Day 185 of the Great Big Marathon 10k Swimming Adventure: Summer rain heaven and worries about carpal tunnel syndrome

On the day before the longest day of the year, the temperature hit a new summer low. After weeks of rainy weather, the temperature sank to 6 degrees centigrade (42.8 Fahrenheit). People tweeted jokes about snow coming and buying winter jackets. So when I got the chance, I grabbed my bathers and rushed to the outdoor pool.

You see, there is nothing better than cool and rainy days in summer here if you’re after a long, solitary swim. Yes, the indoor pool was chock-full of people. On weekends with bad weather, the indoor pool with its slides and bubble jets and warm water in warm air is a haven for families, oldies and tourists alike. When I arrived, a long queue was waiting to get in. I nicked past, since I can use the “annual pass” entrance, dodged an American group in the change area and several old Bavarian geezers lumbering around in the showers. I waded through a school of little kids drifting in and out of the baby pool and briefly checked in with the lifeguard. “Oh, outside? The water’s only 18 today!” (64.4 Fahrenheit). I thanked him, made a joke about lasting a lap or two, and then weaved my way to the door that leads to the outside area.

Day 185 of the Great Big 10k Marathon Swimming adventure on the Garmin Fenix 3
Day 185 of the Great Big 10k Marathon Swimming adventure on the Garmin Fenix 3

As I stepped through, the crisp cool air hit me. To my left, I could here the low murmur of the bathers sitting in the indoor/outdoor hot water pool, their faces red shapes behind white veils of steaming heat in the cold. Before me, the pristine 50 meter outdoor pool lay, perfect blue glass under leaden grey skies. The rain had ceased, and the surface was still. I could feel dozens of eyes following me as I walked up to the water and dipped in a toe. It felt almost warm! I jumped in, pushed off and stretched myself out into the cool, silky wet, wrapping itself around me as I took my first tentative strokes. It felt quite good actually, I though, and decided to aim for 300m. My thinking was something like this: If I could last 6 laps, I could last the distance I had set for myself: 100 laps – equalling 5k.

Whilst I still was not very comfortable, I felt at home in the slight chill after the first two laps. It felt like childhood winter swims in South Africa to my muscle memory. And then my middle-aged body finally had warmed up sufficiently and I realised: This was doable. So without stopping to stretch and adjust, I ploughed on through. A few times on the way, I thought of cutting the exercise short. Hey, just doing two k would be fine!? No need to overdo it! And so on. But I just turned my mind back to relaxing, keeping calm and swimming on. I reminded myself of the value of disciplining my body a bit, which even has spiritual benefits, and that I needed to host a barbecue for my son’s birthday party, with about ten boys in their early teens running mad around me, and this swim was the only me-time I would have today to charge the batteries. So I swam on through, and even put in a decent sprint at the end. The result?

5050m in 1:26:51 at a pace of 1:43/100m 

What these numbers fail to show of course is how and why this was an amazing, indeed – if you pardon the hyperbole – heavenly experience that I am very grateful for. Like others with introvert tendencies — according to Myers-Briggs I am supposed to be an INTJ, though I am not sure if that is a useful methodology and form of categorization at all — anyway, like many people, I savour the rare time I have to simply unwind and recharge, and I prefer to do so by myself or with only a good friend like my wife. This is one of the many, many things that I love about swimming: It is a meditative, solitary, quiet and yet challenging sport.

Enough rambling. Suffice it say, the 185th day of this adventure was special. Every now and then, a single brave soul would join me in the giant pool. After a lap or two, they would disappear. Most of the time, this aquatic world was my oyster – I was in summer rain heaven; a truly splendid isolation. I could feel my mind unwinding after another particularly stressful week, lap after lap after lap after lap after lap.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? My wrist hurts!

Of course, before even hitting the half-way mark of 50 laps, I was reminded of my earth-bound limitations: My right wrist started hurting. It felt like the cold water was constricting the muscles and tendons that run from the thumb to the arm. Or like the nerve was inflamed. So yes: Symptoms of the carpal tunnel syndrome. And yes, I had spent too many long hours in bad posture at a keyboard again this week, done no stretching before the swim, and was in cool water doing a repetitive stroke. So that might be the reason. The pain is all but gone now as I am writing this a day later – and I hope it was a one-off. Will try and add these stretches to my normal stretching regimen (I do some light stretching after my warm-up swim in the water normally).

