Thursday, December 3, 2015

Swim Social: Mastering Masters - an interview with Eddie Riach

Blog: Chris Kane met Eddie Riach (Convenor of Masters Swimming)

It can be a rather lonely experience powering up and down the swimming pool doing lengths in your lunch hour or while the kids are at their swimming lessons.  But this blog is all about “Swim Social” and one of the best ways to inject some laughter and friendship into your swimming is at your local Masters swimming club. 

There are masters clubs all over the country and I caught up with Scottish Swimming’s Masters Convenor Eddie Riach to find out a little more. Eddie has been involved with Masters swimming for thirty years and says, “Masters swimming is for adults to participate at whatever level and intensity they choose. Generally people swim for one of three reasons – to compete, to socialise or to get fit.  Masters swimming makes all three elements better and more fun.”

The most common question Eddie is asked from recreational swimmers is “How do I swim faster?” Eddie explains, “If you’re swimming for fitness, you tend to get into the water and either have a set number of lengths you want to swim or a set amount of time to swim as much as you can. The faster you swim, the sooner you can finish or the more lengths you can fit in to the time you have available. When you realise you want to swim faster, the next step in to find somebody who can help you and that’s where your local Masters Club can be invaluable.”

When I think of competitive swimmers, I think of all of the athletes who line up at the poolside at the Olympics. They don’t have an ounce of fat on them and every muscle looks like it’s been chiselled by an ancient Greek sculptor.  Eddie says, “When you walk out onto the poolside at a Masters Club, you’ll instantly see that it is normal people of various shapes and sizes.  There will be people who are carrying a bit of weight, perhaps they’ll have ill health, perhaps they are working twelve hours a day in the office or have other things going on in in their lives but they are making time for a sport that keeps them fit and gives them the chance to socialise with other likeminded people. There will be a few chiselled bodies, but Masters is as inclusive as it gets.”

Masters Swimmers benefit from swimming in a group. Eddie says, “Swimming up and down a pool on your own can sometimes be tedious. But if you’ve got a crowd sharing the session with you and you can have a laugh at the end of the lane when you’re resting, it makes a world of difference. You also push yourself a little harder when you’re swimming in a group – everybody is genuinely trying their best and good natured competitiveness kicks in.”

Masters swimming has a pathway to take that good natured natural competitiveness and let swimmers compete against each other in organised events. Using some nifty age correcting formulas, Masters swimming allows 25 year olds to compete at the same time as 80 year olds.  Eddie says, “At the Scottish 1500m competition in November I swam in the 60+ age group and did a time of just over 20 minutes. When age corrected it gave me a competition time of around 18 and a half minutes, which is the sort of time I would expect a 25 year old to cover the distance. It means that a 100 year old could take twice as long as a 30 year old to finish, but still win the competition.”

There are club, regional, Scottish, British, European and World Masters competitions.  Eddie says, “I still get a lot of pleasure out of racing my peers as we all get older. My aim is to get slower at swimming slower than they do. I remember beating a swimmer at the 1988 Masters in Rio who beat me in Moscow in the World Student Games in 1973.  Swimming is a very forgiving sport – you don’t get the injuries that you can get in impact sports like athletics. It means you can keep doing it, and doing it well, for longer. You never have to retire from Masters swimming – if the oldest man in world wanted to compete, we’d put him in the appropriate age group and he could compete with anybody.” 

Masters clubs offer as much fun out of the pool as in the pool.  Eddie says, “There are clubs with social calendars and events almost as busy as training and competitive fixtures. Your local Masters Club will get you fit and give you opportunities to socialise – you’ll get the bug very quickly and never look back.”

Masters swimming will be much more prominent in 2016, with the European championships in London in May.  The British championships are in Sheffield and the Scottish championships are in April. I challenge you to name one other sport where you could decide to compete at the top level with just six months to go and potentially win a medal. Eddie says, “I remember at a competition in Italy a guy turned up in Bermuda shorts with no goggles and had never swam in Masters before.  He was in his 70s, jumped into the pool and won his age category. It is unusual, but it does happen!”

I’m nearly forty and my dreams of being the next Andy Murray or David Beckham are well behind me. But maybe I could be the next Eddie Riach. Something to think about next time I’m doing laps in the pool. 

Find out more about Masters Swimming here