How to spot a swimmer on dry land

How do you spot a swimmer on dry land? It used to be easy: Just follow the faint trail of chlorine.

(CC Image by Daniel Oines)
(CC Image by Daniel Oines)

Not anymore.

With filtration systems improving these days, arguably the best way is to look for a certain type of person huddled in a large, fluffy parka, according to Mike Gustafson, who is dissecting swimmer lingo over at the USA Swimming website. He claims, in fact that

It’s easy to walk around and spot swimmers: They’re the large-shouldered, goggle-eyed individuals probably sleeping in some corner somewhere.

Yep. Now let’s get one thing straight: Mike Gustafson makes it sound like this is something younger swimmers are particularly prone to do. Let me assure you, the only reason older swimmers such as yours truly are not caught doing this is simply because we have too much other stuff on (like, errm, work) to get away with this, except on public transport and – some weekends or days off – at home, every now and then in a car waiting for the kids to pop out of whatever venue you have driven them to…… you get the picture.

Read the full story, it is worth it.

Day 100 of the Great Big 10k Marathon Swimming Adventure: Cracking the 1k in under 15 minutes – and some lessons from the first hundred days

OK, first off: Yay! I did it! In less than 15 minutes!

Yesterday, on the morning of day 99 since setting out on this adventure, I reached a major milestone: I swam the 1k in under 15mins. The watch says it took me precisely 14:50 minutes to do 1000 meters (in the 25 meter pool I train most mornings). Yes, dear haters, distinctly un-impressive by some standards, but for me, personally, an achievement that took a lot of work.

(In case you haven’t noticed, I am bloody pleased with myself.)

(CC Image via Flickr by uberof202)
(CC Image via Flickr by uberof202)

This is not just a personal best, but a milestone that I set for myself many months ago. It feels good to set goals and then work towards achieving them, then reaching them. Especially when trying to achieve them has many side benefits, like keeping you happy, healthy and sane.

Since today marks the 100th day since I set out on this adventure, let me draw up a quick summary of the main points/events on the journey so far:

  • Gradually increased the swimming load from hitting the pool 2-3 times a week for practices over 1-3.5k to a daily 4-5k every morning, Monday to Friday. Which means that I swim about 20k a week currently. And I plan to do more.
  • Cracked the 5k distance in the 25m pool
  • Changed my daily routine to get up at 5am and swim from 6am to 7.30am-ish every morning (not weekends).
  • Changed my diet to a liquid breakfast and eating within a 12-hour-timeframe during the week
  • Given that I burn about 1500 kcal every morning in the water, too, I have lost almost 10kg of weight
  • I have not experienced any back pain since Day 1 of this adventure, and feel much healthier, fitter, etc.
  • Unlike normally, I did not succumb to any of the bugs and viruses that family members, friends and colleagues fell ill with

And, yep, I learned some important lessons so far that I hope to remember when the going will get tough (as it invariably does). Here are four that I want to share with you:

  1. Persistence really is key. Make yourself “auto-persistent”: Change your habits to “bake in” your workout (or whatever it is) into your day. Make it routine. Stick to it.
  2. Persistence comes from priorities! Ruthlessly prioritize your life. My – and most likely your – absolute priority, from which everything flows, is my identity. (Sidenote: Sure, you don’t have to be religious to have a sound anchorage in life and death, but boy does it help.) Knowing who you are and why you are here on this planet in turn helps you to focus. My focus is on my vocation as firstly a husband to my beautiful wife, secondly a father to those crazy kids, thirdly a professional worker, and so on. So, I hear you ask, where does swimming come into all of this? Well, it is essential! But “only” because it allows me to properly function in all these roles. Just like sound rest, good nutrition, and other things that are essential. (I wish young swimmers, some of whom get depressed from having swimming as the main goal in life, knew and understood this. Swimming – or any other activity – is not a raison d’etre by itself.)
  3. Persistence can be helped! Do what ever helps you to keep at it, within reason. Cameraderie or team training, friendships, saving up for excellent gear, finding inspiration by socialising with others passionate about the sport, online or offline….and write about it! One of the stated purposes of this blogging business is to keep me motivated and have a kind of public record out there to hold myself somewhat accountable. Your mileage may vary, but for me this has really worked.
  4. Regularly remind yourself: What would happen if I did not go down this path? How did I feel before making the change? This throws into stark relief the many fundamental motivational factors that can be clouded over by short-term concerns or moods – and makes you realise: You don’t really have an alternative that is preferable. Boom. Back to 1.

