Thursday, 1 March 2018

Slow healing....

This is the next instalment in what is becoming a series of annual posts where I chart the gulf between my swimming aspirations and  bodily realities. After last year's disappointments, I have been working hard to manage my injuries; in particular, my neck problem proved to be stubborn and intractable, but a combination of osteopathy and a diligently-followed prehab regimen slowly relieved the trapped nerve and associated muscle damage and by the end of January I was covering 25-30km a week in the pool quite happily and feeling very optimistic. I threw my hat in the ring for an ambitious and exciting swim and thought I was good to go.

But it's never so simple. I came out to the Canary Islands last week with the aim of spending a couple of weeks doing some very dull data coding, made easier by sunshine and swimming on tap. Unfortunately, a spell of stormy weather here made the swimming lumpy, and then later, impossible, but even in the modestly lumpy phase, the gap between the predictable flatness of the pool and the erratic movement of the waves exposed the weaknesses of my recovering neck, which soon started to feel stiff and sore post-swim. I stretched, pre-habbed and maintained a position somewhere between optimism and denial, but the next day the stiffness and immobility started to return even while I was still in the water being bounced around by the waves. A huge storm then hit the islands putting a stop to all swimming, but the niggle in my neck persisted, clicking and crunching when I woke up in the morning or turned my head quickly.

What to do? I could persist and hope that it would be relieved by more swimming; or that calmer waters later in the trip would reduce the strain and allow me to continue building up. Or I could pull the plug and go back to my modest pool-swimming, osteopathy and prehab regimen, which has undoubtedly been working...albeit not as quickly as I would have liked, as it turns out. I couldn't face (or afford) another late pull-out, so in the end, this morning I decided to pre-empt the issue and withdraw from the delicious swim I had been hoping to do (as well as a more low-key UK event that I'd signed up for a while back). I feel terrible that I seem to have become a serial withdrawer, in spite of my best intentions and genuine convictions that I was up to each challenge.

It is painful to have such a fantastic opportunity slip through  my fingers, and I have been torturing myself all day with the thought that maybe...just maybe...I would have been alright and could have done it. But in the end, I suspect that uncertainty about an injury is certainty enough when deciding about a very long swim; distance is pretty unforgiving of bodily weaknesses and injurious flaws.

This is very different to last year's crash and burn though. I hope that I've called a halt in time to stop the injury niggle in its track and to get quickly back to my slow.....slow....recovery. I haven't pushed on and aggravated the injury into something much more serious like I stupidly did last year, so perhaps I am learning and this too is some kind of progress in my swimming evolution (or possibly devolution, given that I started strongly with the EC years, but am becoming increasingly unimpressive and breakable).

The healing process is slow - perhaps because of my age, or maybe because this is just how bodies are sometimes - but I am still confident that I am healing, if not at the pace I thought I was. I'd like to think that I still have another long swim in me, but I wouldn't want to say with any confidence that I do. And I think you can only cook up exciting plans and then let people down so often before you have to rein in your ambitions with a dose of reality and the wisdom born of experience. But perhaps this is also a chance to learn other, gentler ways of being in the water too... an opportunity for a more leisurely summer of beautiful 2-3 hour swims in the Lake District rather than the 6-8 hour slogs I was anticipating; a chance to think about swimming rather than training, perhaps...

We'll see. But for now, it's back to slow healing.

To end on a positive note, even though it's ferociously windy, it's 23 degrees and sunny here in the Canary Islands, while the UK is blanketed in snow and ice. Plus we have kittens at home now, and life is always okay once there are kittens in your life.




Saturday, 13 January 2018

Aquatic adventures....

When I think of the water, I always think about swimming; when I see a stretch of water, I wonder what it would be like to swim in it, across it or around it. But there's a whole world of other ways to interact with the water that I've never really explored....and as my 50th birthday rolled around this January, it was time to try something new. In the summer, I was feeling pretty fed-up about my pending big birthday - my various injuries made me feel decrepit, and I felt a bit defeated. But then I thought....well, sod it. So I decided to embrace it instead, and to that end, used my birthday trip to the Canary Islands to try two new water activities - scuba diving and stand-up paddle boarding (SUP).

