Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Epic Swim - Derwent Water 2018

One of the usual routes to the lakes has a huge detour in place thank to a landslide. Shark and I had already factored this into our journey to Derwent Water for the Epic swim, and set off to Windermere in plenty of time to incorporate some obligatory pre-swim refreshments (basically coffee and a scone loosely passed off as a nutritionally sound breakfast) and to get the best parking spot, or actually any parking spot – it gets really busy. Unfortunately it took us until we were nearly in Windermere itself before Shark told me that she wasn’t a hundred percent sure of the way to Derwent from there, and a frantic look on Google Maps revealed that we should have gone up the A1 (like we did last year…) avoiding the (albeit scenic) long and completely the wrong way altogether journey so far, and were some way off our destination still, meaning that time was now not on our side. Shark began blaming jetlag, having just returned from her holiday with Mr. Shark, however I have been to Amsterdam before and it’s pretty much in the same time zone as we are so I am not buying her excuse for a second. Our detour did sadly mean that something would have to give and unfortunately it was looking very likely that it was going to be our pre-swim breakfast. Using the map this time, we made haste (without breaking the speed limit) across to Derwent and consoled ourselves (made do) with the edible contents of Shark’s glove box (a third of a ClifBar and three unidentifiable objects that I suspect were once Jelly Babies, and were perfectly edible, despite being coated in fluff and a bit of tissue). 

As fortune had it, we found a parking spot straight away and in a slight state of panic we hastily got ourselves ready, before heading to the registration point and the start line. Upon registration I discovered that Shark and I were swimming in separate waves. For some reason I was in the fastest group, along with lots of elite swimmers. I have no idea how this happened, as I am not elite by any stretch of the imagination – hell, I can’t even dive in (thankfully it was a deep water start, otherwise I’d have been in even bigger trouble), and so in a bid to at least not look like a fake, I attempted to blend in by hiding amongst them and doing a few gentle stretches (my wetsuit would not allow for anything too vigorous thankfully, so this also eliminated things like those extreme yoga poses I love so much like Lord of the Dance and Upward Facing Two-Foot Staff Pose), but I had been so worried that we were late that I had asked Shark to zip up my wetsuit as soon as we had arrived, and that was 20 minutes ago. The air temperatures was around 25oc so I began contemplating undoing it before I actually started to cook, but as I had lost Shark in the sea of same colour swim caps, this would mean asking an actual athlete to redo me up, and risk being ousted as a phony once they saw the battle to get it done up again. It could also mean they ran the risk of a possible pre-swim thumb strain getting me in, and the guilt would be too much, so decided on a better plan that included pouring a bottle of cold water down the inside on my wetsuit (absolutely nothing like in a Baywatch fashion I might add).

After the safety briefing we (the rest of the fast group and me, but not Shark) were asked to swim to the starting buoy. I nearly broke my neck even before I was off the pontoon, not because it was slippy, but because the swimmer in front dropped his goggles and in my haste to get in the lake, ran into the back of him in a very unladylike fashion. Let’s just say that wetsuits touched and leave it there.

I knew I was in trouble when everybody was already overtaking me in the warm up swim, and so on the back of this, I figured that as there was absolutely no chance whatsoever, for a thousand reasons that I would never win this race, that I would place myself in front of all of the swimmers so that for the first nanosecond of the swim I could actually say that I was in the lead. Something to brag about after the swim. That was until I overheard the two swimmers near me discussing a sub forty-five minute swim and their strategy. I realized quite quickly that there was a probability that I was about to be swum over if I got in the way, and not one to be preventing someone from achieving their very fast goal, I moved my slow self to the back of the group where the chat was more about the high level of midges (of which I can boast several quite impressive bites to the neck, but none to the other exposed part of my body- my ankles) and types and sizes of fishes in this lake. A conversation I was able to share the breadth of my knowledge (I checked on Google when I entered the swim). I’m not sure whether my fellow swimmers were impressed or slightly alarmed at the lengths of extensive research I had gone to. The expression for both is very similar I think. 

After several minutes of treading water, and the obligatory pre-swim sing song (heads, shoulders, knees and toes), which had I have known about in advance would have spent time practicing my vocal ranges and gargling with salt water to help improve my tone, we were off, and all at very different speeds, mostly everyone else very fast, and me just doing my usual steady pace at the back. Having privy to the fast swimmers conversation about times I decided that my only goal was to swim fast enough to not be lapped by one of them. This meant that there was no time for faffing about, which was easy really as the water was lovely and warm, and calm, all thanks to the great weather we’ve been having, and all combined made for a great and relatively fast swim, with only one Day of the Triffids incident, involving a large piece of pond weed (probably not its botanical name) that was determined to share my swim experience by attaching itself, one way or another, to me. I did learn though that it is virtually impossible to continue to swim whilst battling to free your limbs (arm/watch) and your goggles from the stuff, and it is best, in the interest of safety to stop swimming for a second and just untangle yourself rather than attempting to detach it mid stroke, bringing myself to the attention of a very keen eyed safety kayaker, who appeared very quickly out of nowhere (honestly I’m talking Liam Heath fast) to check I was okay. 

