Injuries are the bane of athletes' lives - regardless of the level that you compete at. I thought that I would share a couple of the injuries I've picked up along the way and explain why, for me, Open Water is the safest environment to be in!

At the end of February I tore my abdominals quite badly. It was a freak injury (they usually are) - my daughter ended up in A&E after a very nasty cycling accident and I naturally assumed 'mummy role'. I carried her around the hospital, walked from A&E to X-Ray and back and assisted in toilet trips. I was training hard for the Great East Swim, so my body was pretty much on the edge already and 'Bang!', one minute my abs were fine, the next I was crying into my Aqua Sphere goggles at training that night, trying to avoid the reality that I had, indeed, picked up an injury.

Injuries happen - to everyone, Olympians and recreational swimmers alike at some stage. Handling injuries is a matter of personal preference - mine is behave like a child, whinging to everyone that will listen (even after they've stopped doing so!), then finally decide to get on with whatever it takes to get 'un-injured'. I went to see my physio, who only advises me to stop swimming when absolutely essential. It appears, on this occasion, it was essential. So I spent a week out of water, doing everything I was supposed to (core strength, stretch cords etc), and nothing (or very little!), that I wasn't supposed to do. 2 weeks later, full training resumed, but with no tumble turns, dives, or backstroke, for a further 2 weeks.

The fantastic thing about The Great Swim Series is that Open Water is so forgiving of minor training blips. So, a few weeks off with injuries might take the 'performance edge' off, but so will a strong current or head wind -  you'll still be on the start line. The restrictions of 'no tumble turns, frontcrawl only, no diving', didn't affect my ability to swim in a lake, or run/walk in at the start at all. I know that I am fit enough to physically complete it and everything else is a bonus.

As I've got older, I've learnt how important it is to listen to my body. I want it to do amazing things for me, but it is a machine and sometimes machines break. I don't swim hard if I have a cold, I don't swim at all if I'm on antibiotics and I try to address injuries early, rather than bury my head in the sand and plough on regardless. I think that being an 'older swimmer' (swimming is a notoriously young person’s sport - my own PB's for example were set at the age of 17), gives you a fantastic sense of perspective. No one likes being injured, or feeling like their training isn't going the way they want it to - but I have been through injuries that threatened not only one or two races, but also my ability to work, walk and lead a 'normal' active life. I have had shoulders stabilised, knees repaired, I’ve dislocated pretty much everything, broken bones and strained muscles I didn’t even know that I had. I've also come through the other side of it, emotionally and physically - a far more grateful athlete because of them.

When I am injured, I try to focus on things I am still in control of - rehabilitation exercises for example.  I particularly like a quote that I use with my students when I teach lessons in emotional resilience: "Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass - it's about learning to dance in the rain", which is very apt in many difficult situations.

My advice to swimmers who have entered the Great Swim Series and now aren't so sure because of injury, or lack of training would be "do it - adjust your expectations accordingly, but do it". If you don't get the time you were hoping for - blame the weather conditions - like everyone else does!!! In my next blog, I'll be writing about how/what to pack for the day itself and explaining the importance of Hula Hoops and spare goggles on race day! Keep Swimming! Jo x

Jo Mitchinson is a full time teacher, mother and wife. She is also an open water swimmer, National Masters Open Water Champion, @AquaSphereUK and @ScienceFitUK brand ambassador, Transition Tri and Stevenage Swimming Club member. 


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