The length of an average public swimming pool is 25 meters. Currently, I can swim that far, stop, catch my breath, turn around, and swim back again. I can do this about 10 times over the course of 50 minutes. Stopping for a few seconds between each length and for a couple of minutes between each set.
The length of an Olympic triathlon swim is 1,500 meters. Or, 60 lengths of that same pool. Except Olympic length triathlons are not swam in a pool. They are swam in open water, usually the sea, where there are no walls or ropes for me the hold onto while I desperately refill my lungs.
My goal is to get from where I am now, basically a hedgehog, – “that’s stupid Brian, hedgehogs can’t swim”…”exactly” – to being able to comfortably complete the 1,500 meter swim of an Olympic length triathlon. Comfortably enough that I can then hop onto my bike, cycle for 40km, park it up and run 10km before crossing the finish line alive, hopefully. And I plan to do this by the end of the summer 2018. 10 months.
The Triathlon Club
When 10 years of competitive Gaelic Football came to an end this year, I was struck by two things. Time and boredom. And I knew that if I didn’t lace up the running shoes I would soon be struck by a third: a bill for bigger jeans. So, I’ve spent the past summer running and cycling to keep the mood up and the belly down, and it has worked so far. But something is missing. I need a target to aim for. A way to compete against myself. If only I could swim…
With a deep breath and a lot of internal hesitation, I took the plunge – sorry – and joined the Drogheda Triathlon Club. They are providing coached swim sessions twice a week in Aura Leisure, spinning classes, a Sunday group cycle and running along with Boyne AC. For now, I’m just keeping the spotlight on swimming – because I’m shite at it.
Before my first day, I genuinely thought that the coaches would tell me to “go get actual lessons and come back next year”. Of course they did not do this. In fact, they instilled me with confidence. I have been to 3 sessions so far and all we are focusing on is technique, technique, technique. The fitness will come later they tell us…
I’m also probably going to rely on the club to teach me a lot about cycling techniques too. I THINK that I am a decent cyclist, but I have never cycled with more than one other person. So I’m looking forward to learning all the jigs and reels of the peloton. But then, I’m not looking forward to them telling me that my bike is crap and how I will need a new one. A quick Google will tell you that an aero road bike will cost as much as a second hand car. I’ll worry about that later though. Now, the focus is on not drowning.
Jumping into the deep end
Apart from the fear of drowning. I really did worry that swimming would be a skill that I’m just not suited too. Maybe all the years of running and GAA training would actually act as a hindrance and my lungs can only work with oxygen on demand. Or is it possible to just not be cut out for the water?
Thankfully, the fear and worry subsided after my very first session. I’m not going to drown. My body does not defy science and logic so I can learn the skill of swimming, just like anyone else can. But, it’s not going to be plain sailing. I know this because in just 2 weeks, I have had many ups and downs – quite literally.
One thing I keep hearing about is ‘the streamline position’ where your body is flat along the surface of the water, allowing for a smooth glide up the pool. Can you picture it? Good, so can I. Now picture a horror movie. Yer man is after being shot in both legs and he is crawling desperately away from the monster who shot him. Can you picture that? Because, that is a far more accurate image of me swimming. Despite being told to keep my head down in the water, it shoots up automatically, and therefore pulls my arse and legs down beneath the surface. Meaning my kick is irrelevant and my poor arms are solely responsible for moving me from A to B. (If anyone else has a larger than usual head, is this a problem for you too? Do all good swimmers have small heads?)
The other difficulty I am having is remembering to breath. I have gone 28 and a half years without ever needing to remind myself to breath. Whereas now, I have to remember to keep my head down. Pull my tummy in and engage the core. Reach as far forward as I can with each stroke. Kick from the hip. Slightly flex the knees and the feet. Pull the water back using my hand in a straight line. Keep one hand stretched out in front of me until the other is almost finished its stroke. And oh yeah, breath. On many occasions so far, using either the benefit of the shallow end or the wall beside me, I have had to just stop what I was doing and come up from the water in order to stop myself from dying.
But, with every hiccup, there are 10 times as many rewards. As I said, swimming is completely new to me – not counting cannonballs into the pool with the lads in Salou or anything before 1997 with armbands and a snorkeling pipe. Swimming is the first sporting skill that I have taken up from scratch in my adult life. And because of this, I can easily see the improvements on a weekly, or even daily basis. Feeling myself glide on the water – for all of about 2 seconds – gave me as much joy as scoring my first goal for Drogheda Boys as a 7 year old. Every time I have climbed out of the pool so far, I know I have learned something new. This is probably why I am so excited to dive into – that’s the last one I swear – this challenge.
I am delighted to be on this journey to becoming a triathlete. I know it is going to be a road full of bumps and wobbles, but primarily, one filled with achievements. From little ones; like how last week, for the first time in my life, I went swimming and didn’t have a pick & mix or an ice-burger afterwards. To big ones; like how next summer, I am going to swim 1500 meters in open water.
Most of you – won’t give a shit – will be glad to know that I will be blogging along the way :). I will be bringing you along on this journey, sharing what I find to be the major challenges and benefits of taking up swimming. I will also apply goal setting and motivation theories and try to make them applicable to your own challenges. Finally, I will share tips and advice from many of the athletes that I meet along the way.
Feel free to get in touch if you have any advice, tips or even stories to share about your own challenges.
Thanks for reading 🙂