After my morning at Tilgate parkrun, I took a train to London Bridge and then got on the underground to Stratford – destination: the London Aquatics Centre in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park!
I was going to meet most of the other Swimathon Ambassadors and some very special guests.
I arrived just in time for the start of the ambassadors session and was introduced to the host team, which consisted of staff from Limelight Sports, Freestak and Marie Curie as well as the media team and some special guests. The different agencies explained their roles and then we had some time to mingle before being taken off with the media team in pairs.
Each of us recorded some short pieces to camera about why we wanted to be involved in Swimathon. I think that swimming is a great form of exercise for everyone as well as being a potentially life-saving skill. Swimathon is a great organisation and I’m committed to the charities which it is supporting: Marie Curie and Cancer Research… my father passed away from oesophageal cancer when I was 24, so it is something that made a great mark on my life.
After my interview, there was a bit more time for chatting and learning about each others’ stories over a cuppa. We also got to see Duncan’s Olympic medal… it might be nearly 38 years old but neither the achievement nor the medal are tarnished!
The first point that Keri-anne discussed is the importance of avoiding drag/resistance. One of the main ways to achieve this is to look directly down in the pool. Human instinct is to see where you are going, so you need to resist this. Duncan acknowledged that this is a swimming technique that has changed since the 1970s/80s. He said he thinks he would have gone faster if he had been looking down instead of at the end of the pool!
Keri-anne also explained that the pivot point of your body is your lungs, not your hips. I had never thought of this before, but it makes sense.
Keri-anne explained that the session would focus on front crawl as it is the quickest and most efficient stroke. There are three aspects to work on:
- body position
We did an exercise that involved jogging on the spot. We had to take a deep breath and hold it before exhaling. It makes you feel light-headed as you are hyperventilating. This is the most common problem that people have when swimming. In no other sport do you hold your breath in this way, except for maybe yoga or kabaddi. We were advised to try to breathe as normally as possible. I remember that this was the biggest challenge when I was learning to swim. I had a real fear that I would be unable to get enough oxygen in, so I used to gasp for air; as soon as I relaxed, I was able to breathe more comfortably.
Keri-anne recommended breathing out through your nose to stop water going in. Breathing out underwater gives you a bit more time to exhale and therefore increases the amount of time that you have to inhale as well.
An important message was not to panic about swallowing water. I think that’s one of the hardest things for a novice swimmer. I remember panicking when I first started learning and it makes everything worse, so that you end up choking and spluttering in the middle of the pool. Now if I accidentally inhale some water, I might have a slight cough, but I can usually continue with my length and I know that I will be able to breathe again. It was reassuring to learn that breathing and swimming simultaneously is something that many people find hard.
The next thing that we discussed is the importance of whole body rotation (rather than just rotating your shoulders). I think this is something that I’ve always struggled with and definitely needs more work. I worry that if I rotate my hips too much then I’ll end up with flappy corkscrew legs (like some people that I see at the pool).
Keri-anne explained that to achieve your goal, your training schedule should have three elements:
- strength endurance
My goal is to complete the 2.5km swim in under an hour. This should be possible, but with the amount of swimming that I’ve been doing recently, it will require commitment and dedication.
These were the 3-4 sessions a week that Keri-anne recommended for me:
- Speed. 2-4 x 25m at maximum effort. Time yourself.
- Distance – build it up over the 14 weeks. This will depend on your starting point. Plan for 4 week cycles where every 4th week is a rest week.
- Strength endurance. Get used to swimming at the pace you need to maintain. For me this is 2:20/100m.
- If you have time for a 4th session, just enjoy it 🙂
Duncan’s tip was to have a specific aspect of your technique to think about each length. This is important for me as after I’ve been swimming for a while, my mind starts wandering. Last year towards the end of my 5km, I felt so bored. I was playing all sort of mind games to try to keep me going.
Duncan also pointed out that tightness in your body shows in your technique – that’s all the excuse I need to book in for a massage!
It was on to a pool session with Keri-anne and Duncan.
The first exercises were about breathing. Apparently the correct technique is to take a gentle breath in through your mouth and then to exhale through your nose. It took me a long time to learn not to gasp in a huge lungful of air, but I don’t recall being told to exhale through my nose, so that’s something I’m getting wrong and am struggling to correct.
We then worked on our rotation and did alternate lengths focusing on breathing or rotation.
Keri-anne then worked with us in pairs. I was told that I’m crossing my arms over, so I needed to practice swimming up and down on the line ensuring that my hands stayed either side of it.
We spent some time giving our partner feedback on what we thought they could do to improve which was a useful exercise.
Then we finished with a bit of fun… Keri-anne and Duncan took part in a handstand competition, so we all had a go. Some members of the group were really good. I know that my handstands on dry land are OK thanks to doing gymnastics for years, but in a pool, I’m terrible. It took me lots of attempts before I even managed to get my hands on the bottom of the pool, let alone get my legs out of the water. I think there might be video evidence of my attempt!
Overall, it was an absolutely fantastic day. I learnt so much and was shattered by the time I left. I’m definitely much more inspired to get on with my training.
If you enjoyed reading this, why not check out some of the other ambassadors’ posts:
- Helen – Swimathon 2018: Swim For All
- Fiona – She swims…
- Julie – Swimathon ambassadors’ day
- Stephen – Time for star pupil to resurface with Swimathon 2018
- Wanda – The journey…