Category Archives: Coaching

Swimming anxiety (but not mine).

My holiday arrived at long last. It is hard to believe that a year ago Ali Miche Kaz and I were returning from Swanage. I am going to have to be typically British and just mention the weather now. So bear with me.

The weather could not be more different to last year. 2013 was the longest winter ever. We had booked to go camping last year in the hope of having warm days (if not chilly nights). The plan was to swim the channel in a week. We could not have been more wrong. The sea was still between 7 and 9 degrees. The air temperature barely much more. And some mornings we had ice warnings on the temperature gauge on my car.

But this year! Wow. The sun was shining. The temperature was 20 degrees at 10am. There was barely any wind. Fantastic. When I met Ali at Leybourne I reminded her. “2013 was never going be my year” she said.

Pleased to have got my six hour swim out of the way last week. A good job as the temperature and eked up to 16 degrees at the edge. I had agreed to help Ali with the assessments. I had also arranged to meet Jane. A lady from the previous week who had started the assessment but could not complete it. I had promised to swim 121 with her this week.

We met at 11am for a cup of tea and a chat. The assessments started at 11.30am. There were 9 swimmers in total. Suited up (in a wet suit not my business suit.. or my birthday suit for that matter!) we entered the water.







16 degrees of course feels warm to us. Particularly in a wetsuit. But for those who are not acclimatised, it is still cold. Ali went through the acclimatisation drill. Every one looked happy with it. And we set off.

I swam behind as usual (to make sure everyone is ok) I was able to share my top tips with the new swimmers. I had already shared the cheap washing up liquid as a goggle de mister at the beginning. It also works for bathroom mirrors. Other useful tips included to stop eggs rolling off the table, place them in a bowl or other similar egg shaped receptacle. Bugger all use when you are swimming. Perhaps more handy when you are baking though. I am sure our swimmers have clear goggles and have reduced their broken egg incidents at home.


assessments 3






The assessments over I met Jane. She had already suited up. I decided to keep mine on just in case. I also used Flo (my swim safety device) Other models are available. But mine is from the states. It cost a fortune by the time I had paid the duty on it. But it is a useful swim device. It is both dry bag and a float. You attach it to your waist and it floats behind you.

I went through acclimatisation. I asked Jane what she thought the issue was. We talked about it for a while. Physical causes had been ruled out earlier in the week when she had seen her GP. So we thought about the things that make new swimmers anxious. Some don’t like the feeling of the wetsuit. It is constricting, grippy and usually tight around the neck. Others don’t like being splashed or swimming near others. The cold is an issue for some. We have a saying that it “only takes your breath away once”. But for some swimmers they then never really get control of their breathing.

Jane thought it may be the cold on her face. We talked about it for a while. It was more important for her to finish the swim she has planned. She was not worried about speed. So we decided she may wish to try breast stroke. She is comfortable with this and can then see where she is going.

We swam to the first buoy. She immersed her face between strokes. I noted that when she came up for air she was first of all exhaling. I advised blowing bubbles in the water and to practice breathing out under water. We did this for a while and then we swam to the next bouy. She was comfortable and smooth. And pretty fast. I certainly could not keep up with her doing breast stroke myself!

Having caught her up we swam back to shore to get rid of Flo. I thought we should try without. So we shed Flo and then carried on swimming. Jane swam beautifully. I asks Ali what sort of start Blenheim was. Apparently you have to jump in from a height. I hummed and ahhhed. Not my favourite thing jumping in. It is an air thing! Well a height thing. Ali said in a voice she was sure everyone could hear “you did it last year, JFDI!”

Shooting her a hard stare before collecting Flo (for safety reasons – her being a swim safety device) we set off to the pontoon. I said I thought it was about 150m from the jetty. I think that is wrong. I have no ideas how far it is. But it seemed to take us ages.

I said to Jane it was worth practising as we could use some techniques to help her retain control of her breathing. We did not really need to do that. She jumped in. Again. And again. And again. No bother. I was hesitant but also jumped in.

We then swam back to the jetty. I advised Jane she had passed her assessment. We had in reality swum much further than the assessment and been in deeper water.

I was delighted for her. I offered to swim the 750m course next weekend with her. Then she will be ready to swim her own race.

