Aspire Channel Swim 2019 Progress

I’m taking part in the 2019 #AspireChannelSwim from 9th November to 1 December. The challenge as set by the Aspire charity is to swim the width of the English Channel (22 miles). However, I realised early on I was going to get this done early on so I’ve set myself a personal target of at least 60 miles and maybe 66 miles.

The chart below shows my progress to date in the red with my 60-mile target in yellow.

If you would like to sponsor me in this challenge you can do so at my Just Giving page.

20191113 Swim #46

Today’s #AspireChannelSwim was a return to the 7am sessions. I had pretty bad insomnia last night and I’d hoped to lie in until 9am and then do a lunchtime swim. But I woke up at 5am and there was little point lying in bed wide awake so I figured I’d get my swim in.

The session was very quiet, perhaps the quietest morning session I’ve seen. I had a lane to myself for the whole hour. I felt reasonably good after the usual struggles over the first 10 lengths. I thought I’d swum quite strongly for the hour. Somehow, though, I ended up doing 4 fewer lengths than either Monday’s or Tuesday’s hour-long swim

20191112 Swim #45

After swimming until 10pm last night, I waited until the midday swimming session today for my #AspireChannelSwim. It was a quiet session, which I much prefer.

The swims seem to be getting harder now, not easier. Whereas I’ve always been able to step up the time or distance I was attempting each week, this week I’ve dialled it back to 1 hr a day but it’s as hard last week’s 1½ hr per day. Still, I managed another 100-length swim in that hour today, so my pace is still at the upper end of where it has been.

I think the increased pace is a result of my evolving technique. I’m using a slower stroke pace but maximising the amount of my hand and forearm that pushes on the water and the distance it does so for.

20191111 Swim #44

So, I’ve got some blog posts to go back over and catch up on (unless you’re reading this in the future and I’ve already done them). :¬/

Today’s swim was the weirdest yet. I couldn’t drag myself out of bed for the early morning swim. Monday mornings are always really busy too, so I planned to go for a lunchtime swim. But I forgot that I had a lunchtime appointment. So I ended up going for my first 9pm swim.

The first 20 minutes of the swim were awful. My pacing was far too quick, my stroke was erratic and short, and I felt worn out after just 5 minutes. At that point, I wasn’t sure I would manage a full 10 minutes, let alone an hour. It took nearly the rest of the first half-hour to recover but then I went on to do another 100-length hour. How is that possible?

I’ve now passed the 66 miles marker, which was by far my highest target distance, and I’ve still got 8 swims to go (more if I’m able to swim whilst on holiday).

You can sponsor me at https://phoole.rocks/aspirevark

20191030, 1031 & 1101 Swims #36 to #38

How have I not blogged since Tuesday? Well, I know how, I even know why, but it does feel a little remis.

All 3 swims were 132 lengths, 2 miles, and all 3 of them took around 1hr 22 to 24 mins. And I think I may have found my current physical limit. Yesterday’s swim, the 5th 2 miler in a row, really hurt; from the 2nd length onward in a way that I haven’t had so far in this challenge.

Wednesday’s swim was reasonably straight forward, although the muscle fatigue was already setting in. On a “normal” swim my muslces, particularly my shoulder muscles, start to ache/burn after the first 2 lengths but normally settle down after 10 or so. I’ll usually take a quick break and a sip of water after 10 lengths, shake my arm muscles out and then carry on in sets of 15 to 30 minutes (20 to 40 lengths at a time). On Wednesday it was a good 45 minutes before my shoulders and arms accepted that I wasn’t quitting and stopped complaining. The next 40 minutes felt quite strong and I was tempted to carry on beyond 2 miles, but wanted to keep some reserve for the rest of the week.

Thursday’s swim was tougher both physically and mentally. On Wednesday Sharon and I went to Cardiff to see Tim Minchin in concert. It was a 4½ hour drive there and a 2½ hour drive back on Thursday morning. So by the time I went for a swim I had totally used up any patience I had for doing repetitive stuff whilst listening to music. I found the first hour of the swim boring in a way that I haven’t since I started swimming with headphones on and music playing. I almost quit twice and thought I’d make up the distance on Friday. The first time I kept going because I was listening to the Phoole & The Gang radio show from Friday 25th Oct and at the point I was going to give up Phoole gave me a shout out and asked her audience to pile in on the sponsorship. The second time I just couldn’t bring myself to quit having already done 3 2-mile swims and being within touching distance of the 4th. The last 20 minutes were less tedious but only because the adult swim session finished and the pool started to fill up with kids that I had to dodge.

Friday’s swim wasn’t so tough mentally but was incredibly difficult physically. My legs ached from fatigue for the first time since I started this challenge. Whilst they did eventually give it up and fall in line my arms and shoulders ached and burned for the whole swim. I took more breaks and thought I was swimming slower but still ended up with almost exactly the same time as Thursday. I’ve been adjusting the “catch” phase of my stroke after watching some more YouTube videos and I think that might have increased my speed and compensated for the slower cadence.

