Thursday 28 December 2017

Pyramid interval swim

Today's swim highlighted how I've lost form over the lats 6 months. In the warm-up I was slow and in the 67m 'fast' intervals, the best I managed was 2:02min/100m. I don't know where the pace has gone; I'm really looking forwards to the video analysis session early in January 2018 to show me where my stroke has collapsed. In a way I feel it's more robust now with better hip roll; I think I'm achieving a slightly better elbow position for both catch and recovery; but the pace just isn't developing.

On the positive side I have settled into a nice steady 2:20min/100m where I can maintain bilateral breathing. I do notice that my reach of my right arm is inconsistent but I'm trying to keep a focus on it now I've noted it.

Tuesday 26 December 2017

Christmas week in Spain

We've had a very pleasant and restful week in Java visiting my parents and getting into the countryside. I arrived with an unpleasant cold and the weather was wet and windy so for the first few days I didn't get into the hills or sea as much as I'd hoped. Nonetheless taking it easy helped my recovery and for the second half of the week I felt a bit more normal.

The trails around Benimuraell are a favourite walk and easy to navigate, just as well as the highest point was in mist. The 'Mozarabic trail' is amazingly well engineered tot make a safe ascent up and around a limestone buttress.

We also walked the tourist path up to Cabo San Antonio from the port, descending through urbanisations to the old town. The paths in this area have been improved over the last 20 years and together with GPS mapping it's far easier to get around the nature reserves that ever before. However, do take care, the paths are steep in sections and change rapidly, so don't get caught out if you're not ready for it! A few years ago fires killed the pine trees and now they have been felled the headland is comparatively bare. Low scrubs are established but it'll be some time before the path is hidden in the trees as it used to be.

I also went for two short trail runs, I didn't have time for any long runs and perhaps wasn't well enough to put in the work either. Early in the week I ran up to the edge of the La Grandella, mostly through the urbanisations. The planes are supposedly protected land and haven't been built-up and I hope that stays the case in the future.

 Even though this is basically an urban run, it's over 200m of ascent from the coast to even this level so I took a few walking breaks! My second run  also included a few walks as I ventured onto the lower slopes of Montgo; one again the route was limited by time and underfoot the rocky paths and water-worn limestone can be treacherous. Although I have used IGN maps on paper and via Viewranger, this area is very well served by Viewranger's Landscape maps which indicate contemporary (usually) accessible routes very clearly.

In under 9km there was 300m of ascent, only a fraction of the total ascent of Montgo but even so this gave great views over the countryside around Javea and showed that there are limits to the residential areas.

Beforehand I'd hoped to swim every day but arriving ill and in poor weather didn't help me start a habit. The waves were sufficient for surfing and for a beginner sea swimmer that made the water too severe. The coats nearest the hotel was far more rocky than I had expected making it an unsuitable entry and exit point. So I had to walk to safe beach area and messing with access to the apartment and these various barriers I only managed to get in the sea once, for under 10 minutes. But that's a start and I was very pleased with being plenty warm enough (in a thin wet suit) and being able to change out of it quickly enough on the beach to not get cold.

All this mention of cold indicates my major issue in England, but with the water being at 14°C it was in the same order as summer swimming inland at home. Notably my wetsuit and hat took over 24hours to dry on the patio at the apartment so daily dips would have been a bit more cool and damp.

Saturday 16 December 2017


On previous saturdays over the last month or so, I've done a swim in the morning and a short run in the afternoon. Today I opted out of the run having spent an hour in the garden. I was tidying up after a gardner who is clearing some bushes. He'd left some timber for the poor burning stove and that needed trimming and moving into the shed.

There was also a small tree to remove that he'd not wanted to bother with, being too fiddly for a chain saw. Easy with a bow saw though.

Winter swim review

I've not written for a few weeks and no significant event has occurred. The weather has been a bit cooler and the roads icy, both of which have reduced my enthusiasm for staying for a swim after work or driving to Hatfield. There have also been a couple of Christmas 'dos' after work to limit time even more. All of this suggests that I've not been especially dedicated.

I'm trying to be positive in my outlook and so although I've not gone to Hatfield I have been to Heeley Baths and tried to focus on technique, including bilateral breathing. Since October I've been working on a more symmetrical stroke and roll so that there is more space for my left arm to leave the water, and hopefully reduce the risk of impingement. That approach may be effective as the slight pain I was aware of seems to be fading away. Today, when I did a few sprint lengths I became aware of my shoulder for the first time in quite a few weeks.

Over the summer I've very much lost speed with my swimming, both with and without the pull buoy. I think training for the Big Walk and thinking about the Costa Brava swim put me in a long and slow mode, exacerbated by the appearance of a minor shoulder injury. Today, in a 25 yard pool I managed 2:02min/100m as my best length; and that's my best in ages! Without the pull buoy my legs have become an anchor, apparently as much as ever they were. On my 200m 'warm-up' I was working towards the 5:00min 'barrier' but now I'm back to below 5:30 minutes with it feeling tough.

I have booked with a recently established local SwimSmooth coach in the hope that I can rescue my technique a little. I have been thinking about roll, high elbows and front quadrant techniques but so far I haven't had a gain, except perhaps the resolution of the pain. That's important though.

