Tonight I went swimming in a public pool for the first time in a very long time – and I loved it!
In early 2020, just before the world got turned upside down, I’d decided I was going to go to one of the women only sessions at my local pool, inspired by someone I follow on Instagram. I didn’t get round to it so like a lot of other plans it got parked. In the 13 years I’ve lived in Camberwell, I’ve walked past the leisure centre many many times. I’ve been in once before, but that was for an exhibition as part of Camberwell Arts Festival rather than anything more active. I’ve frequented the pub next door many times.
Last week, a conversation with colleagues about exercise, and specifically swimming, encouraged me to look at it again and within an hour I’d booked to go tonight.
As a child I loved swimming. I was lucky enough to have a swimming pool at my primary school where I remember getting certificates for swimming 10 and 25 metres. Back then, I was a bit of a water baby, loving swimming underwater. I wasn’t a strong swimmer but I enjoyed swimming. I was never a fan of swimming in the sea (I hate sand and the taste of salt water) but I’ll always remember as a teenager swimming off the coast of Mexico in the most clear sea water I’ve ever seen.
I’ve no idea when that all changed, but as an adult I’ve never wanted to go in the water in a public place. I reserve donning a swimming costume and going for a swim for when I’m at my dad’s house in Spain, normally being the only one who goes in the water. The idea of swimming amongst strangers has, for the longest time, petrified me. Not the actual swimming, though I’m no longer a fan of going underwater, but feeling exposed in an item of clothing I’ve never felt comfortable in.
I bought a new swimming costume back in 2019 as the hotel we were staying at in Chicago had a pool and I naively thought we might go for a dip. Of course there were far more interesting things for us to do and when we checked out the rooftop pool it was clear we weren’t hip, cool or young enough.
Fortunately, when I dug it out last week, it still fits and it got its first proper wear tonight. The fact I didn’t feel embarrassed as I walked from the changing room to the pool shows how far I’ve come with accepting my body as it is, even the bits I really hate.
Not having my glasses on, I couldn’t see that clearly when I walked out to the pool, which lead to me taking the steps into the deep end rather than the ramp into the shallow end, which would’ve be a far more sensible route to take.
It wasn’t too busy, maybe 12 people, half of which were in the fast lane. Of course I stuck to the slow lane where I felt perfectly comfortable among others who were having a more leisurely swim and happily taking breaks between lengths.
The session was for an hour and I didn’t really know how I’d fare. That first length felt like the longest swim of my life! Perhaps I was being overly ambitious and I’d be done and on my way home within 5 minutes. I decided I’d aim for 10 lengths and then see how I felt. After 25 minutes I’d swum 15 lengths. Could I do 20?!
After 17 lengths I was done. I could tell I was using muscles my body wasn’t used to using and I didn’t want to break myself on the first attempt so I called it a day. Swimming 425 metres having not swum for years I felt was a pretty good effort. I walked home and rewarded myself with a refreshing beer.
A few years ago, Tuesday nights were choir nights. Maybe now they will be my swimming nights. I’ve already booked to go again next week.
Week two, 5 July 2022
I thought I’d turn this into a little swimming diary as motivation to keep going each week.
I slept really badly last Tuesday as a result of swimming. My legs ached as I got into bed but I woke up a few hours later with my arms in absolutely agony! I think I may have overdone it… I was up and down like a yo-yo trying to work out what to do to help ease the pain and get me back to sleep. Eventually I took a couple of painkillers and the next thing I knew it was morning.
It didn’t put me off though, and I went back tonight as planned (even though I wanted to stay home and watch the potential government car crash after cabinet members started resigning – as I write Boris is still hanging in there).
It was busier in the slow lane tonight and definitely a bit harder to swim freely, instead having to manoeuvre around other swimmers. I took longer breaks between lengths and limited myself to 10 lengths – I figured after last week I should perhaps ease myself into it a bit more.
After last week there was talk about whether I needed to wear a swimming cap. They are advised, but I’m not overly keen – not least because I always find it hard to find anything that fits my big head! Perhaps if I could find a floral one that I remember older women wearing when I was a child I’d be up for it. It seems only those in the fast lane war then though, so perhaps only something to worry about if I get more into it. Afterall, I hardly put my head under the water.
I do need to get myself a combination padlock for the lockers though. There are very few with keys and I’m constantly afraid of the key strap coming undone mid length.
I won’t be going next week as I’ll be in York with work, but I’ll book again for the week after as soon as it opens. I figure if I book in advance I’m more likely to make sure I go. I’m struggling to commit to things at the moment, and missed out on a couple of events this weekend because I didn’t commit and book, and I already know I’d be sad if I couldn’t go swimming. Fingers crossed this is going to become a good new habit.
Getting back in the habit, 8 November 2022
It was all looking so promising! I knew I was going to miss a week due to a work trip to York, but what I didn’t pre-empt was a four month hiatus until I next went in the pool.
For the first time in years I’d found a form of exercise that I enjoyed, only to be told by the doctor later that week to not partake in physical exercise for a month. How bloody typical! I’m not necessarily one to follow medical advice about such things, but in this case I’d been scared enough about a medical situation so followed his advice.
Of course, once you get out of the habit, especially a new one, it’s hard to get back into it. The weeks passed, and I could’ve gone back but I didn’t – either I forgot about it or I had other plans. Last week, during a conversation about energy saving measures at Paris swimming pools, I was reminded of what I’d been missing and instantly booked for tonight.
Back in the summer, the evenings were light and warm so it was easy to venture down to the leisure centre. The dark evenings of November, especially this week when it’s also been wet, haven’t been so inviting and, I’ll be honest, I very nearly didn’t go.
But I’m pleased to say I made it. I only swam eight lengths, which felt like a struggle, but even if I’d done one I’d have been proud of myself. My body hates me at the moment, aching in more places than I’m used to, but I know I need to move it more and this is the best way that’s going to happen, other than walking (which I also do less of in the winter months).
I’ve booked again for next week. I must remember to buy a padlock for the lockers though – tonight I nearly did lose the key as I’ve no idea how the strap is meant to be secured.
15 November 2022
It was a dark, cold and wet evening, but I’d booked for swimming so off I headed to the leisure centre. Of course I realised just before heading out that I still hadn’t bought myself a padlock so I’d have to, once again, ensure there was a locker that accepted coins and deal with the annoying key strap. Fortunately I still had a pound coin in my wallet, though on arrival I discovered that my wallet wasn’t in my bag. After a bit of panic, it turns out I’d left it on the coffee table after checking there was a coin in it.
I had two options – leave my stuff in an unlocked locker and hope for the best, or head straight home. I went for the former, but swimming when worried about whether your belongings will still be there when you get back is not very relaxing. I did my eight lengths like last week and headed out.
It wasn’t just the locker issue that meant it wasn’t a relaxing experience though. I don’t think it was any busier than usual, but it certainly felt like it due to the group of ladies that were hogging a large part of the pool just standing around chatting. It meant that those of us who were trying to swim, but weren’t fast enough for the fast lane, had about one third of the limited area available to allow us to do full lengths. I’ve never really understood the whole going to a swimming pool to pose, gossip and just generally hang out, but I understand it even less in a session like this in a leisure centre in the middle of winter. They didn’t make it easy to get in or out of the pool either as they were standing right by the steps where you come in.
Next time I go I’m going to try and get there at the beginning of the time slot so I can get in and before too many people arrive.