No swimming this weekend but I’m feeling the after-effects of the 10 miles this week. My arms and shoulders ache and my back hurts. I haven’t been this weary since the end of my Two Saints’ Way walk. I’d like to keep up the 2 miles per day rate though so I’m hoping I recuperate by Monday morning.

I’m up to 13th on the leaderboard on Aspire’s website now but the distances between the places are greater now so it’s going to be difficult to climb much further up.

I’m up to £100 on the sponsorship thanks to 2 donations from work colleagues. You can donate on my JustGiving page.

20191029 Swim #35

My second 2 miler in a row. And 5 minutes quicker than yesterday. Partly because the pool was much much quieter than yesterday and I had a lane to myself for much of the time. By fluke, this puts my total distance so far at exactly 78.000 km.

My pace is still slower than it was 2 weeks ago. For the first hour I focused on trying to keep my pace up but when I took a breather at the hour mark I’d still only done 94 lengths. I have no idea how I was managing 96 – 98 before or why my pace has dropped a little.

I’ve bought myself some new swimming headphone and they are fantastic. Before I started this challenge I knew one of the issues I would have would be getting bored if I tried to swim for anything more than 10 minutes. Unlike walking, there’s no scenery or variation in terrain to keep you interested and occupied. So I bought myself a cheap (£30) pair of Tayogo bone-conducting swimming headphones to see whether listening to music whilst swimming was feasible and whether it would make a difference. And I promised myself that if they did work, if I stuck at the Aspire Channel Swim and if I thought it was likely that I would continue swimming after the challenge finished then I would buy myself a better, more expensive set.

The Tayogos absolutely did work and I’d recommend them to anyone looking for a cheap set, if they were still available, but it looks like they’ve been discontinued.

So over the weekend, I ordered some AfterShokz Xtrainerz and the difference is incredible. The sound clarity is superb and they’re fantastically light and comfortable. Occasionally with the Tayogos it’d take some fiddling to get them to sit right and with a really long swim they could start to get a little irritating (as could the goggles and nose clip). The AfterShockz are so comfortable that even after the 2 miles I could still barely feel that they were there. Only the continued sound let me know that they hadn’t just fallen off. With the Tayogos listening to music was fine but any spoken word sections kind of got lost amongst the noise of the water. In the AfterShokz the clarity seems got enough to listen to spoken-word audio opening up the possibility of listening to audiobooks or language courses whilst swimming.

The Tayogos (left) and the AfterShokz Xtrainerz (right)

I’m hoping to be able to complete 2 miles a day all 5 days this week and you could encourage me on that with a donation to the Aspire charity on my JustGiving page.

20191028 Swim #34

Today’s swim was a much stronger one than I was expecting. I felt unwell over the weekend and didn’t do much other than watch TV. So I expected to struggle to even make it to the pool, let alone swim particularly far.

Having dragged myself out of bed, with the help of a caffeine drink, and to the pool I told myself I’d aim for a 45-minute swim and make up the extra 15 minutes during the week. However, as soon as I started swimming I realised I felt better and less fatigued than I have 3 or 4 weeks. So I figured I’d get a full 2 miles in.

Despite feeling good, when I stopped for a breather at the hour mark I’d only done 88 lengths. A full 10 lengths fewer than I’d done in the same time a couple of weeks earlier. This would partly be due to the fact that it was a busy session in the pool and I wasn’t in “the lanes” so I was having to dance around with other swimmers sharing the same space. But my pace does seem to have slowed over the last few weeks. Instead of the 98 lengths per hour that I was achieving, it’s now more usually 92 or 94.

You can see the record of my total mileage and a link to my Just Giving page on my Aspire Channel Swim log.

20191025 Swim #33 End of Week 7

A quick (although slightly slower than usual) 2-mile swim before breakfast rounded off week 7 of my #AspireChannelSwim week. It was a busy morning session right from the off at 7am and I was sharing a lane with 2 others for the first time in a while. Despite what I consider to be a slightly lackadaisical pace I was the fastest of the 3 and very grateful that they were quick to pause and step aside to let me past.

My Fitbit Ionic, which does my length counting for me.

I haven’t been swimming at the weekends and I’m looking forward to 2 days of relative rest before getting back to it on Monday. Just another 5 weeks left until I can take a longer break. :¬)

Prior to this challenge, I was never much of a swimmer and I’d certainly not done any distance swimming like this since I got my 1 Mile Badge as a teenager. I struggled to swim for any period of time because I found it tedious and trying to count lengths meant my mind couldn’t relax and “zen-out”. 2 things have changed that for me.