Saturday 25 November 2017

7 degrees

This morning things were a little hectic at Hatfield as the 'winter swimmers' were doing a qualifier event for their Ice Mile. Working around them meant that the rest of us were a little delayed getting into the water, I was cold before getting wet! Anyway, that didn't seem to matter and I managed 4 small laps, which is around 1km in half an hour. As is so often the case, after one lap I nearly stopped due to feeling cold, tired and generally 'why bother?', but pushing-on gave a reward as I settled into the rhythm of the stroke, thought about hip rotation and set my sights on another few laps.

Once back in the cafe the sign noted a temperature of 7 degrees, over two degrees colder than last week.

Although my pace is ridiculously slow, at lunchtime I did reflect on this year's progress, 3km in the Mediterranean and 1km below 10 degrees, and both are within my comfort zone now.

Monday 20 November 2017

Four day fatigue

Today's (very short) swim was exceptionally hard work and characterised by slow length pace even with a high perceived effort. I've run for the preceding 3 days and suspect that I've built up a bit of fatigue. Also my swimming practice has been rather lacking lately so I can't expect much. I didn't have the pull buoy and throughout my legs felt tired and my usually ineffective kick was weaker than usual.

At least I tried to keep good form.

Saturday 11 November 2017

A bit chilled

It's the winter timetable at Hatfield from today and so I wasn't in the water until nearly 09:30. It was a lovely autumn morning with the pond surrounded by a palette of orange leaves and the water still, almost glass-like. This would have been a perfect day for some photographs but I've not really worked out how to do that safety (for me, the wetsuit and the camera), although there's a method here, it doesn't feel healthy for the wetsuit! Walking in was a bit of a shock, distinctly colder than last week's evening swim even though officially there's been only 1 degree reduction.

After a little breast stroke faffing I got my face in the water and completed 1km. I set off to do another small lap but decided that the cold was getting to me, my hands were stiffening and somehow the chill was penetrating. Previously I'd just felt superficially cold, but after the half hour it was feeling different. So I headed back to the beach and teetered back to the cafe and changing area.

It's possible I looked very wobbly as an assistant was dispatched with me to 'make sure I was OK' whilst getting tired and dressed. After a coffee and walk around the cafe I felt almost normal but wished that I'd taken my DryRobe. It's been a waste of time carrying it back and forth over the summer but now I do need it.

The heated seat in the car warmed me through on the drive home. I think that it's mild and consistent enough to complement the hot drink and give core warmth - showers are best avoided after a cold dip.

Some hardy should were swimming without wetsuits ('skins') in training for an ice mile, but that won't be me for a season or two...

Sunday 29 October 2017

First test of Firefly Hawkeye 8 camera

Before my visit to Spain to swim I'd look for a waterproof camera having decided that my Panasonic LMC25 probably wouldn't survive a few hours immersion in salt water. After scanning many reviews there didn't seem to be a perfect device despite the vast variety of consumer electronics available!

Since then I look into things a bit more and found the Firefly Hawkeye 8s which was available direct from China at around £100 with a medium/high specification (for example it really does offer 4k 30fps). The online reviews place it well below the latest GoPro (model 6 at the time of writing) in terms of both ability and price but sufficiently capable to be useful.

Naturally it didn't come with a SD card and it needs a U3 grade to ensure that the higher video frame rates and resolutions have a chance of being recorded. So far I've been out at dusk and on a rather overcast damp morning, which aren't good for any camera. The  footage so far isn't very good. Currently I'm prepared to blame the weather! Incidentally, the edited mp4 hasn't been tweaked at all, and is definately better than the YouTube processed output below.

My key observations, most of which are criticisms, so far are:
  • The stabiliser doesn't work when running and hand-holding the camera, this is likely too much to ask!
  • The colour is poorly saturated, but maybe that is realistic
  • Low light level ability is almost non-existent 
  • The battery is reluctant below 10 degrees celsius and I can't see it offering the advertised 90 minutes of recording
  • Buttons are hard to press whilst using the waterproof case
I'll have to give the camera a few more opportunities to demonstrate its abilities in more favourable circumstances.

Saturday 28 October 2017

Looking after shoulder

Today's weather forecast was for blustery to become gale force and so I walked to the pool rather than driving to Hatfield. Ultimately the forecast was worse than reality and the really strong winds hadn't arrived some hours later.

Anyway the pool offers the opportunity for drills and practice in a more comfortable situation than in the middle of a lake. So, with my left arm being on the brink of problems it seemed a good time to focus on rotation to lift my left side more. Naturally this leads into breathing on that side too. After the usual 200m-with-legs warm-up I did 3 sets with favoured right side breathing, bilateral breathing and finally alternate lengths with left and right breathing. Naturally I was using the pull buoy to ease the load on my arms and retain good posture. Significantly I went at the same pace for both right-sided and bilateral breathing although I needed a single strike more per length. For the final set I was tiring (so out of practice) and so the slow pace for left-sided breathing is not conclusive.

In terms of technique I was aware of a falling right leading arm with left breaths, especially when working that side. My perception was also that I had an untidy body twist in that direction rather than a nice neat roll from the hips.

Over the time I was aware of my shoulder abut it didn't become troublesome, or indeed painful, so this intensity and volume doesn't seem to be a problem.

Saturday 21 October 2017

14 Degrees

The water was a claimed 14°C this morning although my watch recorded at a whole degree warmer. Really this is quite mild as open water swimming goes in the UK but it's a good 10°C than I was immersed in a fortnight ago. I was torn between acclimatising and getting cold, or just getting on with it! It's been a shame hat I was affected by a cough and cold that made swimming here unwise, until today, since my holiday.

