Michael Phelps training kit review

This summer we got our hands on some of the new Michael Phelps “MP” kit to try.



Paddles (Katie):

We tend to swim outside for most of the summer making the most of lido, lake and sea swimming but once we were back swimming in indoor pools we were able to test out the paddles.


Over the years we have both suffered off and on from shoulder problems and therefore have pretty much stopped using hand paddles as we find they often cause us shoulder pain.  Despite this we were open to trying a different type of paddle and took our neon yellow MP Strength Paddle’s down to one of our regular Friday morning Team Mermaids training sessions at Ironmonger Row Baths.  After swimming 6 lengths moderate wearing them we both stopped and exclaimed to each other that we really liked the MP Strength Paddle.  I don’t know what made this paddle special but we definitely felt it help guide our stoke and encourage perfect technique without putting too much strain on our shoulders.  These paddles are definitely going to be part of our regular training from now on.

Note: we both wore a size small.


Goggles (Manda):

Again we couldn’t test these out during the summer season as the ones we have, have clear lenses and we tend to were tinted/polarised lenses outdoors.

They are woman specific ones so suit the narrower face, which is great as often we get leakage when trying to use ones designed as unisex, but really are more suited to men.

They do 2 of the styles in ladies versions.  The XCEED, which we tried and the K180.

We also love how they haven’t just gone “Ladies goggles, er let’s just do everything in pink and purple”.  The K180 ladies goggles come in blue with the clear lenses and the pink ones are partnered with a black strap so not uber pink!


Costume (Manda):

I tested the costume while swimming in Italian waters this summer.  The thin straps were great for swimming in the sunshine and the one I have has a great colourful pattern.





Maternity Swimsuits

Why are maternity costumes so nasty?  Proper Nasty.  Low back, low front, frills and generally all black.  This is a time when you need chest support but swimwear brands are not bothering and worse still, making the front even lower than normal.  Why??

We don’t want anything different to what we wanted beforehand.  We just want it to support us where it needs to support us and grow with us.  We never wanted frills, boob spillage, boring costumes beforehand so we definitely don’t want them during a time where we might be struggling to feel ourselves.

It comes as no surprise that amongst us and our friends, none of us have gone down the maternity costume route.  Instead we have all looked to our favourite brands and just worked what they have in the normal range to suit our changing bodies.  Some worked, some didn’t.

Before we get into the costumes we tried, if anyone has tried this one please let us know!




Speedo – the cheap one. I went 2 sizes up in one of their cheaper costumes. A cheap one on the basis of I didn’t know how long it was going to last me so I didn’t want to spend a fortune but actually the cheaper non-chlorine resistant fabric was great as it happily stretched over bump whilst the remaining fabric remained secure around the chest and bum.

Current version on sale by speedo: http://www.speedo.com/uk/en/powerback-swimsuit/806187A589.html

Cost: £20

Good for bigger boobs pre and post-natal:  YES and NO.  It fit my smaller chest but I was subject to flattening.

Grows with bump: YES

Post-Natal: NO – it was too saggy in stomach area and as not chlorine resistant material it had already started to thin.

Funkita 2 piece. I went up a size in both parts of this and that happily suited me right up until 40 weeks. I then wore it all of last summer at the lido whilst I was breastfeeding and the weight was still peeling off.

Current version on sale by Funkita: https://www.simplyswim.com/products/Funkita/LoveFunkitaSportTwoPiece.aspx

Cost: £40

Good for bigger boobs pre and post-natal: NO – I didn’t go up many cup sizes but still found that there was a lot of leakage until I was back to pre-baby/post-breastfeeding size.

Grows with bump: YES as no bump coverage

Post-Natal: YES


Speedo. I choose this one as it had a higher neck but it still offered the support at the back. Unfortunately it was expensive and the material at the front was not flexible as hoped so I grew out of it in a matter of weeks.

Current version on sale by speedo: http://www.speedo.com/uk/en/speedo-fit-splice-xback-swimsuit/810830B348.html

Cost: £50

Good for bigger boobs pre and post-natal: YES due to high neck but might be super squashed depending on size.

