It’s time to refine your swimming technique…
The best way to get better at something is to do it. This is why earlier in the programme we urged you to swim, swim and swim some more. At the start it was simply about getting back in the water and shaking off that swimming rustiness. Then it was about slowly building up your fitness and learning to enjoy exercising again. Now is a good time for you to review your technique in a bit more detail. A good technique leads to smoother swimming, meaning you will travel further in the water with less effort. Now that can’t be bad can it?
Earlier in the book we recommended you use the breaststroke as you train towards your end goal. Although clearly not the fastest stroke, it is probably the most comfortable for the majority of people who have been away from swimming for a lengthy period. To make it more efficient concentrate getting your arms and legs to work together. It’s easy if you have strong legs to let them dominate the movement of the upper body and vice versa, so always work on getting the correct timing between these two components to get the maximum benefit from each stroke.
Keep your body as flat as possible in the water and don’t let your hips and legs ‘sink and drag’, although accept that as you lift your head to take a breath your body position will shift a bit. Avoid looking up, which will strain your neck, and instead keep your eyes looking down and forwards. This will also help you avoid your legs ‘sinking and dragging’, which effectively causes resistance and will slow you down, making your whole swim harder tougher.
On each stroke, stretch out as if you are trying to reach something in front of you, and use the palms of your hands like flippers to really push the water away, then turn them down and inwards as they come back through the stroke. Make sure you bring your feet up towards your backside and not underneath your body. Again, this is important, as pulling your feet up underneath your body will cause resistance and slow you down. Don’t be afraid to really push your legs for extra propulsion rather than just going through the motions, but avoid breaking the water as this will reduce the power that is generated from your legs.
Breathe as you start to pull into each stroke, and work on fine-tuning your timing so you move from your body being fully stretched out to coiled like a frog ready for the pull of the next stroke. If you lose your rhythm, which is easy to do, especially when you get tired, just slow down to regain your composure and slowly get back into your stroke again.
If your preferred stroke is front crawl you will be getting a lot more bang for your bucks, especially if you can maintain your technique, but this is going to be very difficult over the full 400 metres. To be efficient you need to breath only on every second stroke at least, and a lack of air can make it difficult it you are an inexperienced swimmer or just getting back into the sport after a break. However, you may decide to alternate strokes and use front crawl for certain periods.
Concentrate on keeping your body in a streamlined position, and when breathing keep your head movement smooth to maintain this efficient position, rather than ‘snatching’ it sideways as you gulp for air. As one arm enters the water, the other one should be pulling round through the water to continue the circular movement. Turning your hips and shoulders will assist in this movement. Meanwhile, your legs should be kicking away at a steady pace and there should be minimal knee flexion.
If you use backstroke, keep your eyes facing to the ceiling and your ears at the surface. Keep your head still and turn your shoulders and hips, which will allow your arms to come over for each stroke. Use an alternating leg kick and try to keep your chest and shoulders high in the water.
Before you know it your training sessions will be a part of your life…
Habits are formed by doing the same thing over and over again. The habits you may have formed of working too many hours, getting out of shape, and eating takeaways, didn’t happen because you woke up one day and decided they would be a good idea. They probably became habits because you were tired and pressed for time, so you kept doing these things again and again until you stopped thinking about them anymore.
But the good news is that it is just as easy to form good habits as well. It’s simply a matter of starting to do something you want to do and to keep doing it. You are already well on the road with exercising because you have got this far. It’s now just a matter of keeping it going. The time it takes to form a habit varies from person to person, but one day you will look back and realize you’ve cracked it because you’ll have got out of bed, pulled on your gym kit and headed off for your workout without even thinking about it.
There are a number of things you can to do to ensure you get to that day. Firstly you need to continue to schedule your exercise sessions into your diary or your phone so each one is marked down in the same way as an important appointment.
Don’t be tempted to cancel the session just because someone rings up for a chat or it’s raining and you might get wet on the way to the gym. If this is important to you – and we assume it is or you wouldn’t have got this far – then continue to guard the time you have set aside for your workout as your own (although obviously there will be work and family emergencies that will take priority sometimes).
You can help with this process by looking ahead in the programme and scheduling in sessions for more than one week at a time. Many people who are training for something specific will mark all their sessions into their diary at the start of the programme to help with their planning. In that way if someone e-mails you and asks to meet up a couple of weeks down the line you don’t double book at the expense of your training session.
However, if you do find yourself missing the occasional session don’t let it worry you too much because you have to accept that daily life takes over sometimes. Try to avoid missing too many sessions, though, or the process of creating a habit will be broken.
