In one of many perks of my job, I was recently lucky enough to be offered private coaching with GB swim coach Ben Titley at Speedo HQ. Speedo UK's inner sanctum is tucked away in a quiet London suburb, and comes complete with swimming facilities we can only dream of at TW Towers.
The 25m Speedo practice pool was empty except me, the Speedo PR and photographer... and world-class coach Ben Titley. Having not swum very far or very fast for some time I was beyond nervous. How clumsy and slow would I look compared to the kind of international stars Ben coaches every day?
Ben kicked things off by asking me to swim one relaxed length. Obviously my natural response was to completely ignore his instruction to 'relax' and sprint down the pool with exaggerated poise and elbows at perfect right-angles.
The verdict? Ben Titley liked the way I swim! Glowing from having my 'nice technique' complimented and my ego massaged I relaxed into a half-hour masterclass, with Ben doing his best to root out every errant bit of my stroke.
I have a bad habit inherited from childhood swimming lessons (which Ben said he sees a lot) of wiggling my arm through the water as I draw it towards myself, pulling my hand into the centre of my body rather than straight past me.
All those years ago I was taught to think of my arms as spoons, with my cupped hands moving all the water. Ben taught me that my forearms can move water too - so why waste them? Since then I've been trying to think of my arms as shovels rather than spoons, and remember that using my whole forearm moves the most water.
Ben also told me to bring my arm back further through the water, and had me doing drills including brushing my hip on each stroke to make sure I brought my hand all the way back.
But the biggest issue with my stroke was my tendency to lift my head too high out of the water turning to breathe on my left hand side (which was weird because I was worried that I barely turn out of the water at all on my right side - turns out that's how it's supposed to be!).
To fix this, Ben had me swimming whole lengths without breathing at all, to make sure both sides are identical.
This was the most interesting (read: difficult) part of the whole affair. Ben asked me to take a breath and then tuck up into a mushroom, breathing out all the while until I sank to the bottom of the pool. He told me to stay relaxed the whole time, and when I reached the bottom to take a second and then come back up. I couldn't do it at all. I breathed out constantly for what felt like a freakishly long time (it was actually about a minute) and then burst up to the surface gasping for air (even though I didn't actually need it - I hadn't emptied my lungs). I tried again. And again. In the end Ben just laughed and said that I probably had very big lungs! The journalist in the session before me had sunk like a stone, apparently.
After giving up on that exercise, Ben asked me to swim a whole (25m) length without breathing at all. It got tough towards the end, but it's certainly a good way of encouraging efficient swimming - if you know you've got to swim a certain distance without breathing you don't muck around! Ben counted my strokes in that length and I did it in 23 strokes.
At the end of the session, worn out from the drills and my head bursting with all the advice I'd need to remember, Ben told me I had one last task. Swim another length without breathing - in fewer strokes than the first time. And I did it in 21 strokes - two strokes fewer than before!
Now, if only if I could keep Ben poolside until race day...