Kicking off the Aspire Challenge to swim the 22 miles across the Channel – outdoors in London

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Last summer I spotted a story on facebook about the Aspire Channel Swim which challenges swimmers to raise money for the spinal injury charity Aspire as they swim the distance of the Channel over a 12 week period. I’m very pleased to be joining in again this year, and to be attempting the 22 mile swim outside. This is very straightforward in early September, with a lovely 61 metre long lido on my doorstep to swim in as the summer swimmers head indoors. But by October the mercury’s started to dip, and the distance to cover will seem to stretch further every time. I’m doing it in skins – so without a wetsuit as I loathe my wetsuit (the yanking on, the wrenching off, the lugging home on my bike and the drying out).

I’ve upped my game and used the challenge as impetus to push myself harder in the water. No more paltry 20 laps for me, heeding the wimpish voice that suggests I get out, but instead I’m ploughing on and am up to 36 lengths. In the last couple of weeks I’ve clicked I need to swim further to warm up (brain and body) and that if I do stick at it I’ll be rewarded with a surge of endorphins.

As I go I’ll be choosing to remember all the swims we’ve had this summer –

the river dips in the Derwent and Thames,

the lido tripping to lidos beginning with H Helmsley, Hathersage and Hinksey,

the sea pool swimming in Margate

the week swimming in the sea around Filey, Speeton and Bridlington

(not forgetting the indoor trips to Sheffield Ponds Forge, Chesterfield & Bridlington).

This list makes it look as if we’ve done nothing but swim all summer. True.

How lucky we’ve been to be able to enjoy all these places, the balmy, the bracing and the brilliant, how lucky to be unencumbered by injury or illness.

If you fancy coming along for the ride and banishing those Back to School and End of Summer Blues there’s still time to sign up, just, at Aspire – and if you’re tempted to sponsor me please do quickly nip on over to JustGiving.

 

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Conquering 13’C and losing all feeling in my toes – swimming outside for Aspire

So today I took on Cold Water Swimming for the next stage of my Aspire Channel Swim Challenge. There’s a very big difference between swimming a mile or two in water that’s a balmy 21’C (1st September), 16′ (1st October) and water that’s hovering around 13’C, as it was today, but hey France is almost in sight.

Mid way through this challenge to swim the length of the Channel I decided to do it all outside. Before half term. Hmmm. That was when it was a bit warmer, when we were basking in our Indian Summer. Now the idea of doing a mile in rapidly cooling water 4 times a week is not quite so achievable, feasible or sensible.

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You have to pack a load more gear in your cycle swim pannier, and a whole different attitude when embracing water under 14’C. Cue adding an old favourite to my Winter Season Hat Collection. Yes, it’s a knitted number which my mum made for me to take on a Geography field trip some several decades ago. I asked for one which would show up if I attempted to climb Snowdon, and red was my favourite colour. I think I should dedicate this post to the football coach who clocked me with said hat + cycle helmet wedged onto my wet hair, and then looked a second time as he couldn’t quite believe someone could wear a hat like that, under a helmet… perhaps I should have asked him to sponsor me. Into the pannier goes the mug, tea bag, tiny milk jar and thermos for the essential post swim cuppa. In too goes the rash vest. I lost last year’s – durr – and the new one has the kind of snug fit you’d opt for if you wanted to minimise your bust. It does a good job at both warming me up and flattening my chest.

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Now to attitude. I know it’s going to be cold. I’m not stupid. But I also know I can manage this. Last winter I swam through in skins – so no wet suit, boots or gloves – til 6’C. I know I need to recognise the signs of hypothermia (slowing down, starting to feel nice and warm) and head out very sharply if they appear. So it’s a case of acknowledging, accepting, and getting on with it. It’s very much what Prof Steve Peters talks about in his book The Chimp Paradox.

I clocked up 20 lengths = 1.2km, not a mile, but a fair decent swim. I’ve ditched the post swim shower as warm ones make me cold, and cold ones don’t seem worth the effort, so it’s a swift stumble along to the cubicle to fumble with the thermos and my clothes. And then the reward of a post swim catch with fellow hardy swimmers under the glow of the electric heater.

I regained the feeling in my toes about an hour later, otherwise all was fine and I’m now up to 16.8 miles – every yard and metre of which has been swum outside – at Parliament Hill Lido – with guest swims at Portishead Lido and Clevedon Marine Lake.

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12 noon at Parliament Hill Lido, Hampstead Heath

 

 

Thank you to officials standing damp-legged & soggy-footed poolside at swimming galas

What is it that makes people become volunteers? What is it that nudges them into giving up their time? I’ve been mulling over this lots recently, as both parts of my swimming life (gala mum v lido user) need more of them.