I was quite terrified when I turned up for my try-dive lesson at a sea front dive centre near our holiday bungalow, and I had no idea how I would feel about being submersed and reliant on what seemed like a very complicated and cumbersome set of equipment. After a short period of dry-land instruction covering safety procedures and in-water communication, we kitted up and waddled under the weight of the gear down to the beach and into the water. One by one, the instructor submerged us, deflating our buoyancy vests and guiding us down a couple of metres to the sea floor. Rather disconcertingly, my instructor grabbed a couple of rocks from the sea floor and shoved them into mesh pockets on the side of my gear to prevent me from rising. It takes a particular kind of trust to relax enough to allow someone to sink you so thoroughly under water. Once we were all submerged, we paddled along the side of a rocky reef, flanked by our instructors, and soon found ourselves surrounded by a school of fish with large, rounded bodies and yellow stripes, completely unbothered by our presence. Later on we saw cuttle fish, and this beautiful octopus.



Once I'd relaxed into it, I was completely blown away by the experience of visiting this vibrant aquatic world which I thought I understood from swimming at the surface, but in reality had no clue about. It was hard to let go of being a swimmer though - I couldn't resist using my arms and hands to propel myself forwards, even though I was wearing huge fins that required only the slightest flick to move me through the water. Using my hands also proved to be quite destabilising, and I found myself constantly tipping from side to side and then having to correct.



I slowly came to understand that while swimming is about constant movement, diving is more about not moving - of being in the water rather than moving through it and using the fins as rudders rather than propellers. It's about enjoying the view and visiting another world. 




We were only in the water for about 30 minutes, but I loved every second and was so disappointed when the instructor started pulling the rocks out of my pockets and slowly guiding me to the surface. In fact, I loved it so much that I signed up for a second session the next day, this time in deeper water and entering from a boat rather than the beach (although still with the same level of instructor support as my first dive - this was a diving experience rather than structured training). I felt like Jacques Cousteau as I tipped rather anxiously backwards off the dive boat, but it was as easy as, well....falling off a boat; my instructor helped me to submerge, and off we went, exploring a reef and encountering huge shoals of long, thin trumpet fish. 

The whole experience made me want to get a PADI qualification and learn to dive more independently, but I can already see that it's a hobby that eats time and money....and I already have one of those. But still...it was an amazing experience. 

And so....on to adventure number 2 - an SUP lesson. While I took to diving immediately, I think it's fair to say that this was not an opportunity for me to shine. It was quite windy, and although we had excellent instruction, the entire session was punctuated by the sound of me scrabbling up onto the board, staggering to a stand, yelping as I lost my balance and then falling back into the water with a percussive splash. At the end of the lesson, we signed up for a 3-hour coastal SUP tour a few days later where I reprised my scrabble - pause - shriek - splash soundtrack but I soon discovered that by staying kneeling, I could stay on the board and still enjoy the novel perspective of being on, but above, the water. We visited caves, paused to go snorkelling, and had a splendid time. Towards the end, I found my sea legs and managed to both stand up and paddle, so there is hope for me yet. Peter, on the other hand, took to it immediately, and was able to draw on his skateboarding past and a very good sense of balance to strike a relaxed and effortless pose as he paddled away with impressive aplomb.

So two successful aquatic adventures - one deep below the surface, and one on / above it. It turns out that there is far more to a life of aquatic leisure than swimming. 

But of course, there was swimming too, although not as much as in previous years. I ended up doing a fairly modest 40km over the two weeks we were there - after my long lay-off, I'm still building my fitness and don't want to risk overdoing it and falling back into injury again. My confidence took a bit of knock over the last year or so, but hopefully all of the work I've been doing on my stroke, plus the prehab regimen which I do diligently every day, will bear fruit and I'll be back to full swimming capacity soon.  Happily, I'll be back in the Canary Islands for more in February and then again in April - I have a great deal of data analysis to do for the sugar project, and see no reason why this should not be done in the sunshine and combined with swim training. 