One of the best things you can do is slot in your session to a time of the day you know you are least likely to be disrupted. Do you have a boss who loves to pile up your desk with paperwork just before noon and wants it sorted out as soon as possible? Then lunchtime sessions probably aren’t the best for you. Three young boys that need getting ready for school? Mornings are no good then. But maybe you always have a couple of hours free after dropping the children off at school? Or you finish work early and have some time to yourself then? Some people like working out early in the morning, others after work and some when the family is tucked up in bed. Find the time that works best for you.
Remember to have some flexibility around changes in your life. If you prefer early-morning sessions but suddenly the boss calls a crack-of-dawn meeting for Wednesdays, then be prepared to shift your session to lunchtime or after work on that day.
One of the best ways to keep going is to find a training buddy. It’s easy enough to wake up, decide you feel tired and go back to sleep instead of the gym when you are training solo. That’s not so easy to do when you have a friend waiting outside to meet you. Training buddies are also great at motivating each other. There will always be days when one of you will be feeling a bit flat – and that’s when a smile and a word of encouragement can come to the rescue.
Look ahead to your 25 km ride and see yourself completing it in style…
The short visualization exercise you did at the start of the programme was all about tuning your mind into what you wished to achieve. It’s a great exercise because your mind works with your body in focusing it on the goal. It is able to see what is needed to get to the end goal even before your body is ready. And because of this it will work with your body until such time as it is ready.
But for some reason the word ‘visualization’ scares some people. Maybe it’s because some of us reject the more chest-thumping motivational speakers, who advocate the technique, as a bit over the top. And yet you use visualization techniques every day of your life. It’s just that you don’t think of them as such.
When you look ahead to things you want, for instance your dream house, you are using this technique. You are allowing you mind to see what you want. You see the number of bedrooms you would like. You’ll add in the bathrooms you’ll need (en-suite for yourself maybe?). Then you’ll picture the garden with the play area for the children, or the big space for the dog to run around in. Who knows, maybe there’s a swimming pool somewhere in the scenario too.
If you are like most people, you’ll have filled in the details too. You’ll know the style of the house’s architecture, the type of floors you want, even the layout and colour schemes in the rooms. You are visualizing what you want and even if you don’t know it, you are setting your mind to work to achieve your dream. It might take many years but in a few years you could be living in that dream house, thanks in part to the hard work of your mind. But your mind was only able to do this because you allowed it to picture the end result (the house).
If such techniques can work on something as big as a house, it’ll be a stroll in the park to use it for this 25 km cycle ride. So take a few minutes to repeat the visualization exercise, except this time fill in the details. The more you picture the details, the more comfortable you will be on the day itself. This is because you are using your ‘future memory’, something you have ‘remembered’ but which has not happened yet. Again, find somewhere quiet where you will not be disturbed, and close your eyes if this helps you to concentrate.
Picture yourself getting up and preparing everything for your ride. ‘See’ details such as the colour of the kit you will wear. Go through the motions of ‘seeing’ yourself filling up your water bottle and clipping it on to your bike. Think about the type of things you might chat to your training buddy about once you have met up.
‘See’ yourself at the start, feeling happy and enthusiastic. ‘Smell’ the freshness in the air and feel the metal of your bike frame as you climb on to get going. ‘Feel’ comfortable as you push off and start to clock up the first few kilometres. You’re soon at the halfway mark feeling strong and confident. ‘Enjoy’ the feeling of those pedals spinning effortlessly, as more kilometres tick by. Don’t be afraid to tackle a couple of hills in your mind as you will fear them less come the day of your ride.
What are you and your training buddy chatting about as you enter the last part of your ride? ‘Feel’ the refreshment of the water on your lips as you take a drink. It’s the last few kilometres. You’ve trained hard, so you have nothing to fear. Take in as many details as you can, from the sights, to the smells, to the noises. Picture yourself enjoying the last few metres, knowing nothing can stop you. Then ‘feel’ elated at having successfully completed the challenge and head off to ‘enjoy’ your reward. You’ve done it now, the real thing will be a doddle.
You’ll already be starting to feel better and fitter. This is what you’ve been working for…
There’s an example of a man who so loved takeaways and meeting his friends for a beer that he decided to take up exercise. “Hang on,” you might be thinking, “that doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense.” Ah, but you see, his logic was blindingly simple, if a little odd: “As I get older all this fried food and beer is adding weight to my stomach I don’t want, so it’s either give up what I love or take up some exercise that allows me to continue eating and drinking what I please”.
Now, while he realized this sort of argument was unlikely to be found in any fitness manual, he figured that doing something was better than doing nothing at all. He slowly started exercising and even began to enjoy it, and then one day in the office canteen he found himself ordering a healthy chicken rice and salad instead of the usual burger and fries. It wasn’t as if he had suddenly become all pious and ‘found health and fitness’, it was simply that the running was having added positive effects and his body wanted something better to fuel this new-found exercise.
