Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Swim Smooth Clinic and Huub suit

I attended my second Swim Smooth clinic yesterday, at Corby International Pool, to brush up on my Freestyle stroke technique and see the innovative new Huub suit which will be released next month.

Paul Newsome was amazed that I had arrived without a pull buoy, as last year I was unable to swim even one length of the pool without one. The confidence that I gained from my last Swim Smooth workshop has meant that I have now competed in Disability Swimming competitions at both Regional and National level and in April I have my first International level competition. The disability swimming classification system is based on functional ability and ANY movement the swimmer is able to make to complete the recognised stroke must be attempted. This has meant me having to relearn to use my legs (I am classified S8/S7/SM8) but has had tremendous positive benefits to both my fitness and my body shape-I proudly told Paul that I had put an inch on my hips and now had a bum again! My size 8 jeans are no longer shapeless...

The pool and theory lessons were excellent as usual, but I was itching to swim in a wetsuit again and compare the Huub to my top end Blue Seventy Helix and Zone 3 Vanquish suits. As a TRI1 paratriathlete, I use upper body strength only throughout the swim, so it's really important to get as much flexibility as possible in this area of the suit, but still retain core stability to keep me straight in the water and allow good body roll. Putting on the suit was amazingly easy, the supersoft and flexible 3mm Yamamoto neoprene in the women's Aura suit felt great and didn't give me that 'thunder thighs' look of other wetsuits. The arms and legs were not overly long or big in the Ladies small size either. I am a petite five foot, 51kg, 'lean' athlete (thanks Adam for that lovely comment!) so this suit was almost a perfect fit, although had a bit of excess around the midriff that the size smaller would eliminate.

The all round even buoyancy kept me floating confidently on the surface of the water and the suit did not feel constrictive at all. The neck seal was smooth and high enough that I also didn't get that flush of water down every time I tried bilateral breathing. I am naturally buoyant and have good body position in the water and this suit is designed to complement that.

Adam set me off on a paced 100m swim against one of the faster female swimmer's in the group, who I hadn't have been able to match without a wetsuit. My swimming felt surprisingly effortless with my less than perfect core supported and kept straight by the 'X-O skeleton' of firmer material. I didn't seem to cross over with my weaker left arm either due to the over-reach system built into the back of the suit. I experimented with a straight arm recovery, 'windmilling' aka Harry Wiltshire to finish with almost perfectly matched splits and loads of energy for a sprint finish. I then used a tempo trainer and upped my stroke rate. When Adam asked how fast I thought I'd done the 100m, I was absolutely astounded to discover that I had surpassed my previous PB by a whopping 10 seconds and I wasn't even at maximal effort!! I had also already gone well beyond my swim target race pace for this year, which I thought would take many more months to achieve!

I've decided to up my race distance this year to Olympic as it is an Olympic year for us in GB, and am heading to the New York City Paratriathlon on July 8th, which is the first competition ever to offer prize money for paratriathletes. The 1500m swim was a daunting prospect as I thought the longer distance would increase my shoulder fatigue and cause me problems on the hand bike and wheelchair run. If I can get my hands on one of these new Huub suit's, I'm looking at new PB's and swimming faster than I've ever dreamed of...

Now, if only they would allow wetsuits at the British International Disability Swimming Champonships, I would be in with a chance to medal :-)

Saturday, 17 September 2011

World Triathlon Championships in Beijing

As part of my race preparations, I had been practising left hand cornering at speed as the run course in Beijing was flat but had eight turns. Unfortunately while out with my coach, I tipped my race chair over, giving myself road rash on my arm. It wasn't until I tried to swim later in the week that I realised I'd done a bit more damage...A trip to the physio revealed problems with both my rotator cuff and supraspinatus tendon secondary to two ribs that had popped out of place and my lat was in spasm. Just as well my pain threshold is high...
Of course, this meant rest, but my race was only a week away. I'd already been training at quite high intensity for two weeks with my injury, so it seemed sensible to take it easy.
Beijing was huge and sprawling, with a high level of pollution on most days. Race day was overcast, quite warm but not too humid. Team mate Jimmy Goddard was unable to race, so I was offered his transition helpers. I knocked a full minute from my transition time and was only 32 seconds behind my main rival-they were awesome! Big thanks to BA who flew them out to Beijing and GE who paid for their Hotel. It's such a shame Jimmy didn't race, as although he would have been up against 9 competitors, he got silver in Hyde Park and his chances were good for a medal.
Unfortunately, I had travelled all the way to Beijing to race my fellow GB team mate, which was pretty disappointing. Still, I aimed to race the best I could and ended up with two race PB's in the swim and race chair, and was first out of the swim as usual. The bike was hilly, technical and challenging. I felt immense satisfaction at overtaking my team mate on the steepest hill of the course, since I have only been cycling since mid January. But I was shocked when she went to overtake me on the inside of a tight right hand bend when I was taking a racing line. She passed within inches of me, and said afterwards that she didn't see me. Sarah Springman commented that it could have resulted in us both ending up in a concrete ditch and out of the race, which is sadly what happened to Ian Dawson and his guide on the first lap of the bike course. The run was ideal for me as it meant sprinting off at every turn, and I was only three minutes behind my team mate in her best discipline. My rapid improvement in all three disciplines has meant that I have kept pace with the small improvements she has made this year, which bodes well for next season.
Now I am looking forward to County Masters and East Midlands disability swimming competitions in October if my shoulder holds out, then a well deserved rest before starting winter training.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Chinese Visa!

