Do I really have to? My resistance to going to the local pool


Okay, here’s a question. What do you think is the BIGGEST challenge in swim training? You might think its gaining a feel for the water, or perhaps bi-lateral breathing, or maybe even getting a training plan together. Nope, no, got that sorted, nooooo. Its even simpler than that. For me, the biggest challenge I face is actually getting to the pool and getting into the water.

I was part of a swim relay and swam the English Channel in 2014 and I get very excited and want to jump in water when near a large stretch of it (perhaps I was a labrador in a previous life). I’ve done a few other marathon swims over the years and really, really loved them so you may think its really odd that I can’t herd myself into the pool. Its even more worrying when you realise that you’ve got to get in the water as you’ve signed up for two marathon swims in the summer.

Like any of the swimmers I’m lucky enough to have made friends with over recent years, I suffer from a local pool – lovely though it is – that doesn’t seem to really care about the people that use its facilities. It wants to be seen to accommodate the public at large, but it doesn’t really seem to accommodate the folks who want to swim. One of my best friends who happens to be one of the best swimmers I have ever seen, was told off at her local pool for going too fast.

I’ve laughed out loud at the Facebook post a friend of mine posted after a particularly ridiculous Swim Rage incident. Like him, I have ended up in the pool reception, dripping water everywhere clothed only in hat and cossie ranting because of the behaviour of other swimmers and the abject lack of discipline asserted by the lump of blubber – more commonly known as a life guard – slumped in its high chair doing nothing to keep the pool safe. I’ve commiserated with other friends who’ve bemoaned the fact that their pool has banned the use of fins and I’ve also been abused myself. I was punched – on purpose – by a man because I swam past him. We have all experienced other pool users who seem to regard people who wear swimming hats as weirdos whose sole use in a pool is to be the butt of abuse.

This is all on top of feeling a little bit shy. I don’t belong to a club and swim on my own. It can be incredibly intimidating when there are lots of other people around – and then there are the ‘swimmers’ – you know who you are, people – who want to hog a lane all to themselves and splash and thrash and tutt when you join their lane. Then they bust their guts to overtake you – only to fail on some occasions – and then just make life plain awkward when all you want to do is peacefully do your own thing.

Now that I have got myself into a stew and raked up all my hurt feelings, I’ve got to get back in the water…. Maybe my New Year’s Resolution should be to grow a pair….

Threshhold Shmeshhold: the training zone confusion of a middle-aged woman


As I have decided to grab life by the hair and give it a good hard yank this year, my husband, who has started to refer to himself as Beloved Husband (BH from now on then, snigger) ‘suggested’ that if I wanted to get any real effects out of training so that I’m not just lumbering about or flollopping along on my bike ( I maintain that I have never, ever flollopped except maybe on the sofa), I ‘might like’ to work out my Maximum Heart Rate and calculate my training zones. By using the right zone for the right training session I can train more methodically and improve not only my endurance but also my speed and therefore, my overall performance. Yeah, right.

Now, being fully frank, I normally do just lumber along. My argument being that I’m actually lapping anyone sitting on a couch and anyway, I’m completely rubbish, so why would I bother with anything more sophisticated than just ‘getting out there’ as a training method. I have regularly commented that I could take any amount of EPO to improve my performance without having to overdo this training nonsense and I’d never be tested since I’d only come half way up any finish list anyway. I’ve taken Evening Primrose Oil by the way and it doesn’t work.

BH rolled his eyes, signed me up for Strava and printed me out an MHR test from some geeky cycling site he pores over avidly as if it were porn – I think it is his porn judging by the leering grin he has when he reads it, weirdo.

Anyway, back to the test. Yesterday, I set up the turbo trainer and jumped on my bike and did the following, which is designed to find my maximum heart rate (before black out of course). You need to have a smart watch with a heart rate monitor to do this test. The usual sports watches will do, or I think you could even use an Apple Sports watch.

The Test:

10 Minutes easy warm up

10 minutes hard effort at a consistent time trial effort with the last minute being increased effort and last 30 seconds being sprint effort.

After that you cool down with 10 minutes easy cycling rather than stop.

Once you know what your maximum heart rate is, you can work out your training zones. Just for extra confusion, I should point out that this test is for the cycling MHR, the MHR for running is different and has to be done when running and you will find that it is higher. There is a traditional and easy way to work out your MHR, which is to use 220 minus your age, however, its generally accepted to be quite a clumsy calculation. So then you move to these ridiculous tests to establish how hard you can push yourself before you collapse in convulsions.

