Dave Mcullagh International Meet 2020

The plan was good. The week after West Districts was the first of two key weeks. It was 36km, the biggest week I’d done all season so far. The week after was 38km, followed by a regen week and then the Bangor meet. After that I would do 38km. Then 40km. That was my peak volume and the end of the capacity-building phase. It would be followed by another regen, Edinburgh International, and then…taper. We were finally building for Trials. And building seriously. Time to get stuck in.

The plan had taken Josh and I a few conversations to put together and it was the first solid block of work where I would get to do lots of key sets on both Breast and Free. Barely two days into the first working week however, I fell ill. I couldn’t even do the first key set on Tuesday evening. With much work already lost and more metres and key sets likely to be missed, I suggested re-shaping the programme – that week could be another regen, with next week being the first of the key ones. Josh agreed. It was frustrating, but the best option. When I finally got into some work, I managed a whole week and a half of hard work. Then I fell ill again. I barely swam from Thursday to Monday and missed a key set on Saturday. Luckily, I overcame the worst of the virus in time to do part of a key set on Tuesday before flying to Bangor on Thursday. Luckily, I would get to race. Afterwards though, there wasn’t much time for capacity-training so if I was in bad shape that was ominous for Trials.

The session I missed on Saturday would have been Breast, with Free pencilled on for Tuesday. Hence, I had the option on Tuesday of doing Breast or Free. I chose Free. The 100 Free was the event I had the highest probability of producing a miracle on at Trials, and after daydreaming about such an occasion a few times the event had become slightly more appetising than others. I felt like I was leaning towards it.

Duncan and Bain were in my heat and even though it was impossible for me to beat Duncan and very unlikely I would challenge Bain…just imagine if I did. My stomach knotted. The first 25 of the race was ropey with lots of splash and very little catch but I settled more in the middle of the race, holding a good pace on the way home. I was surprised to see a sub-52 on the board – 51.8. That was an encouraging way to start the meet. I’d never been sub-52 in February before.

But that was an evening swim. Could I go faster in the morning? (Finals were in the morning and heats the afternoon at this meet, to replicate the Olympics). Would I have the improved feel that normally comes for an evening final? It was also the first night a new bed – what if I had a bad night’s sleep? Either way, a good swim was already in the bank. Even if I went 52, I’d already been 51. I could just focus on trying to improve the areas of my heat swim which Josh highlighted. The main thing being my rates which had started high and dropped a lot down the first 50, and then dropped again, albeit less, on the second 50. Smoother rates on the front end would give me more juice on the back end. On top of this, I felt my start could be better: it could be sharper, more aggressive, the underwater phase could be longer and have a flatter trajectory between entry and breakout.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t as sharp as I wanted. Each step of the start seemed to happen slowly – I pulled on the block, lifted my head up, jumped, threw my arms up and forward and hoped for a clean entry. When I hit the water, I pushed forward with my chest and shoulders at the point where I normally start rising to the surface. It made my underwater longer and flatter.

After the breakout I started to sprint, then I stopped myself and held my rate steady. My stroke was cleaner than the heat, catching more water with the arms and holding my body position well. I lifted the pace a little into the turn, had a smooth flip and push-off, and then started to gently build. I was at Bain’s hip again, gaining on him. With 25 to go it seemed like I could have him if I went for it. But no, I had made this mistake before. There was still a long way to go. I should build gradually, rather than shift up a gear and go for it. I kept building. It was hurting more and more but I still had some more to give. By the last 10 I’d put my head down and started windmilling, which I just about managed.

The time was 51.5, so I’d achieved the improvement and managed to get myself a 51-mid! The cleaner stroke was visible on video and Josh clocked my rates as having less of a drop than in the heat. Both of these showed in the 50 split which was where I’d dropped all the time, even though it felt easier. That was a good lesson: efficiency and good execution on the front end are imperative for a strong back end.

Even while swimming easy in the warm down pit I was riding high in the water. My catch was crisp and my hips surfed effortlessly. Obviously, I was in good shape. Better than I had been for ages. Perhaps I could also do a fast time in the Breast this afternoon, a 63, or even a 62. Once I’d made my mind up about what to do with it, that is.

I was definitely going to go for a 100 time during the 200, which meant either stopping and getting out at halfway or swimming through the second 100 easy. But I’d never even heard of someone climbing out of the pool in the middle of the heat, and yet the idea of trying to swim easy breaststroke after going 100 all out seemed impossible – ‘easy’ breaststroke is still difficult when fresh! I wondered if there could be a training effect, in which case it would be worth swimming through. Plus, maybe it would be disrespectful to get out.

My mate who was also planning to go for a time said he was swimming through, joking about how painful it would be as he told me. Fuck it, I thought, I’d be a pussy to not do the same. So I checked with Josh that there would indeed be a training effect, in the hope of validating my reasoning thus far, but he told me there wasn’t one. In fact, the only benefit to completing the race would be if I wanted to make the 100 time official. As I’d already qualified for my target meet in April however, I didn’t need to worry about this. Unless I did a PB, in which case I definitely wanted the time to be official. So, I had a new plan: stop at 100 and check the time, if it was a PB I’d swim on, if not I’d leave the pool. Now that was sorted I could attend to my 100.

With no one else to race it would require focus – focus on my own race, my goals and my execution. The goals were simple – easy speed on the first 50, don’t over-sprint it, rely on my natural speed and then let the second 50 take care of itself. As I was in good shape I would naturally attack hard in the final 15-20 metres, unlike those in the heat before me who lurched into the wall like exhausted prisoners of war, no zeal or attacking spirit. There was an air of lethargy as I stood beside my block, foot up on it, arm lightly shaking as I tried to feel sprinty.

Like my start on the 100 Free, I lengthened the underwater phase off the start, pushing through with my chest and shoulders. I came to the surface and started taking fast but long strokes, easing down the first 50, increasing the tempo slightly as I came to the wall. The turn was smooth, the underwater long again, and when I broke out the strokes quick but still long. At the wall I had a quick look around and saw no one, they were all way behind (sticking to their 200 paces). I was alone. Exposed. As I approached 75 I pushed my hands forward faster during the recovery, diving my head down. I pulled harder, tried to kick faster. Everyone watching must’ve been able to guess I was going for a hundred time now. doing my own thing. But never mind, I should push on. It still wasn’t hurting. I should attack. Go max. But as I tried to increase the rate water started hitting my mouth. I couldn’t breathe. Gulp. Gulp. Gulp. Only a slither of air was getting through.

The time was 1.04.9, so I got out. I explained to Josh that I swallowed a lot of water which meant that something in my stroke wasn’t right. Or that everything was being mistimed. Furthermore, the only area of my body hurting was my biceps, which suggested that I wasn’t engaging other larger muscle groups to generate propulsion – very frustrating as it felt like I had only used a fraction of what I had in the tank. Josh informed me that, similar to the Free, my rates were uneven. He then showed me the video where the miscue(s) in my stroke were impossible to pinpoint, which meant I had no idea what to work on. But if I thought back through the training I’d done this season, long course key sets on Breast were completely absent. It may simply be a case of insufficient practice. I had a few weeks until Edinburgh International where I would get some Breast training in and hopefully see everything come together more.

The DQ gave me the morning off. In the last evening heats session I had the 50s of Breast and Free back-to-back, in that order, and I’d come up with a plan for the warm up in order to avoid the ineffectual hybrid warm up that I’d done at BUCS. In the morning I would do my 50 Free warm up and then in the evening I could do a pure Breast warm up (with a little bit of Free swimming) and focus on that event completely since it was first. In the middle of my morning warm up Zak stopped me and asked which order the 50s were in that night.

‘Breast first,’ I said.

‘Definitely?’

‘One hundred percent, that’s why I’m doing Straight-arm Free now.’ I remembered being relieved when I saw the order of events in the programme. 50 Breast wasn’t very taxing but would be intense enough to prime me, physiologically, for the Free, which was very taxing. If it were the other way around I would struggle.

Back at the hotel a Whatsapp message came through on the team chat. It was Tiggy, who said that those doing the 50 Free were to get a taxi to the pool first, followed later by those doing 50 Breast. I was an idiot. What’s more, now I somehow had to warm up for 50 Breast even though 50 Free was before it. And how on earth was I going to do the Breast anyway, I’d be ruined after the Free!

I navigated the warm up successfully by doing all of the drills on Breast and then doing the spikes, which were the last thing I did before getting out, on Free (also, luckily, in the taxi there Zak was too nice to mention that I’d misinformed him). That seemed to prime me well enough for the Free heat because I barely broke sweat. No burn afterwards, just out of breath. That was good for the Breast but probably explains why my time was disappointing – 24.1. That was the slowest I’d been since adopting Straight-arm. Had I been scared to really go for it? Never mind, there was only time for a couple of hundred metres swim down before drying myself off and jogging over to marshalling in just my jammers. Hat and goggles still on my head.

On the blocks for the Breast I still hadn’t caught my breath and was breathing deeply to get oxygen in. Unsurprisingly, the start was sluggish. My stroke felt clean but not very sharp. At 25 the rate seemed too low so I lifted it, but then I was spinning, catching less water, going no faster. The time was 29.4, which was slower than last year but almost identical to West Districts.

I pulled out of the 50 Breast B-final to focus on the 50 Free, for which I was in the A-final. Had I been A for the Breast and B for the Free I would have done the same though. I was targeting that event more this season and plus, I love 50 Free. I love the rush, the power, racing the big boys. I wanted to race them here, take them on, show them what I had. It was the last race of the meet and I wanted it to be a big one. I knew how to step up and do a big swim when I wanted to. And here, I really wanted to.