Day 170 of the Great Big Marathon 10k Swimming Adventure: Three months out from the race – the first outside swim of the year!

Finally! After more than seven months doing laps indoors, it was time to swim outside. As much as I enjoy my 6am swims in the indoor pool – this was a treat. And one I hope to repeat soon.

[Begin v/o with Morgan Freeman’s voice]

Imagine a balmy evening after a long, hot summers’ day in our valley. Picture yourself diving into the smooth, silky water of a 50 meter outdoor pool on a hillside overlooking a Bavarian Alpine valley.

Here is a live  webcam view from the “left hand side” of the valley; not the pool itself, but you will get the picture.

As you dive into the pleasantly cool, clear water and look around, you see that there are hardly any people in it – since they prefer the warmer water of the “half inside/half outside” pool. You almost have the pristine water to yourself.

In other words: It was bliss.

[/end of Morgan Freeman voiceover]

In numbers, I swam for a total of 1:18:03 over 4.400m at an average of 1:49/100m – if you have been following my progress (or lack thereof) you will notice that I was a bit slower than per usual. Perhaps because of the 50m length?   

Here are the individual sets:

 

Not all of these sets were freestyle. I swam an IM (butterfly, back, breast, free) in the third and sixth set, backstroke in the fifth for instance. Also, my warm-up and cool-downs are always “too fast”, it seems; I do consciously try to relax for them, but that needs work.

Note to Garmin: I would be happy to display the actual graphics of my data collected by my Fenix 3 off of Garmin Connect, but since Garmin still hast not produced a Chrome OS-compatible version of its site, nor an iPad app (it is just the iPhone one blown up), it would be too cumbersome.

Come on Garmin, please get with the times on this :) Love your work.

Swimming as a family thing – and a great opportunity to be a good father

One of the benefits of the Great Big Swimming Adventure is that my offspring have taken a bigger interest in swimming, too. The older kids in particular try and keep up for a few laps, and I give them little coaching sessions whenever we hit the water. They are very determined to themselves and me that they can do full laps, learn butterfly and tumble turns. I love having this as a shared activity, as does their mother. We are a swimmer family (no puns please). Mind you, I wish there was a rigorous swimming program available for them, but surprisingly for a place so keen on sports, there isn’t.

Three months out from the race

Not long now, and I should be able to swim on the lakes around us. We were on a daytrip to Austria yesterday, so we stopped at the Heiterwanger See. Since we walked about 20 minutes in the heat, we were keen to jump in when we got there. It was bloody cold – I reckon about 12 degrees Celsius (53 Fahrenheit) but very refreshing. No way I could do laps in it though. The Heiterwanger flows into the also stunningly beautiful Plansee. It is a 5 kilometres long and about 1,5 kilometres wide. Fancy a dip? I do!

Plansee (CC-Image by "Vince51" on Wikimedia)
Plansee (CC-Image by “Vince51” on Wikimedia)

Day 153 of the Great Big 10k Marathon Swim Adventure: Slacking off and cultivating mental toughness

(CC Image via BK/Flickr)
(CC Image via BK/Flickr)

If you are anything like me, you will have days when you try and find an excuse for slacking off or leaving the pool/gym/track/bike early. It’s cold, it’s early, there is too much work on, too many appointments, too much travel, too little sleep. On and on.

Stuff that!

Part of this “Great Big Swim Adventure” is to tell the little demons to shut up. To develop and cultivate the mental toughness required for swimming well. And for anything else in life that is worthwhile. On the website Swimswam, Olivier Poirier-Leroy just posted what he sees as the 5 Habits of Mentally Tough Swimmers, including welcoming the hard stuff, keeping cool and not getting lost in what others are doing.

Check out the full list and points there, it is great. Well, at least in theory. What about the practice? Today was a case in point. Though I plan to swim between 4 and 5k every morning, I put in an underwhelming 3.5k.