Though I rarely quote from the Bible, there is a real doozy from Psalm 103. A phrase that sums all of this up rather nicely, and using the metaphor of water no less:

inter medium montium pertransibunt aquae (the waters will pass through the midst of the mountains)

Day 93 of the Great Big 10k Marathon Swimming Adventure: Ecstasy in the Water

By the look of things, today was a normal training session. I experienced something far from normal though. But first things first; here is a quick summary.

5250 metres in 1 hour 39 of swimming
-200m free warm up in 3:08
-5x100m free sprints at 1:20 to 1:23 per 100m (Ugh. Such hard work. )
-1050m free at 1:54/100m on average in 19:59 total at a very slow and cruisy pace
-200m back with pull buoy and paddles
-200m back with pull buoy
-200m back
-100m kick drills on back
-100m kick drills on front
-200m free
-200m free with pull buoy
-200m free with pull buoy and paddles
-2000m free at normal pace but disappointingly slow at 36:49
-100m breast/dolphin kicks

Ok. So what about the ecstasy? Well, from about half way through the casual k I swam after those sprints (did I mention I hate sprint sets?), I experienced what is perhaps better described as a swimmer’s high. Maybe the endorphins, the sheer pleasure of having a whole lane to myself, simply feeling rested and ploughing up and down and up and down through the crystal clear water… probably all of the above. I just felt exuberant to be able to simply swim, with no phones or emails or questions or urgent appointments. Just one and a half hours of time to charge up the batteries. Bliss.

I wonder if there isn’t an element of physiological addiction in this, of course. And yes: The threat of narcissism, perhaps; but also on the other hand just the benefits of getting a healthy amount of exercise in. The experience of the physical self and of exercising that self in a certain discipline that is honed and shaped by the elements. And a panoply of cultural aspects, as described for instance in the book “Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer as Hero” by Charles Sprawson; and, rather differently but equally interestingly by Lynn Sherr in “Swim: Why We Love the Water”.

(Not to mention the whole theory of whether humankind evolved on shores and in shallows.)

Anyway. A daily routine of exercise to keep healthy, happy and sane isn’t just good for you. It will also make you a better husband/wife, parent, colleague and performer. And help keep you focused and on track.

10 things the BlackBerry (yep!) is better at than an iPhone or Android device (and the best daily driver out there today IMHO)

Nowadays, you no longer need to be locked into one cloud, social media service or ecosystem. Be it Apple (OS X, iOS), Google (Android), Amazon or something else (Windows?). In fact, you should avoid this. And this very fact means the BlackBerry smartphones, in particular the Passport and Classic, are better than any other device (in my opinion) in terms of playing the role of a daily driver. Not just for people who use smartphones primarily as communication and work device (not as distraction machines), but most consumers. The BlackBerry offers the best of all worlds and adds additional killer apps, security and a premium experience.

Sure, I know this is a bold claim. Only a few months ago, I would have disagreed with it. But the writing has been on the wall for a while (hindsight is always 20/20, yadah yadah). And looking back now, I realise that over the past few years, like many, I have significantly diversified my technology use. First instinctively, then purposefully.

If you haven’t, start today. Here is how I did it:

Firstly my software “identities” – I now use Google for Gmail and the Drive, especially on my ChromeStation, but also Microsoft OneDrive for writing and pics, iCloud for bits and bobs like the AppleTV…and other services like Dropbox for various stuff, not to mention work accounts and services that back things up securely. More than that, I am in a position to change all of these to suit whatever my requirements are and whatever services provide, with minimum effort..and on most, if not all platforms.