The execution of the heat hadn’t been great. The initial phase of the start was fine but the underwater had been weak and the breakout mistimed – it felt awkward. I’d tried to tweak my stroke after West Districts by engaging the shoulder more to generate momentum on the recovery, just like I had done when I first began doing Straight-arm last year (for me, this is the essence of the stroke), but clearly it hadn’t worked. It felt harder and was much slower. I wasn’t exactly sure how to correct it either. Perhaps I should do what I’d done on Breast countless times when failing to make technical advances in the heat – stop thinking so much and just race. Swim ‘naturally’. I was capable of firing myself up for a big swim when I wanted to do, I just didn’t want the technical elements to hold me back. I couldn’t will perfect technique to appear.

So here I was. Here we were. The sprinters. I wanted to challenge them, I thought, as I stepped onto the block and bent down. The start had to be good. Arms had to pull. Fast. I waited. When the beep went…I fumbled. I went up and out and my legs trailed in the air, I hit the water flat and felt the splash behind. So much drag. The deceleration made it feel like I was wearing boardshorts. I flicked hard underwater and then came up but started my breakout a little too deep. Then I tried to get into a rhythm with my stroke.

It felt smooth and I was stable in the water, attacking the water with force on the entry of each arm. I knew I had to go harder at 25 but didn’t want to fuck up my stroke, so I just nudged the effort up a touch. Then again at fifteen. But my legs! Footspeed! I had to maintain that in order to maintain rate. Was that my competitors pulling ahead in my periphery? I couldn’t let them. But others were miles ahead. I wasn’t fighting for gold. Still, tried hard to force my rate up.

The time was 24.0 so, I guess I did step up in the sense that it was an improvement. I’m never happy going so slowly but that was about the same time I went at Edinburgh International last year, so if I could beat it in a few weeks’ time at that meet that would be encouraging. On video it just looked like a limp swim. I was making a lot of white water, my hands were flailing around instead of facing forward for a clean entry, and of course the start was a mess – the splash was huge. It was impossible to get going in the swim after stripping myself of all speed on the entry. On top of all that, my rates dropped off massively.

Time-wise, there was cause for optimism in that I can aim to be ahead of where I was at Edinburgh International last year. Technique-wise, I’m lost. How would I ever get my stroke right? How would I ever go sub-23? Somehow, I find myself in the desert with nothing on the horizon. How will I ever perfect Straight-arm, which I believe I have a talent for. I want that momentum over the top as I throw the shoulder forward on entry, driving my whole body through. I want that deep powerful pull, engaging my whole back. I want the power and the momentum to torque my entire upper body – shoulders, back, chest, core, hips – and to create savage, lightning speed along the surface of the water.

I suppose this will take much practise and many races to find.

Carnegie Winter Meet 2019

Before the season had even started, I’d been expecting to swim badly at this meet. I thought a dip in form, a hangover, would probably follow my disappointment at Nationals and last through short course season.

During August I’d felt down about swimming, churning over the possibility of retirement and the alternative, continuing. The cost of opportunity to continue – a career, a business, writing and studying – compared with the slim prospects of improvement at my age and the almost impossibility of making the vast improvements needed to win Olympic gold didn’t seem worth it. Luckily, I was occupied with my dissertation through August which provided a sense of worth beyond swimming, and because I spent three weeks at home while writing it, I managed to gain some perspective. I had become too obsessed with my performance, staked too much on the outcome of Nationals, lost balance in my life. I knew where things had gone wrong and eventually the rational decision came to me: I would not quit.

It would have been a disastrous mistake to walk away after a bad meet. Resentment would have brewed, this time towards myself rather than towards the swimming ‘establishment’ as it was previously. I would have been unable to shake the feeling that I’d quit because things were simply difficult and hadn’t gone my way. And I could never shake that feeling. What was true the first time I quite was still true now: I should leave on my terms. When I finally kiss my goggles goodbye, I want to have no regrets. Physically, physiologically, I’ve probably only got another four or five years left anyway, it’s imperative that I squeeze everything out of my time in the sport as I’ll be retired a long time.

There were many aspects of my performance and lifestyle which were still evolving anyway, like my stroke technique or my diet. I was in transition, heading towards something great, I couldn’t stop short.

What’s more, underlying all this reasoning was the philosophy by which I live. Things were fated to be much harder next season – having to work part-time, being financially restricted once I found a one-bed flat – and I would have to struggle. Yet, whether its hard or not, I see no other way to live than pursuing my ambitions. I will strive in pain for what I want for eternity because there is no alternative.

As I returned to Scotland for the new season I now faced the realities of achieving my goals. Tokyo was out of the question. It was about building towards Paris. Five years rather than one. A long haul instead of a quick blast. The pressure was eased and I took it steady in training to begin with; I stopped keeping a training log, stopped taking my weight first thing in the morning, stopped worrying about achieving great technique every single session. During a recent breaststroke skill set I did all of the kick on my back without switching to my front, as I normally would have done, to ensure it was integrating into my stroke as a whole. There was plenty of time to worry about that, all I needed to do was keep working on an efficient recovery with my feet, which kicking on the back is good for.

Things had been going smoothly until the first couple of key sets. One an ANC and another an AEC2. On both there was an all-out 50 which I did straight-arm crawl, and on both I went 26-high. The hangover was here. Expectations for Carnegie were low.

Last year’s meet had been successful. Five races, five wins and four best times. I was doing the same events again (minus the 200 Breast, which was no longer a target event) and my instinct was to view those times as a bar; beating them would signal progress. Except those times had been done while on a confidence high after 2018 Nationals. This time, with poor form likely, it could be dangerous to stake much on the outcome of my races. It made more sense to focus on process goals: turns, pacing, stroke technique, any aspect of the execution which I could analyse afterwards and then work on for BUCS. I was more likely to achieve some success with this approach and I owed it to myself to adopt it anyway after spending much of last season painfully learning the value of it.

Writing these process goals down is important. It reifies them. Unfortunately, I hadn’t written down my goals for the 50 Free until hastily typing them up in my phone’s notes upon arriving at the pool, sitting in my car with the engine still running. In them I wrote ‘maintaining rate’ as an execution goal and then listed start, breakout, firm body position, quick rotation and good push-off for technical goals. In short, I wanted to have a good start, solid stroke and good turn while holding a high rate. If I nailed these things in the first 25, the rate should maintain itself on the second.

I felt strong in the heat. The time was 23.59 and I was happy to beat last year’s heat swim by 0.2. I should be able to go quicker in the final. But by how much, that concerned me. I was heaving afterwards and even though I hadn’t fully attacked the final 10, I didn’t know if there was 0.2 in the tank. The execution was mostly good, every technical aspect was as desired bar the breakout, which I’d come up too early on (the pool floor there is weird and disorientating, it threw me off on my first start of the weekend). I also had to remind myself that my prep for the race was meagre. Having arrived in plenty of time after a leisurely morning of watching rugby, getting a haircut and a coffee, I’d sat upstairs, reading, before strolling down to poolside. There I was informed my race would be in approximately five minutes. A lightning change, two hundred to warm up, and then a dash behind my lane in briefs, hat and goggles and I was up.

The warm down allowed me time to re-compose and do some better prep for the final. Drills, speed work, the things I would’ve done before my heat. I remembered what I’d typed in the car park. If I did everything right, it should be enough to beat last year’s 23.33. Shouldn’t it?

Jammers on. That would help psychologically. I just needed to get the first 25 right. A good breakout would make a huge difference. Then nail the turn again. Deal with the rest when it comes.

I drove hard off the block, just like the heat, and my entry was good. The underwater was less rushed and breakout smoother. My body held firm as I launched my arms over and into the water, pounding down to the wall. Quick flip. I came off the wall, wriggled underwater and broke out smoothly again. For the last ten my eyes bulged as I pushed. Lurching for the wall I touched and span round –  23.29. Just!

0.04 under last year, thank god I’d nailed the breakout. Had I fixated on the time, I might not have beaten it. By focusing on what I needed to do, I’d done it and achieved the result I wanted. I was also panting less than after the heat, which shows the difference a warm up makes.

That was it for Saturday. In and out. There and back. Sprint life. Sunday morning was a different story. A dirty triple of 100 IM heat, 100 Free heat and then the Free final. The IM was Heat Declared Winner, so would be all out, with the Free heat next up shortly after. There was a merciful gap until the final, but it would still be tough. Such is multi-eventing life.

This 100 IM would be my only outing in the event this season as I wasn’t planning on doing in at Scottish Short Course, the only other opportunity. Hence, progressing the execution wouldn’t be a goal. The goal was to win and beat last year’s time, which would be tricky since I was in the last heat this time and would have a hard race from my teammates. Perry would be the toughest competition, he was in better shape than last year and had a stronger fly and back than me. My breast and free should be too much for him, but I would have to swim the race well to make sure I was close enough at the halfway mark. That meant clean turns and getting the balance right between staying in touch with him whilst leaving something in the tank for the back half (it’s easy to get carried away in 100 IM and max the entire race).

‘Feeling alright mate? You’ve actually got a race this time,’ said Perry, laughing, as he went to suit up.

‘I know,’ I said, laughing. Then it hit me – he was trying to get in my head. ‘Should have said something like ‘how’s your breast feeling?’’ I thought.

