Swimming with the Baldies

If there is one lesson I’ve have finally learned as a runner it is this; when it hurts to run……stop.  After partially rupturing my left achilles in October 2010 and then injuring my right in  both the Spring and Autumn of 2011, I reckon it has taken nearly two years for that to sink in and for me to finally learn my lesson.  By September 2012, having endured the relentless pain and discomfort of Achilles Tendonopathy (formerly referred to as Achilles Tendonitis) I realised I had to accept the very painful fact that I would need to give up running at least in the interim and worse still face the prospect that it might even be forever – not something I would ever want to imagine.

Its no secret amongst runners that know me well that I am impatient, I don’t give in, I never listen to my body – in fact I never listen, I just soldier on.  Whilst it can be commendable never to give in and soldier on, not listening to one’s body and becoming impatient at the speed of its recovery is not clever at all and I have paid a hefty price.  Not being able to run for myself is hard enough – having a fairly driven personality its tough to finally give in. Having to tell those that I have enjoyed running with, that I can’t be there to push them along is harder – and ironically my current fitness regime is more to ensure that I am fit enough to return for their benefit rather than for my own – to a degree I feel I am letting them down.

Training in my local boxing gym is still one of my favourite activities but at once a week and without the running its not enough.  I’m a pretty reasonable cyclist but find if I do less than 20km on a bike – whilst my leg muscles feel reasonably worked my cardio doesn’t. Living in a fairly hilly area by normal mortal standards, I’d have to be Bradley Wiggins to be able to sprint up the hills just  to get the cardio going, so  I had to look for another alternative that would give me a reasonable cardio workout. Try as I might to avoid the obvious, I had to accept that there really was only one option…… swimming.

I have always hated swimming.  I’ve never been particularly good at it – although in fairness never really wanted to work hard enough at it.  I’m sure – as is the case for most of us – my problems are largely down to poor breathing and lack of technique which like anything else in life requires practice in order to improve. Admittedly I was never prepared to do this if only for the fact that in a public pool during public sessions, it is pretty impossible to swim in a straight line and maintain a rhythm, whilst trying to dodge anything from the dive bombers to the bobbing armband brigade  – as cute as they are.  This, coupled with the relentless, repetitiveness of swimming back and forth in the same strip of water meant that all in all swimming has just never ‘done it’ for me.  Now facing the final confirmation from my physio that I must not run for the foreseeable future I had no option but to ‘man up’, take the plunge and go to the pool…… or rather ‘man up’, go to the pool and take the plunge. :D.

6.30am on a cold winters Monday morning I think I am being smart.  I arrive at my local pool – the Kings Centre in East Grinstead – expecting to see 25 metre strips of nothing but undisturbed water waiting for me to train in – ‘me’ surely being the one and only lunatic that would be up at that time of the morning to go swimming…….. how wrong can you be?

There is clearly more than one lunatic in the surrounding areas because the pool is full – not of dive bombers or armband members of course – they are all still in bed or getting ready for school.  Quite peculiarly, the first swim of my new training regime is in a pool full of  middle aged bald men.   ‘Swimming with the Baldies’ :D  – became my tagline on Facebook for the first few swims.   I think word got out though, because thereafter the aquatic landscape changed dramatically and we are now, in general, a filtering mix of 20-60 somethings of varying swimming styles and speeds in anything from tadpole to whale mode. We are male and female and come with and without hair :D.

Although I can swim, I remember being quite nervous the first time I got in – unknown territory.  Running is easy, I know my pace and my boundaries. Breathing  isn’t my strong point at the best of times thanks to Asthma so it is positively imperative that I get it right in the pool.  Backstroke has always been my favourite stroke – because it lets me breathe at will, but given the logistics required to manoeuvre my way through a relatively crowded section I decide against it, as I do not want to be held responsible for blacking an oncoming eye or worse still causing a concussion as I thwack past a neighbouring swimmer.  The plan is to swim Breaststroke and eventually move on to Freestyle – target distance 1 mile.

Apparently it takes a novice swimmer around 6 weeks to be able to swim this distance – so I am mightily pleased that it only takes me 5 swims (10 days) and am grateful that I had a fairly good level of fitness to start with.  With each session I attend, I realise more and more just how similar distance running is to distance swimming – tracking my pace and breathing, I establish a rhythm and just keep going. The breathing has improved significantly, the technique not so – but I’m working on it :D

It currently takes me approximately 54 minutes to swim a mile – not Olympian by any means but according to internet sources, any novice swimmer managing to swim a mile in anything from 45-60 minutes is doing pretty well – particularly if its breaststroke.  Armed with this little piece of trivia I manage to find the same drive and motivation that I have missed so much since I’ve had to stop running and I am determined to bring that time down – next target time 45 minutes and I will get there.

With my Achilles Tendons well on the road to recovery, I am hopeful of returning to running in the New Year, but I have accomplished something that I never thought would ever happen – I’ve swum a mile and I have a growing fondness for the sport I once hated.  Triathlon could well be on the agenda.

The Pool is Cool :D

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