“Relax and glide,” she said to me. “That is all there is to swimming. And breathing of course.”
Those first three words were a revelation to me as soon as she said them. All my life, I had mostly thought of swimming as one or more of the following words: boring, tiring, splashing. Occasionally, on a really hot day, those words would translate into more positive words like beautiful, refreshing, fun, relaxing. But as I said, only on a really hot day and in England at least, those days are often few and far between.
Here I was, a fifty year old man, standing in a learner pool, feeling like a five year old, learning how to swim all over again. I did learn how to swim when I was a kid but for some reason, I never learnt how to do the front crawl properly. That is, head down and breathing in every third stroke. The real reason of course, I have known all along but never fully confessed until I confronted it the other day with my instructor is fear.
Fear of swallowing water. Fear of stinging my eyes. Fear of drowning. Fear of death ultimately I guess.
So, the first step towards swimming properly was to get my head down in the water. I achieved this by doing exactly what the instructor told me to do. She started out by getting me to push off and float on my back just to realise all over again, that natural buoyancy of the human body but also how your legs naturally drop down. I did reasonably well when it came to staying afloat without moving my arms and legs.
Next, it was time to do the same but face the water and act like a dead man in the water. Fear of death. Well go ahead, make my day and I will pretend.
This was remarkably liberating to do. For one thing, I didn’t inhale any water. I didn’t drown.
She explained how the body’s natural reaction to having one’s head under the water is to ‘fight or flight’ and this does not help us to relax or glide of course.
Relax and glide.
What a wonderful thought.
The only trouble is, it takes another word which a lot of us have to push through to use to our advantage.
What or maybe who would you have to trust in order to relax a bit more in life and glide through the waters that are there to help you but for some reason, like me perhaps, they’ve often been the cause of tension or fear?
You may well be wondering why on earth I am putting myself through all of this in the first place?
I’m training for a triathlon. Well actually, it’s more like a mini-triathlon: 400 metre swim, 10 kilometre bike ride, 2.5 kilometre run.
The bike and the run do not concern me too much. It is the swim that terrifies me. 400 METRES!? That’s SIXTEEN lengths of a normal pool. I normally give up before I’ve finished two lengths!
But that’s where the ‘head down’ method that once held me back is now going to help me.
I’ll tell you how I’m getting on next time and why I’m doing the triathlon at all.