Following the black line

I was semi-listening to the news this morning, and one of our Olympians, a swimmer, was talking about his training. Swimming was my sport but it was a much more amateurish affair in the days when I was training. However, even so, I swam about forty miles a week in training, sometimes just long hours, up and down, up and down, sometimes training with our coaches. We had fitness training, gym work, weights… A couple of times I even went for weekends to what is now the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre, and another time to a training centre in Leighton Buzzard.

So I put in the hours, I put in the effort, swimming before school and in the evenings… but so did lots of people, so did many friends in our club. Why did I not succeed? One reason was I got glandular fever when I was twelve; I was out of the water for about two months, and didn’t really get my fitness back for about a year. That wasn’t the main reason that I never became one of the elite; in my heart I did not have that killer winning instinct, that focused competitiveness, and when it came to the big occasions I was overcome with a weird sort of nervousness.

The swimmer this morning was talking about training, but at a whole different level from what I did in what I’ve already called my ‘amateurish’ way. He talked about doing lengths, 5000 metres at a time, I guess I would have done a third of that, and I wouldn’t have done it every single day, and I wouldn’t have had expert coaches watching me, timing me, working with me all the time. Would I have done what he did if I’d had the opportunity back then? Probably!

He talked about ‘following the black line’ – the black line on the bottom of the pool; I remember that – we didn’t have goggles, just naked eyes, so the lines would be very blurry after a while; I was a backstroker so I would be gazing up at the roof above, and keeping straight following the floats on the ropes beside me. He spoke of focussing absolutely on that black line, and not letting his attention wander from it – my mind used to wander all the time, so my training was more a physical than mental thing.

I swam hard, I trained hard, but I didn’t properly ‘follow the black line.


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