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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I’ve signed up to swim the length of the English Channel 22 miles in aid of Aspire. Why?

So why have I signed up to swim the length of the English Channel, 22 miles, in 12 weeks?

It’s a new challenge – and I like challenges

This one really caught my eye. I LOVE SWIMMING.

Aspire is a very special charity – it helps people paralysed by spinal cord injury. It gives them practical assistance, advice and support from injury to independence. There is currently no cure for spinal injury.

And they even filmed part of their enticing video at Parliament Hill Lido.

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Parliament Hill Lido – where I’m hoping to swim much of my 22 miles

The Paralympics have just opened in Rio – and I’m being reminded how awesome our Paralympians are, and how many of the athletes have come back from terrible life changing injuries or paralysis and put their determination and talents to amazing use.

I’d like to achieve something big in the pool this year and have extra impetus to swim regularly through the winter

I will never, ever, swim the English Channel* 

I want to get into shape and look and feel on top form

I am a very lucky person, and sometimes that needs to be celebrated with a marker and a milestone – I can swim, I live close to London’s most beautiful shiny bottomed Parliament Hill Lido and a host of other pools, I am able bodied, I have the most motivating and supportive of husbands and 12 year old twins egging me on, and a flexible-ish work schedule – plus the desire to do this.

For my daddy – Some years ago my daddy was struck very low by a very serious illness. Part of his rehabilitation, which involved learning to walk again, also entailed water and access to special swimming sessions. So I am also doing this in recognition, and thanks, for the teams of medics at The Royal Berks Hospital intensive care unit who gave him back to us, the physios and carers at Linden Hill who run such brilliant water therapy sessions, and the lifeguards and staff at Wantage Rec Centre where he and mummy swam on Monday nights. This challenge from Aspire has reminded me how fortunate we were all those years ago.

*I have promised my 12 year old daughter I won’t. So I won’t. For now. And probably not for ever.

If you’d like to support Aspire and my challenge please may I ask you to head over to my Just Giving page. Or if you fancy taking on this quest to swim the English Channel in your local pool sign up here.

Thank you as ever for reading.

 

So how was the 5.25am start for you? Feeding the 12 year old swimmer.

The alarm went at 5.25am. When it was dark. It was almost the middle of the night. I jumped out of bed, careful – just – not to fall over in that semi crazed comatose post-alarm-I-must-leap-up-straight-away state. I donned clothes, dashed up to check the swimmer was awake and down to make tea and toast. Not much thought , I must admit, went into how to fuel the 12 year old swimmer before her first ever early morning training session – that’s 6am – 7.30am, but I thought brown toast and a lot of jam with a glass of water could do the trick. It’s hard at that time, none of us really want to eat when we’re pretty much asleep.

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7.01am at Parliament Hill Fields Lido

We left the house and got to the pool at 5.50. By now both of us were strangely quite excited, perhaps at the newness of the situation; it may well not feel such a game in January. I drove back home, slid back into bed fully clothed and wondered what to do. 15 minutes later I was out again, and on my bike to Parliament Hill Fields lido on Hampstead Heath. If she was getting her exercise in, surely that’s what I should be doing too.

In the early mornings the lido is for width swimming only; it’s busy with swimmers ploughing up and down motorway style. But oh, you glance to the east and are rewarded with the sun emerging above the mansion block and its light glinting on the water. At bang on 7.30am the lane rope is tied onto the deck and everyone switches to swimming lengths.

Today, I got back home to be able to greet the swimmer with a pile of toast and a large banana milkshake. Next Friday will be that much more complicated, with school uniform needing to be crammed into her kit bag, a full breakfast on wheels catering service to fuel her through til lunchtime to be provided and then a dash to catch the 0811 from Finsbury Park.

The swimmer and I have been thinking about nutrition. Boy do you have to tread carefully, I really do want to do my best to give her the right things at the right time but it’s not straightforward. She needs to eat. She has wanted to eat yummy sweet things. I don’t want to over-egg the situation and tell her not to eat things or to eat other things.

But after a year of munching a cereal bar in the car and eating sweet things (cake, gutsy carb loaded puddings and banana milkshakes) when she gets back from her evening swims she’s asked for something healthier. By the time she gets back from the pool (normally 9.45pm ish) I want to go to bed not conjure up chicken breasts and broccoli (not that I think she’d go for that combo at 9.45pm).

