Testing the water - Not sure about your front crawl? Then have it videoed for analysis in the latest way to gauge your swimming performance
An indoor swimming pool in East London. I have been performing front crawl for two minutes yet travelled nowhere. I am no Michael Phelps yet this is unusual: my ungainly stroke usually propels me at least some distance forward.
However, this is no ordinary pool. It is the Endless Pool, a device owned by the Swim for Tri coaching service and possibly the most innovative technology available to those who wish to improve their swimming ability in preparation for a triathlon.
About the size of a jacuzzi, the EP has a motor attached to it that sends a current through the water and cameras positioned around its perimeter that films you swimming against the tide. Think a treadmill for those who prefer to workout in the water.
The cameras relay the footage to a nearby wide-screen television, where an instructor can monitor your stroke and replay the footage back to you later to point out mistakes. You even get to take home the DVD, though I doubt I'll sit through mine.
"Your kick is too deep," Keeley Bullock, a swimming coach and co-owner of Swim for Tri, says, hitting pause on the remote. "Your feet should move only about six inches up and down. Otherwise your lower body will start to sink."
In a long list of errors, I discover also that my weaker left arm enters the water half-cocked when it should stretch out to haul as much water as possible beneath the body, while my trunk remains still when it should rotate in an efficient stroke.
"Even the most experienced swimmers are surprised by what the camera can reveal," Bullock says. "That's why we suggest that everybody has advice on their technique before they start triathlon training."
That may be true but, while I would recommend the EP, some might struggle with the £60-a-session that Swim for Tri charge, while not everyone can easily access an EP - those who live far from central London, though, might try those at TriCentral in Manchester or SwimShack in Loughborough.
How else, then, might a newcomer to the triathlon begin his swimming training? "Get in contact with your local triathlon club," says Dan Bullock, Keeley's brother and business partner, a former triathlon coach of the year. "You will get feedback from experienced competitors both on technique and on how to ensure you keep improving."
Dan recommends that novices begin their preparations six months before their first race, training for 30 minutes at least three times a week. For the first few months, he says, they should concentrate solely on technique rather than building stamina.
"You shouldn't just swim lengths, either," he adds. "You'll just get fed up and settle into bad habits. Instead speak to a triathlon or swimming coach and get them to suggest drills that will improve your stroke."
Such drills might comprise of moving using a leg-kick only or "sculling" in which you perform a kind of doggie paddle aimed at improving your hand movement through the water, while interval training is a good way to avoid boredom.
Once you have mastered the race distance in a pool, though, there is another challenge to overcome before you can confidently attempt the first leg of a triathlon. And, as Dan says, it is "almost a different discipline".
Hardly anybody accustomed to a pool adapts easily to open-water swimming. In Britain in particular, the water is invariably forbiddingly cold and so murky that you cannot see beyond the end of your nose, making it difficult to travel in a straight line.
Most competitors also take time to get used to a wet suit – even if the buoyancy it provides eventually makes their task easier – while anybody who has competed in a triathlon says it is vital you get experience of swimming in a group. That way you are not taken aback by the fiercely competitive start of a race, in which competitors fight for a clean line through the water.
"You need at least four training sessions in open water to feel comfortable with it," Dan says. "There are techniques you need to learn, for example, how to 'site' yourself in relation to objects around you so you stay in a straight line, how to take off your wet suit so you don't lose valuable time in the transition to the bike, and what to do if you panic during the swim."
Popular venues for open-water swimming in Britain include Dorney Lake near Windsor, Hatchet Lake in Cheshire and the Serpentine in Hyde Park, though you can find more comprehensive lists at river-swimming.co.uk or on the lively forum at swimclub.co.uk, which also includes advice from other swimmers. But, no, you won't find a post from this humbled enthusiast.