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Please don’t drown…..

19 Jun

Every year I try and take part in a charity sporting venture, although I don’t recall doing one last year.  Two years ago I did a triathlon of sorts where I accumulated 10,000m on the SkiErg followed by a 10,000m run before finishing with a 10,000m row.

This year I am taking on the real thing with a proper triathlon, this Sunday’s Cardiff Bay Tri.  Full disclosure I don’t own a bike and chose not to buy one just for this event and so I am doing the swim and run portion of the full Olympic triathlon distance (1,500m swim and 10,000m run) with a friend and training partner covering the bike section.

When I signed up I didn’t think much of it really.  A 10k run isn’t easy but it’s something I knew I’d be able to get done without changing my usual training patterns.  I didn’t swim outside of splashing around on weekends with my kids in the local leisure center but I can swim and am quite fit so never questioned how hard it could be.  Turns out, pretty god damn hard!

1

I quickly found out that being able to swim, and actually swimming any sort of distance, were very much two different things.  The first few times I went to the pool I was absolutely exhausted by swimming a 25m length.  I would regularly accumulate 500m-1,000m but through numerous 25m lengths with noticeable breaks in-between.  It took me a good few weeks to get to the 150m unbroken mark.  At which point I seriously started panicking that I would, at best, get fished out of the water on race day.

With this realization I dropped down to the sprint distance (750m swim) and started taking adult swimming lessons.  The relief of having a shorter distance, the guidance of improving my technique and the many lonely and tough hours spent chipping away at it started to make a different.  By the end of January I was still only getting to 300m but that was a major breakthrough.

2

Then one day, having never gone passed that 300m mark, things just clicked and suddenly I went straight through to the 1k marker.  The perseverance started paying off and while I found the first 300m were always tough, as I settled in things would always get better as my stroke slowed and breathing settled.

I was told that open water swimming in a wet-suit was an easier proposition than the pool and so, knowing mentally more than anything I would have to try it before the event, I was really pleased to find out that Cardiff International White Water Center do open water swimming sessions between 6:30am-8:30am on Thursday mornings.  These were a revelation to me.

3

Swimming in open water was not only easier and gave me more enthusiasm and confidence, but it was so much more fun and enjoyable than the slogs you have to endure in the pool.

6

I was lucky enough to have been joined by my regular crossfit coach Pete Rankin from Crossfit Boatshed as well, although he is genuinely a good swimmer.  Having someone come along with you on that first session was a big deal, even if just to know you can be towed to safety if required.  Thankfully I didn’t need him for that!

4

After this open water swim I bumped myself back up to the full Olympic distance and am really glad I did.  The weekend before last I put in a PB of 2,000m in the pool unbroken and really only stopped because of boredom.

5I followed that up with another strong open water swim last Thursday.  I’m pretty confident now that so long as I don’t drown within the first 300m I should survive.  That said it only dawned on me recently that I also have to run and so staggered out for an 8k test two weeks ago which focused the mind on that aspect of neglected training!FullSizeRender

So, with all this said, if you want to donate anything to the cause, and it is a fantastic cause in raising money for Ty Hafan, you can do so by clicking on this link.

Also if you are bored and want to know if I have drown you can track me on the day by clicking on this link.

Fingers crossed I’m still here Monday to reflect on the result.

 

 

 

The Sport Wales School Survey

6 May

sw_1A return to child-centric education:

Professor Graham Donaldson’s curriculum review is something of a game changer in how we think about the future delivery of education in Wales. While teachers have always wanted to focus on the whole child approach to learning, they have been somewhat restricted in their ability to do so due to the unintended consequences of national priorities. What we have seen, in particular since 2010, has been an almost singular focus on literacy, numeracy and testing. This has resulted in the curriculum being squeezed.

Of course we must always remember the importance of building competent and assured literacy and numeracy standards, but the truth is that other subjects and skills outside those core areas have been marginalised. What Professor Donaldson has done is establish the platform for a return to an approach that gives teachers the freedom to explore, promote and pursue activities that contribute to the personal and social wellbeing of their pupils, as well as retaining that academic focus.

The benefits of physical activity:

The above is important because this is where sport fits in. We all know the immense benefits that we see through physical activity. From a health perspective it plays a crucial role in tackling issues around obesity and helps develop coordination, strength, fitness and agility amongst other things. It also has a profound social impact on pupils. We see how leadership skills, team working, communication skills, critical analytical skills and problem solving intelligence are developed through sporting activities. These are not only vital in terms of a standalone physical education subject, but clearly crossover and enhance the capabilities of students in a range of school settings.

