I have a reputation at work for being a pretty calm person, to the extent that I am often told it can come across as too laid back and should be careful people do not mistake it for laziness. I am pretty sure I have always been like this, and think it probably comes from playing a lot of sport when growing up, being able to burn off all my excess energy on the pitch.
When I was at uni I really got into swimming, and particularly having paid good beer money to join the campus pool felt I needed to get my monies worth so ended up going a good few times a week. I have tried to keep it up ever since as I find lapping up & down a pool is by far the best way to relax: head ducking under the water to drown out ambient noise; tinted goggles creating tunnel vision by blocking out peripheral distractions; and regular controlled breathing lending itself to a meditative state. It also gives plenty of time to clear out any anger, a resistance free way of punching through the water to emerge (hopefully) stress free.
Unfortunately though, it does not always work out that way. One of the reasons I love swimming so much when the outdoor pool at my gym is open, is besides the fantastic feeling of being outside, it means there is almost twice as much space to accommodate all the members. Even if the open air side is packed, you can usually switch to the covered pool and have it almost to yourself. But at this time of year I should be so lucky. And with a lot of people crammed in together, the stress busting benefits are somewhat reduced, and you sometimes find yourself in new territory: Lane Rage. Allow me to explain…
The thing about this is whatever your attitude to swimming is, pretty much everyone reading this will have experienced their own version in the pool at some point. The main reason is that there are so many different types of swimmers and most pools simply do not have room to accommodate them. As someone who spent 4 years as a lifeguard in my youth I have spent plenty of time watching swimmers over the years, and am therefore going to categorise (i.e. wildly stereotype) some of these, which like politicians each have their own unique way of annoying me:
- Old Dears – Found at almost every pool during the daytime, these painfully drag out their breaststroke, usually side by side chatting. They will be in the water for ages taking up a whole lane, and afterwards boast about the fact they swim for an hour, despite only completing a dozen lengths at best. Although they seem harmless, the pile ups they cause in other lanes mean they are often indirectly culpable for much of the stress others feel in the rest of the pool.
- Hyper Teenagers – Another group of regulars, these play with their oversized floats & footballs, ignore the lane ropes and end up drifting in and out of the lane section whilst their parents ignore them from the Jacuzzi. These used to be a nightmare when lifeguarding, and are equally bad when in the water. I know this sounds very grumpy old men, but there you go.
- Amateur Swim Coaches – Inevitably when I try to get in a quick dip after work the slow lane is occupied with a kid’s swimming lesson. This is absolutely fine as they keep themselves to themselves. What does get me though it parents who are too mean to pay for the lessons but try and copy the coaches in teaching their own little ones to swim, usually whilst the lesson is actually going on in the adjacent lane, therefore just crowding out everyone else. This summer I saw the most extreme example one evening, with one poor kid being belated by his Dad for not trying hard enough, whilst having to work his way through every bit of training equipment imaginable, including fins and a snorkel.
- Middle Laners – My pool is split into three lanes: Slow, Medium & Fast, and the average user seems incapable of understanding where they sit in this trinity. I read something once about our tendencies to categorise ourselves in many things – politics, intelligence, etc – as average, on the basis that as there are always some people a bit slower and some a bit quicker, then we must be somewhere in the middle. Unfortunately this mindset does not work well in the pool, as it ensures the middle lane is inevitably overcrowded with people kicking each other as they are unable to comprehend why others are travelling at a different pace.
- Wannabe Olympians – Usually guys between 35-50 who honestly believe they can do butterfly, but look more like they are participating in an epic battle between a hungry hippo & angry croc. They take up an entire lane, splash everyone and make next to no progress, coming up wheezing on the far side with some sort of delusion it is worth thrashing their way back down again.
- Speed Demons – Onto the route cause of today’s blog, having encountered one this very afternoon. It is great that you are a quick swimmer, but some consideration for others would be nice. Easily spotted from a distance as (usually) men with Speedos and swim caps (despite being bald and in a warm pool). Even with my own lane rage I always try to be aware of others (once a lifeguard…) but these are people who look to mow you down like you are competing for position in an Ironman. Perhaps they are so focused on themselves they don’t get lane rage, but it just winds everyone else up. My friend today was actually not too bad, but there has been so many occasions where they would rather cut you up with a mid-lap overtake, including a couple of kicks to the face for good measure.
There is one solution to this – make sure you time your swims when the pool is not too busy – but if is easier said than done at this time of year. I thought for example that 5pm on a Sunday evening would be fairly quiet, but encountered almost all of the above groups tonight, so will have to add this to my list of no-gos. Still, there is always 6am on a Monday…