Conor Pope: ‘I’ll swim a mile, and it won’t kill me’

Water can kill you especially if you cannot swim: that's just one of the many reasons to learn how to swim a mile as soon as possible

Conor Pope: ‘I’ll swim a mile, and it won’t kill me’  

I have never trusted swimming. Unlike most forms of exercise and beach or poolside activities, when you are swimming you have to spend a lot of time in something that can quite handily kill you. And that has never seemed entirely wise to me.

While I did not grow up with a fear of water, I did grow up with parents who had a healthy distrust of the stuff and, as a result, swimming was never high on the family agenda on those incredibly rare days when our weather permitted us to go to a beach.

And even when we were at the beach – and had allowed the requisite hour to pass after eating our sand-coated sandwiches and red lemonade – the siren call of the Baltic-like water off our western shores was never too loud or too enticing for the child me.

So, I only really learned to swim in my 20s when I started going on foreign holidays and could see a point to the endeavour.


Well, I say, “learned to swim” but what I actually mean is I learned not to die while never straying out of my depth. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I actually took lessons and learned to swim a few strokes. A very, very, few strokes.

Now, with a whole lot of desperately inelegant flailing, I can crawl from one end of a 25-metre pool to the other. If I rely instead on the breast stroke, I can probably manage two lengths but my pace is best described as funereal. I even did the butterfly once. I think the water is still lodged in my brain.

This is why I can’t actually believe I have accepted the challenge to swim a mile. What was I thinking?

Profoundly stupid

On more than one level it seems like a profoundly stupid thing to have done. And there is this loud voice in my head telling me I have set myself up for failure. And that will be mortifying.

But there is a quieter voice there too. And it is telling me that I might be able to do it. I might actually be able to learn how to swim strongly enough to cover more than 30 lengths of a 50-metre pool.

And if that quiet voice is right, I am pretty sure, my life will change for the better.

If I were a strong swimmer, I would be more confident in the water and about crossing the water on big and little boats. And I would have more faith in my ability to come to the aid of my still-small children should they ever need my help when they are swimming.

Although, to be honest, it is more likely they would come to my aid for despite their tender years they are wonderfully strong swimmers. And they are utterly fearless in the water. It is how I want to be.

There is something else too. I agreed to do a Lifestyle Sports running challenge recently.

It was a natty idea, I thought.

People were encouraged to download a running app and then compete against each other to cover the longest distance over four weeks. I started sprightly enough and ran about 15 miles in the first 10 days.

I loved it. My knees hated it. And they have been screaming at me ever since I started running.

If I could swim properly, my knees would never shout at me again and I would be able to use it as a form of exercise, a proper form of exercise that would be a whole lot less harsh on my ageing limbs and joints.

I could be one of those ageless, fearless people who is happy to swim off the Forty Foot 365 days a year. I could do triathlons. And I could swim out of my depth in the sea.

But first I have to swim my first mile. And my first mile is going to be the hardest mile.

Dominique McMullan: ‘I was quite allergic to the idea of excess moving’  

You would never describe me as an exercise buff, and yet here I am about to embark on 12 weeks of training culminating in swimming a mile.

Until about a year ago I was quite allergic to the idea of excess moving about. In school, I famously dodged PE classes, racking up an impressive portfolio of “off games” notes. Swimming was a whole other level. I estimate that in transition year, I actually swam in about two swimming classes. The combination of exercise and exposing my teenage body was, quite frankly, terrifying, and I would do or say anything to dodge it (sorry, Ms Greene). Along these lines I didn’t play school hockey or netball, and after school I continued with my dogged and successful exercise circumvention regime.

Then, one day, quite out of the blue, I decided to make some changes. It wasn’t a lightbulb moment or anything, and I am not a reformed sports and health nut. Really I just stopped going out so much, and stopped ordering takeaways and sitting on the couch. Instead I went for walks, cooked more and started going to classes such as Pilates, yoga and ballet barre. Amazingly, the sky didn’t fall in.

In January I took the health regime one step further and quit my “light smoking habit”. It has been 25 days since my last cigarette.

So there you have it. Here I am, a reformed couch potato, taking my first tentative steps into the world of physical exertion by embarking on the Swim for a Mile challenge. Trust me when I say that if I can do it, so can you. Over the next 12 weeks I’ll be filling you in on how I am getting on, and hopefully we can all get really fit – and not drown – together.

My first piece of advice before the course starts? Go and treat yourself to a nice swimsuit and sign up to a gym with a pool. I went to Lifestyle Sports yesterday and bought myself some fancy togs , a swim hat, and goggles. Look at me now, Ms Greene.