The Training Zones are:

Zone 1 – Easy/Recovery Zone: Heart rate should be between 65-70% MHR – perceived effort rating 3-4 – easy to talk

Zone 2 – Aerobic Zone: Heart rate should be 75-85% MHR – perceived effort rating 5-6 still able to talk sentences.

Zone 3 – Threshold Zone: Heart rate should be 88-92% MHR – perceived effort rating 7-8 maybe throw out the odd word.

Zone 4 – VO2 Max Zone: Heart rate should be 95-100% MHR – perceived effort rating 9+ talking not an option!

Depending upon the distance or race type you are aiming for, it may be that you need to spend more time in your aerobic zone; for example for marathon races, cycling sportives or other endurance events which are longer and overall slower, interspersing those sessions with sessions in the threshold zone to help you develop your overall speed. Whereas, if you are training for shorter distances that are generally at a faster pace such as 5k races or cycling TT races you may well spend more time in the threshold and even VO2 Max zones. In all cases, after a heavy session you will likely change to the recovery zone the next time which will allow you to exercise and ‘flush out’ muscle toxins such as lactic acid and recover.

So there you have it, or not in my case. I have to say that when I run I feel like I’m in the VO2 max zone all the time. I have no clue how on earth I’m expected to get into the lower zones when I’m running. Walk? Use roller skates?

Although I was a sprinter at school, being Generation X with umpteen years of horse riding and other sports behind me, I’m in that level of folks who are weekend warriors and mass participants of sports to achieve and do something for themselves. For me, because I’m on the slower side, it almost feels ‘wrong’ for me to train more like BH and some of my friends who really are going to challenge for age group placings and medals and I have pushed myself backwards and talked myself out of methodical and developmental training for events because of that – no matter whether its swimming or cycling. I’m ashamed of how truly awful I am.

I met Mark Foster a couple of weekends ago at the Triathlon Show at Excel. I asked him for tips to reinvigorate a sickened mojo. He took a couple of minutes to think about it. His view is that an individual should never, ever think lowly of themselves. No, we aren’t all going to be an Ian Thorpe, or Chrissie Wellington, or Becky Adlington. BUT you can be the best version of you. Thats who you should aim to be. Your best You – the Hero of Your Own Life ( ooh, where did I hear that before???). I’d forgotten that, wallowing in my lack of confidence lately.

Anyway, my MHR results. After doing the 10 minutes of what I had perceived as ‘Really Going For It’ my MHR turned out to be 165 bpm. Then I went out and did a little 2 mile run loop. I thought I was going to die. I didn’t look at my watch because I didn’t want to see that I was running at roughly the same pace as an asthmatic chicken. I came back and copied BH by instantly checking my stats and see them in glorious technicolour on my new Strava page. It was my fastest 2 mile run – eh? AND my MHR was 185 bpm! BH studied my results. He said I should warm up for Park Run in future and that my usual walk from the car park to the start, moaning because I don’t want to take my jacket off and checking my laces doesn’t count as a warm up. It was apparently clear that I had not, after all, been ‘really going for it’ on the bike as it would be unusual to have such a difference on run and bike MHR.  So, now, I have to get back on the bike and do it all again. And this time I have to TRY….

January Challenged

Last December I discovered the concept of the Marcothon via some like minded ladies on a sports forum I’m a member of. It gave me the idea to do 31 consecutive days of exercise through January. My plan was that that I would either run 3 miles or exercise for 25 minutes every single day. The challenge culminated in a 10km run through the streets of the City of London, running past some of the most iconic buildings in our amazing capital from Trafalgar Square through to the Bank of England, back past St Paul’s Cathedral and home to Trafalgar Square and the race organisation clearly stated that polar bear hugs were freely available.

I started the challenge early on 27th December in order to get myself into the zone and also because the 10km training plan was a 5 week plan. Even though the plan had rest days included, I had committed to doing something every day and so I balanced out three runs each week with swim, yoga stretching and any gym class that took my fancy.

To tell the complete truth, I have never stuck to a training plan in my life. I always end up cheating or being too tired when I get home from work to do anything or being too busy, giving more time to work commitments than to my own and I’ve gone through training periods in the past missing great chunks of plans – often lying about the training I’ve done  – including to myself – and actually reaping the “rewards” of cheating myself by not achieving my goal and feeling really rubbish about it afterwards. I am hugely impressed with myself that I actually stuck to this plan faithfully and only missed a couple of days during the whole period. Running longer than 200m has always been an exercise in sucking it up and just doing it and since I had my legs operated on a couple of years ago I’ve been really scared of running in case I hurt myself again. Usually I have to be threatened with a blunt instrument to get my backside out of the front door in running kit so this was going to be a big test of my determination.

