Saturday, 31 August 2013

26.4km Swim Completed - Boom Boom Pow

Rapperswil to Zurich marathon swim

Dear FatToFit followers,

I am pleased to announce that on the 4th August 2013, I successfully completed the 26.4km Rapperswil to Zürich Marathon Swim, organised by the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team.

Atypical for myself, I kept mentions of the swim on my blog to a minimum, as I had left the training rather till the last minute and was not sure whether I would be able to complete the distance.  In fact prior to my open water swim training camp in Mallorca from the 21st to the 27th June, I had never swum more than 5km in one go.

In a rather panicked state I asked one of the coaches on the Mallorca SwimTrek trip if she would mind coaching me to success.  Online coaching seemed to be a good solution, due to her and my rather busy schedules.  Whilst some people struggle with following a plan in the physical absence of a monitor, I can be extremely self disciplined (when I want to be), and can follow a plan to the letter if I believe that it is in my best interests to do so.

So with a rather open mind, I prepared to receive her plan for the Monday following the trip, and to get well and truly stuck in.  After all she only had 5 weeks before the race to get me in peak endurance swimming condition, and that needed to include a tapering period.

I would be lying if I told you that her plan was easy to follow.  Most days I woke up at 5am in order to get to the pool by 6am when it opened.  Then I would try to get in the long workout (anything up to 5km), and still get to work on time at 9am.  Typically the days included 2 workouts so that meant going to the pool again at lunchtime.

You may ask why I was not doing the long swims in the evening.  Well in typical Paul style, I was trying to keep up with all my other activities too, like Toastmasters, weekly tango lessons, running club, Pilates and socialising.  After a few weeks I realised that I could not do everything and had to drop the running club for a while.

It was hard getting through the working day without falling asleep at my desk, and thank goodness that UBS has a relaxation/ sleeping room, which allowed me to take short, power naps during the day.  After all, I was doing more or less the kind of distance that a professional swimmer might do on a daily basis, even if it was only like that for a few weeks.  I also had to up my food intake in order to give my body what it needed to repair itself, along with a few more hours sleep each night.

Long swims took place on the weekend.  On the 11th July I did a 4 hour swim in the Türlersee near Zürich.  My running coach came along and swam part of that with me to keep me motivated.  I guesstimate that I covered 11km.  Then the following weekend I went to Lake Bohinj in Slovenia to join my coach for a long swim.  She was kayaking alongside me for part of the way, and I covered 18km in around 6.5 hours.  After doing the 18km swim in Slovenia I went into a tapering phase, but mentally that swim really helped me to realise that the Rapperswil to Zürich swim was going to be possible for me.

Commonly issued advice is that you should be capable of swimming or running as far as one day as you can swim in one week of your regular training.  That does not mean to say that just because one week you swim 26.6km, the next week you can go out and swim 26.4km in a day.  However, if your average weekly training distance is 26.4km and you have kept this up for consecutive weeks, then 26.4km in a day should theoretically be possible.  You should also have covered around 2/3 of the total distance in one or two pre-race swims, to get used to the distance both physically and mentally.

Looking at the above piece of advice I was definitely in with a chance, as my long swim of 18km was more than 2/3 of 26.4km and I had 3 weeks of training at over 26.4km per week.  In fact one week was well over 30km.

In the week leading up to the marathon swim we were informed that the lake temperature was over 24.5C, which meant wetsuits were going to be banned for safety reasons (in order to prevent overheating).  Upon hearing this I went into panic.  My body was rather devoid of fat, and after tiredness sets in, my legs and hips tend to sink.  When your legs and hips sink you have the profile of a brick instead of a bullet, and your pace slows to a crawl, no pun intended.

My coach tried to rid my mind of all the self doubt and told me that I would manage it no matter what, and instead of thinking how much harder it would be without a wetsuit, to think how much easier it would be to be able to stay cool in a pair of swimming trunks rather than overheating in a wetsuit.  I tried to absorb her words, and would not allow that self doubt to return.

The day before the swim we had to attend a pre race briefing in Rapperswil, and there we were informed that due to the possibility of rain, thunderstorms and overcast skies, despite the lake being a fraction over 24.5C it was possible that it might cool the day of the race.  So they left it up to us whether we wanted to wear wetsuits or not.  For me it was clear, I was going to wear one.  I knew that if I started off in a wetsuit and it got too hot, I could take it off whilst in the water without needing to get out or to touch the kayak (which would lead to a disqualification).  The other way round however i.e. putting a wetsuit on whilst in the water, would be practically impossible.

The night before the race, my coach (who was also my escort kayak paddler) and I stayed in Rapperswil so that we would be guaranteed a good night's sleep.  Bright and early we woke up, had a big hearty breakfast and prepared for the 7am start.

The escort boats/ kayaks had to be clear of the start in order to allow the swimmers to leave unhindered, so the first challenge was trying to find your escort boat amongst the sprawling mass.  Kelly had told me not to worry about finding her, that she would find me.  So when the start was called I set off at a nice steady pace, sighting the direction of Zürich every 10 strokes or so.  I soon realised that swimming in a straight line was not my forte.  One minute I was heading off to the right and then to the left and I couldn't wait to find Kelly and to be able to simply follow the kayak all the way, rather than worrying about swimming in a straight line.  I noticed her alongside me after around 15 minutes or so, and breathed a sigh of relief.

Each ultra endurance athlete has their own take on whether or not to take painkillers before/ during a race, but Kelly had advised me to take a few Ibuprofen every now and again, and after my experience in the Marathon des Sables of trying to stay off painkillers and then paying for it later (through mental exhaustion from dealing with the pain), I decided to take her advice.  I also had a headache so the Ibuprofen helped with that too.

Not being allowed to touch the boat, for feeding and drinking Kelly came up with an improvised scoop system that allowed her to pass me things and then scoop them out of the water when I had finished with them.  Feeding/ drinking was every 45 minutes or whenever I felt like I needed an extra boost.  For drinking I started with isotonic drinks and then later moved to plain water.  For feeding I used mostly energy gels but also some banana, nuts and dried apricots.

The day before the race Kelly had told me that there would be moments during the race when I would not want to continue, when my mental toughness would be tested to the limit, when I would hate her just for being part of the whole torturous experience.  I can honestly say though that there were no moments at all when I truly felt like giving up.

My toughest moment came when there was a thunderstorm nearby, the warning lights in the harbours started flashing and the lake became very choppy.  Each time I came up to breathe I was slapped in the face by a wave.  If the lights change from slow flashes to fast flashes it means all swimmers and boats must exit the water, and the race is abandoned.  After 5 hours of swimming I was dreading that the race would be abandoned.  The thunderstorm soon passed though and the lake returned to normal.

In general though, I was only thinking of how amazing it would be to arrive at the finish, where I knew there would be some friends and colleagues waiting for me, as well as the soon to be love of my life.  Having been through the week long Marathon des Sables, dealing with pain day after day, without proper nutrition and rest, a one day event always seemed very manageable in comparison.  There were moments when I thought to myself, if I managed to complete the Marathon des Sables then for sure I can manage to complete this one day swim, despite not having a particularly efficient stroke.  I just have to keep putting one hand in front of the other and pulling myself through the water, along with kicking a little.  I have spent too much time training for this to give up now.

My ideal time to finish the race would have been around 9.5 hours, but looking at my watch I soon realised it would take a little longer than this.  Kelly had predicted around 10 hours.  I had not really been pushing the pace at all, as rather than racing and risking to run out of steam and fail, I had decided I just needed to go slow and steady and to complete it.  After I passed 20km I started to increase the pace though, as I still had plenty of energy left and wanted to improve my time slightly.

I could see the finish from about 4km away, and it looked deceptively close.  Kelly warned me not to start sprinting and that it was still well over an hour away.  I had already learnt the lesson of falsely perceived distances whilst crossing the Bolivian salt flats the other year by bicycle.  On the salt flats 35km can seem like it is just around the corner, yet one hour later you still find yourself cycling towards the same landmark.  In the water it is rather the same.  So I paced myself and made good steady progress towards the finish at Badi Tiefenbrunnen.

In the final hundred metres I put on a bit of a sprint and then I elatedly climbed up the steps to receive my finisher's medal.  My time was 10 hours and 8 minutes.  Success!  I had done it!  There is nothing like the feeling of success from good, hard graft.

Thanks to Kelly for coaching me and for kayaking alongside me, thanks to my friends and colleagues for coming to join me and to share in my special moment and thanks to all of you for reading my blog and supporting me in my adventures.


