Meet a member at a distance – Alan

As an out of town Spencer member, I have probably been less affected by the curtailment of team training sessions than regular members. I was already accustomed to devising my own training sets and was aware of the inherent limitations and disadvantages of self coaching: You are less likely to do things that are less enjoyable, and you don’t benefit from the extra effort put in when motivated to keep up with or race against a fellow squad member. Conversely though, your training can be more tailored and specific to your chosen stroke and distance.

I’m fortunate enough to have my own gym in my garden and I have an assortment of aerobic training machines including a Concept 2 rowing machine, a treadmill, a cross trainer and and an exercise bike. These have allowed me to maintain a reasonable level of fitness.

My favourite at the moment is undoubtedly the exercise bike (a Wattbike atom) even though I derive from it little of the upper body conditioning beneficial to swimming. I have to force myself to do a session on one of the other machines before I reward myself with a workout on the Wattbike. The reason I enjoy training on the Wattbike so much is that I can race against real people in real time using an App called Zwift.

I’m aware that many of you who are triathletes or keen cyclists will already be familiar with this, but to me it has been a recent revelation. For the uninitiated, the Wattbike connects to a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth, and the device connects to the internet via WiFi. There are published training sessions and races that you can enter along with thousands of other individuals from all around the world.

My own favourite daily race called ‘Crit City’ consists of eight laps of a two kilometre circuit with climbs and descents (simulated by increased and decreased resistance). The number of other competitors can be as few as thirty, or as many as several hundred depending on the time of day in other time zones around the world. Your relative position in the race and the time intervals between preceding and following competitors Is displayed along with avatars of yourself and the surrounding cyclists. You can see when someone tries to break away from the group and you can decide if you want to increase your effort to stay with them or reconcile yourself to finishing behind them. The benefits of group training mentioned earlier can therefore be enjoyed in a virtual world even during the lockdown. If only there was something similar available for swimming races!

The only swimming I’ve done recently has been a couple of dips in the Thames whilst out walking with my daughter (Joanna) and my dog (Barney). The first occasion wasn’t anticipated.

We decided to do a circular walk from Chertsey along the Thames path to Shepperton where we would cross on the ferry before returning on the southern side. On discovering that the Shepperton ferry wasn’t operating (predictably) we had to choose between returning the way we’d come (boring), continuing on the north side until we came to a bridge (too far) or swimming across. Despite my assurances to Joanna that I would be able to swim across whilst holding my rucksack containing her clothes and phone above my head, she remained unconvinced that her possessions would remain dry. Reluctantly, we began the long walk to the next bridge. Then I remembered something I’d seen Bear Grylls do.

“If we can find a bin liner, we could put everything inside it and knot it up. Everything will stay dry, and it would also provide extra buoyancy for you.” Joanna finally agreed to swim across. The knotted binliner containing my rucksack, donated by some kindly locals, actually floated as planned! Having checked that no boats were approaching, we stripped to our underwear, eased ourselves into the water next to the lock, and began the crossing whilst cheerfully encouraging Barney to join us. Barney is a strong swimmer and will normally leap into the water without hesitation in pursuit of a stick or passing duck. On this occasion he refused to follow us however, and his incessant frenzied barking only served to attract more attention from the amused onlookers. I had to return to the side, and Barney was eventually assisted into the water with me swimming away whilst holding his collar.

Swimming with Barney can be best described as swimming with a garden rotivator. The claws on his rapidly spinning front legs inflict enough pain on bare skin to ensure that a safe distance is maintained. I decided that I would swim ahead, with Barney in hot pursuit whilst my daughter would gently drift across, reposing on the binbag. The plan worked well until I was about three quarters of the way across. Barney grew bored of trying to catch me, and decided that chasing and trying to climb onto my daughter was more fun. 

I swam back as quickly as I could, and grabbed Barney by his collar before his claws could damage the binliner or Joanna too much. My bronze medallion in lifesaving finally proved to be useful. I had to swim across again on sidestroke with one arm outstretched above the water, simultaneously assisting Barney and keeping his claws at a safe distance.

Barney and I eventually reached the other side, and I kept hold of his collar until Joanna and the binliner were also ashore. It’s fair to say it was an exciting and challenging workout, and I’m glad to say that my land based training has meant I haven’t lost too much water fitness.

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