Fantastic. Someone who was so nervous (but smiling) last week came out of the water happy and confident. What could be better than helping others to have as much fun as I do!









Princess Fiona had arrived in the mean time. And Jamie. Ali offered up my services to have a look at his stroke. We set him off on 3x400m round the bouys. Catching him up for one of them so we could have a look.

I was able to give Jamie some tips too. Not baking tips this time. Swimming tips. I advised him about a few drills that would help his arm entry and rotation. And then I decided it was time to get out.

It is corny to say it but true non the less. I love helping others to enjoy swimming. I am not a coach. I don’t get paid. I have just learnt things along the way and enjoy sharing what little I know with others.

I had already invited myself to Ali and Miche’s or tea. I had also requested meat balls. I had a sandwich when I got out. Ali was not ready as she had some assessments to do. Fiona carried on swimming. Barely a peep out of her this week. She swam well and was much warmer at the end.

It is amazing how much better it feels getting out into warm sunshine. Actually, that is not amazing at all. It is evident. That sentence does not sound quite as good though. It is evident how much better it feels getting out into the warm sunshine. See? I shall stick with the original line. We did not shiver at all. Ali and I had been in 2.5 hours in total and Princess Fiona an hour.

The first thing to do upon arrival at Ali and Miche’s was to inspect the shed. (I usually have a wee as the first thing I do but not today) Miche has designed and is building a shed in their garden. To call it a shed is not quite right. Some may call it a summer house. Miche is calling it a cow shed for now. Either way it is a temporary erection for which one does not require planning permission. Their neighbour appears to have developed erection envy. I say that as while we were there we saw him measuring up for what we assumed is going to be an even bigger erection.

There will be a grand opening and there is a competition to name the shed. I was lost for ideas. Probably because I was so hungry.

The meatballs were amaze balls by the way! And I ate 4! Which I thought was a record. Apparently I have eaten 4 before. So I have equalled my record.

For the love of swimming.

Contrary to popular belief it is not just all about my swim. 


Saturday dawned (not that you would know it) as Folkestone was thick with fog. Visibilty was around 10 feet. It was cold, damp and fairly miserable. 

As I set off to Leybourne with my fog lights on, the temperature gauge in my car red 9 degrees. 


The wind was beginning to whip up and by the time I reached the M20 the fog had cleared but the rain was heavy. 

Mind you the further I got up the M20 the clearer it became and by the time I reached junction 4 there was the threat of sun. 


I was meeting Ali (my Channel Coach).  The plan, to assist her with an Open Water Skills workshop.  


Jamie was there. He is doing a two man channel relay later in the year. He was meeting Alan his channel partner for a training set. Sadly he had had a recent bereavement. We talked about his Dad for little while.  He had died very suddenly after being admitted to hospital with what he thought was a hernia. Unfortunately the news was not great and he died unexpectedly a few days later. Jamie is raising money for McMillan.


I found Jamie's commitment and determination inspiring. In spite of his own grief he was out in the rain and the cold to swim  in memory of his Dad. Good luck to you and Alan on your two man relay. 


His Just Giving page can be found here


For some reason I cannot get the link to work. So please copy and paste into a browser if you wish to donate. 


Jamie went into the water to have a swim. A previous Ironman, he had put on a little bioprene. This is natures neoprene (wet suit material) and if you have enough it can help with the cold. Too much though and it affects your swimming (as well as your heart!) 


The workshop was due to start at 11am so we met at 10.30am. No reason to meet this early, but we both like to chat!

There were 6 swimmers booked on the course.


Ali’s coaching style is relaxed. The whole idea is to enjoy swimming. I know Dan Earthquake shares this philosophy, but the minute swimming becomes a chore, stop. 

The participants all had a range of events to look forward to. Mainly Triathletes, they were all wet suited up and ready to swim. 


The water was around 15.5 degrees according to the to thermometer. It did not feel quite that warm. I wear a wetsuit when I do these work shops. So does Ali but hers is so full of holes I am not sure how useful it is. I don’t think that holey wetsuits work like string vests trapping the heat in. Or keeping you cool in summer. Still it is summer (nearly) so perhaps it was doing the work of the season. 