Sunday, 7 July 2013

SwimTrek Open Water Swim Coaching Holiday in Mallorca

SwimTrek Open Water Swim Coaching Holiday - Mallorca, June 2013
Having arrived back from my SwimTrek holiday in Mallorca over a week ago, I thought it's high time now to write a summary/ review.

This was the first swimming holiday that I have been on, and I decided to book it after reading the following article in the Guardian newspaper "Top 10 swimming holidays".  The trip was a speciality open water swim coaching holiday, and it was held from the 21st to the 27th June 2013 in Colonia de Sant Jordi, Mallorca.  SwimTrek is one of the leaders in open water swim holidays, and their trip managed to live up to all my expectations.

I have been on organised sports holidays before, such as the Vuelta Sudamerica bicycle trip with Tour d'Afrique.  This was the first sports adventure holiday though where I was not moving from one camp to another night after night, and where it afforded a high degree of comfort rather than feeling much like life on the road.  Travelling from place to place can be fun, but also there can be a time and place for staying in the same hotel for a week, allowing you to do laundry, relax and so on.

Location

Colonia de Sant Jordi is a rather small, quiet town on the Southern coast of Mallorca.  If you are looking for a clubbing holiday then it isn't really the place to go.  That kind of thing you would be better off going to Magaluf for.  If on the other hand you are looking for a swimming holiday, Colonia de Sant Jordi is jam packed full of swimmers.  Part of the reason for that is the presence of the BEST Swim Centre in the town - a mecca for youngsters looking for a gap year that includes a chance to hone their swimming skills.

The group

On Friday 21st I got to meet the rest of the group and the coaches for the first time.  The two coaches on the trip were very experienced coaches.  Glen is from the UK and Kelly is from the US.  Glen is a gadgets man and can talk the hind legs off a donkey if it involves swimming technique or gadgets.  Kelly is both a swimming and water polo coach and is specialised in open water swimming.

The group was formed of 12 swimmers plus the 2 coaches.  Most of the participants were from the UK, with a couple of people from Germany, a couple of people from Eire and myself from Zürich.  I made the mistake of including the 2 girls from Eire under the UK grouping and that is one mistake I wont be making again, as my butt is still sore.

What I was really impressed by, is how well everyone in the group got on.  There were some minor tensions amongst one or two of the people who shared rooms, but other than that everyone got on like a house on fire.  As in any group you always have one or two quiet ones, but once you get them talking it is fine.

Everyone was coming to try and improve their swimming technique, but it seemed I was the only one coming with the boot camp approach in mind.  For most it was a chance to swim but also to relax too.  With my 26k August swim always in the back of my mind, there is not that much time for me to get too relaxed although I did my best.  A mojito or two helped the relaxation process along.

There was even one guy in the group who had successfully summited Everest.  Anyone who has done that gets a lot of respect from me.  He was also training to swim across the English channel as part of a relay team, where swimmers swim for one hour at a time and take it in turns to swim until the channel has been crossed from the English to the French side.

The coaching

The coaching itself was fantastic.  On the first day we did some video analysis of our strokes above and below the water, as well as head on.  That same video analysis was then repeated at the end of the trip to see what improvements we had made.  In general almost everyone made some improvements in terms of maintaining the same speed and managing to reduce their stroke count, or even managing to swim faster whilst reducing their overall stroke count in some cases.

The video analysis revealed that I was wasting huge amounts of power in my stroke.  I was creating lots of white water, windmilling my arms, and generally thrashing.  So throughout the week Kelly and Glen helped me to swim smoother and more efficiently through the water.  It was not a complete success as I am still prone to thrashing through the water, but when I am paying close attention I am able to swim nice and smoothly.  Maybe with some months of practise it will become second nature.

I liked the coaching so much in fact that I persuaded Kelly to come up with a plan to help me prepare for my 26k Rapperswil to Zürich swim on the 4th August.  She will also be coming out to Zürich to kayak alongside me and to give me support and advise, as well as food and water.  In addition I will be joining her in Slovenia to do my mandatory preparation swim for the race.

The swims

A typical day consisted of a morning swim in the sea and then an evening swim in the pool to practise technique drills.  On average we covered from 3 to 4km per day.  The day before last was the day of the long swim, when we did both swims in the sea, stopping only for lunch and a nap on one of the beaches.  I would estimate that the long swim day, most people covered around 5 or 6km, but I chose to continue swimming from the end point of the swim right back to the hotel and probably covered somewhere close to 10km.

Colonia de Sant Jordi has some lovely sandy beaches and lots of little islands, which make for some really interesting swims.  Each sea swim we did was scenic and I loved the fact that we could always see the sea floor.  I always get a little bit nervous swimming over the deep blue and not knowing what is beneath me.  On this trip I didn't have to worry about that at all.

Overall impressions

The trip was a memorable one for me, because of the location, the group, the coaches and the coaching.  This is one trip I would be happy to go on again at some point in order to hone my technique further.  Whilst we were there we stayed at the Hotel Lemar, which was comfortable, with friendly staff, and ideally located right next to the beach.  One hundred metres from the hotel and you are already in the water.  If I had to give a rating out of 10 I would give it 9.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Ravishing Raw Food Desserts from Wanbun Ho of Zurich


Peeling, grating, shaping, pressing.  Kneading, cutting, squeezing.  Raw food deserts may take a large amount of work to prepare, but as my friend Wanbun Ho demonstrated at her first raw food desserts product offering on the 1st June in Zurich, they can be well worth the effort.

Why eat raw food deserts you may be asking yourselves.  What is wrong with a good old-fashioned home baked cake?  Nothing at all is wrong is good old-fashioned home baking.  Almost everything is okay in moderation after all, but you cannot beat raw food for the intensity of the flavours and the nutritional content of the food.  Cooking at high temperatures changes the molecular structure of food and some of the flavours are toned down in the process, as well as some of the vitamins and goodness being lost.

What is raw food?

Raw food dishes are prepared with organic, whole food with minimum processing and refinement. No nasty chemicals are used as preservatives, food colours, or flavour enhancers. Only the best goes into your body!

According to vegetarian.about.com

"A raw foods diet consists of unprocessed raw vegan foods that have not been heated above 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius). "Raw foodists" believe that foods cooked above this temperature have lost their enzymes and thus a significant amount of their nutritional value and are harmful to the body, whereas uncooked foods provide living enzymes and proper nutrition."

Some purists will not heat the food at all.  Others believe that freezing is an acceptable part of the raw food diet, although some reject this because of the lowered enzyme activity brought about by the freezing process.

The "enzyme" part mentioned above is actually still under debate. The human body produces active enzymes for digestion and other functions, so whether we need "living enzymes" is a different story. It is, however, proven that the process of cooking food - grilling, frying, baking, microwaving - produces various chemicals (called Advanced Glycation End Products, or AGEs) which is the result of interactions between sugar glucose and proteins. These chemicals can promote aging and cause other types of damage to the body. AGEs are made internally. However, it was found that even more amounts are already made in the cooked food people ingest (or from cigarette smoking). Foods from animal sources that were high in protein and lipid content were found to have highest content of AGEs. This point alone could be interesting enough to consider incorporating more raw foods into your diet.

Scott Jurek (7 time 100 mile Western state winner) mentioned in his book “Eat and Run”, that training with a vegan diet afforded him much faster recovery between training sessions and thus he could train for longer.


Wanbun's discovery of raw foods

Wanbun personally discovered raw food whilst training for her first marathon. She would love to explore raw food/vegan diet and sport performance further, and if any of you have done this before, she would love to hear about your experiences!  Feel free to leave a comment below.


My experience of raw foods

This is not the first time that I have come across the concept of following a raw food diet.  Here is an article I wrote back in 2010 after attending a yoga and superfoods workshop in Zurich organised by glocals.com It is a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a superfood.  Till the present day I still continue to take raw foods such as chia, maca, bee pollen and goji berries.  They certainly can help to provide you with sustained energy.  The problem I find though, is that most of them do not taste that good.

On that note, this is where I was extremely impressed by the product offering on display at the Biomarkthalle in Niederdorf, Zurich that Wanbun had prepared.  The flavours were simply sumptuous and everything tasted great.  Even now, recalling that first bite of her tiramisu, fudge or cheese cake makes my mouth water.  Normally I do not even like cheese cake, but somehow her cheese cake was very different.


