I did a lot of swimming this bank holiday weekend and very joyful it was too.
Saturday morning at 6.30am was a 1:1 lesson with the team from http://www.rgactive.com/ and as I was having so much fun I stayed on for the 7.30am group lesson. What the 1:1 lesson gave me was time to ask questions and the focus from a trainer to build my confidence. We started with the absolute basics - how to put a triathlon wetsuit properly so that I have the maximum flexibility and room across the shoulders ... 'cos its my arms that will be doing most of the work.
The next step is just getting used to swimming with your head in the water when you just can't see as far as the end of your hand. The good news is that didn't phase me (it quite freaks some people).
As I rapidly discovered wearing a wetsuit gives you the chance to really break the stroke down and improve it bit by bit. For example for most open water swimmers the leg kick isn't really worth much by way of propulsion (only about 10-15% and that's if you have good technique). This means that you can stop using your legs and then you can focus on rolling your hips as you swim (the legs would usually get in the way of this).
We had lots of fun heading for the far end of the lake and discovering that I wasn't swimming straight (an elegant banana shape I'd argue) ... so we worked on that one ... the metaphor I was using was considering my arms as windmill arms at a ten to three position (where your head is 12). The straight arms part of this reduces the risk of dropping your elbows which reduces the effect of the pull through the water.
The water was warm, the sun was shining and I came away from Ham Lake on a massive adrenaline and endorphine high. The RG Active team said 'we're running a race tomorrow .. wanna join in?' ... I had been planning to do a 3 hour swim in Hampton Lido but yeah, sure. why not?
So back to the lake for an 8am start line and my first swimming race since school. I was one of the three slowest but whilst the other two slow coaches left the water after one lap (750m) I was enjoying myself and ended up doing 4 laps (about 2.1km). I've never swum this far outside of a pool (ie without stopping and turning around every lap) and I've also never swum this much crawl continuously. Amazing! It's all starting to feel possible.
There's still quite a lot of work to do - there's a 2 hour time limit on race day, I've not yet swum in choppy waters, I can't wear a wetsuit or similar buoyancy aiding kit on the day ... but yet it feels possible not least because I have now proved to myself that I can swim more than 200m of crawl without stopping ... I'm fit enough it's a case of technique and getting into a rhythm.
Tonight I'm going for a lazy swim with a friend so I'm going to see how crawl feels in a pool without a wetsuit. Tomorrow my new 'buoyancy pants' (think wetsuit shorts) arrive :)