I’ve always been very open about the fact that I’m a useless swimmer. Actually I can swim breaststroke reasonably well, well enough to have successfully negotiated 3 Ironman swims, but every time I have the temerity to try front crawl I am gasping and out of breath within 25 metres. Once or twice people have tried to teach me, without success (to be honest, I never really committed to the process) and I have got to the stage where I say to myself, “I actually enjoy open water swimming because by swimming breaststroke I get a pretty good view of what’s going on and can take in the atmosphere. Being slow, I also get plenty of space to swim and avoid the huge “washing machine” fight at the head of the race.
One extra bonus of swimming breaststroke is that it is very easy to see the marker buoys as you make your way around the course meaning that my swim is usually very close to the advertised distance. I reckon some of the more inept front crawlers around me must swim at least 50% more than the actual swim length due to the huge erratic zigzags they’re making as the flail down the course. Either that, or they think they are dinghy racing and are tacking like mad to get the most advantageous breeze. This presents two further problems for me as I sedately progress around the course in laser-straight lines. Firstly I have to keep a keen eye on my peripheral vision in case some neoprene clad warrior flounders breathless and panic stricken across my path (a gentle rugby style hand off usually causes them to come up for breath gasping, sight and then lunging off at about 45? to the right of the direction they should be travelling in). The second issue is drafting, which is totally legal in the swim. Reading any manual on triathlon race tactics talks about latching on to the toes of a good swimmer and getting pulled along in their wake. Naturally, at the back, it’s not an experience I’ve had very often, except for a few yards at a time before my chosen pilot fish lurched crazily off in a direction perpendicular to the course that they should be setting. Unusually, at Ironman Regensburg I found a front crawler who, not only swam at a pace I was comfortable with, but could also swim in a plumb straight line between marker buoys. For once I could experience an “armchair ride” and, as a result I got out of the water feeling fresher than I ever had been at any previous Ironman. That’s not to say my time was any faster, it was simply less tiring.
Having taken the metaphorical plunge and finally joined a triathlon club after 7 seasons of solo flying I’ve finally had to confront my swimming demons and think about whether I could actually do something about learning to swim properly. In my Regensburg analysis I suggested that the length of time needed to learn to swim front crawl properly, and then do it for 3.8km was not really feasible and I could therefore carry on comfortably paddling around in my cumbersome way and look to find time gains elsewhere. Needless to say, some members of COLT (City of Lancaster Triathlon) disagreed with my forensically argued reasoning and I’m now in the position of having agreed to attempt to learn front crawl.
One slight fly in the ointment is the Bala triathlon in 3 weeks time. I’ve agreed with myself that I’ll carry on breaststroking until then and start front crawling thereafter. Updates soon.