It was a mild attempt of getting at me psychologically, but the existence of it, the fact that it was an attempt got me thinking about mind games. I’ve faced them before, much stronger but a long time ago. I should still be able to deal with this easily, shouldn’t I? Bat it aside? But what’s the best approach: block it out and refuse to let it in, or acknowledge its existence, embrace it, allow it to pass in and then let it pass out (like in mindfulness)? Either way it wasn’t a dangerous attack so should be taken care of with proportionate ease.

He made a few other comments, but I don’t remember them. All I kept thinking was, ‘Relax, I know better than to lose focus. No matter what I will still end up focusing on my own race.’

Behind the block I cleared my head as usual and recited my aims: good turns and save something for the back end. I needed to get this right. Couldn’t afford to mess anything up. Then I had to tell myself to let go and trust myself, that was how I race.

I possessed a superior start to Perry and was ready to explode off the block. Which I did. The breakout was awkward as I never do fly sprints and it took me a few strokes to find a rhythm, rapidly flinging my arms forward and pulling as fast as I could. Once I found a rhythm it was time to turn, and so focused was I on my stroke that I had yet to breathe, so I snuck a breathe in on the last stroke and jammed into the wall. Underwater I caught a glimpse of Perry – we were level where I’d expected to be behind.

I found a rhythm on back and breathed on every stroke, making the recovery as fast as I could without going all out. A smooth transition onto my side and as I flipped I noticed that Perry was closer than I’d anticipated by this point.

Breaststroke. My town. The breakout off the turn was too shallow and I wasn’t getting much catch with my feet, but I rated high with the arms and drove forward. It was snatchy at first but with seven to go I found a rhythm and was getting a good squeeze on the insweep. The touch turn was quick, I saw Perry behind, came up and started stroking on crawl before I knew it. I couldn’t throw it away now. I was the freestyler.

I looked up, searching for the wall. I breathed. I looked down then up at the wall again. I flung my arms over in the final few metres and had a long stroke to finish. I touched…first. Thankfully. Not by a lot – Perry had fought to the end and caught me a little. It was a win though. The time? 56.9, two tenths slower than last year. I knew why – poor execution. I was reminded of the 50 Breast final at Nationals where I’d lost composure in my desperation for a big result, executing the swim badly.

The psychological aspect of this race was amplified by Perry’s comments and it’s worth considering how I dealt with them: I could’ve done better. He caught me off guard at first, and I then churned his words over too much. In future, I shall be prepared. Attacks can come from anywhere and are often subliminal. I must remember that there are no friends in the race. Everyone must be blocked out. Unless they draw their sword, in which case I have to engage. Whatever is needed for me to execute my race plan. Perhaps I can channel my anger at their insolence into extra focus towards my own race. I suppose that would be the best way to punish them.

Barely had I caught my breath than it was time for the 100 Free heat. I did about a hundred metres swim down and then jogged round to marshalling. There was no pressure on my performance here as a 54 would comfortably make the final, I just wanted to feel some rhythm in my stroke (something I couldn’t really do over 25 metres in the IM), perform the technical aspects well and blow out some lactate (physiologically this is nonsensical but after a big effort it feels refreshing to swim moderately fast and get the blood flowing). I started sharply and felt comfortable, pulling away from the others  and hitting two good walls while holding good stroke technique.

A few of the boys were in the final. This time Zak was the main competition and as he was likely to beat me in the Breast that afternoon, I needed to beat him here. Unlike the IM though, I felt that I had less of a natural advantage over my rival, mainly because his explosive power was so effective short course.

In the final, pacing would be vital – the goal was to build through each 25 and either hold or increase my stroke rate. This would be driven by the legs, while I wanted the recovery and pull phases with my arms to be sharp. Furthermore, all three turns would need to be good. Excellent, even. Coincidentally, Zak had poor turns and a weak back end, so if I achieved my goals in this race…it didn’t matter, I had to focus on doing them.

In the lengthy gap between heat and final I had a thorough swim down, and then scoffed some dolly mixtures to replenish some of my carbohydrate supplies. I changed suit, put my kit on, calmly placed my headphones in my ears and selected a metal playlist. Sections of the race flashed through my mind as I let my process goals sink in.

Powerful off the block.  Entry was clean, if a bit short, and my underwaters were solid. Down the first length everything felt sharper, especially my entry and catch. After a rapid flip and well-timed breakout I tentatively pushed the pace on. At the second wall my flip was rapid again and I got a good connection with the wall, carrying speed through the underwater phase. I couldn’t see much but it seemed like I was ahead of everyone.

Into the back-half and time to go up a level. I pushed harder, kicked faster, but made sure to leave something for the final 25. By the final turn some fatigue had set in and the flip was slower, the push-off sticky, the breakout slightly mis-timed. However, I had caught a glimpse of Zak and saw that I was ahead. Now we were in the final quarter, my territory. I drove my hands forward and beat my legs and held my body position. A couple of late straight-arm strokes into the wall and I won. Phew. 50.78. A hundredth slower than last year.

In evaluating the race, I was satisfied. My stroke rates were 52, 50.5, 49, 49. Fairly even, with a good back-end. On video I saw that Zak and I were actually level at the final turn and it was my higher rate which enabled me to pull away on the last 25. The first two turns were good but the last one wasn’t as clean. All of the underwaters were lethargic, they needed to be a lot more aggressive. There were tweaks I could make to my stroke as well, in particular the timing of my breath which needed to be faster so that I could put my head back into alignment before the right arm enters.

From front crawl to breaststroke. Fastest to slowest. And now, with the 200 no longer a target, my favourite event – 100 Breast. In all honestly, it had always been my favourite. My first race out of retirement was the 100, and it had consistently been one of or the strongest of my events. At bad meets it had been something to fall back on, at good meets it had been my jewel.

Realistically, Zak would have too much for me. Though I relished feeling like the underdog, and was tempted to aim for a huge upset, I knew better. I wanted to do my best, execute my race, make progress relative to me. I prevented myself from raising hopes of pulling off the impossible and focused on my process goals: nail the turns, which had felt good in training, and good stroke technique, specifically getting into alignment on each stroke and feeling a good rhythm, integrating the kick into it.

I was worried about my stroke after the heat. On each stroke I’d been swallowing water and struggled to get air in towards the end. It got me wondering whether my timing was all wrong. Josh suggested that it could be due to the lower rate. Perhaps the lower velocity of my kick and pull threw things off? Breaststroke can be funny like that.

There was a good atmosphere for the final. Most of the lanes were taken up with Stirling swimmers even though Me, Zak and Rory were the only breaststrokers. For the others it was a fun one-off. Zak and I had our music in (metal playlist again) but the others were chatting and joking in marshalling. As we walked behind out blocks for the last race of the entire meet, we all fist-bumped.

At ‘take you marks’ I was tensed and ready to explode. At the beep I had my best start of the weekend, despite being a tad short on the entry again. The kick and pullout was long and strong and my distance off the start was good, yet Zak was in my periphery when I broke out. That meant he was ahead. So be it. I attacked hard, throwing my head forward and down so it was square to the floor between each stroke. I thrust my hands forward on each recovery. At the wall I lifted my knees up and swiftly rotated and pushed off. A good, long pullout again. Down the second 25 things seemed to fall into place more and I was catching water with my feet, which suggested I was kicking well.

Another good wall. Knees up, push off, glide and then kick and pull. I could see Zak was ahead but it wasn’t my focus. I lifted the rate, squeezing on the insweep more rapidly, pushing my hands forward to try and maintain speed as fatigue set in. The rotation was a little slower on the last wall but it was the pullout where I felt it – I pulled as hard as I could but my arms seemed to reluctantly slip down to my sides. When swimming, I was grabbing less and less water with each stroke but could see Zak holding the same distance ahead of me. I did have a better back end than him…if I pushed on I might be able to reel him in.

I touched in 1.02.48. That was 0.3 quicker than last year. My biggest improvement on last year’s times out of all my events this weekend. Obviously I was second, so didn’t get the one hundred percent win rate this time, but I knew I’d got closer to Zak than I would have done had I fixated on upsetting him. My rates were a mess: 56, 49, 52, 53; the last 75 had a smooth build through it, but the drop-off from first to second 25 was too big and cost me a lot of momentum. The walls were good but on video I could see that all of the pullouts were sluggish, even the first three which had felt good at the time. They needed to be much sharper in future.

That was a quick fix. What wouldn’t be so simple was fixing my stroke under fatigue. Going into the final thirty-five metres it was clear that I wasn’t holding water on my pull, especially compared to Zak. Evening out my rates would probably help this so it is the natural place to start, the first step.

All in all, it was a good meet. Better than expected given my prognosis after Nationals. It seems as if I handled the disappointment from the summer well and am learning to focus on the process, dispassionately analysing it in order to make the next step forward. At this meet, my best swims were the ones where I did that more effectively. I now turn my attentions to BUCS and can look forward to having a crack at making progress in my events.

 

British Summer Nationals 2019

What it had all led up to. The entire season. A new club, a new programme, a new approach. Had it all worked? I needed big performances to make my colossal goals for next season feasible. Would I get them? In the weeks leading up to nationals I felt like I was on a tightrope. My times in training had mostly been brilliant and I felt uncomfortable about it because normally I train average and over-perform in races – I was worried this would be the opposite. But then again, I shouldn’t worry. This was what was required. I just needed to deal with the pressure – pressure from myself due to my rapid training swims and my ultra-clean lifestyle (since April I’d completely cut out processed foods and been practising mindfulness in some form or another every day). I kept reminding myself to just focus on executing my races at Nationals. And also to relish the championship meet. This what I came out of retirement for!

Oh, and if I swam as well I would have a strong case for moving up to HP1. I was sick to death of HP2.

