When December arrives, it’s never alone. It carries two months of solid training on its back. No longer are we fresh and excited to regain that fitness from our end-of-season break. The enthusiasm has been replaced by tiredness, heavy legs and the cold. Training is hard and the days are short.
Those autumnal colours have faded to monochrome and what warmth was left in the gentle sunlight is but a distant memory. December is a month to navigate with care. My advent chocolates are gone by the first day and the new season is a long way off. We must be disciplined and endeavour not to eat the second advent calendar all in one, and to reach the New Year in a good place. This takes careful thought and planning…
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ALMOST THE WEEKEND
Ahhh, Friday. Nearly the weekend. Yes, we full-time athletes look forward to a weekend as much as the next person (it means no swimming and an extra few hours in bed – rejoice). Today is a recovery day of sorts and I’ve finally given in to the Christmas spirit – festive songs are blaring out! Only 6,000m of following a black line to go and that figurative bell will jingle to call an end to swim training for the week. I like to leave my arms in the pool given that we have two days out of the water to recover and knowing that the remainder of the day is about resting up for the weekend.
So, where do I leave my arms? In the last rep of the session, an all-out 50m race with the guys… Wizard’s hit, ‘I wish it could be Christmas every day’, is firing me up. A couple of arm and leg swings, a gorilla drum on the chest, no roar – an instinctual alpha-male trait I’ve copied from David Attenborough’s documentaries, though strangely enough I’ve never seen apes swim too well. Focus! Goggles on… take your marks… I spring off the wall like a tired slinky, immediately down half a body length, slow reactions in my old age. Rev arms to catch up and subsequently slip the water (like a wheel-spin but without the flair). This isn’t going so well.
To my right, I can see Dicko’s (Sam Dickinson) feet already, ‘motor-boating’ away. Do I duck under the lane rope and get in his draft? Too much of a hazard – a clash of heads would ruin the day before it’s even light outside. On my left and notice Sian (Rainsley) and Jess (Learmonth) creeping ahead. Pride urges me on. I fumble the tumble-turn and my hat begins to slide up in imitation of the evil penguin from Wallace and Gromit. I deploy the six-beat leg kick in a last-ditch attempt to regain lost metres, to no avail. The wall looms. Hyperventilation. Thirty – I don’t want to hear the rest of my time – one point 3. 31.3, from a dive and soundly last. It’s good to know that my sprinting is still shockingly bad.
A cruisy cool-down and then doping control. I’m always happy to provide a freshly brewed urine sample for our kind chaperones and, with no spillages (to everyone’s relief), it was a successful and efficient collection.
OVER TO YOU
For those returning to the pool after a month out, I wouldn’t recommend 6km. The focus should be on technique and remembering how to swim correctly at a range of speeds. Begin with a nice easy warm-up using a mix of strokes, some drills, kick and pull, to globally activate your body. Then slowly introduce a range of swim speeds over 25m reps. As the sessions progress, you can begin to extend the durations spent at certain swim speeds. Always finish with 200-300m of easy swimming to cool down.
Tom’s example swim set:
Warm-up: 600m continuous 200m front crawl (FC); 200m as 100m individual medley (IM) and 100m pull; 200m as 50m kick and 50m swim.
Prep set: 12 x 50m: laps 1-4 – 25m scull and 25m swim; laps 5-8 – 25m drill and 25m swim; laps 9-12 – build with ‘perfect stroke’.
Main set: 200m, 150m, 100m, 3 x 50m, all off 30 seconds recovery. This breaks down as: 200m as 25m max sprint and 175m easy aerobic; 150m as 25m very hard (super-sprint swim pace) and 125m aerobic; 100m as 25m hard (sprint-distance effort) and 75m aerobic; 3 x 50m at target race pace. Do this twice.
50m max sprint.
50m really easy recovery with some back stroke.
200m cool-down – choice of stroke.
TAKING IT EASY
Friday is my favourite day. It means a decent feed for lunch and a nice chilled spin. I’m all about the recovery nutrition on a day like today. Protein for repair from the tough sessions earlier in the week and carbohydrates to replenish those depleted glycogen stores, ready for a big weekend ahead.
The easy rides helps to flush out tired muscles and actually aids in that recovery/replenishment process. I pick my own loop and just take it easy really, no more than 180 watts. Album, podcast or audiobook selected (depending on my mood) and I lose myself for an hour or so. Note: always ride safe when using audio for company, make sure you can hear traffic and you’re aware of the road.
I also make sure I give my bike a good clean and service ready for the weekend. Mudguards help to keep the bike and rider clean, but dirt always penetrates the drive chain and brakes, so it’s important to be thorough. You may even save a few watts and you’ll definitely extend the life of your components.
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No more jobs and it’s time for a nap. I’ve worked out that 40mins gives me 15mins wind down, 20mins napping and 5mins to get out of bed. The perfect strategy for an effective nap.
It’s mid-afternoon and the sun is sinking, fast. I can already see a glint of frost on the car windows, and the dark clouds look pregnant with snow. O winter, hurry up and go. There are still 17 days until the winter solstice. And I still have a run to do! Who’s about to get me out the door?
“Dicko, are you jogging?”
“I’ve got a session actually mate, some tempo work on the grass.”
“Do you mind if I join you for your warm-up and some strides? I just want to keep it steady today.”
“Sure, meet at 3 pm, should give us enough time.”
It’s so good to have training mates when motivation is low and days get tough. We jog around the playing fields measuring out a loop for Sam’s session. Our Covid-free breath is puffing from our rosy cheeks. There’s an audible crunch of frost from the frozen grass underfoot – perfect conditions. I see Sam off for his first rep with a cheer, he’s moving well, and head home.
15 minutes later, after a couple of strides and stretches, I’m stood under a scalding shower, ‘Fairytale of New York’ by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl at full volume. Around 20mins later I’m still there. The countdown to turn off the tap always seems to be played on loop, some mysterious magic like the ever-pressable snooze button on an alarm.
A hearty stew for tea (dinner for southerners), mince pie and mulled wine for pudding. Name me a grander meal. Christmas tree decorated, with minimal pine needle scattering. A triumph and day done. My Scrooginess is softening and I realise that taking days like a Friday are key for a successful year ahead. Offset the hard work and training with some enjoyable distractions. Make the most of this month before your New Year’s resolutions are published on social media!