Proper swimming

I started off my week with a 10km run on Monday. It was a bitterly cold morning, the wind was shockingly icy and it was trying to snow. Running past this freshly-painted shark made me smile, though.

Of course, that Monday morning weather was just the start of what ended up being an absolute arse of a week weather-wise. On Wednesday we woke up to a light covering of powdery snow. I decided to head over to the busway to see if the service track was clear and it was, so I did my usual 5km run in the falling snow.

It was such fun! I was grinning the whole time, even though my face was cold and I had snow in my eyes. I saw a fellow runner wearing a diving mask in order to deal with this exact situation. Bizarre but effective. The snow must've given me some kind of extra special leg power because I ended up with a 5K PB. Woohoo!

After reading Alexandra Heminsley's wonderful Running Like a Girl a few weeks ago, I bought the audiobook of her swimming book, Leap In. This was mainly because I really loved Alexandra's writing style and I wanted to hear her talk more about, well, anything really. Leap In is about how Alexandra got into outdoor swimming – in the sea, rivers and lidos – and although I have absolutely no intention of donning a wetsuit and heading for the nearest body of open water, the book inspired me to go for a swim.

Now, I've told you before how I feel about swimming, so yes, I shocked myself when I ordered a swimming costume and goggles. There's a big swimming pool in Cambridge (which I've never been to) and it's a bit of a trek to get to, but I found that a nearby sports centre has a pool. It's only 17 metres long but it's much easier to get to and I figured it would probably be a bit quieter. I downloaded the timetable and on Thursday lunchtime I decided to go for a swim. I was oddly nervous. Firstly, I had to find the place. As I've explained before, my terrible sense of direction makes finding places a bit of a task, and sure enough I got off the bus and immediately went down the wrong road. After ten minutes of a slight where-the-hell-am-I? panic in the snow, and a bit of help from Google Maps, I corrected my course and found the sports centre.

Arty locker shot

The receptionist lady pointed me in the direction of the changing rooms and as soon as that chlorine smell hit my nostrils I just wanted to go home. Why was I being so pathetically nervous about this? I can swim. Not brilliantly, but I can. As I was putting my stuff in the locker and marvelling at how clean and lovely the changing area was, I realised something – I am forty years old and I have never been swimming on my own before. I'd always gone with someone – my dad, sisters, friends, or a boyfriend. And it was yonks since I'd gone to a pool with the intention of doing proper swimming. By 'proper' I mean swimming lengths, as opposed to bobbing about between swooshing down flumes or rapids, lounging about in bubbly pools at Center Parcs, or mucking about in the pool with my best friend's kids on holiday. As I was showering before I entered the pool area, I worked out that I hadn't swum lengths since school, and seeing as how PE wasn't compulsory in our final year, that must have been when I was about fourteen or fifteen. Blimey. As I approached the pool I noticed it was set up for lane swimming – another thing I'd never done before. I selected the slow lane and clambered down the steps into the nicely warm pool and did a few lengths of breaststroke. After ten lengths I was knackered! I stopped at one end of the pool for a bit and I got talking to a chap who was telling me all about why he loved swimming and how it had helped him with his depression. I told him how I was a new runner and that I'd read how great swimming was for improving cardiovascular fitness which would help with my running. Judging by how out of breath ten lengths had made me, this must be true. I carried on swimming, aiming to do at least thirty lengths.

The thing is, I don't do breaststroke properly. I can do the arms and the legs just fine but what I've never tried is the breathing, where you put your face in the water and exhale before lifting your head for an inhale; I have always swum holding my head up. I bought goggles so I could have a go at the breathing thing. Last week I watched a couple of YouTube videos about how to breathe whilst doing breaststroke and it seems so simple in principle, but when I tried it in the pool a couple of times I sort of panicked. It seems so weird to breathe out underwater, and I know that sounds ludicrous and it would have been so much easier to learn this skill as a child, but in Leap In, Alexandra says (yes, I love her, OK?)  that the hardest thing she had to learn with her swimming – in her case front crawl – was the exhaling. But I decided not to stress myself out about this and I carried on with my holdy-head-up swimming. When I reached forty lengths, I decided to try for another ten. When I'd hit the fifty mark I did some maths and calculated that fifty-nine lengths put me at 1003 metres, but nobody wants to end on a weird fifty-nine lengths, so I did sixty for a total of 1020 metres. I'd been in the pool for just under an hour and I was both invigorated and utterly shagged out. I got out of the pool, showered and changed, and headed back out into the snow, eschewing the chocolate-filled vending machine at the door, and wolfing down the banana I'd taken with me instead. Post-swimming hungriness is even more powerful than rungriness.

I thoroughly enjoyed my little swimming adventure. I felt like I'd really achieved something. I'd never swum that much or for that long, and I know I sound really childish saying that because I'm a grown woman and I should have earned my STA 1000 metres distance award badge when I was about eleven – I only ever got my pink 5 and purple 10 metre badges – but I was mega-chuffed with myself. I've decided to go swimming once a week and I'm going to work on the breathing thing each time I go. If I've not got the hang of it in a few weeks, the sports centre offer adult swimming lessons so I can always sign up for a few of those.

I was due to do my Supernova 5K yesterday but because of the snow, they postponed it until the end of October. That seems eons away so I had a look for upcoming 10K races and yesterday afternoon I signed up for the ABP Southampton 10K in April. I lived in Southampton for thirty years so I'm really looking forward to running around the place. Also, my friend Nicky is doing it too so for the first time ever I will have somebody to run with.

Nigel in the snow

The Cambridge snow has almost melted away which is pleasing Nigel no end. He's been so grumpy this past week but now he can get back to running around outside, chasing mice and birds, and I can do the same, minus the whole chasing mice and birds thing, obviously.

Running Tune of the Week
The Chain by Fleetwood Mac