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Be Slightly Less Shit

For someone who is focused on running for the year, I’ve started doing something curious of late.   Something that even at my Ironman training peak I didn’t tend to do terribly often.

Swimming for the fun of it.

Getting motivated for a swim session used to be an absolute chore and don’t get me wrong – it’s still not too far from it.  I was back and forth for my most recent effort this past weekend, and it was only the imploring voice of my 5 year old (who – if I swim, gets to go on the waterslide after her respective swimming lesson.  I suspect she had an ulterior motive for her encouragement) that ensured me suiting up for my brief watery sojourn.

And that is all it is.  1000m (20 lengths) in as fast as I can.  I have a PB over 1000m of 21:13 – which is, well, a bit shit.  I’ve recently completed it in 22:23, 23:32 and 22:27.  None of which have been terribly inspiring efforts, but at the same time, my arms have not become detached from my shoulders after swimming them, so I figure I have some improvement in me.  This past weekend I was determined to go faster and try and nudge that 21 minute mark.  I have an ambition to nudge around the 17 minute mark for the distance – so putting it mildly – I have a lot of work to do.

I set out in my most recent effort to try and make it a steady effort – strong kick, long arms and relaxed breathing.  I figured I wasn’t making much headway into this early on when a breast-stroking mother (I know this because her son is in my daughters class) saw me coming and pushed off from the wall anyway.  She figured she could take me over 25m while I was swimming freestyle.  In retrospect I see her point.   I was taking quick glances at my watch every few lengths to track my progress, but also to give me a distraction of mathematical calculation while I was pounding my way through these increasingly fast laps.  I was telling myself that if I could just maintain my pace – or even speed up a little? – then that personal best was assured.  Sure; I had only completed 200m and had 4/5ths of the way to go, but I was on track for that first incredibly short section. Success was assured, if I could just hold my initial lap pace for the entirety of the swim.

Breathing became laboured.  Mind started to wander.  Daughter started to become distracted from lesson and waved to me during a lap turn.  I was getting bored so I waved back.  Also it would’ve seemed un-parently not to.  Songs in my head started to turn a decidedly poor range of CBeebies introduction tunes.  I think Justin’s House got a run in there somewhere.  It was dark times.

But then – the finish line came in sight.  Admittedly it was the same line that I had passed some 10 times previous over the course of zipping back and forth in this 25m pool, but it was metaphorical more than literal.  The kick strengthened again.  The arms turned that little bit faster.  I’m sure from above me the spray of my flailing limbs must have been a head turner for the parents who were watching their children learn how to swim on their backs.  Look!  Look at that man and his impressive swim stroke!  He must be an Olympian or something!  In Brentford!

The breathing got even harder as I became aware of how hot my head had become.  I was now breathing on every second stroke, desperate for the oxygen to fuel my arms and legs that were pushing the very limits that they were built to push.  At a quick glance I could see the lifeguard get out of his chair, and I could swear he was coming over to ask – ‘are you ok mate?’.  It is easy to mistake a herculean effort in the pool on a Sunday morning for something akin to drowning in your local public.

I turned for the last 25m and left it all in the pool, which is what the chlorine is for I suppose.  I grunted, and urged my body on ever faster, not knowing how much I was going to break my personal best by, but I was looking forward to the smugness of clicking on ‘ok’ on my Garmin Connect to indicate that I acknowledged it.  Yes – thank you Garmin.  I am indeed much faster.

I reached out for the wall with a final lunge, just as they do in the Olympics with the under water cameras, and I quickly groped the turn my Garmin off as every precious second leaked away from my time.  I took great, heaving deep breaths to calm myself and relax after the huge effort I had put in – inadvertently stopping in the way of the old lady who was continuing her laps of backstroke.  I looked down at my watch, ready to splash the water with a fist pump of joy.


Well that’s…ok?  It’s better than anything I’ve done this year, but it’s not a PB.  I’m confused.  I’m not sad, but I’m not happy either.  I mean, I’m not overjoyed, I’m just…finished.   I continue to sit in the corner of the pool, watching my daughter leap into the water towards the end of lesson and dive down seeking to touch the bottom.  I’m breathing deeply, but with a puzzled expression on my face.   Am I disappointed because I didn’t get a PB?  Am I happy because I swam faster than I have all year?  Am I going to get a coffee after this?

After some reflection I decided this – I was pretty happy with that effort.  I don’t swim much, so to expect improvement is like your mate who eats McDonalds all the time (with a Diet Coke) and can’t understand why they keep putting on weight.  On this day, I was shit.  But I was slightly less shit than I was before.  And that’s something.

Be slightly less shit.




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