Two weeks ago I took part in the first of my three open water races that are making up my summer of swimming challenge for Barnardo’s. I AM OFFICIALLY A GIRL WHO HAS A MEDAL*!!!! (*And a medal that is actually real and has been earnt through hard work as opposed to one made of paper given to you by your best friend because you always say “what do you want, a medal?” to prove your wonderful sarcastic wit.) And this makes me SO frikkin happy.
I’ve told you why I’m doing these swim challenges and done a bit of a beginner’s guide/Q&A on why swimming is great, but my intentions of writing about my first lake experiences never really came to much (I’ve been busy, mom) so bear with me whilst I rewind a bit.
Before my first lake swim, I was terrified about swimming in open water. I can’t overstate this enough.
I may have been getting stronger in the pool but I was getting to the point where I was almost paralysed with fear about swimming in a wetsuit in a lake. I wasn’t sleeping and it was beginning to really distract me during the working day. Put it this way, I’d been on the JustGiving website to see if refunding the people who’d sponsored me was a viable option. I was being a big baby.
Knowing that fear of the unknown is very common in open water swimming, I’d booked a place on one of Human Race’s Open Water Swim Seminars to ensure I’d have a smidgen more confidence than none whatsoever. Luckily the seminar was at Eton Dorney, the same venue as my first race, so as well as getting used to the water I was able to get used to silly things I worry about like ‘the drive there’ and ‘what it looks like’.
The seminar was led by amazing coaches from RG Active and involved classroom stuff and actual swimming stuff, it was a great session for answering questions, meeting other equally nervous first timers and – importantly – making you realise how bloody different open water swimming in a wetsuit is compared to swimming in a lovely warm pool.
The water was a pretty horrific 10 degrees on the day of the seminar and luckily I haven’t swum in water that cold since. It’s hard to breathe in water that cold, let alone swim, and after completing a bunch of mass start drills and sighting exercises it was revealed to us that we’d probably swum a maximum of 400 metres. We were probably in the water for 15 minutes max. I thought we’d been in there an hour and swum a few thousand miles, ya know to America and back or something. It was gruelling. And left me wondering why on earth I was contemplating swimming 1500m in that very same lake the following week.
Needless to say, I drove home in a bit of a panic.
One thing that I’ve been really ‘proud’ of with these swimming escapades is that I’ve channelled my fear into an obsession with practising. (I don’t mean to sound like a slushy sentimentalist, but I am genuinely surprised by how I haven’t just given up on all this when it’s gotten scary).
After the seminar I knew I needed to get in some successful outdoor swims to build up my confidence for the race and so I headed to Shepperton and Tri20 to get that little bit more used to the wetsuit and swimming without the crutch of lanes, walls and tiled floors.
As soon as I’d swum 1500m open water, my fear about the race dropped down to normal levels (i.e still petrified, but not refunding sponsors).
Of course, come the Sunday night before the race I didn’t sleep at all. I was terrified about the mass start (300 people starting a swim at once, with another 300 people starting ten minutes behind you? NO THANKS) and convinced I’d end up in the safety boat because of an asthma attack/panic attack/quitting attack or just general lack of ability to finish by the cut off point.
It all went ok though 🙂
The buzz about the place was amazing and as we were held in the water waiting for the gun, I made peace with the fact that the main point was to just TRY and complete it. I certainly wasn’t the only person having that sort of conversation with themselves.
The mass start was really hard work – I never share a lane with anyone at the pool, let alone 300 others! – and I spent the first 400m or so deciding whether or not to put my hand up and await rescue, but by the first buoy I knew I probably could do it. If only just because I literally found myself thinking “what will I say on Twitter if I just give up?”.
I swam on the very outside and I suspect I made the course a good few hundred metres longer by doing so, but I knew I’d rather swim further with a bit more space around me than swim less far in the scrum of it all. Hopefully my confidence will improve enough that I can stick closer to the course lines as I progress.
My parents and boyfriend were there to support me and, awesomely, I spied them on the banks about 600m in and could actually hear them cheering me.
The difficult thing was that I had no idea what the time was, I couldn’t tell at all if I was swimming terribly or vaguely ok. I knew there were people WAY ahead, but I also knew that I wasn’t at the back. I knew there were strong swimmers from the 3k group behind me overtaking, but I also knew I could probably finish the course without dying. When I do time trials I’m used to my coach shouting times at me every 100m, so to just ‘go’ for 1500m without any feedback was really hard.
I felt VERY slow and found it very tiring.
I’d wanted to complete the circuit in an hour but, somehow, I managed to swim it in 37 minutes and 25 seconds. Which really isn’t bad for someone who first got in a pool at Easter…and first swam in a wetsuit the week before!
I was STUNNED when I found out time. And thrilled. And a bit emotional.
Picking up my medal felt like closing the door on a decade of misery. I couldn’t believe my body had achieved it. I’m still pretty emo about it now to be honest.
But it’s not the end of course! Oh no, that would be too easy.
My next race is the Great North Swim this Sunday at Lake Windermere. I don’t feel as fit as I did ahead of Dorney (there’s been a LOT of booze and ‘bad food’ recently) and I’m scared about the beach start, but it’s supposed to be beautiful up there so I guess I’m excited. Kinda. Vaguely.
If you’re able to sponsor me, it would be massively appreciated. You can do so here.
I’m doing all this for Barnardo’s and all the money I raise will be going to a domestic abuse support centre in the North West, which I will hopefully be visiting before my last race in the Thames.
Thank you to ALL OF YOU who have sponsored and encouraged me so far. I’ve been overwhelmed by the support – from non-swimmers to Olympic medallists!
Next stop, Windermere.