Swim22 blog 2: Fail to prepare, prepare to fail!

As I mentioned in my previous blog, on 27 January 2019 I took to the pool for the first time to start my Swim22 training. I managed two lengths before stopping: out of breath, aching, and tired. I’m not ashamed to say, I was rubbish. Even my 12 year old son, Freddie, teased my lack of style, fitness, and stamina – he found my flailing leg kicking action hysterically funny, and suggested that, rather than propelling me forwards, my legs might actually be working like an anchor and slowing me down. Equally amused at my efforts, my wife Hayley recommended that it might be a good idea to occasionally check my direction because I was swimming in zig-zags rather than a straight line, and was probably covering a length and a half every time I swam from one end of the pool to the other.

Climbing out of the pool after this first swim, I was tempted, for just a fraction of a second, to say “sod it I quit”. But I didn’t. Rather than tossing my goggles into the pool and stropping off in a huff, I asked Hayley to help me improve; Hayley is a fab swimmer. I’d say, with hindsight, that this was my very best move in helping me develop from a virtual non-swimmer to a fully-fledged swimmer in less than four weeks. So, this is my top tip for anyone starting this challenge: never be afraid (or too proud) to ask for help, advice, and guidance. Tip two: listen and learn.

Hayley identified three things that needed urgent work and that she could help with:

  • I had to pick a swimming stroke and stick to it. I decided on the front crawl.
  • I needed to learn to how to breathe when swimming.  For me, cracking this massively improved my swimming ability.
  • I needed to learn to ‘sight’ without actually stopping swimming.

The other areas that Hayley (gently) suggested I needed to improve were my fitness and stamina. These two were totally down to me.

I spent the next week practicing and learning. Armed with advice both from my wife and that I’d gleaned from various video clips I found online, I went to the pool every day to work on my stroke, breathing, and sighting (Tip 3: a pair of watertight swimming goggles is vital). And it worked! By the end of this first week I was up to 10 lengths without stopping. My chest, shoulders, and arms ached from muscles I’d forgotten I had, but I wasn’t bothered because the pain was proof to me that my fitness was improving. And smacking your hands on the plastic floats threaded on lane ropes soon teaches you to swim in a straight line. I was improving!

By the end of week two I was up to 30 lengths (600 metres) without stopping. Thoughts that I couldn’t do the challenge were fading. Further inspiration came from a decision to complete the challenge in memory of my late father-in-law, Brian. He was a lovely man, and we all miss him dearly. Brian battled diabetes in his later years, and it was a contributing cause of his death. Although Brian, made light of it – he wasn’t a man for complaining – I’ll never forget the regular insulin injections that left his stomach and legs patterned with green, black, and blue bruises.

On Friday 15 February, with a week to go before the challenge started, I completed my first kilometre without having to stop. I felt fitter and I was definitely faster. The aches and pains were fading and, wow! I’d actually lost weight! I was, as we from Yorkshire would say, ‘chuffed to bits!’ My swimming style still wasn’t perfect – I couldn’t and still can’t kick my legs properly – but it worked for me. On one of my practice visits I spotted a swimmer using a float that she tucked between her thighs when swimming. I asked what it was and what it was for (as above – never be afraid to ask). I discovered that it was a pull buoy and is used by swimmers to improve upper body fitness and swimming style. I bought one. It’s fab! I’m convinced the increase in upper body strength compensated for my total lack of kick.

I was almost ready to go. All that was missing was a plan; and therein lies my fourth tip: before the challenge starts, create a swimming schedule and try your best stick to it. Find out where you can swim and when: it’s no good turning up at your local pool to find it closed, even worse is turning up to find it rammed full of kids. If you can, I’d also advise breaking the routine by visiting different swimming locations. I have three leisure centres within 20 minutes of home, so I spread my swims between the three.

Fitter, faster, and a plan. With a week to go I was prepared and ready…or so I thought. Two days before I started, I decided to really up the ante: in a moment of madness I decided to swim the challenge in 22 days, a mile at a time. Dafter still, was that I told people about my decision so there was no backing down.

Up for a challenge? Why not sign up for Swim22 starting in February 2020.

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