Sunday, 8 October 2017

HUUB wetsuit review

This morning's swim showed how much a HUUB wetsuit can flatter your ability. For the last week I've been swimming in Spain wearing an ex-demo Grade D HUUB Aerious Wetsuit 3:5 and felt pleased with my improving performance. This morning I was back in the pool in my trunks for 45 minutes and took a huge step back in speed and style!

I know it's well accepted that a wetsuit makes most swimmers faster but although my Alpkit Silvertip keeps me warm, I've not found it to be an obvious performance enhancer.

For the Spanish trip I bought a three different wetsuits and sent two back, keeping the HUUB. At an 'ST' size it felt tight, hard to get on, but flexible around my shoulders and not too loose around my waist. It was partly due to this fitting that I decided one of the others was too big for me. It was just too easy to get on straight from the packet.

An ex-demo wetsuit seemed like a good idea for a swimming holiday as I rightly assumed that it would get stuffed in the back of a van and taken on and off in a bit of a rush. Over 5 days I put it on 8 times, half of those whilst it was wet inside.

HUUB's statement about grading
I actually liked the idea of the wetsuit looking a little tired, to help get away from the 'all the gear, no idea' image that a set of new, top of the range kit can give. Peeling print certainly won't detract from usefulness.

Some graphic missing on the right leg

Signs of damage

On inspection I found a repair under both armpits which appeared to have been glued. I made an effort to get the sleeves well up my arms and the torso well-fitted to avoid unnecessary underarm tension. This give me good shoulder mobility and the repairs didn't show any sign of failure during the week.


The forearms had lengths where the overlock stitching was undoing itself. I contemplated a DIY repair to stop further unravelling but didn't know how to do it well so decided to leave it alone.


Midway through the holiday, the right forearm seam split at the affected area. This increased the water flow through the suit by a surprising amount. Luckily the water wasn't especially cold and I only had to suffer comments from my fellow swimmers about the 'hole'.


Whilst away, I emailed HUUB and they agreed to undertake a repair under the 30 day warranty which is fair. I'll post a photo of the outcome.

Wear 'n' tear

During the week I spotted a few places where fingernails had caught the soft neoprene. I can't honestly say whether they were caused by me or pre-existing. I suspect in some cases they were mine, as although I'm a careful user, a damp wetsuit is hard to get fitted without a degree of tugging.


The neoprene bulk fabric  and surface coating are both softer and more 'delicate' in feel than that of the Silvertip and must be more liable to damage.

Although I could have hired a wetsuit at least I wasn't concerned about a deposit on this bargain wetsuit.

Swimming

I suppose that this is the key aspect of a wetsuit and as can be assumed from the beginning of this post I was very pleased with the wetsuit. The 3:5 buoyancy helped my body position markedly and for most of the swims I left my legs trailing rather than expending energy to move them.

I don't know if the X-O 'exoskeleton' feature really does anything but I did feel well aligned and gradually settled into an effective rhythm with good-for-me pace and stroke length.  There was little flow of water around me, even with a torn sleeve and I was pleasantly warm. The water was mild at between 19°C and 24°C, but usually I get cold in a 28°C pool so I consider the insulation to have been spot on.

From this relatively low cost introduction to quality wetsuits I can appreciate the performance benefit that the manufacturers claim. An ex-demo entry, to last season's model, saved money, and to a large degree, worry about looking after the wetsuit. Perhaps an A or B grade would be a sensible purchase for normal use where more care can be taken of the wetsuit but even with cropped nails, I imagine damage is inevitable.

For me, this suit has plenty of life left and I'll tidy up any nicks in this suit with Black Witch when I get it back from HUUB ready for next summer...

Friday, 6 October 2017

SwimQuest Costa Brava Review

I'm back home after spending a tiring, but stimulating, week in the Costa Brava with SwimQuest. As a novice open water swimmer the thought of 2 swims each day in a salty sea was slightly anxiety-inducing but I really wanted to move beyond small lakes. This Spanish trip seemed ideal as it fitted around work commitments, my wife and I like Spain, and it was one of the cheaper trips in their brochure.