The future of Wanbun's desserts business

Wanbun's initial raw food desserts tasting event on the 1st June was a huge success.  In fact she had even sold out by early afternoon, around 3 hours after opening, surpassing all her previous expectations.

For this reason, her desserts will now be a regular offering at Vitus Biomarkthalle. Wanbun is also constatly experimenting with new recipes here and there, so stay tuned for another dessert tasting day in the future!

Currently the raw food desserts are a hobby for Wanbun, as she also works full time.  Maybe one day in future though she will be able to follow her passion and work full time providing raw food desserts to the people of Zurich and beyond.  Each of her desserts is lovingly prepared and packaged in a way that only someone who really cares about what they do can manage.

If you wish to keep up to date with future events from Wanbun you can check out her website Gourmet Rohkost.

On her website above, Wanbun will shortly be sharing with us her own recipes for making delicious breakfasts using chia seeds, maca, bee pollen and goji berries, in light of the fact that I mentioned to her they do not normally taste very good by themselves.

Kudos to you Wanbun!  Keep up the great work!


Sunday, 2 June 2013

Role Models - part two

Jeff Grant, endurance athlete, business owner and coach
Following on from my previous post, Role models, and how inspiring and energising it can be to be around them, today I want to introduce you to my second role model, Jeff Grant.

Jeff Grant is someone who teaches fitness with a passion.  Owner of Richterswil-based Hillseeker Fitness, he delivers not standard run of the mill fitness training, but innovative and varied training that introduces athletes to his own specific fitness concepts.  He has even written his own ebook about running technique for example.

Jeff teaches in a way that inspires athletes of all abilities.  Participants in his Wednesday night running classes in Zürich varied from those just beginning jogging in order to lose weight right through to experienced endurance athletes having competed in races such as the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc and the Marathon des Sables.  Somehow he was able to design a class that challenged everyone at the same time, and this is not easy with such a mixed ability group.

Regularly completing the SEALFIT Kokoro Camp training, Jeff not only teaches mental toughness but has also proved that he possesses it as well.  He is now a support coach and running technique coach at the SEALFIT academy too.  Jeff has completed many endurance events himself including the UTMB, Marathon des Sables and Hawaii Ironman Championships to name but a few.

Before setting up his own business Jeff worked many years in the corporate world, but he felt that he needed to make the transition to full time coaching and to set up his own coaching business in order to live his real dream.  He made the leap of faith and worked like a beaver for several years to make his dream come true.  His classes grew at the same time as his coaching abilities did.  Initially offering CrossFit classes, he then added Pose Running workshops and regular coached sessions to the offerings.  Recently he completed his yoga instructor training in Thailand, and now gives yoga classes on top of all the other classes.

When not giving his regular classes in Richterswil,  Jeff can be found writing fitness articles, making fitness videos or writing tailored coaching programs, as well as travelling around the globe to coach in other locations too.  Jeff is also a motivational speaker.

I really hope that he sticks with it and continues to inspire athletes of all abilities in the years to come like he has till now.  Top work Jeff!!!

For more information about Jeff and his coaching please visit his site www.hillseekerfitness.com

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Role models, and how inspiring and energising it can be to be around them

A laughter yoga class organised by one of my role models
As the title of this post suggests, today's topic is that of role models.  Most of us probably know someone that really loves what they do, someone that has found their true passion in life, and just being around them is energising and inspiring.  The weaker amongst us may be intimidated by them and try to avoid them, but if you are someone who wants to grow, just try being around them for a while and listening to what they have to say.  You may find that they ignite something inside you, and set you off on finding your own passion in life.

At present I have two role models.  Both are people that are extremely passionate about what they do, and people that I enjoy being around.  I only hope that one day I can discover my true passion in the way that they have discovered theirs.

I will introduce you today to one of my role models, and in a future post I will introduce you to the other.  So, drum roll please, ...................... for my first role model I introduce to you Fabiola Leon.

Fabiola Leon

Fabiola hails originally from Valencia in Venezuela and is a life coach who helps people to grow and learn on all personal levels.  I came to meet her through participating in one of her laughter yoga classes that was posted on Glocals only a few weeks ago.  She started the laughter yoga classes as a way to help her life coaching clients overcome their inhibitions and get closer to achieving their personal goals.  Her energy was contagious and since first meeting her I have been to every class that she has held since then. Her classes are now growing through word of mouth alone.

Fabiola loves hearing various success stories from her past and present clients, and it is this that keeps her going strong day after day.  When she is not giving life coaching classes or laughter yoga classes or being a mum, she can be found diligently studying self improvement material or blogging or thinking up her next business idea or event or promotion.

Fabiola's laughter yoga classes have helped various people including myself.  I recently suffered a breakup from my fiancee of 3.5 years (yes Anny for those of you that know me), and Fabiola's first laughter yoga class helped me a lot.  Regardless of whatever problems you have, laughing for 20 or 30 minutes makes them seem so much smaller in the hours or days afterwards.

One of the ladies that participated in a recent laughter yoga class suffers from high blood pressure.  She wrote to Fabiola after the class saying that she felt much better and more relaxed after the class and wanted to do it again.  In her first class she had to sit down and rest at various intervals.  In the class today however she was able to participate fully.  Was that down to the laughter yoga alone, or due to other circumstances too.  Of this I am not sure, but I am sure that the laughter yoga helped her to feel better.  Whether it be work or fitness or whatever, a good bout of healthy cathartic laughter can only but help rather than hinder.  Some studies have even gone so far as to suggest that laughter yoga can be comparably healthy to actual physical exercise.

It also came of no surprise to me that Fabiola recently got a Best Speaker award from her local Toastmasters club where she is an active member.  She was speaking about one of her passions - laughter yoga.  When you are speaking about something that you are passionate about, people tend to be engrossed, but on top of that Fabiola is a talented public speaker and also has experience of video blogging, interviewing successful entrepeneurs and business owners.

If you want to read more about her you can take a look at the following sites

Life Success Consultants - Fabiola Leon

Laughter Yoga Switzerland

I wish you all a fantastic evening and I am sure some of you are dying to know who is role model number two, but for that you will just have to wait.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The High Ropes Course of Kloten

Seilpark Kloten

As you may now have realised by all the information contained on my blog, Zürich (well Switzerland in general) is abundantly rich in fitness activities and things to do.  Well not far from Zürich airport, in the village of Kloten, lies a high ropes course or Seilpark as they call it in German.  I went there for the first time last Thursday with a couple of friends and we had a lot of fun.

After an initial briefing we were kitted up with a harness, carabiners and a flying fox and shown how to move along the course, by means of a mini course that they use for the demo part, and which is only 1m off the ground.  Attached to your harness you have 3 pieces of equipment.  You have one cord with a flying fox attached and two cords with quick release carabiners attached.  At various points all along the course they put a red mark on the steel rope to show where you should clip the carabiners.  Then there are blue marks to show you when you should use the flying fox.  The flying fox is used for sliding down the rope or traversing a horizontal section when there is nothing to stand on below.

We had to show that we were able to move safely along the mini course, before they would let us onto the main courses.  This part is really important, because there are no guides/ instructors on the course with you at Seilpark Kloten.  It is a course where you are responsible for your own safety.  Some of the highest parts of the black course are 15 metres above the ground and a fall could if you were unlucky kill you.  They do however have one or two instructors on the ground who can assist you if needed.

The golden rule is ALWAYS HAVE AT LEAST ONE CARABINER ATTACHED TO THE STEEL ROPE.  You do have to concentrate a little, as with constant clipping and unclipping it would be rather easy to become completely unclipped if you were not paying attention.

The adult courses at Seilpark Kloten are graded blue, red and black.  You must first start with the blue (easy) course.  If you complete that you can then move on to the red (medium) course.  Then finally if you complete that you can move on to the black (difficult) course.

One of my friends was with her child so she stayed on the childrens' course.  My other friend and I started with the blue, which we completed without any problem.  You do need some degree of balance but in terms of height, the blue course is only 3 to 5 metres above the ground and does not seem high.

Unfortunately my friend was not feeling well.  She had a headache and was feeling dizzy, so after the blue course she waited on the ground while I went to the red course.

The red course is 5 to 9 metres above the ground, so seems much higher.  It demands more balance than the blue one. It also includes some extremely cool games like a snowboard.  You need to clip onto the cage that houses the snowboard and then jump onto the snowboard and push off towards the other platform.  The course ends with something that forces you to put your trust in the equipment.  It is a machine that you clip on to, then you sit down on the platform and just push yourself off into thin air.  After a very brief fall, the machine releases a rope very slowly so that you have a controlled descent.  That first moment until you see that the machine is working is a little scary.