I found a single lap a bit of a struggle due to feeling a little cold and also finding the Alpkit wetsuit hard work by comparison with the HUUB I've been using most recently. Having said that, the Silvertip was easy to get on and kept me fairly snug. As is so often the case my goggles were an irritation as they were perpetually misted up and some of the buoys had moved around due to strong winds over the last few weeks. I also managed to mess up settings on my watch and so don't have a true record of the swim pace. I think I kept pressing 'Start' rather than 'Lap'. The numbers don't really matter...

After the slow lap it didn't seem wise to go around again so finished off with a couple of small laps so that I knew I'd swum beyond 1km. Not a lot, but a step in the right direction.

Whilst driving to Hatfield I as slightly aware of my left shoulder, it's been more uncomfortable since being told there some impingement. I think that my minor injury was due to a combination of overuse during this training block when I've been trying to do some sprint lengths and insufficient roll to the right. As I tend to breath just to the right I have an asymmetric stroke with probably a biased roll. The article linked to earlier comments that injury risk is increased whilst fatigued so I am aiming now to keep good form throughout shorter sessions to try to counter this. The article also hows some exercises and I think I'll ask the physio about these.

Sunday 8 October 2017

HUUB wetsuit review

This morning's swim showed how much a HUUB wetsuit can flatter your ability. For the last week I've been swimming in Spain wearing an ex-demo Grade D HUUB Aerious Wetsuit 3:5 and felt pleased with my improving performance. This morning I was back in the pool in my trunks for 45 minutes and took a huge step back in speed and style!

I know it's well accepted that a wetsuit makes most swimmers faster but although my Alpkit Silvertip keeps me warm, I've not found it to be an obvious performance enhancer.

For the Spanish trip I bought a three different wetsuits and sent two back, keeping the HUUB. At an 'ST' size it felt tight, hard to get on, but flexible around my shoulders and not too loose around my waist. It was partly due to this fitting that I decided one of the others was too big for me. It was just too easy to get on straight from the packet.

An ex-demo wetsuit seemed like a good idea for a swimming holiday as I rightly assumed that it would get stuffed in the back of a van and taken on and off in a bit of a rush. Over 5 days I put it on 8 times, half of those whilst it was wet inside.

HUUB's statement about grading
I actually liked the idea of the wetsuit looking a little tired, to help get away from the 'all the gear, no idea' image that a set of new, top of the range kit can give. Peeling print certainly won't detract from usefulness.

Some graphic missing on the right leg

Signs of damage

On inspection I found a repair under both armpits which appeared to have been glued. I made an effort to get the sleeves well up my arms and the torso well-fitted to avoid unnecessary underarm tension. This give me good shoulder mobility and the repairs didn't show any sign of failure during the week.

The forearms had lengths where the overlock stitching was undoing itself. I contemplated a DIY repair to stop further unravelling but didn't know how to do it well so decided to leave it alone.

Midway through the holiday, the right forearm seam split at the affected area. This increased the water flow through the suit by a surprising amount. Luckily the water wasn't especially cold and I only had to suffer comments from my fellow swimmers about the 'hole'.

Whilst away, I emailed HUUB and they agreed to undertake a repair under the 30 day warranty which is fair. I'll post a photo of the outcome.

Wear 'n' tear

During the week I spotted a few places where fingernails had caught the soft neoprene. I can't honestly say whether they were caused by me or pre-existing. I suspect in some cases they were mine, as although I'm a careful user, a damp wetsuit is hard to get fitted without a degree of tugging.

The neoprene bulk fabric  and surface coating are both softer and more 'delicate' in feel than that of the Silvertip and must be more liable to damage.

Although I could have hired a wetsuit at least I wasn't concerned about a deposit on this bargain wetsuit.


I suppose that this is the key aspect of a wetsuit and as can be assumed from the beginning of this post I was very pleased with the wetsuit. The 3:5 buoyancy helped my body position markedly and for most of the swims I left my legs trailing rather than expending energy to move them.

I don't know if the X-O 'exoskeleton' feature really does anything but I did feel well aligned and gradually settled into an effective rhythm with good-for-me pace and stroke length.  There was little flow of water around me, even with a torn sleeve and I was pleasantly warm. The water was mild at between 19°C and 24°C, but usually I get cold in a 28°C pool so I consider the insulation to have been spot on.

From this relatively low cost introduction to quality wetsuits I can appreciate the performance benefit that the manufacturers claim. An ex-demo entry, to last season's model, saved money, and to a large degree, worry about looking after the wetsuit. Perhaps an A or B grade would be a sensible purchase for normal use where more care can be taken of the wetsuit but even with cropped nails, I imagine damage is inevitable.

For me, this suit has plenty of life left and I'll tidy up any nicks in this suit with Black Witch when I get it back from HUUB ready for next summer...

Friday 6 October 2017

SwimQuest Costa Brava Review

I'm back home after spending a tiring, but stimulating, week in the Costa Brava with SwimQuest. As a novice open water swimmer the thought of 2 swims each day in a salty sea was slightly anxiety-inducing but I really wanted to move beyond small lakes. This Spanish trip seemed ideal as it fitted around work commitments, my wife and I like Spain, and it was one of the cheaper trips in their brochure.

Really the swimming trip is only 5 days, which was enough to make me wish I was able to stay another week, but not so much that my shoulders couldn't cope. We travelled on the Friday before the 'official' start so that we were there in good time, enough for a restful day. We flew into Girona and then took a taxi instead of doing a 2 leg bus journey. I suspect that flying to Barcelona and taking the bus to the resort would be cheaper although perhaps more risky for travel sickness.