Grows with bump: NO due to restrictive material

Post-Natal: YES


Similar to Manda I struggled to find maternity costumes that were sufficiently functional to allow for freestyle and tumble turning.

Speedo – the cheap one. I took myself down to my local Sports Direct and purchased a couple of cheap costumes from there. I went for ones that weren’t endurance material so that the material was more stretchy and therefore lasted me through my pregnancy.

Cost: £20

Good for bigger boobs pre and post-natal: NO

Grows with bump: YES

Speedo – post natal.  Once I had had the baby I invested in two speedo costumes with an inbuilt bra as I felt that I needed some extra support while breastfeeding.

Current version by Speedo: https://www.bravissimo.com/products/premiere-ultimate-swimsuit-blackteal-so105btl/

We have also asked Laura (who was pregnant when wrote this!) and Lisa, who is now 30+ weeks pregnant.  Both continued to swim through their pregnancy.


A super keen swimmer friend of mine opened my eyes to Dolphin Uglies.  These swim costumes a few years back and I love them because they have a thick liner that stops all chances of see-throughness. Plus you can find them on SportsDirect for super cheap (under £10) if you aren’t too picky about the pattern.

Annoyingly I was already close to the largest size available for these costumes (tall problems) so I ordered 2 sizes up (their largest option) and that fit up to about 6-7 months of pregnancy.

Current Version: http://www.sportsdirect.com/uglies-dolfin-exclusive-swimsuit-ladies-354069?colcode=35406992

Cost: £10 – £30

Grows with bump: Sort of, the double thickness gave me a few extra weeks of stretch I’m sure and it the nice wide straps never made it too uncomfortable.


Eventually though I went to H&M and bought a cheap pair of bikini bottoms and wore those with a Oiselle sports bra for the rest of my pregnancy. Two piece bikinis just became more comfortable. I would have spent more money on a proper sporty maternity swim costume if there was one. The options aren’t just limited, they’re non-existent!


Natatio Swimwear – Two Piece.  My chest had gone from a C to a FF and it had been impossible to find anything that was fitting everything into place without anything falling out and that had some style to train in without feeling frumpy – unlike all the other two pieces I’d tried this one fitted my top perfectly without any bits falling out anywhere. It’s really comfy and supportive and I love the style of the back of the top, the material also feels really soft on the skin.

Current Versionhttps://natatioswimwear.com/

Cost: £40 for the bottoms and £45 for the top.

Good for bigger boobs pre and post-natal: This two piece will work for both pre and post natal training and swimming – definitely supportive for the bigger boobs and they definitely don’t spill out anywhere! A great thing is that you can buy different size top and bottoms.

Grows with bump: I bought the regular bottoms rather than the high ones and as my bump has got bigger they are still comfortable to wear.

Post-Natal: Can’t currently comment on this but can’t see that they would be a problem post but will still be comfy.

Funkita.  I went up a size on the funkita two pieces and although the bottoms fit fine and bump feels fine with them the tops just don’t support a FF chest size (they also only go up to a size 14 and you have to buy the same size bottoms and tops) – I feel like I’m auditioning for a new swim porn movie in them (they are very low and definitely don’t cater for bigger chested ladies) so they are on hold for post natal when the boobs get back to normal! None of my One pieces are viable for bump and big pregnancy boobs!

Zoggs.  I have a old zoggs costume which I’ve had for years and once I stopped being able to wear any of my old Swimwear I tried this one on one day and amazingly it fits both my bump and boobs although not sure it will fit right to the end of my pregnancy but has been a great costume to get into for now.

Ear Plugs

I (Manda) have recently noticed that my right ear always seems to have water stuck in it post swim and occasionally I also suffer from an inkling of pain in there post swim.

There have also coincidentally been a few bits on social media re surfers ear so taking that and the pain into consideration I thought it was about time to invest in some ear plugs.

I put word out of “outdoor swimming society” and “did you swim today” on facebook asking what people recommended and why.  Below are some (there were loads – thanks all!) that were recommended.

From the recommendations it seems that the key requirements for ear plugs are:

Functionality – They work! i.e they stop the water coming in

Comfortable – you want to forget you are wearing them and they stay in!

