Not all swims are created equal. Some days the water is light and gentle and swimming is easy. If you want to swim fast, your effort is rewarded with speed. If you want to focus on technique, your timing is perfect and everything falls into place. If you want to relax, the water feels soft and cool against your skin. Swimming like this is one of the things that keeps drawing us back to the water.
But it’s not always like this. Sometimes the water is heavy. Every ripple on the surface is timed to hit your mouth just as you breathe. When you put in more effort to speed up, nothing happens except your arms hurt. You can’t find the right rhythm.
It’s easy to credit or blame external factors for these changes in how we feel about swimming. Swimming outside is conducive to feeling good in the water, which is one of the reasons we love it. Last week I was lucky enough to take a dip in the new swimming pond at King’s Cross. Everyone in the water had a big grin across their face, despite the chill and rain.
Swimming in a public session in a crowded, overheated pool is likely to have the opposite effect. If you’re suffering from lane rage, your chance of a pleasant swim is close to zero.
But there are ways to help capture that special swimming feeling, even when circumstances are conspiring against us.
Swimmers will often set objectives for each time they enter the water. These might be to complete a particular training set and hit some target times, to spend an hour working on a particular aspect of technique or to splash around for a while and then enjoy a piece of cake with some friends. Here’s a new one you can add: try to capture the magic of swimming.
The other day I took my daughter to a club training session. The club had booked two lanes of the pool, which meant the rest of the pool was open to the public so I had the opportunity to get in the water too. However, a third lane was being used by a group for a charity swim, which left one single lane for lap swimming and a double lane for everyone else. The double lane was full of teenagers doing crazy stunts such as backward somersaults into the water (why they’re allowed to do that but I’m not allowed to use paddles doesn’t make sense but that’s another topic). The single lane, which was marked as ‘fast lane’, had about five swimmers in it doing very slow breaststroke. The pool was noisy, smelly, hot and less than pristinely clean. In terms of doing any serious swimming, it doesn’t get much worse.
Still, rather than sit and wait for my daughter’s class to finish I swam anyway, and decided I wanted to have an enjoyable swimming experience despite the conditions. This meant dropping all plans for any interval training and making the best of the situation.
I think the first rule for having an enjoyable swim is therefore to enter the water with the right attitude. The second, is to not spoil anyone else’s swim or cause resentment from the other swimmers – somehow those bad feelings only come back to ruin your swim.
The next thing to recognise is that your ability to change the behaviour of other people using the lane is extremely limited. There are a lot of lane rage blog posts out there with all sorts of suggestions for what other people should do – move aside for faster swimmers, understand that a gentle tap on the toes is not a sexual assault but a signal that someone wants to overtake, change lanes etc. – but is it really worth the effort trying to get other people to comply with your way of thinking about how public swimming should work?
I decided to relax, to swim calmly and adjust to the surroundings. When I had space to swim a full length front crawl, I did so. I even managed a couple of sprints. When I couldn’t, I did drills, or breaststroke or sometimes just flipped on my back, kicked my legs gently and enjoyed the support of the water (and even that was faster than some of the other people in the lane). It wasn’t a training session, but it was still an enjoyable swim with a few moments of swimming magic.
You don’t need to wait for swimming magic to happen to you; you can actively seek it.
Image: the swimming pond at King’s Cross