  • 200m freestyle warmup in 3:13
  • 1000m free in 16:13
  • 150m free in 2:27 (then had to interrupt to change lanes)
  • 1000m free in 17:10 (slacking off again!)
  • 100m kick drills
  • 100m butterfly kick drills
  • 3x50m butterfly sets at about 55″ each, with a 20″ break in between (that was tough)
  • 200m freestyle with pullbuoy (working on intermittent breathing)
  • 250m free with pullbuoy and paddles (working on stroke)
  • 100m back and breast to cool down

Sure, I had to be at work even more early than usual, (I am drowning – get it? – in work, haha). But would another 500m really have made a difference? Of course not. I would still have been more than an hour early for work anyway. And yes, sure, I put in some butterfly sets that hurt. But I wimped out on those too, doing one less than I had planned.

So my three rules for cultivating mental toughness are along these lines:

  1. Set realistic goals and stick to them. If you ever When you drop the ball, pick it up again wherever you left it and carry on. For me, cracking the 1k in under 15 minutes was a major goal on this adventure so far. The 10k is the final one – and a realistic one too. I could just swim it right now, though badly. And I want to do it well.
  2. Take the long view. That includes not getting distracted by things that appear larger than they are just because they are close/nearby – like a looming appointment or chores. It also means being aware of why you are doing this in the first place and just how much you are getting out of this.
  3. Swim to live, don’t live to swim. Swimming is an admittedly awesome tool to help you be a more fully rounded person. Someone that is happy, healthy and sane. But that is its purpose. It is not a purpose in and of itself. I wish someone had explained that to some of the over-ambitious Moms and their “prodigy” swimmer kids when I was little. Thankfully, my parents never were that way; and I hope I am not like that with my own children.

Day 146 of the Great Big Marathon 10k Swimming Adventure: First Impressions of the Garmin Fenix3 (not just) as a swimmer’s watch

Lots happening on the Great Big Swim Adventure and I haven’t had time to blog!

First off, an overview of today’s workout:

  
As you can see, I am finally able to post data from my Garmin Connect account again! Yay. No, not because I bought a new connection for my Garmin Swim watch. Instead, I upgraded the watch itself. Behold, my new timepiece and training computer: The Garmin Fenix 3. A very nice birthday present from the love of my life.

  

  

There are plenty of reviews out there of this watch. Most of them are rubbish. However there is one that is comprehensive and outstanding, click here to check it out, it’s by the highly recommended DC Rainmaker.

Now, suffice it to say, the Fenix 3 has more features than I will likely ever be able to use. But yes, I will use two of the features very often:

  1. pool swimming
  2. open water swimming

But just how good is the Fenix 3 as a swimmer’s watch? After the first few training sessions, here are my initial impressions:

  • For pool swimming, the automatic stroke recognition, lap counter, drill timer, rest and lap timer etc. is very reliable and the same as that of the excellent Garmin Swim (it does not identify my butterfly for some reason, but that might be due to my technique).
  • The display can be set up in a variety of ways for your activities, in just the way you like it – and in all cases it’s excellent to read, even under water.
  • What I dislike: Some of the cool features for running, such as an alarm after a certain distance, are not available in the swimming function. A software update will hopefully address this minor quibble. (Bloody preferential treatment of runners!)
  • The battery lasts for a week or so with heavy usage, including blue tooth and WiFi sync.
  • The GPS works well, but since it is still too cold for outdoor swimming, I have not been able to test the Open Water swimming function.
  • Since the best swimmer’s watch is the one you always have with you, this matters: The Fenix 3 looks good enough to wear as an everyday watch, even for casual business attire (unless you have tiny wrists. It’s a big watch.) In fact, it is far more attractive than the oddly-shaped and somewhat dated-looking Apple Watch and most Android smart watches out there. At least in my opinion.

More on the watch in the next updates to the Great Big Swimming Adventure…stay tuned.