As the finish pontoon approached, a grim reality hit me; how was I going to get out when any kneeling down on my left knee means there’s a good change that it will dislocate, leaving my very much in trouble. It hadn’t crossed my mind when we got in that it may cause me, and possibly the organisers, a problem and the last thing I wanted was to be yelling “I need an ambulance!” without even crossing the finish line. This would not be happening. I wanted a finishers medal suddenly even more than I wanted my post swim cake, and so some quick thinking was required on my part, and so without caring what I looked like, I launched myself onto the jetty stomach first, before turning over, sitting up, and then standing; all with one straight leg. I still can’t decide whether it was comedy gold or utterly genius, but one thing is for sure, I was out in one piece to take ownership of my well-deserved, rather lovely medal, and there was more cheerful news, I also wasn’t lapped! Yay!  

Derwent was such a lovely swim day out, and to celebrate our amazing swim, and to make up for this morning’s food routine going to pot thanks to Shark’s ‘jetlag’ we decided we deserved a huge slice of cake… and quickly, so hastily got dressed, which on reflection should not be attempted when you are still damp from your swim and cocooned in a Swimzi coat for modesty reasons, because you can get kind of tangled in your vest and in your panic to rectify the situation end up with the coat falling to the floor whilst not fully dressed and rather unexpectedly revealing yourself to the good people of Derwent! 

On that bombshell we quickly packed up our belongings with me, red faced from embarrassment, and Shark red faced from laughing (lack of oxygen I think, serves her right) and after consulting with Google Maps once more, headed towards home… pretty much as the crow flies this time, and after a lengthy coffee and cake stop I admit I really wouldn't have minded a Nanna nap on the way back, however I was worried that Shark was still suffering from a case of same time zone jet lag, that I put myself in charge of map reading in a bid to get home whilst there were still daylight hours to be had. No rest for the wicked I guess!  

Thanks for reading, and for those of you that enjoy my blogs, my book Open Water Woman Swims Windermere is now available in paperback and electronically on Amazon.

I also have a 'group' page on Facebook and am on Twitter and Instagram, where I post regular shenanigans and such like. If you'd like to join/follow you'd be very welcome. Here are the links. 😊

Friday, 22 June 2018

Great North Swim 2018

For me, every open water swim event must incorporate a cake stop, and therefore a recce to locate nearby cake selling shops/cafes beforehand is essential. The Great North Swim is no exception to this rule, and the pre-swim checks reveal there are several on the way and about a thousand in Windermere itself. I think it’s safe to say that Windermere has that aspect of the swim more than covered!

My well deserved finishers medal

Swim buddy has drawn the short straw and is designated driver to the two-hour drive to Windermere. This suits me well as it means that I may be able to have a recovery Nanna nap on the way home if I need it. Shark insisted on picking me up at the crack of dawn; a whole five hours before we were due to swim. She says she needs plenty of time to check my bag, to avoid any potential road closures, to get ahead of any race traffic and the extra time means there is no need to rush the journey that usually takes all of two hours… I am fine with this, once I’d got over the early start, as we had agreed before hand that we would stop along the way for coffee and cake, and I would hate to think that there was a possibility of the café underestimating the amount of fellow swimmers passing through on their was to the swim, and there being none left when we arrived. This would be a very bad thing.

As I put my carefully and neatly packed bag into the car, Shark insists that we do one last and final bag check (emptying it all out again), at which point she notices I have included the furry lined non-croc croc-like shoes that I know she hates passionately. They became an essential part of my kit bag over the winter, and I’ll admit, I have very much warmed to them, despite my initial dislike, and despite the fact that they are still very, very unattractive, and it worries me that someone else may take a shine to them, despite their uncool exterior. Shoe envy is a very real possibility and I was worried that someone may well come along whilst I was swimming and lets just say, permanently borrow them, so in a bid to make them even less attractive than they are already (and they truly are) I decide to take out, possibly the only slightly redeeming positive point of the shoes, the furry lining. Shark thinks that no one will want them and that this will not happen- ever. I think it’s safe to say that from the horrified look on her face, if I'm reading her right, she does not have shoe envy. 

I have also packed my wetsuit, with its newly acquired large hole on the shoulder (?). It’s far too late (and possibly too large) to do anything about it now. My only concern it that I may well have a lot of lake passing through it, causing a lot of unnecessary drag, thus slowing me down, or even pulling me under… It needs urgently repairing before it gets worse, and if I survive the swim I shall get someone (probably Leon at SYS) to look at it, and hope he takes pity on me and my non-existent fixing wetsuit skills and offer to mend it in exchange for cake (cake talks more than money in these situations I find), but it’ll have to do for now and as a precaution I instruct Shark to send out a fleet of kayaks to look for me if after two hours I’m not back. She says she’ll think about it, and on the back of this I am not one bit confident that I will be rescued if my wetsuit becomes a ballast tank. 

