Get Swimming, Week 2: Baby it’s cold outside ... and inside

Apparently learning to swim is like learning to drive. Whatever you say, coach

 

It's week two for our swimmers who are following Get Swimming with the goal of Swim Ireland's Swim for a mile in April. This week, Orna Mulcahy and Malachy Clerkin tell us about their progress.

Orna (still practising) Mulcahy

Week 2 and it’s cold outside. And inside. There’s a problem with the pool heating, coach Peter Conway tells us cheerfully while ushering us into the water from the sidelines.

It’s busy. All the lanes are occupied by what look to be powerful swimmers and I doubt all over again that I can do this. But, on the plus side, I put in some practice over the weekend and invested in a new set of goggles. It’s time to focus on the positive. This is a great opportunity – swimming lessons from a professional coach, someone who has trained with Olympic swimmers. Someone who’s already taught me more in a week than I’ve managed to learn in a lifetime, who recognises my bad habits and assures me they’re reversible. It’s a gift.

So I need to get over myself and start enjoying it. But first I have to get in. The pool water is bloody cold and that’s the least of it. We did so well last week, getting our breathing sorted, now it’s time to work on our stroke style, not forgetting the one-two-three-one-two- three dance-type rhythm that Peter wants us to follow as we kick.

He is asking for long, even strokes, one arm reaching forward, then staying in front until the other arm comes up. Sounds easy but not for the couple of us who favour the thrashing method or basically any old style just to get the length done.

Now we have to start slowing everything down. It’s like learning to drive, he says. At the beginning you cannot believe that you will ever be able to look in the mirror, indicate, move away from the kerb, drive on and change gears all at the same time. But it will all fall into place soon, he says. In a few weeks we will be facing completely different challenges and marvelling at ourselves for finding these early lessons difficult. Hmm ... if you say so Peter.

So we practise and practise, and the reward is a few lengths on our backs, kicking like mad. This is good, but I worry about bashing my head at each end. One day, just maybe, I might get the hang of reversing under water and setting off in the opposite direction. It’s one thing I could learn, once I stop coughing, spluttering and swallowing water.

Malachy (I’m not fit) Clerkin

There is something very disconcerting about being a couple of weeks into learning how to swim a mile and knowing you were a better swimmer before all this started. Okay, so I was doing it wrong before, I accept that. But it got me up and down the pool the odd time. Learning the right way is just getting me down.

“I can see this is frustrating you,” says Peter the Coach. Oh really? And what gave it away? Was it the bit where half the deep end came out my right nostril? Or the bit where I actually started punching the water?

My problem is that I’m trying to process too many things at the one time. Three kicks per stroke. Three strokes per breath. Keep your rhythm. Hold your breath before blowing it out. Glide. Remember to phone your mam. Get milk on the way home. Start a band. Lead an uprising in Burkina Faso. Glug, glug, glug.

When I do manage to put it all together and finish out a length, I realise there’s another problem. I’m not actually fit in any way. It’s one thing to be able to put all the pieces together, it’s something else entirely to be aerobically capable of doing it over and over again.

For some reason, this never occurred to me before.

That’s right. It hadn’t crossed my mind that a couple of years of no exercise beyond the occasional game of five-a-side might not be the ideal physical preparation for swimming 64 lengths of the pool. Yes, I am a sports journalist. A nostril full of chlorine is the least I deserve.

Sign up to our 12-week Get Swimming programme, in association with Swim Ireland, at irishtimes.com/getswimming

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