Keyvan’s 14k swim for Alzheimers – Update 19

Beep…beep…beep…buzz…buzz…buzz..3:30 am.

It’s been a hot night with little sleep. Hey stupid! Wake up! Time to go swimming! Time for a 4K Red Mist session.

The Red Mist session is a timed endurance swimming set, often over 3K. The beeper under the cap tells you how fast you should be swimming, while after every set, the time drops by 0.5s; so although you start off at what seem to be a slow pace, the long distance, coupled with short 30s rest between the sets and increasing pace, makes this a very hard work out. I find it particularly hard on my own, as I really have to push hard and gag the negative voices in my head….you will be well familiar with them from the previous blogs….Give up…this is too hard….it is too painful…you will never make it to the beep….

In the car by 4 am. Radio is on, but I am talking to myself thinking of what pace I need to be going at to complete the 4K swim. In Cheltenham by 4:30. Driving towards the Lido, which on this summer solstice, is opening up at 4:15, offering the first views of the breaking sun on the longest day of the year…As if I will have time to stop and look up! But the idea is quite romantic, and I suspect the pool will be empty making the RM session much easier to get through. No swimmers to navigate around. No distractions. Just pure unadulterated hard and long swim lasting 1 hour 20 or so mins.

As I gingerly drive the last few hundred yards, I see one or two people walking with their swimming bags on their shoulder. So there are other crazy people like me, who think 4:30 is an appropriate time for a swim in an open pool.

Drive a little further and I can see the car park. I have to blink twice as I was expecting an empty car park and now I am faced with chaos! The car park is packed. The side streets are all packed, too. There is a queue of at least 200, all waiting to get in!! What? Seriously? 200 people and nowhere to park? I check the time on my watch just in case I am 3 hours late. Nope! It is 0429 hrs!

Change of plan. Go back to home to bed. Kicking myself for thinking this was a good idea to drive all this way, I drop by the lake on the way home. Open the padlock…too early to remember the code. That damned 4-digit code. I am convinced Jo changes it every morning! My numbers dyslexia doesn’t help. A few attempts. Very proud that I manage to crack it open like a professional burglar, without having to look up the code on my phone! Park the car. One swimmer in the water, along with some swans and ducks about; and that’s it. Warm breeze hitting me in the face while taking a photo.

And there I am in 25 ºc water swimming 1700m in skins for the first time. The lack of wetsuit buoyancy means I need to work hard; kick harder while focusing on the front of the catch as the more effective the front of the stroke is the less the legs will sink and drag you down.

Beautiful and exhilarating start to the day, although that was not part of the plan!

Hitting the wall

Up until Thursday 22nd June I have completed 120 swimming sessions in 2017. That’s nearly 5 sessions per week. And every time I have finished a session, I have been able to take some positive out of it. Perhaps it was the set intensity, may be the pace or that glinting feel of a great catch, and sometimes just keeping relative pace with Nicola the Mermaid-come-Torpedo.

That’s until this particular Thursday. Feel great in the morning, but as I am late getting up I skip on breakfast, coffee and warm up stretches. I get there in a rush. Water is warm. But we decide to put wetsuits on. Get in the water. It’s warm. Something like 24 °c. We head off. The Marlin under my cap is telling me in real-time what pace I am going at. And it starts off fast. 3.7 kph. That’s about 0.2 kph faster than I wanted to go and I am breathing hard. I slow down a bit. 3.5 kph. That’s it. Hold it right there, but then it drops to 3.2 kph. Try to get to 3.4. But nothing happens. It’s like you put your foot on the accelerator and the revs go up, but you’re not going any faster. Several hundred meters on, and the pace is dropping to 3.1 kph and I am struggling. Nicola, who is taking it real easy is miles ahead. So far ahead I can’t see her. That has never happened. I stop and readjust the strokes per meter rate down. Let’s focus on the technique, I tell myself. And the pace just keeps dropping.

At the end of the first 1500m lap we catch up and go off again. And this time I am struggling to get the pace above 3.0 kph, eventually dropping to 2.9 and settling there as though I am dragging a large lump of concrete behind me around the lake. That’s slower than my slowest swim from 12 months ago. I can’t figure out why I have no power left in my shoulders, arms or in my core for rotation. Half way through the lap I head home. First time I have had to abandon a swimming session.

I get out feeling deflated, not having anything positive to draw from that swim. I can’t even say I enjoyed the feel of the water as I was boiling under the wetsuit.

Ship abandoned, I head home. And then the coughing, sneezing and headaches start. Come Friday evening, with the 8K Saturday morning plans firmly abandoned, I head for the bottle of wine!

As I sink down the third glass, it dawns on me…..There is always something positive one can draw from any situation, and on this occasion the bottle of wine has saved the day.

Fundraising for Alzheimer’s Society

I am training for the Henley-on-Thames 14K swim marathon and the Dart 10K this year, while attempting to raise £5,000 for Alzheimer’s Society. You can donate toward this amazing charity via JustGiving:

I am grateful for all your support and thanks very much for reading.

Keyvan Shirnia

By Daniel Swann