The drive to Windermere takes no time at all, and we decide not to stop for coffee until we are nearly there, just in case there is a sudden rush of traffic and, as fortune had it this became a happy coincidence, as some enormous scones were just being taken out of the oven at our chosen cafe, and as it is important to have some carbohydrates before a long swim, and as we are always up for a challenge, we buy two – to see us on! This is a good omen for the swim, for if we can take on the challenge of eating the mother of all scones and succeed, then the swim will surely be a piece of cake! 

Enjoying our pre-swim fodder!

The new venue for the Great North Swim is great, and arriving with eons of time to spare means that we are able to hunt down the post swim food stalls (as if we haven't eaten enough already!), in particular the ClifBar tent, where we were able to pretty much top up our pre-swim nutrition by working our way through all of their samples (I may actually have had several samples of the mint flavoured bars)! Once the food priority is sorted we head to look round the swim village. It’s as well organized as usual, although one piece of feedback would be to possibly make the signs for the showers very large and very obvious for those of us (me and Shark) with middle aged eyes, and feel we are above reading the site map beforehand. Sadly this meant that we went home after our swimming smelling of less than delightful, because we didn’t manage to locate them until after we were dressed. You know when your kids offer to Febreze you when you get home, it must be really bad!

Shark and I pre-swim. We look very much worse afterwards, and that's why there isn't a close up post-swim photo on here. You're welcome!

With Liam Hancock and Caitlin  McClatchey at Swimzi...
Both kind of big in swimming 😂
Filling the ClifBar camping chair after lots and lots of sampling 
The swim itself is absolutely amazing. The sun is out, the water is a warm 19.5oc, and I manage to get through it without enlarging the hole in my wetsuit, sinking (no thanks to the hole in my wetsuit), seeing any fishes, swans or lake snakes (unlike Shark, who mistakes a large pebble for a possible turtle sighting…she is very short sighted and has a very vivid imagination which probably contributed), or making contact with a.n.other swimmer, buoy or boat. Yay! The getting in bit is a bit tricky, as the bottom of the lake is pebbly, but it is a lake after all, and I am unsteady on my feet at the best of times, and true to form after several precarious steps I fall in (with a bit of a thud). I don’t bother to try and get up again, it would be an accident waiting to happen with my track record, and so I just crawl using my arms and straight legs until it is deep enough to swim properly. I would dearly like to take the credit for this genius entry style, but alas I am just copying several other clever swimmers. 

The conditions are perfect, the water is calm and clear and I am able to sight easily and manage to swim only 122m over the 5,000m I am meant to. This is a personal best for me, I am known for going far, far off-piste usually, so I am quite pleased really. I’m eager to get out quickly as I know that the time keeps ticking until you cross the line, which happens to be out of the water. This is not great when you have a history of shoddy exits, and today sadly it turns out to be my most spectacular to date. As is standard I am very disorientated, despite the earplugs, and the exit from the lake is tricky to navigate. Thankfully there are some G.N.S staff to help the swimmers get out. Regrettably I am so unsteady on my feet that the poor man wasn’t strong enough to hold me up, and in my rush to get upright and over the finish line I lose my balance again and I reach out with my other hand to steady myself on anything, or risk face planting the water; unfortunately the 'anything’ turns out to be the other helper’s backside (I just thank goodness, and I suspect he does too, that he wasn't facing the other way!). Still mortified!

After the swim I have arranged to meet Shark back near the start where we have left my beloved furry non-croc crocs (providing someone hasn't taken a shine to them and claim them for their very own) and her flip-flops. We decide that discarding them near the entrance to the swim is a great idea, however this actually turns out to be quite a bit further away from the exit than we remember, meaning that there is a bit of a walk across a pebbly area to retrieve them. Any large pebbles in the lake paled into insignificance against these small yet sharp bad boys (I shall make a note for next year), and therefore to be successfully reunited with my shoes some pretty sleek footwork is required, sadly sleek is not in my repertoire, but somehow I manage some kind of very non-pretty, non-elegant hopping/skipping manoeuvre that (I am told by an amused onlooker) is comedy gold to watch, and whilst I am convinced that Diversity will not be looking to adopt this move, or even add me to their squad/troop (whatever you call them?), it did get me there unscathed. 

To save Shark from this unpleasant experience I decide to overrule her instructions, and as I was actually wearing my shoes and carrying hers I kind of thought I would do a good deed and reunite her with her flip-flops at the finish line, however on the way back I am stopped by a very lovely lady that had recently read my book, and wants to talk all things swimming… I am torn as I am concerned that Shark will be looking for me, but then I remember that she did not take my request for a search party as seriously as I would have liked, and as the lady pats the camping chair next to her and wiggles a box of Jaffa Cakes at me,  I feel less torn (and as we know I have zero will power as far as Jaffa Cakes are concerned), and so I pull up a camping chair and talk swimming until Shark finds me after searching (barefoot) for the best part of ten minutes. 

