Swimming Against the Tide

I don’t think it’s a great secret that, out of the three triathlon disciplines, I have most trouble with swimming.

I have come to dread Monday evenings, when the arrival of the babysitter initiates a mad flurry of kit bags, towels, bottles of electrolytic drinks and car keys.  Ten minutes of smooth, confident swimming followed by fifty minutes of panicked thrashing, then ten minutes of standing in the cold, with everyone else in the club finishing at the same time, waiting for a free shower.

Last week, still riding the high of Friday’s 10k run.  I could do anything!  Set a PB at next Saturday’s 10k; finish the Prudential Ride London Surrey 100; swim 100m without stopping to get my breath back at each end of the pool!  Even high (no drugs involved) my goals are modest and achievable – apart from the last one, evidently.

After a quick comfort break around forty minutes in to the session I found I just couldn’t face getting back into the pool.  Chatting things through with the coach after the session she suggested that my technique is good, but if that’s the case, why am I still so slow and exhausted all the time?  She suggested that, before I take the decision to give up on swimming, I should make arrangements so that for a month I go to both the Monday and Wednesday swim sessions run by the club.  I would notice the difference.  She also suggested I go swimming at a normal time too, so I could compare myself with “normal” swimmers rather than a group of triathletes.

I’m thinking it wouldn’t be fair on myself to give up swimming without giving the best shot I can so, after discussing it at length with my boyfriend, we agreed this is what I would do.

So last night I found myself at the open air Hampton pool, shivering my way across the paving slabs to the mercifully (if erratically) heated water.  While the pool doesn’t look substantially bigger from my vantage point, hanging onto the edge, fiddling with the lap timer on my Pebble smart watch, its 33m (over Monday’s Kingfisher pool at 25m) becomes painfully evident at around 26m into each length.

So, how did I do?

There were five of us in the slow lane, four men and me.  The whole evening was sparsely populated due to a sunny overseas Ironman, understandably popular with the club members, so there was plenty of space in our double-width lane (I guess they think us less competent swimmers need the extra space for flailing around).  The lengths were long but the taskmaster was understanding and lenient (or possibly just distracted by being the only coach across all five (maybe six?) lanes.  There were various elements of warm up at different levels of exertion (“don’t try to swim faster, just put in more effort; push harder and longer”), then into the main set.

Pairs of 100m sets, so we always finished at the same end of the pool.  First two sets were one length fast; one length easy; one length fast.  Repeat.  The next set was the one which crippled me; fins on!  Two thirds of a length of sideways drills (twelve kicks on one side, swap sides, twelve kicks on the other side) followed by a cry of pain, removal of fins and vague flapping to the side of the pool and creeping back to the end where the coach was.

I managed to get through the rest of the evening, although my usual poor (according to me) techniques was further compromised.

Saying that, I do remember one of the lengths near to the end, when we were doing half a length of sideways drills (no fins) followed by the rest of the way swimming normally.  I was doing OK with the sideways drill, in fact by this point of the evening the men were all indicating for me to go first, as I seemed to be the fastest swimmer in the lane (!!!) then I reached the halfway mark, switched to a full front crawl and powered my way through the water, feeling the thrill of unexpected speed in a hostile environment; the rush of muscles doing exactly what they are supposed to.  The next length was a little anticlimactic.  The following one I got cramp.

This is so nearly the end of the post except for one thing.  Normally I spend the drive home from swimming sneezing, my body rejecting the chlorine which has found its way into my stomach; lungs and skin, but the water in the Hampton pool is saline.  I spent the drive home feeling worn and tired but not one sneeze!

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