Sunday, 31 May 2015

First open water swim in five simple steps

I could feel the nerves welling up in me the night before, a bit like the feeling you get the night before an important exam, coupled with a feeling of disbelief that the following day I would be doing something I never expected to be doing in a million years - swimming in open water. The next day I would tackle my first open water swim practice for my first ever triathlon in July, which I'm doing to raise money for the charity, Pregnancy Sickness Support.

Susi and Jason at the open water swim venue, Cliff Lakes Open Water Swimming, were really helpful. Susi sorted me out with a wetsuit (£5 per hire) and Jason talked me through my first attempt at open water swimming.

Based on my very limited experience, here are my five steps to your first open water swim.

Step one. Lower yourself into the lake, checking first that it's shallow enough to stand up. I've made that mistake in the pool before now when I dropped into the water expecting my feet to hit the bottom only to discover it was the deep end and I went completely under. Not cool! I certainly didn't fancy repeating that in a freezing cold lake.

Step two. Open the neck of your wetsuit to let all that cold water flood in (brace yourself first!). I never did the ice bucket challenge but I imagine the sensation is pretty similar. Thankfully the suit did then start to warm up a bit but that only made me even more aware of how freezing my hands and feet were. Apparently, it's perfectly normal for your extremities to go numb!

Step three. Swim up and down without putting your head in the water so that your body gets used to the temperature and the feeling that your chest is being squeezed. Just imagine you're one of those ladies of a certain age you see at the swimming pool. You know, the ones who swim side by side, managing to maintain a full conversation while not letting a hair stray out of place or get wet. I've always wondered how they do that!

Step four. Start "face-in-the-water-swimming". At this point, I think my hands and feet might have warmed up a bit, although it could have been because I was distracted by the feeling of cold water sloshing about in my ears. I always get water in my ears at the pool but it never bothers me too much apart from making me a bit deaf! Presumably, it was the difference in temperature between the lake and my ears that made it much more noticeable. I might have to invest in some ear plugs. Wetsuit lubrication is also on the shopping list but that's another story!

Make sure that you watch out for obstacles. In my case it was a jetty which seemed to appear out of nowhere from the green murkiness. I lifted my head and there it was, right in front of me. Next task is to learn how to look where I'm going whilst swimming.

Step five. Emerge triumphantly from the lake. Make sure there is something or someone nearby to hold on to (fence, husband, random stranger) in case, like me, you feel a bit dizzy. Again, this is normal (apparently). On this occasion my husband was on hand to oblige but on triathlon day one of my fellow competitors might get more than they bargained for!
This has also shattered the illusion that, on exiting the triathlon swim, I will sprint Brownlee-style to my bike whilst simultaneously stripping off my wetsuit to my waist. Instead, I now have an image of me, slightly dazed, staggering to the sea of bikes in the transition area wondering where on earth I left my bike. Hmmm could be interesting!

So there you have it. My first attempt at open water swimming in five "simple" steps. Overall, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be and my nerves soon disappeared once I was in the water. Just as well - I'm doing it all over again on Saturday although this time I'll not be hogging the shoreline but swimming out into the middle of the lake. Wish me luck!

If you have enjoyed reading this or are even slightly impressed by my attempt at "extreme swimming", please consider sponsoring me. My fundraising page is here. Thank you.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Triathlon challenge - 8 weeks to go ...

In exactly 8 weeks' time I will be waking up with that strange mixture of excitement, apprehension and dread in my stomach that can mean only one thing - that it's the day of my first ever triathlon. Sunday 19 July is a big day for me and it's beginning to get scarily close. It doesn't seem very long since I had 16 weeks to go and now, in what seems like the blink of an eye, that has been slashed in half.

Serious triathlon training began in January and I've been training hard since then with at least 3 training sessions per week and 4 if I can fit an extra one in. I've certainly come a long way since the beginning so here I am with a very overdue training update, some highlights and what I'm planning next.

The Swim

I've always considered myself to be a fairly rubbish swimmer and have never particularly enjoyed it. (I blogged about my swimming here.) When I decided to do a triathlon I knew I would need to put a lot of work into the swim even though it's the shortest section of the triathlon. So in January I signed up for lessons with S4 Swim School - South Staffordshire and I've been amazed not just by how much my swimming has improved but also by how much I'm enjoying my lessons. The coaching has been fantastic and has certainly pushed me far more than I could ever have pushed myself. My technique is now so much better than it was and I'm swimming a lot further too.

Even though I've only ever done butterfly a few times before, a couple of weeks ago my instructor had me doing 4 back-to-back individual medleys (fly, backstroke, breaststroke, front crawl)! OK, I doubt the butterfly looked pretty (more like drowning than swimming I expect) but I did it!

Last week's session was even tougher with lots of sprinting, not much rest in between and then my own personal favourite, anaerobic swimming! Basically that's swimming whilst being starved of oxygen and involves swimming lengths whilst limiting the number of times I take a breath. Yep, it's about as much fun as it sounds!!

I expect the next session will be tougher still but that's exactly what I need. I'd much rather be working hard than being given an easy ride as that's the only way I'll improve. I've already improved a huge amount since my first lesson and with 8 weeks still to go there's scope to make even more progress.

Highlight: Swimming a total of 1250 metres in my lesson last week - that's about double what I was doing a few weeks ago and is only a couple of hundred metres short of a mile! Believe me, it felt like it too!

Next steps: I'm going for my first ever open water swim tomorrow (eek) at Cliff Lakes Open Water Swimming Centre!! I'm very nervous so my aim is just to get in the water and potter about a bit ... and then go and enjoy a bacon butty. Now there's an incentive! I've also booked on to a beginners' session on 6 June. That still gives me a few weeks to fit in some more open swims before the triathlon. 