I feel bad, but there is no point in trying to win Shark round with Jaffa Cakes as she is not a fan, and so once we are changed, in the very spacious changing rooms, I offer to buy Shark some post swim chips to make up for it. She knows I feel bad, and is milking it by also ordering a large coffee and extra sachets of ketchup. She then goes round the swim village, and I find myself offering to also buy her some ClifBars, a Swimzi water bottle and an Outdoor Swimmer hat. I figure that if she was prepared to walk over more or less hot coals (well sharp pebbles) for me for that length of time, then she deserves all of them! 

For those of you that enjoy my blogs, my book Open Water Woman Swims Windermere is now available in paperback and electronically on Amazon.

I also have a 'group' page on Facebook and am on Twitter and Instagram, where I post regular shenanigans and such like. If you'd like to join/follow you'd be very welcome. Here are the links. 😊

Thursday, 7 June 2018

No two open water swimming seasons are the same.

After an amazing winter season in the pool, including an odd dip in the lake (get me!), I was expecting that the transition to open water this season would be seamless, not enough to be able to give Keri-anne Payne a run for her money (there's the two hundred year age gap for starters...), but enough to see noticeable improvements. It wasn’t, and I don’t mind sharing with you the fact that I found it difficult, frustrating, uncomfortable and slow going, and what made it difficult to understand was that this is my fourth year of open water swimming, and every year before this I have had no problems at all, and there was no obvious reason as to why this year would be so different.

And so as things haven’t gone according to plan, and with Great North Swim just around the corner, time is not on my side, I started to look at what might be going wrong. I really needed to get to the bottom of it, and quickly (and potentially something to blame). 

Sadly holding something accountable proved to be more difficult than I thought. I thought of blaming the weather, but officially we've had the sunniest and warmest May since records began in 1910 (and you can't argue with the experts, can you?), which in turn meant that the water temperatures have been warmer too. My first swim at the beginning of May this year was a balmy 13.9oc compared to the same week last year where it was a life affirming 10.1oc. I can’t blame my wetsuit either, as I wore it all of last season without problem, and whilst I know you’re wondering if I’d piled on some timber over the winter, the answer is no (although I thoroughly deserve to, I ate so much cake). I’d followed my pre swim routine diligently, and so knew getting into the lake I was warm enough, and so couldn’t blame being cold either. I’d even wondered if there was a way in which I could legitimately blame the fish, or actually any wildlife in general (specifically my Stalker Swan) for my poor performance, but sadly my lack of love for fishes and is not enough reason to blame them either, although I would dearly love it to be.

Step in my diligent swim buddy. It was very obvious from our very many conversations that I am not one bit happy, and so she suggests that rather than moaning about it constantly, that I perhaps look a little closer to home for the actual issue. Her delivery of  “just get your sh*t together” was as blunt as it gets, but sometimes all you need is a swift metaphorical kick to galvanise you into action. 

And it did. As I don't have the luxury of time to get this sorted I needed to do as I was told, and so I contacted Leon at one of the lakes I swim at, to ask for his thoughts, opinions and some help. The following day I went to the lake, where he had arranged for one of his coaches to spend a couple of hours with me, for which I am very grateful. She watched me swimming from the side, and from the elevated position of the jetty. She then got in the water with me offering me feedback as we went. I was also videoed by my friend Karen, and so I could see for myself what was happening. They were able to identify straight away what was going on, meaning that I will have enough time before the Great North Swim to put the tweaks into practice and have a more enjoyable swim than was possible before. 

After my session at the lake, swim bud Shark and I were putting the swim world right (over post swim chip shop chips of course) and discussing a plan moving forwards when it suddenly dawned on me that whilst I have been so busy over the last few weeks concentrating on my poor performance, and then focusing on “getting my sh*t together,” one thing that I haven’t had time to focus on is any aquatic livestock that live in the lake (or swans for that matter). I have literally spent the whole month not giving them any thoughts whatsoever, and whilst I am not convinced that I am cured of my lack of love, due to the fact that I am not entirely sure how I will respond when I do come face to face with an actual real life moving fish, but I suppose one could argue that it could loosely be considered an unexpected silver lining on the back of my terrible 2018 open water season so far! 

For those of you that enjoy my blogs, my book Open Water Woman Swims Windermere is now available in paperback and electronically on Amazon.

I also have a 'group' page on Facebook and am on Twitter and Instagram, where I post regular shenanigans and such like. If you'd like to join/follow you'd be very welcome. Here are the links. 😊

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Let the 2018 open water swimming season begin!

What could be better than your first open water swim of 2018 coinciding with it being the hottest May Day Bank Holiday on record (except perhaps for my first open water swim of 2018 being somewhere very tropical with very white sands)?

The only downside to this weekend’s swimming was that swim buddy was away celebrating her birthday with family, and no, not a big birthday -that’s next year! (I am going to be in so much trouble for sharing this), but Shark likes a large celebration every year, regardless of age, hence the weekend away. Historically the water temperatures aren’t usually as favourable as they are this year, and our first dip back in the lake after the winter is usually the week after the Bank Holiday. Despite her being away I didn’t want to miss the fact that the water temperature was likely to be higher than usual, and so making the most of the opportunity, and so in the absence of Shark, and for safety reasons, I recruited a fellow squad member, Richard, to come with me (well actually in truth, he was going anyway). I just told him that it was just for a bit of encouragement on the way round etc., and I bribed him with the promise of coffee after as a thank you. To be honest I was expecting him to counter with the suggestion of cake thrown in, but he didn’t. He is a far cheaper swim buddy than Shark!

