The day begins with an alarm – normally I get through about six of them before dragging myself out of bed and throwing on some warm clothes to cycle to Iffley Road for morning training. In winter months it can be pretty cold and grim, and quite often makes me seriously consider why I got up in the first place. Gloves are essential, and if you forget and try to brave it without them, your hands may as well be icicles by the time you get there. Once, in the middle of the big January freeze, sleep-deprived and stupidly unwilling to make the trip back through College to my room, I decided to use my socks as a substitute. Needless to say, by the time I made it to Iffley, both my fingers and toes had succumbed to third-degree frostbite (or so it felt).
While diving into a cold pool at 7am may not appeal to everyone, I actually find it quite refreshing and a good way to start the day. Warm-ups are quite short and are pretty self-explanatory, while main sets vary each day – Monday mornings are endurance, Saturdays tend to include sprints, and Tuesdays are kick sets (I avoid going on Tuesdays). After the session we stretch as a group for a bit, and then it’s a cycle back to college for a quick but enormous breakfast before lectures or work for the day. Everything that you’ve heard about swimmers’ appetites is true – I’ve had to get used to living with constant hunger. It’s always a frantic dash to get the right food into my body in that crucial digestive window thirty minutes after a training session.
Evening training is a similar story, although it’s not as cold and I’m not half-asleep at this point so the cycle there isn’t quite so horrific.
However, this is more than made up for by the gruelling land-based HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts we do on poolside before the session, which involve so many core exercises that I’m often unable to sit up for a week afterwards. One that’s particularly tough is a pyramid set of planks, which involves holding the position for increasingly long lengths of time, from thirty seconds up to five minutes, and back down again.
Following this moderate form of torture we dive in for another two-hour swimming set. The intensity and length of these sets tend to vary according to the time of year – in Michaelmas the long-term focus is preparation for the varsity match so the sets are longer and tougher, while in the immediate run-up to competitions, we ease off (taper) to allow our bodies to rest and recover. We sometimes split into groups, so that some of us can focus on sprints while others swim longer distances.
Many of the sessions also involve some hypoxic work, which literally means “low oxygen” so involves not breathing for lengths at a time and other breath-holding exercises. However, the lifeguards aren’t so keen on these sets anymore after one of the team fainted in the middle of the pool while doing one.
Following Wednesday evening training we have team socials or crewdates, most likely located at the fine establishment of Temple Lounge and which involve upholding some swim team traditions for the youngest member of the team (Team Junior, or TJ). We then descend upon Vinnie’s as a group for a quick Pinky (a deceptively-strong cocktail) or two, before trekking to Park End to lose completely any benefits of the earlier training session. Thankfully, there’s no training on Thursday mornings…
Overall, life as a Blues swimmer is pretty similar to normal student life – the only real differences are the 10,000 calorie diets, chronically-aching limbs, a propensity to fall asleep in lectures, and the residual smell of chlorine that seems to follow us wherever we go.