If there’s one part of triathlon I’ve shown a modicum of ability in this season it’s been swimming.
I’m regularly to be found flailing around at the front and in a couple of races I’ve even managed to be in the lead coming out of the water – which would be a source of pride if I hadn’t finished outside the top 20 in every single one.
With this in mind, and in my ongoing quest to explore the athletic potential I mistakenly think I possess, I decided to have a crack at the ASA’s National Masters Swimming Championships in Sheffield.
Masters swimming for the uninitiated is basically like the swimming galas you see on the telly only much slower. It differs from triathlon swimming in the following ways:
- In swimming you’re a ‘master’ from the age of 18, which means several of my fillings qualify to swim in their own right
- The races take place in a pool
- There are so many stern-looking officials marching around it looks like the world has been invaded by the Cybermen
- Instead of just doing freestyle you have a choice of strokes and you can watch a pool full of people doing something called ‘butterfly’, which looks like a territorial dispute between bonobo chimps. Or you could try breast stroke, which is a sort of equivalent of paint-balling because most of the people doing it are either not remotely interested or desperately trying to win. And then there’s backstroke, which is simultaneously terrifying and dull
Last time I mentioned masters swimming in this column I incurred the wrath of the ASA by suggesting that medals were easy to come by, particularly if you take the precaution of still being alive in your forties.
I based this observation on the fact that I’ve won several medals at various galas despite dropping off the starting blocks like a depth charge, managing to swim two different strokes at the same time (butterfly arms and breast stroke legs) and almost draining the pool by snorting 40 litres of water up my nose each time I tumble turn.
But, despite this I thought I’d have another crack at the nationals, not least because after my season of triathlon sharkiness I thought it would be interesting to see how I’d fare against the out-and-out swimmers.
Being a triathlete I inevitably entered the two hardest races going – 1,500m and 800m freestyle – and I was also arm-twisted into a couple of relay teams by Coventry swimming club coach Allison Stoney who, like all good swim coaches, has a voice like a rabble-rousing Marxist.
The 1,500m was the first event of the gala and involved 60 lengths with no wetsuit, no sighting, no weeds in the face, no getting clumped on the head or banging your bloody hand on the turn buoy, just length after length of churning arms and the occasional kick when I remembered.
I emerged from the water after 22:41mins with a drool-encrusted face and ninth place – out of nine – in the bag (or ‘top 10 in the Nationals’, as I announced it on Facebook).
After the 1,500m I had the 800m so had to dig deep and find new reserves of self-delusion to think I had a chance. Despite being just 32 lengths, having to swim faster made it much harder than the 1,500m. But once again it was a top-10 finish – and I’m sure you don’t need me to elaborate on how many were actually in the race.
But the two relays were another matter because I managed to win a silver and a bronze medal, with one of those races actually involving beating someone!
Our bronze came in the 100m freestyle when our team worked out that with only three teams entered we were guaranteed a medal as long as we didn’t cock it up – cue three of the safest relay takeovers you have ever seen in your life, where you could have timed our dives off the blocks on a calendar.
Having collected our ill-gotten bronze the next catastrophe-in-waiting was the 200m freestyle, yet we somehow contrived to beat not one but TWO other teams to power our way to a silver medal, despite swimming with the streamlined grace of a photo-copier.
So four races, two medals. Plus, thanks to the amount of time spent waiting around between races, I achieved a new PB in Sudoku. I’ve also learned there’s a massive, fat line between being good at swimming in triathlons and good at swimming in masters galas.
But I still managed to come away with a silver and bronze medal, which goes to show that to take part in swimming events, you don’t actually need to be brilliant – you just need to be able to pretend that you are.