Secondly, hardware-wise, I am running a “multicultural” ecosystem for my professional, personal (and the family’s) needs. Today, I use an awesome LG ChromeOS workstation as my main home office desktop, a Dell business laptop running Windows 8 as work computer, an iPad Air tablet (mainly for work meetings, photos, radio interviews and tweeting from events I cover), an Amazon Kindle Voyage as reader at home – and a BlackBerry Classic as a smartphone for all of those things and more. We also have a bunch of older MacBooks and MacBook Pros still floating around the house. All or most devices are able to run the staple of solutions I need, apart from the hard-core work software (stuff like Adobe Creative Cloud, WoodWing, etc.):

  • Email accounts
  • All Social Media (esp. Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp etc etc) accounts
  • Evernote (Premium customer, but not 100% happy)
  • Blogging
  • OneNote and (Microsoft) Office – I am a subscriber
  • Photo Editing and Sharing etc.

Here’s the thing: The BlackBerry does the job of juggling these needs better, indeed much better, than any other smartphone system available out there at the time of writing. For me, and possibly for you.

Hands-on: Why I prefer the BlackBerry Classic over the iPhone 6 or any Android device
Hands-on: Why I prefer the BlackBerry Classic over the iPhone 6 or any Android device

Now, normally, I wouldn’t even consider blogging about this, but given the state of public perception around BlackBerrry, and given the amount of surprise and enthusiasm people around me have voiced when seeing the device and playing with it, let me summarise briefly the ten things that I have discovered for which BlackBerries are better than any iPhone or Android device.

  1. The keyboard. Look; I am a journalist and writer with decades of experience. I can type on anything, and fast. When I grew up, I wrote on an electric typewriter and then Commodore 64s and IBM PCs with monochrome displays. I have written longform articles and essays on the glass surfaces of various iPads, Samsung Notes, and other devices with my relatively large man-hands. Nothing beats the classic clickety-clack keyboard of the BlackBerry. It is faster and somehow more rewarding to use, just more satisfying than glass surfaces. Try it out and you will see what I mean. I prefer it even to some full-size keyboards.
  2. The Hub. The way all messaging is integrated into the new BlackBerry operating system (BB10 – see point 6) operating system’s Hub application is incredible. Swipe left and see everything at one glance. Pinch and see all unread messages, emails, posts, across all your mail, social media, and more. No matter what else you are doing or running. Amazing.
  3. The BB font. Not kidding. It is called Slate, unless I am mistaken, and this font is better and more beautiful than any font I am aware of. (This is even more subjective than the other stuff I am posting here, but) from my perspective, nothing beats this font for legibility, beauty and practicality on electronic displays.
  4. The build quality. The Classic is pleasantly heavy, solid and well-built. Very much a premium device. Far superior to the Samsungs I have known, and at least as good as the iPhones.
  5. The tool buttons. As my daily experience has taught me, having a trackpad to select, copy and paste text absolutely rocks. Having a “Play” (and “Assistant”) button is awesome. Having dedicated phone buttons is extremely useful too, especially if you want to have a good hanging up experience (push that button!). As much as I empathise with people who like a clean glass slab with not buttons, I love the buttons the Classic provides, it just makes sense to me.
  6. The BlackBerry 10 operating system. Less locked-in than the Apple garden, but arguably more secure, with real multi-tasking and no bloatware at all (like most Android phones will be delivered with). Plus the admittedly few but in some instances bloody excellent native BlackBerry stuff no other OS can offer; and yet you can install practically all Android apps too, and they run well – though they load not quite as quickly as on comparable native Android phones.I don’t recommend the BlackBerry Classic for games or movies, though it does both well. It is just not as fast. For everything else, it is absolutely fine.
  7. The separation but clever integration of “Work” and “Private” spaces. This makes the phone not only better to use for both professional and other stuff. It also adds another layer of security.
  8. Speaking of which: Security and privacy. Though you can integrate Andoid apps, you don’t need to; and you certainly don’t need to give away all your private data to Google (or another giant like Apple); I know this is in part subjective and a moving feast, but certainly I prefer the solution BlackBerry provides over any other device.
  9. The Evernote integration into tasks and notes. Wow. This was unexpected. Imagine your Evernote notes working natively and seamlessly with the iOS reminders, or Google Keep, Wunderlist or similar. And yet that is how BB10 handles them! I am an Evernote power user who runs multiple important things on Evernote, and so this has been a revelation.
  10. Phone calls. Last but not least, even if smartphones usually are not really used that much as phones by many people, including myself. I might not make many calls every day, but when I do, it needs to work well. Thanks to their Paratek antennas and microphones (yes, plural), the call quality on a BlackBerry is excellent – far superior to that of any other device out there, in my experience.