First day was 100 breast day. Unlike Trials I had good prospects of making the final if I was on or around my best time in the heats. I decided to go hard but not max. Get a fast one under my belt to steady the pre-comp jitters whilst knowing that come finals I can step my game up. The front end was strong, it seemed like I was leading my heat at the turn. Coming down the home stretch things seemed ok but in the last ten I started fatiguing and felt heavy and sluggish. I touched in 1.03.5. An okay time but slow given how hard it felt. Before I’d touched the wall, I’d thought ‘I’m not rested’.

All day I walked around with my shoulders hunched, face drooping. I knew I wasn’t rested. At my peak, the last ten metres of a race is snappy. The top shelf of my energy reserves becomes accessible as I suddenly have the extra reach to get to them. In the heat I’d fallen off a cliff. In the car on the way back I was spitting venom, angry that I’d signed off on the sets we’d done and not protested, despairing at what it could spell for this meet which had so much potential and so much at stake. But I knew how to deal with negativity. I stuck to my routine and went through the day like clockwork – sweet potato and three-egg omelette with cheese and spinach as soon as I got back, read or watch TV, mindful breathing and body scan, honey soy chicken with rice and peas three hours before race. On the drive back my mood was swinging up – I was ready to attack. I wasn’t happy, I was aggressive. Good or bad condition, I would race.

I took it out harder and tweaked my stroke a little – sharpening the insweep and recovery on my pull. Turn was fast, underwater was average. With about thirty five to go I attacked – a tad early. The closing stages became a struggle. But the speed didn’t drop off because I was ferociously driving for the wall. The final time was 1.03.0. A satisfying improvement but far off what I wanted. On the whole though, I was 0.4 off my best, had raced well and stepped up for the final. The question was whether I could shake my doubts about being rested as I went into other events.

Something I regret about Trials is my attitude before the 50 breast. I didn’t care about it. No matter how much I tried to get hyped up in marshalling, deep down I had little respect for the event and wasn’t bothered about a bad performance in it. Hence there were no nerves, no adrenaline, and the result was poor. This time I wanted race it properly. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Especially when it’s a championship meet.

Luckily, I was next to someone I really wanted to race. He’d beat me in the 100 at Trials and had a good 100 the previous day. I decided to let the pressure fall away, to focus on having an explosive start by pulling on the block, and then racing hard and going at that guy. My start was great. My stroke was clean and snappy. I ramped it up all the way through, spotted the finish well and slammed the wall in 28.30 – a best by 0.45. Great swim! Maybe I wasn’t in such bad shape? A similar swim in the final could see me get a medal. And maybe challenge the 28 barrier. Imagine.

I stood in the waiting area before we went out, chin in the air, snarling. Five Finger Death Punch were pounding through my headphones. I love racing, I love fighting for medals, and this was my time to show everyone who I was. To drop a huge swim and take them all by surprise. I was primed, but still didn’t want to stop jumping around, shaking my arms and slapping my thighs. I had to be ready. It was going to be tough just to match my time from the morning, and re-manifest my stroke like it had been. ‘But I need to,’ I thought through gritted teeth. ‘I am going to.’

As we lined up, the age group before mine were called onto the blocks. The place went deadly silent and then the buzzer for a false start rang out. Everyone relaxed for moment and then they went again. I thought about how my start had been great in the heat but I needed even more from it tonight. But I also didn’t want to push it too much, remember Aberdeen? When I finally got behind my block my heart was pounding. I jumped around a bit. I took some deep breaths and placed my foot on the block, jangling my arm. I felt like I was on cocaine.

The start was sluggish and on my pullout I pulled too hard – no catch. I could see the guy next to me when I broke out (if you can see someone on breaststroke, you’re behind). I tried to rate. I forced it as hard as I could, but he was still in my periphery. I tried to lift it even higher in the final ten. I lunged for the wall. Had I made it? Had I gone quicker than the morning? No – 28.8. I was way down the order. My time from the heat would have got bronze.

I was gutted. There was an opportunity there, but I hadn’t handled the pressure that I placed on myself very well. It had slipped away. Maybe I’d tried too hard. Maybe I’d not trusted myself. Either way, I was feeling low again. I knew I should be happy with a big PB from the morning but I couldn’t help but feel like things just weren’t right. I didn’t consciously articulate this however, I had 100 free in the morning. I knew that I was capable of swimming well the morning after a disappointing final, as I’d done it on the 50 breast.

Warm up seemed busier the next day. I got everything done that I needed to though. Brad got a couple of rates for me and they were bang on – 49. I felt good in the water. My heat had some names in that I wanted to beat. One of them in the lane next to me. But I had to execute my race. I knew what 49 rate felt like – the recovery had to be sharp, my head snapping back into line on each breath, the legs fizzing, controlling the tempo. That’s what I wanted on the first fifty. But off the dive my underwaters felt belated, like I was having to think about them and that was causing them to be slow and behind where they should be in their timing. When I took my first breath I was already behind. I tried getting up to my rate. Everything was there – the recovery, the head position, the catch and pull, the leg speed. As I came off the wall and broke out, I knew I didn’t have it. From here, I would need to build. And I could feel fatigue rushing in. In the final fifteen I was battling, kicking and pulling hard but with no sharpness. I was heavy. And I knew it was no good. I reluctantly straight-armed into the wall in 51.69.

I went back my Gran’s (where I was staying). I got my things and went into Glasgow – I couldn’t sit around the house all day, simmering. I walked around for a while, looking for somewhere to sit. Eventually I decided on Spoons, getting a coffee and finding a free table to do some writing on. I could barely focus on my work. Every few minutes I would throw myself back in the chair saying ‘fuck’s sake’ and then sitting forward again with my elbows on the table and head in my hands. My Dad called. What had happened? He’d seen the results and new I’d be mortified. I said I felt awful during it. I was certain I’d overtrained. I told him I’d done four incredibly hard sets two weeks before the meet. That I thought I’d overdone it. I ranted a bit, and he ranted a bit about coaches always overdoing it. That conversation helped a lot – it was ok to feel like it wasn’t all my fault.

The next day I had no swims. I got up late, went to the pool for around one, then went back to my Gran’s. Bored, I needed something to take my mind off the meet. Some respite. I googled the nearest cinema and went. One of the exercises in the Mindfulness book I’d been reading was to go to a cinema and watch whatever was on, trying to let go expectations and anticipation and immerse yourself in the film. I thought I’d give it a go. But when I arrived there was nothing on until late, except for The Lion King, which I’d already seen. The cinema was in Glasgow Fort, a huge retail park. There was a Waterstones on the other side, in which I picked up a couple of short story collections. As I was looking around some more though I saw The Big Short. I picked it off the shelf and read the first couple of pages, then sat down and read the introduction. Then half of the first chapter. Then I put the other books back and bought it. In the Pret nearby I had a cappuccino and continued reading.

It was just what I needed. Absorbing. Readable. Unputdownable. Late that night, ater getting halfway through chapter two, I put it down before going to bed and remembered I had to set my alarm for the race in the morning. 50 free.

The warm up was a battle. I had to push against people constantly to get the space to do my sculling, kicking and drills. My sprints felt ok but it was difficult to tell with so many waves. Despite the difficulty, I’d gone through my full race warm up. No shortcuts. Even after a couple of rough races, I’d stuck to my plan. How bad had it been anyway? My 50 breast was good. Yeah, I felt down a few times, but that wouldn’t affect me here. I wasn’t in a rut.

I was next to my teammate, Ben. I should beat him. I could make the final if I swam well. But likelihood was I wouldn’t do amazingly well. Not that I was feeling bad. I wasn’t in a rut.

23.9 was the time. Shit start. Shit underwater and breakouts. Shit stroke. No speed. No power. And I forgot to take a big enough breath at the start, meaning I was gassed in the final ten. Think I might have been last in my heat. I threw my things on top of my bag and stood there, staring at the floor, hands on hips. The week had gone to pot. After my swim down I asked Brad if there was anyone else to do the breast leg in the relay the next day. He said no. Fine, I said, I’ll do it. I went to meet my parents.

My Mam and Dad had come up for the weekend to watch me swim. They knew this meet was important to me, and even though they’d been busy through the week had wanted to come and see me race on Saturday and Sunday even though it wasn’t my main events. It was to be the first time they’d seen me do a 50 free with straight-arm, a technique where I can display all my power and aggression. I walked into the foyer, where I knew they’d be waiting, with my head hanging down, ashamed. They hugged me and said they were happy to see me. I insisted everything was awful, feeling like I didn’t deserve to be satisfied with myself.

We went back, they said hi to my Gran and we all chatted for a while. Gran asked about my swim, then about Italy (where my parents had just been on holiday), before my Mam asked how my Gran was, what she’d been up to, how things had been, was she getting on ok? the topic of lunch came up and I suggested going out for some food – there was a burger place in Glasgow Fort that looked good, we could go there? Off we went.

The food was good, though the place was loud and not exactly relaxing. But it was fun to go out with my parents and Gran for some food. Afterwards, my Dad took Gran to Tesco for some bits and bobs as she hadn’t done her food shop for the week. Me and my Mam watched TV while they were out. I don’t know what was playing on the screen though, despite staring at it for ages. I was sitting on one arm chair while my Mam in the one beside, talking at me. She said I shouldn’t feel down about my swims, after everything I’d done to get this far. I said it was embarrassing. ‘Stop that!’ she said. ‘You should never be embarrassed.’ I told her what had been at stake – HP1, being within striking range of the Olympics, wanting to set an example for everyone in my squad (that living a professional lifestyle yielded results). Maybe she read between the lines, because she said my brothers would still look up to me. I didn’t break my gaze towards the screen, I was too focused on not crying. The last thing my Mam said was that she thought I sometimes got too obsessed with swimming. I denied it.

