Monday, 27 February 2012

Abacus Training

The end of half term school holidays brought the return to pool training. The initial session of the week was a tentative check on the back/side issue I experienced just before the break. All seemed to be well and my motivization was certainly strong enough.

As the week progressed so did the difficulty and intensity of the sets. During the planning stage for the weekend I happened to speak with Mark Bayliss (EC solo 2007) he mentioned that he and his wife Lucinda (both of whom have EC solo swims booked for 2012) were planning a long session for the Saturday. Mark was kind enough to forward me the finer details on email so I had no excuses.

Arriving at the pool Sunday lunchtime armed with lots of fluids and the regulation skittles, I commenced the session with Amanda moaning in the adjacent lane as she was only kicking due to shoulder injury. It was one of those days when you just feel like all is going to plan, you feel strong, your stroke seems to glide without effort, the breathing is under control and even the chlorine levels seem ok and not burning the face for a change!

I tend not to count lengths in the pool rather use the clock, as I know more or less how long each repetition should take. The problem for me is actually remembering the number of reps completed. I swim with my eyes closed most of the time and tend to just drift off thinking of nothing in particular, so the last thing I wanted to do was struggle with the maths.
After a few reps the bright idea of breaking down the floats on the grotty lane rope and using them as an abacus came to mind, this made life so much easier mentally and I could get on with swimming and nothing else. Just over three and half hours later I was all done and felt remarkably good. No shoulder issues to talk of and plenty of energy remaining.

Lucinda posted the set elsewhere so there should be no issues with sharing it here on the off chance you fancy completing yourself. 
Thanks To Amanda for taking the snaps of the new in pool tool

Friday, 24 February 2012

Beckoning Silence

Regular readers/visitors will be aware of my interest in the written word, I find it an escape and often long for one of those cannot put it down type books, you know, the sort that you want to read cover to cover without interuption. The obvious Dover Solo(Marcia Cleveland) Nothing Great is Easy (Des Renford) and Mad Bad and Dangerous to Know (Ran Fiennes) spring to mind, though the list in full is quite extensive. (Newcomers can find my recommended reading list on the side bar of this site).

Time being such  a precious commodity.. and lives being so very busy, I find it almost as rewarding to watch something thrilling on the big or small screen. I have mentioned several times my pleasure at watching Two Swimmers. However having recently loaned out Touching The Void on DVD to a swimmer friend, I set about purchasing 'The Beckoning Silence' a drama documentary based on the book by Joe Simpson.

Simpson and another give the narrative on the gripping film, during which Simpson reflects on his childhood dreams and the fascination of climbing the North Face of The Eiger, as is often the case there are so many parallels I can draw from this film and relate them all to swimming at length in cold lonely water. In particular  the references to Endurance and Psychological battles. The following two excerpts spoken by Joe Simpson give a feel of the sort of thing I am referring to.

'You want to test yourself more and more. You want to go and do a first ascent. That's how you live. I didn't realise how obsessive I had become.....Perhaps you have to become obsessive to do something to that degree.

'It wasn't just luck that I survived. I made an effort. All I had to do once I had found a way out was endure. It wasn't easy, but it was all I had to do. I know what strength of mind it takes to keep death away'
If you have not yet seen it, get it and TTV on your must see list

Friday, 17 February 2012

‘Through pain, we are able to experience life' Darren Miller

As a follow up to the previous post I would like to say thanks to freelance writer Eric Murtaugh for permission to repost the interview in full:

Darren, 28, of Pennsylvania, is currently training to be the first swimmer to complete the “Ocean’s Seven” challenge by 2013, a series of swims that will take him across seven of the world’s most difficult channels. He has already completed swims across the English, Catalina and Molokai channels.

The best part about Darren’s goal to complete the “Ocean’s Seven”? He does it all for charity.

ERIC MURTAUGH: Why did you decide to take on the “Ocean’s Seven” challenge?

DARREN MILLER: Since I ran my first marathon in 2008, I have been progressively giving myself more difficult challenges to complete. During this time frame, I have also been inspired by others who have fund-raised significant money to help those less fortunate.

I was blessed to have my English Channel swim privately funded, and be able to establish the Forever Fund at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh with my good friend Cathy Cartieri Mehl. Since late 2009, Team Forever has been able to raise almost $40,000 for the children and families who need it the most.

Our money goes to help families during their time of financial need, by helping pay for the costs associated with a hospital stay: gas for travel, food and lodging costs as well as prescription drug costs. This money goes a long way to help the families who cannot afford to stay with their child during this difficult time.

