Get Swimming Week 1: Our diarists dip their toes in the water
Dominique McMullan: ‘Waltzing in water’
I allow my first swimming session to be a toe-dipping experience. Sitting in the water at the side of the pool, I notice all the other swimmers look fantastically professional with nose clips, rubber heads and glidey limbs. I, on the other hand, feel like a newborn brick. After some time the lanes clear and I take to the water.
I manage one and three-quarter lengths of front crawl before taking a chlorinated gurgling break. I do another six lengths and go for a worried steam. Not a great start.
On my second session I return with renewed vigour after meeting Killian Byrne, a former Operation Transformation leader who completed the Swim For A Mile challenge last year. Week one, session one of the training plan calls for 24 lengths of my 20-metre pool.
I am more than a little intimidated. One thing I learnt on my first excursion was that I needed the very sexy item, “ear putty”, and, strangely, that seems to make all the difference. By taking lots and lots (and lots) of breaks, I manage the full 24, although I feel like I have swallowed and inhaled about a gallon of pool water. I go home to Google “nose putty”. Full disclosure: the plan specified that four of the lengths should be back crawl, I did six. Back crawl is not only easier, but far more enjoyable on the water-in-the-face scale.
At the end of the week I meet my new swimming coach, Peter Conway. Things are starting to look up. I learn that by counting out a waltzing “1-2-2”, in my head, my swimming improves.
I also learn that I need to trust the fact that I’m not going to swim into the wall, and keep my head down. Amazingly, I’m looking forward to practising my new technique at my next swim.
Conor Pope: ‘I can’t shake the panic’
Day one teaches me there is quite a difference between saying “I can swim a few lengths” and, you, know, actually swimming a few lengths.
First off, I forget my goggles. Well, to tell the truth, I don’t own any goggles, so what I really mean is I get into the pool and get ready to swim all my lengths – I expect to do 10 handily enough – without any goggles. This, it turns out, is kind of stupid.
As I flail about blindly in the water, one of the staff in my gym takes pity on me and offers to lend me a pair. Being able to see makes things better, but being able to breathe would make things better still.
My front crawl is appalling. I manage about six strokes before my lungs empty. I try again. I manage another six strokes.
Swimming 25 metres or one length of the pool takes me about three minutes. I am supposed to be able to swim 68 lengths. At this pace, it will take me three and a half hours, by which time if I haven’t drowned, the hypothermia will get me.
Day two is slightly better but only because I have discovered a pull buoy. It is a foam float in a vague figure of eight shape which I keep firmly between my legs as I swim.
While not being able to use your legs may appear to make the whole swimming enterprise harder, it is actually an advantage as you can concentrate on the arms.
I manage a couple of lengths – well, okay, just the one – but I can’t shake the panic. On the third day, I get into the pool seconds before the pool attendant tells me it is closing for the day, so that is a complete write-off.
It is only on my fourth time in the water that something good happens. And that something is called Peter. He’s the swimming instructor, and he quickly identifies my problems.
I just wish there weren’t so many of them.