Really the swimming trip is only 5 days, which was enough to make me wish I was able to stay another week, but not so much that my shoulders couldn't cope. We travelled on the Friday before the 'official' start so that we were there in good time, enough for a restful day. We flew into Girona and then took a taxi instead of doing a 2 leg bus journey. I suspect that flying to Barcelona and taking the bus to the resort would be cheaper although perhaps more risky for travel sickness.

I won't bother reviewing the accommodation at Ciutat de Palol as I don't believe that SwimQuest stay there routinely; suffice to say that it was sufficient.

Saturday

On the programmed travel day we strolled through the shops, returning along the promenade of Playa de Aro and continuing a little on the coastal GR92.


The town has a number of quite upmarket shops, many selling women's clothing and just as many vaguely european restaurants with similar menus. Once on the coastal path I could see why the hike is one of the more popular Spanish trails.

In the evening the swimming group met for drinks and dinner, after the typical introductions. Around half the group were from London and knew each other well which could have been a barrier, but they were very welcoming.

Sunday

At the briefing it was clear that I was the novice swimmer having only a season's open water experience and none of that in the sea. Others in the group had little sea time but were strong pool swimmers of many years.


At the nearby beach I swam half as much as everyone else as without wetsuit or pull buoy I was slow, cold and a bit overwhelmed. John (Coningham-Rolls, founder of SwimQuest) recorded with a GoPro to analyse before dinner, but we missed that time slot. I suspect my stroke was closer to doggie-paddle than a decent freestyle!

After a buffet lunch we went to Sant Feliu de Guixols for a 2.7km out-and-back swim.


The coastal swims are those defined by Vies Braves although as October is seen as the end of the season, in many cases the indicative buoys were removed.



As the slowest swimmer I was first in which was only slightly intimidating especially as a distinct swell was present beyond the breakwater. Mia was just behind in the kayak which was a comfort. Although I felt slow I'm pleased to find that I'm not the slowest swimmer recorded on Strava on tis swim by quite a margin. 

Monday

I woke with some stiffness and soreness in my left shoulder, which I've experienced before. This suggested to me that I'd done slightly too much yesterday, so today I decided to do just one swim.

Platja de Santa Cristina is a beautiful bay to the south of popular Lloret del Mar and easily reached by minibus from Playa de Aro.


The 2.1km swim was picturesque but I was a little slower than yesterday and very pleased to return to the beach for a picnic lunch put together by Mia. After that I strolled along the path towards Lloret above the route we'd swum that morning.

Tuesday

Today there was a general strike in Catalunya in protest at the police violence at Sunday's (illegal) referendum. Most bars and cafes were closed but luckily a few were open providing refreshments to weary swimmers.

The 2.6km swim from Tamariu was especially pleasant as we had time to land on a nearby beach for a few minutes. Previously we had swum for a time, or to a promontory, and then  returned. My pace was a little higher today and I got better at stopping my watch at rest points so as to show true swimming pace.


After a picnic lunch and a short doze we headed to Llafranc for a shorter 1.6km swim to a headland having passed between a few rocky outcrops.

By now the water flow through my wetsuit had increased as a seam had opened on the right forearm. More on that here...

Wednesday

A 4km swim was planned for today as a prelude to tomorrow's up to 8km marathon set of swims. As we cleared the bay at Platja de Sant Pol the swell increased markedly, to a point at which it was felt unsafe to continue around the point.


We cut across the mouth of the bay and completed a circular swim of 2.3km back to the beach. During the return swim I felt 'in the zone' and John noticed the improvement in my stroke and commented upon it. My aching shoulder had relaxed and I was focusing on good torso rotation to facilitate a forward reach on both sides. For 400m I managed a pace of 2:16min/100m, although after that things fell apart for a bit as I lost the relaxed stance and tried too hard. 

During the 'rest' afternoon we walked to Castell de Aro although everything but one rather run down bar was closed. There's a castle art gallery, a church, a doll museum and a minature railway but can't report on them at all! The town itself was pretty and very well kept.


Even whilst walking I knew my arms were tired, both shoulders felt well worked which I took as a good sign of fatigue rather than injury. We'd heard that tomorrow's swim wouldn't be the 'challenge' with Vie Braves but would still aim to be stretching for all.

