Mar 21 – Sink or Swim

Hi all – there’s a distinctly aquatic theme to this month’s blog…

February didn’t go quite to plan. Training was progressing adequately, until I pulled my lower back. This put a stop to intense training for 2 weeks, and coinciding with a spell of warmer, sunny weather it was very easy to start feeling frustra…… My coach told me not to use that particular ‘f’ word and just to just accept the “what is”. So I did just that, focused on active recovery, and kick started my pre-season healthy eating and weight loss efforts.

Swimming remains a problem with pools still closed, but I’m hoping to be back in the water by mid-April, and in the Lake by early May. To mitigate the lack of swimming, I’ve been doing swim strength sessions.

Using stretch cords, with paddles attached, I try to replicate the swim action. Standing, bent forward, repeating this for 30-40 minutes is tedious so it’s a case of more streamed TV. Thanks to your suggestions I’ve now finished all the additional Rocky related films, Eddie the Eagle, and the entire first series of Titan Games.

On the race front, things are looking more promising. The European Championships have been confidently announced, and will take place in late September in Valencia, Covid permitting. My travel is already booked.  An announcement on the World Championships, in Canada, is due in April, but I’m not feeling optimistic. UK races are lined up for Southport, Leeds and my local favourite of Upton on Severn.

Triathlon Focus – The Swim

The majority of triathletes dislike the swim. Many don’t consider themselves to be either competent or strong swimmers. I’m fortunate in that I swam competitively from a young age. Whilst at Sixth Form College I had a part-time job as a Lifeguard – a time that I refer to as my “Baywatch days”.

I think of swimming as being 80% technique and 20% fitness, especially in triathlon. The key is to swim as effortlessly as possible, leaving the water feeling fresh and warmed up for the bike. Many expend a lot of energy just getting through the swim.

The pool is my favourite place. I swim many lengths trying to perfect my stroke and my breathing, and I find it enjoyable and therapeutic. Different swim aids help with the training. For example, a ‘Pull buoy’, a float placed between the legs, allows you to concentrate on your arm stroke. For the distances I swim, 1500m and above, it’s important to minimise the use of legs as the propulsion they provide is limited.

The plan is to have a very smooth and efficient stroke going into a race. Like all plans, this gets ‘blown out of the water’ the moment the race starts. Most competitions are in open water (lakes, rivers or the sea), and they usually involve mass starts, sometimes numbering in the hundreds. These starts are stressful, violent and fast, and aptly described as ‘The Washing Machine’. Water churns, arms fly around, and legs kick hard. I’ve been thumped repeatedly on the head, kicked in the face, had my goggles and swim hat ripped off, and somewhere at the bottom of Ragley Hall lake is an expensive GPS watch that another competitor knocked off.

It’s very easy to get caught up in the moment, lose focus, panic, and swim badly. I finished one swim completely exhausted and drained because I made all these mistakes. This is where experience counts, and the need to re-focus as quickly as possible. Usually within 200-300 metres the race (and water) calm down. It’s at this point that you need to settle into that swim stroke that you’ve spent months perfecting.  

There is another problem with open water swimming. There are no convenient swim lanes and black lines to follow, or ends of the pool to turn at. Instead, you must swim towards distant buoys in as straight a line as possible. If you were to swim with your eyes closed, you won’t swim in a straight line. Regular open water swimming allows me to practice ‘sighting’ for the buoys, as well as factoring in wind, currents and other swimmers. In a race you have two choices – follow the person in front and hope they’re taking the most direct route, or regularly check for yourself. If you’re smart, you’ll pick up on where the current can give you an advantage.

Links to Work

Projects often start out with simple objectives, and a clear path to follow, a little like swimming in a pool. Once underway the complexities and complications flood in and they can easily take your focus or hinder your direction. It’s very easy to become consumed with the latest issue, before moving onto the next. Your head is down fighting the latest fire, and you quickly lose sight of where the project is overall. As Programme and Project Managers, we must keep lifting our head and checking we’re heading in the right direction. There’s no point in following the lead of others and hoping that will get us there. We need to be constantly checking and correcting. We also need to be vigilant for the unseen risks that can throw us off-course as well as looking for opportunities to get ahead.

All projects face issues that require instant focus and effort to resolve. But just like the start of a triathlon race, it’s important not to get too caught up for too long as you’ll quickly lose sight. Our role is to keep the project progressing smoothly and efficiently.

Ideas for keeping active

It’s not so much about ‘keeping active’ this month, but rather a focus on healthy eating. Firstly, a little insight into me. Trying to maintain a healthy weight is something I’ve struggled with most of my adult life. I’m not blessed with super skinny genes, or a superb metabolism. I easily put on weight, and this is getting worse the older I get. The reason I got into triathlon a few years ago was to lose weight and to improve my mental well-being.

Even when I keep an eye on things my weight can fluctuate over the year, and during this last year I gained the ‘Covid Stone’. With races starting soon I knew I needed to lose that stone, and maybe a bit more. Hurting my back was the catalyst for this and I put into action all those good weight management principles that I know, but usually ignore. There are so many different diets for weight loss and healthier eating, with each one claiming to be better than the next. I ignored them all and set myself the challenge of applying some good and sensible principles that most experts agree on. ​​​​​​​

Without a single calorie counted, or a diet plan followed, I began applying the following principles bit by bit. 4 weeks later, and 3/4 of a stone lighter, here are the principles I have followed:

The change I made is (shown in orange) ‘Time-restricted eating’ and this subsequently led to many additional benefits (shown in yellow)

Rather than trying to change too many things at once, make one change and make it stick. 

In my case I chose to adopt ‘Time-restricted eating’ principle. Where possible I hold my breakfast back till 8am and have dinner by 6pm (much to the disgust of my teenage daughters).

By making this one change it resulted in four other changes. As a result of the time restricted eating:

  • I no longer eat later in the evening
  • I’ve cut out alcohol and snacks (except for once a week)
  • I sleep better
  • I now relish a decent breakfast

I hope some of this might be of help. Let me know if you try any of these or if you’ve made your own changes.

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