And in the mean time, I had a wonderful trip and a splendid birthday. If this is what it's like to be 50, then count me in. 







Friday, 15 December 2017

Prehab...


I've been thinking a lot recently about my swimming, and in particular, about my various injuries and niggles, and the general sense that I'm not swimming as consistently or recovering as well as I used to. Part of this is the obvious fact that injury necessitates down time which impacts upon swimming fitness, but also I'm 50 next January (how did that happen?), and no matter how much I refuse to be bound by constraining ideas about middle age, the ageing process, plus the menopause, has undoubtedly affected my flexibility and recovery. I've been involved in marathon swimming for almost 10 years, but I feel like the bodily stresses of long swimming have started to take their toll, and if I want to keep on swimming, something has to change.

So....a month ago, I joined a "Prehab" workshop run by Active Blu's Emma Brunning, who I've seen on and off over the years for help with my swimming stroke, and Adam Smith, a sports therapist and strength and conditioning coach. I've been thinking for a while that I could benefit from something like this, but wasn't sure where to go for advice, and to be honest, was a little embarrassed about pitching up to a professional coach - I never feel enough like the sort of 'athlete' I imagined they worked with. So the timing was perfect.


The premise of the workshop was that everyday life and regular training create bodily imbalances that eventually lead to injuries which in turn impact upon training consistency which affects overall performance. The coaches suggested that many amateur athletes who train regularly are on constantly on a knife-edge of breakdown and injury; this is certainly how I've been feeling, to the point where I wasn't sure whether I should even try to train up for another big swim and should perhaps stick to shorter events. The workshop explained the anatomy of these imbalances and provided us with a sequence of exercises to enhance thoracic and shoulder flexibility and stability that we were advised to do at least three times a week. The core principles are to keep the routine relatively simple and be consistent about doing it.


During the workshop, we performed shoulder distraction exercises using the resistance band hooked up to a large A-frame, but at home, I struggled to find a safe anchor point, so invested in a heavy duty door anchor which does the job perfectly - it sits behind the door on the hinge-side, is solid as a rock and doesn't damage the frame. The routine also includes work with a foam roller, floor work to improve shoulder and thoracic flexibility and techniques using a lacrosse ball to dig out knots and release taut muscles. Trust me - you'll never look at a lacrosse ball in quite the same way again, and if you ever see me hugging a wall with an expression of pained resignation on my face, you'll know what's going on.



Apparently, one of the biggest frustrations experienced by sport therapists / physios etc is that people don't do the exercises that they're given. I can see why this happens - people are busy and this is just one more thing to do, and the exercises themselves don't always feel immediately beneficial, lacking the direct logic for example, of going for a long swim as training for a long swim. But I have a lot of respect for expertise, and don't really understand paying someone good money for sharing their expertise and then not doing what they say. So...I've spent 30 minutes a day on the exercise routine (almost) every day since the workshop, and am a total convert. (I'm lucky in that I'm currently on research leave, so the time for this is less of an issue than it will be when I return to teaching next year. But I'll cross that bridge when I come to it). The positive benefits have been swift and noticeable, especially in terms of flexibility and balance. This has played out in the pool, where the combination of the rehab regimen and the stroke correction work I've been doing for the last couple of months has resulted not only in a much more relaxed and balanced stroke, but also a tangible pace increase. I care more about the prevention of injury than about improving my pace, but it's a happy side effect. 

None of this is any kind of guarantee that last year's cascade of injuries won't happen again, but I feel like this is such a positive step, and I wish I had done it years ago. I'm sure many more experienced and accomplished swimmers are rolling their eyes at my late arrival at this understanding, but as with many late-onset marathon swimmers who didn't experience the more professionalised training of serious squad swimming when they were younger, there's a lot to learn about how to train. I've been through the same learning curve over the years with technique work and speed work, but it turns out that you can teach an old dog new tricks, and I'd encourage anyone in a similar position to find someone with the right expertise and commit to the process. 

