Swimmers - who look like they know what to do - in last year's Shock Absorber WO Triathlon
When considering training for and competing in the triathlon, the aspect that floated my boat the least had to be the idea of hurling oneself in a freezing lake and thrashing out 700 or 1000 meters surrounded by more skilled swimmers, all competing to kick me hardest in the face as they overtook me.
I didn’t even think I would enjoy the training in the (heated) pool very much and most shaming of all – I couldn’t swim front crawl, or even put my face in the water as trying to breathe made me panic and freak out - fearing I was having a stroke. But THEN I went on a training day at Dorney Lake with the amazing John and Marsha of RG Active, experienced triathlon swimming coaches who managed to provide both a reality check and a confidence boost to a gang of frightened beginners including some so inexperienced they even put their wetsuit on inside out (me).
Hurling themselves in the lake at beautiful Eton Dorney for the 2012 triathlon
So scared was I, that when trainer Dermott gave me a schedule with three swimming sessions a week on it, I actually cancelled my social life there and then, bought a new swimming cozzie from TOPSHOP (what? It’s got a wolf on it!) started training in earnest. I forced myself to swim front crawl, although I couldn’t keep it up for a full length at first; a few weeks in, I can just about manage 1000m front crawl (yes, with my face in the water) plus a few lengths breaststroke in the slow lane to unwind afterwards.
The biggest surprise was how enjoyable it is. The 50m outdoor Lido is about three quarters of my way home from work, and has turned out to be the perfect way to de-stress after a day behind a desk. Life in the medium lane – that’s me.
Before and after - this time last year I would only swim breaststroke to avoid smudging my makeup, now I've had to take it more seriously
Aside from being able to swim a reasonable distance, in triathlon you’ll have to cope with the lake – or ‘open water’ – freezing cold, no sides to push off and no guide on what direction to go in (remember - your head’s under water). To combat this, RG Active run outdoor swimming sessions so you can do battle with the wetsuit in preparation, and even get used to the temperature and general murkiness before the event. The good thing about wearing a wetsuit is you don’t have to get a bikini wax – ummm, I mean it’s more buoyant – so you have to kick less and (fingers crossed) shouldn’t sink.
SWIMMING KIT from Wiggle.com
However, it’s not completely easy-peasy so here are some tips for swimming training to make the transition from tadpole to dolphin (or something) a bit smoother.
This means look where you’re going in between the strokes as you want to swim straight ahead and not crash into the bank. Use a landmark on the horizon to help you.
Visualise yourself swimming like an arrow whizzing through tube – a keeping your body taut and rotating the hips. Fewer, more powerful strokes are much better than lots of smaller, panicky ones.
A mantra in your head
If, like me you lack confidence when it comes to sportiness, it can be useful to keep a positive mantra going in your head. Something like ‘I am a machine’ or ‘everything’s going to be fine’ should do the trick. When comedian David Walliams swam the Channel and the Thames, he claimed to recite song lyrics and sing in his head to keep up morale. When I’m feeling really fatigued, rather than focus on the number of lengths I still have to complete, I usually tell myself I can get out after two more. I haven’t chickened out of my full quota yet.