 

Day 136 of the Great Big Marathon 10k Swimming Adventure: A portrait of the swimmer as a middle aged dude

(Image CC/Public Domain via Pixabay)
(Image CC/Public Domain via Pixabay)

Imagine you are sitting at your desk, at a window. Outside, rain is softly falling from light grey skies, soaking the grass and the road and the trees and shrubs and roofs and cars and people. A cold, wet spring day. You are stuck at your desk, working on the chapter of a forthcoming book. Your back is sore from sitting too much all week. Your legs are restless from not swimming for several days. But you are still eating like you were swimming 5k a day, and are starting to feel grubby.

That is all.

A portrait of the marathon swimmer as a middle aged dude.

Day 131 of the Great Big 10k Swimming Adventure: Quick dip Friday!

Not an accurate representation, but just what it feels like of a morning lately...(CC Image by Greg Salter via Wikimedia)
Not an accurate representation, but just what it feels like of a morning lately…(CC Image by Greg Salter via Wikimedia)

The perfect way to end the working week: Have a quick dip Friday!

It’s been gnarly, but not in a good way … very busy morning, back to back appointments from 8:30 am till lunch time and then knuckling down to do some actually very urgent work for the paper. Plus a business trip this week and other stuff. Stressful, some unhealthy foods, plus two (!) days of swimming I missed out on.

Could feel stress and general feelings of grubbiness creeping up on me.

So even a quick dip with only 3.8k was a relief and helped to start the day right and end the working week well.

Knowing I had to leave early, I really tried to make proper use of my precious time in the water: concentrating on stroke technique and breathing, and pushing myself. I have been working on my turns as well, trying to get good dolphin kicks in when pushing off the wall. That and concentrating on different breathing patterns in freestyle. Building lung capacity. Breathing bilaterally.

(Forget Google Glass and Apple Watch and Amazon’s Alexa.When will someone finally make some wearable gills?)

But I digress. So, yep:

3.8k today, 152 laps in 1:07 hour of swimming. Burnt 1031 kCal according to my Garmin Swim.

Average stroke rate was higher than usual: 10 strokes per lap apparently. Guess that comes from working a bit harder today instead of cruising. The sets:

  • 200m warm-up free at 1:37/100m
  • 300m free style at 1:30/100m (then had to adjust goggle), working hard
  • 700m free at 1:34/100m, working hard
  • (So all up I did 1k in 4:30 and 10:56=15:27m)
  • 200m kickdrills front/back, really working on streamlining and nice loose ankles
  • 400m free with pullbuoy, focussing on technique in 6:58
  • 150m back with pullbuoy (relaxed but also squished to the wall) in 3:00
  • 150m back in 3:02 cruising
  • 1500m free at 1:39/100m, cruising briskly but not bruising, in 24:42 all up
  • 200m fly/breast/shenanigans to cool down

Unfortunately, the trend to busy lanes and overcrowding is ongoing. Apparently a lot of people want to lose weight or improve their swimming of a morning now. But it is still way too cold for swimming outside. Can’t wait for Spain.

Day 127 of the Great Big Marathon 10k Swimming Adventure

Felt really grubby on Sunday night after not being in the pool for four days and had everything ready in the car to get going first thing today. That said, I almost did not get up at 5am this morning. Really had to force myself to a “heroic moment” of sorts just getting out of bed. And then still felt very cold and tired all the way to the pool.

After a longer warm-up, I was back at home in the water though. And loving it.

(CC Image by Hopscotchbaby via DeviantArt)
(CC Image by Hopscotchbaby via DeviantArt)

No regrets.

Training summary today: 1:23:24 of swimming, 4700 meters, 188 lengths at an overall average of 1:42/100m, SWOLF of 34, and burned 1300 kCal

  • 300m warm-up at 1:38/100m free
  • 1550m free at 1:37/100m cruisy but not dithering
  • 1350m free at 1:38/100m cruisy
  • 100m kickdrills with pullbuoy as kickboard
  • 100m kickdrills on the back
  • 350m back with pullbuoy (nice and relaxed, 2:02/100m)
  • 100m back in 1:58 (still quite relaxed)
  • 4 sets of 100m individual medley (butterfly/back/breast/free at 25m each), at a time of 1:41 (fastest) to 1:54 (slowest) per 100m
  • 450m cool down (slow free, with some shenanigans to relax)

Pool was very full today, fuller than I have seen it any morning since I started my 6am-stints. Maybe it is because it is spring, and the sun rises a lot earlier? Or because there has been a bit of swimming in the mainstream mass media? Anyway. No real complaints here: Had half a lane to myself. Mind you, I had to wait with butterfly till the large breast stroker had left (even with freestyle I hugged the lane rope). But at least no cowboys jumped in my way. And the little butterfly I get in is not really a big deal anyway.

