Back in the pool

Given that the last time I went swimming was an impromptu dip in a rather chilly Lake Como after a long walk up and down the Italian hills, and that the last time I was at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic pool I was clambering over giant inflatables in a Total Wipeout style afternoon with my waterpolo pals (don’t ask), it was really good to get in a proper swimming set at the Olympic pool last night.

My limbs were conscious of the 4 mile run I’d put in earlier in the day, as well as the fact that I haven’t been swim training much lately, but both my limbs and my soul felt good for a dip!

I don’t know how, but sometimes I forget how much I adore swimming; luckily it only takes the smell of chlorine and a length or two to remind me. What makes me all the more happy (and frightfully nostalgic) is when, as with last night, there is a swimming club training in a couple of the lanes at the same time with lots of kids going through the hours of lengths that I went through at their age (and then gossiping in the showers afterwards!).

I keep toying with the idea of re-joining a club, although I fear that I’m not as fit as I might be and will end up floundering at the end. If anyone can recommend any good masters clubs in London or fancies trying out with me, let me know.

 

In the meantime here is my set from last night:

Warm-up

200 m front crawl
4 x 100 m front crawl FLAF (full stroke, legs, arms, full)
100 m backstroke

(700m)

Main set

4 x 25 m IM (fly, back, breast, front crawl) x 4 plus 30 seconds rest between 100 m sets
150 m breathing every 3 strokes for 50 m, 5 strokes for 50 m, 7 strokes for 50  x 2 plus 30 seconds between sets
100 m front crawl kick
100 m backstroke kick
4 x 100 as 50 m backstroke 50 m breaststroke

(1,300 m)

Swim down

200 m front crawl

Total: 2,200

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Tuscan adventures and new beginnings

I realise that it has been quite a while since my last post, for which I have the (fairly reasonable?) excuse of a wedding and honeymoon. Twelve months almost to the day that we got engaged, R and I tied the knot in Tuscany last month, surrounded by our closest friends and family, on what was genuinely the happiest and most fantastically fun day of my life.

img_6216From swimming laps with my bridesmaids before breakfast and racing across the pool on inflatable pizza slices with my pals (I had to burn off the nervous energy somehow!), to exchanging our vows in a beautiful hill-top town hall and dancing the night away in a Tuscan castle, I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect day.

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I can’t tell you how grateful we both felt to have so many of our wonderful friends and family members fly out to Italy to share the day with us. While I have always acknowledged how amazing the people in our lives are, having them all there together – and seeing new friendships form between our respective friends and relatives – filled me with so much happiness and gratitude; I really do feel so amazingly privileged that we are able to share our lives with such incredible people.

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After the wedding – and following a few days de-compressing with our families – R and I spent two weeks travelling around Italy. It’s amazing how taking a step out of your everyday routine really shifts your perception and allows you the time and headspace to reflect on where you are in your life, and to appreciate all that you have. It was so wonderful taking time to talk about everything and nothing – discussing our life plans, politics, art, our future together and our career goals – rather than simply worrying about what meetings or deadlines we had coming up at work or who was cooking dinner that evening (the usual topics of conversation in our everyday lives!).

Our lifestyle took on a whole different pattern too: we were getting plenty of sleep, spending all of our waking hours outside, walking, cycling and swimming – in the sea, in pools and in lakes – dining out on good food and eating when we were hungry, rather than when we were bored or tired. We read book after book, appreciated amazing art works  and architecture and took the time to pause and notice the little things in the world around us.

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And after what felt like a terribly indulgent couple of weeks I returned to the UK feeling healthier and better than I have done for a long while.

As you can imagine, coming back to London has been quite the fall back to earth, and despite an active holiday, rising early for my pre-work yoga and getting back into my running routine has taken a bit of a push. No matter how much you love it, London life is not serene by any stretch of the imagination and it is amazing how exhausting just commuting while surrounded by hundreds of people can be!

While we are falling back into many elements of our pre-wedding day-to-day routine, there are some habits from the holiday that I’m trying to maintain and some feelings that were stirred up from the trip that I don’t want to let go.