Again: Transitioning all my various email and other accounts on the BlackBerry was easy and quick. Utterly painless. The ability to run the Android apps I need in addition to the superior communication, interaction and security solution BlackBerry and the BB10 operating system provide, makes for a killer solution, all rolled into one very attractive package – with simply the best keyboard available.

If this all sounds too good to be true, rest assured – full disclosure – that I am neither paid by BlackBerry nor anyone else to express this opinion, nor do I have stock in the company or any other conflict of interest. Nor am I religious about technology brands. But I think we all need to be savvy about our use of it.

Anecdotally, I am not the only one who see the advantages: My wife, my boss and a lot of friends have all reacted very positively to the Classic – and indeed several are moving to a BlackBerry in the near future. And just like them, if another company or operating system offers a better solution, I will move on to it. For now, though, it is a BlackBerry. I hope they keep up the good work the company is doing after they took a few bad turns.

Day 88 of the Great Big 10k Marathon Swimming Adventure: Clocking 5k daily, losing weight – and avoiding bugs

Been swimming pretty much a daily 5k during the week since my last update, though typically again one day some appointment or other will botch my plans to make it to the pool every morning during the working week. But you know what? Four times a week is fine at the moment. So far this week I have clocked up almost 20 kilometres – the watch says 19,675m.

(CC Image by Justin Grandfield)
(CC Image by Justin Grandfield)

Wednesday’s workout is typical, so I will use that to illustrate where I am at:

  • A total of 5000m at an average of 1:43/100m (SWOLF of 35)
  • A warm-up of 200m free in 2:57 (that’s a tasty 1:28/100m; wish I could keep that up!)
  • 7x50m sprints at 1:15 to 1:20 per 100m (have I mentioned how much I hate sprint sets)
  • 2050m (accidentally swam an extra 50m this morning) free at 1:42/100m in 34:40 (relaxed and casually cruising today)
  • 500m backstroke with pullbuoy in 9:54
  • 200m mixed kicking drills: 25m front/25m back, rinse and repeat, with the kickboard
  • 300m free with pullbuoy and paddles at 1:41/100m
  • 300m free with just pullbuoy at 1:37/100m (felt great; I love powering down the lane this way)
  • 1000m free at 1:42/100m in 17:01 (casual again, not pushing myself at all)
  • 100m cool down breaststroke/dolphin kicks

So I try and get 5k in every time I hit the pool in the morning; that way I figure I get myself tuned to the distance (and longer distances later); however, I am not really getting really much faster at this stage. Just more comfortable of longer distances.  I am thinking I might need to revisit training plans and/or look at (stroke/technique) coaching.

Yesterday – Thursday – I mucked around a bit, swimming shorter sets toward the end and “only” clocking in 4650 meters. I figure that is par for the course, though. To avoid slacking around, today, last day before the weekend break from the daily swim, I swam 5050meters:

  • 200m warm up free in 3:09, could still feel my muscles in the shoulders from yesterday
  • 3,000m at 1:39/100m average, 49:26 all up – felt strong and cruised comfortably. No sprint at the end, not pushing hard.
  • 350m back with pull buoy and paddles – really loving these back stroke sets after longer swims in free style. Also, I am just more comfortable with that style now than I have been for years
  • 200m back with pull buoy, no paddles in 4.09 – felt relaxing
  • 300m drills (kick board)
  • 500m free with paddles and p-buoy in 9:46 (!) – but that is because I was doing bilateral breathing sets and focussed on my stroke technique
  • 500m free, no paddles but p-buoy in 8:59 (!) – just one gear above doggy paddle; also doing mostly bilateral breathing

Health-wise, this swimming adventure so far has proven an inoculation of sorts against the colds and tummy bugs that have affected a lot of people around me. It might be the combination of exercise, better nutrition, or perhaps also the psychological beneftis of the daily 1.5 hour meditation the swim offers. Who knows. Certainly my immune system is stronger than it has been. Mind you, I can feel a sniffle coming on… the temp was back to -6 degrees centigrade when I left the house at 5:10 am this morning. Brrr.