Day 120 of the Great Big Marathon 10k Swimming Adventure: Training log and some crazy stuff

First up, a summary of the session this morning:

Swam 4.725 (more like 4.9 – see below) kilometer all up. (That equals 190+ laps and 1318kCal)

  • Warm up of 200m casual free in 5:29 (plus about 150 or so, since the watch did not start at first attempt)
  • 100m butterfly in 1:50 (that hurt but got the heart pumping)
  • 100m butterfly/free in 1:41
  • 1k free as fast as I could keep up in 14:54 (=one second over my PB over that distance)
  • A “back/front pyramid” of sorts:
    • 200m backstroke with paddles and pullbuoy
    • 200m backstroke with pullboy
    • 200m backstroke
    • 100m back kick
    • 100m front kick
    • 200m free
    • 200m free with pull buoy
    • 200m free with pull buoy and paddles
  • Several short sets of free style drills (“chicken wings” and the like)
  • 1650m free at cruise pace in 26:53 (that’s 1:38/100m average) and overtaking/dodging a breast stroker and a cowboy intermittently

So what about the crazy stuff?

Sounds batty, but anecdotally this is true: Whenever I have the pool to myself at 6am, as I did this morning, experience has shown that by 7:30am, it is pretty chockers. It’s almost like there is a bunch of lurkers who will suddenly rock up whenever there is less than three people in the water. Call it the

“Law of Pool Occupancy” (LAWPO): Where any brief amount of time during which a pool is empty except for yourself will be followed by instances of sudden crowding and extended poor behaviour by less-than-competent bathers.

Probably the next thing people will start doing in the lap lane (CC Image via Florida Archives)
Probably the next thing people will start doing in the lap lane (CC Image via Florida Archives)

You see, there is always at least one instance of pool etiquette ignorance involved. Usually a “person”, to put it neutrally, that will try to swim in the one roped-off lane, but really shouldn’t. Today, it was an elderly breast stroker who suddenly decided to join another regular lap swimmer and myself. We just switched over to swimming clock-wise and cruising past. Then, of course, just as the breast stroker moved over into the normal swimming area (which had enough room in the first place, d’uh), a familiar pair of bathers suddenly appeared that belong to a middle-aged dude whose knowledge of pool manners is inversely proportionate to how well he thinks he can swim. At which point it decided, given it was 7.30 am and I had clocked almost 5k, this was a good point to leave the water for today.

Really, there is not much crazy stuff that happens between 6am and 8am in this little gym pool I frequent. But it is enough to warrant me writing a German language guide to going swimming and pool etiquette. It is in the works and I will add to it and then publish it as I get some time to do so.

In the meantime, I hope there will be one or two regulars with me in the water at 6am tomorrow, or I better brace myself for more silliness thanks to LAWPO.

Day 114 of the Great Big 10k Swimming Adventure: Getting wet after Easter and some shoddy metaphors

After four days out of the water over the Easter weekend, I finally got back in the pool today. Yay!

What our village looks like this fine April
What our village looks like this fine April

Coming in out of the -2.5 degree centigrade weather (that is 27.5°F for all you Americans), snow still thick on the car after a 45 minute drive, there is no better feeling than jumping into a hot shower and then into the pleasantly cool pool. Having a lane to myself and sharing the pool with only two other swimmers at 6am already was glorious.

