Today saw my first step to take on what I’ve been calling “the fear” – the 2.3 mile swimming leg of Iron Man. I’m not a terrible swimmer, and in fact I used to swim three or four times a week. But I’ve never been confident in the water, and my two experiences of open water swimming have both been bad ones: constantly swimming off course in a claustrophobic wetsuit while being clawed at by other swimmers in water that’s way to deep to stand up in. Does that sound like fun?
A mental challenge then, rather than a physical one.
So who better to turn to for sympathetic expert help than one of International Workplace’s associates, first aid trainer Tanya Bartram. Tanya’s a qualified swimming instructor and has taken on a few challenges of her own in recent years as a Strongwoman competitor. Which is how I found myself at the Lord Butler Leisure Centre in Saffron Walden at 6.30 this morning, nervously wondering what Tanya would make of me.
The first thing I realised is that any expectation I may have had of sympathy was almost entirely misplaced. After swimming two lengths the most obvious trait Tanya pointed out about my swimming style was that I swam like I had a puppet on my hand! I recreated this unique style at work later, as captured by colleague Nick Webb below.
Then Tanya neatly got to the crux of the issue in that, while I could obviously swim ok – and with a style that didn’t involve too much leg action (a good thing for Iron Man) – I seemed to rather like to hold on to the side too much when I was in the deep end. Cue Tanya teaching me, for the first time in my life somehow, to stop panicking and not to get short of breath, and to learn to properly tread water.
I can’t explain the panic and why I can’t control it readily, but I do know it’s the root of “the fear”, especially out in the open water. It happened at the Great East Swim in Ipswich last year, when I made the rescue canoeist nervous by asking to hold on to his canoe so I could get my breath back (not in the coaching manual for a half mile swim).
I actually really enjoyed the session, and it was interesting to see what Tanya did to help me move on – not exercises I’d have thought of myself, which shows you the benefits of having an experienced coach. But I also learned (if I didn’t know it already) there’s no messing with Coach Tanya: if she says it, I do it.
So a big thanks to you for this first session Tanya. I promise to be coachable (unlike some others!) and I look forward to the next sessions as you help me in the coming months, in your own words, to “swim like a frog”!