Back to breaststroke for the last day and I was glad. Breaststroke is my home. If everything else feels like it’s falling apart, I know where I am with breaststroke. Always know how to race it. The pressure on the outcome of this race was off given it was a relay too. Splits are masked by the rolling start, and I’ve got teammates around me to share the expectations with. I felt weak in the warm up – timing on my stroke not quite there and willpower faint. But when I broke out after my takeover in the race, clear water around me thanks to a strong lead off, and I started stroking, everything melted away. I was sharp, snappy, I attacked, and coming down the back 50 I pushed myself. I left some in the tank but went close to my limits. I liked the burn. My split was 1.02.7, which was reasonable. Better than I’d expected, with hopefully more to come in the final.

Me, my Mam and Dad, and my Gran watched the final night of swimming at the World Champs before I headed to the pool. Duncan went a 46.1 split and destroyed the Americans, the first time they’d ever been beaten. Not only my countryman but also my teammate had had a spectacular relay swim. My turn?

I felt very good in the warm up. My stroke, which had not clicked all week, bar the 50 heat, had come together. It felt tight, narrow, swift and like I was catching tonnes of water. I wanted to finish the week with a gold for Stirling.

The lad swimming the freestyle leg had just done his 200 free when I arrived, and I was told he was disappointed with the time, despite winning. In the warm up pool he asked, with a tight, frank face if I was up for it. I said yes. He said good. Word through the grapevine is that he is always jealous of Duncan in training, so I imagined he would want to in some way emulate the latter’s heroics by having a monster free leg and winning gold. I didn’t see the other two guys until marshalling. The three of them are in HP1 and bantered a fair bit in the call room.

My takeover was edgy. Which is to say slow. I was too cautious and didn’t attack. But I had a good pull out and swept down the first 50 with ease. It was only a touch harder but quite a lot faster. Turn was good – quick around the wall and the pullout was about as good as they’ve been all week. As I stroked down to 75 I started winding up the stroke rate. The pain came, my timing slipped. I remained calm and tried to hold water out front and keep everything together. I stroked and stroked and lunged to wall, looking to my right to see where Loughborough were at – they already touched. The breaststroke leg overtook me in the final ten metres as I faded. My split was only 0.1 quicker than the morning.

We finished second. I was pleased with a silver medal but remember thinking that I’d been prouder to finish fourth with the Stockport boys last year. As we waited to collect our medal the three others joked with some Loughborough lads about the party they were attending that night in Glasgow. On the podium one of my teammates made a joke and the three of them laughed. I didn’t hear it.

I didn’t enjoy this Nationals. The 50 breast heat was fun because I raced hard and had fun doing so. But apart from that everything else felt joyless and mechanical. I did everything right – training, lifestyle, competition routine, I’d given one hundred percent on everything. Left no stone unturned. Gone all out and implemented a fresh ideology and approach to…life. Yet what had it yielded? Once again, when giving everything, I’d got nothing. I didn’t know whether it was my fault or Josh’s. At the time I felt like it was mostly his. I’d put complete trust in the programme and I knew we’d overdone it. Story of my career – feels like fucking Groundhog Day.

 

 

Scottish Open Nationals 2019

At this meet twelve months ago I swam amazingly. Big PBs, I placed well, and I relished some big final swims. I felt at least a small amount of fondness for this meet. From a performance perspective, wouldn’t be a like-for-like test since I am under fatigue this time, but I couldn’t help feeling like there would be some faint comparisons between my times this year and last year.

I had the same events as last year plus the 50 free. The first day held 100 free. Since the confidence boost from Glasgow International Meet I’d been feeling good when training this event. In the heat I was next to Scott and fancied having a good race (obviously not all out). Before the race I was a tad jittery, could feel the adrenaline, was semi-hyped (which is as hyped as I would ever want to be for a heat swim). After speaking to a sports psychologist recently I’d thought about the idea of rituals before a race helping with motor skills recover under pressure, and with a foot on the block, took one deep breath just after the long whistle, then stepped up. I got into position. At take your marks I tightened, pulled on the block. Ready. Then I went. The buzzer followed.

I paused on the underwater phase, briefly considering stopping, but thought there was nothing to gain so carried on. Maybe I could see how my back end was. I would estimate my time was 51-high as I touched nearly a body-length behind Scott, but then maybe 52-low with the early start. I felt ok and was happy with the swim itself, but Josh was very frustrated as there’d been a lot of potential in that swim. It was the one I was best prepared for. His suggestion was to focus on what I needed from the swim – in this case to qualify for the final. It appeared, he said, I was caught up with other things. Which was true; I was thinking about racing Scott and the others, about a new pre-race ritual, about swimming a fast race and executing perfectly (not bad in itself, but I lost sight of the fact that getting a final swim was the overriding priority). What was worrying for me was that I’d fucked up again, having missed my final at Eindhoven. Both fuck-ups were unintentional but disastrous. How do you work on preventing these sorts of things?

That was something to consider later. After the meet. On day two I had the 200 breast. Last year I’d had a disappointing day one and had improved things on day two, which set me up for a stellar day three and four. But I was under fatigue here. It was different. The heat of the 200 was rough. 2.28. Thanks to someone pulling out I scraped into the A-final but I wasn’t feeling confident. My kick was weak and I’d faded badly on the last 50. There was more in the tank but not much more. I decided to test out sodium bicarb in the final. Nothing to lose, I’d wanted to try it for a while, and it seemed time to try it – I generate a lot of lactate in 200s, and I could compare this swim with the morning’s.

The effect was huge. I chopped three seconds off and barely felt any burn. I had to push hard to lift my rate as it seemed to blunt my speed, and I tentatively pushed all the way through but the usual paralysis never came. On review I executed the race well, starting off at low-30s rate and building through each 50 to the 40s by the last 25. Splits were even too. The time however, was still not satisfactory.

Day three brought the double – 100 breast and 50 free. 1.04.4 and 23.7 in the heats. Solid. Nothing exciting. I felt like I could lift them both for the finals. In the 100 final I went 1.04.3, not much of an improvement and I thought I’d went out harder and attacked the back end a lot more too. In fact, I’d gone out slower, despite the extra effort, and the back end was only slightly quicker. Overall my stroke didn’t click, probably because I hadn’t done many breaststroke sets.

The 50 was very disappointing – 23.9. My underwater and breakout were sluggish, and I couldn’t get up to speed after such a slow start. On video, my stroke looked ineffective. The body position was strong and stable, but the timing wasn’t right and I wasn’t getting the torque through my upper body. I hadn’t trained much straight arm beyond some short speed work so that’ll be why. The poor start was obviously from fatigue after the 100, which was odd since I’d handed multi-eventing well at Glasgow. Here I think I can learn, as I did in Glasgow, that you need to be one hundred percent ready for the fifty. There is no room for error – you cannot catch up.

Last day. 200 free. The heat was tragic. I wasn’t clear in my head how I wanted to approach it – go hard and test the waters? steady and make the final? how hard was hard and how steady was steady? I ended up in the horrible middle ground where you go moderately hard – lets say around seventy percent effort – and still fatigue almost as you would have at all out, but have no zeal to lift you through it. You end up bogged down and dropping further and further off the pace. My time was 1.58 and I was heaving.

Bicarb to the rescue. For me, 200 free is the perfect event for it: sky-high lactate levels, fast pace required, high rate, its effectively a long sprint. Similar to the breast on day two, I felt my speed blunted, but the fatigue never really came. I kept lifting the pace all the way through and ended up executing the race well. 1.55.7 was the time. Like the breast, three seconds off the heat swim. Climbing out the pool, I remember thinking that I didn’t feel enough pain. It had been difficult pulling myself up the steps after the heat. After the final, I hopped out panting a bit. I know I couldn’t have gone faster, it was just an odd experience after a race.

Looking at the week overall, I didn’t have loads to be disappointed about but in the back of my head I felt unnerved to be going slow times only a month away from nationals. Granted, I’d been much worse at the Edinburgh International leading up to Trials, but this felt different. It was summer. I prefer to have smoother trajectory up to a higher peak for the summer meet. People from other clubs were doing fast times. Me and my teammates had no option but to have faith in the programme again. Taper was coming.

 

Glasgow International 2019

First meet of the new cycle. Low expectations. Nothing to lose. A good format and a good standard of competition. I’d entered 50, 100, 200 free, 100 and 200 breast and 200 IM.

The latter was first up and I just wanted to get the cut for nationals, which I estimated would be around 2.11. The fly felt smooth, the backstroke too, I tried to go harder whilst maintaining length on the breast and to hold my kick (and hence my rate) on the free. I went 2.09 which was satisfactory – a chunk off my seven year old best time and enough for nationals hopefully. I executed the race well, apart from the backstroke which was too slow (why does rate on backstroke always feel so much higher than it is?) and didn’t really fade. This was encouraging given the lack of aerobic conditioning by this point in the cycle.

The 50 free heat was later in the same session so I had time to swim down but definitely felt some lag from my earlier efforts. Nonetheless I had a good swim, racing hard as I was next to Bain and could smell a scalp for the taking. He beat me in the end, I went 23.57, he went 23.3. I attacked the race well but my rate dropped off in the last 5 metres. On the block I definitely didn’t feel fresh, but I would say that the IM had been effective in activating not only my energy systems but also my nervous system. In the final for the 50, that night, I felt like I had more energy before the race but didn’t manage to transfer this into sharp swimming. My time was 23.7 and I think it was mostly technical aspects which cost me, especially the breakout. I also wasn’t relaxed and believe tension prevented me from attaining top speed. It has made me think about the importance of precision in the 50 – everything has to be on point at the start of the race. No room for error.