After finishing the red course I decided I would have a go at the black course.  It looked pretty high and goes up to 15 metres.  The course description says it is for 007s.  It demands a lot of power and endurance, and to even start it you have to climb vertically some metres up a rope, which has circular discs on it to make things even harder, since they get in the way.  After that you can rest briefly on a platform before the next test of strength.  You have to haul yourself up a kind of wooden ladder, but the distance between the rungs is huge and it is far from easy.  After that you have to traverse a set of monkey rings.  After finishing those my arms felt dead, but somehow I managed to muddle on through the rest of the course and finished it.  The black course also ends with the braking machine.

I got a huge sense of satisfaction from completing all the courses, and am keen to try something even tougher.  Now that I have my 007 status that is!

I definitely recommend Seilpark Kloten as a fun day out for all, provided you have at least some head for heights that is.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Laughing your way to better health with Laughter Yoga

Laughter yoga workshop Zurich

Always wanting to try new and interesting things, this morning I took part in a laughter yoga workshop in Zurich.  The skies had been threatening to open up, but fortunately it stayed dry throughout the workshop, which took place outdoors, in front of the China garden down by the lake front.

In the words of the organiser:

Laughter Yoga is a unique concept where anyone can laugh for no reason, no jokes or comedy.
We do group laughter exercises and with eye contact the laughter gets contagious and real.
It is based on a scientific fact that the brain cannot differentiate between real or fake laughter, therefore the body gets the benefits anyway.
This concept was created by a Medical Dr. Madan Kataria in Mumbai, India with only 5 people, today you can find more than 1000 Laughter Yoga Clubs in more than 72 Countries.

Not only does it improve your mood, but laugher also strengthens your immune system and helps you connect easily with people.

Fifteen of us took part in the workshop and as is usually the case in Zurich the group was truly international with participants from Australia, UK, Russia, Czech Republic, Poland, Switzerland, Italy and Germany, as well as a significant number of Venezuelans (who were friends of the organiser).

We started off with a series of breathing and stretching exercises, which included blowing up balloons and blowing bubbles.  The idea with the bubbles was that whilst some members of the group blew bubbles up into the air, the rest tried to blow the bubbles downwards towards the ground.  It was like reverting back to childhood for a few minutes and was lots of fun.

Afterwards we moved on to the actual laughing exercises.  These involved chasing after each other whilst laughing, hugging other group members whilst laughing and many more activities (whilst laughing).  Each time we were told to maintain eye contact, as this keeps the group laughter going.  It must have been obvious that we were having a lot of fun, because a passer by actually wanted to come and join in with us, and in the true spirit of laughter yoga she was warmly welcomed into the group.  The other important point we were told is not to stand in a circle as that is too formal and tends to make people feel a little intimidated.  Instead we were always asked to form a kind of circle, but with some people inside to break the formality.

Like many other people, I am sometimes uncomfortable with laughing randomly or too loud, due to breaking a perceived social etiquette.  The workshop provided a comfortable environment where a really open group of people were able to open up and laugh uncontrollably without fear of being judged.

Laughter yoga is something I would be interested to try again, and the organiser Fabiola is so full of positive energy that you cannot help but want to be around her, smiling and laughing.  See here for more info.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

How to get more bang for your buck when swimming

If you are looking to improve your upper body strength and get a super intense swim workout in a short time, swimming paddles may be your answer.

The paddles, made of stiff plastic, fit over your hand and provide a larger surface area than your hand alone does.  Your shoulder and arm muscles therefore have to work extra hard in order to overcome the increased water resistance as you pull your hands through the water.

In my local pool, it seems many people are using them.  I hadn't thought too much about them, until my swim coach suggested today that it was time for me to start using them to develop my upper body strength yet further.  Not only that, but because you move through the water faster, it gives you a better idea of what swimming fast feels like and helps you to learn to make yourself more streamlined in the water.

I went out and bought the ones above, made by Speedo.  Although my hands are rather large, I went for the medium sized paddles.  They are slightly wider than my hand and quite a bit longer.  I probably could have even gone one size larger, but it is better to start off with a smaller size and then move to a larger size later, in order to avoid potential shoulder injuries.  I will let you know how I get on with them in due course, but my swimming in general is going fantastically at the moment.  I can now comfortably swim 2k in 45 minutes, and am covering about 11km per week total.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Bodyflying fun in Zurich

Bodyflying
Last Saturday I found myself at Bodyflying Rümlang in Zürich along with some friends of mine.  It was a really great way to spend a couple of hours, so much so that I have booked to go again in a couple of weeks time.

For those who have never heard of bodyflying, bodyflying is a fairly new and trendy sport.  It is not only fun, but also also affords parachute jumpers extra training possibilities.

For those who like the idea of parachute jumping, but have no particular desire to jump out of a perfectly good aeroplane, bodyflying could be a great alternative.

Participants enter a vertical wind tunnel where a specially designed propellor provides the vertical lift needed to fly on the generated air stream.  If you maintain a position similar to the one I am demonstrating in the photo you can achieve stable flight, and hover on the air stream.  By moving various parts of your body you can then move backwards or forwards, up or down.

Advanced bodyflyers can even do tricks like somersaults and spins and a whole host of other artistic movements.  Saturday was the first time for everyone in our group though, so achieving stable flight was in itself challenging at times.  We had two short flights in total.  The first was led completely by the instructor, with him moving us in whichever direction he chose.  The second was designed to let us see how we coped with minimal help.

Most of us managed a few short hovers by ourselves, but the second flight was certainly more challenging than the first.  My main mistake was being too tense and looking down rather than forward.  I am hoping that with the benefit of knowing some of the things I did wrong last time, my next bodyflying session will allow me to feel much more in control of my movement in the air stream.

One thing I know for certain though is that is going to be another fun day!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

26km endurance swim planned for August

As I mentioned in my last post, I wanted to participate in  a long distance swimming event this year.  That event has now arrived in the form of the Int. Self-Transcendence Marathon Swim, from Rapperswil to Zurich, organised by the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team.  The event takes place on Sunday 4th August this year, and I am now signed up for it.

Never wanted to do things by half, I initially entered the non-wetsuit category.  However, after a few words from my other half I have decided to tone things down and enter the wetsuit category.  The swim is 26.4k in length, and as I could be in the water for up to 12 hours, I may as well maximise my chances of completing it by wearing a wetsuit if the water temperature is low.

As my regular readers will know, I am fairly new to swimming.  Yes I swam as kid, but that was too long ago to remember.  However, I am now comfortably able to swim 3k in one go in the pool (using a mixture of breaststroke and front crawl) with no significant aches the next day, and am currently swimming 10k per week (well since last week at least).

With 4 months to go till the event itself, my plan is to add 1k per week to my training.  That will have me swimming 26k per week shortly before the event itself.  The general consensus and advise on offer on the internet suggests that if necessary you can swim as far in one day as you train regularly in one week.  I will also have to attempt some longer open water swims once the lake warms up a bit.  My longest open water swim before the event itself will probably be around 15k.

I have no idea if I can get myself in the kind of shape I need to be in before the 4th August without suffering any injuries, but I am optimistic based on what I have seen so far.  I have been going for several runs per week, and I have noticed I feel the runs a lot more the next day than I do my swims.  I reckon that my body can tolerate quite a lot of swimming, with swimming being very low impact.  The kind of overuse injuries I will have to watch out for are mainly centred around the shoulders.

Whilst upping my weekly training distances, I will also continue to take 2 lessons per week in an effort to improve my technique in both front crawl and breaststroke.  The more efficient I can be in the water, the more I will enjoy the event itself.

If anyone reading this is living in the Zurich area and fancies going out for an open water swim in the lake with me, let me know.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Border to Border Cross Country Ski Challenge Ends and New Challenges Begin

Standing at the finish line
Hello everyone,

I am now back in Zurich after almost 1 month of travelling around Scandinavia.  The trip started out in St Petersburg, Russia on the 28th February and ended yesterday in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The main purpose of the trip was the Border to Border Cross Country Ski Challenge, skiing across Finnish Lapland (classic style) from the border with Russia to the border with Sweden.  Those who follow my blog regularly will know that I suffered a major setback to my trip preparations when I partly tore my calf muscle whilst running on the track about 5 weeks before the trip was due to start.  That meant I was not able to get in the kind of shape that I wanted to be in, and went to Finland rather unprepared.  The only training I was able to do in the month before the trip was swimming.

