Featured,  View from the Water

What’s the point of all that swimming?

Last weekend I did a 400m freestyle race in a pool at the Gloucester Masters meet. I posted a time that was 0.7s slower than the life-time best I swam at the masters nationals in 2011. I was pretty pleased with the result as:

  1. it was the first time I’d raced over that distance since 2011
  2. I swam according to my race plan, paced it well and hit all my turns
  3. I missed six months of training last year because of a prolapsed disk in my upper back
  4. I’m less fit than I was four years ago because I no longer run or cycle (due to the prolapsed disk)
  5. I’m four years older!

When I got home my teenage son asked me how I’d got on. I told him, and then he asked me, in the cutting and cruel way that only teenagers can manage, “what’s the point of all that swimming if you don’t get any better?!
From a teenager’s perspective, four years is a long time. If you swim as a teenager you seem to get faster every week without trying, just because you’ve got a little bit taller and stronger. You would expect a massive improvement over four years. Once you reach a certain age, speed maintenance is as much a cause for celebration as speed gains.
Secondly, it’s a common mistake to always equate swimming better to swimming faster, especially for open water swimmers. I know that over the last four years my tolerance for cold water has improved as has my ability to swim continuously over longer distances. I’ve also improved my open water racing skills (drafting, sighting and turning for example). Then, by working on technique, I’ve developed a much better understanding and feel of what I’m doing as I swim. So, although I haven’t got faster, I’ve become a better all-round swimmer.
Finally – and perhaps most importantly – the point of “all that swimming” is not just to become a “better” swimmer. Like many swimmers, I just happen to love being in the water. I also like the fitness benefits, the swimming adventures and the social life that comes with it. Of course, I’d still like to swim faster (and I think I can) but speed certainly isn’t the only thing that matters.
In case you don’t yet read H2Open Magazine, you should know it’s not all about how to swim faster (although we do cover that). It’s a celebration of life in the open water and subscriptions start from just £24.95 per year.