One thing that probably puts people off swimming more than anything else is the thought of ploughing up and down a lane in an overly chlorinated pool with only yourself for company. So when the offer came to take part in a relay event at an outdoor pool that I hadn’t , I’m ashamed to admit, visited before I jumped at the chance.
Sponsored by British Gas, the Swim Britain series of mass participation swimming events which took place at multiple venues over the Summer was about as far removed from regular pool swimming as it can be – and for me that’s mostly a good thing. Not just the fact it was outdoors and in a 50m, rather than a regular 25m pool. But also that you had to swim in a circuit around buoys which gave the challenge an added dimension. Just how do you swim around the buoys most efficiently? Do you switch to breaststroke, go round them under water or do you flip over onto your back and go round them (this is what the real experts seem to do)
Then there was the team element which gave it all a bit of an It’s a Knockout feel (younger readers ask your parents, but best not to mention Stuart Hall). We entered two teams at the final event of the series at London Fields Lido. This included four kids from Barnet Copthall Swimming Club, all aged between 8 and 11, who swim indoors between 6 hours and 12 hours a week. And then there were their parents who swim when they can, in other words when they are not ferrying their kids to the pool or cooking up masses of pasta for them to eat either before or after a massive swim set!
Before the event I had thought the challenge of swimming four laps around a 250m circuit was a relatively easy one. After all, I plod up and down the lane two to three times a week, swimming at least 80 lengths at a time (double the distance of this challenge). But swimming with a bunch of other people around a circuit like this against the clock is very different. Not only do you have to think about how to get round the buoys without being kicked, you also run the risk of swallowing loads of water because it can get quite choppy without any lane ropes to protect you from the wash.
Fortunately the kids didn’t have too many problems completing four laps of the 250m circuit each in an amazing time of 1:13.24 and finishing 3rd out of 37 teams while the Dads and Mum clocked up a respectable time of 1:28.27 to finish 15th.
Been there – got the T Shirt
All in all it was a great afternoon out helped by the copious amounts of British Gas free stuff – including T Shirts, goggles, caps, holdalls and towels (one of the benefits of being the last leg of the Swim Britain tour). The kids also loved meeting the swimming stars including Mark Foster who was on hand to sign swimming caps and T-Shirts as well as as 2008 Beijing Olympics Open Water Bronze medalist Cassie Patten who was absolutely delightful (interviews with both to follow later this week).
I don’t know whether the Swim Britain event will encourage more people to swim regularly but if people came away with the same buzz after the event that we did, then hopefully it will. Certainly it might change (some) people’s opinions of swimming as a boring solitary sport.