Swimming lessons forty years apart

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Sitting on the top floor of a double decker bus along with 11 other class mates ( that’s how old I am as class sizes tiny compared to today), the windows are steamed up, there is a stinging smell of chlorine, half the class have either odd socks or someone else’s shirt, jumper or trousers on. A few are still in shock, most of us have red eyes as no goggles allowed, one thing we have in common is we are starving regardless of if we splashed, paddled, drowned or swan a 500meters.

We were returning from our first swimming lesson at primary school, towards the end of our second year so 6 or 7 years old. The bus trip to the pool was just as exciting as going to the big pool. It was called the big pool as it was 33m in length and had a diving pool and variety of boards peaking at 10meters, the height Tom Daley plunges off.

Swimsiuts finally on amongst the excited chatter in the changing rooms, most suits and trunks on the right way round, we sat on the skinny wooden benches along the side of the pool at the shallow end. We were to be split up into ability, a bit like lambs being sorted for fatness for the abattoirs. We were a mixed dozen, four of who claimed we could swim were taken down the deep end whilst four nervously put their hand up saying they’d never even been in a pool so were taken to the splash pool and the brave 8 improvers were lined up at the shallow end.

I was in the can swim group so we were told to jump in and swim as far as we could. So off I went up and down up and down waiting to be told to stop or at least have some instruction on stroke, technique or style. Of the four of us, two dropped off after about 100m but myself and David kept going until the swimming instructor threw a float in and stopped us. She said we seemed confident and yes indeed could swim and as she needed to spend time with the other two we were free to swim as we wished.

Well now unattended a bit of competition and Dare You came in. David and I headed off to the diving pool and jumped up and down on the spring board creating star shapes as we jumped into the pool. Then the Dare you to go off the next spring board… Boing boing boing, this was great fun. Dare you to go off the next board, a solid 5 meter platform…. The first time we stood hand in hand and jumped off together. Wow this is fab :-) we jumped solo a few times of the 5 meter platform, confidence growing.Then the final 10 meter platform was the last Dare to be done. David was either getting more sensible or losing his nerve. He didn’t want to go together or first so Zoe the brave heart stepped forward….. 1,2….3 Jump.

Wow again the adrenalin and rush of excitement was brilliant. The view from the top was great I could see down the high street and the rest of my class looked like floating currants in the pool below. I stepped forward and loved the rush of air past my body and face, holding my breath as I was sucked into the diving pool. I bombed up sucked in as much air as possible and swam to the far side of the pool so I could see David at the top.

I was calling for David to jump too as he stood on the edge but as I shouted up and coaxed him down the swimming teacher heard my shouts and realised what we were up to, I was shouting Jump down she was shouting get down just as David took the plunge. This may have made him wobble or lose concentration. Unfortunately on impact with the water he sprained wrist, well just because we could swim it didn’t mean we could dive, in fact we had no instruction on safe diving or jumping. David was pulled out and had his wrist seen to and strapped for support, I was told to get back in the big pool and swim up and down for the last five minutes of the lesson.

My first swimming lesson didn’t really teach me anything about swimming, but taught me to keep my hands, arms and legs tight when jumping off a ten meter platform. I was lucky that I was floating around in the Caribbean seas at just a few months old and then taught to swim in pools that friends of my parents in Jamaica. When we returned back to the UK, my grandma was a good swimmer in her youth so taught my sister and I to swim at a very early age. A fortnight later at school swimming lessons I managed to obtain swim badges from 10meters to 1,000m which I had to do consecutively so must have swum a couple of miles ! Then within the month. I had my one mile swimming badge, all of which were proudly sewn onto my swimming towel. A few couple of years later I joined a local swimming club initially swimming 3 days a week then 6 then when I moved up to the A squad 10 times a week with morning and evening sessions which I continued from 9 years to 19 years of age competing at county level. David went on to be a gymnast and a pretty good one until girls, beer and teenage life took over his attention and time.

So jump forty years and I had signed up for a one to one swimming lesson at my local sports centre. I wanted someone to look at my stroke, technique and efficiency and point out my flaws and offer advice, drills and tips of how I could improve my swimming to be more efficient for next years ironman UK.

No diving pool to be distracted by and a 25 meter UV treated pool so less of that stinging chlorine effects, also you’ll be pleased to know I am more than capable of getting changed quickly, drive myself to the pool, plus I was allowed to wear swimming goggles :-)

I got in the pool 15 minutes early so I could have a warm up before my half hour lesson. It take this old body a little longer to warm up than 40 years ago !

“Off you go and swim a few lengths for me to watch”, says the coach. Now how long will I be ploughing up and down this time I thought ? No worries just a 100m for analysis. Initial feedback was I had a good solid stroke and technique but there were areas that could be improved and as my fitness improves my technique can improve to make me more efficient so I can get out of the water fresh and ready for 112 cycling miles and a marathon to run. Two torn rotator cuffs, one dislocated shoulder and a wonky finger were all spotted as having a bit of an affect on my stroke. As these old injuries are all on the same arm so it’s the right arm that I can focus on correcting, an elastic band will get that broken finger pulled in to be in line with the others.

The areas to tweak were classics, but unless you are told you don’t know how to improve, I was given some drills to do which I was familiar with, but the best part was the full explanation of what each drill is specifically for and how it improves technique. A few open water traits crept in during the lesson – I lifted my head to sight, yes in a pool ! Just in case the wall moved lol plus lifted my mouth higher than necessary as I anticipated waves, chop and splash that just wasn’t there in the pool. These will be useful again when I hit the chilly lake come spring.

Back to basics and time to slow it all down and focus on fingers, hand entry, arms and shoulders. I was doing doggy paddle for half a length, then swim half a length. Then doggy paddle with a pull buoy, sculling, catch up, zipper, finger trail all under the watchful eye of Nicci who would shout from the side – stretch, roll, scull, pull, kick………etc as required if I lost focus.

Amazingly my stroke felt smoother at the end of the lesson and going from drill to swim I could focus on and feel the water with a different arm part and phase of the stroke. This gave me a better feel of the water which I need to get right before I get in the wetsuit in spring. Seems I have a descent kick, but as a lazy triathlete don’t use it enough. So will bring that back into play to help the speed. Swim kick uses different muscle to cycling and maybe will help warm my feet up as they were so cold after Henleys 70.3 distance river swim.

Winter focus – stretch and reach, roll, catch, pull, push & fick, think long strokes to reduce stroke count per length and stroke strength and efficiency. Use those legs. Then hopefully the speed will come later…??

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