The total distance of the Border to Border route is around 440km.  Knowing that I would not be able to do the full distance, I decided my aim would be to cover at least half the total distance.  Each day a bus was waiting at intermediate points along the route, allowing people like myself to do part days.

My daily distances were as follows:

Day 1 - 41km
Day 2 - 30km
Day 3 - 26km
Day 4 - 23km
Day 5 - 50km
Day 6 - 22.5km
Day 7 - 41km

In the end I managed a total distance of 233.5km, so I was happy to have achieved my aim.  Even more so, considering my complete lack of experience with classic cross country skiing.  I could seriously count on one hand the number of times that I have been cross country skiing classic style in my life.

The best way to improve your technique in anything is to practise, practise and practise some more.  The Border to Border trip was a perfect chance therefore to improve my xc skiing technique.  Just before leaving for the trip I took a classic xc ski lesson in Studen.  So I knew what I was supposed to do in theory.

On day 1 it was very tough for me.  There were quite a few downhills and some even ended in a sharp turn.  Lacking the balance that comes with practise I fell over many times that first day.  I also found that I was slowest in the group, which meant being followed by a snowmobile all day long.  There is always one snowmobile in front of the skiers and one following at the back, for safety reasons.

As the days went on, I felt my technique improving and I was able to glide longer after each kick.  It was clear to see the improvement when I looked at my Garmin stats.  On day 1 my average speed was a mere 6.5km/h.  As the week went on it went up to around 8.5km/h, and I was no longer the slowest in the group by any means.  I wonder how long it would have continued improving for, as 10km/h is a very reasonable speed for long distances on waxless skis on varied, undulating terrain.

The longest distance I covered in one day was 50km.  That day seemed very long to me, and I was very glad to arrive at the finish line.  Considering all but one of the days were meant to be over 50km, it clearly demonstrated that I was not in the right form to be attempting the whole route for this year at least.  More than half the group were Finnish, and had prepared for the trip by skiing hundreds or thousands of kilometres.  Those from countries such as Germany and the UK were a little less prepared, but nonetheless I did not find anyone like myself that had barely skied before.

What impressed me most was the average age of the skiers on the trip.  Many of them were in their 60s, 70s and even 80s.  One of them even had a pacemaker fitted, although for obvious reasons he did not attempt the full route.  They were a great example to demonstrate that ageing does not have to mean becoming sedentary and resigning oneself to a rocking chair.

Now with the xc ski challenge out of the way, I am returning to my original aim of running a sub 3 hour marathon.  At the same time though I will be training myself to swim long distances, and I may quite possibly try a long distance swim event this summer.  I will keep you all posted.

In the meantime have a very happy Easter everyone.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Does this really look like someone capable of skiing from Russia to Sweden across Finnish Lapland in one week?

Below is a video of me just before I set off for Russia and then Finland.  I managed to fit in a sneaky last minute classic xc ski lesson in Studen.  I figured I needed all the help I could get for the Border to Border tour.  I was looking for tips on making my technique more efficient.


The video above is the "after" video.  The "before" video was much worse.  I was using far too much upper body and not enough legs, which explains why I had been aching so much after the last time I tried classic xc ski in Studen (especially my triceps), but also right at the top of my quadriceps.

I managed to learn a lot in the 1 hour lesson, but as you can see from the clip I still lack some basic balance.  I am not at all comfortable standing on only one ski.  That would require hours of practise to perfect.  Also the teacher picked up on the fact that my left leg does not want to lift up properly like the right one does.  That may be an artifact of having injured the left calf muscle a month or so earlier, and being wary to use it as much as the right one.

In all seriousness I came out to Finland not expecting to be able to cover every kilometre of the Border to Border route.  I was not able to do much training at all (due to my partially torn calf muscle), and I a complete xc ski newbie.  In my life I have probably done classic style xc skiing only 3 times.  In an ideal world I would like to have at least fitted in 5 or so practise weekends in Switzerland, including a couple more lessons.  Then on top of that I would have done lots of running to get a really solid basic fitness.  All I was able to do was swimming and that uses different muscles. Running is much closer to classic xc skiing in terms of the muscles used.

Today was the first day and I was the slowest of the group.  I didn't manage to do the full distance, but I still managed to cover around 40km, which is the largest distance I have ever xc skied in my life.  That took me around 6 hours though, which is rather slow progress.  I have no hope in hell of completeting the longest day, as I would be coming in after midnight or so.  People talk about classic xc skiing technique being composed of "kick" and "glide", but in my case it was more kick than glide. 

I considered two tour strategies today.  The first was to try and cover every km, and risk further injury in the process, as well as not enjoying the tour due to the fact that it is beyond my current physical capabilities.  The second was to consider something more sensible, like covering half the total distance and enjoying the tour and the scenery along the way.  The second option also gives me a chance to focus on improving my technique, something that is hard to do when you are physically and mentally exhausted.

For once I have taken the most sensible option.  I am aching a little bit now, but skipping the last 20km today saved me a lot more aching, and meant that I can enjoy tomorrow much more.  I will let you know how the rest of the tour goes in a later post.  My plan for tomorrow is to cover 30km of the total 60km.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

First and only xc ski test before the Border to Border event

With less than 2 weeks till the start of the Border to Border event I needed to try out my new xc ski equipment at least once.  Under usual circumstances I would have prepared much better than I have.  However, a partially torn calf muscle prevented me from getting on my skis until now.

Yesterday I took the train/ bus to Studen, SZ.  After getting my skis hot waxed, I set off xc skiing for the first time in over a year.  In fact it has been quite some years since I last did classic style, having been more focussed on skating style the last few seasons.

The first few hundred steps were rather unbalanced and slow.  Rather than cross country skiing I think it was more like walking on skis.  The kick and glide was not really present.  As time went on I started to get the hang of it a little more, but I still did not get to the point where I was transferring 100% of my weight from one leg onto the other.  This is something that I will have to practise when I arrive in Finland and something that I will have to learn to master quickly.  With the fact that I am leaving to St Petersburg next Thursday there is no further opportunity for me to practise before the Border to Border event.

Yesterday I covered 15km in 2 and a bit hours, and today a few of my muscles are aching a bit as a result.  It made me realise that 60km a day is going to be a serious initiation into the classic xc skiing world.  At this point I am really not sure whether I am capable of those kinds of distances day after day, but I guess we will see soon enough.  There is always the bus as a last resort.

I will be taking a GoPro Hero 3 action cam with me on the trip, so you will be able to share in the joys and pains of the Finnish xc ski experience upon my return.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Swimming - important lessons learnt so far

Lane swimming
For the last few weeks I have been taking two swimming lessons per week in an attempt to hone my technique.  What I have quickly come to realise, is that over time bad habits start to creep in and they can be hard to banish without the help of a qualified coach.

Swimming quickly in no way implies good technique, and whilst an inefficient stroke may get you (either slowly or quickly) from A to B when the distances involved are short, over distances of several kilometres an efficient stroke is needed.  This is especially true if the swim forms part of an Ironman triathlon, in which case it will be followed directly afterwards by 180.25km of cycling and then 42.2km of running.  In this case, efficiency in the swim stage is key.

This article is devoted to front crawl, as up till now this is the stroke that I have been focussing on in my lessons.  Before I start with my list of lessons learnt, I would just like to add something to this earlier post that I wrote.  In it, I mention that a good pair of goggles and a nose clip are wise investments.  The first thing my coach told me to do when we met was to ditch the nose clip.  Coach S. assured me that if I breathe properly, no water can enter my nose.

Common problems and lessons learnt

How should one breathe when swimming?
It is important to breathe out through the nose whilst your face is underwater, and then to breathe in through your mouth when you lift your head above the water's surface.  The part that was lacking in my case was the breathing out through my nose whilst my face was submerged.  The laws of physics make it impossible for water to enter your nose if you are actively breathing out through it.  It took some getting used to at first, and a great deal of swimming pool water ended up in my nose and lungs during the learning process, but I am starting to get the hang of it now.  A good breathing pattern of in through the mouth and out through the nose also has a nice, calming effect on the nervous system.