What I didn’t tell him (I was worried he’d say no if he knew in advance) was that I hadn’t tried on my wetsuit yet and that there may be a struggle to get my very inflexible self into it, requiring his (and possibly others) support (as in physical, not just standing near me cheering and offering words of encouragement!), brute strength and possibly some kind of implement (whatever works: shoe horn, wrench, crowbar) to get me in.

The lake looked glorious, and at 13.8oc, which compared to this time last year when I got in (10.1oc), was pretty much considered warm in my mind, and if wetsuits weren’t compulsory I may have considered getting in without, but they are, and so back to the difficult job in hand, which turned out to be less traumatic than I thought, that was until I was reminded that in order for it to be fully functioning I needed it to be not only on, but on and zipped up… Knew it was too good to be true! Step in my new, temporary swim buddy, who I might add made such a song and dance before he had even got hold of the zip, muttering he may “need the strength of an ox” but I was optimistic that all would be well, and it was, with what I would consider a bit of overacting from him, it was on, done up and with the added bonus that I could not only still move, but I could also breath (provided I didn’t do it too deeply).

Reunited once more with my Swimzi coat and my nemesis swans!

Getting myself acclimatized to the water was fine; it was the foggy goggle issue that I had that was not fine. It was not fine because I couldn’t see that swim buddy had set off and was swimming, very fast, off into the blue yonder (without a backwards glance). I also couldn’t also see the fellow swimmer next to me that I took a swipe out of (accidentally), and nor could I see the buoy that I think I was swimming towards.

In previous swim seasons I would have been delighted with foggy goggles, after all if you can’t see it, then it simply isn’t there as far a aquatic livestock go, however this year I am determined to overcome my fear of anything in the water, moving or non-moving - this includes my own limbs and that of those around me, ropes attached to buoys, the bottom, plants, twigs and so on, and so to rid myself of my fear I need to actually be able to see what was in the water, however today it took several frustrating stops to de-mist them whilst trying to stay afloat before they were fit for purpose again, by which time I noticed that a couple of the safety crew were circling me with their radios at the ready. I gave them a thumbs up, because as much as I do love ride on a jet ski (well I went on one once twenty years ago and loved it), I don’t fancy them getting it out in a rescue attempt because of my goggle issues. Shark would never let me live it down.

All this faffing about with my goggles had taken quite some time. And by the time I was organized and fog-free my temporary swim buddy was nowhere to be seen (even in the absence of fog). I would like to point out in the interest of honesty, that I didn’t actually have a cat in hells chance of keeping up with him, and so set off at my own pace knowing that he was probably going to lap me at some point.

My first lap round I would have had the biggest grin on my face if it weren’t for the fact that I know that smiling dislodges my goggles. It felt great being back in, AND I feel I’d made a small improvement in my progress as I was only startle three times (believe me when I say this is progress) thanks to unexpectedly seeing the bottom of the lake, a fellow swimmer and a ray of sunlight, which I feel deserves a pat on the back, or at the very least some celebratory cake afterwards.

On my second lap round as I approached the first buoy I was asked by the safety crew to stop as the jet ski was out on the lake taking a fellow swimmer back to the shoreline (he was fine, had got cold and had asked the safety crew for help). During this time I was forced to tread water (well it was that or drown!?!) and whilst we were being corralled into one area for safety, I decided to use the opportunity to actually look under the water, and I mean really look to see what was there, so I positioned myself in the middle of a few other swimmers (just in case…) and put my head under the water. Only for a few seconds, but enough to convince me that there were no man-eating minnows, in fact there were nothing more than some plants dappled with sunlight to be honest, looked quite pretty and not dangerous at all.

Several brave minutes of observing the subaquatic terrain without incident I was feeling very pleased with myself and more relaxed and wondering what all the fuss I was making for nothing, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted a thin black creature right next to me. How had I not seen a lake snake coming? There was quite a few swimmers waiting by the buoy by now, and if I made a fuss I was either going to scaremonger everyone from fleeing the area, and possible into the path of the jet ski or look a complete idiot if I made a fuss meaning the safety crew may think I was in trouble (not sure I’d live down having to be rescued due to being a scaredy cat either), especially when after the initial shock I realized that it was not a lake snake after all, but was the cord from the back of my own wetsuit that had come away from the Velcro (my temporary swim buddy is so responsible for this). Confirming that there is still work to do in the bravery department.