The Plan entailed three runs each week with a speed/interval session, one steady run and a long run. I planned runs on Tuesday – Interval of about 20-30 minutes, Thursday – a Steady Run of about 30 minutes and Sunday – Long Run which eventually went up to 70 minutes with a Yoga stretch on Monday, Swim on a Wednesday and Saturday and strength training on a Friday. I actually made sure I got out of work before 7pm during the week and home in time to do my training. I have to say that it was a huge effort to exercise every day on top of life. I was absolutely exhausted all the time. I found that I really had to be ruthless and leave the office on time to give myself a chance to do my training. I found the toughest week was week three. By then I was horribly tired and I looked it.  My alarm goes off at 5.20am and my whole body screamed at me to turn over every day and forget about life. It was also a huge effort to change into lycra and get out and do something after I’d spent an hour and a half getting home. It frankly doesn’t help when its winter either. The nights are dark and its chilly and its so much easier to flop on the sofa and whack up the central heating to 25 degrees and watch Midsomer Murders. Its not much fun to get back indoors and have aching teeth from breathing in the cold air.  Something really interesting happened though, and that was that I started to enjoy the runs and to look forwards to each session. My favourite sessions were the interval sessions – short, sharp torture and then home for a cuppa. I also had a real shopping success. I’d been looking at the glow in the dark jackets that Nike and such are selling for £300. I can’t justify that expense, so imagine my utter delight to find that good ol’ Marks and Sparks have made their own versions – jacket and gilet, and at the time I was looking  they were in the sale. I got a fantastic glowing gilet for £20!!

Eating to keep your energy levels high whilst trying to lose weight and also get to bed before midnight is a challenge as well. By the time I get home in the evening its quite late enough and I generally refuse to cook or we would be eating way too late, so my other half would cook his own food and I jiggled my eating about. In fact, I changed my diet quite a lot. During the week I ate avocado with a poached egg ( which I did in a plastic container in the microwave at work) and a slice of toast for breakfast. Lunch was a bowl of soup with salad and protein and dinner was a protein shake made with almond milk. The weekends meant more time to cook and a slightly different rhythm, so breakfast was the same, but lunch would be a shake and dinner would be something like salmon or chicken with veggies and maybe some rice. I even did some batch cooking so that I could take food into work for my lunches. That was boring! I honestly can’t say that I ever felt like I had loads of energy at any point throughout January and I am certain that I was grumpier than normal with creakier knees.

Talking of creaky knees, the other thing that I am particularly proud of, is that I actually spent 20 minutes after every run without fail using a foam roller and stretching. Usually, I think that stretching is for wimps and foam rollers should be saved for clubbing unwelcome household intruders but making the effort to keep my legs in reasonable conditions really made a difference to my usually tight calves and ITBs.

On the 31st January, I ran through the streets of London on a particularly miserable day along with 12, 000 others and I beat my expected time by 7 minutes!





Whenever I feel the need to exercise, I lie down until it goes away


I finally got back into the water last week after Christmas. Why is it always such a bun fight in swimming pools? I had to wind myself up to get to the pool to start with. I have used the Christmas holiday period to have a go at writing my own training plans using the Swim Smooth book as a guide. I’m building up for a marathon swim later in the year. I’m both scared stupid and excited at the same time.

I’ve been struggling to focus on my swim training. It all feels so daunting. I am not a life time swimmer. I only started swimming ‘properly’ in May 2012 after leg surgery and needing to do something whilst all my friends were donning their lycra and enjoying lots of active fun whilst I struggled to put my feet on the floor. I learned to swim as a child. It was a case of sink or swim quite literally. My swim teacher, bored with me being the last in the group to give up arm bands, pushed me into the pool when I wasn’t ready and I suddenly had to doggy paddle. Not the most auspicious start to an aquatic career. So, here I am in the pool with all of my toys and my home made plans and today I had an inexplicably leaky drink bottle that spat half of my Kona Cola Nuun water over my trackie bottoms.

I’m currently swimming three times a week supplemented with a couple of runs and a couple of strength sessions One is a technique set, one is either speed  (I wish) or threshold and Sundays are my endurance set. Today I did a set that included 100m intervals. I simply cannot break 2 mins per 100m. I might do the odd 25m at 1.45 but I can’t hold it. Admittedly, I’ve not been training for some months, so I’m not sure why I’m expecting miracles at this stage, but I’d like to see some evidence that I’m not wasting my time. I have a lesson with my fantastic swim coach at the end of February and if I can’t show some improvement by then I may indeed have to go and have a lie down.