I'm flying south to the sun soon for a bit of a holiday and the chance to take my improved stroke and newly stable and flexible shoulders swimming in the sea. And yes, I will be taking my foam roller, exercise band and even that lacrosse ball with me. 

***

On a separate note, in response to a recent outbreak of abuse across a range of platforms where I am active online, I have closed The Long Swim to comments. I've also tightened up security and privacy on my new research blog, Sugar Rush, and on all social media. There is a history to this abuse and it is not directly related to any specific recent forum or other online activity. If you would like to engage constructively with anything here on the blog, I'm happy to discuss on the Marathon Swimmers Forum, which has the advantage not only of being closely moderated, but also of involving many members with far more experience than me on all things swimming. I'm also on Twitter as @thelongswim, but will only engage in debate publicly (and constructively) and not via DM. Please note that any abuse on any platform will be blocked and reported immediately. 

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Thanksgiving: the relationship between sport, society and oppression

To coincide with Thanksgiving in the US last week, my colleague Greg Hollin invited a handful of present and previous members of the School of Sociology and Social Policy to contribute short posts around the theme of the social relations of sport. You can download the full collection of posts in pdf form here, and they've also been posted on the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies (CIGS) blog as individual posts. The collection explores questions of gender, race, religion, "taking the knee" and globalisation in relation to sport - please visit the CIGS blog to read more. In the mean time, I've pasted my contribution below.

*******

Sport, or at least some sports, enjoy extraordinarily privileged status. At the level of elite sport, national pride, vast sums of money, the passionate belonging of team loyalties and the spectacular feats of extraordinary bodies create a privileged domain which can dictate TV schedules, mark holidays and capture national headlines. At the amateur level, sport provides a means of demonstrating bodily discipline through practices normatively coded as healthy and is a source of pleasure to many; the sporting subject is the good citizen par excellence.

But the public endorsement of sport and its subjects is also premised on exclusions that should give us pause for thought. Sport remains determinedly demarcated on gendered lines, with men and women rarely allowed to compete directly with each other. The boundaries between men and women’s sport are closely regulated and policed, with women at risk of exclusion if their hormonal or genetic profiles exceed arbitrarily defined boundaries of acceptable femininity. And even when women can compete, they still experience systematic exclusion and discrimination: women’s sport receives only a tiny fraction of the media coverage that men enjoy, women are frequently limited to fewer and shorter events and they receive lower rewards in prize money and sponsorship. Other exclusions persist alongside the rigorous and hierarchical gendering of sport: sporting participation is constrained for many by lack of access to facilities, prohibitive costs, the absence of childcare or the failure to accommodate the needs of disabled athletes. And for some, participation in sport is simply too shaming a possibility to face; it is hard to be a fat body, for example, in an environment so strongly oriented towards the elimination of fatness, and where access to size-appropriate equipment and clothing may not be available. 
Race also serves as an axis along which discrimination persists, with ideas of sporting ‘fit’ closing off opportunities and limiting choice. For example, the whiteness of my own sport of swimming remains mired in notions of the incompatibility of blackness and swimming, and in particular, the myth of higher bone density as a precluding factor; it is a prejudice of significant consequence when we realise that young black boys are far more likely to drown than their white peers.

Motel manager James Brock pours acid into a pool in 1964 after learning that black swimmers were in the water. 
Sport, then, can be understood both as a mirror of the social and a means of its reproduction. Attempts to figure sport as outside of politics (for example, in the Olympic movement, or in recent debates about ‘taking a knee’) obscure its status as an intensely political site, not only in national and international settings, but also at the level of individual bodies as they variously challenge and sustain what counts as the ‘good body’ in contemporary society.  

Monday, 6 November 2017

Recovery drinks....