Recently I spent the day at Southbury Road Leisure Centre, the venue of a Middlesex Swimming Winter Development Meet, aka swimming gala. There were probably about 30 of us all dressed in white and gathered in a room for the officials’ meeting before the racing began. The President of the London Region stood up after all the poolside tasks had been allocated and safety briefing given, and donned his special chains of office. (Think Mayoral chains with lots of gold and ceremony.) He wanted us to pause and thank the volunteers who had served the region for the past 5 or 10 years, attending galas at weekends, standing poolside, getting quite wet. Each long timer was presented with a certificate and a pin badge, and thanked.

These volunteers, in their 60s and 70s are people are giving back to a sport long after their own children have stopped competing. What makes them do it? Without them competitive swimming would grind to a halt. In hindsight this low key ceremony should have taken place poolside, in front of swimmers and parents.

I had a very long break from volunteering, ie from sixth form through to 18 months ago. A 20 year gap of not pulling my weight or putting anything back. Caused partly by not really knowing how the swimming system worked. Now I’m proud to be a fledgling volunteer and a trainee official.

As I see it, there are definite upsides to being an official:

  1. if you’re going to have to get up very early to drive a child to a gala you might as well keep yourself busy rather than slumping back into the car or in the spectator rows
  2. it gives you something genuinely useful to do; any parent or carer who says they can ‘work’ whilst at a gala is fibbing. It’s hot, noisy and uncomfie = not conducive to work
  3. if you do get a chance to sit down you don’t have to fight someone for a seat, you have one allocated poolside
  4. you get to know the rules even better than your child (and actually having to learn something in detail is quite fun, stretches the brain in a different way to daily life)
  5. it brings you closer to your competing child, you’re there down on the poolside, at their level, able to keep an eye on their heats
  6. you get a free meal – don’t scoff – it is a luxury to be given a meal that you haven’t thought about, shopped for, prepped, made, served and washed up. So the catering might not be cordon bleu, but hey how nice to have someone else do it for you. And meanwhile you’re not responsible for what the rest of the family eat at home.
  7. you get to give something back into the system, just as other parents officiated for your children so now it’s your turn to keep a watchful eye on a younger generation of aspiring competitors

I brought up the topic of volunteering at the National Lido Conference I attended last month. I want to find out more about volunteering; how to be a better volunteer, how to work with volunteers and how to persuade more people to take up volunteering. At the conference a man who runs an outdoor swimming lake said the most useful thing for him was to know what people could do, and what their limits are – it’s in no one’s interest to promise more than you can deliver.

I’d like to know what magic thing it is that prompts retired people like the officials I saw honoured today into carrying on joining in decades after their kids have grown up and left a sport. Thank you uber volunteers.

Will you join our #Aspire Channel Swim Relay Team? Perhaps, but not this year.

Just to make things very clear I am swimming the length of the English Channel in the lido, I am not swimming from England to France in the sea.

A day after committing to my Aspire challenge, I joined a conversation by the showers and mentioned the Aspire Swim. ‘Oh,’ said one, who has just conquered the Dart 10k (yes, she swam ten kilometres in a river in Devon, serious respect eh to her and all the other swimmers), ‘why don’t you swim the proper Channel with me? You can swim for an hour, can’t you, as that’s all it takes in a relay before the next swimmer takes over?’

My heart leapt! Someone thought I might be a strong enough swimmer to join their relay team, oh wow! Could I swim for an hour up and down and up and down?’

Well, I used to be able to swim for an hour, perhaps I could do this I muttered to myself. I’d earn a swim cap like my friend the awesome distance and cross Channel swimmer Sally Goble who swims with a ‘Ferries are for Wimps’ cap on.

As I swam – for a full hour and 4 minutes – my heart settled back down. I remembered the promise I had made, hand on heart, to my own 12 year old Super Swimmer daughter that I would never, ever take on a proper Channel swim. It’s too far, it’s too dark, it’s too scary, it’s too dangerous, we agreed. Imagine being seasick on the boat over, and then waiting for your turn to dive into the depths, and the pressure, and the not wanting to let your team down, and the fear, and the voice in your head saying ‘you’re too much of a wimp, you can’t do this’, and the waves.

There’s also the upheaval and commitment needed to do something like that, many many training sessions and many many miles to be swum at some cost to family life, family harmony and indeed perhaps to the Super Swimmer Daughter’s own schedule.

No, I reminded myself, I can’t do this.

And I’m not going to. But do you know what, I have got it in me and I think I will one day – but just not next year.

Back to the challenge of covering 22 miles at Parliament Hill Lido in 12 weeks: so far I’ve swum around 5 miles, which means I reckon I can no longer see the white cliffs of Dover.