My Passport arrived back today with my Chinese visa in it! The Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championships Grand Final is in Beijing on 9th September. I am travelling out on 5th September and hope to get over any jetlag quickly so that I can try the course and test my gear out after the long journey.
It's the first time I will have travelled with my hand bike and race chair and hope that my equipment is well looked after by BA. I've heard horror stories of bent and broken frames, ripped upholstery, broken spokes, etc.
I have three days off to see the sights of Beijing after the competition and then hope my coach gives me a well deserved break, although I only started training mid January so have not had such an intense year as others. I do feel that I have perhaps tried to do too much this year and will concentrate on only doing four major Sprints next year. The Europeans are in Eilat next April and the Worlds are in New Zealand, so I will have to work on getting some more sponsorship for travel costs.
I'm really excited about my prospects at Beijing. I just need to stay focused, be more consistent with my training and stay injury/illness free.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Coniston Water 2.4 mile/3.8km swim

Getting up at 5am to drive hundreds of miles for four hours to swim 2.4 miles in Coniston Water must be some people's idea of madness, but I had a great day!
I've never swum so far in the pool or open water, so it was a real taste of what an Ironman distance swim would be like. I plan to do Ironman in two or three years time, with an attempt at Kona if possible.
The organisers, Epic Events, were brilliant at making me feel included and doing all they could to help. Unfortunately, they did not have any water handlers, so it was a bum shuffle out over a stony shoreline until the water was deep enough to swim in. It was a deep water start of 108, the largest field I have ever swum in, with only 35 women competing overall. I swam the first mile at a conservative pace, not knowing if I could last the distance. Pyschologically speaking, once I was half way, I knew I could do it. It was a clear rectangular course and I had managed to draft a quick breaststroker, so I upped my pace and left him behind. It was considerably more choppy on the inward side and the wake from the steamer was disconcerting, but I managed bilateral breathing on the shore side.
My time was 1:25:10, which included another bum shuffle back up the shore onto the timing mat. I came 29th and ninth out of twelve in my age category. On the four hour journey home, I had plenty of time to contemplate what the rest of an Ironman would feel like...

Hyde Park International

It's quite exciting being considered 'elite' and using the same blue carpet the Brownlees and Helen Jenkins have sprinted over on their way to victory.
Unfortunately, having the ParaTriathlon race after the men's elite meant being ejected from the Athlete Lounge into the pouring rain and queueing for transition while they removed their equipment.
Dressed only in a GBR trisuit, I got very cold, being unable to control my body temperature due to my sci. Lots of my fellow competitors were willing to give up their clothing for me, but I refused to accept. I ended up being ushered into the first aid tent and wrapped in a woolly blanket and space blanket, where I put on my wetsuit.
The continuous shivering had made my lower back seize up completely and I considered not doing the race. Thanks to big hugs from Emma and constant attention from John, I did race.
George and Rebecca were excellent transition helpers, enduring the weather without complaint. I did a race Pb of 15:55 for the 806m swim, and 22:44 in the race chair, with an overall PB of 1:39:43, which I am pleased with. My bike was awful because I couldn't use my hands properly to change gear they were so cold. I ended up grinding my way round on the wrong cog, wasting valuable energy. I also left my pushing gloves out in the rain and I got no grip on the rims until they had shed some water. Lots of lessons learnt.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Dextro Energy Hyde Park International Weekend

My training did not go to plan after the Europeans, where I competed with a wrist tendon injury. My Physio insisted I take 10 days off straight afterwards and it was hard to get back to more intense sessions ready for Hyde Park. I then had an upper respiratory infection, ear infection and UTI all at once to add to my misery and had to take more days off plus take it easy for several weeks. I also discovered I have asthma with a persistent, annoying cough. So, a strong dose of antibiotics to cure it all and an inhaler for the asthma, which fortunately is allowed under anti-doping rules.
Unfortunately, the race weekend loomed all too soon. My train was cancelled and I got to London later than planned, as I was being a 'model' for a Classifiers course on Friday. I had a dip in the green water of the Serpentine for the swim familiarisation but broke the zip of my Blue Seventy wetsuit. Fortunately, Jonathan Riall introduced me to James Lock at Zone 3 in the Expo just before they wrapped up for the night. He supplied me with a top end wetsuit for the race.
Saturday was kit drop-off, a quick transition practice with George and Bex, a visit to the Science Museum and race briefing and registration, then to the Proms to see Nigel Kennedy perform. It was a late drive back to Twickenham.