Thrown In At The Shallow End

So after the initial excitement of agreeing to do my first triathlon with Chobani, came the reality that I cannot swim.

I posted a while ago about this and declared I was going to do something about it…I didn’t. I mean I tried, I went to the pool and got in the water, I did what I thought was swimming, I ingested half the pool, I panicked and swallowed a load more, I clung on to the side for twenty minutes, got out, put my goggles away and forgot the whole silly idea.

Now I’m faced with a 300 metre lake swim, not once but twice in the same day, I have no choice but to get serious.

So I dragged my good friend Greg along with me on Tuesday morning, gave him the simple instruction “stop me drowning, make me swim” and got in the pool.  The issue had always been my breathing. In the past my swimming had been a frenetic cross between doggy paddle and front crawl, with my head up out the water, chest acting like a brake, which I could only sustain for a few metres at a time.

We started discussing the theory of front crawl and broke it down in to easily remembered bits. As Greg talked through the mechanics it started to make sense, but there was suddenly so much to think about my first few attempts ended up with me a spluttering mess at the poolside either having forgotten to breath in, or out, or tried to take a breath with my mouth underwater. The pace was still frantic as I just wanted to get from the safety of poolside across to another handhold as soon as possible.

By the end of this first session though I was getting the hang of timing the breaths better. Having tried various breathing patterns with none of them feeling comfortable I had settled on a 4 stroke technique that was just about getting me through the water.

Before our second session on Thursday I gave serious consideration to what had worked and what hadn’t. I realised that on 4 strokes I was actually completely emptying my lungs each time which meant if I messed up the breathing in I was finished. I was also struggling to time the change from the pursed lips of exhalation to the Elvisesque one-sided snarl of breathing in. It’s a simple process, but when you are conscious of your every movement and trying to remember 15 new instructions at once it can get confusing.

So I got in the water on Thursday with a new plan. I was going to exhale through my nose, which naturally slowed the breath down and took less concentration. Then I was going to breath on every third stroke, which meant if I did get it wrong I could always correct it on the next stroke without being completely out of air. Finally I had to slow down the whole process. I was waving my arms and kicking my feet so hard my heart rate was rocketing every time I swam and that was making breathing even more crucial.

So I put those three things together and by the end of the second session I was much happier. The timing all felt more natural, I was more buoyant and more relaxed. I was still making a few mistakes but now I wasn’t panicking, I could afford to miss a breath or take on a mouthful of water knowing I could correct it before I got in to trouble. I was still only swimming the 15 metre widths of the pool but I was starting to string them together now, I was starting to swim.

Which brings us to tonight, Friday night. I should be in a pub, or at the food festival, or enjoying a Dominos meat feast on the sofa with a can of Dr Pepper and trash telly. Instead I’m going to the pool, and I’m getting in the lanes with the other swimmers, and I’m putting together what I’ve learned so far in to a series of 25 metre lengths. If I do get in to trouble there will be no pool side to cling to so it will be a case of stop, correct, refocus and go again. I’m told this is perfectly acceptable during a triathlon and the wetsuit actually helps you float while you get your breathing sorted or spit out the 3 gallons of lake you’ve inhaled.

My aim for tonight is to swim 12 lengths. I’ll be doing them one at a time, slowly, but by the time I get home I’ll have swum 300 metres for the first time ever. At least that’s the plan…

Tomorrow morning I’m off to Parkrun and hunting a PB. The introduction of swimming has messed with my planned training but I’m going all out, no excuses, PB hunting tomorrow.

So, that’s two goals in 12 hours. Wish me luck, keep your fingers crossed for me, pray if that’s your thing, do whatever it is you do to help me survive the pool and dominate the park. Looking forward to reporting a double success tomorrow.

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6 Responses to Thrown In At The Shallow End

  1. Lou says:

    Good luck x

  2. rundontrun says:

    From “I cannot swim” to 12 lengths is pretty impressive! If you’ve got the time, following the drills in the “Total Immersion” is a good way into making front crawl feel almost effortless. That said, my swim fitness is virtually nil right now – I need to spend a fortnight somewhere hot, with a pool.

    • James Clay says:

      Take me in your luggage?!

      I’m amazed that it’s only been since Tuesday, 2 sessions, and I attempted 300 metres in the main pool. It was a struggle, but I covered the distance. 4 weeks and a lot of work to go…thank you for the support!

  3. Good luck, 300 m is a great going!

    • James Clay says:

      Thank you. It was messy and slow but I did the distance in one session. Now I just need to take out the gaps and the mistakes and I’m almost a swimmer!

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