Since becoming a vegan, I've been struggling to find a good substitute for the High 5 Chocolate Recovery shake that I used to use after training (and which contains milk products). I generally get all of the protein I need from my everyday diet - something that's pretty easy as a vegan, in spite of the myths that persist about the need for meat and dairy to get adequate protein. But if I'm doing swims of more than a couple of hours, I need something extra post-swim to maximise recovery and to stop the weird night-time arm-twitching that I get if I don't refuel properly (a problem I had long before I switched to vegan). Most recovery shakes are far too sweet and sickly for me and over the last couple of years, I have experimented with the small handful of vegan options out there with little success. I also tried soya chocolate milk which is tasty but doesn't really do the job...plus it's quite sugary, and there's a lot of wasteful packaging for each individual drink box, including plastic straws, which are disastrous for the environment:

So then I tried this vegan blend of pea, rice and hemp protein, which I blend up in shakes with banana, blueberries, strawberries, almond milk and maybe some spinach; it's also nice if you add in some coconut or almonds, or a dollop of peanut butter. It's flavourless so requires plenty of other ingredients to make a tasty shake, and consequently, also requires access to a blender - it's not something you can just shake up in the van or the car after swimming. It's £19 for 30+ servings, so it's a good deal and a great option for when you have easy access to a decent blender, especially if you've got some frozen fruit to hand to make a nice thick shake. This is my go-to when I'm at home. 


For out and about, I tried a couple of vegan post-exercise products that you can shake up in a bottle, but they were utterly undrinkable - either sickly sweet or disturbingly grainy. But then last year, I stumbled across this product by Amazing Grass





I'm not so keen on the more 'green' products in their range (literally....very green), but this flavour hit the spot perfectly. It's sweetened with stevia, but isn't sickly, and the chocolate taste isn't overbearing or too plasticky. It's entirely drinkable blended up just with non-dairy milk, and add in a banana and maybe a strawberry or two, and you've got a top notch recovery drink on your hands. It's not cheap (about £22 for 10 servings...although I stretched my last tub to 15 servings by skimping on the scoops a bit and maybe subbing in a few almonds), but it goes down a treat after a hard training session. I also have it for breakfast sometimes, blended with lots of frozen fruit and a big handful of spinach. The downside is that it doesn't really do well without a blender, and although I tried mixing it up in a shaker, this was a grainy and unpleasant non-starter. However, last summer, I acquired one of these portable blenders to keep in the van to get round the problem:


The bottom portion houses the motor, battery and blade, and it's rechargeable via a USB port, meaning that you're not tied to the need for mains electricity. It's not very powerful and can't really manage nuts or frozen fruit, but it can accommodate a scoop of powder, a cup of almond milk and a some bits of soft fruit quite easily - the perfect solution to the problem of the vegan post-swim recovery shake on the move. Problem solved. 

The other product I've started to use is Ultima Replenisher, particularly if I've been running or am somewhere warm. 

I picked up on this from journalist and accomplished marathon swimmer, Elaine Howley, who is a strong advocate, and this is now a standard part of my swimming kit - it shakes up easily in a bottle and is a quick route to rehydration and electrolyte replacement. There are lots of flavours, although the grape flavour is the only one that really works for me (you can buy mixed packs of individual sachets to test them out). It provides zero calories, so you'd need to intake energy in addition if you were mid-swim; but I also imagine this would also be a good option if you had stomach issues during a swim and would keep you on an even keel while everything settled down. A 90 serving tub is £39, which is a bit of an outlay, but pretty good value (and not as wasteful in packaging as individual stick sachets). 

At the moment, this is all rather academic for me as I'm still inching my way back to full fitness after my summer of injuries and am not really able to do enough to even require recovery shakes and electrolyte drinks. But when the time comes, I'll be ready. 