I put my name in the hat of a dozen or so channel swimmers who are looking to accomplish the Ocean’s Seven, we were blessed to land a full-sponsor (each swim is an average of about $10,000) and a desire to push myself as far as possible.

The primary reason is that I want to push the youth of the country to stay close to God and family, as well as understanding that volunteerism should be a focal point of their lives. We have all been blessed with so much, yet we are all guilty of taking this for granted.

EM: Describe your training regimen.

DM: During the season, I start the heavy training after the first of the year. From there, I progress up to around 60-75,000 yards/week average, to as high as 100,000 yards, prior to tapering down before a channel swim.

Along with swimming, I focus on physical therapy to keep my shoulders going strong, and will supplement training with the occasional weights, running and cycling. I try to get in three long swims (6-24 hours in length, depending on the challenge) before I complete the “main” swim. For example, prior to the English Channel I did the 7.5M Potomac River Swim, the 24M Tampa Bay Marathon Swim and a 24-hour pool fundraiser swim.

These three long swims gave me the confidence, and the mental toughness to know I was ready for England. In the off-season, I do weights, long distance running and cycling to keep my endurance base strong.

EM: You definitely have a “never say quit” mentality. How did you achieve this state of mind?

DM: My mental training has been hardened over several years of endurance athletics. Through pain, we are able to experience life, so by putting myself in some of the most difficult challenges, I am able to develop the confidence to know I can accomplish anything I put my mind to.

As a man of faith, I feel as though I have been blessed with the gift of pushing myself long distances, so in turn I should be using this gift to help inspire and motivate others.

Most people do not associate stubbornness with being a gift; however, when it is used in an effective manner, it is the most powerful tool you can possess. When you set your mind, and your word to accomplish something, you have no choice but to follow through with it—no matter the consequence.

I would rather die doing something I love, than to live my life in fear of risk. It is pretty simple really, when you won’t quit, how can you fail?

EM: Is there ever a moment during your channel swims when you doubt your abilities? Are you ever scared?

DM: In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania we do not have an ocean to train. I do 95% of my training for an ocean swim in a pool, lake or river—the other small amount I do when I travel to change up the scenery.

I cannot replicate a channel swim where I live, but it is through my experiences in life that I can push myself to never quit. I do not doubt my ability to achieve because I believe in myself.

There were times during my Catalina or Molokai swims where I thought about sharks, or box jellyfish, but it would usually pass. What could I do it a Great White attacked me? Nothing.

I can only control how I think and perform, as there is no point in worrying because it is out of my hands. I just apply the “don’t think, just do it” mentality before I start any of my swims.

EM: Describe the challenges associated with accomplishing a channel swim.

DM: The toughest challenge is to overcome the anxiety associated with looking across a large body of water, sometimes not being able to see the other side, and believing you can make the crossing.

The physical side is the heavy mileage, but many more swimmers have been defeated in a channel swim due to their inability to overcome their mental fears. Don’t get me wrong, as some just do not take the challenge seriously and under-train, but I would say the vast majority of defeated channel swimmers come down to their mental tenacity.

When you worry, and create a negative outlook, it is simple to feel how quickly your body can go downhill. You have to have a lifestyle which supports training for such an adventure. Your family and friends have to be there for support when you are feeling exhausted (as you will throughout the training) as well as providing support during your crossing.

The financial means are also a challenge, as most people cannot afford the cost of a $10,000 channel swim, especially if you are traveling half-way around the world to accomplish your goal.

Overcoming the fear of swimming with sharks and deadly jellyfish in the middle of the night is a tricky one as well.

EM: Do you have a support crew with you during your channel swims?


1. Pilot and crew

2. 1-2 marathon swimming observers (might come from a federation or association)

3. 2-3 personal crew members to help with feedings and basic needs of the swimmer

4. 1-2 kayakers if your swim requires the assistance in the water with you

For example, on my Catalina Channel swim, there were 4 boat crew members, 4 crew members, 2 kayakers and 2 observers—12 in total during my crossing. This is not normal, however I would guess an average of 6-8 people are needed to complete a crossing safely.

EM: Suppose someone is considering doing something big in life, but they hold back for whatever reason. Do you have any advice for them to get over that hump and just do it?

DM: Quit thinking so much. The longer you ponder “what if,” the less of a chance you are going to want to take the risk. What do you have to lose by bettering your lifestyle through exercise, and strengthening your will and desire to achieve?

