25 Laps of Pells: Annie Rowe

Longtime weekday regular Annie Rowe writes for Pells Pool about the ‘internal negotiations’ that she – and many other swimmers – go through when setting off for the pool and staying in it…

I came to love swimming in my thirties and now if I don’t swim for a few days I get scratchy and restless. In the summer I’ll swim in the sea or river – tides and weather permitting – and in Pells Pool from May to September. Only five minutes from home by bike, I enjoy arriving outside its long flint wall, knowing what is hidden behind. You might see a heron fly over or swifts circling high up; one afternoon in June I heard a cuckoo as I swam.

On hot days I’m out of the house in a flash at lunchtime, but for so much of this summer there have been plenty of grey and windy days when I have to persuade my inner couch potato from staying indoors. These days though are often the best: there are no crowds and I might even get the whole pool to myself.

The internal negotiations usually go like this:

After a busy morning, my brain is full and my head is fuzzy and I need a break, but it’s cloudy and looks chilly outside. The season ticket for the pool is paid for, so why not just a quick dip today? I swam the day before, so I’ll make it a short one on my way into town for lunch, just to declutter my brain – maybe ten or fifteen minutes?

I like to count things, so I count my lengths when I swim. I know that eight lengths of Pells takes me just under ten minutes, but that is a very short dip. For me a satisfying swim really needs to be a good half hour, which means at least 24 lengths.

In May the water temperature is in the mid-teens, but by July it’ll be around 20C, so there’s no cold shock or ice-cream face when I dive in. First length down the pool lands me in the cold patch in the corner of the shallow end – that’s enough motivation to keep moving.

Soon I’ve done four lengths, then six. That first set are usually hard work as my stiff joints loosen up. Soon enough it’s eight lengths, almost ten minutes, and of course I’m not done.  Twelve lengths is nearly 15 minutes and I’ve found some sort of rhythm and my mind will be emptying out.

On sunny days I watch the ripples reflecting on the bottom of the pool and the bubbles through my fingers, though sometimes I might half-close my eyes and my mind will drift off elsewhere. Sixteen lengths comes and goes as does twenty, I’m warming up from the effort, but my stroke feels easy and relaxed. Four more and then the last, length is for swimming back down towards the shower.

Changed into warmer clothes and with my mind reset there’ll be time for a cup of tea before I go.

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