properly' since our baby Jackson came along 16 months ago but am now faced with just under 11 months of dedicated training for my English Channel Swim attempt on 5th September 2011. I've been through small doses of 'getting back into it again' along the way and did reasonably well with the Rottnest Duo swim with my wife Michelle in February.
Still, there always has to be a starting point for any of these ventures and quite often the first 4 to 6 sessions will feel pretty crummy it has to be said! I thought I'd share with you the sensations of what those first six sessions felt like but more importantly the goals I set myself for those sessions. Quite often the biggest thing holding you getting back into regular sessions is how hard you perceive those sessions will feel - much easier to just roll over in bed and go back to sleep! If we can learn to adjust our goals and expectations of ourselves in those first six sessions you'll find that you're very quickly back into the swing of things, and whilst the fitness might still need to catch up, you will at least be started and on a roll of motivation. So, don't panic about the content of the first sessions, the first step is always the hardest as they say!
So here are my notes on my return to swimming:
Session 1. Monday 5th July, 5.30am, Challenge Stadium. Really cold morning today. Decided to join Pete Tanham's Rottnest Solo squad at Challenge - a sure fire way to get me back into the swing of things! Session is normally 1.5hrs and 4.5 to 5km. I can only fit in 60 minutes on a Monday morning, so already I had decided that I wasn't going to push myself too hard. Decided to sit right at the back of the lane and not even look at the pace clock. Aimed to adopt an air of laziness to help tame my natural 'Arnie instincts' of being very competitive. Did wonders. Shoulders got a little tired after about 2km but just focused on relaxing in the water and not pushing too hard. The set was full of high-powered sprints but I decided to just dial it down a bit and literally just survive for 1 hour. Really happy after the session - not feeling great, but at least I could say that I'd started my campaign!
Session 2. Wednesday 7th July, 5.30am, Challenge Stadium. From past experience I knew this was going to be the really tough session. Even after an extended break, your first session back can often feel OK and you can cheat yourself into believing that the lay-off didn't really do you any harm at all. However, just 48 hours after the first session, this 4.5km block including some sustained efforts over 200 to 300m and was sure to test me. With my shoulders still a little heavy from the first session, again I had to just tell myself that survival was the name of the game today and that I wouldn't be breaking any world records yet. Survived it and quite surprised that I'd lasted such a long session - very, very slow though!
Session 3. Thursday 8th July, 4.30pm, North Cottesloe Beach. I'd agreed (stupidly!) to meet up with Mark Scanlon (3rd place Rottnest Solo swimmer from 2008 and soon to be complete the English Channel Swim) for one of his late afternoon cold water adaptation swims. We were due to swim in the rough surf (actually, HUGE surf!) at Cottesloe Beach. I love these conditions normally but when I'm lacking fitness and Mark is totally on top of his game, I knew I could be in trouble! It was ~15 degrees and my first thought was not how cold it was, but how totally uncoordinated my arms were - they just didn't feel like mine! I wanted them to do things and be faster and better and more powerful but they just wouldn't work! I survived the 2km dash down to the groyne and back but that was me done. Quite despondent that I'd felt so bad and been so slow but had to tell myself it was only session number 3!
Paul in action, recent Swim Smooth / Blue Seventy photoshoot:
Session 4. Saturday 10th July, 5.30am, Challenge Stadium. Mark was doing his "recovery" 10km pool swim this morning so I decided to join him for the first hour with the aim of getting 3km in. As there were only a few of us this morning I decided that I'd really just focus on myself and develop some good rhythm and timing again that I felt I'd lacked in Thursday's swim. To do this I used a Wetronome in the 1000m warm-up set to a pace of 1:32 per 100m. This felt good, and whilst not fast for me, at least it helped give me a structured goal to work towards and to feel like I was pacing myself well. We then did 2 x 800m + 45s rest where I decided to test myself a little bit, totally unknowing as to whether I'd be able to hold my goal pace of 1:28 per 100m. The irony here is that prior to my Rottnest Solo swim in 2009, this was the pace which I would go on to be able to swim for the entire 20km across to Rottnest! I felt like I'd really accomplished something in this session, despite Mark lapping me on the 2nd 800m AND he was "just" doing a 10km recovery swim! That guy is on fire!!
Session 5. Monday 12th July, 5.30am, Challenge Stadium. Back with the Solo squad this morning and more focus today on technique. It's funny, but in order to really work on technique you need to at least have some semblance of fitness to support what you're doing. As such, this technique work came at the right time - I'd got myself back into a bit of flow, my confidence was (slowly) picking up but again I didn't want to push too hard so just did the first hour of their session. At the end of this session I felt quite positive that I would indeed have a good session by number 6 - was I right?!
Session 6. Wednesday 14th July, 5.30am, Challenge Stadium. Literally as soon as I hit the water today I knew I was going to have my best session yet. Sometimes you can just feel that - everything feels loose and relaxed and breathing feels easy. My confidence was up and I cannot believe that when Pete said we were going to do a 400m Time Trial today I was actually excited about the prospect of it! Weird, hey?! Gary Claydon expertly led our lane through the 400m and whilst I arguably got a bit of a tow from Gary I was happy to have swum 5'13" for the 400m. I predicted 5'15" (which is nearly a full minute slower than my P.B) but for now it'd have to do and was at least a starting point. A Time Trial is only ever a measure of where you're at right now, so never be afraid to try one and see where you're at - the stopwatch never lies!
Whatever your level of swimming, I hope this mini-diary helps motivate you to get back into the swing of swimming and training!
P.S My seventh session was a super test - in fact probably the most challenging swim I've ever done on minimal fitness - a 4.5km swim in the Swan River in 13 degrees of water - ouch! It was super cold. We were in for just over an hour, but reality hit home when I realised that I'd be looking for at least another 8 to 9 hours in the water in the English Channel in 14 months time in similar icy conditions. Here's to a load more doughnuts then and a load more miles in the arms!!