The final lap was thankfully uneventful, and I even managed to get out without breaking my neck, only to find no sign of my temporary swim buddy. I didn’t remember over taking him, but I must have done, as unbelievable as this sounds, as he wasn’t out on the shoreline. I was very surprised, and actually delighted if this was the case. I got changed (carefully and with a lot of effort) only to find that he was still not out, I would have been worried had someone not spotted him going round the starter buoy again, for what I now know to be the start of his fifth lap. I was sure we had said three, but as I had already taken off my wetsuit, wild horses would get me back in it again, and so I made myself useful by going to get us some coffee. I might add that the sneaky slice of cake I had whilst he was busy swimming his extra two lengths was delicious too, and probably the best cake I’ve ever had!

After I had devoured my well deserved slice of cake I though my swim buddy would probably like some too, after all, despite leaving me, and who could blame him, after all he was probably traumatised after having to zip me in my wetsuit, and I did faff about for an age trying to de-fog my goggles, and he’ll be thanking his lucky stars he wasn’t there to witness me wrestling a lake snake, he did come with me in the first place so I wasn’t on my own, for which I am very grateful. Unfortunately for him it seems that it wasn’t just me that thought it was enjoying the cake, but every other swimmer getting out sooner than my swim buddy did too, and by the time I got to the front of the food queue to get him a slice, there was none left, and so sadly he had to make do instead with a pre-wrapped flapjack to go with his coffee, and bless him, he even offered to share the flapjack with me. I declined, telling him he needed the extra calories after all he had swam an extra two laps of the lake. I decided not to tell him was that I had eaten a large slice of cake already, and really I should have got him one too at the same time. No, I decided that my best option, just in case I may need to ask him again to be my temporary swim buddy, would be to keep my mouth shut. And that's exactly what I did!

For those of you that enjoy my blogs, my book Open Water Woman Swims Windermere is now available in paperback and electronically at:

I also have a 'group' page on Facebook and am on Twitter and Instagram, where I post regular shenanigans and such like. If you'd like to join/follow you'd be very welcome. Here are the links. 😊

Open Water Woman

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Swimming with fishes goes hand in hand with open water swimming, so why am I still so easily spooked by them?

I am now going into my fourth year of open water swimming and I still love every part of it, every part that is, except the fish. This fear is not brought on by a nasty encounter, for the truth is, I haven’t actually seen a fish near me larger than a tiddler, and I should know, for every time I swim my eyes are on stalks looking for any sign of even a ripple. I have surprisingly good eye sight for some one of my middle life years, and it is true that I can spot anything moving from far, far away, and although 10/10 times it isn’t actually a fish, a shark or a sea monster and turns out to be something far less sinister, like a twig, a leaf, some plant life, the bottom of the lake, the buoy rope, a shadow, swim buddy’s leg and I am most embarrassed to admit, my own arm…I still pull a sprint out of the bag. Added to that, if there were any that I had missed Shark would have spotted it and would be fleeing at neck breaking speed away from it, and me.

When you swim with someone as often as Shark and I do, you get to know each other well, and this is how I know I am not alone in my paranoia. We have had many a conversation about this subject, and as previous experiences swimming in a lake with her have demonstrated, she will think nothing of wind sprinting away from said imaginary aquatic dangers as much as I will. This year however I think I may have the edge. In order to gain some much needed advantage between myself and her (the weakest swimmer always get it first), over the winter, whilst in the pool, I have been working exceptionally hard at my sprinting. I tell Sharks it’s for the start of any races we have this season to give me a fighting chance at getting nearer to the front, but its actually not. It’s because in a swim off against a fish, no matter the size, it’s every swimmer for herself!

It is standard procedure to check out any new possible swimming venues online beforehand. It is to find out things like: distance away, facilities (changing and cake selection), cost and of course what type of aquatic livestock reside in the lake. You never know, they may well have a giant pike breeding program going on!  This information gives me the opportunity to further investigate the fishes (or other) they might have, including whereabouts in a lake they prefer to be, so I can avoid them at all costs, the largest one ever caught, teeth size, food preferences and if there have been any attacks on humans before now, of which I am delighted to share the happy news that all searches so far have come back as a big fat zero, I still check every time though!

All this said, knowing Shark’s fondness of fishes is on a par with mine, I was surprised when I received a very unexpected message from her this week, which included a link to one of the venues we have swam at before. The link was actually an invitation to go to the lake to feed the fish. On one hand I am really curious to see the size of the fishes that are in the lake, but on the other I am scared that it will put me off going if any turn out to be any larger than a stickleback or a sprat, which is how big I tell myself all fishes are when I get into any lake.

When my kids were small, and during my pre-open water swimming days, going to a lake to feed the fish sounded like a lovely thing to do. We would have bought multiple pots, because I really couldn’t bear the fact that some fishes might not have been adequately fed, and it would have probably been followed by a walk around the lake to tire out the little darlings and an ice cream and cakes in the adjoining café, all very gratifying, but here’s the thing, now I actually get in lakes and swim with them, I am in two minds whether fattening up fishes, for utterly selfish reasons, is a good thing.

Now, I really do know that it is. It’s a great thing – families spending time with each other, getting some fresh air, whilst learning about ecology and other sciency stuff and seeing all the different fishes close up, whilst the fishes are being fed the right nutrient rich food to keep them healthy and improve their survival rates, especially after a long and cold winter.

