Not as Easy as it Looks: Learning to Swim

By Carissa

The sign at the gym said, “ask about a free session with a trainer” and an idea was sparked.  I wondered if I could get a training session in the pool.  I’d been wanting to learn how to lap swim but before this year hadn’t had access to a pool or the willingness to pay a trainer to learn.  Not to mention, I’m usually busy running six days a week!  With an injury that put running on hold for a few weeks I’d been soaking up all the fun cross training activities that normally get pushed aside and forgotten.  Why not check out swimming?

When I inquired at the front desk my hopes were confirmed.  I could schedule an appointment with a trainer specifically for the pool.  I pushed full steam ahead and set up a session for a few days later.  The thought of the appointment itself terrified me but I refused to let that stop me from giving it a try.

The day of the session arrived and my stomach was in knots.  Doubts raced through my head like,  "I’m going to look like a fool.  I’m going to be bad at this. It’ll be embarrassing."  Do you know what compelled me forward?  Running has taught me that being good at something takes work.  I want to be good at proficient at lap swimming.  Surely if I persevere through what is hard, ugly, and scary there will be gains, rewards and successes.  

I made it maybe three minutes into the session before I realized that no matter how much endurance I’d built as a runner it wasn’t translating into strength in the water.  My main issue was of course breathing.  Figuring out how to adjust to breathing at predetermined points when I was fatigued and awkwardly moving through the water was brain overload.  I see now I had hoped to make up for my lack of skill with a good work ethic. However, the harder I worked the harder it was to breathe and the more I failed to execute.  The trainer smiled patiently at me from above and continued to offer advice.  Sometimes it was the same instruction repeated because I hadn't yet performed the task correctly.

Twenty minutes passed and it was time to wrap up the session.  That sounds like a short amount of time but I was wiped and ready to escape the torture.  The trainer suggested I sign up for a few more lessons.  Clearly I needed it.  One free session in the pool hadn’t turned me into a swimmer.  Instead it had shown me all my inadequacies.  I told the trainer I wasn't sure I had the time to devote to swimming since I'd be starting to train for the Boston marathon soon.  (That's right trainer, in case I looked like I have no athletic ability I actually can run.)  I left the pool wondering if all my bravery was for nothing. 

A funny thing happened on my way home.  My body was alive with endorphins and I couldn’t wait to try it again.  You’re tracking with me right?  Twenty minutes of being miserable and I immediately couldn’t wait to do it again.  On my way home I called my husband and the conversation went
something like this:

Me: Short recap of how bad the lesson went.
Husband: "Well, I’m glad you had a good time."
Me: "I didn’t have a good time!  It was torture.  I had a torturous time!"
Husband: "You like torture.  That means you had a good time."
Me: Well..."Yeah...That’s true." 

That one lesson put a fire in me.  I signed up for three more sessions and I couldn’t wait to get back in the pool.  Friends assured me that after a few weeks I would get the breathing part down.  (I'm holding you to it friends.)  When I returned to the pool two days later I could already notice improvement.  

For all the times someone has asked me whether I was going to train for a triathlon and I said no I think my answer is about to change...     

What about you Sole Sisters?  When is the last time you did something you were afraid to do?  If any of you are swimmers and/or triathletes, do you have any advice for me?


  1. Great job!

    I so can relate as I am a late bloomer as an athlete! I started running 1/25/2010 at the age of 45! Count this candles Sister! :-)

    This past summer I talked my hubs (60) and a joint friend (62) into doing a mini Triathalon as a team. We had a blast, trained hard and took first place in teams (there were 6) and overall 2nd of 50 entrants total. When we finished we were all on a high but the guys told me NEVER AGAIN.

    So I started taking swimming lessons and have now got my breathing down without holding my nose, love the backstroke, kind of like the breast, and WORKING HARD on the freestyle as the breathing is hard for me but I will not give up!

    1. Congrats on your mini triathlon and on discovering your inner athlete at 45. How inspiring! I hope we can both get the freestyle down. I've been back in the pool two other times now and the breathing has been much better than the first time. I love your won't give up attitude!

  2. Way to get out there. Love this post. :) Swimming is much harder for me but I've spent a lot of time in the pool. I wouldn't say I was good at it though. In high school I swam on Varsity (there wasn't a Jr. Varsity) so that I could cross train and stay conditioned between cross country and track. Gosh, I was bad. I was last in every race but I got better and did it anyway even though I was scared. Something I"m afraid to do: MOve across the country to NC to try something totally new. :) I'm doing that. And doing a triathlon. NOt there yet. :)

    1. A move across country makes my swim session seem not so scary at all! I hope your experience in NC is everything you hope it to be. You are so brave and adventurous to do it. Also I think it's really cool that you kept at swimming in high school despite it being hard.

  3. Love this! I was on swim team when I was very young but have never really swam since then. I had to take time off running all summer and then slowly built my mileage back up the last couple of months. During that time, I learned to pool run in the deep end. Have you tried that? It is supposed to be a great workout that is so similar to regular running but you have to find a way to really keep your heart rate up, which isn't always easy. I should probably just swim laps but that sounds much too hard. :)

    1. I haven't tried running in the pool. That sounds hard. Sorry you had to take time off this summer. I had an overuse injury after Eugene this spring so my summer running was limited. It wasn't fun but led me to joining a gym and discovering more cross training options.

  4. Hooray for you for being brave, Carissa! I used to swim in school, but was better at breast stroke than front crawl. And I choked at backstroke and looked hilarious at fly. Anyhow, running suits me more..but i bet that swimming is burning a ton of calories for you, and keeping your lungs very fit! is the return to running going? Hope it's well!

    1. I just did my second session with the trainer Friday and it's so fascinating to me to be learning the technique. I actually can't wait to get into the water to practice again but like you, running certainly suits me better. :) My return to running is going well. I logged 12 miles yesterday and my foot held up beautifully. I can still tell that it's not 100% but it feels right to be back on it again and I think it is ready to begin marathon training next week. Praise the Lord!