Ch. 8 – The courage to swim (Conquering a life long fear)

For my eighth chapter in my blog “Fatman to Ironman” I will describe how I eventually plucked up the courage to learn how to swim.

Blogging about my injury experiences in chapter seven was a particularly difficult experience for me. Not just because I was admitting I was an idiot, but also because I knew it would be leading right into this chapter.

I hope after reading my blog you have an understanding of where my transition into swimming began. At this stage I had no idea where I would end up. My “Fatman to Ironman” Journey was beginning to blossom.

In my last blog I recalled how a few of the ladies from Shrewton Running Club had suggested I take up swimming to retain my fitness levels.

I had disregarded this as ridiculous at the time. Not only could I not swim, I was fearful of water and especially the dark end of the pool. My fears stemmed from a child, and falling over the side of a Dinghy in Frensham Big Pond, Hampshire. This formed one of my earliest childhood memories, and I could easily recall the feeling of being unable to breath, as the water got darker and darker.

Swimming was going to be a monumental task! Much bigger than any before that I have blogged about.

Contacting a Triathlon club

After digging through my records, it turns out I emailed a local triathlon club STAR about transitioning from a runner into a swimmer as early as 19th May 2017. Just a couple of weeks after my first running race at Trowbridge. It seems I had acknowledged running was injuring me after all.

Clearly those casual walks up to the running club during my “Injury Rehab” paid off. I truly believed everyone, when they said swimming would be great for fitness. My running buddies had sewn a seed! I just had no idea how to take the leap of faith. Somehow, joining a Triathlon Club seemed a sensible place to start.

I remember a chat I had had at work with my colleague, Nigel Brown. I had been asking what he thought about me joining a Triathlon Club. I knew he had raced this sport in the past, he had told me all about it. I hoped he’d say it was a great idea!

His advice that day was not to join a Tri club! In fact he thought I was mad for even considering it. He clearly knew me well. His advice was to get some basic lessons first, and be confident enough to swim a length or two without the need to stop. Be consistent at this before you even stand pool side with a Tri Club.

It’s true, being poolside to a Triathlon training session is an experience in its self. They truly are a barmy bunch. I needed to build my swim confidence before I even got close to stepping in with those guys.

I was clearly drunk when I sent those emails in May, it was a Friday and it was 2120 hrs. I wouldn’t follow up with the enquiry with the Tri club until 14th December 2017. More about that later.

This period is sketchy for me because I had begun to succumb to the sad state again, my pre-“Slimming World” state! The state when the outside world saw me as happy and the inside world just saw me! Being unable to run was depressing!

It turns out that I had emailed my local swimming pool at Durrington the same night as I had the Tri Club. Dutch courage really works!! I must have had a gallon of it.

However, I remember having no recollection of those emails at all, until I got responses the following week. Imagine my surprise. More so, my fear and dread of what I had done. At least it wasn’t a dodgy “One click” purchase from Amazon, that I would have to explain away to the wife. I could ignore the responses.

I would not respond through fear and anxiety for weeks. I was petrified and wished I’d never sent those emails. However, I was experiencing an overwhelming desire to succeed at something, I just had no idea what.

Contacting Durrington pool and committing to lessons

As you have read before, I am a man of my word. If I say I am going to do something, I usually do. I would eventually pluck up the courage. I contacted Durrington Pool on the 10th July 2017, some two months after their initial response. I would not be poolside until late October.

Getting poolside.

I cant say this was my finest hour, In fact far from it. My journey to being poolside had indeed exposed a great deal of weaknesses, fears and irrational thought. However, it is a crucial part of my “Fatman to Ironman” Journey.

Recalling this period in my journey has reminded me how mentally tough training can be. You have to go into your training sessions with a positive outlook. You must get your self in the right headspace, or your session will suffer. My swim progression suffered for a long time during this period, because I was not going into my sessions with a positive mind-set. Back then I was simply trying to survive!

Durrington pool

My first swimming lesson

I very much remember my first swimming lesson. I remember the fear, I was terrified. I would be shaking in the car park outside the pool, to the point I would have a stiff back for days.

It would take three unsuccessful trips to the pool in Durrington before I eventually found myself at the reception, signing the forms and paying the fees. Finding the courage to get out of the car was big enough. How could I find the courage to be poolside?

Nonetheless I did sign up and I did pay the fees. I was committed. I now had a “Fitness” card with the local council. Later I would update this to a full “Lifestyle” fitness card giving me full access to the councils facilities throughout the county of Wiltshire…

I now had to go and get changed. Wiltshire pools operate a mixed sex changing room policy, you have your own cubicles, but this was not the time to be getting undressed around strangers, especially women. However, having composed myself in the cubicle and depositing my clothes in the locker, I shook and trembled my way to the pool.

The previous session was still in progress. I didn’t know what the protocol was, so I stood around aimlessly for what seemed an eternity. The life guard had clearly spotted this nervous wreck, and was poised.

Fortunately that night I would be introduced to the lovely Sue Hartwell. My swimming coach and “Patience” personified. What I didn’t know that day is she was part of STAR a triathlon club. More about that later.

That night was clearly all about assessment for Sue. Sue needed to find where I was in terms of ability.

We had a chat poolside, and I described how I was happy paddling about. How I would try and swim in holiday size pools with family or friends. Mostly I would be hiding my inabilities and fear. I explained that I understood the basics but lacked the courage to go “Out of my depth” Wow! was I out of my depth now! We never discussed my “Nearly drowned” experience that night. I’m not sure we ever have?

After a short brief, I got in the pool and demonstrated my attempt at breast stroke. Sue was more than sympathetic and tried not to laugh. I gave an attempt of what I thought was front crawl or freestyle, and found doing widths in a four lane pool is quite easy. If you kick off the wall hard enough you nearly get to the other side without having to swim at all.

img_1297We finished off the assessment with a nasal filling attempt at backstroke. Something I’ve not mastered to this day. My kick off the wall was too hard and my head plummeted towards the bottom of the pool. Sue would have her work cut out.

Bizarrely, Sue felt I had the basics for breast stroke and focussed the last twenty minutes of that first “Swim” on Front Crawl. I was in the pool in baggy shorts, no goggles and terrified. I would continue to kick off the wall as hard as I could, and hope that I only needed my arms for a few strokes.

I would get to the end of those first widths that night without taking a breath, without putting my head under the water, and being absolutely exhausted when I got to the other side. But I did it. I had finished my first lesson. No floats, no arm bands. Just sheer bloody mindedness, and utter determination.

Sue Hartwell was full of praise that night and recommended my first investment should be a pair of goggles. I thanked her for putting up with me and not letting me drown. We didn’t really discuss the content of the next lesson as I recall. I was overwhelmed and exhausted. Somehow I knew I would be back, and I knew I would have to do it properly.

My lessons would be scheduled for 30 minutes after work, every Friday. I would rarely miss one.

Thank you for taking the time to continue to follow my blog. I truly believe that blogging my experiences is helping me to achieve my goal. It has reminded me just how many challenges I have successfully overcome so far. The next challenge is no different. I will be on that start line in June 2019 and I will be swimming around Chasewater reservoir.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” – John Lennon

For my next blog chapter I will describe how my swimming lessons would progress from widths to lengths and eventually see me poolside with a triathlon club!

I would love to hear what you think of my blog so far and welcome your comments. I hope you know someone who can be inspired enough to believe they can achieve their dreams, and improve their lives. Perhaps you might want to take on an epic challenge.


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