Posted: April 22, 2015 in Swimming

A hat, a watch and a medal

“200 lengths in a 25 meter pool, that must be so boring!”, that’s what many people said when I told them that I was doing the Swimathon. I try to do the Swimathon every year (try, not do) as it’s rare to have an opportunity to swim 5km in a pool in a fairly non-competitive environment. I really don’t find it boring; if I did I wouldn’t do it over and over. It must be what I call my “long distance mind-set”. Short and fast is not for me, long and steady suits me better.

On a long swim in the pool I lose count of the lengths fairly quickly, it’ll start with wondering if that was the 11th or 12th and progress to a complete blank, that’s why when I’m training I tend to swim for a length of time rather than a distance, at least I can glance at the clock occasionally. Recently though I’ve bought a sports watch. It does lots of clever stuff except ironically telling the time. One of the functions is to count lengths. I learnt quickly that this was great to know after a session but looking at a watch during the swim was a little cumbersome and lost the flow. Then I found you could set an alarm to go after a certain number of meters. Now I get a little buzz after every 500 meters. That works for me; I now know vaguely where I am in the swim.

I was in a lane with three others, one was doing the 2.5km event and the other two were doing the full length event. The thing with swimmers is that you can never tell by looking at them if they are going to be fast or slow. The towering bronzed Adonis with muscles of steel could be as effective in the water as a stone. I’ve met plenty of people with an “open water physique”, plenty of insolation and a fuller figure, who glide through the water with the grace and style of a porpoise. The stereotypes don’t work and it’s not until you’re in the water that you find out. One clue though is the stroke, everyone else was doing breaststroke, it was likely I’d be doing a lot of overtaking.

We started with 10 second gaps between us. I wasn’t expecting to overtake everyone quite so quickly. There is certain etiquette to passing someone. Tap them on the foot and they will stop at the end and let you pass. This is easy when everyone is doing crawl, but when there are a few breaststrokers it becomes a little more fraught. I got kicked a lot.

Swimming puts you in a very isolated world; you can’t talk to anyone else so you have no idea of the mood and thoughts of those around you. I can’t mind read, but this doesn’t stop me from trying to deduce what people are thinking from their actions. I’m usually wrong. I thought that the others must get fairly fed up with me continuously passing them. I’ve no idea why I get this notion, when I’ve been the slower swimmer I have no issue with the procedure, it’s just the way it is and I wouldn’t want to hold up someone too much. It does mean that I try and hang back until the last quarter of the length before tapping the ankle. I do find it very hard to swim that slowly and if there is no one on the other side I’ll try and pass. This did go wrong once and I ended up swimming directly at another competitor. Not good.

The other two 5km swimmers seemed to have a strategy of swimming a few lengths and then stopping for a rest. One of them was alternating crawl and breaststroke as well. I liked it when she did crawl as I could grab a tow up the pool. I really couldn’t work out the pattern of rests and strokes; this occupied me for a while.

Suddenly there were only two of us in the lane. It dawned on me slowly that I wasn’t passing so many people so often. This was good but where had they gone? I hoped that they hadn’t given up or that my constant overtaking hadn’t annoyed them too much. After a while it dawned on me that they had moved to the next lane, no doubt as thankful for the space as I was.

The buzzer when for 3.5km, this was good “only” 1.5km to go. Long distance has this effect. I’ll swim 1500 meters on a lunchtime and feel that was a long way but now it seems like a short sprint to the finish. The cramp came a little later. The toes on my left foot started cramping. The three middle ones. Not badly, but enough to feel some pain. I really didn’t want to stop so tried to stretch them whilst swimming. This does not work. I know from experience that swimming on will produce one of two outcomes: crippling and debilitating cramp or the cramp goes away. I carried on and prayed for the second. I got lucky.

I may not be able to count up to 200 but I can count down from twenty, the last twenty lengths were a breeze, in my imagination I had lifted the pace and was steaming up and down the pool with effortless grace, cruising to the triumph of finishing another Swimathon. I have no doubt that this view was at total odds with reality. Sometimes reality can be wrong. The final length came, at the end I was hoping there would be a sign, anything, to say that I’d finished. Nothing. I asked the official, “is that me done”? “Yep” he replied. One of the ladies in the next lane gave me a big smile and said “well done” before heading off up the pool.

I wandered off with my medal and new swim hat, tired and contented. I’d done 5 kilometres in a reasonable time. Now it was time to eat, drink and sleep. All was right with the world


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