Take the plunge at the pool

DIVING RIGHT IN: Newcastle’s Sparke Helmore Triathlon.  Picture: Ryan Osland
DIVING RIGHT IN: Newcastle’s Sparke Helmore Triathlon. Picture: Ryan Osland

I LOVE swimming. I love the peacefulness of it - I have young kids, so the gentle lapping of water against my ears is absolute bliss.

I also love how it loosens me up when I haven't had time to stretch, and I love how much difference it makes to my breathing when I run.

I would not classify myself as a swimmer, though. I actually could not swim properly until I was about 18, and always hated swimming carnival day at school.

I can't dive into the pool without either hitting the bottom or belly-flopping, and I can't tumble turn to save myself.

But nevertheless I still find pleasure in it. I just wish I had time to do it more - before this week, the last time I swam was the night before giving birth to my daughter, who will be one next month!

So, after entering the Sparke Helmore Triathlon last week, I am slightly concerned I might have to borrow my three-year-old's flotation device to finish the 500-metre swim leg of the novice race on March 17.

Of all the legs, I am pretty sure the swim causes most trepidation for the majority of competitors. I know I breathe a sigh of relief once I reach terra firma again.

So, an expert I am not, but I have done the swim leg twice now in a triathlon and I can offer some recommendations if you are getting ready to do it:

(1) Make sure you can swim more than the distance required with some level of confidence;

(2) Practice some open-water swimming in the ocean baths. Swimming in open water is vastly different to the stillness of the pool and can be quite a shock if you haven't experienced it;

(3) Don't expect it to be smooth swimming the whole way - you will probably run into a few people before reaching the shore; and

(4) Definitely don't watch Jaws the night before - although that could actually make you swim faster on the day if you do.

It is also a good idea to practise getting your head up for a look where you are going once in a while. You don't want to find yourself headbutting Stockton breakwall.

If you are like me and you have left your swim training to the last minute, then I would recommend starting with some easy 500-metre or one-kilometre swims to get back into the swing of things.

I am going to keep it pretty basic, but you can try to mix it up a bit if you want to improve your swimming by adding some faster laps with short recoveries.

Even if you are not contemplating doing a triathlon - ever - swimming is still a great form of fitness. It offers a low-impact alternative to training and is great if you are injured or pregnant.

You can still get your heart rate up but it is not as stressful on your body, and is a great all-over workout.

If you are new to swimming there are lots of places where you can do lessons or join a social squad.

There are also a lot of good, free programs you can access on the internet. I really like Hayley Lewis's one on the Special K website because it is pretty simplistic and guides all levels.

Swimming can be scary if you are not confident in the water. But with a bit of guidance and some practice, it can be a great form of exercise and also relaxation.