Sound permeability – They let the sound in.  Sensory deprivation can be alarming in open water.

Durability – you aren’t going to have to buy new ones regularly

Affordability – There is a large range but you want value for money

As with most things in life there isn’t a one solution works for all, so the advice from OSS members was to start cheap and then work up if not getting the desired results.

Please feel free to add comments if you have other recommendations or wish to add any comments on the ones already featured

Blu Tack (yep – someone recommended blu tack!)

Where to buy: any good stationers!

£1 a pack!

Positive: Cheapest you will find.  Easily replaceable.  Mouldable.

Negative: Not sure whether the manufacturers/ear specialists would recommend in ear use!  Also can leave behind small bits of the tack.



Where to buy: High street pharmacists and various online outlets


£4 for 3 pairs

Negatives: Don’t last long and can’t hear anything once in.

Positive: Do the job. Mould to the ear.


Where to buy: Decathlon


£2.49 for 2 pairs

Positives: Come with draining case. Brightly coloured so easier to find if lose.

Negatives: None!



Where to buy: Sports direct and various online retailers


£3 for 1 pair

Comment: “They do the job” 

Zoggs (adult and junior)

Where to buy: Various online retailers.

Adult: http://www.wiggle.co.uk/zoggs-aqua-plugz-1/

Junior: http://www.wiggle.co.uk/zoggs-junior-aqua-plugz/


Positive: Cheap and comfortable

Negative:  Feedback from OSS members suggested varying levels of durability.

Tip: try the children’s ones if not getting on with the adult ones.


Speedo Biofuse

Where to buy: speedo direct or other online retailers:


£7 a pair

Positive: Affordable. Come in variety of sizes. Can hear better than with other under £10 options.

Negative:  Very rigid/hard.




Ear candi


£15 – £20

Positive: Quick to do and surprisingly easy.

Negative: Not ready to go out the packet.



Where to buy:  Directly from SurfEars


£50 a pair

Negative: Priciest non personalised on market

Positive: Strap to keep pair together.  Still can hear. Come in 3 size options.


Finis SwimEars

Where to buy: Online retailers or direct from finis.



Positive: can hear decent amount with in.  On a string so less likely to lose.

Negative: Costly.



Swim Ears

Where to buy: Directly from swimears


EUR 60

Positive: Easy to use.  Durable. Come in 3 sizes.

Negative: Found it hard to work out how to put them in.


Specsavers custom made plugs

Where to buy: Go into local Specsavers


Negative: 3 week wait for manufacture and then might not be right so might have to go through another 3 week wait.

Positive:  Affordable high-street accessible personalised option.


Local Hospital

This can range in cost and might need a GP referral but definitely appears to be the cheapest option if you want someone to make you customised plugs.


Alternatives to ear plugs. 

If you don’t get on with earplugs then there was some other suggestions:

  • Neoprene hats/2 hats.  This helps stop the water getting anywhere near the ear but might not be as effective as ear plugs but worth a try if you don’t get on with plugs.


  • Earol swim tea tree oil spray.

Apply pre swim.  Preventative.  Natural spray.


  • Swim Ear

Apply post swim to dry up water.


  • Swim seal

Apply pre swim.  Preventative.  No alcohol.






Prescription goggles


The BBC published an article recently (see here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-39568781) about a lady losing her sight in one eye after an eye infection. There was some advice about contact lenses and swimming was mentioned:

‘a rare but serious eye infection caused by a micro-organism that’s common in tap water, sea water and swimming pools’.

All people who I swim with who need glasses either wear contacts as standard or switch to contacts and normal googles for swimming. I’m the exception as I generally wear prescription goggles apart from when I’m racing.

Admittedly, initially my main reason for this wasn’t protecting myself from infection (more to avoid having to faff around putting contacts in and ordering contacts) but as a result I have tried out a lot of the prescription goggles on the market.

Here are some I have tried / some I have seen recommended by several different people on DYST / OSS but if you have any feedback on the below or other recommendations then please put in comments.



The View Platina are my go to favourite. They are cost effective, last well and come in black or blue lenses so suitable for all pools and all weather. You can buy the matching strap and nose piece but I have always just used an old one I had.  You order individual lenses so you can have different prescriptions for each eye if needed.  A lot of sites only offer the black version but Jackson Sports have both and are run by a friendly team who will check stock etc for you.


1 x Lens cost: £8.00 (current price at Jackson Sports)

Total goggle cost (2 x lenses and brand specific strap and nose piece): £24.50 (current price at Jackson Sports)


2017-04-20 05_58_36-Prescription Swimming Goggles _ Optical Goggles _ Speedo

I originally used the Speedo Pulse prescription lenses which are very similar to the View ones.  They then seemed to stop doing them so I tried out their Mariner googles, which are their cheaper* pair and you have to have the same prescription for both lenses.  These didn’t work well with me and leaked badly.  The good news is the Pulse ones are back on sale on the Speedo site, along with a couple of new prescription goggle options, but are more expensive than the View for what I believe to be the same lenses, so I think you are better off purchasing the View lenses.

*cheaper short term but not long term if you have to keep buying the full pair of goggles at £20 rather than just buying replacement lenses when needed.



1 x Lens cost: £11.00

Total goggle cost: £33.00


1 x Lens cost: n/a

Total goggle cost: £20.00


download (2)

I really liked the look of the Eagle as they appeared very similar to the Zoggs Predator Flexes that I am a massive fan of and give you an increased field of vision unlike the standard prescription goggles available.  I just didn’t find these comfortable on my small(ish) head but lots of people love them.



1 x Lens cost: £9.49 (current price at proswimwear)

Total goggle cost: £35.00 (current price at prescription swimming goggles)

High street alternatives

Boots and Specsavers do offer prescription goggles, however I can’t find anything on their site. Prices sounds comparable, if not cheaper than the above, based on what people on OSS/DYST have advised so always worth checking them out.

Other places to buy:

http://www.prescription-swimming-goggles.co.uk/swimming-goggles.html – this site sells the View, Speedo, Aquasphere and lots of others, however you have to buy the whole goggle (2 lenses and kit) from them so you might be better off sourcing elsewhere if you only want the lenses.

https://www.mailsports.co.uk/goggles/prescription-goggles – sells the Speedo, View and Aquasphere, as well as Sable and Swan.

http://shop.swimmingwithoutstress.co.uk/sws/swimming-goggles/prescription-lens-goggles.shtml – stocks the Aquasphere Eagle and View Platina.

https://www.simplyswim.com/departments/AdultGoggles/Prescription.aspx  –  stocks the View, Speedo and Aquasphere.

Gold In the Water – A review


About 3 years ago Amanda lent me her copy of Gold in the Water by PH Mullen. I pretty much only ever read now on my Kindle so I read about 8 pages and then gave up. Books are just too big to carry around and I ended up returning it to Amanda 2 and a half years later unread.

Gold in the Water has however recently been published on Kindle so I gave it a second try and I am so glad I did as it is magnificent.

The book tells the tale of the once glorious but now a bit down at heal Santa Clara swimming team in California and its swimmers as they prepare for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.  This is a time when no one has even heard of Michael Phelps and Ian Thorpe was still referred to as a promising teenager!  Both are now comfortably retired after glittering careers which shows you how long ago 2000 is now.

The book opens by depicting a showdown between rookie Tom Wilkens and veteran Kurt Grote as they race the 200m breaststroke at the 1998 Pan Pacs. This thrust you right into the action and the drama giving you a taster of what is to come in the remainder of the book. This time the experience of the veteran prevails.

Gold in the water focuses on the stories of 5 or 6 swimmers and their old school, unbending coach Dick Jochums as they individually strive to reach the same goal – a place on the Olympic team.

You have the all American Tom Wilkens, Kurt Grote who is combining swimming with a medical degree, the analytical Dod Wales whose father was an Olympian, the reluctant and depressed Tate Biancci and Moldovan refugee Serghei Mariniuc who trains a few times a week for fun. You even have a brief guest appearance from Team Mermaids hero Dara Torres as she prepares for her first comeback.

The book draws such a vivid, insightful picture of the ups and downs of the swimmers’ journeys that you can almost smell the chlorine and feel the lactic acid in your blood as you read.  It is not just a the story of the swimmers though as it also tells that tale of their coach Dick Jochums as he searches for redemption through them.  Jochums promising early coaching career hit the skids after he over trained his first prodigy Tim Shaw and after allegations of financial irregularities at his former swimming club.  Jochums returns to Santa Clara aiming to return it and through it himself back to its former glory.  Jochums is a coach of basic principles.  He doesn’t believe in any of this modern technology rubbish and gives the swimmers the same few basic work outs on rotation with a firm focus on race pace speed every day.  He is an anti-hero, deeply flawed but passionate man.  He wants desperately for his swimmers to succeed even if he doesn’t always do the right things to make that happen.

It is such a page turner that you forget that this is not just a story but a depiction of real life. **spoiler alert** This makes is even more heart-breaking when not one of the swimmers get their fairy tale ending. Grote, after taking a year off med school injures his knee and can barely train. Wales falls victim to his old flaws of a too conservative first 50m and touched third in the 100m fly at the Olympic trials. He is not destined to follow in his fathers’ footsteps. The saddest of all in Tom Wilkens who after all the thousands of kms swum and all the stellar times posted, cracks under pressure at trials and fails to qualify for his favoured event the 400m IM. He does qualify for the 200m breaststroke and 200m IM in which after a race of epic determination he wins a bronze medal in Sydney.

We would both thoroughly recommend this book to everyone whether you are a fan of swimming or not.

You can buy Gold in the Water here:


Our favourite moments of the 2016 Rio Games

You wait four long years and then in the blink of an eye it is all over again (sob sob). We have loved watching the 2016 Rio Games. Here is a rundown of our favourite moments of the Games (in no particular order):


1. We might have had to set our alarms for 2.45am but it was worth it to watch Adam Peaty win Gold in the 100m breaststroke – absolutely smashing the world record along the way.

2. Even though Team Mermaids are both older siblings we kept our fingers crossed that younger brother Johnny would triumph over older brother Ali. Alas it was not to be but a 1, 2 finish for the Brownlee brothers was still epic.

3. Keri-Anne Payne’s commentary on the men’s 10km marathon swim. We have soft spot for Adrian Moorhouse and Andy Jamieson but it was amateur hour before KAP arrived. The BBC has to give that girl a job.

4. Usain Bolt just generally being Usain Bolt.

5. Lochte and fellow swimmers being held up at gun point aka #lochtegate. Who knows what really happened but you can always rely on Lochte to get into some sort of a scrape!

6. Mo falling and then GETTING UP to storm to victory in the 10,000m on the track.

7. Jess winning silver in the heptathlon. We know from personal experience how hard it is to come back from having a baby. While silver might not have been the colour she wanted we think she did amazing.

8. Keri-Anne Payne replying to our tweet #girlcrush #bffs4eva

9. Watching Simone Biles perform just about anything.

10. Our total avoidance of ALL social media for nearly 12 hours after the Phelps vs Lochte 200 IM showdown so we could watch it together. Not constantly checking FB, twitter and Instagram is hard.

11. A three way tie for second place!! Who would have thought it? Exciting times. Nothing, however, could rival the bromance of Phelps, Chad and Laszlo Cseh as they stood holding hands on the podium as they received their joint Silver for the 100m fly.

12. Nick Skelton’s gold. As Dara Torres says: age is just a number.

Man vs Ocean – Adam Walker


I (Manda) can’t remember when I first heard about the ‘Ocean’s Seven‘ challenge but I remember meeting my first Ocean Seven’r in NYC as we had none other than Darren Miller as our observer for our Manhattan swim in 2012. Darren told us stories about his swims and it inspired me but scared me in equal measure.

Adam Walker first appeared in mainstream media thanks to his dolphin encounter in the Cook Strait (Clip of Adam swimming with Dolphins) but is well known in the open water world. He is the first British guy to complete the Ocean’s Seven so I was excited to hear that he had written a book about his swimming exploits as here at Team Mermaids we love a good sports read.

I thought I was going to have a lovely time reading the book on maternity leave before my baby arrived but moving when you are 38 weeks pregnant (not recommended) meant that didn’t happen and I was only about 20 pages in when my son arrived.