I won't bother reviewing the accommodation at Ciutat de Palol as I don't believe that SwimQuest stay there routinely; suffice to say that it was sufficient.


On the programmed travel day we strolled through the shops, returning along the promenade of Playa de Aro and continuing a little on the coastal GR92.

The town has a number of quite upmarket shops, many selling women's clothing and just as many vaguely european restaurants with similar menus. Once on the coastal path I could see why the hike is one of the more popular Spanish trails.

In the evening the swimming group met for drinks and dinner, after the typical introductions. Around half the group were from London and knew each other well which could have been a barrier, but they were very welcoming.


At the briefing it was clear that I was the novice swimmer having only a season's open water experience and none of that in the sea. Others in the group had little sea time but were strong pool swimmers of many years.

At the nearby beach I swam half as much as everyone else as without wetsuit or pull buoy I was slow, cold and a bit overwhelmed. John (Coningham-Rolls, founder of SwimQuest) recorded with a GoPro to analyse before dinner, but we missed that time slot. I suspect my stroke was closer to doggie-paddle than a decent freestyle!

After a buffet lunch we went to Sant Feliu de Guixols for a 2.7km out-and-back swim.

The coastal swims are those defined by Vies Braves although as October is seen as the end of the season, in many cases the indicative buoys were removed.

As the slowest swimmer I was first in which was only slightly intimidating especially as a distinct swell was present beyond the breakwater. Mia was just behind in the kayak which was a comfort. Although I felt slow I'm pleased to find that I'm not the slowest swimmer recorded on Strava on tis swim by quite a margin. 


I woke with some stiffness and soreness in my left shoulder, which I've experienced before. This suggested to me that I'd done slightly too much yesterday, so today I decided to do just one swim.

Platja de Santa Cristina is a beautiful bay to the south of popular Lloret del Mar and easily reached by minibus from Playa de Aro.

The 2.1km swim was picturesque but I was a little slower than yesterday and very pleased to return to the beach for a picnic lunch put together by Mia. After that I strolled along the path towards Lloret above the route we'd swum that morning.


Today there was a general strike in Catalunya in protest at the police violence at Sunday's (illegal) referendum. Most bars and cafes were closed but luckily a few were open providing refreshments to weary swimmers.

The 2.6km swim from Tamariu was especially pleasant as we had time to land on a nearby beach for a few minutes. Previously we had swum for a time, or to a promontory, and then  returned. My pace was a little higher today and I got better at stopping my watch at rest points so as to show true swimming pace.

After a picnic lunch and a short doze we headed to Llafranc for a shorter 1.6km swim to a headland having passed between a few rocky outcrops.

By now the water flow through my wetsuit had increased as a seam had opened on the right forearm. More on that here...


A 4km swim was planned for today as a prelude to tomorrow's up to 8km marathon set of swims. As we cleared the bay at Platja de Sant Pol the swell increased markedly, to a point at which it was felt unsafe to continue around the point.

We cut across the mouth of the bay and completed a circular swim of 2.3km back to the beach. During the return swim I felt 'in the zone' and John noticed the improvement in my stroke and commented upon it. My aching shoulder had relaxed and I was focusing on good torso rotation to facilitate a forward reach on both sides. For 400m I managed a pace of 2:16min/100m, although after that things fell apart for a bit as I lost the relaxed stance and tried too hard. 

During the 'rest' afternoon we walked to Castell de Aro although everything but one rather run down bar was closed. There's a castle art gallery, a church, a doll museum and a minature railway but can't report on them at all! The town itself was pretty and very well kept.

Even whilst walking I knew my arms were tired, both shoulders felt well worked which I took as a good sign of fatigue rather than injury. We'd heard that tomorrow's swim wouldn't be the 'challenge' with Vie Braves but would still aim to be stretching for all.


Today we headed to the Cap de Creus Natural Park which was at least 90 minutes drive. The lengthy journey did nothing for my confidence which felt a bit low as I was tired and with an aching left shoulder (ibuprofen gel didn't seem to be helping it). An accompanying RIB joined us at the lovely Platja de Cau del Llop for a 3.4km out-and-back swim.

Outbound was fine but the return leg, especially the last 1km, was tough. Although I kept my pace up my perceived effort was high, my shoulders stiff and technique horrible. My stroke length fell by at least 10% to 1.18m and I was digging deep to keep going. I wasn't sure I'd manage another swim that day.

We moved on to another pretty beach at Garbet for lunch and a snooze. The sun was strong and I sheltered in the van which was pleasantly cool with a through draught.

Outbound, for my 1.9km swim, we followed the coast into a small beach where the nudists were surprised to see us floating offshore . Whilst some of the others carried on with a larger loop around the bay I headed straight back to the starting beach. Somehow, knowing that I planned to complete my swim there, I settled into a good rhythm again and achieved a pace of 2:17min/100m with a nice long stroke length of 1.37m across nearly 900m of open water.  I'm not sure that I could have managed a longer distance swim, but finishing with some tidy swimming felt positive.

There was a little discussion about a third beach but really there wasn't time, and that proved to be the case as the journey back to base was a little troublesome. Nonetheless there was time to get kit tidied and a shower before the trip to the restaurant. The evening meal was good and helped by a fabulous sea view which revealed a glorious harvest moon.