Post-wedding I’m taking the time to pay attention to the little things in the world around me – the way the light passes through the clouds, the autumnal freshness to the air, the changing colour of the leaves, the shapes and colours of the city, the little alleyways and interesting architectural features high-up on buildings that are so easily missed.

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I’ve continued to read fervently, burying my head in a book on my commute and in little cafes during those lunch breaks when I don’t go running.

Having allowed myself to eat freely and mindfully during the honeymoon – enjoying good and nutritious food, including a lot of bread and pasta (something I would have considered sacrilege pre-wedding!) and resultantly eating to satiety rather than over-eating – I’ve adjusted my eating habits since I’ve returned home. I’ve taken to eating slightly more at breakfast, as we did on our honeymoon, and to keeping an afternoon snack on hand to stop me from getting over-hungry come 7pm and devouring too much at dinner.

Finally having had the time for my mind to wander and whirr, to be filled with history and art, political ideas and literature, I’m looking at opportunities for further study. Be it via an ever increasing reading list that I’m creating for myself, evenings in the British Library or lengthy conversations with my academic friends, I’m starting, once again, to feed that little intellectual sprite that sits on my shoulder and makes noises about a PhD.

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So as one chapter of my life has come to an end, and as I ride out the inevitable dip that comes post-wedding-and-wonderful-honeymoon, a whole new and exciting chapter is beginning, and I’m embarking on it as a Mrs with the best man in the world at my side.

More soon.

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Catching up: Mind, Body and Spirit

I realise that I haven’t written for a while; a combination of mood, work and wedmin, sunshine and social engagements have made me reluctant to sit in front of a screen when not absolutely necessary of late. I’ve even been eschewing my phone in favour of books and magazines in a bid to escape the dreaded pull of the blue light, which connects you to a million things that you could or should to be doing.

Still, lots has been going on so I wanted share a quick(ish) update with you here.

Mind

a life without limitsLast week I finally finished four-time World Ironman Champion Chrissie Wellington’s autobiography A Life Without Limits. I’d been listening to this as an audiobook following a recommendation from the Twins in Trainers and, as with finishing any good book, having reached the end I suddenly feel like I’ve lost a close friend.

I found Chrissie and her story beyond inspiring and it both entertained and spurred me on through countless long runs. This is an incredibly story of an athlete discovering her athletic capacity relatively late in life and trading a phenomenally successful career in international development for a brutal  training regime and killer races.

I really can’t recommend this book enough and although my reaction to Chrissie’s story hasn’t been to sign up for an Ironman (as I know one of my Twin pals has been tempted to do) if you are looking for something to get you out on a run, swim or cycle, look no further.

Body

IMG_4497Talking of getting out to train, today I enjoyed my first swim in the Hampstead ponds. This has been on my ‘to do’ list for some time now and with the sun shining on London this weekend posed the perfect opportunity. It was just a quick dip today (as my friend Ariana and I were taking it in turns to guard the bags while the other swam) but it was utter bliss and I will certainly be making a return visit.

My favourite part was swimming alongside a duck and her little ducklings, all seen for the first time at water level. This was my first non-sea-based open water swimming experience and it was no where near as scary as I had feared.

I’ve also been enjoying (more traditional) weekly swim sessions in the St Pancras pool. Alongside my morning yoga ritual, these serve to stretch out my limbs and have proven good alternatives to running in the hotter weather. I have a back list of sets to share, which I promise I will do soon.

As for running, I’m back to a steady ebb and flow of weekly runs ranging from 3 to 13 miles. I really feel like I’m in a pretty positive place with running at the moment and despite a niggling pain in my lower right shin, I’ve been feeling good and, most importantly, really enjoying each run.

IMG_2875R and I enjoyed our first run in Epping Forest the other week and I can’t believe we’ve not ventured out there sooner. It was so beautiful and the trails are great, especially for practising hill running. It’s always nice to try a new route and to test the limbs on different terrain. Even better though, is its proximity to our friend Mark’s cafe Hucks, where we went afterwards for peanut-buttery crumpets, amazing coffee (with all of the non-milky milks) and live music. Basically the perfect day.

I’ve entered a few races in the autumn months but until then I’m just embracing running (and gossiping) with my pal Louise on our lunch runs, or avoiding the tube with my commuter jogs and just heading out on my long Sunday routes without any agenda.