Of course, an important part of utilising sport as an educational driver is understanding what we are doing right, what we are doing wrong and what we can do differently in future. That is why NUT Cymru fully support Sport Wales’ School Sport Survey.

So why get involved as a school?

Over the years this survey has been one of the best platforms available for pupils to have their say about physical activity in schools. It is also a great source of data for teachers wishing to evaluate how best to plan and utilise resources in their schools and communities. The survey is already the biggest of its type in the UK, possibly the world, and this year it could be bigger and better than ever. The survey offers a revealing insight into how pupils see physical activity impacting on their lives and often even challenges existing stereotypes and misconceptions about the role of sport in schools.

From a purely practical point of view this is worth undertaking as it is recognised by Estyn. Taking part in the survey and using the data to inform school plans is an ideal way to evidence how pupil wellbeing and core skills are being monitored.

Working in partnership with the Sport Wales survey we can not only enhance the sporting opportunities available to pupils, but also continue to deliver wider improvements in educational attainment.

This blog was origionally published as a guest piece on the SportWales blog.  You can see the origional here.

Breaking the Chain – Willy Voet

9 Jan

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As well as an end of year list I thought this year I would put up a few sporadic book reviews. This wont be all the books I read just those that I think are worth commenting on, positively or negatively.

Breaking The Chain – Willy Voet

I’m not usually one for reading non-fiction books. After spending large parts of my working day reading committee reports; reviews; consultation documents and so forth I feel I more than hit my quota of factual/real-life reading. I want an author to create a world away from my own, allowing me to tune out of the day-to-day grind for a brief period. Still, I gave this book a go as it was recommended to me by a friend and given it is just 127 pages I thought what’s the worst that can happen?

I have to say I did actually enjoy this read.  It is an interesting and eye-opening insight into the murky world of drugs in sport.  Perhaps I enjoyed it as some of the content is so absurd that it is almost stranger than fiction.

I do have a lot of sympathy for cycling as a sport.  I grew up as a young teenager watching the highlights of the Tour de France on late night channel 4.  I have a few childhood heroes but Bjarne Riis is certainly up there with the best.  He himself is now a discredited drugs cheat of course.

Cycling is very often seen as the dirtiest sport because of the numerous high-profile examples of cheating it has exposed.  In Lance Armstrong it has the dubious honour of perhaps the most notorious drugs cheat of all time.  Who would have thought that crown would ever be taken from Ben Johnson?

The truth is of course that drugs are prevalent in all sports, it is just perhaps that cycling has done more to expose its own problems than many others.  Do we honestly believe that no high-profile football or rugby players are using illegal performance enhancing supplements?

In regards to the book itself the protagonist, former sports physiotherapist Willy Voet, jumps from recounting the various involvements he and others had in cheating the system over the years with a more lineal timeline of his period of incarceration after being caught crossing the border carrying drug supplies for the Festina race team.  Despite the fact that he’s central to a drug cheat scandal and very guilty it’s hard not to have some sympathy for Willy Voet. His accounts of prison seem shockingly lonely.  It is a little dated in so far as the Festina Affair that Willy Voet is caught up in is old news when it comes to drugs in cycling.  There are no doubt far more current books on the subject.  Still it remains shocking to hear of the extent and methods that cyclists went to in order to compete during Voet’s time in the sport.

I doubt the book would appeal to the majority of people but if you have an interest in cycling, sport or the role of drugs in sport then it is more than worth a read.

10,000 x 3

8 Jan

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If you fancy donating to a good cause I will be raising money for Ty Hafan by completing a 10,000m SkiErg followed by a 10,000m run followed by a 10,000m row on January 24th along with other people at The BoatShed TC in Cardiff.  Click on the below link should you be so kind to sponsor us.

https://www.justgiving.com/The-Boat-Shed-Training-Centre

As an added incentive my good friends at Heavy Rep Gear Clothing have generously said that everyone who pledges £10 or more will go into a draw with someone randomly pulled out for a free HRG T-shirt.  As an owner of 99% of their stock I can recommend the brand!