I had great experience and achieved my goal of more swimming than I'm used to, in a new salty environment. The salt water was far less of an issue than I expected and although my goggles were perpetually misted-up or streaked I didn't get sore eyes. The buoyancy from the salt in combination with a triathlon-style wetsuit helped my body position considerably and most of the time I left my legs to trail. I tried using my large training fins but they were floating so high as to be useless.

The organisation of the swims and safety cover by John and Mia was faultless and I felt in safe hands whilst being able to work close to my physical and skill limits. Before the holiday, and in the early stages, some of the information could have been more clearly laid out but this shortcoming wasn't important; it's just that I like to be ultra-organised with dates and times!

Since returning home I've looked at the SwimQuest brochure online and I'm considering where I'd like to go next and what I could achieve at the different locations. I suppose that is the best recommendation of the holiday.

Thursday 28 September 2017

Dore Moor Road Loop

It's a few months since I ran my road loop through Dore and it showed in my rather slow pace. I didn't push and generally it felt within capacity which is amazingly illustrated by the heart rate data.

In the past I have run this closer to threshold throughout and managed a better overall pace. I think I've entered a plodding phase again and must restart my interval training runs. On this loop I have found that pushing the Millhouses 1km can give a good outcome as the step back in effort after the 'sprint' feels good but is still a bit above average. Of course, there is the risk of being too fast at the beginning.

Currently I can't see me re-achieving my record, let's aim for getting below an hour, that still needs a 10% improvement!

Saturday 23 September 2017

Gastritis and a swim

Last night I believe I had recurrence of the gastritis that troubled me 3 years ago. I had abdominal ache an hour or so after eating and during the night it became progressively worse. It wasn't as epigastric in location as I seem to remember that it was previously but it was eased by Omeprazole so I'll take that as diagnostic.

After a light breakfast I felt fit enough for a swim at Hatfield. The water had cooled to 15 degrees and after a break of a few weeks it felt cold. I managed 1800m (2 large laps and one small one) before stopping. The weather was a little better than forecast so I had a low angled sun in my eyes for a third  of the circuit. I find this very difficult and although it stands to sense that it makes sighting difficult I also unconsciously swim away from the brightness so have to look more often. My new-ish polarised ant-mist goggles don't help as they do mist up and there's still plenty of glare.

It must be 'end of season' as the lake was much quieter than usual, which was rather pleasant actually.

Recently I've been doing a run on Saturday afternoons but today I couldn't face bouncing my stomach around and stayed at home. I didn't have much of an excuse not to do some painting that's been due for a month or so.

Sunday 17 September 2017

Orca Two Piece Swimrun Wetsuit - first impressions review

I'm wanting a less warm wetsuit than my Alpkit Silvertip for some mild weather swimming as over summer the Silvertip has been  a touch too comfortable. Being fairly substantial it's also quite firm around the shoulders and the gains of buoyancy are offset by stiffness around my arms.

Although there are a myriad of high performance triathlon-focussed wetsuits out there I wondered if a Swimrun one might be more appropriate. First, I'm more likely to do a Swimrun event than need a marginal speed gain in a swimming race and secondly the features such as pockets and land-based ventilation seem pretty useful for general holiday swimming use.

From Orca's website
It seemed useful to be able to order the two parts in appropriate sizes too as I'm in the small-tall category which isn't very well catered for by the majority of manufacturers. I ordered an MT top and #5 bottom from MyTriathlon who delivered promptly. So what do I think of the product?

I must stay now that I haven't worn the wetsuit in action and intend to return it very soon. It is a pity that you can't send slightly used wetsuits back to the shop! On the positive side, the sizing table and the product seem to be accurate as both parts fitted as I'd expect. I was slightly disappointed by the 'features' or maybe quality of the wetsuit as both pieces are made of fairly thin neoprene lacking in a smooth skin. Perhaps this is to reduce the risk of damage but it gives the impression of a cheap beachwear shorty wetsuit rather than a midrange performance wetsuit. The bottom piece feels to be better quality material than the top and is stated to be Yamamoto 39 cell neoprene. Although the promotional material mentions 'buoyancy in the lower trunk' I can't imagine much of this deriving from the bottom as the material is only 3mm thick.

The pockets on both pieces are made from a light mesh and are 'closed' by virtue of the upper piece overlapping the lower. I can see that this would be adequate for a light, low value item such as a nutrition bar but I wouldn't trust the pockets with my house key or a GPS device. I understand that zips add complexity and areas of weakness but this design doesn't feel quite enough. The overlap closure also stops a large item, such as  hand paddle being fitted into the pocket.

These points are perhaps niggling but there were two aspects which are the ones that are causing me not to keep the wetsuit, although neither can be fully evaluated without going for a swim! The two pieces are designed to be joined by 3 substantial pieces of velcro that adhere to the lining of the top. I didn't want to take the protective cover from the velcro to test the link thoroughly but I got a very clear impression that due to my tall body I would tend to pull the sections apart on every stroke. Of course, a stretch along the body is common to all of us and a traditional wetsuit would stretch and gradually adapt to the swimmer's shape, but I wasn't convinced of the adequacy of the connection here and suspected that I'd end up with a lot of cooling water flow around my body.

The second problem was that the relatively thick neoprene of the top bunched under my armpit and didn't feel to be as elastic as even that of my fairly budget wetsuit. I really could imagine chaffing early in a swim.

I liked the jacket style of the top and can see the concept of a two piece working well especially in a warm climate with a significant proportion of running. Indeed the design is fine for the casual beach use I mentioned above.  However I don't think this product is for me at the moment as I'm wanting something that gives a greater impression of stopping waterflow and more focus on the swimming component. For me, the near £200 price is a little high for this product. For serious swimming I'd like to see some of the neoprene technology of the £300 Orca 'Openwater' two piece or, for general holiday use, a lower price.