Happy swimming, happy reading, and if you fancy sponsoring me a fiver or a tenner to swim my 22 miles in the shiny bottomed lido I’d be very very grateful.

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Books for Christmas for you or the swimmer in your life

There is still (just) time to get a book or two for the swimmer in your life. Here are the ones on my list this year. I’ve picked these because I’ve read about them, listened to the authors on the radio, or been intrigued by mentions on twitter. I should add I haven’t read them – that’s why I’m asking for them – but I’m looking forward to hopefully finding them under the tree:

My first pick is Downstream  A History and Celebration of Swimming in the River Thames by Caitlin Davis (Arum). I heard Caitlin on Woman’s Hour in the summer and was intrigued to find out more about ladies swimming in the river back in Victorian times.

I’m keen to hear more about Thames swimming as I’ve had three life enhancing holiday swims in it during the last 18 months. Twice with a family group of cousins near Pangbourne and at Sittingbourne (where we saw a kingfisher) and once with just the super swimmer (aged 11 1/2) and my sister’s dog near  Shiplake. Oh the fun of being able to jump into a river and swim off and then share a flask of tea or Ribena on the bank!

Dip by Andrew Fusek Peters – I picked this after I found a review by Matt Haig in The Independent. The author has had depression, and this looks to be an intensely personal account of how wild swimming joined him on his journey to recovery.

Having lost my mojo twice this week, and twice grabbed it back in the pool, I know how lucky I am to be able to swim through drizzle or under grey skies to be rewarded when the sun comes out and spreads a silver sheen across the water. Sometimes on Sunday mornings I swim to clear my head of a grumpy mood, to set myself up to be a better mum and wife for the rest of the day.

The Three-Year Swim Club by Julie Checkoway. I picked up some great buzz on twitter as it came out in the UK in the autumn.  It’s the true story set in a Hawaiian sugar plantation in 1937 of a group of kids who were challenged to become Olympian swimmers by their teacher – they had nothing, no pools to train in, just fetid ditches. Julie’s on twitter here.

Or… you could try them (or you) with a copy of H2OpenMagazine. This magazine is a whole new world to me. I didn’t know it existed til a colleague met the editor at a gymnastics event their respective children were attending. They got chatting, as you do when you’re spending hours watching your kids perform, and she told him she knew someone keen on swimming outside. So hey presto she was given a copy to pass to me. It’s  packed full of swimmers’ exploits and tips, and me and my super swimming daughter (now almost 12) have really  enjoyed reading about other swimmers’ incredible feats. There are instructions on how to prepare your venue for an Ice Mile – which could involve bringing in a crane to remove the sheets of ice you’ve had to carve out of the water. Quite glad the temperatures at Parliament Hill Lido have stayed so balmy we haven’t needed to bring in any ice breakers…. Looking at the magazine, and chatting to the editor on twitter has got me thinking about what my swimming goals may be for 2016, after all those intrepid swimmers all started somewhere. You can find the magazine on twitter here.

It was 11’C at the lido today, a whole 7′ warmer than the average temperature over the last few years on 20th December…

Overcoming the Fear of Judgment: Authenticity and #ThisGirlCan

Watched #thisgirlcan ad shouting in my head ‘go girl’. Read on to hear awesome outdoor swimmer and blogger Alice Gartland’s take on self confidence and exercising.

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Sport England launched its TV ad campaign for ‘This Girl Can‘ last night, all aimed at increasing women’s participation in sport and empowering us to embrace exercise.

It’s a wonderfully inspiring film and struck a particular chord with me, not just because the advert features open water swimming and a woman kicking arse running up a hill to a Missy Elliott soundtrack, but above all, because of its authenticity.

A lot of people talk about the importance of “being yourself”, but knowing what that is can be difficult – sometimes we get lost or we become hidden; and the ‘being’ bit isn’t always straightforward either.

Sport is often the place where all of that comes to the fore.

Olivia Parker’s article in the Telegraph describes how Sport England’s research found that “2 million fewer women are regularly participating in sport or exercise than men, despite 75 per…

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Last Post

the nuisance

This is Kate’s mother writing.

Off to Narnia. Kate died at home as she wanted, on 25th December at 6.29 a.m. Ten minutes before Oscar and Isaac asked ‘Is it morning?’ so just long enough for Billy to hold her hand and say goodbye before stocking-opening, which of course cannot be delayed.

Not properly making Christmas really didn’t matter to her. It was, after all, just another Thursday.

I’d like to say it was all peaceful. It was at the end, but not all the time. The thing is, they don’t tell you about dying. John Diamond, Philip Gould – Kate’s cancer canonthey stop writing when they can’t focus any more. So the unbroadcast pain, the indignities and the long hours of waiting are forgotten, like childbirth.

Kate’s last two weeks were characterised by the same qualities that marked her life…

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