Swim22 blog 1: In the beginning: from runner to swimmer

Swim 22 blog Our guest blogger Mark tells us how he got back into swimming after quite some time, in preparation for Swim 22 fundraising challenge. 

I used to be a runner. I ran races regularly and trained at least four times a week. At my peak, to raise funds for charity, I ran three marathons over a weekend. Running was part of my life: it was my way of dealing with stress and anxiety, and all the other mental challenges that life seemed to throw at me regularly. It was so easy; throw on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, lace up a pair of running shoes, headphones on, out of the door, and off. Free headspace, life in balance, fitness and good mental health.

Perfect? Well yes, until I snapped my anterior tibialis tendon running the inaugural Severn Bridge Parkrun on 11 August 2018. An audible ‘snap!’ followed by an intense pain in my right foot. I went down like I’d been shot by a sniper. In typical runner style, I got straight back up and finished before keeling over again! Little did I realise then that I would spend the next 6 months being repaired! Surgery (twice), three months none-weight bearing, a variety of different plaster casts and orthopaedic boots, followed by three months of intensive physiotherapy. Tears of rage and self-pity, depression, the lot!

By Christmas 2018/New Year 2019 I was fed up, two stones heavier, and probably more than a little bonkers. I was unfit, fat, and fed up. Seeing my desperate state and worried for my sanity (and her and our children’s sanities) my wife, Hayley, decided to set me a challenge: she dared me to sign up for Swim22.

For those of you who swim regularly, swimming 22 miles in three months may not appear too great a feat. For me, it was major! Other than the odd float in a pool or the sea on holiday, I hadn’t swum properly for 45 years. The last time I had swum it was 1973 and I was a 10 year old cub scout swimming for his mile badge in a local lido. I remember it took me hours. The lido was unheated and at the finish I was a pale blue tearful dithering wrinkly wreck. I remember making several attempts to get out of the pool mid-swim but was chased back in by a sadistic cub ‘leader’ – this was the early-1970s and kids weren’t allowed to quit. I swore then and there never to swim again. And, as I’ve written above, other than the odd float, I managed to observe this heartfelt and solemn declaration for 45 years.

My wife is clever. She knows I can’t resist a dare. On 20 January 2019 I accepted! Little did I know at that point that accepting Hayley’s dare would change my life for the better, and probably forever. On 27 January 2019 I took to the pool for the first time to start my Swim 22 training. I managed two lengths before stopping; out of breath, aching, and tired, but also determined that the first step (OK, more like a splash) had been taken and that there was no chance of me quitting.

And I did improve. I’m writing this blog on 1 October 2019, 10 months later. I am 75 days into an outdoor swimming streak, all just in my swimming trunks (skins as those in the know call it), that has included swims in the sea, rivers, lakes, and lidos from the Outer Hebrides to Devon, via Loch Ness, from Cleveland Marine Lake to Tooting Bec Lido. I completed the Swim 22 challenge in 22 days, swimming a mile a day. I went on to swim a kilometre a day throughout the whole of July and August. I’ve entered races and collected finisher’s medals.

I’m not the fastest and I don’t have the best swimming technique – I tend to forget that I have legs that should be helping me swim, they just float along behind (perhaps they’re refusing to forget the solemn vow never to swim again). But I’m determined! I used to be a runner, but injury put a stop to that. Now I’m a swimmer. I went from two lengths to a mile a day in two months.

In the following blogs I’ll take you on my swimming journey. I’ll share tips from friends that helped improve my stroke; I’ll explain how I learnt to breath when swimming (it’s vital you know); I’ll show how even novices can use swimmer’s training aids to help with speed, technique, and stamina; I’ll detail how to ‘sight’ when you front crawl to make sure you swim in a straight line rather than a zig-zag; and I’ll tell you how, even when I felt miserable, I had self-taught ways and means to stop me quitting and to help me complete the swimming challenge. I hope you’ll join me.

If you’re feeling inspired after reading Mark’s story, why not sign up for Swim22 in 2020?

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