I don’t like cereal bars, I think they’re just sweet chewy cardboard, but we should have shares in them we’ve got through so many. I’m invested instead in a heap of new ingredients and am poised to bake Nigella Lawson’s breakfast bars I’m also going to try the granola bars over on Smitten Kitchen – with thanks to my friends Vicky and Stephanie for the suggestions.

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What I’m not so sure about though is making sure she gets enough carbs after school, and protein after training. Please lovely blog readers do share your secrets and tips of how to fill a growing 12 year old – and her growing footballing and running 12 year old twin brother – with the right foods at the right time whilst holding down a job (and a life). Send me a tweet or post a reply, I’d be so grateful. Thanks for reading.

Swimming to Pells Pool in Lewes.

Pells sign

So I set myself a challenge back in January to swim the distance from our home in London to Pells Pool in Lewes. Did I crack it? In a word, no. But it matters not a jot. By the first weekend in July I’d covered 38km. I overestimated my determination  to swim 3+ times a week around work and the Super Swimmer’s training schedule, my desire to get up / swim late and to dominate weekends with my challenge.

I’d planned to go to Penzance and swim in the Jubilee Lido the first weekend of July. The kids were due to go on their Annual Dads’ Camping Trip. I booked a Cornish B&B and bought my tickets on the sleeper train. Plans changed, the Dads’ camping trip went ahead with the Footballer and his Dad, then the Super Swimmer was invited to race at Crystal Palace. When she told me – for the first time – that I wasn’t needed poolside – I leapt at the chance to go to Lewes instead. Dropping her off in Islington at 7am I got to Lewes for 9am on the train, walked around peering in the windows of second hand bookshops, boutiques and cafes, and wandered around til I found Pells.

Why Pells? Partly as it’s so accessible from London (Southern Trains willing…) but mainly due to its enthusiastic twitter account, where alluring pics of the water, the space and the sky are posted on a daily basis. I’ve been almost counting down with Lewes til it opened for the season, watching as the pool was cleaned and prepared for the summer.

Tanya's Poolside Library
Tanya’s Poolside Library

I was so excited to get to Pells. I entered through the walkway to be greeted by a cheery hello from the manager, stood there saying ‘wow’ in my head, gazing at the sharp blue water, the enormous trees to the side, and the utter tranquillity of the scene. Then a lady came over and asked what my name was, was I Clare? She’s the pool’s writer in residence @LidoWriters, and had seen my early morning excited tweet from the train. I couldn’t believe she’d seen my message, or thought to introduce herself. Oh the joys of sharing a love of swimming outdoors on twitter. Imagine travelling 2 hours from home and someone greeting you by name and welcoming you to their pool!

Pells Pool
Pells Pool

All types of swimmers were in the water; a couple of wet suit-clad sharks, a head-up breast-stroking lady, some kids throwing a toy – everyone absolutely set on enjoying themselves.

Glorious water at Pells
Glorious water at Pells

I asked a fellow swimmer how long the pool was, she wasn’t sure, ‘I’m just here for enjoyment, not swimming like you.’ Ah, but how wrong she was, I was there for the same reason as her, to soak up the welcome, to become part of the ‘I’ve swum at Pells gang’. I’d never envisaged the trip to Pells would have been such an emotional experience, or one that I’d long to repeat again, and again. Thank you Pells, thank you to Tanya Shadrick and thank you to the person behind @PellsPool.

Pells Post swim breakfast at Pleasants
Post Pells Swim Glow
Giant post swim breakfast
Post Pells Giant Breakfast at Pleasants

Get Inspired? You bet. Running and swimming as Rio 2016 gets underway.

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Wearing our 2012 kit with pride for Rio 2016

Day 2 of the Rio 2016 Olympics. We’re on holiday up in Yorkshire having left friends house-sitting. The week’s activities are to be planned around the Olympics, and secondly the weather.

4 years ago, on the first Sunday of London 2012 we went to the Olympic Park, got tickets to sit on a grassy strip in front of an enormous screen where we watched 7 hours of coverage and saw Lizzy Armitstead get silver. Wow. We didn’t stop to think of the impact the games might have on our own children, we were too busy yelling, jumping up and down and beaming with pride. After the games ended I bought a highlights DVD, and for every weekend our then 8 year old swimmer watched back to back footage of Becky Adlington and Ellie Simmonds.

Now it’s quite clear that watching all that swimming set a spark alight in her. She joined our local swimming club, worked her way up through the squads to train twice, 3x, 4x and now 5x a week. I met Mark Foster at Barnet Copthall (major OMG moment for me) and the Super Swimmer met, and baked a swimming pool cake, for Ellie Simmonds (shared OMG moment).

