Last week I received an email from the Swimathon asking if I would like a place on a training session with Duncan Goodhew. How could I say no? I mean, this is Duncan Goodhew! Gold medalist in the breaststroke at the 1980 Olympics. I’d be a fool not to email a reply to say “yes, please I’d love a place”, wouldn’t I? Well, I’m not that much of a fool so I sent the reply asking for a place. I got an email back on Monday afternoon to say that I had a place and the training session was at The Hydro, Harrogate on Thursday morning. I was so excited!
Anyway, Thursday morning came and the Man gave me a lift over the Harrogate as he wasn’t working and he knew the way. We got there really early and sat in the car for about 20 minutes before I thought that it maybe wasn’t too early to go in. I’ve never been to The Hydro before and, can I just say, that it is *huge*, well compared to the swimming pools I’m used to. The changing area was clean with lots of cubicles and lockers so I found a cubicle got changed and then put my big bag in a locker. I took myself out to the poolside where there were a couple of people standing to the side chatting and, as they looked like they were there for the training session, I went over to them. Fortunately, I was right and we introduced ourselves. The lady, I can’t remember her name, has been doing the Swimathon since it first started in 1986. She first swam in a team with her father and, over the years, her team has grown to include her daughters and granddaughters. This year she will be swimming with her two daughters. The other person was a man who swam his first Swimathon last year and, by his own admission, isn’t a particularly good swimmer and wanted some tips from Duncan to improve his front crawl which he is just learning. There was also a group of 4 11-12 year old girls who were from the local swimming club.
Before Duncan arrived, a member of the Swimathon team came on to the poolside to say that Duncan was in the building but was chatting to the staff on the way in. We were told that we could ask Duncan anything and that he is a lot of fun and very approachable. Then Duncan came on through the door and made his way over to the desk by the pool, shaking hands with everyone as he went. He told us not to tell him our names as he wouldn’t remember them anyway! When he had put his bag down, Duncan asked what we wanted to get out of the session and the lady and man both said they wanted to improve their front crawl, I said I wanted to improve my technique too and the girls were just really excited to be there. Duncan then went on to tell us that the best bit of advice he could give us was to enjoy the water and try to get away from “counting tiles”.
Little speech over, he then went to speak to the photographer and his team but not before getting his gold medal out of his bag and giving it to the girls to hold. I held it too and it was heavy! We then stood on the edge of the pool for a quick photo shoot, all pointing at the gold medal which Duncan was now holding before getting in to the pool. The first thing we did in the pool was to play a game. Duncan asked the girls if one of them would like to sit in a swim hat. What? You can’t get a whole person in a swim hat can you? Can it really stretch that much? Obviously, if you try to fit someone in a dry swim hat on land you can’t do it. However, if you stretch it slowly in the water with 8 people holding the edge, you can.
After our game, it was time to warm up with a couple of lengths of the pool. This gave Duncan a chance to have a look at our stroke and give us some guidance. I did 3 lengths of front crawl and one length of breaststroke as I was catching up with the person in front of me. When I finished my length of breaststroke, Duncan said that my stroke was good but I need to go under the water and bend from the hips to keep my head in a straight line rather than just lifting my head up to breathe. We then moved on to drills to improve our front crawl as this is the most efficient stroke for a 5,000m swim.
First was feeling the water to finish the stroke by sculling. This wasn’t bad as it is something that I have done before and we sculled on our backs to the deep end of the pool. When we got to the deep end, Duncan said that you haven’t mastered sculling until you can do a ballet leg (like the synchronised swimmers do). He then demonstrated it and asked us to try – not very successful in my case, I just sank! We then sculled back to the shallow end where he asked us to try a double ballet leg. What!?! I sank on the single leg!
The next drill was to extend and reach while doing the stroke and make sure we “hit” our thigh on the way out of the water. The follow on from this was to really exaggerate the stroke by kicking on our sides and turn from one side to the other. So hard! When I finished two lengths of that Duncan asked (tongue in cheek) if I enjoyed it, I said “I’m used to a 17m pool” (The Hydro is 50m). We then continued with a couple more drills before a final couple of lengths of front crawl to see if we had improved. I must say that after the drills, my stroke felt better and, dare I say it, faster.
For the final 5-10 minutes, Duncan asked if we had any questions and I asked how I could improve my stamina/endurance as I get very lazy about kicking because it tires me out. He said that I need to do lots of kick board work and the side swimming drill – great! I knew that was coming. Other questions included how many times does he swim now? 5 to 7 hours a week. How much training did he do when he was competing? 6 hours per day, 2 hours in the morning, 2 hours in the afternoon and 2 hours in the evening. Whilst doing the question/answer session, the lady told him about a swimming pool in Richmond, North Yorkshire, which is sunk into the ground and is surrounded by woodland and Duncan asked his Swimathon representative why he hadn’t been there because he really wants to go. The Swimathon representative said that they have been there but Jo Jackson did the session and Duncan couldn’t expect to be invited to them all!
Before we got out of the pool, Duncan showed the lady (she also wanted help with breaststroke) what he meant by bending at the hip and going under the water. It was amazing! He spends such a long time under water and has such a powerful stroke. It was a privilege to see so close. I can’t wait to get back in the pool tomorrow and try it myself. He also suggested doing the kick twice to one pull drill.
Finally, the girls asked if they could race Duncan (I told you he was approachable) and he said yes but he wouldn’t race doing breaststroke as he would beat them. So, he said he would swim his best stroke which is… doggy paddle! It was very funny, the girls were swimming front crawl and breaststroke and he was swimming doggy paddle. The girls won, but only just.
After we got out of the pool Duncan gave us each a signed photo and spoke to us individually. He asked if I’d had any swim training before, I said that I trained for a year with my uni swim team (2007) but apart from that, no. He also said that I had a very good technique *blush*.
All in all, it was a fantastic morning and if I get invited to go to another training session with Duncan, or anyone else, I’ll take it.