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.

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…

I’m into lido(swimming) not lipo (suction)

So far this week I’m swum outdoors once, and been followed by two different liposuction companies on twitter. When I glanced at twitter and saw that @southportlipo was a new follower I thought ‘brilliant, a new lido to add to my list to swim in next year.’ Then I looked again. ‘What? Is this a hint?’ I’m really not into liposuction. I’m all for #ThisGirlCan, whatever shape she is, and the idea of sucking stuff out just doesn’t appeal at all. If I was to emerge sylph like from a spot of liposuction perhaps I might not be able to swim so happily in colder water.

Later on today I noticed I’ve been followed by @Leeds_Lipo too. I think I’d better either get back in the pool quick, so I’m in less need of lipo, or gently explain I’m keener on swimming than surgical procedures.

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Just after the launch of the #ThisGirlCan campaign some research was published about women abandoning swimming. The figures were dramatic, with three times as many women as men giving up swimming in the previous year (you can read more here).  If you’re intrigued by #ThisGirlCan hop over to read more  – I hope there’ll be a second wave to the campaign next year, just as I hope the Amateur Swimming Association has more positive news to report on a year on in January. Is it body image or is it something else?

Other forms of exercise are that much more ‘get up and go’ aren’t they, bung your trainers on and off you trot / stumble / sprint, but swimming takes a bit more planning, and when you go first thing or after work the pool can be offputtingly busy. I’d love to swim more often but home / work / family / chauffeuring duties mean I’m a solid 3x a week at the moment. But when I do go I get to experience the joy of a giant pool, with no one’s bubbles to swim behind or collide with. On Friday I had a funny chat with a fellow swimmer. I was clad in costume, booties and gloves, wandering about purposely in the shallow end. He was on the side, looked across and said something. I replied ‘it’s fine’, “yes” he replied, “a solid 9”. I hope whatever you’re up to for the rest of the weekend you can rate it a solid 9 – and if you’re swimming outside it’s 9’C or over!

 

Oasis Swimming Pool, shopping & brownies: my #BlackFriday recipe

How was Black Friday for you? Were you seduced by the offers? Did you click on the emails as they poured into your inbox? Did you venture out onto the high street? Or did you just steer well clear, waiting for the dawn of Civilised Saturday?

Friday without a swim is not a good way to end the week. But Christmas hosted by someone who has done no Christmas shopping is not an option, so I had to combine the two.

I dropped the Super Fast 11 year old Swimmer off at the train station, left the car at home, sped off to the Post Office sorting office to collect a parcel on my bike, returned home, packed my kit and set off to shop and swim. The plan was to Beat the Crowds and get to John Lewis for 9.30am. Hmph, a 4 person deep crowd on the Victoria line platform at Highbury derailed the schedule a bit as I waited for 3 tubes to pass and boarded the 4th…  With my husband’s words ‘John Lewis, on Black Friday? Are you insane?’ in my head I marched down the road and into the shop. Where were the crowds? Not in the entrance foyer and glamorous make-up bit and definitely not further back in the menswear area. There the customer to staff ratio was 2:1 with lots of helpful partners in black and lace dresses and others in leggings poised to run around and be very helpful. This bode very well for my trip. Tick, tick on the list. Up to childrenswear, where the staff outnumbered customers 2:1. A slightly bewildered staff member asked me where everyone was, ‘is it madness downstairs?’ No. But perhaps it was later. The shop opens from 8am – 10pm….

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Spotted in an Oxford Street shop window

 

Swiftly out down the back stairs and on to Gap. Many even more helpful staff members greeting the large handful of customers with a cheerful ‘it’s 50% off everything instore today’. The problem about messages like this is you then start thinking off list and about yourself, which of these tops, jumpers, coats, and scarves do I want? I was side-tracked, trying on this, trying on that. ‘Get back on list’ shouted the Christmas Voice in my head.

The whole Black Friday Bonanza made me feel a bit guilty, what on earth was I doing, looking for things for me? ‘If we don’t have your size buy it anyway and you can exchange it another day, don’t you deserve a treat?’ asked one assistant. Argh no I don’t want to come back here and do this shopping all over again, and no I don’t deserve (another) treat. There is a limit, isn’t there?

