How I wish I could swim…

There are a few things I wish I’d done when I was a kid – and if I’m honest a few I wish I hadn’t. Ballet for example – anyone who knows me will know ballet and I would not exactly have been a match made in heaven. However for unknown reasons I told mum I wanted to do it but then refused point blank to take the exams. Eventually I was moved up a grade without doing them but I think I quit pretty soon after that – aged 5! I was fortunate to try lots of things as a child with varying degrees of success; tennis lessons, hockey and netball at school, orchestral percussion and drums (my parents soon regretted buying me a drum kit!), violin for a little bit. Funnily enough I was never much good at running. At primary school I used to feign illness in the annual cross country race, and at secondary school I was once persuaded to run the county schools cross country where I came dead last. I didn’t run competitively again until I took up triathlon 15 years later!

But if there’s one thing I wish I’d done when I was little it’s learn to swim properly. By normal people’s standards I’m not a bad swimmer – years of body boarding in summer holidays means I’m comfortable in choppy water and I’ve never had a problem with staying afloat. But I never learnt to swim ‘properly’ – and sadly, as I’ve found out, I am definitely not a natural at it. Since I took up triathlon I’ve always managed to swim reasonably quickly in terms of age group racing with a perfect demonstration of the windmill/washing machine technique – namely thrash your arms as quickly as possible and kick like crazy. That works to some extent – but there’s a limit to how quickly you can go doing it and it’s certainly not very energy efficient!

So this winter I’ve invested significant amounts of time in trying to work on my swimming. And really the whole process had been a lesson in humility. Firstly it’s entailed getting up at 5am for 5.30 swim sessions with 8 year olds – all of whom are quicker than me and whose parents look at me somewhat askance when I walk in to the pool bleary eyed and jump into the slow lane next to their child prodigy (prodigy in their eyes at least). Secondly it’s involved losing any semblance of speed I ever had and in fact, not really doing much proper swimming at all. Forget trying to go fast – I’ve been doing hours and hours of kicking on my side. Every now and then when it gets boring I take a stroke to switch to the other side and I’ve just recently progressed to doggy paddle – exciting times! Tim Williams from Perfect Condition ( has been key in helping me with these drills and I’ve had a few invaluable one to one sessions with him as well as religiously attending his weekly technique session with the tri club. I’m now extending the humiliation by occasionally doing harder sessions with Esther, my ‘super swimmer’ (and soon to be ‘MORE THAN SUPER’ triathlete) friend. If I’m swimming really well I can just about do 6 lengths in the time she does 8. Yup, yet more humility required!

So has it worked? Not yet. Will it ever work? Well I’ll never be a Rebecca Adlington but it is going the right way – it’s just a long work in progress and time is running out for this season! All I want is a catch – surely that’s not too much to ask for?! Luckily I’ve just been given one of the first 2012 Blue Seventy Helix wetsuits which makes my life a little bit easier. Now I’m not a techy in the slightest but I have been reliably informed that it’s lighter and has split buoyancy panels on the chest to offer more flexibility and rotation. Importantly though it’s supposed to have porous fabric on the forearms to facilitate that elusive feel for the water. So when I finally work out what that ‘feel’ is I’ll be laughing. Anyway, regardless of the technicalities, I know I swim faster in it. I just need to carry on plugging away at the drills so I do it justice!

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