I have always hated swimming. I think it has always stemmed from a mild fear of being submerged in water, that feeling of never quite being comfortable or in control. I am good at windsurfing, used to race in dinghy sailing and am a (very) average surfer, but have never been keen on anything that goes below the surface, and hence swimming, that most basic of life skills has always alluded me. It may also have been due to the fact that when I have tried to swim I have always been absolutely terrible at it, and therefore conform to the (male I think) stereotype that if I am shit at something then I don’t bother with it!
So inspired by the Leeds ITU World Triathlon event I decided to do something about this, and set myself a challenge of learning front crawl. We also had a holiday on the greek islands coming up, and with my wife Becky pregnant and swimming an ideal activity to do together it seemed like the perfect opportunity to quit my “can’t swim won’t swim” attitude.
So I embraced the idea and two weeks before our holiday I went for a couple of 20 to 30 minute indoor pool swims where I would maybe cover 200 to 400m in total. I adopted some of the principles of the successful “Couch 2 5k” running programme whereby I would swim for 25m then rest, then swim 25m and rest again, and gradually build it slowly from there. Even 25m can feel a really long way when you have never swum front crawl before, so the edge of the pool comes as a really welcome relief when you have managed even just one length! Clearly breathing is one of the key elements of front crawl, and the ability to relax (or at least not panic quite as much as I used to!) was key to me, and once you persevere you start to get the hang of it.
Key to my enjoyment was getting some decent equipment, and by that I mean goggles that actually work.
After a couple of sessions with an old hand me down pair that a). I couldn’t see in and b). made me look like I had been punched in the face continually for 12 rounds by Floyd Mayweather (which is not a great look when you have to go to work afterwards) I invested in a £20 pair from wiggle. This made a huge difference to my confidence and its the same analogy I would use in running- if you wear a pair of road shoes or speedcross to do a fell race you are never going to enjoy it, you are going to slip and you are going to lack confidence to run quickly. You really do need to invest in that pair of Inov-8 x-talons instead…….
Swimming in Greece was a joy, and after each day Becky and I both felt more confident to swim further and for longer, even round a couple of bays and headlands, something inconceivable to me in my “non-swimming” days (aka 2 weeks prior!). The salt water helps your buoyancy, much in the same way a swimming wetsuit might aid you in an open water swim in fresh water. Obviously the warm water and air temperature wasn’t bad either!
Far from a swimming holiday romance, on returning to the UK I have kept up the pool swims, taken a dip in the River Wharfe, and an open water swim at Pugneys lake (1500m in 33 mins, which I am told is not too shabby). After another month long injury has kept me out of running (yes I know, it is becoming an unwelcome habit this year), swimming has given me a nice focus whilst I recover. But moreover I never really thought swimming could be this much fun, and I am glad it is something I have finally embraced.
If anyone has any suggestions for some good off road triathlons I should enter, I am all ears!