Day two held the 200 free and 100 breast. The gap between the heat swims was smaller this time, so it would be a stiffer test of my aerobic state. In the 100 I had an okay swim. The time was 1.04.4 and it was paced relatively evenly. The last fifteen was a little stronger in comparison to Trials, but the front end lacked the sharpness (natural, given the stage of the cycle we were at), mainly because I hadn’t done any breaststroke key sets so my timing was off. I pulled out of the final in favour of the 200.

The heat for the 200 was slow, and the last fifty was a slog. I could feel some fatigue on the block but this translated into speed down the first seventy five. Having done a few good 100-pace sets in training though I thing I was setup for that and my front end was far too fast. I was second or third to fifty overall, but qualified 4th or 5th for the B-final… In the final I went the other way with pacing – out too slow. My splits were 57/58 in the final, compared to 56/1.01 in the heats. 1.55.9 wasn’t a fast time overall, but it was an interesting experiment swimming it like so. I managed to out-touch a few people and was pleased to race hard, but it was clear that I need to work a lot on my pacing for that event.

The stiffest test of all for my aerobic capacity – day three, 200 breast and 100 free back-to-back. When I say back-to-back, I mean I collected my stuff after the 200 and went straight to marshalling for the 100. No rest.

The 200 was really slow, 2.27. The first 100 felt okay, my stroke was clean and timed well, and it felt like I was carrying momentum forward well. My splits were even but just slow overall. Later, Josh asked if I’d held anything back and I said no – it had been all out by the final 25. Before the race there had also been an eight-minute wait due to technical faults (it felt like much longer), and it was tricky to maintain composure. In the back of my head I knew this would be my last chance to qualify for the event at nationals and so swim the full programme, an event a day. I can’t deny I was disappointed when I realised it wouldn’t be happening.

How typical, there were two races in the entire day that were delayed. One was the 200 breast heat. The other was my 100 free heat. The latter was a blessing however. As I sat behind the block I did deep-breathing, something I’d been working on at home when practising mindfulness. When I dived in for the heat I was completely knackered, obviously, but not nearly as much as I would’ve been. The back end would be the critical point though, that was where I might tied up and things could get ugly. Down the first 50 I was slow but still in touch, and come the last quarter I managed to lift the rate and push on. The time was 53-low and I scraped into the B-final!

That double was a huge indictment of two things: my ability to psychologically handle multi-eventing, and also physiologically. Despite the lack of conditioning work at this point in the cycle, I’d shown a strong aerobic capacity. I was happy with that. But I still wanted a good performance. I spoke to Josh about pulling out of one final. The 200 was very poor, yet I knew there was room for improvement. Enough for a nationals cut though? We estimated it would take a 2.23. I conceded that I didn’t have four seconds in me and opted to swim the 100. Deep down I was glad. I could swim the event I felt more comfortable on.

I knew how to pace a 100 free. And so I had the ability to focus on executing the race cleanly and attacking. I took it out in 24.9 and felt sharp. Off the turn I held my rate, and by seventy five I’d hit my stride, stroking long and fast and hard. But still not maxing out – I stayed confident and held out till the last 10 to straight arm. 51.59. Second fastest 100 free ever. Wow. I though I might just about have a 51 in me but was surprised to get that.

I walked away from the meet with a lot of boxes ticked. A stellar performance. Lots of solid performances under pressure (psychological and physiological). Effective process goal-setting and evaluation throughout. A great first meet of the cycle with not long until nationals.

Plan Henceforth

There’s a big gap since my last post. Not because I quit the sport or stopped racing, things carried on and a lot happened, I just never got round to logging it. This was a symptom of a fundamental mistake I made over the final cycle of the 2018/19 season – losing balance in my life.

Below I will post blogs for the three meets I did during that cycle: Glasgow International, Scottish Open Champ’s and British Nationals. All are written spontaneously with no planning or re-drafting, just as all previous posts were. Albeit these one’s are very late.

After them comes the first meet of the 2019/20 season: Carnegie. This is written more as a memoir with all the work behind it that a piece of literature requires in order to cultivate a particular feel and convey a central theme or lesson learnt. At the time of writing this post though, I have yet to even begin writing about BUCS Short Course or Scottish Nationals, and may have to cut corners to get them done before my next meet lest I fall behind and lose balance again. I want to get into a routine of memoirising (a neologism) every meet shortly after doing so, this way I can come to terms with the reality of it and dispassionately identify ways to make progress. When returning to the sport in 2017 I wanted to have a race-centred approach but feel that  after beginning so promisingly my old habits have returned. Writing substantial, meaningful blogs will help me realise the perspective I want. The perspective that I believe will be most conducive to success.

Eindhoven/British Champ’s 13th-17th April

One week, two countries, two big swim meets…four good swims?

We left for Eindhoven on the Thursday, my first race being the 100 Free on Saturday. The flight was short, the train ride smooth, and the hotel classy. Immediately on arrival we went for a swim and I was in awe of the pool. The shape of it inside made it look like an expanded, brighter Ponds Forge. It had the same curved roof but it was taller, and the stands went up higher, and the girders were white. The place felt like an arena; a big stage for big performances.

I felt great in the water, which is unusual after a day of travel. I’d trimmed with the clippers – planning to do a wet shave the next day, when I was off – which gave me an enhanced feeling in the water, like I was lighter and hence a bit sharper. My breast and free strokes were coming together (I was disappointed not to be swimming any breast here!). The next day, me and Josh planned to do a timed front end fifty. I put my new suit on and gave it a crack; it felt better than previous front ends had in training due to better timing and feeling snappier, and the time was 24.8 to feet. Josh said it looked like every aspect had been lifted a little. I knew this was because the big race was coming soon, and my game was raising. But the fifty didn’t actually count for anything, so I unsuited, got my kit and went for a warm down, then sat and watched the finals with some of my teammates.

Race arrives and I didn’t sleep well (as usual) but feel relaxed on my walk to the pool, my ‘Metal Mash’ playlist on. I don’t know what to expect so don’t have much to think about, I simply trust that it will come good at the right time.

I’m not that nervous before the race. There are no butterflies as I stand with my leg on the block, but I clear my head and only feel. There is the sound of swimmers in the water, panting. The feeling of my arms, my core, the position of my legs and the pressure on the one I stand on. The whistle goes, I step up. Shit, the rubber strips are up! I scramble to fold them down, then get I back in position, crouched and loose. My start isn’t great, but my underwater is, I break out with some momentum, ahead of the guy to my right. I build up to speed and he falls to my feet. I get a sloppy push off the wall but again my underwater is good and when I breathe I can see I’m ahead.

I push on, steadily, but with twenty to go I can’t see anyone. For a moment I wonder if the race was stopped and they let me swim, then quickly convince myself that if that’s the case I need to finish it fast. I open up to windmill in the last ten and strain over as I touch the wall, in the far lanes I see others touch just after me. My time is 51.00. Fist pump, splash, ‘come on,’ I growl. Finally, I beat my COMAST PB. And there was more in the tank, especially given that wobble on the back end.

I qualified third into the C-Final, in lane 3, next to some 50-point swimmer. This was perfect. I’d be breathing towards them on the way home. As I walk to the pool I am confident of tearing up the swim, I know I can go faster, and am determined to attack hard and make the most of my situation. This is the racing I came back into the sport for.

I went to the toilet before suiting up and pondered the opportunity I had here, and thought that since starting back there hadn’t been one ‘perfect’ meet, where all my races had been best times or great wins. In Stockport last year, I’d just missed my best time on the 100 free. I’d already improved on that, so tonight I could take the first step towards a perfect meet. Hence I got to the call room early.

I kept checking which heat they were on because I had my music on loud, and went in the first station at the correct time. Then the B-final followed us in quickly. I went through to the next station and so did all the other swimmers, putting the D, C and B final in the same room. I had thought it would be Paras first, then D, then C, so waited until there were around eight people left. I was in the zone when I walked out – composed, angry, everything tingling. When I got behind my block and Italian came over and said ‘I am in Lane 3.’

‘For the C-Final?’ I said.

‘No, B.’

I looked up and saw my name on the scoreboard while the preceding final was swimming, and empty lane before me.

I’ve never felt so crushed. Never. I was so ready, so enthusiastic, brimming with nervous energy. I floated back to camp, senses still heightened, but furious. I put my elbows on the railing and head in between my arms. Josh arrived and said we both knew I was going to go faster, and that it had happened and we couldn’t change it. I reluctantly agreed, and said I would do some sprints to get rid of my energy. I did a lot of 25s max, straight arm, in preparation for the 50.

I probably got about six hours sleep that night, despite being shattered, and my throat was coarse and my ears sore. But as the morning went on I started to feel ok. I had the 50 Free heat, and sacrificed some music time in my prep to make sure I got the right heat. I swam hard and got a 23.45 – a PB but not a big one. I wasn’t sure where I could make big improvements, only relying on an ability to raise my game for finals – I’d qualified fastest for the C-Final, and wanted to win.

I ripped it as hard as I could, still maintaining good execution by building the rate throughout, and managed to drop to 23.38, but unfortunately got pipped by two others. The winner was the Italian who’d informed me of my mistake the day before.