The Run

When I joined the Boldmere Bullets Running Collective and their Couch to 5km programme back in January, I could just about manage to jog 5km with a bit of walking. I ran a Race for Life 5km last year but training had lapsed over the winter and I really needed to get back into it. A week or two later I ran the whole 5km but it was hard work. I've run with the "Bullets" nearly every Sunday since then in all weathers as well as doing a mid-week run if I can squeeze it in.

A very wet Sunday morning run

Running as part of a group is a great motivator, making it so much easier to get up and out of the house at 7.30am on a Sunday morning. It's a really friendly atmosphere and everyone supports and encourages each other. We also go for coffee afterwards which helps (obviously) and I have recently discovered that the Bullets' favourite haunt does refillable coffees! I managed 3 cups this morning ... or was it 4!?

I've sometimes felt a bit disheartened that I always seem to be at the back of my group. But a couple of weeks ago I surprised myself on one of my solo mid-week runs. Feeling good when I got to the end of my normal route, I decided to keep going. When I got home and checked the distance it turned out I'd done 9.5km - the longest run of my entire life!! The following week I went one better and broke the 10km barrier for the very first time!

This morning's Bullets run was tough with a new, partly cross country route involving a a nasty hill. On the plus side, I saw a part of Sutton Park I've never seen before so it was worth it.

Highlight: First ever 10km run.

Next steps: Speed sessions/hill reps to try and get the old legs to run a bit faster. Sign up for a 10km race (although I think I'll get my triathlon out of the way first!)

The Bike

Highlight: Overtaking two blokes on bikes going up a hill.

Low point: Nearly colliding with a dog with a death wish as it came careering towards me. At least I now know my brakes work!

Next steps: Some longer rides and brick sessions (i.e. bike followed immediately by a run). Apparently, it's really hard as your legs feel like jelly when you start to run after being on the bike.

I'm doing the triathlon to raise money for Pregnancy Sickness Support. If you would like to sponsor me, I would really appreciate your support. My fundraising page is here. Thank you.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

A positive and inspiring day ... but there is still work to be done

Monday was an exciting day for me and many others involved with the charity Pregnancy Sickness Support as it was the day of our annual Healthcare Professionals' Conference. This year's central theme was Developing Services and Improving Care for Hyperemesis Gravidarum and we were joined by a fantastic line-up of speakers with some great topics for discussion. Many of the speakers are pioneers in their field who are leading the way in improving the care that HG sufferers receive in hospitals and the community.

We heard from Miss Manjeet Shemar, consultant at Birmingham Women's hospital, who set up an IV day unit and a treatment pathway which we hope will be emulated by hospitals across the country. Women in the Birmingham area are lucky to now have this service available to them but, sadly, it is not the same story elsewhere, with many women being denied appropriate treatments and admitted to hospital for lengthy periods when this could be avoided by swift rehydration and effective medication in a day unit similar to the one at Birmingham Women's. We are hoping that through collaboration we will encourage other NHS Hospital Trusts to take up the Birmingham Women's Hospital model.

We also listened  to Emma Moxham on developing her award winning IV at home service.  This is another vital service for HG sufferers, particularly those who are too ill to leave their house or who live a long way from the nearest hospital, and we would like to see this type of service rolled out nationwide, particularly in rural areas.

Miss Shilpa Deb and Dr Rosalind King then spoke about developing GP guidelines and establishing collaboration between primary and secondary care.  Unfortunately, the tragic events from 60 years ago continue to prey on the minds of many GPs who are still nervous of prescribing medication to pregnant women, particularly in their first trimester. Whilst their concerns are understandable, medicine has moved on a long way since then and we cannot, and should not, continue to be haunted by the ghost of thalidomide so many years later. A set of agreed GP guidelines will help to allay the fears of those GPs and this will enable many more women to access the treatments they desperately need.

These were just three of the many excellent speeches. Details of the full programme can be found here and copies of all the presentations will shortly be available on the charity's website.

But why is it so important that HG services and care are improved?

Just a few weeks ago Pregnancy Sickness Support published the  results of a study carried out in conjunction with the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. This highlighted the shocking reality that many women suffering from HG are not offered the full range of available medical treatments but are expected to just put up with the condition. Sadly, a large proportion of women in the study felt, such are the devastating consequences of HG, that they had no choice but to terminate their much wanted pregnancy. This is an extremely sad and unacceptable state of affairs when safe and effective treatments are available and it shows that significant improvements need to be made in all the areas of healthcare we discussed at the conference.

But the good news is that change is slowly starting to happen. The very fact that we had several distinguished medical experts speaking about HG day units, IV at home services, GP guidelines etc. shows that the people who can make a real difference to HG sufferers' experiences are now beginning to implement change themselves. Our role as a charity is to facilitate this, to encourage collaboration, to provide assistance and guidance where needed and to ensure that we keep up the momentum for change.

The overwhelming feeling I had as I left the conference was one of positivity. I felt inspired and encouraged to see so many people in the room united by a common goal - to ensure that women suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum receive the treatment and care they deserve.

If you would also like to get involved you can contact Pregnancy Sickness Support by clicking here.

Monday, 11 May 2015

This girl can ... can you?

If you haven't seen it already on social media, This Girl Can is a fantastic campaign run by Sport England to celebrate real women doing sport and to inspire more women and girls to take part, regardless of their age, size, ability or experience.

I am very proud to have been featured by their sister organisation, Triathlon England, in their own #ThisGirlCan campaign!! 

I am a mum of two, on the wrong side of forty, venturing into the world of triathlon for the very first time after years of doing hardly anything sporty. It's a pretty daunting prospect but I am determined to do it. I believe that if I can then you can too! So what are you waiting for? 

You can read my profile here.