FEATURES,  View from the Water

Sarah’s swim training – step 1

Having seen her brave Hampstead Lido in the middle of winter, we knew our fearless deputy editor had taken open water swimming to heart when she took up her job. However, by her own admission, her front crawl technique lacked a little finesse so we decided to send her on a Swim for Tri training course. At the end of it, she’s committed to taking on a significant open water challenge. In the meantime, she’s a written a short blog post for us about her first lesson.
It’s been about 15 years since I last had a swimming lesson, and here I am – shivering by the shallow end once more, feeling like a little kid. Even at the grand old age of 29, the smell of clorine, goose-pimply legs and the bumpy, tiled floor under bare feet is enough to take me back to memories of angry balding men with clipboards and whistles shouting at me to put my face in the water.
It’s the first session of the Swim For Tri Learning Front Crawl course (http://bit.ly/muH5V6) and I’m a tad pessimistic. Although I loved (and love) swimming, I always hated swimming classes, where shouty teachers, communal changing and chilly public pools took the fun out of the sport for me and for many.
Luckily, this lesson is to prove far less brutal than those of the early years. I had been worried about confessing the embarrasing truth that I – despite being a good swimmer and triathlete – had never mastered what I still thought of as ‘real’ swimming: the crawl, but it seems I am not alone. Beside me at the poolside were 5 other wannabe crawlers, three of whom – like me – wanted to speed up their open water swimming, and two runners who were along to try ‘something new’.
Our teacher, Keeley, is about as far as you could get from a balding, shouty man, except that she has a clipboard. She jokes with us to relax us as she ascertains our particular problems with the stroke – mostly breathing and legs – and as she gets us in the water and on to mastering the stroke.
The trick, she says, is to break the stroke down to its base elements, starting off with legs. The problem for most of us is kicking from the knee, when it should be from the ‘glutes’. Keeley explains what it should look like and then tells us to put a finger on our buttcheeks while we tense and relax them, allowing our leg to be pulled forward and back in the line of our body. We all feel very foolish.
But it works. We swim up and down, with Keeley giving us different activities each pair of lengths, and  by the end of the class we’re all gliding along with our faces in the water, kicking from the hip and feeling pretty proud of ourselves. If this is week one, I can’t wait to see where we’ll be after eight weeks.

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.