I was talking with Leon at SwimYourSwim this week about my fears. Leon is an avid naturalist (NOT to be confused with naturist!) and pointed out something that I hadn’t even considered, and it’s a really valuable point. He said that although fishes are predators, eating plants, microorganisms and other fishes (not people or their toes), they also recycle the nutrients they take in, acting as a kind of fertilizer helping to keep the lake healthy. The fact that fishes are in the lake, thriving and abundant means that the lake they swim in is also in good shape (the water quality is monitored there) and therefore I can be confident that it I can have a safe and enjoyable swim there too.

I must admit, I am comforted by this news and also have been giving the whole swimming with fishes some thought, especially the supplementary fish feeding thing, and may well suggest for Leon to think about some kind of feeding program at Hatfield (sort of around about the same time that I would be coming for a swim). Here’s what I’m thinking- if the fishes are busy being fed at one end of the lake, that frees up the rest of it for a relaxing swim for me (Yay!) (And a win/win situation I think?). Genius!

Alternatively, I could actually start to think more rationally, as there is no evidence that I’ve found, of anyone being attacked by the fishes that are in any of the lakes I swim in (and believe me, I’ve looked extensively), and in reality the only thing that has actually ‘attacked’ me has been the pondweed that I swam into once, and you could actually say it was my own fault. I am also huge in comparison to any of the fishes, and me swimming will no doubt scare them off and away from me (I may revisit this if I decide to swim Escape from Alcatraz), and so I have decided that I will spend this next season working on these fears, and in the meantime, I shall continue with my sprint training- for I’m quite enjoying them, and actually, just in case that fallen twig or pondweed does decide to give chase, I shall be ready!

Finally, last year I swam the length of Windermere for charity, and was asked if I would like to write a book about my journey, so I thought why not? It includes all the ups and downs, the laughs, the cake eating, the mischief, the amazing people I met along the way and of course the swimming. It's available on Amazon in paperback or as an e-book.

I also have a 'group' page on Facebook and am on Twitter and Instagram, where I post regular shenanigans and such like. If you'd like to join/follow you'd be very welcome. Here are the links. 😊

Open Water Woman

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Surviving winter, flu free, and how (I think) swimming in cold water may have had a helping hand...

It’s official; I’ve survived the whole of the winter without so much as a snivel. I can say this with confidence because the vernal equinox that marks the beginning of spring, after what feels like a really long and cold winter, has finally happened.

Most years I catch something or other, despite the fact that every year I take the same multiple precautions to reduce my odds. Precautions like: a daily dose of Berocca, 2 family members (both asthmatic) frog marched to the doctors for flu jabs, no going outside with wet hair, hand sanitizerers placed strategically around the house, including daily lectures for my poor, long suffering teens on regularly using them (no need to be sparing, I’ve literally bought a million bottles) and vetting anyone entering the house for any evidence of cold/flu symptoms and turning them away if necessary (I say vetting – it’s pretty much a lengthy questionnaire, and by the time they’ve filled it in, whilst still on the doorstep, I’m hoping they just don’t think we’re worth the visit, and come back some other time – like spring).

So what’s different about this year? It could be that my many precautions have finally paid dividends, however, there is one other thing that I did differently this winter, and that was to do some cold water swimming. Now I may well be clutching at straws here, as it may well just be coincidence, but hear me out...

At the end of the summer swimming season last year (usually October sometime depending on the water temperature), I decided to continue open water swimming through the winter. I have no idea why I wanted to carry on this year. I’m usually up for trying something different (although wild horses or the promise of a shed load of cash as an incentive would not get me sky diving). Before now once the water temperature has dropped to below a chilly 15oc my swim bud and I call it a day and head, back to the warmth of the overly hot pool and wait the winter out there, which is why, before I continued to swim open water, I armed myself with all that could go wrong, after all swimming in cold water can be dangerous. I did the research into the potential dangers. I read about cold shock. I read about hypothermia. I read about after drop and I completed a course, where I regularly swim, about the dangers of cold water and how your body responds and, armed with this sobering information, could be forgiven for changing my mind back again, hanging up my wetsuit and leaving well along until spring, however did not, and decided that I’d like to try it.

And I did. The thing that surprised me the most about swimming in cold water was how I felt, how energising it was. Yes my fingers and toes went numb, yes I felt my skin (the bits I could feel) was burning and yes once I got out I was shivering so hard my fillings were in danger of being dislodged and, one of my toes rather randomly went a delicate shade of puce (?), however I was also feeling quite euphoric, and I was not alone. At first I thought this might just a reaction, as I was so delighted to survive my first cold swim and actually enjoy it, but many of the folks sitting with me warming through, covered in various swim coats and all sporting layer upon layer of clothing and draped in hot water bottles, trying to drink hot drinks wearing gloves, without spilling it, were seasoned winter swimmers, also appeared to be enjoying it. Something must keep them coming back, after all, there are few folks that would get into bitterly cold water to risk cold shock and/or hypothermia and then to go through a lengthy and sometimes painful recovery afterwards, week after week, with no gain other than the guilt free slice of cake afterwards and a catch up with friends, when there are hundreds of cafes everywhere for that! And so this got me asking around, why do these people swim in cold water?

