Orna (talkative) Mulcahy
“You know what your problem is? You talk too much.” I had known Sean for about 10 minutes but he got straight to the point. I do spend a lot of time hanging around the shallow end of the pool, asking questions and talking things through. My strategy is to do anything to delay having to snap on the goggles and swim.
I met Sean and his girlfriend in a leisure centre pool at the weekend. It was nice and empty – training heaven for me, apparently. But without our Swim Ireland coach Peter looming at the edge of the water and making big windmill movements with his arms, I tend to be aimless and lazy.
So I got talking. “It’s so hard,” I moaned, telling them about the Swim for a Mile challenge and expecting the usual chorus of approval. “Sure it’s nothing,” they said, having done it themselves last year. “You’ll be grand.”
For the next half hour we swam together and I picked up a few new tips. They didn’t like my pool posture – very stiff and splashy. “You have to roll from side to side,” said Sean. “Pretend there’s an eye in each hip and it wants to look up.” I latched on to that image and it actually did make a difference.
“Now, imagine you’re superman and you can stretch first one arm, then the next, like this,” he said lunging forward. I tried it, and that helped as well. “Slow down with the legs or you’ll get tired.” I managed a couple of lengths without the wild thrashing of legs and that helped too.
“Now do a few more of those,” says Sean, hopping out of the pool. They were late for drinks with friends. I stayed on and did a few more lengths. People say that, with swimming, one day it all just clicks into place and the crawl becomes second nature. Yeah right.
It’s still a flipping nightmare, but every week, with Peter pushing, it seems a bit more do-able. And now, with an eye in each hip, I’m moving with a bit more purpose.
Still, doing the maths is giving me nightmares.
Laurence (in limbo) Mackin
We are at a sort of halfway-impasse in this swimming carry on. I imagine this must be what limbo is like in the Catholic faith (they still have that, right?).
I can now say with a slight degree of certainty that I am a “swimmer”. Frankly, this is the height of what I expected. I can now move through water in a manner that requires little artificial assistance (other than coach Peter Conway shaking his head sadly at the side of the pool).
No one has died. Lessons have been learned. The stroke is a thing of function. The legs kick in a manner that is almost accurate. I am racking up the lengths. The breathing is still a battle.
It has been like this for quite some time. Now that I have the basics in place, we are in the drudgery of simply putting in the hours. Each session sees us add on a few more lengths as we try to add up to the magical figure of 64 (a mile). So far Coach Peter has been a model of encouragement. Each week he waves another inventive carrot in front of us (“This is a proper swim training drill”; “That stroke looks beautiful from up here”); but the stick cannot be far behind.
There is a great satisfaction from being able to swim: I have a new life skill. I can discuss technique with my aquatic friends. I look at holiday brochures with pictures of people diving joyfully into the sea and think, “Why yes, that’s me.” The Navy is suddenly a legitimate career option.
However, there is still the problem of the actual mile that must be swum, so for the moment it’s simply about putting in the long, wet, arduous hours – and it can be pretty gruelling, monotonous stuff.
I’ve pestered Coach Peter to tell me what other training I can do. “Pool,” he says pointing to the deep end. But surely other sports help? Something more gentle on the body, like boxing? Weight lifting? A marathon for the hell of it? “Maybe yoga,” he allows through clenched teeth. “Now get in the pool.”
This is a personal battle, as Malachy Clerkin has already pointed out, and as we get to the business end of proceedings, the training hours all become vital. But also vital is keeping our own momentum up, and training with others is the best help we can have. It’s by far a better way to be motivated than a solitary hour spent swimming lanes.
But why are you wasting your time reading this? Don't you have some swim laps to do? Pick your pool for Swim Ireland's Swim for a Mile challenge in April. For more, visit swimforamile.com
And if you are only getting started but want to improve your swimming before the summer, sign up to our Get Swimming course now at irishtimes.com/getswimming in association with Swim Ireland