Armed with more bags and more goodies than I intended I pounded down the pavement for my reward: a swim. I’ve talked before about The Oasis Leisure centre in Covent Garden. It has 2 pools, one outdoor heated and one indoor. There were no special offers, and the place wasn’t marketing itself as the perfect antidote to Black Friday. Instead the indoor pool was shut, and everyone was ploughing up and down in the outdoor pool. At 27’C it was balmy, far too warm, and just full, full, full of people. There were no fun swimming hats, like the ‘Ferries are for Wimps’ one I look out for at Parliament Hill lido. My red reindeer one was by far the best. The pool looked tiny, like a paddling pool. At 27.5m it’s a standardish size, but if you’re used to a 60m length it’s small. There’s none of the sense of achievement at reaching the end of the length that I get in the lido. Instead the wall comes up too fast. I was forever swimming in someone else’s bubbles or wake. I found it hard to settle into a rhythm. There was no chance to lie on my back at the end and gaze up at the patch of blue sky surrounded by grey, as I normally like to. But on the flipside how amazing to be able to swim outside, under London’s sky, looking up at London’s sky just 10 minutes from Oxford Street. Instead of fretting about things not being perfect I flipped from freestyle to breaststroke to backstroke.

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Hiding round the corner from the pool lies temptation in the shape of Portuguese custard tarts

 

So for me Black Friday did involve hopping, but also a swim, brownies and burgers with a very good friend, returning home in time to greet the Super Fast Swimmer after her day at school, and deleting all the discount emails. There’s a proper recipe for a Black Friday.

As to my next swim, it’ll be a challenging one. A lido buddy said to me ‘there’s a nice icy edge to 11’C’. I’m not sure which words will spring to mind to describe the current water temperature at Parliament Hill. It’s hovering between 5-8’C.

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Have shopping bags, have swim kit: Black Friday Bags

 

 

 

 

Blowing the whistle at the wrong time: mentoring in the workplace & poolside at swimming galas

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I passed the first stage in my effort to become a British Swimming Judge Level 1 and am now a Qualified Timekeeper, pretty much all thanks to a lady called Jane. There was just the one very audible hiccup along my way. I’d donned my white kit and was poolside at Southbury Road. I’d had it explained to me twice what my role would be as guardian of my lane for the 1500m race. The second the distance came up I thought ‘Help, how many more than a lot of lengths is that?’ and scrambled to check on my phone. Of course it’s obvious, but if you’re at the end of the lane with the stopwatch in your hand you need to know for sure if it’s 60 lengths or not. I was stationed at the start / finish line / ‘evens’ end. My job, beyond timing, was to check turns were all legal, and to blow my whistle for a very loud and long time as the swimmer approached the turn into and out of length 58, to tell them they’re into the home straight. Clutching a lane countdown sheet, numbered down from 59, which was confusing as I was at the evens end, I was ticking the lengths off. Quick it’s time to blow I thought, how odd no one else is blowing, well I’ll just get on and BLLLLLOOOOOOW. I’m not sure why I peaked and blew two lengths early, but everyone poolside sure did hear my loud and long blast on the whistle. Mortifying, yes, very mortifying, yes. I didn’t dare ask the tired swimmer if I’d confused them. Lesson learned: work out your own system, and if you normally count up not down then do that.

For the afternoon session – yes quite a full-on long day by the pool – I was mentored throughout by the best possible person. I know only that her name is Jane. She is fully qualified. She stood beside me through the racing peppering the afternoon with questions, what are we looking for in a butterfly stroke, what should we watch for on a breaststroke turn, is it legal to stop during freestyle (yes, but no steps may be taken). Mentoring is an essential part of training to be a qualified official, as a newbie you get to learn from someone who has days and weeks and years (not hours) of poolside experience, knows the rules backwards, and understands what’s an infringement and what’s not. Thanks also to the day’s referee who coached and coaxed me along as he questioned exactly when to blow the blooming whistle next time.

I asked another club parent about mentoring and volunteering for the club, and he explained how he thought it was his way of giving back. Someone else’s parents or guardians have watched over your child at galas and at training, and here’s a chance to pass on your thanks through your own time. It’s very simple, if a club doesn’t field officials (qualified / trainees) then it can’t enter swimmers to race in a gala. Having been to many galas I’m very conscious of the need now to give back. But at the same time I have to remember that I have two children, not one, and a husband, and only two of the household are Really Into Swimming, and sometimes the footballing team need the car and we all need family time.

Mentoring is all around us: in the workplace on a formal level, when you’re matched with A Mentor, and also at a very informal and unofficial basis with people – or perhaps one person – helping a new starter, showing them the ropes, guiding them as they start out in new surroundings, with new colleagues and unfamiliar systems. I’ve been really lucky embarking on my job to be guided along, no more so by the person who suggested, ‘Make a difference with little things before beating yourself up about big things’ and the other who told me it’s ok to feel a bit like a fish out of water as you start adapting and learning, as everyone does.