Saturday 16 September 2017

Back-to-back in Derbyshire.

Yesterday I was on leave form work and we did a reasonable hike in Derbyshire. Today, with the swim session at Hatfield cancelled, I ran out of the city on a 20km loop. The run was nothing out of the ordinary, although my recent running training has been low. However the back-to-back sessions certainly made an impact as today's run was unusually hard going.

The weather was kind for both days, warmer and drier than forecast although a stiff breeze forced me into a jacket.

Sunday 3 September 2017

Bilateral breathing

In today's swim I did a few sets with bilateral breathing. As anticipated my pace was nothing like 1:44 min/100m as suggested from the last data. I don't know what happened there, but today I was around 2:10min/100m which is far more what I would expect. Inbetween a small proportion of the 66m intervals were at 2:00min/100m but I struggled to manage that.

I'm intrigued that as the session went on the bilateral pace was much like my 'fast' dominant side breathing. My chest felt tighter having to maintain the breath for 50% longer and I had perception of rushing but it didn't have much net effect on my pace. Perhaps there is a gain in swimming efficiency by keeping more streamlined which is offset by being closer to an aerobic threshold. This threshold might be centrally governed ('I must breath') rather than really physiological ('there isn't enough oxygen perfusion').

Saturday 2 September 2017

Woods Intervals

I didn't have very long for a run so long and slow wasn't an option. I often state that I need to work on speed so an interval session seemed to be a good idea. I completed my usual circuit around the local woods but with a 45 second 'sprint' every few minutes. It's quite an undulating circuit so I tried to do the intense part on ascents and have gentle descent. Fast downhill seems associated with injuries!

The post run data shows the interval pattern clearly when shown as Grade Adjusted Pace for each interval but the heart rate data had little relationship with my effort. Early in the session it was very high, later it was low. Optical heart rate recording isn't reputed to be good and in this circumstance it didn't work well.

Tuesday 22 August 2017

Ellerton Park

We're away in Pickering for a few days and an online search revealed Ellerton Park to be a relatively nearby open water venue. Sure, Gomire Lake at the base of Sutton Bank was closer but the reviews aren't all that favourable. Ellerton is actually quite a drive from Pickering and not open road so not suitable for nipping back and forth to!

The venue isn't very well signed but following 'lakeside parking' was the right thing to do. The opening times online are basically all day which imply little safety cover and that seems to be the case. The owner, Mr Thompson was in the car park in his pickup collecting the fee and checking for comings and goings. He had binoculars but I suspect they were to monitor the carpark from afar rather than mount a rescue, although I'm sure he'd help if he spotted a problem!

There's a smallish changing block with showers in the carpark. There were 4 of us arriving at a similar time and so there was some company in the water. Three buoys mark out a 500m loop but when the numbers are low there's no compulsion to do a particular loop, although I chose to follow around anti-clockwise to avoid impacts! I was told that some sunny days there have been 100 swimmers, which would be fine in the water, but might make the land-based facilities a bit crowded.

The lake is claimed to be clean and clear, subjectively it was although I can't vouch for it's quality. Naturally there are weeds around the edge and a few trailing branches if you get too close to the bank. Entry and exit is via a wooden jetty and this didn't give me much opportunity to acclimatise as a kayak group were needing to use the steps too. I was told that that water is typically around 16 degrees in the summer.

Swimming is restricted to the eastern offshoot of the lake usually
I swam a leisurely 3 loops to complete around 1 mile. One of the 4 initial swimmers was still in the water as I left, keeping up a good pace.

The casual, open-ended timing is the lake's greatest asset that I can see, so long as you don't need close supervision. To that end, wetsuits are compulsory which reduces the risk somewhat.

Saturday 12 August 2017

Back to back

This morning's Hatfield swim felt a bit harder than previously, I'd expected that since I swam yesterday afternoon too. Good to do a back to back swim though in view of my October commitment. I did manage 3 laps, which is more than I might have achieved. The second felt good, with a good rhythm and stroke length but the third was scrappy and hard work. Basically I was tired by then.

Thursday 10 August 2017

Derwent Valley Hike

Today had the best weather forecast of the week so it seemed a perfect opportunity to use up a day of annual leave. I didn't want to walk too far, especially as I'd found it a struggle to get out of bed. Using Viewranger it was quite easy to decide that the length of the Derwent Valley was far too much, but a loop to Fairholmes would be perfect.

The combination of sun, heather and verdant moors made for some spectacular views which are impossible to capture on camera. I've tried here though.

On the descent from Alport Castles I missed the path and was sent back by the less than happy farmer. It didn't help that there was no clear signage on the farm and the yard was less than welcoming due to the chorus of barking dogs. Of course, the correct path was evident eventually, although a little detour was needed.

Tuesday 8 August 2017

More 66m intervals

Saturday's 'long' swim at Hatfield was a success; further and faster than previously. I suspect that a goodly proportion of the improved pace was due to more controlled sighting and the rest was having more confidence to complete the third lap without taking (unnecessary) breaks at the buoys.

