Monday, 12 January 2015

Sink or Swim

A few months ago, my daughter's boyfriend stood her up on a date. Instead of cancelling the booking she'd made at the new Mexican restaurant that had opened nearby, she asked if I'd like to take his place As much as I love putting my little ones to bed and having quiet nights in with my husband, I try not to miss the opportunity for the occasional 'girls night out', so I gladly agreed.

The food was lovely and as my daughter was doing the driving, I enjoyed some mexican beer with my meal.

We were not very tempted by the dessert menu but I had a voucher for a free pint of ale at the pub where another of my daughters works as a barmaid, so we decided to pay her a visit. We were spoilt for choice there with the mouthwatering range of desserts.

One delicious cheesecake and a pint of Joules Green Monkey, later I was feeling very mellow.

This was the point that my daughter swooped in to make a proposition.

She wanted to do a triathlon and she wanted me to do it with her.

I have to say that this came as quite a shock. She is OK with the running part but the cycling and swimming ... not so much.The last time she rode a bike she fell off on a main road. She sustained a good collection of minor injuries and a massive dent in her confidence. As for the swimming, like me she is a 'width' swimmer, not a length swimmer!

If she was prepared to put herself so far out of her comfort zone to challenge herself to do something new, the least I could do would be to support her. And if that meant rooting through the dark recesses of my wardrobe to dig out a swimming costume, so be it.

At the start of the new year, we both went along to our local swimming pool and bought into the membership scheme. Just over a week later, I've already done half a dozen sessions.

I have never been a good swimmer.

My mum always had her own unique swimming style. She could swim tirelessly for length after length in a robotic, rhythmic breaststroke without ever getting her hair wet or her mascara running. I don't remember her ever playing with me as a child in the water to build my confidence or teaching me to swim.

My dad was the complete opposite. He could hold his breath for ever and swim whole lengths underwater. His swimming style wasn't exactly elegant or effortless but he had a 'Tarzan' quality about him and I could imagine him fighting alligators with the same ease that he pulled himself through the water. He boasted that he taught his brother to swim by throwing him in the canal and would probably have done the same to me if he'd had a canal handy. He always wanted to throw me about in the water but rather than building confidence, it actually made me very fearful. I would panic if my head went under the water. I'd panic if I was splashed in the face. I hated not being the confident water loving child that would have made my dad happy but it just wasn't me.

My husband is a very calm and patient man and he has helped me to overcome a lot of the fear but it is an ongoing battle.

I have been watching instructional videos about correct technique and working really hard to put the instruction into practice. It is a bit like learning to drive. There are so many things to think about, co-ordinate and get right. I am forever hopeful  that, like driving, one day it will all come together and feel very normal but I am a long way off that yet.

My first big breakthrough was investing in a pair of swimming goggles. I always used to swim with my eyes shut which magnified the rising panic. Being able to see underwater and not having to worry about the splashing in my eyes has helped me so much. I keep calmer and I now swim in a  relatively straight line rather than diagonally across the pool as I have done in the recent past.

The next big breakthrough was the realisation that slowing everything down makes perfect sense. My natural instinct was always to kick and splash my arms around as rapidly as possible to stop from sinking like a stone. Having more confidence in my ability to float and taking time with the strokes means I get less tired and creates more space to breathe. I know I can slow it down even more and really focus on technique. It is this improvement potential that I can see ahead of me that gives me the motivation to keep going back to the pool.

It can be frustrating when I see other swimmers doing so much better than me but I have to keep stopping to remember where I came from. Before I started a week or so ago, I could barely manage one length. Now, I am not even bothering to count the lengths.

I'm still not sure how I feel about actually doing the triathlon. At the moment I have the luxury of sharing the pool with a handful of other swimmers. For the eight lengths of the triathlon I will almost certainly have the kicking legs of other contenders in close proximity. I am trying very hard not to worry about that right now!

If nothing else, all this swimming is bound to have a positive impact on my running. Unfortunately, the only thing that will have a positive impact on the swimming, is MORE swimming. I better get myself back down to the pool!

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