Monday, 28 August 2017

DNS

It has been the summer of Did Not Start (DNS). Unlike last year, when my Geneva DNS materialised right before the scheduled swim and towards the end of the season, this year, the writing was on the wall by mid-June. This left me with a non-swimming summer of watching milestones in my Geneva plans come and go; it was a long summer of wishing it could have been different. I've had several DNF's in my swimming career, and I haven't enjoyed any of them, but for me, the DNS is a more intense disappointment. Last year's accident-induced non-start in Geneva didn't help with this - from the outset, it made this year feel like more was at stake, making the fall harder when it came. The impact of all this was magnified by a simultaneous volley of other events. As I mentioned in my previous post, the death of a much-loved pet, the spectacular, scary and expensive structural failure of our roof and the terrible political climate of Britain in the shadow of Brexit (not to mention the US political landscape) all piled on, and the general stress and upset caused the wrist injury to cascade around my body, creating new and preoccupyingly painful problems in my neck and upper back that have ended up prolonging my swimming hiatus far longer than the original wrist injury would have. I felt wrecked and ragged, and with my 50th birthday approaching in January, I felt terribly old and creaky. In the moments when I felt most sorry for myself, it all seemed like a confirmation that I'd had a lucky run with swimming, but that my aquatic masquerade had been exposed; I felt like I had lost something very important to me that I didn't know how to get back.

It's worth saying at this point that I know that this is a very self-indulgent crisis to have. Not being able to do a marathon swim because of injury is a pretty privileged problem to be faced with, and I am also extremely fortunate to have the resources to pay for the interventions from my osteopath, physiotherapist and massage therapist that have aided my recovery enormously. I know that nothing catastrophic happened here. But at the same time, knowing this also makes the material and psychological impacts of injury even more difficult to talk about to others, which can compound the sense of defeat.

So what to do?

What follows is not an uplifting story of triumphant overcoming, or a 'how to' for surviving injury. Instead, it's a short list of the things that I've tried in order to manage my summer of DNS and re-orient myself now that the season is almost over.

1. Escape
This isn't affordable or practical for everyone, but as the scaffolding went up around our house and the hammering began, I took myself and a pile of interesting books off to the Canary Islands for two weeks. I gave my body chance to recover from its various ills, got heaps of sleep, finished off some writing projects for work, and even managed to do some swimming. There comes a point when your body's had enough and you have to stop. It was the best decision I made this summer.

2. Social media
I enjoy social media, but over the summer, I found it difficult to be confronted by the constant stream of swim-talk. I didn't (and still don't) resent other people's swimming pleasure or successes, but for this summer, I wanted to take a step back from it. I came off Facebook, and temporarily muted a number of very swim-focused accounts on Twitter. I also muted any accounts that regularly post sporting motivational quotes and gifs - I find these annoying at the best of times, but the relentlessly trite attribution of swimming success to the power of mind over matter is positively insulting when you're injured and no amount of positive thinking is going to fix things. So I just turned them off. I kept half an eye on some events, and there have been some truly incredible swims this summer, but basically I took a long breath of fresh, social-media-free air.

3. Volunteering
I resisted the desire to hide away from swimming entirely, and instead, volunteered to help out with several BLDSA swimming events in the Lake District - some kayaking, some time-keeping and marshalling. This allowed me to keep a toe in the swimming world, and also forced me to confront the utterly mundane reality of injury as an inevitable part of an extreme sport like marathon swimming. It also gave me some extremely memorable moments: kayaking for 74-year old Bryan Finlay in the BLDSA Coniston Vets race and seeing him finish in spite of fierce winds and cold conditions; spending 4 hours in a kayak in the middle of the night on Windermere on a beautifully clear, calm night, guiding overnight 2-way swimmers round the turn buoy and watching meteor showers; and kayaking for Patrick Smith for his successful length of Ullswater. I also managed to capsize just metres from the finish of Patrick's swim - what I lack in kayaking ability, I try to make up for with enthusiasm. Volunteering is what makes the swimming world go round, so injury was an opportunity to help out and still be part of the fun and challenge of swimming, even from the sidelines.

