Get Swimming, week 7: ‘Lying on the bottom of a pool is a pleasure everyone should try’

‘The trick is to note the lack of air without getting into a blind panic’

Irish Times swimmer Laurence Mackin is (slowly) getting closer to the one-mile goal.Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Irish Times swimmer Laurence Mackin is (slowly) getting closer to the one-mile goal.Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Laurence (waiting for magic) Mackin

It’s been a month of lessons and practise, and one of my core issues is still breathing (it’s the water you see; it tends to get in the way). When there is a blip in the flow I have a tendency to lift my head out of the water, which has the effect of lowering an anchor. To deal with this, we try a few exercises that are deeply useful (not too deep, mind).

The first is to simply get under the water while breathing out. Staying upright, allow yourself to sink to the deep end while breathing out the air in your lungs. Keep your head looking straight ahead and you’ll sink more smoothly. Then you have a moment when you realise you need more air. The trick is to acknowledge it, accept it, but not react to it immediately. If you can hold position under the water in a calm manner, it lets your brain know that, despite all indications, death is not imminent. It will calm your mind down and hopefully make your regular breathing mid-stroke that bit easier.

Another exercise involves lying flat on the water in the shallow end, breathing out again, and allowing yourself to sink to the bottom. Again, you are trying to note the lack of air without getting into a blind panic about it. Lying on the bottom of a pool is an unusual pleasure that everyone should try a few times.

It’s advisable to do these exercises with a friend in the pool. This is partly in case you get into trouble (you won’t), but more for the lifeguard, who won’t have to leap into action when she notices a person, alone, at the bottom of the pool.

Elsewhere, the progress has been solid if not spectacular. I have yet to have a magical breakthrough moment where everything clicks and I’m suddenly as smooth as a dolphin in the water. In fact, I think this eureka moment will never come. Instead, there have been marked increases in different areas. The legs still forget to kick after half a length, but the stroke is powering ahead with much more purpose. I’ve managed to slow it down and stay afloat when the arms are tired, and lengths are coming easier now, rather than the lung-bursting escapades of early January.

The lengths are also adding up. Four weeks ago, I could barely manage 25 metres. Now I’m finishing several lengths on the (almost) hop, and the breaks between sections is getting shorter. A decent hour-long session in the pool sees me rack up about 25 lengths. It’s certainly not pool shattering, and is a long watery way off the 64-length mark of a mile, but for someone who couldn’t actually swim during the Feast of the Epiphany, it’s not a bad place to be.

Doing the entire mile without stopping is not within my reach by April, I reckon. But for the first time since starting the project, there is the remotest possibility that I might be able to at least finish the damn mile in one, break-filled session. I’ll take those odds.

Sign up to our Get Swimming course now at irishtimes.com/ getswimming. In association with Swim Ireland, we will have you swimming a mile in 12 weeks.

Need a goal event? Sign up for Swim Ireland’s Swim for a Mile in April. More: swimforamile.com

Send your swimming questions to fitness@irishtimes.com

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