10 August 2010

"Swimmers, 60 lengths freestyle, take your marks..."

I swam 1500 metres in just under 28 minutes today, with just one brief ten second pause after 900 metres in order to relieve my goggles of water.

My local pool is attached to my old school and therefore there is, during term time, no public swimming during working hours as the kids are always given priority. Now, however, there are adults-only sessions every morning and I've been taking advantage of it.

This morning was my first focussed go at completing the longest race in any pool-exclusive swimming event. The 1500 metres is the equivalent of the 10,000 metres in athletics and in my youthful days as a competitive swimmer, it was the only race where they had a "heat declared winner", as having heats and a final would swallow up the whole day.

I did my first competitive "mile" in 1982 at the City of Hull Swimming Club championships. It was for boys aged 11 and under and just five opted to take part, and the other four were all 11. I was nine. Times and achievements suggested I should have come third, but I swam like a boy possessed and came second. I received one of the hallowed (they just were, trust me) City Of Hull Super Swimmer T-shirts for this, as I was the youngest boy in the club's history to complete the race. I had to write a letter to the club committee to apply for one.

At that age, these races take half an hour and much more to end, and so everyone not partaking has to find a way of dealing with the boredom. Even the parents of the swimmers involved find themselves struggling to maintain an interest as their child ploughs up and down the pool, praying for the race's end. Most of the races involve no personal battles and it's clear after a third of the race who is going to finish where. The officials on the poolside have to do a count of the lengths and then each swimmer would have a whistle blown at them as they tumbleturned with ten lengths to go, and then again at two lengths to go.

I would do one of these per year at the club championships but there was no bigger stage for the 1500 metres at that time. In district and county championships it only became part of the schedule at the "open age" stage - ie, aimed tentatively at over 16s but still available to anyone younger who fancied a go. I never swam a 1500 metres race outside of the pools of Hull and the East Riding.

I won a couple of them as I got older, though my only real memory of any of them was that I had Shake The Disease by Depeche Mode running through my head throughout one race, but from 14 onwards my abilities weren't growing (and neither was my body, annoyingly) and younger and more natural swimmers than I began to overcome me. The last competitive 1500 metres I swam was when I was 15 and I came fourth from four, but the three of us who trailed the swimaway winner traded advantages in a personal three-way battle that I was told afterwards was really exciting. I remember catching these guys up with about half the race gone, overtaking them into second and stretching the pace in a way I never thought I could. With four lengths left I was spent and had no sprint finish, and both of them eased past me and I trailed in at the end. My mum said she was as proud of me that day as she had ever been when I was actually any good.

If your local pool is 25 metres long, then you'll evidently work out that 1500 metres is 60 lengths. That's what I did this morning. These days, as an unfit but improving 37 year old I can cope with the cardio-vascular side of it but my arms are devoid of sinew and muscle after about 500 metres and afterwards it becomes a real endurance test. I was in the mood though, just kept going, and was helped by the lack of hairdo swimmers also in the pool which meant I could swim in a straight line and undisturbed. When I finished the 60th length, I did a further 50 metres of warm down breaststroke while wondering if this was how the children of Thalidomide felt.

The men's world record for 1500 metres short course (ie, in a 25 metre pool rather than the Olympic-sized 50 metre pool) is 14 minutes ten seconds. So you could say I'm halfway there...


Jo Day said...

What time does the Fun Swim start?

Matthew Rudd said...

Ah, the Fun Swim. An aquatic version of Cheggers Plays Pop. Saturday afternoons of inflatables, beachballs and multiple opportunities to drown. Fun fun fun...