Speaking of nutrition: Since I burn between 1,200 and 1,500 kCal every time I swim (according to my trusty Garmin Swim watch), and then have my liquid breakfast at 8am, aim to eat nothing after 8pm (that 12-hour-window-rule), and try to avoid anything sweet or alcoholic on normal days, I have not only burned more calories but also improved my eating habits, reducing sugar and other stuff too. Consequently, I have so far lost more than 10 pounds of weight whilst also putting on a wee bit of muscle. I do need to catch up on sleep some more, but all things considered, the health aspects of the Great Big 10k Swimming Adventure are fantastic.



Day 83 of the Great Big 10k Marathon Swimming Adventure: A review of my new Zoggs Predator Flex Titanium Reactor

(Update March 2015: After a few swims, the Flex Titaniums are absolutely water-tight, snug and comfy. They need “wearing in”, just like their predecessors did. These beauties are now my daily go-to pair of goggles).

Phew, what a week this has been again. Topped off by a Friday when I left the house at 5am and returned at 11pm. Despite missing one swim, I got 18600 metres in, of which I swam just over 9 kilometres with the new Predator Flex Titanium Reactor goggles in the last few days.

Yep. That is quite a mouthful. Predator Flex Titanium Reactor. No less coming from a company called Zoggs. Sounds like a dexterous metal rogue nuclear power plant in a trippy Dr. Seuss satire. Or something.

Then again, this is not just a normal set of swimming goggles. The photochromatic lenses it sports really work. This key feature makes them great for swimming in any light condition, inside or in open water. Here is a snapshot of them in lower light and bright sunshine, taken on our wintery porch:

The lenses are completely clear indoors, showing a slight tint in the shade.
The lenses are completely clear indoors, showing a slight tint in the shade.
Within seconds, the photochromatic lenses darken in bright sunlight.
Within seconds, the photochromatic lenses are dark.

The package includes a hard, well-made case to keep those expensive lenses nice and safe:

Grippy and tough: The Flex Titanium comes in a nice shell, which is a big improvement over the older version

As regular readers know, I have been using the previous model, the trusty Predator Flex Reactor (no Titanium!). Sadly, its bridge snapped a few days ago, after many, many swims in pools and oceans.

In my gear bag, you will also find the red Polarized version and the copper tint (“gold and black”) ones. Oh, and one of the kids has borrowed the one everyone else seems to like, but I actually hardly ever use: the silvery Predator Mirror. It is not in the picture but gets a lot of use in the family.

Predator trifecta: Predator Flex Polarized in red, the Predator Polarized with a copper tin, and the Flex Titanium Reactor.
Predator trifecta: Predator Flex Polarized in red, the Predator Polarized with a copper tint, and the Flex Titanium Reactor.

And that is the major point: Those Zoggs Predator goggles may have daft names. But they have

  • a fantastic comfy fit, even for noggins like yours truly’s. And apparently just about everyone else. My wife, the kids and friends – they all love them.
  • excellent visibility, thanks to curved lenses
  • a snug and very water-proof fit around the eyes
  • easily adjustable straps, that quickly adapt (blimey I remember the pesky straps on those pool goggles of my youth.)
  • four-way flexible nose bridges that help ensure a snug fit over your eyes

Now if they just could make those bridges snap proof :-)

The new Titaniums are very much like the other ones, though the new pair seems a bit less comfortable and caused a tiny bit of leakage, despite several attempts to better adjust them. They just did not perfectly encase my eye sockets (I have fairly large head, but nothing out of the ordinary, really). My theory is that this is due to the pair being brand new; they need wearing in, like a pair of jeans. However, I also think the rubber that goes around the eyes is slightly different in this model. Not sure. Will obviously keep an eye on this issue, if you pardon the pun. It is a very minor nuisance really, since the pool water I train in is very clean and has no chlorine (not sure what the filtration system is, but it is brilliant).

