Welcome to my very first blog. I am a 53 year old sports massage therapist who hasn’t run more than 2km in the last 6 years and has never learnt the front crawl. However, while massaging at the Windrush Aquathlon in Brockwell Park on 24th June I shook hands with a colleague on both of us entering the 2019 Aquathlon. For those who don’t know, this event consists of a 500m swim (10 lengths of a 50m pool) and a 5km run. Oh dear, what have I done?

At the moment I would describe my swimming at best as a clumsy breast stroke involving a (not so private) battle with breathing under the water. I can also manage a diagonal backstroke and if I put my mind to it, probably a length of doggy paddle as long as there was a treat waiting for me at the end of it.

Armed with my new purchases of hat, goggles and a pull buoy I set off to Tooting Lido


This is a beautiful pool. However, it is 90 metres long which means if you’re short sighted like me, you can’t actually see the end of the deep end from the beginning of the shallow end. As someone with such little swimming experience, I decided to get around this problem by doing widths but even this proved to be a challenge not only because a width here is almost as long as a 25m pool’s length but also because I had to avoid the proper swimmers who can actually do lengths. I take my (swimming) hat off to them.

Between clients, I have been watching some online videos on learning the front crawl. It seems that the first thing to do is to make yourself ‘long in the water’. That means pushing off from the wall with arms stretched out ahead. The longer you are in the water, the fewer strokes you need to get from one end of the pool to the other. This was both easy and fun and after about 30 minutes of repeatedly ‘whooshing off’ from the wall, I realised that perhaps I should move on to something a little more challenging. Like breathing for instance.

In order to concentrate on breathing, I choose to use a tool known as a pull buoy (see picture above). This is a thick flattened peanut shaped float designed to fit comfortably between the upper thighs. It keeps your body in a good position in the water and allows you to concentrate on your breathing, head positioning and arm movements. Also it assists with keeping your body in alignment and rotating from the hips (more on body positioning another time).

I plop gracelessly into the water and prepare myself for the first attempt at a width with breathing. Having done my research, I understand that you are supposed to breathe every third arm stroke (bilateral breathing). So pull buoy positioned, goggles on I start with my favourite thing in the whole world, being ‘long in the water’. I then lift one arm then the other in what I think is a good ‘elbow raised’ technique and turn my head to breathe every third stroke. After 6 strokes I’ve taken in a mouthful of water and have to come up for air and a good splutter. I get my breath back and try again. It is hard work.

Lesson learned today. Breathing is important when swimming with your face submerged in water for any length of time… if you don’t do it, then an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia overtakes you and more importantly you will panic, choke, swallow a lot of water and possibly drown. Today I got away with just the first three.

Recovering my breath I wonder why I can’t manage just a width without stopping…

I put this question to one of my clients who (luckily for me) is a swimming coach. She advises me that I’m trying to do too much at once and need to break each part of the crawl down. So I decide to forget about the arms and the body positioning for the moment and concentrate on the breathing with a technique she suggests known as ‘Breathe bubble bubble breathe’.

To do this, start with taking a breath, then with the face in the water breathe out through your nose or mouth, do the same with the second stroke then on the third stroke, turn your head out of the water onto the side of your arm to breathe and repeat. Here’s my first attempt.

Looking at the video, I see that I am managing to breathe every third stroke but my head is too far out of the water, my neck (cervical spine) should be completely in line with the rest of my spine, horizontal in the water. This is both for better speed moving through the water (hydrodynamics) and so as not to strain the muscles in my neck and upper back by craning it out of the water.

So next time, more breathing practice, head and neck alignment and I must do something about that terrible elbow positioning. But one thing at a time…