As I’m out of the water for the time being, I thought I’d share some thoughts on Pools I Have Known. Last night I dreamed that I was wearing a horribly cumbersome rubber ring in an overcrowded public pool in Glasgow. It wasn’t actually one I’d been in, partly because when I was at Glasgow University, I had free access to the large and airy Stevie Pool (sauna was 30p extra, which was cheap, even then). I can remember making the decision to switch from 30 mins twice a week to 20 mins three times. But I was so young in those days that when it closed for a year, I didn’t bother using the free sessions they’d booked at the nearest public pool. And god, I was eating crisps, chocolate and carry-ooots in those days. On subsequent visits, no longer having access to the Stevie, I have used the lovely North Woodside pool. It’s in the heart of a housing scheme, and slightly scary to find, especially if you speak with a posh English accent, but it’s a great, well-run, turn of the century municipal pool and a pleasure to swim in. The only down side is unisex showering facilities, something I also found in Montpellier. A similarly pleasant experience – well maintained Victorian splendour – can be found at the Leith Victoria Swim centre in Edinburgh, where you can shower in the altogether in your own sexually segregated space. The pool I really wanted to use in Glasgow was the Arlington Baths which was much spoken of but rarely from first-hand experience among Glasgow undergraduates. I had an idea it had once been a public pool but it seems it has always been a private members’ club. And although they are mostly located in the estates, Glasgow isn’t badly off for pools compared to some cities.
Urgghhh. My cough came back with a vengeance last night. No swimming for me for the rest of the week. Bad girl, silly girl.
In the meantime, the bravissimo catalogue came through the door, so maybe it’s time for a new cozzy. This one looks good, but it’s not very clear how I get in and out of it as the straps don’t fasten.
In the old days, I used to ignore all signs of illness, unless I was actually laid up in bed, and go swimming anyway. In fact, there were days, and one of them was last year, when I went swimming despite feeling a bit crap because, lets face it, you do and then you feel better afterwards, only to realise later that day that I had some fearful lurgy and was in bed for a week. Sorry chaps for anyone I’ve infected.
I had a text from Outdoor Swimming Friend who said that she hadn’t been ill for a year and put it down to regular immersion in freezing cold water. Our Serpentine friend in the video seemed to agree with her. The only problem is, if one hasn’t reached that stage of immuno-fortification, then it’s quite hard to be well enough to go swimming indoors, never mind outdoors.
While full of bug, exercise, wet hair and cold water are things best to be avoided. Today, I still have a blocked up nose and sore throat, but I’m definitely past the worst of the coughing and I can’t possibly still be infectious. And I know that half an hour’s gentle breastroke (and lets face it, I can’t do the vigorous kind if I’m doing the proper breast stroke legs) will make me feel much better and set me up for an evening of knowledge management and committee meetings. Gosh, I used to laugh at people who got ill – all they needed to do was a bit more exercise and drink green tea. Little did I know what early middle age would have waiting for me!
I had a text last week “I must insist on a new name. I do triathlons because I can; I swim long distances because I can’t not”. Henceforth, the Person formerly referred to as Triathlon Friend shall be known as Outdoor Swimming Friend.
And here, to cheer everyone up, is a lovely interview on the BBC website with a chap from the Serpentine Swimming Club in January.
Right, I’m off for some warm indoor swimming…
For some reason, although I’ve been swimming regularly for most of my adult life (with the odd year or two off for pure laziness or gym substitution), I’ve never banished my impending sense of dread when I know I have to go. Some of it I can trace back to early trauma – I was terrified of pools until I was 6 because of an accident when I was a baby – but some of it is inexplicable. Yesterday afternoon I completely unnecessarily rang Usual Pool in the hope that it would be closed, even though then I’d have been swimming at the Oasis (in -4 winds and driving snow). When I got there, I had to tell myself that I was only going to do ten minutes in order to make myself go in, although of course it was fine once I started (well slow and clunky, but fine) and I enjoyed it.
My ex-boyfriend (who can’t swim) used to helpfully say ‘Why do you go if you don’t like it’ when I bellyached about having to get up and swim on an empty stomach instead of eating breakfast. But actually, it’s been Triathlon Friend’s enthusiasm that has reminded me that I do really like being in the water and love how I feel afterwards. I think Usual Pool helps too, as I’m much less likely to end up feeling ‘I’m too slow, no too quick, should I move lanes, are they laughing at my breast stroke legs’. Plus the thought of a nice hot sauna afterwards is a real incentive.
I’ve been out of the pool (and off work) with a stomach upset which is particularly frustrating because a week ago, when I last swam, I think I made a breakthrough. Up until now, what’s been frustrating me is feeling that my slow leg action is pulling me back when I’m used to effortlessly gliding through the water. From practising with floats, I now realise that those slow glides were underpinned by quite a lot of power from my calfs. I’m not going to be able to replicate that immediately with a movement using my whole legs as, in particular, my thigh muscles just aren’t strong enough yet. So, I need to resign myself to swimming slowly, get the leg movement right, and let that dictate how fast I move my arms through the water. Back in the pool this evening, and I’m so out of shape that my arm muscles will probably have wasted away anyway.
I sneakily waited until I had Usual Pool to myself last night and started trying out the Legs Only with a float. Gosh that’s hard. I really don’t feel like I put any effort into my arm movements normally – they genuinely feel like they are simply moving through the water – but they must be responsible for so much as progress was very, very hard. I also tried doing Old Kick with the float and and seemed to be marginally quicker than out-and-round-and together. Clearly there’s something wrong with my technique. It’s possible that I did a few lengths right this time but I don’t feel confident. Groo.
I had a very stern email from triathlon friend last week, who advised me:
“when you’re flipping your legs you are missing out so many (important) muscles … flipping them backwards does not propel you very far at all, it’s tiring and bad for your knees; you need to concentrate on a smooth movement. You have to constantly focus on stroke, it’s an essential part of your work out and it’s all too easy to get lazy so you should approach this as a different way of swimming on which you will constantly improve. No swimmer swims perfectly unless they’re concentrating on what they’re doing. ”
I should add that although she despises breast stroke she actually did a couple of (very long) lengths of it and even a length doing it with my incorrect leg movement, just so she could advise me. And subsequently texted me that she was practising it on her office chair.
So, I’ve been persisting. On Wednesday I thought I was getting somewhere in Usual Pool which I had mostly to myself. However, on Friday I was catching a train out of Victoria so went to the Queen Mum’s pool – and lordy how slow and clunky I have become! At one point I wanted to cry with frustration and humiliation because now I was the one holding everyone up and being taken over. I did a couple of lengths The Old Way and realised it makes me very straight, pointed and streamlined, but that most of the leg power is concentrated in my calves, which is presumably why I get cramp in them if I’m not careful. Interestingly my arms really don’t feel like they’re working especially hard, although ex-pool attendant boyfriend says I should start using a float.
On the plus side, being in a Proper Public Pool meant that I could observe other swimmers’ leg movements (which was a bit strange for them – why is that slow woman attempting to follow me?). Although some were doing beautifully froglike, rounded movements, many were not, which made me feel better. Especially when two of the worst offenders went on to do, respectively, side stroke and back butterfly (which ex-pa bf tells me is called ‘the dolphin’).