Legs too far under the water?
The most common reason for the legs being too far under the water is related to the head being lifted too far upwards.  Rather than looking straight in front with the head raised whilst swimming crawl, it is better for your head to face directly down in the water, and then to just use your eyes to look a metre or two in front of you in order to see where you are going.  Another reason can be too much tension in the hamstrings.  If you release the tension in your hamstrings you usually find that your legs start to rise naturally.

Cramps in the calf muscles?
This one hit me last night for the first time but it was a killer.  My muscle was visibly bulging (whilst I did appreciation the nice muscle definition I most definitely did not appreciate the pain).  It was enough to stop me in my tracks and force me to get out of the pool and stretch it out for a few minutes.  Thank goodness that didn't happen half way through an open water swim.  Calf cramps whilst swimming are usually caused when people forcibly try to point their toes.  The toes will naturally tend to point if the ankles are kept nice and relaxed, and there is no need to forcibly point them at all.  If you do get a cramp try to pull the toes back to allow the muscle to extend.  It is best to do this in the first few seconds, before the cramp becomes so painful that stretching out the muscle is no longer possible.  Sometimes, after a cramp has occurred the muscle can be sore for a day or two afterwards.  In this case a combination of heat and cold can be applied to bring some relief.  Heat tends to relieve the tension and spasms, whilst cold relieves soreness and tenderness.  Some massage can also be helpful.  Cramps can sometimes be brought on by dehydration, so it is important to remain hydrated before, during and after your swim.

Making full use of each arm pull - stroke length
One of the keys to having an efficient stroke is being able to make full use of each arm pull.  A lot of people let their arm enter the water and then immediately begin to pull the water back towards them.  The arm should enter the water slightly bent, and then you should stretch it out as far as possible until it is fully extended.  Now at this point you can being pulling the water towards you.  Like this you have just added a good few extra centimetres to your stroke length, with minimal effort.

Lane rage
Yes most of you have probably heard of road rage, so I am sure you can imagine what lane  rage is.  It is the uncontrolled anger provoked by another swimmer's act in a swimming pool that has been cordoned off into lanes.  According to this article in the Independent newspaper, lane rage is on the rise.  I myself was a victim of lane rage last night, not that I gave two hoots about the guys ten second rant.  All I did was accidentally touch his foot with my hand as I came up fast from behind him, and that was enough to set him off.  "Watch where you are going ...." blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda.  In a busy lane where there are swimmers of mixed abilities, the occasional foot touch is inevitable.  Ignoring these crazy ranters is probably the best bet, or simply turn to them and say "What is your problem mate?".  That seemed to shut the guy from last night up, as he didn't really know what to say to that.  Other than to repeat himself once or twice.  To which I simply replied "What is your problem mate?"  Had he not begun his rant I probably would have simply raised my hand or said sorry.

Lane etiquette
Having covered the issue of lane rage, I think it important to cover lane etiquette.  Just like driving on the road there are certain rules, which if followed, tend to make things easier for everyone concerned.  In many pools the lanes are marked according to both speed and stroke.  In my local pool for example, as well as having lanes marked for breaststroke and front crawl, backstroke and butterfly, we usually have one or two lanes marked "tempo".  These are reserved for the faster swimmers.

Just because you think you are fast does not mean that you should get straight into the fast lane.  Take a few seconds to look at the speeds of the swimmers in the various lanes and try to find one that closely matches your intended speed.  You may find that whilst one day you are in the fast lane, another day you are in the medium lane (because all the local Michael Phelps' turned up at once).  Also do not get into the front crawl lane if you intend to swim breast stoke.

The exception to the above rules about finding the correct lane based on your speed and stroke is when there is only one person in a lane and there are other free lanes available.  Never get into a lane with just one solo swimmer when there are other lanes with no swimmers in still available.  You can always move into the "correct" lane later if the pool becomes busier.

If there is only one swimmer in the lane and you have no choice but to enter that lane, enter the pool when the other person is not just arriving at the wall where you are.  Now you will have to decide whether to split the lane with the other swimmer, in which case you each take half of the lane and you always stay on your respective side, or whether to circular swim (which becomes obligatory when there are more than 2 swimmers in the lane anyway).  In my local pool circular swimming seems to always be the standard practise.

Circular lane swimming means that all swimmers travelling in one direction stick to one half of the lane, and all swimmers travelling in the opposite direction stick to the opposite half of the lane.  In Europe it is usually done counterclockwise, meaning that as you approach the wall you move to the lefthand side of the lane and then you turn.  People taking a rest at the wall should stick to the righthand side of the lane.

It is bad practise to just hang out in the water on the end wall of a lane, talking to your friends for hours and hours.  If you want to do that then move to the free swimming area.  It is a lane for swimming, not a coffee club after all.

The final contentious issue is that of overtaking.  Some people insist on a series of foot tapping rituals to let the other swimmer know that you are just about to pass, whilst others just get on with it.  Either way, the accepted way to overtake on the move is to check that there is no oncoming traffic and then to move into the middle of the lane, pass the slower swimmer and then move back to the side of the lane that you were originally on as swiftly as possible without cutting up the slower swimmer.  The slower swimmer should be polite and allow the overtaking person to pass, and not put on a sudden last minute burst of speed.  Close encounters and occasional collisions can occur when three people (2 travelling in one direction and 1 in the other direction) are all trying to pass in close proximity with arms and legs flailing.  If bad collisions do happen and you know that you are to blame, apologise and check everyone else is okay before continuing.  The occasional knock can happen and it is not usually necessary to stop unless it is serious.

Overtaking can also be done at the wall, but would probably necessitate some soft of communication to ensure that neither person gets cut up and feels put out.  Just try to be considerate and treat others as you would also like to be treated.

Just before signing off this post, I wanted to highlight the following part of the The Independent article that I mentioned earlier, which I found very amusing:

Lifeguards at Finchley are instructed not to get involved in arguments between swimmers but to blow a whistle - the thinking being that, since the adults are behaving like children, they will respond to a playground-style command.

Be safe, swim safe and have fun!

Monday, 4 February 2013

Running after dark - safety concerns


Since I cannot run at the moment still, I thought I would write a post about night running.

I personally love running at night.  There is an apparent air of peace and tranquility once the sun goes down, and yet at the same time all my senses appear to be heightened.  I also love scuba diving at night, for very much the same reasons.  Not only that, but you tend to see different animals.  Your chances of spotting deer are much higher at dusk and at dawn.  There are also other interesting creatures lurking in the night like foxes, badgers, bats and owls.

Night running is not without its risks however.  Firstly there is the issue of visibility.  If you are running off road on trails, then this is not so much of an issue, but if you are running around the city or along country roads, it is a very good idea to wear a fluorescent vest.  You may not win any fashion awards, but at least the cars are more likely to see you and less likely to hit you.

Secondly there is the issue of being able to see the ground in front of you.  In the city there tends to be enough street lighting that you do not need to worry too much.  Outside the city though, you will most likely need a head torch.  You don't want to step on something unexpectedly and turn your ankle after all.  The exception to this is when there is a full moon, in which case you can usually see the trail quite well.  Running under a full moon is a fantastic experience.  Watch out for the werewolves though!

Last but not least, one needs to think about personal safety.  For women this is much more of an issue than it is for men, but even for men it can also be an issue.  Let's be serious - the biggest risk is sexual assault or rape.  Most thieves would not think to rob a runner.  It is not as though we carry large sums of cash or expensive jewellery on us.  You might not want to show off all your flashy gadgets in poorer areas though.

A self defence course can be a good investment for female runners, and even male runners who are interested to do one.  They teach you the best targets to go for like the groin, eyes, shins, throat, solar plexus and such like.  If someone grabs you from behind for instance, stamp on their feet or shins or try to elbow them in the groin.  A pair of keys in your fist can make a good weapon if required.

Dogs can be an issue at any time of day, but sometimes at night there is no one else around to help you.  Coming upon a nasty dog without its owner in sight, the best thing you can do is slow your pace and try to walk slowly past the dog.  If you feel your life is under threat, grab a stone or rock and hold it in the palm of your hand. If the dog does attack go for the nose, which is a very sensitive area.  If worst comes to worst I have been told that you can kill a dog by ripping its front legs apart.  It may not be a nice thing to do, but always put your life first.  If you are carrying water, sometimes just throwing water on the dog will cause it to go away.  Whilst cycling through South America we were chased by dogs that appeared aggressive on a daily basis.  Nine times out of ten they were all bark.  I had to try the water trick once on a pack of three dogs that was chasing me, and I can tell you that it worked.  The dogs seemed surprised and then they started to argue amongst themselves, allowing me to slip away unnoticed.

