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'Every cloud has a silver lining...'

How an injury can become a blessing

I’ve picked up a minor running injury and this is not ideal in my line of work.  I re-consider my options for training…continue with yoga, walking and weights training, but for me I still love the feeling of a longer cardio session.  So I deliberate over going swimming again.  I’m embarrassed to think I’ve not properly swam in around a year; considering not so long ago I was doing triathlons.   I’ve opted for outdoors training over the indoors pool for some pretty feeble excuses, knowing that cross-training is best for reducing risk of injury. 

The pathetic excuse of my hair getting wrecked by the chlorine is number one... as I've been getting a bit older and grayer I feel the swimming just strips the colour.  Swimming is hardly the most flattering sport and quite harsh on the skin and hair!  Swimming takes time, preparation and a fair bit of psyching yourself up before you even get there.   As opposed to running, it's instant: I’m out the door and already training, contrast with getting to the pool, changed and not being guaranteed the space to do the session you want.  I’m all for everyone using the pool but it gets my goat when people are walking up and down the lane swimming section.  

So today I’m back at the pool and remembering how I came to enjoy swimming.  I had a foot injury in my mid-twenties that meant I wasn’t to run for 3 months.  I’d been running 50-60 miles a week and couldn’t get my head round not being able to train.  My swimming abilities amounted to the breast-stroke and that felt boring as I was so slow.  Lucky for me I had a work-friend Claire who taught me how to swim the front crawl in the Dollan Centre, East Kilbride.   A 50m pool no less and I could only manage a length without stopping, totally breathless.  She taught me bilateral breathing and once I mastered that I could keep swimming without stopping…I was hooked.  I would even sweat after coming out the pool!  I’d learned a new skill that has been a lifesaver no less for me, especially when injured.  

Fond memories flood back to me while swimming today. Brought up in Gourock with the luxury of an outdoor pool we were always 'down by the pool'…often skiving school with the rest of the class on a sunny day.  I just don’t remember a shortage of warm summer days when we were young, or maybe we just went to the pool regardless.  The salty seawater was disgusting but the pool was mobbed.  There wasn't much swimming going on, just jumping in and dunking each other!  Bit like my kids now when I take them swimming!

Then returning to Gourock pool 5 years ago and competing in the sprint triathlon race.  It was the first time in over 20 years since I’d swam there and it felt totally different. 

I swam throughout all my pregnancies and right up to the week before they were born.  In the water I didn’t feel pregnant as I could manage the same distances throughout the pregnancy.  The pool attendants weren’t quite as keen for me to be there in those final weeks!  I really believed my children would instantly be water babies, love swimming and being in the pool.  It just wasn’t the case.  My second child was terrified of the pool, from the minute we walked into the changing area he would start to panic.  He didn’t like the feel of the water on his skin and we had to very gradually expose him to getting into being in the water.  It was only when we went along to a ‘singing and swimming’ session that this fear was dissolved.  A totally amazing experience where singers at the poolside entertained us and he gradually went into the water…what a special moment. 

But my son wasn’t the only one that had a fear of swimming as I came up against it myself when I tried open water swimming for the first time.  I had no idea how it was going to challenge my breathing.  It was a scorching hot Friday evening at James Hamilton Heritage Park in East Kilbride.  I drove in my wetsuit and was truly sweating by the time I got there, a bit late too.  I expected to just go in the water and swim, no problem.  I had no fears of being in a loch, how deep it was or anything lurking underneath.  The coach said to just go in and try a lap…a lap being probably over 100m.  I swear I didn’t even get to 50m and I couldn’t catch my breath.  It was terrifying. I clung onto the rope around the route as the safety boat came over to give advice.  As did the group of swans that had been pushed out their territory!!  I swam on my back mostly to get back to the start, rested and tried again, just to end up heading back using the back-stroke again.  It wasn’t fear or panic it was purely my body not being acclimatised to the cold water.  

After this I was wheezing and coughing for days.  I had a 10K race at Strathclyde park the next day and wheezed all the way around.  My goal to do a triathlon with open water swimming was now seeming impossible.  The doctor gave me an inhaler which helped with ‘cold-induced asthma’ and so I gave it another go.  Training at Pinkston watersports at 7am on Thursdays and I began to feel more comfortable.  I did go on to do several open water triathlons and really enjoy them, though I’m not ashamed I only managed half the swim at St Marys (freezing cold) loch triathlon in October.  

So today I managed 80 lengths without stopping and it felt absolutely amazing.  Yes my pace is slow and nothing like the challenge of the triathlon training sessions I once went to.  But I loved it.  With the goggles on too tight and now looking like I’ve been punched in both eyes and not slept in a week, it’s not going to put me off.  Examining my hair as I dried it, convinced the hair-dye I’d put in over the weekend is already coming out…but I’m still not going to use this as an excuse.  As always, my right ear won’t pop until teatime, but that temporary deafness will be handy when the kids get home.   

So always always, there is a silver lining.  I’m excited about swimming again and endeavour to get the kids at the pool more often too.  I hope you feel inspired to get back swimming again…skinny dipping anyone!?

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