The work shop lasts around 2 hours (depending how the participants cope with the water temperature). They coped admirably and we were in the water for 90 minutes. 


I am not a coach. I do not pretend to be one. But Ali is. She is a most excellent coach and if you are in the Kent area and want some swim coaching, I can highly recommend her. 

She can be contacted via Leybourne lake (see link on the right had side of the page). 


After the work shop we had around 90 minutes before some assessments. I volunteered to help. We have such a good time doing it. But really, (an this sounds really corny) what I love most of all is helping people to acheive their swimming dreams. The assessments and workshops are only a tiny part of it. I love swimming and I feel really good when people get out of the water with big smiles on their faces. Swimming is swimming. Whether your first channel swim or your first sprint triathlon, the aim is to have fun. Most triathletes endure the swim. But most of the people who come to the workshop appear to get out of the water with new skills (hopefully) and hopefully a little bit more love for the water.

Ramping it up.

I have had some good sessions and some not too good sessions over the last month.


Not only has it been pretty busy at work, but my Dad has also been quite poorly. Travelling up and down to Leeds is quite tiring. The drive can take anything up to 6 hours + depending on the traffic.

Plus my working hours have been a bit hectic. This has led to a poor sleep (or lack of) and a poorer diet. 


This has made a different to my critical swim speed. (this is the time it takes to swim 100m based on a calculation of your a 400m time trial divided by a 200m time trial)

I had been improving steadily but this week my time was much slower. I could not keep the pace at all. I carried on and kept resetting the beeper.


I looked back at the travel my diet and my lack of sleep. It was no wonder really. I find if I eat crap I swim crap. With the driving, a stay in a hotel, several missed meals and a couple of takeaways I was eating rubbish. 


I am also increasing the distance and time I swim. My first 6 hour swim was suppose to be on 26 April but the missed sessions means I am postponing this until 11 May. 

Consequently that will be outside. It will also count as the channel qualification swim. 


If you are going to swim the channel (and I am – that is the point of this whole blog!) you have to swim for 6 hours in water under 15 degrees. Given the warm weather we are having it looks as if the lake will be warmer than that by the end of May so I do have to get on with it. 


I have gone back to Leybourne to swim long.  It is easy to swim in the lake without crew. I have a little dinghy to put my drinks in and if I fasten them to a bouy, I can swim for hours without coming back to shore. The previous Sunday I had gone alone and swam for 90 mins. 


The temperature is  currently 13 degrees or so. I weed near the thermometer and it shot up to 15 degrees. Too much weeing and it will be too warm to qualify! It is warmer (sic) for the time of year than usual. This is probably because we have had a wet but mild winter. Plus the lake is clear. And deeper thanks usual. 


I have been gradually increasing the time in the water outside. On Good Friday I was in the water for 3 hours. I helped Ali with swim assessments and then swam for 2 hours. 


I was cold when I got out. The air temperature was around 11 degrees but the sun was shining. There was also a very cold breeze. Plus I had got cold doing the assessments. And that was before I began. 


They are fun though and I do enjoy helping Ali. I am not a coach or anything but I guess I am an experienced open water swimmer. 




Ali is a coach. She is also my coach. And she can be quite mean. When I say quite mean I really mean mean! 


So immediately after the assessment she sent me off to swim 4 laps of the lake. I did not even get chance to get out for a cup of tea after the assessments. 


leybourne 2 hour swim start


Besides which, even if I had tired, Kaz (photographer) was blocking my exit. She pointed back to the water. With out a moan or a backward glance I set off around the lake. 


The day before I had done a time trial of the various circuits in the lake. The aim of the Good Friday swim was to swim slightly slower than the time trial speed (29 mins per lap) but to maintain that pace over the duration of the swim. 

It is harder to do this sort of swimming in a lake. Especially as one of the sighting bouys is missing. But I had a go. I swam fairly consistently for the time but was getting slower. 


Ali noted that my right arm recovery is a bit flat so she has set me some drills to try and correct this.

Stuart (my second favourite pilot after Eric Hartley (Pathfinder) was on the safety boat. He and William brought me my feeds at fairly regular intervals. 



The next thing to do is to bring the milk bottles and swim and drink at the same time.