Martyn Brunt goes Masters swimming

In a classic from the 220 vault, Martyn Brunt finds there are big gains to be made from Masters swimming

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Issue ID: May 2012

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Hey you! Are you old enough to pay income tax and go to bed at a time of your own choosing? When you swim, can you dive in without knocking yourself unconscious and unleash a tumble-turn without half the pool going up your nose? Do you fancy the idea of walking around with more gold round your neck than Mr T? Then it’s Masters swimming for you my friend!

For the unknowing among you, Masters swimming tournaments are open to 24-year-olds and over – and in many cases quite a long way over – and are for any member of a swimming club. They’re run along exactly the same lines as all those swimming tournaments you see on the telly, although sadly without the opportunity to talk to Sharron Davies while wearing nothing but a pair of Speedos at the end.

Distances vary from 50m sprints up to 1,500m death-battles, and you can choose between the different strokes of front crawl, breast-struggle, back-struggle and butter-flop.

I first got involved in Masters swimming a few years ago when I joined my local swimming club in a bid to improve my swim splits and stop getting punched in the head so much in mass starts. Because I’m over 40, and farcically competitive, the coach shouted (swim coaches never talk, only shout) me into trying my luck in a tournament, and to my astonishment I won a medal. Admittedly it was a bronze medal in a race where there were only three swimmers in the M40 category, but if someone wants to give me a medal for basically not being dead, I’m up for it.

Bodies like Dairylea triangles

When I first started out I had the typical triathlete’s view of swimming – no dives or tumble turns because you never do them in races, and every pool swim is merely a training opportunity, so doing anything other than freestyle for anything less than 400m is pointless heresy. However, over time I realised that it’s the other strokes where the medals are to be found, precisely because no other bugger does them.

At my most recent Masters tournament I won SEVEN medals – three golds, two silvers and two bronzes, and only one was for freestyle. I even won one for individual medley, a vicious invention that sees you do all four strokes at once before spending the next 10 minutes trying to get your heart rate back under 200.

I don’t mean to denigrate the athletic abilities of Masters swimmers who frequently have bodies shaped like Dairylea triangles and can post times for 100m that I’d be hard pushed to match on a bike. It’s just that there aren’t many of them, and the numbers shrink even further if you’re female or over 40; in fact, come the day I’m a 73-year-old woman I’ll be quids in.

It’s also worth noting that, although I’ve made it sound easy, there are lots of ways to get disqualified at swimming. You can choose from false start, screw-kick, not touching the wall with both hands, not turning properly, not handing your race-card in and farting on the starting blocks – although that might just have been me.

From the moment you step on to the blocks at the start you’re alone and horribly exposed, and there are no opportunities for the usual triathlon open-water-mass-start skulduggery because the water is crystal clear and proceedings are watched over by more referees than… I don’t know, I ran out of metaphors after the Mr T gag. From now on you’re on your own.

Core strength benefits

As well as the obvious benefits of getting faster at swimming and winning a chest full of non-ferrous metals, there are lots of other plus-sides to Masters tournaments, not least that hanging round swimming pools all day is fantastic for your core strength because you spend hours holding your stomach in. In fact, the only downside to Masters events I can think of is that they’re uncomfortably like being back at school doing swimming galas, and in the changing room it’s hard for me to repress the urge to flick my teammates in the knackers with a wet towel.

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So seek out your local swimming club, sign up for some Masters events and let the medals roll in. You see, making yourself sound like the next Rebecca Adlington only takes a little imagination – and given I once wrote a story for a comic about a giant toy robot that ran around killing people with a laser hidden in its groin, I know I don’t lack imagination. Class – yes: imagination – no.