Mind you, I noticed during the warmup that I was not 100% comfortable physically. I wonder if I am catching that cold that the rest of the family is struggling with after all. Also, I had to finish 30 minutes early because there was a lot of urgent work today before the newspaper could go into print at noon. That said, it still was just bloody glorious to swim off everything on my mind and gear up for the day. Training-wise, I added some individual medley sets to the mix, since I am tackling the fly as part of this adventure now. That gets the old ticker pumping. Total time swimming today: 1:12:52, overall distance 4.000m (160 laps)

  • 200m freestyle warm-up (3:19)
  • 6x4x25m individual medley  (so that’s fly, back, breast, free for 25m each, and four sets of those) in – on average – 1:50 minutes
  • 1000m free in 18:10 (with some bilateral and intermittent breathing, but just feeling a bit crappy)
  • 500m free with pullbuoy and paddles in 8:13
  • 250m free with just pullbuoy in 4:01
  • 100m kickdrill front
  • 100m kickdrill back
  • 1100m free in 18:08 (you can tell I now was properly warmed up and felt a bit more comfortable)
  • 100m another IM just for fun in 1:49
  • 100m just relaxed cooldown

There are many metaphors to describe the joys and wonders of swimming. One that I keep coming back to lately is that of a reset button, but not in the sense that I press that button by swimming. It is more like you actually swim to get to a stage where you can reset yourself for the day…a stage that you have to swim down to (during the warm-up?) and then you can actually press. If that makes sense.

Day 106 of the Great Big Marathon 10k Swimming Adventure: The B-Word and some involuntary dry-land work

How much butterfly do you swim as part of a daily swimming workout? I used to dread having to do fly, even when I swam competitively as a kid. I never felt comfortable with the stroke.

All the more reason to tackle the discipline.

Hehe, look at the humans doing a dolphin kick mate! (CC Image by Sweetbananadreams)
Hehe, look at the humans doing a dolphin kick mate! (CC Image by Sweetbananadreams)

As part of the Swimming Adventure, I have decided make a go of it. Beat the B-Word. Also, when you consider:

  1. …there is a lot of distance to cover every morning. A bit of variety goes a long way towards making the daily 5k even more enjoyable.
  2. …there is no reason not to! I feel like I finally have enough strength, technique and endurance now to tackle the stroke properly. Or maybe just the cocky confidence since hardly anyone will see me splashing like a drunk dolphin just after 6am on a typical weekday morning.
  3. …others are doing it: I have been really inspired by the likes of Vicki Keith or Julie Bradshaw, who swam the English Channel in butterfly (!), Dan Projansky aka Mr. Butterfly and the amazing Sylle, to look at butterfly again. I struggle to do a proper 100m with that stroke at the moment, and these guys cover several marathon distances this way. Incredible.
  4. …it wil help to build both strength and endurance

Ok, so this past week I have asked one of the triathletes who are there regularly to look at my fly stroke and give me some feedback. She is a former competitive butterfly swimmer, and not one to hold back on opinions, so I knew she would give me something to work with! That said, she said my stroke wasn’t bad (that’s German for a compliment) and I should make sure I keep my hips limber (what is it with male swimmers and stiff hips?!) and stretch out more when the arms go to the front. Orrighty. Been focusing on that, doing some short fly sets, and a few IMs, and really am enjoying this.

Speaking of enjoyable: The weather this week was anything but. In fact, it was terrible and even dangerous.

We had a severe thunderstorm ripping through Bavaria, it took several lives; Munich’s central train station had to be evacuated for a while. Since then, loads of snow has been piling up. I was unable to actually get to work on Wednesday, so instead of swimming I spent an hour from 7am to 8am on the elliptical trainer that my wife has organized for herself. The experience wasn’t half-bad, all things considered; it also reminded me of a few muscles the swimming does not target the same way (the side of the shins and down to the ankles, for instance). And also that I really like my exercise in water.

Since this time is a huge and important festival for those of us who are of the Christian variety, with loads of festivities, family and community events, I am skipping the pool for four days this week. I will do some planks and push ups, but mostly focus on resting up a bit. In training terms, this will be a nice short break, and then off to proper exercise on Tuesday morning. I finished the week early on Thursday with a 5.6k workout, swimming almost a solid two hours before dashing off to work, and I am hoping to do something very similar early in the next week.