TRAINING FOR THE GREAT NORTH SWIM, PART III – And so it arrived.
And so it arrived. After months of training and swinging between calm and terror, the Great North Swim in Lake Windermere was upon me.
Despite having travelled all over the world, I had never been to the Lake District, a national park in the north-west of England.
As the journey went on so did the landscape change, the hills rising in the distance, imposing but soft and gentle with feminine outlines.
Having been advised to fuel myself the night before I found a quiet restaurant and ordered a bowl of pasta. And goodness me, that red wine looks very nice. No, no, no. Stop looking. Get the orange juice.
The day dawned with blue skies, warm sun and a gentle breeze. I wasn’t swimming until 3pm and wished I could go earlier – I just wanted to be in there.
I hopped on a bus and when I arrived it was a hive of activity. Marquees and stalls all around, music and food smells. Nice food smells.
I picked up my cap – yellow, though not so mellow for this one, and the clock ticked down, it was time.
There were hundreds of us, funnelled into an area by the water and then in for a short dip in readiness.
The water was warm – 19 degrees – and then after a short warm-up and some words from Keri-anne, we were on our way.
I was completely unaccustomed to having so many around me so I kept out of people’s way, going far to the left of the buoys.
I was nervous, my breath was short, but I had expected that. There were some real speedsters but I just wanted to enjoy it, to take in the surroundings if I could.
It was choppier than I was used to but I learned not to fight through any ‘waves’ but to conserve energy.
My stroke and breathing were regular and after going through the halfway point there was some relief, I was going to do it. A bit premature and the third part of the swim was tough, people bunching, legs and arms catching others.
But after I reached the pink buoy that meant I had just half a mile left, I put in a spurt. I wanted to finish quickly and then it came…..the twinge in my calf and foot. So I breathed deeply and reverted to a more regular stroke and as I went down the final straight the sun came out and warmed my face, blessing me it seems.
Then through the finish line and that was it. I had done it. I wasn’t ecstatic so much as a bit taken aback. And a little spacey, walking on air.
The time was not fast – 73 minutes – but that mattered little, I had completed what I had set out to do.
I felt almost contemplative and sat alone with food and coffee, taking it all in, some peaceful solitude among the hustle, bustle and excitement.
I had expected to feel emotional given I was doing the event to raise funds for Alzheimer’s, a condition my mum has, but that did not come until later, a few tears mixed in with pride and relief.
And that was what really mattered – the £607 raised for charity by 31 very generous people.
All in all a team effort – Arena for my gear, those who donated, others who gave me encouragement and support and Lake Windermere itself for giving me good conditions as well as the sun for shining on me.
I have no doubt there will be nerves as I look out at the course, two miles awaiting me, but I have come a long way in a short space of time.
I did my final open water session on Saturday 2 June and completed 3500 metres, almost 2.2 miles.
However, it has not been without some real worries that I would never be ready.
A number of times I rued the fact I had chosen to do the two-mile event – why did I just not stick at one mile, I would ask myself.
After all, people have pledged money, I can’t let them down.
But the only way to improve is to train and so I have.
I stepped up my pool swimming, taking Chad Le Clos’ advice and trying not to stress – I did – and made sure I went when Ponds Forge, Sheffield, was set up as a 50m pool.
To be honest, I hadn’t really liked swimming 50m lengths as I used to feel as if my chest was going to explode and my breathing was more gasping.
Anyway, I haven’t exploded but instead I have gradually adapted, just going steady, distance not speed the key.
In early April I started doing open water.
I had done a few sessions with the Yorkshire Outdoor Swimmers last year but nothing serious and in the summer when the lake at Harthill Reservoir, on the outskirts of Sheffield, was warm.
But the water on my first time this year was nine degrees. Goodness me, it was a shock to the system. It. Was. Freezing.
I managed to put my face in for a short time but after 15 minutes I was done, I wobbled out, everything exposed bright red.
I felt light-headed and although sentences formed in my mind, words tumbled out in random order.
Still, I had done it and I have been back to their twice-weekly sessions, going further each time and getting more confident, adapting to other people swimming close and enjoying the ducks on the water and the sun in the sky.
That is until a fortnight ago. I hadn’t felt well all day, just off, and my left leg hurt a little.
I had felt a bit weary too so had had a constant stream of coffee – a bad move.
Normally I get into a rhythm quickly but my breathing was strained.
I wanted to do four loops of the lake – roughly 1.75 miles – but going into the fourth something was not right and I had twinges in my left calf.
After about a quarter of the circuit I stopped and tried to stretch and went off again but in seconds there was real pain that also appeared in my right calf: it was as if a knife was being plunged in. Cramp. Whoever invented it should just do one.
Another swimmer stopped and signalled for one of the spotters who came over and eventually hauled me into the boat.
I was gutted. And for the next few days I hobbled around, my calf muscles sore and tight. So much so that a few days later I could only complete two loops.
The worries set in – had I injured myself? Would I be ready to take part? What would I do if I couldn’t?
But I was determined. The following Tuesday I did four loops and then last Saturday I did my final and longest swim, still looking out for those twinges which appear when you imagine they will.
However, I know to drink lots of water and stay off the coffee and the rest will take care of itself.
Photo credit: Sarah Pearson, Yorkshire Outdoor Swimmers