11 Laps of Pells: Sam Knowles

First in a series of first-person accounts of what is happening for Pells Pool swimmers while immersed in our cool, blue water.

A brand storyteller and trainer in insightful thinking, Sam uses Pells Pool for inspiration, distraction and meditation. He favours early morning swims – 3 times a week – and has been a card-carrying season-ticket holder for the past four years. [Photo by Emma Chaplin]

Lap 1

Can’t dive without belly-flopping – a low centre of gravity or just badly taught? I lower myself in at the shallow end, a kraken slithering silently beneath the waves. Goggles down. Immediate total immersion, pushing off powerfully. Scalp tight with the delicious cool of the water. The same impact as a familiar guitar riff from a favourite band at a gig. Eyes wide-open, marvelling at the hairs on my arms being swept back like CGI grass in a Pixar gale.

Lap 2

Breathing in on odd numbers, out on even, counting to ten and then from one again. Meditatively, hypnotically the same every time. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 1, 2, 3…Shallow end…deep end…shallow end…deep. The signs remind me of the here and now, insisting on it with every turn. The closest I get to flow: this spring-fed oasis.

Lap 3

Making the moments underwater last and last. The horizon at the water’s edge is purest, deepest blue; the Ipswich Town blue of my childhood. A haze that isn’t there, but an illusion. Augmented now by the new blue lanes, screwed to the floor. Hugging the bottom, I tap odd numbers – prime numbers – on the pleasingly rubbery strips. Everyone’s a little bit OCD…Beckham’s sock drawer, sorting lego… Aren’t they?

Lap 4

There’s an awfully long way still to go. Triathletes are going more than twice the pace of my pedestrian breaststroke. I lose concentration, lapse into competition … 13, 14, 15 … damn! Lost count. Back to 1, 2, 3…Do they really need wetsuits? It’s 19C. I don’t need one and I’m in for 22 minutes. I’m not chilled through for the rest of the day, just chilled out. Aren’t they used to it? Or does cooling down slow you down? Perhaps they don’t have the lagging of flesh I do?…4, 5, 6…Well he does! And why has that man got garish plastic oven gloves on?…7, 8, 9…What’s the wedge jammed between that swimmer’s thighs?…10, 1, 2…

Lap 5

Did I shower? It’s not like me not to. But then it’s not like I’ve been for a run before today’s swim. Or a ride. But did I shower? I can’t remember now. It would only have been ten minutes ago. It’s all cool. I’m clean now, and there are more than half a million gallons of water in this Olympic-sized lido to wash away what sweat or grime there may have been.

Lap 6

Half-way down the sixth and I’m already – suddenly – mid-way through my swim. Meditation moves from counting laps and breaths to counting laps and strokes per lap (53 for the last one). It doesn’t work to count breaths and strokes. Too confusing. Facing DEEP END on odds, SHALLOW END on evens.

Lap 7

Already now a sense of loss. Only two more complete laps in this direction after this one. A few laps ago, my habitual 11 felt like a huge task. By lap 7, it always feels too short. 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53…and turn.

Lap 8

Tap, tap, tap…29 taps on the blue lane marker on the floor of the deep end. Zeno’s paradox of the pursuer having to complete half the distance of the pursued, and then half the distance of what remains, ad infinitum such that the pursuer can never catch the pursued. (This comes to mind as a wet-suited triathlete, in for just five minutes, has already swum more laps than me. Smile. Think of the tortoise and the hare. Resume competition with just myself. Smile. Count. Flow.)

Lap 9

The poster for the sold-out Pells Pool party impinges on my consciousness. Happy memories of swimming and signing and dancing along with Foxy Phil Rhodes and the horn section from 80s ska bands with kids and families and fireworks at the finale. How can Phil top the six minutes underwater from last year, or the zip wire with rocket boots shedding sparks into the blue from the year before, or the fiery chariot when his hand was crook, or the lap in Superman underpants. Will he actually be fired as a human cannonball from the park next door?

Lap 10

Easy and almost done. The illusion of moving with grace. No gripes or grumbles in knees or hamstrings or anywhere else that a run might throw up. No sense of the slight tear in the muscles of the inner thigh from one ‘teaser’ too many in last night’s Pilates class. Just merged with the water and strong and flowing and feeling like I’m about to break the waters for the first time…

Lap 11

An enormous sense of wellbeing, of being in nature and the psychological benefits got from one’s environment. Trees all around. Deep and rich and varied birdsong; others flying overhead – pigeons, seagulls. The inflatable swans and flamingoes from the Lewes Light installation. That cormorant eating a pike by Pells Pond last year Spring. Back under, blocking out sound and everything else, for the last five yards…4, 3, 2, 1. And out.

11 Laps. A baker’s ten. Just more than 500 yards. Reset and ready for whatever today might lob in my direction.

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