Zurich is a very safe city and I run absolutely anywhere I want at any time of day or night without feeling at all threatened.  My favourite is running in the woods at night.  On the other hand, Anny always tries to stay within the more populated areas of the city when running after dark, and I think this makes a lot of sense.  Even in a city as safe as Zurich, things can happen.  Bad people can travel easily nowadays with globalisation.  A better safe than sorry approach is just plain common sense.

So please don't be put off, but stay safe, be seen, and enjoy what is a very interesting experience - running after dark!

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Further Injury Setback

Very rarely on this blog do I need to share anything other than positive news.  Sometimes I will read other people's blogs and wonder how unlucky the authors are to suffer so many injuries or setbacks.  Their story seems more like a TV drama than something that I personally can relate to.  On the whole, my life is extremely simple and without too many setbacks.

Things can change ever so quickly, and whilst my setback is relatively minor, it made me realise that I need to take niggles, nagging pains and stretching more seriously in the future.

Stretching has been something that I neglected rather too much the past few months.  As a result my calf muscles started to become tighter, and the other week I strained my calf whilst running on the track.

After taking a break from running of just over one week (which was replaced with swimming), last Tuesday I decided to go for a gentle run.  For the first few kilometres my calf muscle felt fine.  There was no pain at all.  Then suddenly, without warning, I felt my calf muscle tear.  The pain stopped me in my tracks.  Unfortunately there was no way to get back to work without walking, so I limped slowly back to work.

The next day I went to the sports doctor.  He performed an ultrasound on my leg and found a 1.1cm tear in the muscle.  His advice was to take at least 2-3 weeks break from running, forget about doing the Barcelona half marathon and going cross country skiing this weekend, wear a compression bandage during the day and start getting physiotherapy 2 times per week for 9 sessions.

Whilst a calf muscle tear generally heals well, the important thing to ensure is that the scar tissue aligns itself well as it starts to form.  If the scar tissue is badly aligned or becomes too thick, it is likely that the tear will reoccur at a later point in time.  That is why stretching and physiotherapy is an important part of the recovery process.

As well as having to resign myself to the fact that I cannot do the Barcelona half marathon in February, I also had to cancel my Cresta Run booking.  The Cresta Run is something that I have wanted to do for a few years now.  It is only open for 9 weeks a year, and I had a beginner's booking on the 4th of February.  The problem is that to brake (or rake as they call it), you have to dig the spikes on your boots into the ice, and with an injured calf this might prove rather painful.  There is also the additional risk of a heavy impact if I was to come out of the Run at Shuttlecock (the most famous corner of the Run).  It did not make sense to attempt it and risk injuring myself further.

I now need to focus my energy on trying to ensure a good, solid recovery ready for the Border to Border cross country ski event in March.  The doctor thinks this event is still possible, as my calf muscle should heal fully within 4-6 weeks.  The good news also, is that I am allowed to swim front crawl (but not breaststroke) as much as I like.  So there is no need for me to get fat and lose my fitness completely.


Thursday, 17 January 2013

"From Border To Border" ski tour information

Tonight I was excited to receive the information pack about the "From Border To Border" ski tour, or "Rajalta rajalle -hiihto" as it is called in Finnish.  I will be in group RR1 starting from Kuusamo on the 7th March 2013.

In my group RR1, 68 skiers have signed up.  There are 4 groups in total RR1, RR2, RR3 and RR4.  Overall, there will be 115 skiers from Finland taking part and 73 skiers from Germany.  Also represented are Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Russia, Belgium, Spain, UK, France, Denmark, Brazil, USA, Slovenia, Czech Republic and for the first time this year Estonia.

The event is a classic style cross country ski tour from Kuusamo near the Finnish border with Russia to Tornio on the Finnish Swedish border.  Daily distances vary from between 44km and 88km.  The daily program will look like the following

Day 1: Get-together

Day 2: Distance 61km

Day 3: Distance 60km

Day 4: Distance 60km

Day 5: Distance 88km

Day 6: Distance 44km

Day 7: Distance 56km

Day 8: Distance 65km

Day 9: Departure from Tornio

I am sure it will be a really fun event, but when I saw the daily distances I was a little worried that I have not even been cross country skiing once this year so far.  I think some action is therefore required.  The first thing I will do is go and buy some cross country skis this Saturday in Konstanz, Germany.  They need to be good ones, as they are the ones that I will use in the tour itself.

Then next weekend when the Mrs goes to Spain I will go for a weekend of cross country skiing.  I will try and fit in one more full weekend before the tour starts.  Two weekends of cross country skiing is not the best preparation ever, but I have a really good base fitness level and good upper body and lower body strength, so I am hoping that will carry me through.  If worst comes to worst, skiers can always take the bus at any point along the route.

One thing you can be sure of, is that in one form or another I will be super active in the coming weeks. Most likely a mix of strength training using kettle bells and Pilates, along with some swimming and running.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

If I were wearing goggles and a nose clip, where might I be?

As some of you may have guessed from the title, I am talking about the swimming pool.  With calf sprain preventing me from running for at least for the remainder of this week, I have switched to swimming in order to keep my aerobic conditioning.

On Tuesday morning I went to the pool before work, and swam a nice, gentle kilometre.  Hallenbad Oerlikon is a 50m swimming pool so that is only 20 lengths.  I did 10 lengths of breaststroke and 10 lengths of front crawl.

Today after work I went again, and this time I did 1.25km at a gentle pace.  15 laps of breaststroke and 10 lengths of front crawl.  I also went to meet some of the members of the Free Radicals triathlon club, as I am considering to join them for swim training in future.  Before that though I would like to build a decent swimming-specific fitness base.  That's one of the reasons that I am also going to go tomorrow again, and this time I will swim 1.5km if time permits.

Anyway, that's enough of my plans, as what I really wanted to tell you in this post is just how much nicer I find it to swim with a nose clip than without one.  Until today I have never used a nose clip, but when I did the Zurich lake crossing, and also on Tuesday when I was in the pool, I noticed that a fair bit of water goes up my nose.  Especially when I attempt to do flip turns, or tumble turns as they also known.  Not only does it not feel that nice, it also leaves me feeling congested and sneezing for several hours afterwards.  I am not sure quite sure why that is, but I guess it is some kind of allergic reaction to the chlorine.  Regardless, today I decided to buy a nose clip and try swimming with that.

The Beco Competition nose clip that I bought
Nose clips are pretty cheap by anyone's standards, and the one I bought works really well and is not at all uncomfortable.  It did leave a small red imprint on my nose for several hours afterwards, but whilst I was swimming I hardly noticed it was there, except for the fact that no water entered my nose like it does usually.  If water up your nose is one of the main reasons you don't like swimming, then I strongly recommend you to invest a couple of bucks in a nose clip.

The other thing that is important for swimming in chlorinated pools is a good pair of swimming goggles.  I have had a pair for years now, but some water always manages to get in, and I keep having to clear them.  I figured it was because they were old and the seals were damaged, but when I inspected them I found nothing.  Based on this, I figured it must be that they do not fit me very well, so I decided to try and find some goggles that fit me better and so don't let in any water.  At the swimming pool shop, they had around 20 different types of goggles to try on.  The women instructed me on how to find out if they are a good fit or not.  Basically, when you press them to your face, you should then be able to remove your hands, and without using the straps they should remain stuck to your face by suction power alone.  If they fall off then they are not a good fit.  Also they should not hurt your nose or cheeks or any other parts of your face.

After trying on all the goggles, there was only one pair that fit me properly, the AquaSphere Vista goggles.  They were very large goggles so I guess that means I must have a big head.  Anyway, I bought them and after swimming in them tonight I have to say that so far they are fantastic.  Not a single drop of water entered the goggles during the time that I was swimming, they felt comfortable, they didn't stream up, they give you a good wide vision and they are very easy to adjust.  The only downside is that they did not come cheap.  I also saw someone mentioning in a review that they scratch easily, but that I have yet to find out.  So far so good.  A thumbs up from me!

The AquaSphere Vista goggles that I bought
So no more excuses about water in your eyes or up your nose please people.  Get a decent pair of goggles and a nose clip and come join me in the pool.

Goodnight folks!!!

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Injury can be a right pain in the .....

