Swimming used to be a grim battle of counting up lengths before I could get out of the pool, but not since the SwimLab Swim Clinic at Watergate Bay.
I’ve always watched enviously those swimmers who can cut through water like a knife through butter, who power up and down the pool elegantly, but with unhurried, relaxed motions. Whereas with lots of sports you need to have some innate talent, or had to start doing it as a child to be any good, literally anyone can start swimming, at any age, size or level of fitness. It’s also fairly cheap and accessible and you don’t need much kit.
In the past year, swimming has become my sport of choice and through trial and error, Google, and watching good swimmers, I managed to cobble together a front crawl. Although a vast improvement, this was a long way off swimming how I want to, or being up to the challenge I’ve set myself, of completing a long distance open water swim by the end of the summer. Plus I found it so tiring, which suggested that something was wrong.
So when I saw that the Watergate Bay Hotel, in Cornwall, was running a swim clinic, I was in there with swimwear. London-based, Salim Ahmed, founder of SwimLab, was the coach. As well as teaching swimming, he organises open water swims in the UK and sunnier climes.
At breakfast on the first day, Salim ran through the programme, his backstory and swimming in general. Among the interesting points he made, was the fact that we should be enjoying the swim while we’re doing it, not just the endorphins and afterglow which follow.
Then the six of us took to the pool for the first of three one-hour sessions spread over two days. We started by waking the legs up: doing a few lengths using a float and no arms. Since front crawl is 90 per cent about arms, it was an effort to get to the other end of the pool. Then we introduced one arm at a time. Salim told us to imagine a zip up our body, and to touch our armpit and ear, before re-entry into the water. This makes sure you get high elbows.
Salim quickly identified where my problems lie: my head was too high, making my legs too low. Easily rectified: I just have to look at the bottom of the pool. Also, my hands enter the water too close to my head and crossover. I have to think about stretching out as far as I can before I put my hand in the water and focus on putting them wider. Once in the water, I need to pull diagonally to my core. When I get this right it’s amazing how much more powerful my stroke feels.
On Saturday evening, Salim filmed us all from the side and underwater. The footage is very telling and tremendously useful.
Over the weekend, there were moments when everything came together and I momentarily felt like the knife through butter. Managing to swim a full length without a breath was an unexpected and exhilerating moment.
Previously, I’ve only felt the buzz from sports where the speed is provided by something else – such as a horse, a bike, or snow – so to get a buzz from swimming felt like unwrapping a brilliant present. It’s exciting to know that if I keep practising, I’ll get that buzz more and more often, and when I do buy a wetsuit and fins, and transfer to outdoors – as Salim assures me I’m capable of – the adrenalin will be ramped up again.
The next Swim Clinic, with Salim Ahmed, takes place at Watergate Bay Hotel on 22&23 November. The cost is £285 for the clinic and B&B, based on two people sharing. The weekend also includes a 30 minute massage, and an optional spin class and beach jog. Without accommodation the Swim Clinic costs £150.