The Anderson Challenge

I had surgery on both legs in April 2013 and haven’t run since. I’ve been swimming, even though running was always technically possible, I had committed to some big water based challenges. Post my July swim event, my mojo disappeared and with some big family commitments that took me away from being as active as I wanted to be, I lost all interest in all sports.

My mojo came back from limbo in November but I wanted to do activities that would be fun and get me back to enjoying being active. So, I bought some of the lariest workout clothing and exercise bras I could find and signed up for classes in the gym. I never do classes in the gym. I’ve lost muscle and gained blubber over the last few years and all of my muscle strength seems to have evaporated. I have read that once you get to 35 you start losing 1% muscle mass every year, simply due to age. Well, that means I’ve lost a few percent and I can certainly feel it. Even after a 30 minute class I end up walking like a Thunderbirds puppet for two days after and its anybody’s guess if I can get my arms up high enough to put on my mascara, so I’ve learned to bend over to finish my make up.

The classes started to put a spring in my step, but I wanted to try a bit more. In fact, I really wanted to try a Park Run. Running 5km scared me though. After my leg injuries and surgery, I had become scared of running. so, here’s where the Anderson from the title comes in – in the form of Paul Anderson an extremely good runner and qualified running coach. He set me the challenge to run each week on the treadmill at the gym increasing my run distance by 1km each week until I reached 8km and then to run the local Park Run. I tentatively said I’d have a go. I started gingerly on the treadmill running 3km on 23rd November 2014. I kept waiting for my legs to start hurting and for the electric shock pains to start but they didn’t. I came home, elated. I’d just run 3km in 22.29 mins. The next Sunday I ran 3km in 21.30 and 4km in 28.10. I did 5km the next weekend – 7th December. My stats were 3km – 20.45; 4km – 27.36 and 5km – 34.17.No pains, no swelling, no hobbling and a bit of weight loss. Result! Last Sunday I ran the ‘magic’ 8km in 59.45. Each week I’ve been getting to the gym and onto the treadmill feeling worried and sick and doubting I can run as far as scheduled or worried that my legs will go pop and I’ll fail. For any of you seasoned distance runners out there I know this is nothing, but for me its been huge. I am so thrilled that I’ve managed to get to 8km. and now, at last its Park Run time.

The alarm went off bright and early yesterday morning at 7am and it was absolutely tipping down with rain. Brilliant. I ate my breakfast of champions – a crumpet ( I have a nasty Warburtons crumpet habit that has proved impossible to break over the last two years. Ian has tried and failed) – had a cuppa and got dressed and packed a bag that included four different running jackets/tops because I couldn’t decide which would be best and we set off.

It was a truly miserable morning, it was cold and drizzly but as people arrived they were smiling and chatty. They kept arriving – over 300 of us humans and several dogs turned out all ready to run. There were ‘pacers’ with tabards on and I noted gloomily that none of them were slow enough for me. I’d got my sights set on 37 minutes as a goal to complete my first Park Run and the pacers stopped at 34 minutes. Ah well, I turned up the volume on my iPod and pressed the start button on my watch and stepped across the start line. Oh my gosh! I was running – in public – with other folks. the run was partially on footpath and partially on slimy grass but it was great fun. I watched the paced groups go off and saw the back of 34. I resolved to keep him in my sights for as long as I could whilst still running my own race. 1km gone, felt good. 2km gone – still good, woo.. 3km oh, a hill – I knew how to run that  – Pop, Pop, Pop All the way to the top.. (thanks to Ryan Bowd) and I passed a few people who had decided to walk. That felt really good. I kept going and passed a few more people and then I caught sight of him – there was 34! He was about 300 metres away, but I saw him. I thought that if I could finish with him in my sights that would be a great achievement. I kept up with my pace, remembering to breathe and RUN not SHUFFLE. I felt really good, my breathing was okay and I seemed to be catching 34. by 4km I’d passed a few more people and was in a sort of battle with a big bloke dressed in red and black who didn’t want me to come past, but not only did I pass him, but with half a kilometre to go I overtook 34! I pushed myself to run as fast as I could for the last half, but I couldn’t keep 34 away and we ran to the finish together. I was absolutely thrilled. I had slept badly on Friday night because I was scared I’d come last, or not finish, but I didn’t and I finished a full three minutes quicker than I had hoped. My finish time was 34.04. No, its not fast, and no, I won’t be winning any medals anytime soon, but its my benchmark to move forwards. Most of all its a massive boost to my confidence and a huge relief that I have finally managed to conquer my run demons. Extreme for me.

From this:



To this: