(an open blog to thank Tom Williams…)It was the end of triathlon season 2009. People on Twitter started to talk about winter training. Darkness. Cold hours. The return to chlorine pools instead of open water lakes.And somehow, through some twitter chance, I happened upon an idea that would redefine my winter training fun.Tom Williams, a runner and a sub-10 hour ironman distance triathlete from the UK, was discussing the creation of a Twitter-based winter swim league. Tom Williams, as photographed by Helen Turton WilliamsWinterswim would be a league table in which anyone could participate, benchmarking their times against world records to set handicaps to enable the ranking of swimmers of all abilities against each other. Through dedicated training and bi-weekly challenges winterswim participants would be able to track their improvement and push themselves over the dark winter months when it can be so hard to stay motivated and to keep with the training.Now, I have my tri coach and have huge respect for him, the plans, and the way that the training we are doing is working for me. I was a little nervous about adding in something “off plan” into my training mix…But… Tom was creating a live training game (dare I call it a game?) to make heading into the pool fun. Even though the Twitter winter swim league was not on my training plan, I had to do it. Sometimes the sets fit in my training. Some weeks when we did 400s in Tuesday swimming and I was able to submit the same times to the winterswim league. Sometimes my intervals of 100s or 200s worked with the winter swimming challenge of the week. And sometimes the swims didn’t quite fit. But I did those swims anyway. I strayed from my training plan. And boy am I glad I did.Throughout the winter Tom tracked all of the winterswim times submitted to Twitter. He compiled a league table spreadsheet and made it available for download. He single handedly and without financial benefit administered a training and motivational tool for the good of the triathlon and swimming community (well – at least for the good of those of us who were lucky enough to catch the early tweets and the kick-off of the league).Tom, through winterswim, made the Twitter Triathlon community REAL. Without the winterswim challenge, I don’t think I would have had nearly the same fun banter on Twitter as I have had for the last four months.Without the winterswim challenge, I wouldn’t have boldly and comfortably headed up to Leeds to meet Helen and Tom, and Khara and Steve, to have dinner with “strangers” who in fact seemed like old friends. Such a bright spot in the midst of the seemingly neverending snow this winter – I look forward to heading “oop north” again soon – probably after the tri season. And without the winterswim challenge, I don’t know if I would have attempted my 3800m swim this weekend. 3800 meters – that is 2.4 miles – and it was the longest continuous swim I have ever done. An ironman distance swim. I shocked myself. After a winter of swimming it was totally do-able, a huge confidence builder, and I completed it in under 1 hour 30 minutes… Thank you Tom for creating winterswim. And Tom, even though you haven’t been able to benefit as much us due to your ongoing arm issues, you can be sure that all of us winterswimmers will be willing our arm strength to you on May 22nd as you attempt to conquer Ironman Lanzarote and claim that Kona slot. I know I am pulling for you in your last weeks of training – your last weeks to Kona. Note: You can read my report of my first ever 3800m winterswim and all of my takeaways on Dailymile.Another Note: You can also hear more from Tom on his podcast, MarathonTalk. Not just for marathoners! Or winterswimmers!