The answers were varying, but the common denominator was because they felt there were various health benefits, from it helping with pain relief to enhancing circulation, one fellow swimmer, who shall remain nameless (but you know who you are), was very keen to share their happy news of an increased libido, I suspect they were teasing me, but not willing to risk it I made up a feeblish excuse to leave whilst saying “how lovely” (First thing that came out. Why oh why did I say that?); one lady, Jaz, spoke with me quietly (and with her permission I’m sharing her story) and told me that she started swimming under the advisement of her doctor. A lengthy battle with depression had led to her overeating and subsequently becoming severely overweight. After a particularly difficult period of time, and along with the support of doctors and a therapist, Jaz decided she wanted to commit to trying again at life, she was ready to take back control, and break the cycle. She decided to do this through fitness, and at 23 stone she knew that swimming was the one exercise that would put her body under the least strain. Jaz began open water swimming a couple of years ago, and during that time she met and became firm friends with a lady who wanted to try cold water swimming, and so to support her friend, Jaz decided to give it a go rather than getting back in the pool for the winter. She told me that she noticed immediately how her mood had lifted when she was in the cold water, and afterwards. Surprised, she went on to do some research to see if there were any links between cold water swimming and depression. She added that cold water swimming had been, and still was an essential part of her recovery. Since that initial dip she has continued to swim throughout the year, and has even ditched her wetsuit to skins swim. She has since swum two Ice Miles (water under 5oc in skins). When I asked her why two? After all, one is an amazing achievement already, Jaz agreed, but pointed out that her first one was a year ago, when she was at her heaviest, and although she was successful, felt that she had cheated in some way as she was so heavy when she did it. She had wanted to prove that she could do it and, so in the interest of fairness, she swam another one this January, after an incredible 11 stone weight loss! (I’d also like to add to that, his amazing lady has also swum Windermere one-way, that’s a massive 10.5 miles, and competed in two IM’s!) She finished by saying “Cold swimming is a huge part of my toolkit and if I didn’t have it, I have no doubt I wouldn’t have made the progress I have.”

Once I got home I decided to search the Internet for some more facts. I found that there were tons of stories of an amazing variety of health benefits, both physical and mental, many more than I heard about earlier, that are well documented amongst swimmers, however when it came to any research or scientific evidence (due to lack of research rather than anything else) I found it to be rather thin on the ground. Despite this, I did find a glimmer of hope, which was a story, recently covered in several newspapers. They reported on a recent case study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that tells of a man in chronic pain 10 weeks after surgery. After conventional drugs, physiotherapy and exercise failed to help, the man decided to go for an open water swim (he had been a triathlete prior to his surgery) to help take his mind off the pain, and after swimming in water at 10.5oc for just a minute his pain disappeared. Doctors were baffled and could come up with no other explanation. Although the BMJ were clear to point out that this was just one case, and that without further evidence they could not say whether it could be connected, but add that without any other explanation it could have helped.

What is amazing is that on the back of this case study experts at Cambridge University and the University of East Anglia are now calling for some research to investigate cold water therapy. Imagine if the findings are favourable? Not only for those that suffer chronic pain and many other health problems, but also for our struggling NHS. Other experts are also calling for a study into the effects of cold water on the human body, and some are already developing trials, and if it can be scientifically proven, what an amazing, and free, alternative to traditional medicine, with no side effects (with perhaps the exception of puce coloured toes) cold water immersion could be?

Something I read that really interested me was that one of the health benefits claimed by swimming in cold water is that it can improve your immune system, resulting in fewer illnesses. This winter’s figures from Public Health England show that the 2017-18 flu outbreak was the worst since 2010-11, despite 1.5 million more people having the flu jab since last year. This makes it makes it even more amazing that I have managed to avoid catching anything. You could argue of course that this was a happy coincidence, that it was just luck, or even good management (like buying the supermarket's whole supply of hand sanitisers) on my part, however you also couldn’t rule out the possibility that it could have been that I swam in cold water this winter... Here's hoping - and research pending!

Finally, I’d just like to add a safety sentence or two, or a warning if you prefer.
Cold water can be very dangerous. Please don’t just plunge in. Getting into cold water without the right advice and support, without putting too finer point on it, can lead to death (sorry to be blunt). Please, please seek medical guidance first, especially if you have an underlying health condition. Read all you can on the dangers first, and never swim alone, and please consider doing a course that tells you in very fine detail all that I’ve just said, and swim with people that know their stuff. I have added here the links to the blogs I wrote about cold shock and hypothermia to give you an idea.

BMJ study

And finally still, if you enjoy reading my blogs you may also enjoy reading my first e-book, which was published earlier this year. It’s about my 2017 journey from surgery to swimming Windermere one way – and all the shenanigans in the middle- of which there were many – mostly involving a vivid imagination and/or cake… Here’s the link.