‘The last time I swam it involved an Atlantic rescue, but it’s time to get back ... in with a bump’

Running coach Mary Jennings wonders if her lack of swimming is like your running

‘I am running less these days as I await the arrival of our first baby. It’s the perfect time to get into the pool and swim for relaxation, flexibility and maintaining fitness.’ Photograph: iStockphoto

‘I am running less these days as I await the arrival of our first baby. It’s the perfect time to get into the pool and swim for relaxation, flexibility and maintaining fitness.’ Photograph: iStockphoto

 

It’s time to practise what I preach. For the past 15 years swimming has featured at the top of my new year’s resolution lists. I truly want to be one of those people who glide through a pool effortlessly and jump off a boat with a sense of freedom rather than fear. I’m no closer to that goal than I was in 2001. I’m still jealous of all swimmers, from the Olympic divers to the Christmas Day swimmers in the Irish Sea.

In theory, there is no reason why I cannot become a comfortable swimmer. When I am older I would love to be one of those healthy older women who take a dip in the sea to start their day. What hope have I of becoming that woman if I currently make every excuse under the sun to avoid swimming in a heated indoor pool close to where I live?

It’s entirely my choice to choose to fill my time with other tasks ahead of swimming and I do so all the time.

I have gone through phases of getting close to becoming a comfortable swimmer. I have dabbled in lessons, read books and joined numerous swimming pools. Seven years ago I even managed a few sprint triathlons, but quickly reverted back to square one following a sea rescue at my last triathlon. It took a long time to put on a swimming costume after that.

Enough time has passed now since that memorable day in the Atlantic for me to get back in the pool. I don’t need to aim for any great distances, events or records but I really want to be able to enjoy swimming and feel relaxed, strong and comfortable in the pool. I want from swimming what I currently get from running – a sense of freedom, head space and energy.

The coach’s insight

From coaching runners for so long, I realise that most of the excuses my students use for skipping runs are the same ones that I use to avoid the swimming pool. Even today, I have talked myself out of going back to the pool using the writing of this piece as my reason to defer until tomorrow. I’m not accountable to anyone.

If I don’t learn to swim properly, no one else will suffer. There are always other tasks that are more pressing. I teach running classes every evening and turn up without fail as people are depending on me to be there. No one is depending on me to be in the swimming pool this morning, so I do something else instead. It’s no wonder that 15 years later I’m still feeling guilty and jealous of other swimmers.

Fear of starting out

It’s easy to be motivated to do the things you know you can do. When a task seems so overwhelming that you don’t know where to start, it’s easy to postpone indefinitely.

For years I have seen the same issue with beginner and lapsed runners. Becoming a comfortable runner doesn’t happen overnight. You have to break it down into small steps with run/walk breaks and a slow pace. This helps build confidence and fitness at the same time and gradually we start to see progress.

That’s what I now need to do with my swimming. I need to make my goal so easy that I cannot fail.

The guilty inbox

For the past two months I have been receiving the weekly Get Swimming emails in my inbox. It’s a wonderful programme and I know I should have started it months ago, but somehow it has never happened. I briefly look at emails and videos and then just as quickly disregard them, filing for future reference.

I know the content of the Get Swimming sessions may be a little too advanced for me at the moment, but the emails give me at least one weekly nudge in the right direction of the pool.

What’s your excuse?

Maybe my swimming is your running. Do you look at other runners with that jealous look that I have when I see effortless swimmers? I wonder how many of you signed up to the Get Running weekly emails but never did any more than glance over them.

If you have the emails on file for the future, it’s time to start doing more than just collecting them.

The Get Running programme starts you off running from the place I am with my swimming. It aims to get you out the door and build your fitness and confidence gradually.

Redefining success

There is no point setting ourselves up for failure. There is no point comparing myself to those doing triathlons and open water events. As a new runner, you should not compare yourself to anyone else either. Success for me will be turning up to the pool three times a week for the next month and completing a few slow lengths.

I can then start to set goals, increase distance and focus on technique. Keeping it simple and achievable in the beginning is what will work. Getting out the door is often mentioned as the hardest step for a runner and most people will agree.

Action plan

Having just packed my swimming bag and put it beside the front door for tomorrow morning, it’s all starting again. This time I’m going to stick to it and try all my running motivation tricks to stay on track.

I will start a swimming diary, find a swimming buddy and maybe even a coach to point me in the right direction. I will make it part of my calendar and do it early in the day rather than putting it off until evening, having had the whole day to invent excuses. I will set my expectations low, starting with the aim of getting into the pool.

The number of lengths I complete right now is not important. Success will be turning up. I offer the same motivation tips to runners every day and know they work. For now, I need to practise what I preach.

Finding a reason

I have added motivation now. I am running less these days as I await the arrival of our first baby in August. It’s the perfect time to get into the pool and swim for relaxation, flexibility and maintaining fitness. I also realise if I don’t get into the pool now, it’s highly unlikely I will prioritise my swimming again.

We all need motivation and a reason to get fit and active but it doesn’t have to be to win a race or get a medal. It doesn’t need to even be fitness-driven. I would like to be able to teach our child to swim rather than be fearful every time he/she approaches water.

Think about what your reason might be to get motivated and moving this summer and let that drive your deadline.

Join me this summer

Apply the same routine to your running as I am to my swimming. Let’s aim to get out the door first and then for a while just do what feels comfortable. The body gradually adapts to running and starts to enjoy it. It becomes easier, less intimidating and more comfortable. I’m just hoping the same logic applies in the swimming pool. There is only one way to find out.

Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie. Mary trains beginners and marathoners and everyone in between. Mary is also the creator of all The Irish Times Get Running programmes.

To Get Running, visit irishtimes.com/getrunning

To Get Swimming, visit irishtimes.com/getswimming

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