The water is my home


It’s 7.15am Sunday morning and the alarm goes off. I lie in bed and think about going to the pool. It’s been a tough week at work and I really don’t want to get up.

Lie ins don’t happen very often. But my daughter is staying overnight with a friend and it seems crazy to drag myself out of bed when I don’t have to.

I last an hour and then I can’t fight it any more. The water is calling me.

Recently I’ve been feeling under the weather, like I’m coming down with something. Wednesday nights are usually reserved for serious training but I twanged my hip flexor running and it’s really hurting. I make it as far as the car and the searing pain flares up again. I realise it’s probably a bad idea to train tonight and go back inside, gutted.

Thursday and Friday I feel really tired and collapse each evening, all good intentions abandoned. Maybe I am about to get ill.

But come the weekend things pick up a bit. Saturday morning I manage a quick 1200m while my daughter has her lesson. I feel OK but my shoulders are tight.

So here I am, 9.30am the next day. I’ve wolfed down a bagel with banana and peanut butter and half a cup of tea for the caffeine boost and I’m raring to go.

The pool is really busy. I half know the guys in one lane but there’s four of them training together, too many to share, so I slot in next door and split the lane with someone way faster than me. That’s OK – it removes the temptation to race them secretly…

I’m sluggish, probably left over effects from my not-quite-illness and missing training on Wednesday. But I feel at home straight away. I always do. Even when I’m struggling. Even when I’m hurting. My whole life it’s never mattered. Because I belong in the water.

In the water I don’t think about anything but swimming. There is so much technique to focus on and so much to tweak. It’s always ‘stomach in; breathe sideways, not up; check that right side roll; kick from the hips; reach and lengthen; high elbows; count the strokes; swim downhill’. There’s no room for other stuff. No work worries. No family shit. Just me and the water. Every day I’m not in the pool I long for this feeling. When I get out part of me always wants to stay. Just another 2 lengths, another 100m, another 10 lengths, another 500m, another km, another mile…

Where does it come from, this sense of belonging? I’m not the fastest swimmer (although I’m not slow). I’m not the strongest swimmer (although I’m not weak). But I’ve always been like this. I just want to be in the water. The more I do it, the more I love it.

On a sluggish day like today I trick myself. I know my first weak spot is lengths 6 to 20. So I use my pull buoy for some of those. Then I muck around a bit with fins and paddles, mixing up stroke and breathing drills until I reach 1000m. Now I only have 24 lengths to go til I hit a mile. I put my head down. The mile comes easy. Now 2km is only another 16 lengths. And that means I’ve done two miles since yesterday.

And here’s the cool part. 2km is my tipping point. For me, everything before 2km is just the warm up. Because around 2km is normally when everything settles down. And that’s when I feel like I could swim forever. All those early lengths when I was struggling are now way behind me. At 2km the magic happens. I am nothing but a swimmer and I don’t want to stop.

I look at the clock. There’s never enough time. My daughter will be home from her friend’s by now and wondering where I am. I decide to aim for 2,500m total. Another 20 lengths. They glide by. And I’m done.

I want more. I need more. But there’s always tomorrow. The water is my home.

Home page photo credit: @speedo via Instagram

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