If you are a parent, what better example of pursuing and accomplishing your goal could you give your child? Teach them to believe in themselves, and not let the outside world influence what they should become.

If you are role model for youth, then again, inspire and motivate them to want to achieve their dreams. Marathon swimming is a phenomenal way to teach others that anything is possible. If you are having doubts, then start small and work your way up to the top. Not everyone will jump into this sport the way some have, so it is OK to start smaller, just never loose sight of the goal!

Once you have the confidence necessary to attempt a channel crossing, it will be the most rewarding experience of your life, because you will accomplish something you at one point might have believed impossible. So exciting…

EM: How did people react when you told them you were taking on the “Ocean’s Seven” challenge?

DM: Most people find what I do as crazy, which I can understand, but my biggest challenge is getting the media to focus on the important point—this is being done to help others.

I could care less about having my name in the papers, but I know it is necessary if I want to attract the necessary attention to get my story in front of the mass public. We cannot make changes if we sit on the sidelines and watch life pass us by.

The family and friends are supportive yet cautious due to the danger. The public is very supportive and always want to know what is new with my next swim.

EM: What is it like swimming long distances, both physically and mentally?

DM: It takes a special breed of person to want to swim for many hours, through some of the most difficult waterways in the world, all while in the constant presence of potentially dangerous wildlife.

I always get the, “I could not swim a mile to save my life!” to which I respond, “You could if you believed it to be possible!”

Ultra distance athletics are all the same, as you have to be willing to put in the time and effort. Just because you were a Division I swimmer in college, does not mean you should you be able to complete a channel, and just the same if you were not a Division I swimmer, should you ever count yourself out.

My body structure was meant for being a linebacker, not a swimmer. It is my mental tenacity that allows me to accomplish what I do, and just enjoy the adventure along the way!

Physically, marathon swimming can be quite painful, but it is the mental side that allows you to carry on through the pain, or quit because you don’t believe it can be done. It is the challenge that drives us, and the love for the water which keeps me going through the journey! It is an awesome sport where you meet some of the greatest people in the world.

I like words.....

I recently read an interview with Darren Miller an Oceans 7 aspirant and particularly liked this response:

What do you have to lose by bettering your lifestyle through exercise, and strengthening your will and desire to achieve?
If you are a parent, what better example of pursuing and accomplishing your goal could you give your child? Teach them to believe in themselves, and not let the outside world influence what they should become.
If you are role model for youth, then again, inspire and motivate them to want to achieve their dreams. Marathon swimming is a phenomenal way to teach others that anything is possible. If you are having doubts, then start small and work your way up to the top. Not everyone will jump into this sport the way some have, so it is OK to start smaller, just never loose sight of the goal!
Once you have the confidence necessary to attempt a channel crossing, it will be the most rewarding experience of your life, because you will accomplish something you at one point might have believed impossible.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Building up

Had a great week of interval sessions last week which is just as well now that half term is with us, the forced rest has coincided with a slight injury/strain to my right side in the rib/lat/back area. Nothing too serious, though I cannot pin it down to a particular incident.

Other news...I bumped into the awesome Dr Ishtiaq Rehman in the gym the other day and had a great chat about nutrition, stretching, and general sports training/ was great to know I have his full support.

He recommended the book below, which at first glance is very impressive

Fingers crossed I will be back to normal this weekend just as Charlie prepares to return to school

Last week 31km consisting of the following:
6 Feb 10,000m (500s)
8 Feb 5250m
9 Feb 8000m
10 Feb 3750m
11 Feb 4400m

Monday, 6 February 2012

Guest Post ..Jack Bright

When I found my way to the wintery waters in 2008 I felt like I had arrived in the world. No exhaggeration I experienced a feeling of well being and closeness to nature that I still find hard to describe.

Autumn was closing in and it seemed that I would be confined to the pool when I met Tomas Prokop, a Prague lawyer and president of the winter swimming club 1.PKO. On telling me of a cave swim and the impending winter swimming seasson I was instantly fascinated although I declined his immediate offer to visit the club as I didn’t feel ready. I was a regular summer swimmer in open water and visitor to the swimming pool but the prospect of turning up at a winter swimming club unprepared was not something I was about to entertain. Luckily the pool I was swimming in had an outside unheated pool so I started training in this. After 8 weeks it was mid december and I was swimming 800m in the pool. I felt ready to try winter swimming and attended a training session. 

