I took my swollen and grumbling knee for a swim this morning. It was the first time in about a year that I had been to the gym and I have missed it. I peered through the group fitness class windows at the large class of people doing what I used to do before I got injured.
The swimming pool there is the same depth along its entire length, and the lanes are sectioned off, with a slow lane, a medium one, a fast lane, another medium and then a section two lanes wide for walking/rehab.
I had my bathers on under my shorts and T shirt, so getting ready was easy. I shed my outfit and my shoes and wrapping the large beach towel around my whale-like form, hobbled across to the swimming pool.
I love swimming, but don’t enjoy it as an exercise as a rule. When you are running you can vary the circuit, choosing to run up hills or along rivers and can listen to music as you go. But swimming in a pool means you are trapped doing laps, the only thing you can vary is the stroke and there is no music, only the sound of your own breathing and the water.
As usual, I failed to stick to the plan, which was to gently float up and down for around 20 minutes. The slow and fast lanes were in use, but one of the medium ones was free, so I slipped into the water and immediately felt a responsibility to keep up a reasonable pace.
I did a length of crawl, then one with breaststroke arms but kicking legs, then flipped over onto my back and kicked along for a third length. I didn’t want to do the whole backstroke flailing arms thing, so sort of brought them up the middle of my body, then out in a wide arc, like an upside down breast stroke. Then it occurred to me that I must look like an idiot, so stopped using my arms altogether. A minute later, I had reached the end of the pool. I know this because my head thumped into the wall with a resounding crack. So much for looking like an idiot.
The door opened and another swimmer came in. She was young and tiny, with a perfect flat body in a bright blue swimsuit. She had dark curly hair, which was thick so it held itself glamourously in place. Cow. She slipped into the fast lane next to me and started to glide through the water with an ease that made me want to punch her face. Up and down we went, down and up, and by the time I next looked at the clock, I had been swimming for forty five minutes. Not strenuously, but consistently.
Getting dressed after the swim was the usual nightmare of never being able to get dry enough to make it anything less than a fiasco. When I have a shower at home, I wrap my hair in one towel, wrap another around my body and sort of drift about doing things until I am dry. At the pool I had one towel, so my hair was dripping as fast as I could dry myself. Trying to get my body out of wet Lycra and into dry Lycra was not easy, like trying to squeeze a balloon filled with yoghurt into a pair of leather trousers.
Eventually, after a number of gymnastic manoeuvres and as wet with sweat as I had been with the water from the pool, I emerged, dressed in a shapeless T Shirt and baggy shorts and exited still limping into the car park. If the exercise had done any good, I will not be feeling the benefit today. As I made my way towards the car, the tiny perfect swimmer glided past me. Unlike me, she had not changed, was still in her bathing suit and wearing her towel draped around her like an ermine robe as she swept lightly ahead of me, like a little damp Cleopatra. Even if I had spent fourteen hours in the changeroom I could not have looked as effortlessly stylish as she did.
One of the things I do like about swimming is the feeling of weightlessness. Swimming underwater is the closest thing I can think of to flying. When I am in the water, I too can glide, but back on land, I move once again like a seal. Life is so much easier if you are thin.