Like A Duck To Water…

…or should that read “schmuck”?

Having been unable to run since the unfortunate events of the Fan Dance Challenge I’ve been slowly going out of my mind. It got so bad I found myself growling at the sun on gorgeous evenings just built for being in the hills, or mumbling obscenities at passing runners out of barely concealed jealousy. I needed to do something, anything to break this cycle, so I broke all my own rules and joined a gym.

This wasn’t a decision I took lightly. I love being outdoors, it’s where I belong, and the idea that people pay money to run somewhere that pumps air in, has a soundtrack of chart pop at ear-splitting volumes and where your bike ride could be limited to twenty minutes if it was busy just had no appeal. However, the usually hellish expensive gym 2 minutes from my house had a deal on, no contract etc and so it actually became a financially viable short-term option. It also made sense from a rehab point of view too. Coming back from the damage I’ve done to my ankle it seemed sensible to ease back in to running in the relative safety of a sterile treadmill environment. No curbs to negotiate, loose paving stones, 4-legged trip hazards or slippy leaves to worry about. I could walk, then jog, then run my way back to fitness with the minimum risk of turning the already weak ankle on any of these obstacles.

There was also an element of cross-training involved in my decision. Upcoming events include challenge races and multi-activity races and after months of pure running I need to think about strengthening again as I’m going to have 10 foot walls to scale soon and at the moment I struggle to lift myself off the sofa! Access to all the weights equipment, circuit training sessions and expert advice made sense, at least until I am confident enough in the ankle to run around the park using natural features as my gym.

But possibly the biggest draw, the thing that really swung it for me, was having access to a swimming pool at last. I’m under pressure from friends to try a tri. They seem to think that because I can run a 10k and enjoy an afternoon mountain biking at a trail centre I should also enjoy the shaven-legged, wetsuit clad world of triathlons. The more they told me I’d enjoy it, the less I believed them, but I do love a challenge and taking two things I love to do, stripping the fun out of them and adding a new totally unknown discipline then training to be competent in them all is certainly a challenge!

It’s worth mentioning at this point that I haven’t swum since 1999, Gran Canaria, lad’s holiday and the sangria bar was the other side of the pool. Even then, during a period which could probably be referred to as my swimming peak, I had a peculiar stroke somewhere between front crawl, butterfly and churning washing machine. I call it my swimming peak because I was up to maybe 5-6 lengths of the pool a day (we really loved that sangria), but when our 10 days in the sun were over so was my time in the pool.

So, knowing I might be a bit rusty, I did the only logical thing and went shopping. After seeking advice from experts (by which I mean asking on Facebook) I chose the goggles for me and went to buy them. The shop I went to was having a closing down sale, so they were cheap, which is ace, except…I decided then to enter the murky world of swimming costume purchasing. What a minefield that is! Big baggy shorts best suited to running around the edge of the pool to fetch the watervolleyball ball back from where your mate had thrown it at the cute girls? No, they were too 1999 and I was coming back to swimming as a professional. Speedo pants, small enough to offer no resistance whatsoever as you glide through the water, but also small enough that they may be invisible if you’ve had a decent meal and got a bit of belly bulge going on? Sadly I had to accept these also weren’t for me, maybe one day though! So, something in between it was. I opted for some shorts tight enough to be embarrassing on a cold day but long enough that I could pull them up a bit to at least give the impression of having had a waist once.

Suitably kitted out it was time to get wet. I failed twice, the first time because the pool was set up for lane swimming and full of what looked like dolphins smoothly enjoying length after length up and down the pool. There were swim hats over perms (many with the obligatory blue rinse) and some blokes wearing those mini speedos I’d been ashamed to try on. The second time the pool was just plain shut. My fault, I read the timetable wrong, but not realising until I’d changed, showered and walked in to a locked door was a bit of a disappointment. But finally, at the third attempt, I found myself stood on the edge of the pool, which was already busy with families and serious lane swimmers, wondering what the hell to do next. I eased my way in to the water, positioned the goggles over my eyes, checked there was no one in the way and swam.

Actually I didn’t. The goggles thing and checking for swimmers yes, that I definitely did, and I did it very well. It’s the swimming bit though, that didn’t go so well. It would appear that either my memory of summer ’99 is a bit rose-tinted or I have completely forgotten whatever it was I knew then, because even the awkward head up, franticly flapping feet technique of old had deserted me. I managed about 15 metres, realised I’d forgotten to breath, tried treading water which proved very painful with a knackered ankle and grabbed hold of the side of the pool clinging on for dear life. A triathlon had never felt so far away!

I spent the next twenty minutes back in the shallow end where I belonged, practicing breathing in with my mouth above water (definitely easier that way), and then dipping below the surface and breathing out slowly. It’s how the internet says it should be done, and it’s a start. It’s safe to say in fact that in that first session in the pool I became quite good at breathing, so much so that I didn’t die, so that’s a moral victory if nothing else.

So shall I be accepting defeat, calling an end to a 23 year friendship and avoiding my triathlon loving friend? Not likely! I’ve taken the number of a swimming teacher, and as soon as I can overcome the shame of admitting I’m 34, can’t swim but still consider myself capable of learning well enough to enter races I shall give her a call and arrange some lessons.

I’ll tell you all about it, if she doesn’t give up and leave me on the bottom of the pool.

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One Response to Like A Duck To Water…

  1. Pingback: Thrown In At The Shallow End | What James Did

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