Individually I would guess that I could do it sub 2:30 hours. My PBs would be 10k SkiErg 48:00; 10k run 44:40 and 10k row 39:14.  One after the other mind I would be ecstatic with anything around 2:45 but no less pleased simply to break a sub 3 hour.  With that in mind please give generously!

EDIT:

I forgot to edit this with an update on how I did.  I completed the whole thing in 2:13:42. Pretty pleased with that.  I can’t even imagine attempting it again though.

Glasgow: A Sporting Legacy for Wales?

8 Aug

One of the big issues in our schools is how education, and educators, can play a role in tackling the obesity crisis. We know that getting children involved with sport at a young age is crucial to their long-term physical development.  If children have a healthy relationship with sporting endeavours throughout their school lives they are far more likely to remain physically active after they leave.  This investment in sport not only helps in terms of reducing obesity related illnesses but it develops the often hard to measure personal skills that most teachers are very focused on, and that are crucial for life after leaving school.  These include leadership qualities, team-work, problem solving and communication skills amongst other benefits.  None of this should start or end at the school gate of course, but the is undoubtably a real opportunity to maximize the engagement levels during the school day.

Most people in Wales have been pretty engrossed in the Commonwealth Games over the past few weeks.  Any major championship usually, in the short-term at least, acts as a catalyst to increased participation in sports.  The fact that we were actually looking at distinctly Welsh branded athletes will have helped even more in capturing the imagination.  What is more, that some of the Welsh medals came in sports you would not usually see given prime-time exposure is a real bonus.  Often where teachers have often found difficulty in engaging students it has been due to “traditional” sports not appeal to them.  These games, through the likes of Frankie Jones in Rhythmic Gymnastics, Natalie Powell in Judo and Craig Pilling in Wrestling, have exposed a generation of individuals to the idea of taking up sports they may never previously have considered.  The very fact that so many Welsh athletes, winners or not, have reached a high competitive level across the range of events is inspirational alone.

However, If we expect Glasgow to deliver a lasting legacy perhaps we need to think again.  While Geraint Thomas, Jazz Carlin, Georgia Davies et all continue to be, or will go on to be, household names, at a grassroots level we do have to face up to the future.  Austerity measures are cutting our local services.  Public leisure centres are being downgraded, privatised or shut completely.  The upkeep of playing fields are being neglected while the cost to hire for them is being increased.  Access to the sort of facilities we need to ensure remain commonplace if we are to entice the next generation of medalists to take up sports is becoming increasingly constrictive.

We can, and should, of course be more creative.  Less money doesn’t always mean there are no options.  I have previously blogged on how we can utilise our school buildings in different ways to try to create community spaces where they do not currently exist.  Still, there can be no underestimating what the cuts to provisions at a local level will mean to participation figures.

No one is suggesting that any services are completely off-limits.  Let’s be realistic, it is hard to say we do not want slashing cuts to our education and/or health services while expecting all the local authorities libraries, sport centres or parks to remain untouched.  That being said there is an invest to save argument.  What impact will reducing the ability of engaging children in sport, and the lifelong passion for health and nutrition that goes with it, have on our education and health services in the longer term?

At a school level sporting facilities have always been squeezed but that is only going to be more and more difficult.  The intensive drive towards a focus of literacy and numeracy does have an impact on other areas of education.  That isn’t to underestimate the absolute need to ensure that literacy and numeracy is a priority in our schools. They are and should be.  However, we have reached a point in Wales where they are slowly becoming the only thing that matter.  Resources for schools in general are sparse and very often, rightly or indeed wrongly, it is the creative arts that suffer.  Those subjects that are not part of the core curriculum are marginalised.  Drama, music and sport are the casualties of the PISA approach to education.

We can also look at the issue of workload for teachers.  The ever-increasing pressures placed on practitioners make it more and more difficult for them to give up what free time they already have.  Given a large proportion of those running after school sports clubs are teachers this does cause a lot of problems in ensuring such community activities can continue to be offered.

Sport Wales have two clear and ambitious objectives.

1. To create a Nation of Champions

2. To ensure that every child is hooked on sport for life.

It is fair to say that in respect of the first objective the organisation is well on its way to establishing Wales as relative powerhouse.  Per head of population Wales was the best performing nation in the UK competing at the Commonwealth games and its sporting performance in general terms far outweighs the expectations a nation of just 3 million individuals could expect.  However, Sport Wales cannot expect to achieve the second ambition unless we all recognise the barriers that are being placed in front of development at a grassroots level.