Ignore those niggling pains at your peril I tell you as someone who failed to adhere to that very simple advice.  For a couple of weeks now my left calf muscle has felt very tight.  A lack of stretching probably contributed to this.  I have been trying to stretch it out ever since, by pulling my toes back with my leg extended whenever I get a few moments in the day, but it will take some time for the weeks of neglect to be reversed.

Yesterday I went to the track to do one of the half marathon specific workouts I found on the internet.  A 2 mile warm up followed by 7 x 1 mile at 10 seconds slower than 10k pace with a 1 minute rest in between each set, and finally a 1 mile cool down.

I completed 2 sets without any problem, then part way into the 3rd set my left calf muscle started to tighten up.  It was kind of a niggle rather than a pain so I chose to ignore it, thinking that it would loosen up during the subsequent sets.  It was not as if I was sprinting after all.

What a fool I was, as in the final metres of the 4th set, just as I was rounding the corner onto the home straight, I felt a sudden sharp pain and I ground to a halt, clutching at my left calf.  It was clear that I would not be able to continue the session, but I couldn't even walk properly.  I limped off the track in pain.

I have been following RICE treatment, which is recommended for sprains.  R for rest, I for ice, C for compression and E for elevation.  Today the pain is slightly reduced, but I am certainly not going to be able to run today or for the next few days.

Why didn't I listen to my body when I got that niggle in the 3rd set?  If only I had stopped then, then I wouldn't be in this situation I am in now.  Luckily there is no major swelling or bruising at the site of the injury, suggesting that it is a grade two strain.  It is still going to take a couple of weeks to heal fully though.

With the Barcelona marathon only 5 weeks ago, this is seriously going to impact my chances of getting a new PB.  The only way I can think to keep things on track is to substitute running with swimming for the next week or so, so that I do not lose any cardiovascular fitness.  From everything I have read, swimming is fine after a day or two of complete rest when you have calf strain, as long as it does not hurt whilst you are swimming, and as long as you do not overdo it.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

How about a little Electrical Stimulation anyone?

Wired up and ready to go!
Electrical Muscle Stimulation or EMS has been in and out of fashion over the years.  It only takes a few people seeing their favourite celebrity wearing an EMS belt, or an article about how their favourite celeb uses EMS as part of their fitness routine, and suddenly it is once again a big craze.  Even the double hard-ass Bruce Lee used to use one.

I was always one to believe that no machine can be a substitute for real sweat and hard graft.  Here though in this post I look at EMS not as a means to achieve a perfect six pack by itself, but as a supplementary form of training that can be combined with appropriate cardio and a well balanced, healthy diet to help develop your abs further.

How does it work?

EMS machines stimulate muscle contraction by sending electrical pulses.  An electric potential is applied across the muscle fibres.  These impulses try to mimic the natural muscle contractions caused by neuronal impulses from the brain.  There is no doubt that EMS is beneficial in injured patients to help prevent muscle atrophy, since EMS allows the muscle to remain active with minimal joint movement.  Nowadays though, a lot of healthy athletes are using EMS to try to tone their muscles.  The success of EMS in toning muscle is still under debate.

What it definitely does not do

There is no way that you will get a perfect six pack just by using an EMS belt alone, unless your body fat is already somewhere around 10% or lower, because EMS does not burn fat like cardio does.  However toned your abs are, if your body fat is too high, you will never see them fully.

EMS devices also cannot give all the long list of benefits that cardio exercise can give.  The main reason being that they do not work the heart and get the blood pumping like cardio does.

My take on EMS

I was interested in buying an EMS device so that I could use it when I am watching TV or when I am lying on the bed reading a book.  These moments seem like the perfect time to get some additional training, because if I was not using the EMS device my muscles would not be performing any work at all.  I also wanted to see if they are effective, a small science experiment if you like.

I was just about to go out and buy an EMS device when I found out that my other half already had one lying at the bottom of her wardrobe.  How lucky was that!  So, for the last 3 or 4 days I have been using the device on a daily basis.  In addition to that I have been following my usual fitness regime and trying to improve my diet.

The machine is made by Ultratone and the Stomach and Waist cassette which I am using has a preprogrammed routine that lasts for 30 minutes.  The intensity can be varied on a scale of 1 to 10 for each of the 4 pairs of pads (8 pads in total), and after trying the machine with all 4 buttons set to 10, I can tell you that level 10 is a lot stronger than I am comfortable with.  It was almost causing my muscles to cramp up.  Since then I have been using the machine with each button set to 5 or 6, and very occasionally set to 7 for short bursts.

The machine causes my muscles to contract every few seconds, just as if I were intentionally trying to contract them myself.  As long as you do not turn the intensity up too high, the feeling is not bad at all.  In fact if the intensity is low it feels pleasant.  A mild tingling sensation so to speak.  I prefer to have the intensity a little higher though, so that my muscles contract with some degree of force.  Then the last few minutes of the preprogrammed routine is a warm down, and the machine alternates the electric potential, so that it feels as though your muscles are being gently massaged in all directions.

After the 30 minute routine ends, my stomach feels as though it has had a good workout.  The feeling is comparable to the one I would get from doing a moderate number of sit ups.  That makes it seem to me as though EMS is a good method of supplementary training.  My words of caution would be 1) don't use it to replace your regular fitness routine 2) don't overdo it 3) you still need to pay attention to your diet if you want to see those abs.  The leaflet that comes with the machine advices a maximum of 1 or 2 times per day.

It is too early to see any results yet, and I still have a small layer of fat over my abs (which is why I am working on my diet too), but I will post some follow up photos in due course.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Happy New Year FatToFitters


Hello everyone.  I want to start by wishing you all a happy new year.  I hope that 2013 will be a great year for each and every one of you, in terms of all things that matter most, but above all in terms of your health.  You can have all the money in the world, but if you only have a day left to live on this earth, all that wealth won't do you much good as you can't take money to the grave with you.

I really hope that you can all move forward with your personal goals for 2013.  As Shakespeare said, "what's past is prologue".  Whilst we cannot change what has already happened,  and whilst it does set the context for the future, we do not need to spend time worrying about our past mistakes.  If you want to do something in 2013 that you didn't manage to get round to in 2012, there is no better time than the present.

There will not be many of us looking down at our stomachs and thinking what great shape we are in at this time of the year.  Most of us have probably been supping too much beer or getting a little tipsy on the eggnog.  Or maybe the mince pies and Christmas puddings and sherry trifles have taken their toll.  Never mind now though - the important thing is to kick start your fitness regime again, and start 2013 the right way.

I decided to go to the track today and try out the brand new spikes that my mother bought me for Christmas.  Putting the spikes on, I really felt the part, despite having gained a little weight since I last ran on the track before Christmas.  The scales puts me at 82.5kg, so it could have been far worse though.  Thats a weight gain of around 1kg over the festive period.

The benchmark that I like to use on the track is a 400m run.  It is short enough that I can do one each time I go there, just to get an idea of where I stand compared to previous attempts.  I always feel like I am part of The Groundhog Day movie though, because each time I try a 400m test I get the same time, 61 seconds.  Today was no exception to the rule.  I always seem to run out of steam in the final 50m or so, and each time I tell myself that I need to set off a little slower the next time.  Then the next time comes and despite my best intentions the same thing happens.  So, next time I promise myself I will set out slower. I will, I will, I will.

On the way back from the track I popped into a fitness shop and bought 2 more kettlebells to add to the collection.  I bought an 8kg kettlebell for Anny to use, in addition to her 4kg one, and I bought myself a 20kg one.  They are pretty expensive for what they are I have to say, but as I plan to use them 2 to 3 times per week it will be worth it, just to have the added convenience of being able to train at home in the warm and without losing time in travel to/from the gym.

One aspect of my routine I intend to change a lot this year is my diet.  Not only do I tend to eat too much snacky type food during the day, but I also worked out that I usually spend 20CHF per day on food in the Kiosk shop at work.  In addition to that I tend to buy 4 or more coffees, so that's a grand total of 30CHF per day, or 150CHF per week, or 600CHF per month.  By buying food in the larger supermarkets or bringing in my own packed lunch each day, and by drinking less coffee, I can save myself a decent amount of money and have more control over my diet.  I decided that I will limit myself to 2 coffees during the working day.  I will also try to make myself healthy packed lunches using nutritious foods like quinoa, which tastes great too.  The UN for example refers to it as a "super crop".

Well that's me for today everyone.  Tomorrow it's back to work as usual, so I need to make the most of my last day of vacation. Ciao bellos and bellas.