4. Stroke correction
Thanks to the ministrations of the various professionals who have helped put my ailing body back together again, I'm now pain-free and good to go, but the original wrist injury is most likely the result of a stroke defect, and the only way to prevent it from happening again is to fix it. So last week, I went to see Swim Smooth coach, Emma Brunning. I've worked with her before, and like her thoughtful approach and sharp eye. I went in convinced that my habit of splaying my fingers on entry and then snapping them shut before catching was the problem, but the video showed an additional, and much more likely, culprit - my bendy wrist:



The video shows an unmistakable tilt of the wrist downwards at the beginning of the catch phase; this then straightens up again as I hinge from the elbow to continue through, but repeated over thousands of strokes, this must have been placing incredible strain on my lower arm. There's a small chain of problems that are connected to this (including my splayed fingers and a bit of a dead spot at the front of the stroke on the left side) and these are now the subject of daily drilling in order to break bad habits and hopefully forge new ones. It feels like it's going to be a long job, but I have to confess to quite enjoying this kind of work - it's very consuming as a task and feels constructive after months of relative inactivity.

***

As I write this, I don't yet know what, if anything, comes next. I am nervous to take on another long swim after two disappointing years of DNS, but I love long swimming and think I'd regret it if I let the fear of it going wrong stop me from trying. And I still haven't swum through a whole night - something that I'm itching to try. I also feel like my 50th should be marked by something ambitiously fun. We'll see.

For now, I'm relieved that the summer of DNS is drawing to a close and I can turn my attention to my next adventure - a year of research leave, courtesy of the Leverhulme Trust, to work on my new project, "The Social Life of Sugar". That...and the drilling, and whatever comes next....

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Defeated...

It's not been the best week - on Monday, we had to put our lovely old cat, Oscar, to sleep; we discovered that our entire roof needs to come off and all the beams need to be replaced; and then came the messy upheaval of the election and its aftermath towards the end of the week. And throughout, I was trying desperately to remain optimistic about the intractable niggle in my left wrist. It had started a couple of weeks ago, becoming sore and swollen, with the tendons squeaking and rubbing together whenever I moved my wrist or thumb. It felt very sudden, but it probably wasn't; I'd done several long swims in the preceding two weeks which presumably stressed the tendons without me realising it. With the help of my physio, I treated it every way I knew how - rest, ice, taping, denial, optimism - and by the end of last week I had full and pain-free movement and no more squeaky tendons. At the same time, I had managed to postpone my planned Geneva qualification swims for another week; I was hoping that now my wrist was better, I could slowly build back up during the week ready for the swims and then I'd be good to go for the last run up to Geneva II. But sadly, a gentle test swim yesterday morning caused a mild, but unmistakeable, return of the symptoms and I was faced with an unavoidable truth: that if I couldn't do 30 minutes in the pool without triggering it, I was never going to be able to do 10 + 7 hour qualification swims without setting my injury so far back that I wouldn't be able to train between the qualification swim and Geneva. A session with my physio confirmed my suspicions; tendon injuries generally take longer than 2 weeks to heal properly, and although we'd tried really hard, it wasn't looking good. This was particularly true with "old" tendons, he told me. Thanks for that.

The inescapable fact of the matter is that there is simply not enough time for the injury to fully settle and to correct whatever stroke defect is causing it (my persistently wiggly thumb is the prime suspect) before the Geneva swim, never mind actually training for it. And so, in spite of my best efforts and determination for it to be otherwise, I have declared defeat and this summer's qualification swims and the Geneva swim have been cancelled.

In an extreme endurance sport, injury is an occupational hazard, where even the slightest problem is easily magnified to swim-stopping dimensions - whether that's stupidly slipping off a small step, or the imperceptible rubbing of two tiny tendons under the strain of a misplaced micro-movement. I don't know if I have just been unlucky, or perhaps I didn't work hard enough to take care of my body in my training, or maybe I have just over-reached in taking on such an ambitious swim. I feel bad for messing people about (LGSA, Chillswim, Janine and Kate who were coming over to crew) and am embarrassed that once again I've not managed to make it to the start line. At least the injury was swimming-related this time, so perhaps that's some kind of progress.

I'd like to say that I'm down but not out, but right now, I don't feel like that. I love swimming, and especially swimming a long way, but I'm not sure that I have the temperament for such a high-risk game. We'll see. But for now, back to physio and stroke correction I go.