Swimming through life
I swim all year around, but I especially love it at the moment as my local pool seems particularly quiet. I have several theories about why this may be the case. The outdoor swimming and triathlon seasons are over and those swimmers are taking a well-deserved break. The more reluctant exercisers have had their summer holidays and are now in the rundown until New Year Resolutions kick in. The darker mornings just aren’t enabling people to jump out of bed raring to go. Whatever the reason, I love swimming in an almost empty pool!
My swimming journey
I’ve swum on and off throughout my life.
I recall swimming lessons as a child, which I loved. This was followed by a short period with a swimming club which took all enjoyment out of swimming for me. I then had a notable ‘off period’ as a teenager, partly as I was growing increasingly short-sighted and not yet wearing contact lenses, but maybe some self-consciousness too.
I got back into swimming when I was a student, as it was a relatively cheap and easy way of getting exercise. But my interest waned again in my mid-twenties. This was partly related to work and study commitments, but I’d also become keen on other activities, predominantly running.
In my late twenties, I joined a gym with a pool, which was another turning point. Up until now I’d been a resolute breaststroke swimmer, seemingly forgetting anything else I’d learned as a child. In my late twenties, annoyed that I could no longer swim front-crawl (freestyle), I remember re-teaching myself during one holiday. It was neither fast nor particularly elegant, but I could just about manage one length at a time. I continued in this way for the next 10 years, alternating between breast stroke and crawl, building up to a reasonable distance and speed in this way.
Swimming was also a big feature during both my pregnancies, which could explain why my kids are such water babies. I remember fondly some of the looks I’d get as I climbed out of the pool with a very pregnant belly!
I’ve taken swimming more seriously over the past 4 years. Once I’d made the decision to try a triathlon, I realised that I should probably get out of my swimming rut. I’ve been pushing myself little by little over time and I went from 40-50 lengths alternating crawl and breaststroke to 64 lengths of crawl!
I swim twice a week on average, on my way to work in the morning. My work colleagues are used to seeing me with wet hair, goggle marks, and smelling faintly of chlorine. Thankfully they’re far too polite to say anything.
Most of my swimming takes place within a nice warm pool. I was going to say clean, but I’m not sure any of us can be certain about the cleanliness of swimming pools. In addition, I’ve discovered swimming in the open water over the last few years i.e. not in a pool! Now I know this probably isn’t everyone’s thing – and in all honestly, conditions have to be pretty good for me to even dip my toe in – but I have found swimming in open water to be liberating. The triathlons I’ve done have been in a river, so swimming outside was something I needed to ‘get over’ before my first race. Although, I’m not sure anything could have prepared me for that initial race experience!
For the last few summers I have swum periodically in lakes, rivers and the sea – always in a wetsuit, regardless of how hot the air temperature is. Sometimes the water has been cold and sometimes surprisingly warm. Each time, I’ll admit that it has been an enjoyable experience. I have some friends that are much more extreme than me.
My friend Emily is a keen outdoor swimmer, regardless of the season. Read about Emily’s story here.
Last year I took on the challenge of completing the Aspire Channel Swim. Fortunately, this didn’t involve going anywhere near the English Channel, but I did swim the distance (18 miles) over 12 weeks in the relative comfort of a swimming pool. I enjoyed the challenge this brought me (having to increase my swim frequency and length over the period to keep up). I was travelling at this time, so I actually swam the distance in 3 different pools. It also felt strange going from simple training to every swim counting towards a bigger goal. It was a great experience though and it really improved my swimming stamina and style. I also raised some money for Aspireto support their work for Spinal Cord Injuries.
Spurring me on to complete my Channel swim was a lovely lady named Sue, who I met a couple of years ago at my current pool. Read about Sue’s swimming story here
Why I like swimming
I enjoy the challenge and the calm of swimming. For me, it’s one of the most all-consuming physical activities I do – working out my arms and legs simultaneously. I almost always feel worked by the end of a session. Yet it’s often surprisingly calming too, maybe due to the repetitive, meditative effect. This is especially true when the pool is relatively empty and I’m not fighting for space!
Swimming is one of those activities that can be done regardless of age. I frequently see older people swimming (sometimes with amazing stamina and style) as well as younger people and all ages in between. My kids are already pretty good swimmers. Each swimmer may have their own particular stroke, style and speed, but they are all doing something positive.
Furthermore, swimming can have a positive benefit on the way we age, as reported in this article.
Grandma Williams, a remarkable fellow blogger on the topic of ageing (albeit a few years my senior) agrees on the benefits of swimming in one of her recent articles, but also warns that swimming pools are not always age-friendly.
I occasionally hear a couple of things that sadden me, such as:
“I can’t swim properly”,
“I never learned as a child” or
“I don’t feel confident taking my kids swimming as I’m not a strong swimmer myself”.
I believe that swimming should be a right for everyone, for mental and physical health reasons as well as for safety.
It is possible to get lessons at any age – either to learn the basics or to improve what you already have.
It is also possible to make improvements on your own. I’ve done this at various stages by reading books, watching swimming videos and (as with many things in life) practicing. It has definitely worked and will hopefully stand me in good stead for my next 40 years of swimming.
I enjoy the challenge and the calm of swimming. For me, it’s one of the most all-consuming activities I do and almost always feel worked by the end of a session. Yet it’s often surprisingly calming too, maybe due to the repetitively meditative effect.
Whatever your swimming ability and your age, swimming can be good for you and you can improve.