Today I returned to the Cofield pool after it's enforced weekend closure and completed a set of 66m intervals. The first few were within my 40s/length goal but I faded after half a dozen or so. In-between I tired doing breathing every fourth stroke, that seemed long time to keep breathing out for! Then, to break the rhythm I tried bilateral breathing again. Part of the reason for this was that at Hatfield I've suffered with the sun in my eyes a couple of weeks. This sounds rather feeble, but it has been very strong and even with tinted goggles it's been almost painful and certainly made me try to swim away from it! So, if I could look and breathe the other way it would be useful. Anyway, to make the breath last I worked comfortably but with focus. Then, to finish off I did 4 lengths.

I'm sure there must be a mistake somewhere as a pace of 1:44min/100m would be amazing for me. The lengths didn't record properly on my watch so I had to split them but it was certainly an even number and I know it was more than 2!

Sunday 30 July 2017

Fatigue or poor data?

Today's run explored a path between Burbage edge and Oxstones. I've seen people arrive at Oxstones from the east so assumed there was access. I've previously looked for the path but not had map with me, today I had my cheap phone with Viewranger with me so could relate my position to the map readily. The Strava heat map shows this new path nicely.

The path across the open moorland is indicated
With hindsight, today wasn't the best day to look for this route as there had been a lot of rain and so the path, and the moor was waterlogged. It was impossible to avoid wet feet and muddy legs.

The west peat, mud and stony ground forced me down to a walk as I was fearful of hurting a knee or ankle, pretty much my usual excuse to go slow. This slow but steady approach yielded the typical pace distribution on Strava.

As I do consider I'm still recovering from 'The Big Walk' and I had a good swim yesterday that was much as expected. The odd thing is that my heart rate data is to put it mildly, ridiculous.

Now I'm try got decided whether the data is rubbish, that is the wrist mounted heart rate monitor didn't take valid readings, or whether I was working that hard. I understand the 'threshold' section as on the road ascent I knew I was working hard-ish, but the majority of 'anaerobic' feels like rubbish. Clearly one can't be anaerobic for an hour!

As I type this my heart rate is 53 which is a little higher than I'd expect so maybe the data is indicative of underlying physiological stress?

Friday 14 July 2017

A week away

We've been to Pembrokeshire for 5 days for a bit of rest and sunshine. After a long journey I went for a short, unsuccessful run from the hotel. One footpath was blocked by rather hostile calves, cows and bullocks and another was terribly overgrown. My third choice of route had ground churned by hooves concealed by long lush grass. Being a coward I slowed to a brisk walk but even so I managed to tweak my left ankle. I couldn't call it sprained as I knew at the time it wasn't that bad, and now I know for sure, but it hurt and promised to impede holiday walks and runs.

Looking across to Ramsey Island (certainly not a swimming spot!)
I don't think it did adversely affect the two walks we did although by the end of the second I was aware of it. The coastal path is well made and has some great views, it's probably easier terrain than the Cornish equivalent.

I'd hoped to manage a short swim (or even 'dip') in the sea at either one of the popular beaches or a tucked-away cove but didn't find a good opportunity. I need to get into a habit of having kit with me, either in my rucsac or the car.

The coastline certainly has lots of well known swimming spots although I was slightly put off by a colleague mentioning that one of their son's workmates had been swept away whilst swimming near Tenby. The popular places are quite spread out across Pembrokeshire and therefore not always very accessible as travelling around is fairly slow.

Saturday 8 July 2017

One week on

I'm still thinking "what was I going this time last week?", such was the impact of The Big Walk 2017 on me. During this first week of recovery I've been conscious that I should careful but not exactly sure what that really means. Straight after the event I feel good, even elated, but I knew my body was tired. Even on Tuesday, I cut my swim short and found that my pace was clearly below normal.

On Wednesday I went to circuit training but found the jog there hard work. Throughout the session I avoided stressing my legs too much, but even so, felt not to be quite my normal self. By Thursday I was aware of niggle around my knees and ankles. Nothing distinctly painful, and nothing that stayed still. Just every so often a spot of soreness that moved to another area fairly within an hour so. Do a degree I attributed that to too much sitting at a workplace meting but I also believed that it indicated a low level of irritation around joints and muscle insertions. Not surprising really. Yesterday evening I did a slow, short run, just to loosen up my body after a day infant of the computer.

By today, over a week later, I think I'm starting to get back to some where close to normal. This morning I went for a swim at Hatfield and managed a few hundred metres further than previously and at a slightly better pace. The effort was reduced  by the water being millpond-flat and nearly 20 degrees, but even so, it was an hour of swimming. This afternoon's run felt hard but it was warm and humid, I didn't try very hard, I did notice that my heart rate seemed to struggle to increase. A lower heart rate at a given perceived intensity of exercise is related to fatigue.

Friday 30 June 2017

The Big Walk 2017

After weeks of training my wife and I set off on the 50mile hike / ultramarathon to support a project of the University's. My aim was to run/walk and complete within 14 hours whilst my wife's goal was to complete it under the cut-off of 24 hours.

This would therefore be my longest ultra marathon having completed a two 30 mile events in 2015. In 2016 I consolidated training and tried to get over a few niggly runner's injuries although I suspect that aches and pains don't go away readily. We'd done a reasonable amount of walking training but I feel underprepared with regard to my running endurance. A bit of work with Excel showed that I needed to average 3.9mph around breaks to meet my goal, which is 9.5 minutes/km pace.

The start occurred just a few minutes after 7am, with the runners, then the fast walkers and then the rest. I slipped into the fast walker group as I didn't want to get swept into a rush of trying to keep up with runners in a class above me.