Finally I also got down to the climbing wall for the first time in an age last week. My arm, chest and back muscles certainly benefited from an hour or so of bouldering (even if my feet didn’t thank me for being squished back into climbing shoes!) and although my climbing isn’t what it was, it was so nice to get out of my head and onto the wall for a while.

Spirit

IMG_4010Another new experience since my last post was my first trip to The Sunday Assembly in June.

With the tagline ‘Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More‘, The Sunday Assembly was started by two comedians who decided that they both wanted to start something that was like church but totally secular and inclusive of everyone, no matter what their beliefs. The resulting group offers inspirational speakers, moving talks, music (and singing by the ‘congregation’), cups of tea and the opportunity to chat with lots of like-minded people.

I hadn’t especially thought that I had a Sunday morning void in my life (in fact my Sunday’s are strictly dedicated to the Gods of the Long Run), but I admit that there was something so uplifting and enjoyable about belting out songs with like-minded folk, as well as listening to inspiring short talks and feeling like a part of something bigger than myself.

The Assembly gathers twice a month, on the first and third Sunday’s, with the next London group on 7 August and I intend to be there.

That’s all for now but more soon I promise. Until the next, go out and enjoy something new this week!

 

 

Swimming upstream

It’s been a funny old week in the UK, and by ‘funny old’ what I actually mean is abjectly disastrous. This blog isn’t usually a platform for my political opinions, but this week comes as an exception and as politics and well-being collide I’ve found myself laying awake at night worrying, doing sun salutations to the sound of Radio 4’s Today Programme, putting on the news in the gym and talking politics while on the road with my running pals.

So before I share this week’s swim set, as I know my blog has quite an international readership, I just wanted anyone reading to know that a significant proportion of the British population is tolerant, inclusive and outward looking and that we know and value how much internationalism in the UK enriches our lives, culture, economy, skills base, workforce and communities.

I have so much more to say on the subject, but here is not the place. I just want to reiterate the point that we are a tolerant nation, and for better (and sometimes for worse), a democratic one. I think the past week has really highlighted the need for all of us in the UK to do some soul searching and to take a serious look at ourselves to try and understand how we have become a nation so divided. We need to reflect on how we got ourselves into this mess in the first place, and, in the coming weeks, months and years, we need to make a plan (something which no one appears to have felt necessary up to now), to get ourselves out.

This week as politicians have been trying to keep their heads above water, I’ve submerged mine in order to escape. This session is just 2,000m, but the sprints are killers. It took me a few attempts to get the 25m front crawl without breathing but it was pretty satisfying once I’d cracked it.

Enjoy!

Warm up
200m choice

Main set
4 x 100m IM sprinting on fly and breaststroke
30 seconds rest between sets
4 x 100m IM sprinting on back and front crawl
30 seconds rest between sets

8 x 25m front crawl no/minimal breathing
15 seconds rest between sets

200m front crawl breathing bi-lateral (either every 3 or 5 strokes)

4 x 100m sprint to easy every 25m as:
100m full stroke
100m kick
100m full stroke
100m kick
30 seconds rest between sets

Swim down
200m front crawl

Total 2,000m

Underwater ab workout

I made it down to the pool twice last week and again last night so I’m stockpiling a nice collection of sessions ready to share with you. I was going to post them in order, but last night’s session was too much fun to hold back (!!) so I thought I’d share it first.

This session followed a killer gym session at lunch with the new PT at out work gym. I’d asked for a new programme to blitz everything as the countdown to the wedding gets ever shorter, and he certainly obliged. Needless to say I swam the below at a relatively gentle pace although I dug deep for the fly kick set to give my abs an extra boost. If you really want to work your stomach, do the whole fly kick set on your back and the front crawl kick and breaststroke kick sets without a board.

It’s 2,400m in total and took me around 50 minutes.

Enjoy!

