The point of this challenge was to make me take up regular exercise again, in the hope that maybe, just maybe, by the end of the year I would in fact be able to swim 40 lengths of a pool in a single session.
But this is me we are talking about and I have always been good at finding excuses not to take up regular exercise. Knee dislocating, for example. Or the fact that I am ungainly and unfit. Or that exercise requires some sort of physical effort on my part. Exercise has to be very convenient for me – I prefer it to be on my doorstep if possible. I don’t mean that I will literally only exercise on my front doorstep, but I don’t like to have to travel far to do any kind of sporting activity. For me it sort of destroys the object of exercise if I have to use a car to get there.
I didn’t do too badly in my last few years in London, where I forked out for membership at the gym in Crouch End, and did actually use it from time to time (every day, for example, when our bathroom was being refitted and I needed somewhere to have a shower). The gym was located ten minutes’ walk from our flat and could be integrated into my journey to or from work. As I was working freelance, I could be very flexible about my hours and therefore go to the gym at quieter off-peak times. This was when all the local celebrities did their work-outs, which also gave me a good incentive for going. One morning for example, newsreader Dermot Murnaghan was on a bike next to me, actor Simon Pegg on a treadmill opposite, and Peter “Malcolm Tucker” Capaldi on a stepper to my right. It kind of made me feel like I was somebody important too, even though one look in a mirror at myself in shorts would do a lot to dispel that belief.
But as soon as we moved to York, things kind of slid downhill on the exercise front. There were no gyms or pools in walking distance from our house once the Barbican was demolished. I was working at the university, but the grotty university sports centre just smelled of teenage testosterone (and didn’t have a swimming pool). The fancier David Lloyd gym next to campus cost more than our London gym per month and was the wrong side of the university for my walk to work. I couldn’t go in my lunch hour as my team were expected to eat together every day, as we were all working in offices in different buildings and didn’t get to see each other otherwise.
As I say, it doesn’t take much to create myself a suitable excuse to avoid exercise.
We did do quite a lot of walking out in the Yorkshire countryside at least. And as I mentioned above, I did walk to work and, briefly, own a bike. The sparkling new Energise finally opened when I was pregnant, replacing the hideously grotty Edmund Wilson as our nearest swimming pool, and it was nice enough to entice me straight away. I did manage to go most weeks until I got too bulky to fit behind the steering wheel of our car. (Unfortunately, “nearest” is still far enough away that I have to go by car.)
But then we had Charlotte and nothing we had ever done before would be the same again. I look forward to her being able to walk far enough to reinstate those regular hikes in the Wolds, Dales and Moors – for now, the paths aren’t pushchair friendly, and she weighs far too much to fit into any form of carrier.
In a bid to regain some sort of physical form, I did decide to take up Aquafit at Energise just after Charlotte turned one. I was going to go with a friend on Tuesday mornings. Once I’d overcome the psychological battle of making this decision, I took action - I managed to get Charlotte settled into the Energise crèche a couple of times, booked my first Aquafit session for the following week - and promptly wrecked my knee that very evening.
So that was that. My knee is still, a year on, puffy and painful, so Aquafit is still out of the question. But swimming isn’t, hence the challenge.
40 lengths of Energise pool took three sessions. The first two of these happened in June, the final one last night, in late December. Which says it all about how regular my "regular exercise" has been. I have taken Charlotte swimming numerous times in between, but swimming with Charlotte involves me standing in the pool while she sits on the side emptying a watering can over my head, and no actual swimming.
I don’t know what happened in those lost months that made this challenge take such a frustratingly long time to complete. It was partly the pool opening times – weekends are packed out with kids, and the evening sessions often don’t start until 8.50pm, which was OK in June when it was still light, but once it was dark by half eight, I usually collapsed onto our sofa, unable to be prised off it. And there is no way I could fit in a morning swim before Dave has to leave for his train. And there aren’t any public sessions in the daytime when it isn’t Charlotte’s lunchtime and when the crèche is open. (Once again, see how good my excuses are?)
However, the timetable at Energise has just changed to include a women-only session at 7pm on Tuesdays, which is what I went to last night. It worked out really well, so I am actually a little bit hopeful that I may manage to keep this one up in the New Year. Though there are only two categories of swimmer at women-only sessions and I don’t fit into either. There’s the very middle-aged, very overweight ones who swim breaststroke two abreast up and down the pool, engrossed in conversation and moving so slowly that they might as well be going backwards. And then there’s the super swimmers in the laned off area, who race up and down in an effortless front crawl that thoroughly puts me to shame. I am in between, willing to get out of breath and go as fast as I can, but that fast is a good swimmer’s slow. Plus I like to swim on my back, so need a clear run. But I managed to find a little niche for myself last night, so here’s hoping I can do so again after the Christmas holidays. No more excuses. .