Thursday

Today we headed to the Cap de Creus Natural Park which was at least 90 minutes drive. The lengthy journey did nothing for my confidence which felt a bit low as I was tired and with an aching left shoulder (ibuprofen gel didn't seem to be helping it). An accompanying RIB joined us at the lovely Platja de Cau del Llop for a 3.4km out-and-back swim.


Outbound was fine but the return leg, especially the last 1km, was tough. Although I kept my pace up my perceived effort was high, my shoulders stiff and technique horrible. My stroke length fell by at least 10% to 1.18m and I was digging deep to keep going. I wasn't sure I'd manage another swim that day.

We moved on to another pretty beach at Garbet for lunch and a snooze. The sun was strong and I sheltered in the van which was pleasantly cool with a through draught.


Outbound, for my 1.9km swim, we followed the coast into a small beach where the nudists were surprised to see us floating offshore . Whilst some of the others carried on with a larger loop around the bay I headed straight back to the starting beach. Somehow, knowing that I planned to complete my swim there, I settled into a good rhythm again and achieved a pace of 2:17min/100m with a nice long stroke length of 1.37m across nearly 900m of open water.  I'm not sure that I could have managed a longer distance swim, but finishing with some tidy swimming felt positive.

There was a little discussion about a third beach but really there wasn't time, and that proved to be the case as the journey back to base was a little troublesome. Nonetheless there was time to get kit tidied and a shower before the trip to the restaurant. The evening meal was good and helped by a fabulous sea view which revealed a glorious harvest moon.


Summary

I had great experience and achieved my goal of more swimming than I'm used to, in a new salty environment. The salt water was far less of an issue than I expected and although my goggles were perpetually misted-up or streaked I didn't get sore eyes. The buoyancy from the salt in combination with a triathlon-style wetsuit helped my body position considerably and most of the time I left my legs to trail. I tried using my large training fins but they were floating so high as to be useless.

The organisation of the swims and safety cover by John and Mia was faultless and I felt in safe hands whilst being able to work close to my physical and skill limits. Before the holiday, and in the early stages, some of the information could have been more clearly laid out but this shortcoming wasn't important; it's just that I like to be ultra-organised with dates and times!

Since returning home I've looked at the SwimQuest brochure online and I'm considering where I'd like to go next and what I could achieve at the different locations. I suppose that is the best recommendation of the holiday.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Dore Moor Road Loop

It's a few months since I ran my road loop through Dore and it showed in my rather slow pace. I didn't push and generally it felt within capacity which is amazingly illustrated by the heart rate data.


In the past I have run this closer to threshold throughout and managed a better overall pace. I think I've entered a plodding phase again and must restart my interval training runs. On this loop I have found that pushing the Millhouses 1km can give a good outcome as the step back in effort after the 'sprint' feels good but is still a bit above average. Of course, there is the risk of being too fast at the beginning.

Currently I can't see me re-achieving my record, let's aim for getting below an hour, that still needs a 10% improvement!

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Gastritis and a swim

Last night I believe I had recurrence of the gastritis that troubled me 3 years ago. I had abdominal ache an hour or so after eating and during the night it became progressively worse. It wasn't as epigastric in location as I seem to remember that it was previously but it was eased by Omeprazole so I'll take that as diagnostic.

After a light breakfast I felt fit enough for a swim at Hatfield. The water had cooled to 15 degrees and after a break of a few weeks it felt cold. I managed 1800m (2 large laps and one small one) before stopping. The weather was a little better than forecast so I had a low angled sun in my eyes for a third  of the circuit. I find this very difficult and although it stands to sense that it makes sighting difficult I also unconsciously swim away from the brightness so have to look more often. My new-ish polarised ant-mist goggles don't help as they do mist up and there's still plenty of glare.

It must be 'end of season' as the lake was much quieter than usual, which was rather pleasant actually.

Recently I've been doing a run on Saturday afternoons but today I couldn't face bouncing my stomach around and stayed at home. I didn't have much of an excuse not to do some painting that's been due for a month or so.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Orca Two Piece Swimrun Wetsuit - first impressions review

I'm wanting a less warm wetsuit than my Alpkit Silvertip for some mild weather swimming as over summer the Silvertip has been  a touch too comfortable. Being fairly substantial it's also quite firm around the shoulders and the gains of buoyancy are offset by stiffness around my arms.

