Since my three open water challenges for Barnardo’s have finished, lots of people have asked me if I’m going to carry on swimming. The answer is a great big massive yes, with no hesitation.
Whilst I was on the bike at the gym yesterday (for variation innit – NOT BECAUSE I EVER WANT TO DO A TRIATHLON, STOP ASKING ME!) I thought about the main things I’ve learnt from swimming and I rather conveniently came up with 10 things…how Buzzfeed friendly.
I think you could probably swap the word ‘swimming’ for most forms of exercise to be honest, but here they be! In no particular order, ten things I’ve learnt through swimming…
1. You’re your own best competition
I’ve loved how Monica Gellar I can get with swimming, I find myself quoting her all the time – “It’s me vs me”. There are so many games you can play against yourself to improve – increasing distance, getting better times, improving pacing, resting less in intervals, getting better split times, tackling longer sets, breathing drills…not being asked by a lifeguard if you’re ok when attempting ‘butterfly’. Hey, you can even get competitive with yourself over how early you can get up to swim or how many sessions you can get through in a week. I can’t wait til next year so that I can get out of the pool and say “IN YOUR FACE, LAST YEAR ME!” as Monica does so brilliantly in the Thanksgiving episode.
2. You can always stop
I was a wreck before my first open water swim – I mean tears, being physically sick and all sorts. My family reminded me that I didn’t have to actually do the swimming if it was going to make me go, well, mental. And if I was going to pluck up the courage to do the first race then I could always get out, quitting was an option. I found that as soon as I allowed quitting to become a possibility, I didn’t feel the need to quit. There hasn’t been a swim I’ve ever done where I haven’t had to tell myself at least ten times that I’m allowed to give up. We all need to be easier on ourselves in all areas of our lives – and if we’ll forgive ourselves if we quit we’ll take more risks and opportunities.
3. Britain is beautiful
The great thing about open water swimming is seeing the world from a different perspective. I live in a high rise building in the capital, I never expected to feel so ‘at one’ with nature or to have this new found respect for how beautiful this country is. I’ve swum in some stunning locations already and I’m ridiculously excited to plan weekends away and trips purely around places I’d like to swim. I’ve always appreciated the majesty of water and liked the countryside (I grew up in it) but swimming with swans rather than lane ropes changes a girl!
4. Sports communities are wonderfully welcoming
I have never met a more welcoming and supportive bunch than the swimming and tri brigade! I had SO MANY QUESTIONS AND FEARS when I started open water swimming, but people bent over backwards to support me. There’s nothing exclusive about swimming, everyone I’ve met just seems to be so passionate about their sport that they just want more people to enjoy it as much as they do.
5. People don’t care what you look like
This links in to the one above I suppose. Swimming involves baring a lot of flesh – or if you’re in a wetsuit it may not involve a lot of flesh but definitely involves a lot of ‘HERE IS MY BODY’! I work in arguably the world’s most judgemental industry, where bodies are scrutinised and criticised as if they don’t belong to people with ‘feelings’, and like most women (sadly) I wasn’t exactly excited about donning a swimsuit. There are women who don’t swim because they don’t want to be seen in a swimsuit. It’s sad, but let me assure you once again – NOBODY CARES. I was the queen of ‘sarong/towel right up until the pool edge. No one must see my thighs. NO ONE MUST SEE MY THIGHS’ until I started swimming. Once you realise nobody in swimming cares about what you look like it’s the most refreshing, empowering, uplifting feeling in the world. This year on holiday I noticed I was much more confident walking around the pool in a bikini – I was still a good size 14, but I’d become so used to walking about in a swimsuit that it stopped being a source of paranoia.
6. Exercise makes you want a better diet
A good diet and exercise are needed hand in hand for a healthier lifestyle, but the great thing I’ve found with swimming is that I want to eat more healthily and drink less when I’m swimming a lot. It may just be that I don’t want to feel sluggish in the pool or I simply want to be able to get up at 6am and get out to a lake without a hangover, but I think our bodies are pretty clever at doing the right thing if we nudge them in the right direction. It’s a lot easier for me to eat healthily when I’m exercising than when I’m not.
7. Exercise makes you sleep better
We’re all mentally exhausted. We all are. Who isn’t reading this right now thinking that they’re tired and would like a break? The thing is, a lot of us are mentally exhausted but not necessarily physically exhausted. The number of times I’ve been up to 3am completely wired yet completely knackered is staggering – now that I’m swimming I don’t get into that situation, my body is physically tired and my body needs sleep. So I sleep at a normal time, I sleep heavily and I actually wake up rested.
8. Asthma can be improved with exercise
I can’t tell you how great it is to feel like my lungs are stronger from swimming. Swimming is SO good for asthma (I talked a bit more about this here) and when I do some of my breathing drills I’m completely elated by how well I can perform now. I’ll probably always need ventolin to swim and I still have allergic and temperature related asthma to deal with, but feeling like I’ve taken some sense of control over it is brilliant. And as panic is so bad for asthma, when my asthma flares up out of the water I visualise how strong I know my lungs can be when being tested to their limits in the pool – and knowing I have that strength is often enough to calm me down and prevent wheeziness escalating into a full blown attack.
9. Exercise encourages good habits in daily life
I’ve found that I’m making healthier choices in other parts of my life since swimming, partly because I’m fitter which means I actually can and partly because I’m hoping it will have some sort of vaguely positive effect on my swimming. Simple things like walking rather than taking the bus, taking the stairs instead of the lift or just carrying shopping home rather than going in the car. It’s all positive and all adds up.
10. You’ve done harder things
Most people have, unfortunately, dealt with some pretty terrible things in their lives. If you’ve ever been very sick, lost a loved one, lost a job, seen your parents get divorced, lost a relationship or anything like that (I don’t need to list horrible things, you know what horrible things are) then no sporting event will be harder than that. I hated the Hampton Swim, hated it, and during the swim I kept thinking “is this the hardest thing I’ve ever done? It will be quite soundbitey when I get out to say this was the hardest thing I’ve ever done” but of course it wasn’t. I kept having flashbacks to being in hospital and thinking that, obviously, I’d rather do a horrible swim than be back in hospital. I hate the tweeness of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes your stronger’ but it is true, you’ve done harder things than finish a race, whoever you are.