After he arrived I admitted defeat, downloaded kindle for my phone and I started reading again in those rare quiet moments with a new born.

The book is great and clearly describes the challenges Adam faced on each swim. No swim was the same and each presented a unique story and challenge, which is why they are part of the Ocean’s Seven.

“Achieving the Oceans Seven requires an ability to swim in both very cold and very warm seas. It also demands the swimmer is physically and mentally prepared to overcome every condition known to defeat open water swimmers, from strong currents to stiff winds. Like its mountaineering cousin, the Oceans Seven requires a tremendous amount of planning, time, financial resources and multi-national support teams of knowledgeable local experts. “

The challenges faced on the swims ranged from currents, tides, jet lag, jellies (not just the little stingers we had in Majorca but the deadly Portuguese man o war and lions mane!), water temperature, self doubt and Sh**ks.  One of these things would be enough to make you give up and go home but Adam faced multiples of these on each of the swims.

The seven swims are:

  • English Channel

The world’s most famous channel crossing with nearly 1,000 successful swimmers to date, but thousands of failed attempts due to strong currents and tidal flows, strong winds and whitecaps caused by changing conditions and hypothermia.

  • Gibraltar Straits (Adam did 2 way)

Its boundaries were known in antiquity as the Pillars of Herculesand its currents remain of Herculean strength. Combined with theunpredictability of the water and high winds, only 185 successful one-waycrossings and 7 double-crossings have been made to date

  • North channel

Considered to be the most difficult channel swim in the world with the water temperature 54ºF (12ºC), normally overcast days, and tremendous difficulty in accurately predicting weather and water conditions. Swimmers face large pods of jellyfish if conditions are calm.

  • Cook strait

1 in 6 swimmers encounter sharks on their crossings. Sharks only come around to be nosey. No one has ever been attacked during a swim.Both sides of the strait have rock cliffs. Swimmers must overcome cold water(14ºC-19ºC or 57ºC-66ºF) over 26 kilometers in heavy chop.

  • Molokai Channel

Extremely large rolling swells, strong winds and tropical heat and very warm salty water offset the incredibly beautiful views of the Hawaiian Islands and deep-blue underwater scenery.

  • Catalina Channel

A deep-water channel that is comparable to the English Channel in terms of water conditions, difficulty, distance and the physical and mental challenges to the swimmer, although the water temperature is a bit warmer(mid-60°F water). Marine life are seen on occasion, including migratingwhales and large pods of dolphins.

  • Tsugaru Strait

An international waterway, 19.5K (12 miles) at its narrowest point. Swimmers must cross an extremely strong current between the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean, large swells and abundant marine life ranging from sharks to deadly sea snakes. English and other western languages are not spoken in area. Water can be between 62-68ºF (16-20ºC)

Overall the book is an entertaining easy read for everyone. Even if you aren’t an open water swimmer you will still be enthralled by his tales and potentially inspired to do your own as was Adam by the movie that gave him the original idea to swim the channel ‘on a clear day’. Team Mermaids movie night anyone?

Ps I still won’t be doing Catalina!


*Text in italics from: http://www.openwaterswimming.com/community/oceans-seven/

Shelley Taylor-Smith: Dangerous when wet

I (Manda) heard about Shelley Taylor-Smith from Paul Newsome (of swim smooth fame) when he referred to her as his mentor in the run up to his Manhattan Marathon swim, which he won. It wasn’t for a year or 2 later that I got wind of her book and promptly tracked a copy of it down.


Whereas the book tells the story of Shelley’s life up to 1994, her swimming career kicked off in earnest after she was awarded a scholarship to the university of Arkansas in 1982, so the majority of the book is about her dominance in marathon swimming from then.

I loved this book. There was a lot of things I could relate to whether it being places where I have swum, the love you get from the guys when you beat them or the feeling of getting stronger the longer the swim but there was a 20 year gap between the book being written in 1995 and me reading it in 2015. So 20 years later, have things really changed that much in Woman’s marathon swimming?

