Training for Isoman has meant a lot of hours down the local baths. That’s meant I’ve had to learn the nuances of pool etiquette…and come up with some rules of my own.
1. Choose your session wisely.
Swimming is the most difficult discipline in triathlon to train for simply because there’s no room for flexibility. I can’t decide on a whim that I fancy a dip as I’m at the mercy of the dreaded pool timetables. The municipal pool must be everything to everyone so there’s huge chunks when swimming clubs have the full pool, mornings when schools take over both ends, swimming lessons, ladies only or men only sessions, lifeguard training, exercise classes, swim galas and times when it’s busier than Tesco on Black Friday.
I have a few time slots over the week which work for me. They go on the training plan first and if I miss them, that’s it. However, this is not a precise science as unfortunately neither the sports centre management nor the general population are predictable.
2. Always use the lanes.
I’ve walked into the pool and seen it empty except for a couple of people using the lanes. The temptation is to make the most of the space and leave the lanes to the first come, first served lot. 5 minutes later and a truck load of kids pile in with floats, balls etc and start jumping all over the place, a couple of women come in for a chat-and-dont-get-my-hair-wet dabble and a long-standing member of parliament decides he’s swimming widths. (Seriously?)
If there’s a lane on, use it.
3. Stake a claim.
If there’s 2 in a lane then you each take a side. 3 or more and you swim in rotation. This is a given rule that’s always worth clarifying. I know this from headbutting a pensioner.
It’s also worthwhile taking all the swim paraphernalia that you own, paddles, fins, pull buoy, water bottle and dumping them on the end. By doing this you are stating that you mean business. I find it an effective deterrent.
4. Swim your own pace.
Imagine a running track where sprinters are training for 100m alongside marathoners and ultra runners. Chuck in the couch to 5k beginners and some Parkrun plodders. Then shut all but one lane. This is how it works down the baths. One moment I can be lapping an overweight lady in a swim dress, 5 minutes later there’s a fella in budgie smugglers knocking out fast drills. If I’m doing a 5k long swim it’s no good proving to Speedo chap that I can keep up, (he’ll be panting against the wall in a few lengths anyway.)
5. Hug a lifeguard.
Well, not actually. Seriously though, make friends or, at the very least, make eye contact and smile every time you visit. These people are your allies. They’ll keep a lane open for you when they can. They’ll give you a shout out if a lesson is cancelled and there’s a spare lane. They’ll have your back when it all kicks off…oh, and they might just save your life.
6. Pool rage.
Be prepared to get nasty. All other people in the pool are your enemies. This is your Hunger Games. Nobody cares about your training but you. They will swim very slowly in your way, STOP in the swim lane and simply STAND there, drift into your line, and display every possible form of unexplainable behaviour.
Be ready to stand your ground. I find an aggressive, splashy stroke is a good way of “encouraging” someone out of my space, I sometimes “accidentally” catch offenders with a elbow or foot. If people are swimming slowly in my way, I swim around them. If there’s 6 tug boats clogging a lane, I’ve been known to create my own channel through the middle.
I am a nice person. In the pool this counts for nothing.
6. Get outside.
As soon as it’s warm enough, dig your wetsuit out and get in a lake instead. Not only is open water more pleasant, (think running outdoors rather than the treadmill,) but it’s less congested too. No more turning every 25m, no more staring at the assorted debris on the floor or slavishly following a blue line.
Enter an event with a mass start and it’s acceptable to punch people who get in your way. Payback for a winter in the pool.