I dipped a toe in and then very quickly, out.
But let’s start at the beginning here – when I heard my local pool was re-opening, I celebrated, imagining a peaceful oasis of wide, single lanes. I sorely missed my pre-Covid morning laps, which put me in a sunny mood despite the occasional kick, scratch and tidal wave (it could get silly busy) and I was desperate to safely dive back in.
Despite anxiety attacks in shops and audible swearing when strangers veer to close, I was signed up to the vision in my mind of – quite frankly – how lane swimming should always be, a bit of me, myself and I. So I booked into the second day of opening. And it was brilliant.
We started with an intriguing little hike around the leisure centre to one of the new entrance points and were ushered by polite, masked staff down corridors and up a flight of stairs, before popping out at the pool. The floor of the entire route was penned with distance markers. We were then given a number which aligned to a chair and a basket, each a meter apart around the edge. There, we undressed next to each other, hoping everyone had remembered to wear their swimming kit underneath (they had).
We slipped into the pool for our forty-five minute session, in one of the three wide lanes (booked in advance): Slow, Medium or Fast.
That first swim was like coming home; a little slice of freedom given back and better than before. I shared the medium lane with a good friend and together we got straight back to our old rhythm. Our legs quickly ached and it made us happy. We were soon pink-cheeked, out of breath and relieved.
We waited for the first person to leave the pool, to confirm that, yes, we could head to our respective changing areas for a shower (sans products). All of the showers were blocked off apart from the two far ends, along with a lot of the bench spaces, to ensure plenty of space when drying off.
It wasn’t ideal to walk back home and have to shower again (I didn’t feel clean without soap), but it was a fair price to pay.
It’s only when I went to book again that I noted the number of spaces available in each of the three lanes – six. I phoned up to confirm, dreading the worst, and of course, it was bang on – six people could book each double lane.
Despite the considerable effort the centre had evidently gone to, to ensure the safety of visitors, I couldn’t imagine it standing up to eighteen swimmers at once. Pre-Covid, three people sharing a lane was usually a pain – you’d swim around clockwise, hoping that everyone had managed to ascertain their speed correctly and could, therefore, front crawl in sync, with no overtaking necessary. It usually didn’t all come together. Cue strategic planning, a nice bit of morning stress and thinly veiled contempt. But that all usually lasted for ten minutes or so, as people left sporadically and you played musical lanes to get more space.
Now, however, you and your buddies would be stuck together for the same forty-five minutes, should you choose to enjoy your full window. That’s six people swimming in a narrow oval, and crucially this time, with no overtaking possible. You’ll be completely at the frustrating mercy of the slowest swimmer.
I froze my membership, put off enough by the thought.
To be fair to the centre, the guidance from Swim England, the only recognised national governing body for swimming in England, suggests that ten people per double lane would be acceptable. TEN!
When you see it in a diagram, where swimmers are numbers, it actually looks very relaxed:
Oh wait, no, no it doesn’t.
Look, of course it’s not my place to tell anyone what they’re comfortable with – I’m only speaking for what fills me with an overwhelming sense of dread.
And it’s good news if the above image doesn’t deter you, I’m one less body in the pool to slow you down.
But if, like me, this just isn’t something you can get on board with, Covid or no, then instead of trying to force yourself into comfortableness, accept what freaks you out, and what makes you feel safe, and create a new normal that works for you in and out of the water.
For now, I’ll be supporting your choices from dry land.