Although there are a myriad of high performance triathlon-focussed wetsuits out there I wondered if a Swimrun one might be more appropriate. First, I'm more likely to do a Swimrun event than need a marginal speed gain in a swimming race and secondly the features such as pockets and land-based ventilation seem pretty useful for general holiday swimming use.

From Orca's website
It seemed useful to be able to order the two parts in appropriate sizes too as I'm in the small-tall category which isn't very well catered for by the majority of manufacturers. I ordered an MT top and #5 bottom from MyTriathlon who delivered promptly. So what do I think of the product?

I must stay now that I haven't worn the wetsuit in action and intend to return it very soon. It is a pity that you can't send slightly used wetsuits back to the shop! On the positive side, the sizing table and the product seem to be accurate as both parts fitted as I'd expect. I was slightly disappointed by the 'features' or maybe quality of the wetsuit as both pieces are made of fairly thin neoprene lacking in a smooth skin. Perhaps this is to reduce the risk of damage but it gives the impression of a cheap beachwear shorty wetsuit rather than a midrange performance wetsuit. The bottom piece feels to be better quality material than the top and is stated to be Yamamoto 39 cell neoprene. Although the promotional material mentions 'buoyancy in the lower trunk' I can't imagine much of this deriving from the bottom as the material is only 3mm thick.

The pockets on both pieces are made from a light mesh and are 'closed' by virtue of the upper piece overlapping the lower. I can see that this would be adequate for a light, low value item such as a nutrition bar but I wouldn't trust the pockets with my house key or a GPS device. I understand that zips add complexity and areas of weakness but this design doesn't feel quite enough. The overlap closure also stops a large item, such as  hand paddle being fitted into the pocket.

These points are perhaps niggling but there were two aspects which are the ones that are causing me not to keep the wetsuit, although neither can be fully evaluated without going for a swim! The two pieces are designed to be joined by 3 substantial pieces of velcro that adhere to the lining of the top. I didn't want to take the protective cover from the velcro to test the link thoroughly but I got a very clear impression that due to my tall body I would tend to pull the sections apart on every stroke. Of course, a stretch along the body is common to all of us and a traditional wetsuit would stretch and gradually adapt to the swimmer's shape, but I wasn't convinced of the adequacy of the connection here and suspected that I'd end up with a lot of cooling water flow around my body.

The second problem was that the relatively thick neoprene of the top bunched under my armpit and didn't feel to be as elastic as even that of my fairly budget wetsuit. I really could imagine chaffing early in a swim.

I liked the jacket style of the top and can see the concept of a two piece working well especially in a warm climate with a significant proportion of running. Indeed the design is fine for the casual beach use I mentioned above.  However I don't think this product is for me at the moment as I'm wanting something that gives a greater impression of stopping waterflow and more focus on the swimming component. For me, the near £200 price is a little high for this product. For serious swimming I'd like to see some of the neoprene technology of the £300 Orca 'Openwater' two piece or, for general holiday use, a lower price.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Back-to-back in Derbyshire.

Yesterday I was on leave form work and we did a reasonable hike in Derbyshire. Today, with the swim session at Hatfield cancelled, I ran out of the city on a 20km loop. The run was nothing out of the ordinary, although my recent running training has been low. However the back-to-back sessions certainly made an impact as today's run was unusually hard going.


The weather was kind for both days, warmer and drier than forecast although a stiff breeze forced me into a jacket.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Bilateral breathing

In today's swim I did a few sets with bilateral breathing. As anticipated my pace was nothing like 1:44 min/100m as suggested from the last data. I don't know what happened there, but today I was around 2:10min/100m which is far more what I would expect. Inbetween a small proportion of the 66m intervals were at 2:00min/100m but I struggled to manage that.

I'm intrigued that as the session went on the bilateral pace was much like my 'fast' dominant side breathing. My chest felt tighter having to maintain the breath for 50% longer and I had perception of rushing but it didn't have much net effect on my pace. Perhaps there is a gain in swimming efficiency by keeping more streamlined which is offset by being closer to an aerobic threshold. This threshold might be centrally governed ('I must breath') rather than really physiological ('there isn't enough oxygen perfusion').