But come a day in the ocean, or in a chlorinated old-skool-pool, and this needs to work. Especially for a pair of goggles that cost me a whopping 50 euro.

Day 79 of the Great Big Marathon 10k Swimming Adventure: “You splash so much it is scary!”

Been very busy, and partly due to lots of swimming, partly due to other stuff, but got to the pool every time as planned! Or, to be more precise: The 5am rise has proven ever so worth it. Even on the busiest of days, I can get a swim in of a morning. Fantastic! Ok, Friday was not so fantastic (see below).

But let me go in backwards chronological order of the last three days of swimming here. Since I am refusing to drop almost 60 Euros on a Garmin ANT+ Stick, I will continue to hand-type the basic information till either that stick turns up (it has to be somewhere in our place) or I will upgrade the whole watch. I have been looking at the Garmin Fenix 3 and the Suunto variety. There is a birthday coming up in a few months….

Today, Tuesday 3 March: 4650m at 1:40/100m on average, 34 Swolf

  • 200m free warmup
  • 1000m free in 15:50 – pushed myself for that a bit, and was disappointed it wasn’t faster
  • 8x50m sprints at between 37 and 40 secs per 50m; took breathers of about 20secs in between. Man this hurt! Sprints are not my favourite. At all.
  • 575m backstroke with pullbuoy
  • 600m mixed drills (kicking, strokes, sideswimming…)
  • 500m with paddles and pullbuoy at 8:03
  • 250m no paddles but pullbuoy in 4:00 on the dot
  • 1000m free at casual pace (though I felt it) in 17:04
  • 125m (?) breast stroke with dolphin kick to wind down

Overall felt good but less enthusiastic.

Yesterday, Monday 2 March: 4775m at 1:40/100m on average, 35 Swolf

  • 200m free warmup at 1:33/100m
  • 1850m free at 1:43/100m in 31:48 overall [then I had to stop and adjust my goggles; the trusty green Zoggs Predator Reactor Flex broke on Friday, so at the moment I am swimming with my back-up tinted red Predator Flex; I have ordered replacements though]
  • 2150m free at 1:44m/100m in 37:12 overall
  • 400m mixed drills
  • 175m breast stroke to cool down in 4:28 overall

Friday, Friday 27 February: 4175m at 1:40m/100m on average, 34 Swolf

  • Sprint sets 7x100m at between 1:20/100m and 1:30/100m
  • 2000m free at 1:39/100m in 32:54 all up – was pushing myself
  • 300m mixed drills
  • 450m backstroke with pullbuoy, at 1:57/100m
  • 500m at 1:45/100m in 8:43 overall – casual but with grit
  • 225m breast at 1:57m to cool down

So that looks like a good swim, right? And it was. Between sprints, another regular swimmer came, watched me sprint and before even getting in the water basically told me I splashed too much. “You use too much strength! Granted, you are fast, but you splash so much it is scary!” I thanked her and tried to explain that I was doing sprint sets, but I think she might have a point. Will try and use the next opportunity to improve my stroke technique. Less splashing, more dashing.

You are splashing too much! Not an actual image of my inelegant stroke technique (CC Image: Pixabay)
You are splashing too much! Not an actual image of my inelegant stroke technique (CC Image: Pixabay)
But then it happened. As I got out and jumped into the shower, I took off my goggles, my trusty Zoggs Predator Flex Reactors, and they broke, right on the bridge! Snap! Once dry and on the subway, I asked Zoggs via twitter which ones to get to replace them, and they promptly responded, and suggested to grab these silly-named beauties: The Predator Flex Titanium Reflex. They are brand new but already available; an updated version of the Reactors, 10 Euros cheaper even. So I ordered them with one or two other bits and bobs. Will post this stuff when it hopefully arrives later this week.