At home I suppose we’re trying to mentor our kids through their transition into secondary school and beyond. When we’re not over-parenting or nagging that is.

The best books to give a swimmer for Christmas: order via Hive and your independent bookshop

I’ve been for another swim at London Fields Lido. There were mutterings that the heated water was a tad nippy so I took two pairs of gloves for afterwards as my hands get cold and take ages to warm back up again. The water was 19.5’C so fine in the spring or autumn but not quite so comfortable when the air is 8’C. There’s no bracing as you get in but you keep moving.

Last week new floodlights were installed poolside so you can swim in relative warmth til 9pm – must be magical. However the extended opening hours seem to be challenging the boiler, hence the cooler water temp.

I’ve gathered together a collection of swimming books this year. As there are 10 sleeps left until Christmas there’s plenty of time to add them to your wish list or give them to your swimming friends.

There are plenty of independent bookshop alternatives to the Large Online Company Based in Slough where you could buy these from – you could shop with Dulwich Books (Brockwell Lido round the corner, enormous events programme), Chorleywood Bookshop (smashing author events) and West End Lane Books (love the atmosphere but best of all their tweets). They will all happily order (and I’m sure post) books for you. Cleverly Hive allows you to select your favourite indie to support and order from online. I am now feeling slightly guilty for not making a longer list of brilliant independent bookshops I’ve been lucky enough to visit and work with, today I’ve just picked these three.

So here goes with my favourite swimming books (part 1) – which I’ve borrowed from the library, bought or pinched from my sister’s bookshelf:

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Waterlog-  A Swimmer’s Journey through Britain by Roger Deakin (Vintage)

I discovered this in my local library’s UK travel section. The author decided to travel all over the British Isles, and takes the reader with him, visiting every possible source of water you can swim in. From the Fowey in Cornwall to the North Sea via the ponds on Hampstead Heath to a mill pool in the River Avon. Intrigued? Then head on over to the blog Waterlogreswum where Roger’s escapades are reswum – you can also follow @WaterlogReswum on twitter.  It’s the perfect bedside reading companion, taking a dip at a time.

Swimming London by Jenny Landreth (Aurum Press)

I mention this book in all my swimming posts as it’s a bible for swimmers in the capital, with glorious photos and descriptions of 50 pools, lidos and lakes. She dwells on the Victorian Baths in Kentish Town and Camberwell, wonders at the Aquatic Centre in Stratford and is frank about the facilities at Denham Water-ski Club; and so much the better. Whenever I put it on a shelf the 10 year old Super Swimmer gets it back out again for us to pour over a different place to swim in.

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Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton – Particular Books

I discovered this thanks to Kate Kellaway’s review in the Observer click through to see the image which caught my eye in the paper. Leanne was a world class swimmer, representing Canada, and her autobiography takes us through early starts, pool deck side fall outs with her coach, and what swimming meant to her growing up and means to her now. I love to open this at random, I’ve just rediscovered her passage about needing to ‘Make a Commitment’ which she takes from Dr Keith Bell’s Nuts and Bolts of Psychology for Swimmers. He says ‘A commitment is important. Once you have set a long term goal, you have decided to make the trip. Without a commitment, however, you are liable to question each step of the way.’ Leanne’s own goal – to work out what to do with something ‘I do well but no longer have any use for’. Reminds me how if you don’t have a goal, be it in or out of the water, and don’t commit, you’re not really going to get anywhere.

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Swimming Home by Deborah Levy (Faber)

I confess to not having read this yet, it’s on my Christmas reading pile and is the book I nabbed from my sister’s shelf. Let me know what you think of it.

Part 2 to follow later in the week

 

Regaining my work self and moving on: looking for work and an outdoor swim at London Fields Lido

‘Mummy’ said my ten year old daughter (aka the Speedy Swimmer) ‘you need to get a job as otherwise you might lose your work self.’

Next week marks 7 months since I was made redundant, and four since I started the blog. It’s the perfect time to take stock. The Speedy Swimmer is absolutely right. I am itching to get going and get back into the workplace. The last ten days have been focused on contacting people, arranging meetings, booking onto courses and sending off applications. I am positively looking forward to January.

So whilst I might sometimes feel nostalgic for the job and the things I loved about it (and grrr every now and then still be a bit cross) I am channelling my enthusiasm for swimming, books, baking, people and communicating into making a new working life. I have been in limbo and now I am moving on. Rather than missing and wondering about the people I worked with I’m jolly well going to get in touch with them. I need to make new networks and new connections rather than harking on to myself about the old life.

