‘Novice’ to ‘not too shabby’ in 1,825 days…tales from a wannabe swimmer Claire Hitchings

I am now a sub-12 minute 800m swimmer! It’s official!

Prompted by Neil Colvin to put trotters to keyboard, here’s the abridged ‘journey’ from clocking a 15:05 750m swim at the World Championships on the Gold Coast 5 years ago to a 800m PB last Sunday of 11:53.

At the Gold Coast, the medallists’ swim times were 11:39, 10:49 and 13:37 respectively. I was in awe.

At the time I was a Lane 2 swimmer. I desperately wanted to move up swim lanes…into the ones where people dived in, surfacing with goggles in place and not a wedgie in sight; where people tumble-turned, leaving the wall in the same lane and pointing in the intended direction.

I also need to change my training from being a bike junkie to swimming more than once a week. If I could do this, then perhaps I could be a real contender?

For a few years Mike Wake took me under his expert wing. Two nerds together, I think we worked on every part of my swim technique! Progress was steady and good.

Following Mike’s retirement, Peter Bala arrived from Hungary, making 800ms seem quite the norm. This massively helped my pacing and also my mental confidence to actually race that distance. He also encouraged me to swim in the top lane, getting on people toes ready for race drafting.

I also decided to hook up with Paula George (Dewar) for some one-to-ones in the Vo2 Maximum endless pool in Hildenborough. This was great and I had a real step-improvement following lots of her input plus sculling, doggie paddle, swimming with bands and UNCO. By this point I was swimming low 12s for the 800ms. Going sub 12 was the goal…then I’d be hanging out with ‘proper swimmers’.

And then 4 months into Tom’s input, which I’ve really enjoyed, I was gutted to see an 800m time trial the evening of our own triathlon race! Was he bonkers! smiley I’d been up since 04:30. I was grumpy but I knew that with race season only a few weeks away it would do me good.

I set my beeper for 1:30s so at each 100m I had an idea of how I was doing. I was way ahead of the beeper but actually felt good…could I hold on?? I sprinted for the wall and heard Tom shout 11:58. I was delighted (the understatement of the year!). And then things got better as I realised I could knock 5 secs off that time as I’d started second in the lane…11:53. Happy days…dreams do come true!

Claire Hitchings