Things that have changed since:

· Marathon swimming is now an Olympic event

Shelley mentions her desire for marathon swimming to be in the Olympics.  Shelley believed the media coverage her swimming was gathering would only help get marathon swimming in the Olympic programme. I think she was hoping that it would be a 25km or longer event in the Olympics but I hope she is happy with the 10km being there instead (even if we still haven’t got the 1500m for women yet…..what’s that about?!)

· Water quality in New York has improved… we think!

Shelley had to contend with condoms and dead rats during her multiple Manhattan swims and in 1984 Karen Hartley swam past a dead body. Fortunately during our 2012 Manhattan swim we didn’t seen anything like that, the threat of the east river monster was enough for me to handle.

· Men and Women’s now have separate world rankings

At one point in 1991 Shelley was the best in 25km combined world rankings. Not just best female, THE BEST SWIMMER. Shortly after they decided to split the rankings. Evidently the boys just couldn’t handle being chicked. Grow some lads…Grow some.

· Equal prize money for men and woman

Despite beating the men outright she would normally receive a smaller prize. Some races did offer a large prize for the “outright” winner but evidently they weren’t expecting Shelley to turn up and whoop ALL the boys butts, even if she occasionally did! As the swimmer’s representative at the International Marathon Swimming Association she fought for the equality in pay that we are now have.  FINA offer equal prize money in both the openwater world cup series (10kms) and the grand prix series (>10km).

Things that haven’t changed since:

· The water quality in Rio is poor

With RIO 2016 fast approaching there are still concerns about the water quality. Shelley when swimming there in the 90s got dysentery and this seemed to be a theme of any south American swim she raced in. She ended up in being horrendously sick 3 times after racing in Argentina and therefore, vowed never to return until they improved the water quality. Kerri-Anne Payne, the British 2016 10km swim hopeful, did a test event in Rio in August 2015 and supposedly no swimmers were sick post the race so hopefully the concerns re water quality won’t be founded.

· Marathon swimming can be more mental than physical

Yes you obviously can’t swim for hours and hours without being fit and lots of training but without the mental strength you aren’t going anywhere, let alone anywhere fast, long and cold. Shelley puts her mental strength down to being a woman and the pain she learnt to endure through years of back problems. She suffered from a childhood back problem that meant she was in a brace for 2000+ days, as well as multiple car crashes and temporary lower body paralysis from excessive training.

· Jellyfish are horrid

Shelley worked with her sports psychologist before her 25km world championship win to be able to deal with the excessive jellyfish. He managed to get her to think that the jellyfish were her friends and that the stinging was them kissing her. I am not sure what she thought was happening when she bit into one during the race.

Michael Phelps: No limits

I (Katie) recently read Michael Phelps biography which he wrote after winning an unprecedented 8 gold medals at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. This is another one which Manda lent me sometime ago that has been sat on the bookshelf for a while. I am really glad that I finally got round to reading it though. While the book is not as engaging, varied or as well written as some of the other swimming biographies out there it is an really interesting insight into the life and psyche of the greatest ever Olympian.

The book tells the story of the eight Beijing races interspersed with narrative of Phelps’ early life and how he went about preparing for the 2008 Olympics. Of course I knew all of the stats about how many medals Michael had won but reading the book gave me a new appreciation for the enormity of the achievement and the dedication required to get there. Critics who say that it is easier to win a lot of medals in swimming should try swimming 200m free, 200m butterfly, 400m IM etc and being the world best at them.

I won’t recount all of Phelps’ story here as if you want that you should read the book! I will set out a couple of bits that I found really interesting though.

Phelps trains every day! Wow most swimmers have a rest day every week to allow their body to recover but Michael believes that he can be 1/7th better by training every day and this approach clearly works for him! It is interesting though as for a lot of swimmers I think less is actually more and they perform better for a bit of mental and physical downtime.

Bob Bowman, Phelps’ coach, is the architect of Phelps’ success. Everyone has a different relationship with their coach but Bob is really a second father to Michael. He has coached him from when he was a kid with ADHD and Michael clearly trusts him implicitly. Part of all those gold medals belong to him.

You would have thought that nutrition would be one of the keys to success but not the way Phelps’ tells it. There seems to be a lot of breakfast burritos consumed!