From the @SheffieldUni Twitter feed
As the crowd moved through Broomhill and onto the A57 I made an effort to fall into a good walking pace and gradually passed the nearly all of walkers, revealing a group of runners ahead. I'd soon learn that the 'fast' runners were well ahead even then! I walked to Claremont hospital with a young man who hoped to complete in 16 hours, which seemed very feasible but as the road levelled off I had to commit to starting my short runs.

Above Rivelin valley I seem to have the path to myself although every so often I'd see a flash of white T-shirt or reflective garment. Two runners, who must have been late starters  caught up with me and passed quickly. They had a good solid pace. In this area I also met up with a couple I'd run with intermittently for the next 30 miles.

On the road to Redmires reservoir I caught up with a group of runners who train together in the University at lunchtimes. I passed them on the ascent to the Stanage Pole fully expecting them to pass me on the Edge as I progressed very careful along there having fallen an twisted my ankle previously trying to negotiate the stony outcrops at a pace.

I was tempted to stop at the mobile cafe at Curbar Gap but continued to make steady progress, walking any stretches with even a modest ascent and slowly running level parts and shallow descents. Some colleagues from the Medical Faculty had passed me on Froggatt Edge although I caught up between Baslow and Chatsworth.

We'd been warned that there could be a lot of mud before and after Rowsley as the weather had been wet. There was certainly a little mud but the river valley was not as wet as I feared although the wet grass added to the dampness of my feet.

The halfway point at Over Haddon was very welcome; I was very pleased to arrive within 6 hours. My right foot had become sore, not blistered, more that it was bruised over the ball, perhaps due to my developing mid foot strike and the ongoing stiffness of the ankle. Neither of my usual niggles were causing problem although I'd felt both with the first few miles! After the rich pasta and coffee I felt ready to complete the run and negotiated Bakewell without difficulty. On Monsal Trail I caught up with one of the faster group of walkers who'd found himself rapidly fatigued. He'd a mini support team with him and wished me well moving into Great Longstone.

The road up to High Rake was a long as I expected but in the lower section the verges added a little brightness to a very damp and overcast day. The mist is visible in the haze in the photograph! The dry socks I'd changed into at Over Haddon were saturated by the time I'd descended into Coombs Dale and I could feel the insoles of my shoes squelching with every step.

I was looking forward to the rest stop at The Limes and was thrilled by the hospitality. The candles and flares weren't lit as yet but they were going to be a lovely sight for walkers arriving in the night. The forecast rain reached me in Calver but fortunately settled back to a bit of drizzle whilst I sheltered at The Limes.

I knew I'd be walking the road from Grindleford to Fox House and managed a good pace. However, including the beginning of Houndkirk Road, which is also uphill, I'd been walking for an hour. This seemed to cause my legs to resist any effort to walk and even as the end became closer I found it increasingly hard to summon the energy to run.

Seeing the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in the distance was very welcome as I knew that the route through the Porter Valley was easy and leading directly to the end. Even though the path is good underfoot and generally downhill I was locked into a walk. A few mental calculations suggested that a 12 hour finish time was possible for me even if I walked the remaining 6km. I suspect that calculation was a factor in my legs shutting down. My lack of progress was nothing like that of Dorando Pietri as I was able to sustain a brisk walk up Borocco Bank, thinking how much better it was to be finishing a 50mile walk than be stuck in traffic.

Once the end was literally within sight I settled in for a few hundred metres of a steady jog arriving at the very quiet finish line 12 hours after starting.

I wasn't expecting a medal but in a way that made it all the more rewarding to achieve. I heard that the couple I'd been with until Froggatt had arrived at least half an hour, perhaps even an hour ahead of me, so they'd really put the effort in for the last 15 miles or so.

My pace was remarkably consistent throughout the walk except for the final 6km that I was aware of. My wife completed in 21 hours which she was very pleased with. I think being active for that length of time is probably harder than working at a greater rate for less time. Those of us near the front of the group didn't need to queue for anything either! I think I've learnt, or reinforced a few things:

  • Always run your own race. Ok, this wasn't a race, but I met a number of participants who'd partnered someone a bit stronger than themselves and paid for that extra effort later on.
  • Eat and drink as much as you can - I didn't suffer from calf cramp in this event and think this might have helped.
  • For distances over 50km walking training is helpful, after all, unless you're strong, you'll be walking a fair distance.
  • Route reconnaissance and knowledge is a great asset. Knowing what turns to take without using a route card saves time and worry about what lies ahead.

Thank you to Will Legon, David Meadows, Debbie Beaumont-Thomas and the rest of the organising and volunteer team; you put on a great event.

Sunday 25 June 2017

Take it easy now...

Over the weekend I've been fairly active and now there's only 5 days until The Big Walk. I must make sure that is a short, but effective taper.

Repeat after me, "The training is done now."

Saturday 17 June 2017

Watch that ankle!

Leaving the house to drive to Hatfield I managed to twist my right ankle ever so slightly whilst avoiding an overgrown rose bush. I did the same last year! My main concern was whether I'd injured myself with 2 weeks to go before The Big Walk 2017. Anyway the water was warm although the venue busy due to it being a lovely day and the triathlon season being underway.

On previous sessions I've ended up with calf cramp and disappointing pace so today I decided to try to minimise kicking and rely on the buoyancy of the wetsuit for body position. It felt easier, indeed as I was doing less it really should have done. I didn't get cramp (although I was aware of a slight hint just before stopping) and I was slightly faster than previously.

I was only a little bit faster but considering that I'd expended less effort that count as a win. Before getting too complacent though it's worth noting that the male course record is less than 10 minutes.