The journey back to Edinburgh was more tiring. It took a long time to get through Amsterdam airport, and then I had the drive straight to Glasgow, though that wasn’t too bad. In the water I didn’t feel as good as I had in Amsterdam, but when I did a front-end 50, suited, Tiggy got me as 29.4 (from my feet leaving the block).

I slept well at my Gran’s, not worrying too much about the swim tomorrow, which I’d been building up as the biggest of my career so far. Before the race I felt good. I wasn’t too nervous, but occasionally felt pangs of adrenaline. I waited for a while in the area outside the Ready Room, big names like Peaty, Wilby and also Craig and Ross milling about. In the swim the front end went to plan: I was out fast in 28.8 (just off my 50 PB) with twenty strokes, I’d been aiming for twenty one so that was a positive. On the back end I held things together but as I increased my rate, it felt like I was snatching and trying hard to force a great swim that matched the billing I’d given the race. The final time was 1.02.6, which was a meagre PB given everything I’d done over the last seven months. Unfortunately, with the depth in British breaststroke, I came twelfth and missed the final. Having no B-finals at British Swimming events once again frustrated me and many others, it’s clear they would prefer to mollycoddle juniors.

I wasn’t bothered about the 50. There were no nerves. No tension. It’s not an Olympic event, and I believe it’s the most pointless event in the entire sport – who cares how fast you can swim the slowest stroke? The only 50 that matters is 50 Free. As we lined up beside the pool, at the other end, before the race, I was bordering on insouciant. The swim went ok, 28.65, a marginal PB but not much quicker than my hundred split, but with twenty five strokes. The timing was then adjusted a few days later, so my result was changed to 28.75 – equalling my best.

The best swim was my 100 free. It was unfortunate that I didn’t get to do the final. The fifty was positive in that it was a PB, and if I keep working on the straight arm technique I think there is a big drop to come – I displayed raw talent for it in February, but a plateau is always needed so that I am forced to learn how I was good it. The breaststroke events were underwhelming, but in the hundred there are clear areas to build on. I might drop the 50 breast, I just do not care about it.

 

 

 

 

BUCS Team Champ’s 23rd/24th March

Explaining this meet to someone the weekend before, I said ‘BUCS is like NCAA in America but way shitter, and nobody wants to do this meet.’ I’d had a poor weekend’s racing in Edinburgh (albeit, drew some important lessons from it), I wasn’t in great shape, my shoulder was still painful and only a handful of athletes from Stirling were going – only a couple of the good ones. In the days leading up I thought about using my shoulder as an excuse to pull out, but since I’d already committed to it, I opted to go ahead and stick to my word.

To make the best of it, I was viewing it as a weekend on Anaerobic Power training, and the beginning of prep for my taper meets in April. We were due to start prep the day after anyway so the timing was good.

We arrived in Sheffield on Friday evening, ate (Nando’s), then went to bed ready for the heats on Saturday. The meet was spread across two days – Heat swims on Saturday and Finals on Sunday. Everyone had to swim their races and collect points in the heats to form a team total, and teams then progressed through to finals if they had enough. Enough with a relay disqualification in the first event, we easily got through and were in Lane 6 for Sundays finals.

My swims were very average on Saturday. I did the breaststroke leg of the 4×50 medley relay, the 100 then the 50 breast, then led off the 4×50 freestyle relay. The session took a long time and, having assumed we would fly through the programme quickly, I sat around in my jammers after the relay for around 3 hours, waiting and waiting and waiting. I loosened off before the 100 and went 1.02-mid, winning the event. Not bad, not good either though, and I went hard to get the points needed after the DQ.

A quick swim down and the fifty was up. The breaststroke was last of the 100s and things were going rapidly now that were into the 50s. I went 28.7 in the heat but got beat. Someone from Cambridge (??!!) pipped me and the Loughborough swimmer next to me. On the Free relay lead-off I went 23.1, a decent time but again not outstanding.

That wrapped up the heats. I had a jacket potato at the pool then went back to the hotel. I was bored so walked up to the city centre looking for a cafe where I could do some writing (my assignments were due in a month, and needed doing now because of Trials). All the good, small, independent cafes shut at four or four thirty though. So I milled around the town for a bit, gradually starting to accept I would have to go into on the Starbucks or Costas when I saw an all-day cafe/bar that was open till late.

The front was entirley windows, floor-to-ceiling and inside was white – white floors, tables and chairs – but the staff wore blue. I asked for a decaf almond milk latte (it was about 6pm by this point) and opened my laptop. I was on a long table for six as there were no other tables un-booked, sitting on a bench that ran along the back wall.

Within half an hour of sitting down I noticed the clientele changing from shoppers and late-lunchers to Saturday-night-socialites. Not the lairy kind, just smartly dressed couples going out with other couples for a few social ones. I felt out of place but the staff were very friendly and didn’t push me to leave, so I continued with my work. In one of my many lapses in concentration I thought about Sheffield more broadly, and realised that tomorrow would probably be my last competition here. After all these years. Ponds Forge, the famous and infamous British capital of big meets. It would be farewell.

My plan for tea had been to pick up some rice, salad and cold meat from Sainsbury’s on the way back to the hotel, but I decided to treat myself. The menu in the place looked good, and I ordered the grilled chicken with courgette and Parmesan salad. It was really good, if heavy on the Parmesan. But treating myself felt good, I didn’t need to live so Spartan all the time – indulging in food that’s made with love and care is loving towards myself, it’s a form of self-respect. I went back to the hotel, once I’d finished my work, with a spring in my step.

For the Finals session I upgraded my jammers to my second worst pair; yesterday I’d had my worst ones on. There was no pressure on times, I knew I wasn’t in good shape, but this was for the team, I was racing for points, and also saying farewell to a historic venue. We swam well in the Medley relay and only narrowly lost to Loughborough. In the individual I had plenty of time to get ready – I had my headphones in, Five Finger Death Punch playing, I was feeling really hyped. I am, after all, a racer.

Behind the block for the 100 I was jumping a lot, even starting to worry that I might tire myself out. But when the whistle went my heart was racing, I was warm, and I knew I could not-think and race. I beasted the race, going 1.01.4, not far off my best and a huge improvement from yesterday. It just goes to show, I can step up when the race is on. In the 50 got more hyped, this was the one I’d lost yesterday. Again, I trusted myself to race and went 28.1, winning, beating the Cambridge swimmer who got me the day before. In the lead-off for the freestyle relay I was nervous, I felt I could have something special in the tank. My start was strong, the first 25 was powerful, but the turn was muddled. My overall split was still 22.8, which was an improvement on yesterday. I had less recovery time between races in the finals session, so that was very positive.

Considering I was pissed off about even attending this competition, I was proud to have not only done it and swam well, but the approach it so positively in the finals sessions and race hard. It was thrilling. And the only fitting way to compete in Ponds Forge for the last time.

Edinburgh International 2019

I was going down to Edinburgh on Thursday but on Wednesday evening I was at the physio having my shoulder seen to. The diagnosis was a strain in the bicep tendon, right at the top, where it inserts into the joint – hence why I’d been unable to move my arm certain ways without sharp pain in the shoulder. I’d done kick in training all week, hoping the rest might recover it for the weekend. It hadn’t, and the physio recommended some stretches that would enable me to manage my shoulder across three days of racing.

I arrived late on Thursday at the airbnb – a cosy fourth floor flat beside The Meadows. Across the three days I had five events: 50, 100, 200 breast, and 50 and 100 free. The first two would be good run-outs in the events I was swimming at Champs, and in the last two I had hopes of achieving the qualifying time for Champs. More in the 50 than the hundred after West Districts. But a good swim the hundred and you never know…

On Friday morning was the 200 breast and I slept well the night before. I’d recently come to the realisation that sleep comes best the more relaxed you are, when you have nothing to fear and no worries, because the sympathetic nervous system is deactivated to a greater degree. The 200 breast is my favourite event, the one I most want to win Olympic gold in at Tokyo, and yet I slept like a baby.

In the swim I went 2.30. Two. Thirty. My splits were quite event, I built my stroke rate steadily, I felt controlled, long and strong, and my stroke was good despite not swimming for a week. The cause was psychological. After two awful 200 breasts recently I’d identified the problem as the work we were doing (or not doing) in the pool, and I went into the race feeling unprepared, unable even, to do a good swim. This was articulated in thought, but I felt it deep down. And I’m ashamed to admit it, but I believe I wanted to be vindicated – that I felt the training wasn’t right for this event, and by swimming poorly I would prove everyone right. Again, I did not think this. Behind the block I was focused and ready to rock. But you cannot escape you’re own psyche.

In speaking to Josh I said that I didn’t feel I had done enough breaststroke swimming and enough hard work, referencing the classic best average and race pace that I did at Stockport. For their demerits, there are two clear benefits of such sets:

  1. Confidence – you know that if you can finish a set like that, and not just finish, but push hard and perform well, you can definitely do a good race, plus you have experienced the psychological barriers faced when in pain and know how to overcome them
  2. Neuromuscular – you know how it feels to perform the stroke technique and the pacing under stress/fatigue, you know how to push on and go faster

Notice the phrase “you know how”. The underlying principle is that after a lot of practice, and for me, only after a lot of practice, do you acquire the ability to perform something complex with a degree of excellence. Practice makes perfect, after all. I simply felt like I had not rehearsed a 200 breast, parts or whole.

After discussing with Josh I felt more confident about incorporating more rehearsal time into the programme, and turned my attention to the 100 breast and 50 free the next day. I could now officially say that the 100 would be my number one focus at Champs with the 200 defenestrated. And could I get a qualifying time in the 50?