Setting a goal (such as running 5 km) will set your subconscious to attract things to support the goal. As you get into training and maintaining focus on the goal, you may find yourself drawn to new strategies relating to nutrition, kit, or running techniques and so on.
As we stressed at the start, trying to change too much in your life at the same time is simply likely to lead to you giving up altogether. Starting exercise is a positive step already so there’s no need to change everything. However, as the story above highlights, other positives are likely to follow. You may have already found yourself skipping your ‘one for the road’ glass of wine because you want to feel clear headed for your run in the morning, or maybe you have started drinking more water in the day. Don’t force changes, no matter how enthusiastic you may be feeling, simply keep focused on training and the end goal and these other positives will start to follow.
For now, enjoy the benefits you are hopefully starting to feel already from exercising, such as sleeping better, waking up feeling more refreshed (if a little stiff) and feeling less jaded during the working day.
Now onto your target goal: you running 5 km. There are still a few weeks to go, plenty of time to get those muscles ready, so if you haven’t already done it then now is the time to start thinking about where you will complete your challenge.
The obvious thing, and certainly the most fun, is to identify an organized race that coincides with your target date and enter it. There are numerous organized races, all widely advertised, so there’s likely to be one near you, although it would be more fun to celebrate your challenge with a weekend away somewhere that has a race. Grab your partner, family or friends (or all of them!) and head for the coast, mountains, big city, wherever it is that excites you the most. This will also give you an added spur in the coming weeks.
Entering an organized race gives you the added benefit of support, with water stations, marshals for road safety and, of course, the distance has been measured out exactly. Although there are some specific 5 km events, many of these races are likely be attached to a full or half-marathon race or linked to festival or special regional weekends where there are a series of different events. These races are usually well supported and are packed with people running their first race. Most races are held on weekends so there should be no problem finding one that falls on a Saturday or Sunday of Week 12 of your training programme.
If, however, you really do draw a blank with a race date, or just prefer to keep this as a solo exercise, there is no problem in organizing your own ‘race’. It’s easy enough to measure out your own 5 km in a car or on a bike in advance, then come ‘race day’ it’s down to you, your legs and a stopwatch.
Situated in the middle of the Leeward Islands, 17 degrees north of the Equator, Antigua, encompassing 280 square kilometres (108 square miles) is larger than its neighbour, Barbuda, which is a flat coral island to the north.
The island’s economy is heavily reliant on tourism and visitors will find a warm welcome from the locals, and just as warm a welcome from the sea on the island’s 365 beaches which help provide the classic picture postcard Caribbean break.
Life in Antigua is governed by the sea; it has a huge sailing and yachting scene and Antigua Sailing Week is one of the premier regattas on the planet. But there is more to the island than messing around in boats and lazing on the beach. Popular attractions include Fig Tree Drive, which comprises 32 km (20 miles) of winding roads through the fishing villages and hills, the markets at the south end of the capital, St John’s and exploring the caves at Two Foot Bay in Barbuda. Back to the water, Devil’s Bridge is a natural arch carved by the sea in limestone ledges to the north-eastern part of Antigua and is a popular spot for a swim with the locals.
The island gained independence in 1981, having been discovered and claimed for Spain by Christopher Columbus in 1493. There followed periods of English, and a brief French, occupation with Horatio Nelson arriving in 1784 to develop the British naval facilities which resulted in the building of Nelson’s Dockyard, a popular visiting place for tourists.
Antigua can be an expensive place to eat and drink, although a visit to a local bar to watch the locals playing Wari, an ancient board game, normally involving bets for the next round of drinks, or a trip to take in the slightly more eccentric pastime of crab racing, also put on at local pubs, comes cheap enough.
St Vincent & the Grenadines
St Vincent & the Grenadines are part of the Windward Islands and lie south of St Lucia. The Grenadines are actually a group of small islands including Battowia and Mustique – the haunt of the rich and famous.
Many of the beaches in the area are not the golden ones mostly associated with the Caribbean as St Vincent & the Grenadines are volcanic and many of the resorts have both black and yellow and sand. On St Vincent snorkelling and boat trips are popular whilst those who are feeling fit can hike up to the summit of the La Soufriere volcano. The Grenadines are famous for having some of the best sailing waters in the world.
Kingstown, the capital of St Vincent, has a bustling harbour area, many picturesque 19-century churches and cathedrals, the Botanical Gardens and the impressive Fort Charlotte that overlooks the harbour from a height of 200 metres.
The volcanic soil on the island is, according to the locals, extremely fertile and they pride themselves on their local produce such as breadfruit and cassava. The food can be spicy with hot stews and curries popular, which gives an excuse to wash them down with a Hairoun, the local beer, or a Sunset Rum which is distilled on the island. Beware. There are a variety of Sunset Rums with the strongest 84.5 per cent by volume.