As I left the club house shivering I was also giggling as I got a real kick out of the swim and felt physcially and mentally better than I had for some time. That first season was interesteing and I will always remember my second race in the partially frozen Bolevak pond near Plzen in the west of the Czech Republic. The water was 1.5c and I was limited by the rules to the 250m distance. At this point I will say that for a new winter swimmer, who has a little experience with water ofa round 4c the drop to 1.5c is quite something. I set off quite quickly but after 70m I seemed to just freeze, I swallowed a bit of water, I was on the ropes and somewhere in front of me I could see the safety boat, at that split I couldn’t move and a voice inside me said „ok, help, get me on that boat I am not a winter swimmer.“ Then another voice said „get on with it and get the job done“ Needles to say I chose the latter option without question. This happenend in a split second but I remeber it vividly. I made it to the finish and back in the changing rooms I felt an incredible pain in my hands that I hadn’t felt since I was a 10 year old boy doing Rugby drills on a freezing Sunday morning when my hands turned blue and at the end of the training session myself and the other boys ran back to the changing rooms crying. 

Back to the swimming and after a short recovery I was elated that I had managed to swim 250m in 1.5c water. Later that day I told many people about it as I was proud but also a little amazed at my achievement. I think this is another example of the power that extremely cold water wields. Little did I know that just over a year later I would be able to swim 1km in 0.8c water!

This first season of winter swimming was an eye opener for me and I reccommended it to anyone. We can all be winter swimmers if we have a healthy heart and the will to do it. Step by step is the best way, respect your body and respect nature.

 As that first season ened and thoughts turned to summer activities and longer, warmer swims it suddenly hit me that I should revist one of the dreams of my teens and become a film maker. Almost 3 years after the initial idea and I released „winter swimming“ the film, an almost completely independent production. I funded 50% of the production from my own pocket and the rest came through crowdfunding along with a donation from the swimming club invloved.

In the 29 minute film we get a good overview of a season of winter swimming in the Czech Republic, complete with training, races and even a wedding in icy cold water. The swimmers speak about why they do it and the health benefits and there is a lot of information conveyed through the images combined with the voice over.

Anyone interested in open water swimming, nature or endurance sports willl surely find this fascinating viewing. It is slowly doing the rounds in festivals and will premier in the UK at in March. 

If you can’t wait for that the DVD is available through my blog

As for me, I am still winter swimming and I just seem to enjoy it more and more as I discover new things about myself, other people and our world throught this activity. I am always open to talk about winter swimming and I believe that it can have a postive impact on our lives in many ways, both directly and indirectly. Enjoy the cold water!

Sunday, 5 February 2012


January was a bit of a non starter for a number of reasons. I did actually make a great start, only to succumb to the dreaded 'manflu'. This together with a two week work related course demanding greater than usual travelling time, and then a weeks holiday in Egypt with KGB.

We both expected me to swim everyday either in the unheated pool or the Red Sea, however my chest and associated 'manflu' put a stop to that. I did get into the jellyfish soup aka The Red Sea, though I did not swim, not even once..

After a great week we returned home, thankfully I was well enough to return to the pool and kick start the training plan. However after an 11 shift I commented to KGB via text message that I wasn't sure if I could be bothered to swim and received this brilliant reply which will stay with me throughout the season: "YOU HAVE A BIG CHALLENGE AHEAD, THE DAYS YOU WANT TO SWIM AND CAN'T SHOULD BE RECTIFIED BY THE DAYS YOU DON'T WANT TO BUT CAN" Suffice to say I went to the pool!

A few people have asked what sets I have been doing so I will include some details at the end of the post. Whilst I am no where near the level of the Sandycove Swimmers ie Lisa, Ned, Donal etc I am still pleased with how things are going.

Obviously I am  training between shifts (which is also about to change but more on that later) and am increasing on more or less a 10% per week basis. In addition I have taken the advice of Dee Llewellyn and have commenced some strengthening exercises for my neck back and shoulders. My diet is also having a revamp, I am off the beer! and trying to remember to consume protein after each swim, both of which are having a positive effect. (Or is it all in the mind)

Without further ado, the last few pool swims have been:
27 Jan 10,000m. 29 Jan 5650m. 1 Feb 5250m. 2 Feb (1) 4000m. 2 Feb (2) 4200m. 3 Feb 7400m.

Should have time for a ten km swim tomorrow before work.....roll on the open water season