The sun was shining, which pool to choose? Good intentions buzzing in my brain I caught the train mid-morning to London Fields to the glorious 50m lido there. There were 4 wide lanes in operation which means there’s plenty of room to overtake without bashing into other swimmers. I like the fact that the Very Fast Lane (their underlining) states no breaststroke. It was glorious. Proper sunshine glinting on the water and a nice temperature of c21’C found some swimmers in their bikinis.

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Longer pools mean better rhythm. I find it much easier to lock into a rhythm in a big pool. Every time I get into a pool I turn my swimming engine on, but I sometimes struggle to keep in gear and end up ploughing through the water. Today, with a six strokes per breath cycle I quickly got into my stride gliding through the water.

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My swim kit for today’s swim on a nearby bench. NB I was wearing a costume too, and the hat was much needed afterwards. Flip flops are essential, however strong the winter sun it never warms the pool surround and your feet get cold walking to and fro the changing rooms. Actually although the water was warm, and the poolside showers scorching hot, my hands stayed chilled for a couple of hours.

Today’s swim reminded me what a friendly sport outdoor swimming is. For some reason people are much chattier. I don’t mean in a standing around clogging up the shallow end gossiping way but in a smiling at people in the shower way and comparing notes on swims way. You’re pretty unlikely to strike up a conversation with the person next to you in an indoor changing room, whereas it’s a different story out of doors.

I got talking to one lady about her swimming hat, it was bright blue, with ‘WORLD’S BEST SWIMMER’ on it in white writing, with a line above saying ‘it’s not easy being the’…. and underneath ‘so let them enjoy it’. Cool present for a proper swimmer eh. Someone else was sporting a yellow ‘Dart 10k’ cap. I’ve met two other Dart 10k swimmers who run the consultancy Tinder Box and am slightly, actually no a lot, in awe of their swimming prowess.

I still think my ‘home’ lido at Parliament Hill has the edge for its shiny stainless steel casing, extra size, absence of rules and location, but after today’s swim this comes a close second in London. Both pools feature in Jenny Landreth’s excellent book about swimming in the capital ‘Swimming London’ – and she’s blogged about winter swimming events too.

Swimming outside in London’s Zone 1: steam and solitude at the Oasis pool in Covent Garden

I am mildly obsessed with swimming. I could write about outdoor swims, hotel pools and pools I’ve swum in on author tours, I could create lists of swimming books I’ve enjoyed and devise a post about London pools I’ve visited. I wish I was a better swimmer, I’m not graceful and I’m not fast, but I do love it.

Returning to the Oasis: Zone 1 swimming at its best

Today I swam in a pool I’ve not been in for 20 years: Oasis Covent Garden. I was yearning for an outdoor dip, but one for which I wouldn’t need my wetsuit or a 10 minute long shower afterwards to warm up. The Oasis has two pools, one indoor and one outdoor. There were just three of us there outside this morning, each with our own lane. I could vaguely see the other swimmers’ coloured hats through the steam coming off the water, but most of the time it felt as if I was completely on my own, swimming right in the heart of London. How magical is that? I could swim backstroke looking up at the blue winter sky and watch the clouds, or just plough freestyle. The only downside is the size, it felt a bit short and a tad shallow for me to be able to switch into a good rhythm. I didn’t take a photograph today as it’d have felt very intrusive and didn’t seem the right thing to do. But here’s the pool on the cover of Swimming London by @jennylandreth (published by Aurum)- a book which should be on the top of every capital swimmer’s Christmas list! Visit Jenny’s blog about swimming.

Top tip: don’t go Christmas shopping afterwards, it kind of broke the post swim spell…

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Swimming in the Oasis in the 1990s

The changing rooms were terrible then, I thought it was an urban myth that people broke into the lockers and stole gym-goers’ and swimmers’ clothes and valuables until it happened to someone in our office…. But the water was gorgeous.  I used to cycle to work on Wednesday tube strike days and have a dip in whichever pool had fewest people in, and then head off to buy hot buttered toast to eat at my desk. Perfect.

Swimming mid tour in Guildford

Midway through a long tour we had a two hour rest time in Guildford. I hurtled into M&S to pick up a costume, hopped on a bus to the pool, bought some goggles and spent half an hour gliding up and down in Guildford Spectrum’s competition pool. I am sure I was a much better publicist and tour companion as a result of that swim, and from then on  I always packed a swimsuit and goggles in my tour bag.

Today’s post is dedicated to those people who would rather have been having a swim than doing what they did today…