I started this blog back in August 2016 with the intention of chronicling my progress before reaching the denouement of the tale – a dip in my personal mecca, the London Olympic pool.
It says much about my commitment to this project that it’s a full nine months since I achieved that ambition and it’s only now that I’m relaying the experience here.
So, why the delay? Primarily laziness, if I’m entirely honest. But I think, at the heart of it, is the fact that the experience didn’t quite match up to my rather lofty expectations.
A walk around the Olympic Park these days is a strange experience for anybody who was present during those heady few weeks five years ago. The stadium’s still there, the Mittal Orbit sculpture still dominates the skyline, and it undoubtedly remains an impressive destination for any fan of sport.
Sporting a fake London 2012 medal at the Olympic Pool. Because I’m that kind of twat.
Something’s missing, though. The colour, the excitement and the throngs of enthralled spectators have given way to the mundanity of everyday life. Not that I really expected it to be a hive of activity on a Monday afternoon in February, mind, but it was still a difference that affected me more than it probably should have.
It was the Aquatics Centre where my own ‘perceptions versus reality’ dilemma came to the fore. In the same lanes where the likes of Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky had dominated just a few years earlier, I instead found Joe Public doing head-above-water breaststroke.
Again, I’m really not sure what I expected. It’s legitimately ridiculous.
While the pool’s underwater windows through which television cameras once peered offered a reminder of its illustrious past, it became all too painfully obvious that this was no longer one of the great arenas of world sport.
Getting a bollocking from a lifeguard for attempting a poolside selfie finally hammered home the point that this place wouldn’t offer me an authentic experience of what elite-level swimming is like. At least not yet. But we’ll get to that later.
Little did I know it, but my Olympic swim was followed immediately by an enforced swimming hiatus. A new job brought me a promotion and a pay rise, but also a longer commute – and it soon became apparent that the increased journey time meant my 7am morning swims would have to be knocked on the head.
I tried manfully to keep going with the odd evening swim. I even did the Great North Swim in Lake Windermere in May – my first open water swim, where I was proud to cover the mile-long circuit in 45 minutes.
Obligatory unflattering wetsuit shot after The Great North Swim.
Ultimately, though, as time wore on, my regular swimming became irregular, my progression turned to regression, and I grew more and more demoralised until I just stopped completely.
The weight I’d lost began to come back, the old lethargy returned, and my reinvention as a swimmer fell to pieces.
And then came a lucky break.
September saw the closure of Erdington Baths, my local swimming destination. And while I was sad to see the back of the slightly grotty pool I’d become so weirdly fond of, I was happy to welcome the state-of-the-art new leisure centre that came in its place.
Particularly given that its 6.30am opening time heralded my long-awaited return to the water.
A few months of relative inactivity meant that I apprehensively got started again in the slow lane. Within a couple of weeks I progressed to medium. After a month, I was living life in the fast lane once more.
I’d well and truly been re-bitten by the bug, and suddenly I found myself looking for the next big challenge, for a target to aim for.
And then I found out about Marathon Swims, a new concept with 1k, 5k and 10k pool-based challenges.
The venue? The London Aquatics Centre.
Within seconds, I’d paid my money and signed up to the 5k event.
And so it is I’ll return to the Pool of Champions this weekend, where I hope the scale of the challenge, the camaraderie of my fellow participants, the roar of the spectators in the stands, and – importantly – the chance of a medal at the end of it will provide the sense of excitement and competition that was sadly lacking on my last visit.
So, there we are – the blog is finally up to date. And, seeing as you’ve made it this far, I might as well get my begging bowl out.
I’m using this swim to raise a bit of moolah for a couple of great causes, and you can find my sponsorship page here.
I’ve set myself a slightly ambitions target of £500 – or, in other terms, £100 per kilometre, and a fiver per length.
50% of the money I raise will go LoveBrum, a charity I’m incredibly proud to be an ambassador for. It provides funding to small charities and good causes across my home town, helping to make a real difference to communities.
I’ll also be raising money for VICTA, a charity for children and young people who are blind and partially sighted. My wife, Anna, is a teacher specialising in children with visual impairment, and I’m proud to be doing something for a cause that’s very close to our hearts.
If you can donate whatever you can afford, it will be hugely appreciated.
You know it will. It really will.