Three things to do
Take a hike and eat your lunch 4048 feet above St Vincent at the top of La Soufriere volcano. Participants must be in good health to take the trip. Not for the faint-hearted. For more information contact + 1 784 457-8634, web: http://www.hazecotours.com
The National Botanical Gardens in Kingstown contain the descendant of one of Captain Bligh’s original breadfruit trees. Visitors can also spy the St Vincent Parrot, the national bird of the island. For more contact + 1 809 457 1003, web: http://www.visitsvg.com
Black Point Tunnel
Take a trip back in time through this tunnel constructed by slaves in 1815. An hour’s drive from Kingstown the tunnel, 360 feet in length, was made to aid sugar transport from the Grand Sable Estate to Byreau. For more see http://www.svgtourism.
This introduction is being written in a pub. My publishers would expect nothing less I have decided. Plus I fancied a pint. But more importantly I fancied looking around at other people, and wondering what they hell they are doing here at 11.14 on a Tuesday morning and why they are not at work (like me).
Can I claim this beer on expenses do you think?
“I’m writing a book on pubs, you know.”
“Yes love,” replies the barmaid.
“And Dave over there is a rocket scientist.”
I may be wrong but I suspect she’s taking the piss. But then pubs were probably invented so we had somewhere to take the piss out of each other. It’s a British obsession, right up there with updates on the weather and endless cups of tea. And where better to start a book on the unwritten rules of pubs than with rule number one? You can, generally speaking, take the piss out of people in a pub to an extent you could never get away with on the street. However, like all rules of grammar, there are exceptions, and in these cases piss-taking should be avoided.
- If the other person is bigger than you.
- If you are wearing a cravat.
It’s 11.58 and two builders have just walked in. At least they’ve been to work first, unlike Dave and the other people sitting at the bar.
“Can I claim this second beer on expenses do you reckon?” I ask them.
“I’m writing a book on pubs, you see.”
“Sure,” says the big one.
“And Dave over there is a rocket scientist,” says the one wearing a cravat.
“Hang on, hang on, I’ve used all that material already. How am I going to complete this book if I am using the same stuff already?”
They ignore me.
I decide I should hang around a bit longer. Just so this intro is authentic, you’ll understand.
The builders have downed their beers and left already. Good old swift ones. Swift ones are not so much a rule as a custom. Me? I’m not much of a swift-one type of guy; pubs are to be enjoyed, savoured. I can sort of accept people like the builders who are on a short break and fancy a quick pint, a packet of crisps and a check on the cricket score. But what’s with those people who come in order a double vodka and have downed it before their change is out of the till? I mean, that’s just mainlining alcohol. What’s the point? You might as well just keep a bottle in your draw at work.
It’s 1.26 and a few people have come in for lunch. The special is pork chops, mashed potato and vegetables.
“Would you like a receipt for that pint love,” asks the barmaid (her name’s Clare she tells me; I think I might have pulled).
“For your expenses?”
She’s now warming to the idea of this book, especially as I just bought her half a lager, and I now know Dave is actually a life insurance salesman and Tuesday is his day off. He apparently comes in every week, has breakfast, reads his Telegraph, disappears to put his bets on and comes back to do some work (Clare thinks so anyway, because he’s always on the phone and writing notes). Later he just talks rubbish, plays darts with his friends and gets drunk.
In Dave’s day off I have found the perfect summary of why us Brits love pubs. Ah, thank goodness I stayed here. Everyone knows pubs are central to life in Britain and Dave’s shows why. In just one day his local is his restaurant, his library, his office and his social meeting place. If he’d just put some money in the jukebox and pull the barmaid (not Clare, she’s too nice for Dave) then he’d never need to leave the pub at all.
We Brits do pubs better than anyone, let’s be honest. In fact, apart from the Irish and the odd enclave dotted around the English-speaking world, we are pretty much the only ones who do pubs at all. Elsewhere it’s all pavement cafes, bistros and bars. But to really enjoy a pub you have to know how it works. You have to know what pubs you can and can’t go in, where you can and can’t sit, what to drink, who you can and can’t talk to, and, most importantly of all, which urinal you can pee in.
I’ve got a Colombian friend, Carlos, who reckons British pubs are like foreign islands in what (to him) is already a foreign island. Bit like Guernsey maybe.
“In Colombia,” he says, “we also meet friends and have a drink. But I can’t work your pubs out. It’s all a bit confusing to understand what’s going on.”
Be confused no more. Pubs are run by a set of complex rules but over time they can be understood. It’s not a set of rules you will find on the wall; they are unwritten. Well, at least they were until I started this book.
Sorry, must go, Clare’s smiling at me. Think I’ll stay for one more.
Daniel Ford, Greenwich, London, 3.27pm, one Tuesday afternoon.