So when Adam Peaty talked poolside on Saturday of becoming an Olympian and wanting to inspire a future generation, it made me quite teary eyed. Adam you’ve done that already. When Helen Skelton, Becky Adlington and Mark Foster echoed his comments, it took me straight back to that grassy bank in Stratford, huddled next to our girl watching Olympic champions of all disciplines.

This morning me and the 12 year old Footballer / Cricket Player / Athlete went for a run. Actually he sprinted off, and I embarked for a third time on Couch to 5k. I’ve become a bit too couch potatoey, with shorter swims in the school holidays, and now’s the time to seek out the euphoria a really great run delivers. I’d quite like to fast forward straight to Week 8…

Tonight we’re setting our alarm for 2am. The boys team hunkering down in one newly named ‘boys’ dorm’, and the girls in the ‘get up and yell for Adam girls’ room’.

When the new training season starts in September, and we (that’s me the Chauffeur and her the Super Swimmer) take on a 6th training session (Friday mornings, 6am-7.30am) we’ll be thinking of Adam, of Becky and of Ellie.

PS The alarm went and we leapt out of bed. An hour and a half glued to the TV, jumping up and down and trying not to shout so loud as to wake the boys upstairs. Back to bed at 4.05am elated and so, so pleased for Adam Peaty, Jazz Carlin, their families, their coaches and Team GB.

 

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Collection of hi-vis hats for Yorkshire sea swims

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First challenge of the year; join me swimming to Pells Pool in Lewes?

high above Oxford Street
Floaty jellyfish like installation above Oxford Street

 

I have been mulling over which swimming challenge to take on this year. It’s all very well swimming up and down but I need a bit more purpose, something to aim for. Back in September I set myself the goal of swimming outside at the lido, without a wetsuit, for as long as I could into the winter. I thought I’d don a rash vest, but I didn’t. We were blessed with a bizarrely warm end to the year, which helped no end, and it was really exhilarating to enjoy swims on both Christmas Eve (10’C water) and New Year’s Day (8’C water). The video is proof of my 1.1.2016 swim 

The temperatures are now back at more seasonal level, so water around 4-5’C and I am just not sure about that, so for now I’ve moved inside to Kentish Town. It’s a beautiful Victorian pool, 30m long, with windows on the sloping roof through which you can see blue sky and sometimes vapour trails. They keep it cool, and when possible it’s lit just by natural light. It’s not a patch on a lido though… today the pool was evacuated for a false alarm, someone dropped their lunchtime soup in the changing room, splat, and rather than clear it up themselves left it there, and the chemical cocktail in the water gave me a very ruddy, stingy face. But I clocked up 1.2km.

Since the new year I’ve been mulling over which swimming challenge to take on. It’s all very well swimming up and down but I need a bit more purpose, something to aim for. My uber sporty friend suggested a race; knowing I’m a solitary swimmer she thought a distance challenge might work. So, something like swimming the Channel (21 miles according to the Channel Swimming Association), or swimming across the Solent (mile and a quarter), and asking others if they’d like to join me with us regularly clocking in to update distances swum to date. I then got carried away. Pells Pool in Lewes is top of my list of lidos I’d like to swim in this year. I checked out the route on the AA Route Planner. It’s 94.9 miles / 152.7km away from my home! Imagine, though, I could swim the distance there AND swim in it too. That’s the equivalent of 5090 lengths of the pool at Kentish Town. Here’s Pells – doesn’t it look gorgeous? (Photo credit @PellsPool)

Pells Lido 2015

Is there a pool you’d like to swim to this season – and then swim in? Please do let me know if you’d like to join the challenge. I’m going to get drawing and do a lido-ometer with some other distances-to-lidos marked up along the way. If I do this metaphorically I can first swim to London Fields Lido, on to Hampton lido, out to Charlton Lido, perhaps with an honourable diversion inside to the London Aquatics Centre as it’s such a special pool to visit, and then it’ll be smooth journey south to Pells. Once I’m there I could head north out of London up the A1 to Ilkley Lido – scene of a top 2015 family day out – that’d be a total of 11,206 30m lengths.

I’ve always been a bit envious of some of the swimming hats at the lido – particularly the pink one with ‘Ferries are for Wimps’ on it. Mind boggling, I think the lady is a Channel swimmer. So perhaps through this I can earn myself a special ‘I’ve swum to Pells Pool’ hat…

Will you join me on my challenge? Leave a comment here or find me on twitter @loveswimming

(Pells 5090 – 40 = 5050 to go!)