Despite some relief, I did not feel confident going into the 100. We had definitely done more high speed work, but what about the back end? I visualised a high stroke rate, building into the wall, and doing whatever I could on the way back. The good news is I did exactly that, touching in 30.1 at the 50. The bad news was my final time – 1.05.5. Last January, when in Emma Gage’s squad, training part time, I went 65.1. What the fuck?

Clearly, my back end was atrocious. And the guy next to me, who I keen to beat, dicked all over me in the final 25. It was embarrassing. It was confusing. It wasn’t right. But I still had the 50.

I felt angry in swim down, and couldn’t shake it for a while. But I did get out with my attentions turned to the free. I needed to relax, and start gradually hyping up. There were people in my heat I was keen to race. Or beat, more precisely. When I got to the block I felt slightly fatigued but raring to go. Unfortunately I just had no sharpness and went 24.0 and was way off my best and the Champs time and fuming. On video it was clear my stroke rate was too low, which I think reflected my damp mood.

With Josh I expressed my feeling powerless. That I should never be swimming that slow (I was thinking mainly about the 100), that there were no redeeming features about the swim – in the past I’d swam slow in season but could identify clear positives. Before I had a chance to say I was pulling out of tomorrow races he suggested coming back tomorrow and thinking about one or two things to execute right in the race and forgetting about the overall time. Sounds obvious, and like I should have done that anyway, but it’s not easy to ignore the time. I held my tongue and decided to do just that, knowing that I could think it over and change my mind later.

What’s a bad way to overcome a low point? I spent the entire afternoon by myself. Wallowing. Feeling shit. But I decided to venture out and try some places; I went to a bakery and had a butternut squash and feta fougasse, then I went to a cafe near the flat and tried to do some writing (I didn’t write much but came up with good ideas for a short story I was writing, so it was productive). I went back to the flat after that and charged my phone, but began feeling stale sitting around watching TV so decided to go for a walk around Edinburgh. I went nowhere exciting, but enjoyed exploring. I caught the last five minutes of the insane rugby match between England and Scotland, then decided to come up with some targets for my races in the morning. They weren’t very specific, mostly regarding the front end as that’s what I felt most confident around.

First up in the morning was 50 breast. A no pressure no pain event. I felt relaxed but hyped, eager to achieve my low, doable goals. I nailed the start, had a good first 20 metres and then started over-revving, but still ended with a respectable 29.2. That was about where I’d been in my two previous outings this year.

For some reason, things felt like they were coming together more that morning. In marshalling for the 100 free all my best metal songs came on shuffle, one after the other. On the block I was ready to fly off the block and take everyone to 15, and I sort of did, but then went easy speed down the first 50 before coming home strong (26.9). Final time was 52.2 – again, where I’d been previously this season.

Way, way more positive. Josh commented on the positive aspects of the swims, and that I was notably more sharp in the races, reflecting a more positive attitude before the races. This was a great learning curve for me: not regarding the positive approach, though the correlation between attitude and performance was re-inforced; regarding my own ability to pull things around when they are going badly, and drag myself up when I am down. To do it, I simply have to adjust or re-align my targets, and be more specific than the overall time. This is a powerful weapon to have in my arsenal.

Throughout the weekend, my attitude and subconscious feelings have manifested precisely in my race performance. If I master my approach, and construct it appropriately, the outcome will follow as a direct consequence.

 

Mcullagh International Meet, Bangor, 22nd-24th Feb

My sleep had gone awry in the days leading up to the meet, which had fallen at the end of a key week, itself preceded by regen where I’d had the whole weekend off while others were at BUCS. Despite this, I hadn’t had a full 8 hours sleep for perhaps two weeks. A weird habit of sleeping soundly for four or five hours, waking up for my usual mid-night piss, and being unable to get back sleep, had spawned. On my recovery weekend I managed about six hours a night, then on the Monday I awoke at half three, lay in bed for two hours before deciding to get up and do something productive. This worked as at seven I went back to bed and slept soundly til ten thirty. However, what the fuck.

The problem attenuated over the next couple of days, yet on Wednesday night I only had about six hours. Thus I set off for Bangor, by train and plane, light-headed and from cumulative sleep deprivation. The journey was smooth, I just felt awful.

We stayed in an airBnB on a coastal road. An Edwardian if not Victorian building with high ceilings and fireplaces in almost every gigantic room. It had six bedrooms and as the oldest I quickly staked my claim for the top floor room – the biggest and hopefully quietest, being at the top of what felt like six stories. I could not have been more wrong.

We went for a dip in the pool which I was impressed with. It was a big arena, the pool a cool, light blue and fully kitted out for top meets (by which I mainly mean it had the good blocks). I felt very, very stiff and heavy doing my allotted three kilometres, due in main to the heavy gym session on Wednesday and big key set from Tuesday night. The swim loosened me off though, and after some technique and speed work I felt happy, ready to go at the 100 free the following day. But first, a good night’s rest…

My bed was comfortable, the house was silent, I’d read for a bit and was calm and keen to sleep. At eleven o’clock noise started blaring. It wasn’t coming from someone else’s bedroom, not from the living room TV underneath me, it was coming from the neighbours. They must have been watching TV incredibly loud; though I couldn’t discern the words exactly, I could hear every verbal exchange from whatever they were watching. I wasn’t going to say anything, and hoped they would be courteous enough to switch it off soon, but it wasn’t worth waiting for. I needed to sleep now. So I put my shoes on and went to chap the door.

The exchange ran as follows, after I’d rang the doorbell three times and stood for approximately ten minutes:

“Who’s there?” (a bald man shouts from a top floor window)

“Hi, I’m just staying next door for a couple of days, I just wanted to ask if you could turn the volume on the TV down?”

“What?”

I repeated myself.

“Do you know I live here?”

“…yeah.”

“What time is it?”

“Erm, about half eleven.”

“Do you think that’s an appropriate time to be waking someone up?”

“Sorry I didn’t mean to. I just wanted to politely ask if you could turn the volume down.”

“And I’m just politely asking you to get the fuck off my property.”

I held my hands out and left. What use will it do to become incensed when someone is that pathetic. Generally speaking, if someone uses the phrase ‘get off my property’ you can be sure they’re weak, why else would be so eager to boast about being the king of their castle? Luckily, they did turn the TV off when I got back to my room, and even managed a ragged seven hour sleep.

After relying of Meet Mobile’s incorrect timeline, me and the other freestyle lads arrived at the pool twenty five minutes before the race. Brief swim (with one ten metre sprint), jammers on and round to marshalling just in time. I got behind the block with my head in a whirl but composed myself and managed a 52.1 which I was happy with. I was surprised to get so close to 51 with so little prep. I was optimistic for the final.

Unfortunately I went slower. 52.3. How, I am still unsure. My warm up was thorough, I had my best jammers on (in the heat I wore my worst ones which were baggy) and I was pumped. I felt I had a solid PB in me, could I be looking at a fifty point? That might be where I went wrong, being too outcome focused, despite directing my thoughts away from the time and trying to clear my head and worry only about execution, I think I may have got excited about the possibility of PB’ing.

That night sleep became a scarcity. At half eleven the TV was blaring louder than the night before, so I decided to text the host to see if she could persuade the neighbours to be considerate; asking them myself would certainly not result in quiet. She had no contact details for them, so put made a noise complaint and the police arrived to ask them to be quiet. Supposedly they were furious and retaliated by putting the TV on even louder until 4.30am. I had about three hours sleep before my 200 breast heat.

Which was atrocious by the way. 2.29. I knew it was slow when I was swimming but good god, that was embarrassing. I went that time when training myself, four hours a week in the public lanes. At first I wanted to pull out the final, dreading the thought of racing that event again. Then I came round, decided that I might as well since I was there, and that this was 200 breast, my baby, I shouldn’t throw it away. One positive thing was that in the swim down I’d felt part of my stroke click like it had done last summer – specifically the pull phase, where I drove hands out and pulled straight back with my head still down (I imagined Gyruta’s pull when doing it). In the final I geed myself up, nailed the start and implemented this down the first fifty and the result was tremendous easy speed. Yet I faded badly to a 2.26 with the last 50 a 40. Clearly, then , this was a conditioning issue.

Miraculously, thankfully, mercifully, I had a deep seven hour sleep that night, perhaps satisfied with stepping up in my 200 breast. The TV was still loud but less so, and I was able to drown it out with a Brown Noise YouTube video. Time for the 50.

30.0 in the heat and barely out of breath, though I’d still expected to go quicker than that. My start was wayward, my rate low and my catch flimsy. I had plenty to improve on for the final.

The gap in the day was the closest I have got in a long time to a midday nap. I would say I was half-asleep for at least an hour, and felt slightly refreshed. The house was calm and I decided to write a bit, cracking out a second draft for some flash fiction I’ve been working on. It felt good to be productive.

The final was underwhelming. My start was too shallow, my pull out average and though my rate was good for 35 metres, it dropped off badly and I got very little catch the entire length. 29.1 the result, 0.05 quicker than Glasgow, but third. I was frustrated to lose, but overall it wasn’t a bad swim. the main disappointment was that when I’d wanted to execute my start perfectly and blow the others away I hadn’t. That said, I learned a lesson, a technical one – that I was focusing too much on driving off the block from my upper body and would have more control and power when relying on my legs and the spring from my jump.

That wrapped up racing, but I didn’t get back till nearly ten on Monday. I found out on Sunday that out flight was at twenty to seven that night, it was then delayed, followed by our train being cancelled, and altogether I felt like I lost a day of my life in Belfast and on Scotrail wanting to get home.