Just keep swimming

Swimming remains my biggest challenge on the triathlon front.

Running is hard work, and my asthma has been dreadful the last week. I’ve really struggled with the recent damp weather but did drag myself out for a run last Thursday morning. It was a while since I’d been (because of the ear infection) and I really felt it. However, I felt it in my chest rather than my legs, and this was a new sensation. No matter how many puffs I had from the magic blue inhaler, it wasn’t enough and I had to take it really easy. I walked. Lots. But my legs wanted to run.

Last Friday night I had some help with my swimming, from Lee at Tri and Tri Again . This was my first swim coaching since I was 12.

I enjoyed swimming when I was younger, but hated school swimming lessons. The pool was freezing, both in and out of the water. I hated communal changing, even though I was at an all girls school. To this day I hate being in a swimsuit even around people I know.

Swimming lessons back then consisted of queuing up, piling into the pool and swimming a length of whatever stroke it was. I had joined the school later than lots of the other girls who had been there since they left primary school, so I hadn’t had the same instruction and really didn’t know what I was doing. I was dog slow compared to everyone else, and got put in the “lacking confidence in the water” group. Which meant we spent our time in the shallow end, splashing about and diving to retrieve bricks from the bottom. Not great for actually helping my swimming but the sixth form volunteers were lovely so it was enjoyable enough. I did learn to dive properly though, as no one had done that before so when we learnt as a class, I was in on it from the beginning.

I never really lacked confidence in the water thanks to my dad taking me and my brother swimming regularly, I just wasn’t a very strong swimmer and lack of practice led to complete lack of inclination. A friend’s mum was a coach at a local leisure centre, and a swim party one year resulted in a hugely enjoyable game of water polo which, surprisingly, I really enjoyed. I wasn’t focussing on the swimming, I was concentrating on the game and I loved it.

My most recent experience of regular swimming was when I was recovering from a couple of nasty breaks – a completely shattered ankle in 1997 following a fall while rock climbing, and a shattered trapezium (tiny bone at the bottom of your thumb) in 2007 resulting from a crash while racing my motorbike.

The pool I used in 1997 was in a gorgeous gym in central Manchester, in a stunning 1920s office block across the road from the climbing shop where I worked. The pool looked up to the sky and was generally empty at the time when I used to go, just before work each morning. Then the Aquatics Centre opened in Manchester, just ahead of the Commonwealth Games in 2000, not far from where I used to live, and I used to go there when I could. I really was spoilt for nice pools when I lived up north!

In 2007 I went to Deep Water Aerobics – not really swimming, but lots of waving around in the water which really helped me build up the strength in my hand again. This was in the rather less luxurious setting of Colchester Leisureworld.

But. I digress. Lee was incredibly patient – I explained I couldn’t manage more than half a length of front crawl. My breaststroke is OK, but front crawl is preferable as it’s much quicker. Plus, it’s a challenge and I want to crack front crawl. We went right back to basics, and he was really supportive as I continued to panic and struggled to breathe in the right place. It was an incredibly useful session, and I was determined to practice last night on my normal Monday night swim.

Last night was a disaster though, initially anyway. As mentioned above, my asthma has been dire since last week, and I wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to do. I forced myself to go (the looming triathlon was the main motivation!). I really wanted to practice what I’d learnt on Friday, but after 2 lengths of breaststroke to warm up, I nearly got out. Halfway down the very first length, I had a complete panic. Something about the blue of the water as I looked down at the bottom of the pool took me back to school days, and it was all I could do to stay afloat. I did a second length to get back to the shallow end. A stern talking to and I kept going, having decided tonight was probably not the night to push it on new stuff.

I got up to 20 lengths, and again almost gave up. My chest was pounding. I had another little talk to myself and figured when September comes, I will be even more scared in the water, so I’d better get used to keeping going when I didn’t want to. This is something I do on the harp all the time, when things go wrong, so it shouldn’t have been difficult. It then became an exercise in mind over matter, and I managed a further 20 lengths. After a little while, I settled down and began to feel the glide I’d felt last week. 40 lengths is the most I have ever done so I am really pleased. This is my 4th swimming session (5th if you include the time spent with Lee) and I have gone from 20 at the first up to 40 last night.

Just Keep Swimming is a well known line from Finding Nemo – everyone takes the mickey out of poor Dory for being forgetful and silly, but in the end, when it gets difficult later in the film, Nemo relies on Dory’s words to keep him safe. It’s appropriate for my swimming challenge, but I’ve used it for a long time to keep going when things are tough, and Finding Nemo is one of my favourite films.

I didn’t realise until recently, but my uncle used Just Keep Swimming as his mantra for when things were getting particularly unpleasant during his chemo treatment. He still uses it now. It’s a good one as when you say it, you can see a daft blue fish with a silly voice being really annoying in her insistence that everything will be alright. Cliched perhaps for actual swimming, but in the context of life in general, who can argue?

Today I’ve finally felt my asthma starting to ease off a little, so am hopeful that the next swimming session will be the one to get some proper practice in.

I’m away celebrating a friend’s birthday this coming weekend, and can you believe after she booked the hotel, one of my first thoughts was.. I wonder if it has a pool.

I’m really enjoying the new-found focus that the big day in September has brought to my life. I had a big solo harp concert in June and wasn’t sure how I’d feel once that was out of the way, but the triathlon training has been just what I needed.

Tomorrow… another run.

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