Back in June, I had to stop running for six weeks because of injured knees. I also deferred my entry to the Chicago Marathon, because I knew I wouldn’t have enough time to train well, and there are few things more miserable than running a marathon on too little training. Instead I entered the bank holiday triathlon, and also signed up to do the mile distance in Swim Serpentine in September.
I wrote about swimming last October, and my attempt to get back into it then was short lived. Signing up for a triathlon and an open water swim is a great motivator, and since June I’ve made it to the pool a couple of times each week. At first I could only do three or four lengths before having to have a rest, and I realised I was thinking about my breathing too much which meant it wasn’t relaxed. If I wake up in the night and can’t get back to sleep, I recite in my head the parkrun locations I have run in around the country, starting in Bideford in Devon and ending up in Edinburgh in Scotland. I tried this while swimming and it worked; giving my mind something to focus on other than breathing enabled me to simply breathe and get into a rhythm.
But swimming 60 lengths in a pool is a world away from swimming a mile in a lake. A couple of weeks before the Serpentine swim, I went to Heron Lake, just off the M25 to have a practice, kicking myself that I hadn’t done it before. And it was terrifying. I slowly made my way round the kilometer loop, swimming a few strokes, getting out of breath because my breathing was panicky, stopping to adjust my goggles which were so steamed up I couldn’t see where I was going, wanting to give up, and questioning my sanity at putting myself through this ordeal out of choice. The safety kayaker who keeps an eye on the swimmers came over to check I was ok, for which I was very grateful.
In the week, I bought myself a new pair of goggles, telling myself that, like Dumbo’s magic feather, that would make all the difference. And I gave myself a talking to. My body can swim a mile; it was my mind that was stopping me. I went back the following week on both Saturday and Sunday, both beautiful clear mornings with bright blue skies, and something clicked. I did a kilometre on Saturday, and 1500m on the Sunday, and was even enjoying it by the end.
Swim Serpentine was a great event, efficiently organised with separate dry and wet changing areas and hot tubs just past the finishing time. It took me a while to get into my stroke, but I did it, and Joel and Flo came to meet me at the end which was an extra treat. I intend to keep up my swimming this year. I want to learn to breathe bilaterally and to do tumble turns, and then I’ll try the two-mile swim next year, with my eye on the London Classics medal!