Speedo gave Phelps a $1 million bonus for beating Mark Spitz’s record of 7 gold medals at one games which Michael donated to charity. I’m sure this was well publicised at the time but I had not heard this before. As an executive compensation consultant the idea of incentive pay in swimming was very interesting to me. Was it the $1 million that inspired Phelps? I very very much doubt it – he was motivated to win regardless.

The book talks about Phelps’ conviction for drink driving in 2004 after the Athens games. He talks how he feel like he let everyone, especially Bob down. In 2014 Phelps was charged again with drink driving in 2014 and ordered to spend 45 days in a treatment facility. There is clearly a side of Michael’s life which understandably isn’t discussed in the book.

As I mentioned above the book was written after the 2008 Games but this clearly is not the end of Michael story. He competed at the London 2012 Games winning four gold medals and two silvers. This took his Olympic medal haul to a record 18 golds, 2 silvers and 2 bronzes. After London Phelps retired. Once a swimmer always a swimmer though as Phelps is currently staging a come back. In August 2015 he competed in the U.S. nationals while the world champs were on in Kazan, Russia. Michael won the 200m fly in 1.52.94. This is his fastest time since he set the world record in one of the shiny suits and would have won him the 2015 world title by a mile (Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh took the title in 1.53.48). The 2016 Rio Games are going to be fun to watch!

Sean Conway: Hell and High Water

Both Katie and I have just finished reading Sean Conway’s ‘Hell and High Water’. The book has caused much debate between the extended mermaid gang and Katie and I have exchanged numerous whatsapp messages as the tale unfolded while we were reading.

Hell and High Water tells of Sean’s attempt to become the first person to swim the length of Britain. Sean talks of how he was frustrated with his ‘regular’ life and turned to extreme adventures instead. His attempt to cycle across America had been cut short when he was hit by a vehicle and therefore he was looking for a new challenge. Sean had swum regularly as a kid in Zimbabwe but was not an experienced open water swimmer as an adult.

The book starts by talking about preparation and funding with many amusing tales – buying a boat from eBay, his friend quitting his job to skipper for him to name a couple. The main part of the book though is focused on the actual swim itself. Sean starts from Lands End in June 2013 swimming north to John O’Groats via the east coast of Ireland. He initially anticipated that the swim would take something like 90 days but it ended up taking 135 days with Sean eventually completing the challenge on 11 November 2013.

There is no doubt what Sean achieved is an absolutely amazing accomplishment. He swam 1,400km in total often swimming for several hours each day. Swimming in the sea adds an extra dimension. Battling the waves is extremely tiring but you get a boost from the tide. Sean also raised thousands of pounds for War Child his chosen charity. He should be celebrated for all these achievements.

Notwithstanding all of this, reading the book is kind of frustrating. Sean approaches the swim in a pretty haphazard way. He admits that due to focusing so much on raising money to do the swim he hasn’t really trained that much and he hadn’t even tried on his wetsuit. His original plan was to swim around the coast of Wales but he then changes his mind and swims up the coast of Ireland. This decision turns out to have pitfalls as progress is slow and before they cross back to England/Scotland his skipper leaves the swim to return to work leaving Sean effectively stranded in Ireland for weeks until they luckily find a new skipper.

Without wanting to sound like the start of a year 8’s 500 word essay titled ‘what is adventure’, the English dictionary defines adventure as “an unusual and exciting or daring experience”. Now the world is discovered and technology is only progressing, adventure and adventurers have taken on different methods of ensuring what they are doing is exciting, unusual and daring. On reading the book I couldn’t help feeling that Sean partly misses the beauty of adventure in its purest state by being distracted by the ‘adventure’ being created from the poor preparation. When the excitement in the adventure is possibly from being in silly situations rather than discovering new things, you lose the beauty.

What Sean did was a great achievement, there is no denying that, so Chapeau Sean, Chapeau. However, I wonder how much better it would have been for him with just a little bit more consideration for what lay ahead.

Sean previously had cycled from Lands End to John o’Groats. Following the swim he decided to also run the route and therefore is the first person to complete a length of Britain triathlon!