Warm up
300m choice

Main set

4 x 100m fly kick as 25m each on your back, left side, right side and front
Plus 15 seconds rest between each 100m set

4 x 100m front crawl breathing bilateral, every 3 or 5 strokes
Plus 15 seconds rest between sets

2 x 100m IM kick
Plus 15 seconds rest between sets

4 x 50m fly drill (one arm pulls as 3 strokes left arm, 3 strokes right arm)
Plus 15 seconds rest between sets

100m front crawl kick

2 x 100m backstroke
Plus 15 seconds rest between sets

100m breaststroke kick

4 x 50m breaststroke
Plus 15 seconds rest between sets

Swim down
300m choice

2,400m total

(image: isport.com)

I am, IM: A 40 minute medley swim set

After my last swimming session post I received lots of positive feedback so I’ve decided to share a swim set here each week. Hopefully this will motivate you to get your weekly chlorine hit, as well as having the added bonus for me of making sure I get to the pool at least once a week and put together a worthwhile session (rather than lazily doing laps).

I know a couple of people at least who bowed out of the fly in the last session. This set has more fly, but there is plenty of rest between sets and you never need to do more than one length/25m of fly at a time, so I’d urge you to give it a go. If full stroke is too much you can try fly legs with one arm pulls. Here you need to do a fly leg kick and pull one arm at a time, leaving the other arm out in front of you. Here the trick to getting this drill right it making sure you are still doing a fly pull (not a front crawl one).

Another question related to listening to music etc. while swimming. I have to admit I’ve never done this and while it is each to his own (and I do like to listen to music when running), when I swim I quite like the escape of being in the water and being isolated from technology and distractions. I also believe that there is a lot to focus on while you swim – especially when you are just starting out – in terms of getting your body position right and your strokes fluid and consistent, and there is the concern that listening music or a podcast would distract from that. We all have room for improvement on all strokes so I’ve added a drill set to the end of this session to tap into that and hopefully to keep you engaging in swimming and not looking for other distractions!

Right, that’s enough from me, here you go, it’s 2,200m and should take around 40 minutes. Enjoy!

Warm up:
200m front crawl

Main set:
2 x 175m as
Fly to front crawl (50m)
Back to front crawl (50m)
Breast to front crawl (50m)
Front crawl (25m)

30-45 seconds rest between sets (take longer if it means you’ll do the fly!)

3 x 150m front crawl as
Swim (150m)
Kick (150m)
Pull (150m)

15 seconds rest between sets
4 x 125m as
Fly, back, breast, front crawl, front crawl x4

30 seconds rest between sets

5 x 100m front crawl alternating each length drill to swim

10-15 seconds between sets

Drills:
Shark fin – on each pull touch your hand to your armpit, then return it to your side, lift it to your armpit again before completing the pull.

Catch-ups – after each stroke leave your hand in front of you until the other hand meets it.

Catch-ups with drag – as above but as you pull allow your fingertips to ‘tickle’ the surface of the water and keep your elbows high.

Top hat – as you bring your hand out of the water touch the top of your head before you allow it to re-enter and complete the pull.

Breathing every 3,5,7 strokes

Swim down:
200m front crawl

2,200

I hope you enjoy the set and as always feedback and requests welcome.

Happy swimming!

A fun 45 minute swim set

After a blissful, (if not slightly indulgent on the food and wine front), long weekend, on Tuesday I decided to stay out of the rain and switch my run for a gym/swim combo.

Lunchtime saw me power through a Kayla Itsines-inspired HITT workout, with jumping squat-lunges and cross-body mountain climbers designed to turn all of your muscles to jelly.

In the evening I headed to the pool and had such a great session I wanted to share it here.

This is a 2,100m session which should take around 45 minutes and is a great way to keep you interested and engaged for the whole set:

Warm-up

2oom front crawl
100m backstroke
100m breaststroke
(400m)

Main set

300m front crawl
2 x 150m front crawl (30 seconds rest after each)
3 x 100m front crawl (30 seconds rest after each)
4 x 75m front crawl kick (20 seconds rest after each)
5 x 50m as 25m fly, 25m backstroke, rest 10 seconds, 25m  backstroke, 25m breaststroke, rest 10 seconds, 25m breaststoke, 25m frontcrawl, rest 10 seconds, 25m fly, 25m backstroke, rest 10 seconds, 25m  backstroke, 25m breaststroke, rest 1 minute
6 x 25m front crawl off 30 seconds
(1,600m)

Swim down

100m easy

If you have a fun swimming session do share it with me and I hope you enjoy this one as much as I did.

Happy swimming!