  1. Buying a set of waterproof bone conduction headphones so I can listen to music. I bought a set of £30 Tayogo MP3 player headphones just to try out the principle and they work brilliantly. But I may well invest in some more expensive ones now I know it works.
  2. My Fitbit Ionic, which counts the lengths I do. This means I don’t have to try to remember how many lengths I’ve done or which one I’m on. I just swim in 15 or 20 minutes sets keeping an eye on the clock. During the lengths now I can just let my mind wander and embrace the slightly hypnotic swimming action.

My dalliance with a change of technique is faltering. The technique I was copying whilst it felt natural at first seems to fatigue specific muscles quite heavily and seems to slow my pace down. So I’ve been looking at a few more videos and I think I’m going to try incorporating this one into my style….

When I get home from an early swim I’ll quite often lean my chair back, put my feet up on the desk and close my eyes for 10 mins. Our youngest cat Jaspervark loves to join me, jumping up and settling down on my chest or my lap for a quick snooze. It seems to have become his fave part of the day and he gets quite insistent that we get a few Zs at some point in the morning. He also seems fascinated by the smell of chlorine on my beard.

I’m up to 15th on the leaderboard today. 14th place is 4 miles ahead of me so this might be the highest I climb. https://www.aspirechannelswim.co.uk/leaderboards/individuals/order/distance/p2#board

I’m doing this as a sponsored challenge for Aspire, who support people with Spinal Cord Injury to help them live full, independent lives. I’d love it if you’d support me at https://justgiving.com/fundraising/theaardvark-2019-channel-swim

20191024 Swim #32

After a couple of lunchtime swims, today was back to a 7am swim with time for just an hour before work.

7am is a busy time at Burntwood Leisure Centre. By the time they let us through at 6:55am there was a queue of about 10 of us. As the newcomer to this early-morning group, I’m yet to work out where and how everyone prefers to swim. I ended up sharing the “slow” lane with someone who, thankfully, swam at a similar place to me for the first 30 minutes. For the second half-hour I shared it with a woman who is also doing the #AspireChannelSwim and who swims at a similar pace to me.

Yesterday’s change of technique, which uses muscles slightly differently to my previous technique, has taken its toll on my shoulder and side/back muscles so I was having to alternate between the two to manage the fatigue. Even so, I’ve been aching all day since. It showed in my pace too, completing just 92 lengths in the hour.

20191023 Swim #31

Another lunchtime 3km in my #AspireChannelSwim today.

I was focussing on my technique today after seeing some Zoggs videos posted by AspChannelSwim recently.

The video on freestyle/front-crawl suggests lowering your stroke rate and keeping your leading arm out in front of you almost until your returning arm reaches it. The arm stroke is reasonably flat to the body pulling water down your body all the way to your hip. You end up moving in a series of bursts instead of a constant speed. I think it will improve my swim but it’s a little more tiring whilst my muscles get used to the slightly different action. My shoulder and latissimus dorsi muscles are aching tonight and I think I might struggle a little tomorrow.

I’ve passed the 40-mile mark today and, as at 2pm today, I’m into the top 20 on the leaderboard.
Please sponsor me at https://justgiving.com/fundraising/theaardvark-2019-channel-swim

20191022 Swim #30

What a diff a day, 29 hours to be precise, makes. I started today’s #AspireChannelSwim feeling less fatigued & with no residual pain in my shoulder. I felt better than I have for the past week.

Today’s swim was a lunchtime one. I had a rough night with insomnia last night so I figured I’d miss the morning session and get a few extra hours kip. Lunchtime at Burntwood Leisure is often a little quieter than the 7am session and it was so today. I had the “fast” lane to myself on & off for half of my swim.

Within 5 minutes I was thinking my body had been lying to me again but that passed quickly. I hit the 1-hour mark feeling good and pushed on for an extra 15 mins with one eye on the Distance Swum Leaderboard.

At 1hr 15 mins I happened to have completed exactly 3km. I was feeling good enough to continue but didn’t want to risk fatiguing myself for the rest of the week.

I’ve started to think about my stroke technique. Now that I’ve upped my fitness to a point where I can swim for a decent time/distance the next thing to focus on has to be how well I’m doing it. The Aspire Channel Swim Twitter account linked to an instruction video from Zogg (the challenge sponsors) and I found this one from them on freestyle / front-crawl technique. I was surprised to see just how long the swimmer demonstrating left his leading hand in the front before starting the next stroke. It’s going to take some practice to do that I think.

I’ve reached the 39 miles mark for my swim since 9th September and (I had) jumped up to #21 (although I’ve dropped to 23 as others have updated during the day) on the Distance Swum Leaderboard, less than a mile behind the next place and a top 20 ranking. :¬) https://www.aspirechannelswim.co.uk/leaderboards/individuals/order/distance/p3#board

Don’t forget you can sponsor me at https://justgiving.com/fundraising/theaardvark-2019-channel-swim to give me a little encouragement to continue this challenge for the next 5 weeks. :¬)