Saturday, 23 December 2017

Attempting to swim an Ice Mile is not for the faint hearted, that's for sure...

When Leon at Swimyourswim called me to ask if I’d like to attempt an Ice Mile this weekend I couldn’t have been happier. The water temperature was right, I’d already had my medical okay, and I’d been training and acclimatizing since the end of summer, so there was nothing stopping me and was prepared to take every step necessary to keep it that way. My unwell daughter’s cold was immediately elevated to highly contagious, acute influenza, which required complete bed rest in solitary confinement, until at least Saturday afternoon, and I asked Shark to call by with one of her medical face masks as an extra precaution.

The only person I told I was swimming was Shark, who immediately arrived at my house bearing gifts of “an inspiring read” (Sean Conway’s Hell and High Water- it’s fab) and some hand warmers (with sharks on them). Her instructions were “read this, and bring these with you!” I’m not too sure when I’m meant to get time to read it this week however, as the influenza ridden child has me at her beck and call (should never have given her the bell, but that’s what guilt does for you), and am literally run off my feet fetching hot chocolate after hot chocolate after hot chocolate that she could probably get for herself, however that would mean her coming out of her room. Not happening.

On the morning of the swim, after checking my bag for the billionth time (costume, goggles, hat, flask, nasty new fleecy lined shoe things, hand sanatiser, towels, extra socks, gloves, plasters, torch, hot water bottle, etc. all present and correct) I went to put my stuff in the back of Shark’s car (whilst she went for a nervous wee) to find there was little in the way of room, thanks to a huge cardboard box filled with medical paraphernalia. I was slightly concerned that it was there because she thought I wasn’t going to make it, however when quizzed, Shark came up with a plausible reason for this (been on a medical course… she is a nurse, I’ll buy it)… also, I have no idea how a long metal prodder looking thingy could possibly come in handy for an open water swim (or swimmer), or am I being very naïve?

The journey over was just lovely. Shark did a sterling job of trying to distract me from what was ahead talking about our previous swims, and how we had always managed to have an aeroplane flyby. When we swam Coniston it was a WW2 light bomber, and Windermere was a more modern military plane. Both were probably from nearby air displays, however I may have told a disbelieving Shark that I had organized them for us. Shark wondered if I would be so lucky today. I confidently told her I would be … (I know that the marina is actually on the flight path to the local airport and we are almost guaranteed to have one - probably a Jet2 aircraft full of holidaymakers, but a flyby is a flyby, right?). Without allowing me any room for thought Shark moved swiftly on to some suggestions of car entertainment, including Christmas karaoke in the style of Mariah Carey, at which I drew the line, and suggested a quieter and better use of our time like just sitting... I was overruled, and as a cynical individual I wasn’t too excited at the thought of this singing extravaganza, however by the forth song, I was transformed. Long live carpool Mariah Carey Christmas karaoke!

In what felt like no time we arrived at a very sunny Hatfield, but don’t be fooled by the sunshine, it was bitterly cold. The lake was completely still, and teeming with what looked like the beginning of a 1963 Alfred Hitchcock film, and although I thankfully notice the absence of vultures, I did notice Nemesis out of the corner of my eye… with back up!

Inside I was briefed by Ally and Leon and told (in the loveliest way) that once I had put my toe in the water and until they had decided I was fit and well enough to leave afterwards, I was their responsibility and I was to do as I was told. We carefully went through all my stuff and how I had laid it out, at which point Ally suggested I ditch the underwear as it was far too faffy, and added that I could put it on later myself if I so desired, although added that she would bet good earned money on me actually returning home commando.

I waited in the clubhouse for what felt like an age, whist the safety team on the boat did some final checks and I was briefly all on my own with my thoughts (Shark had left me to do yet another nervous wee), feeling more determined than ever to be successful. I’d got this! I’d trained, habituised, acclimatized, my mindset was positive and I was in the best of hands. Ally came back in to tell me they were ready for me, and it was time to get undressed. Being Type A clumsy and all, disrobing should be done with extreme caution at all times, however in my haste I somehow managed to let my leg, one nasty shoe and my trousers (I hold the nasty shoe completely responsible) all caught up like spaghetti, no big deal, happens all the time, and I thought I’d styled it out quite well in a discreet way, until Shark saw me, ran across the room at neck breaking speed whilst yelling “man down, man down!” and grabbed an arm to break my fall, drawing the attention of pretty much everyone in the clubhouse, and possibly any one (or bird) within the vicinity. It didn't go unnoticed that they immediately took off and disappeared en-mass!

I had asked Leon and Ally not to tell me the temperature, just that it was under 5oc, I didn’t want to panic myself, and at the shoreline I was given one last reminder of the course, and set off with waves, cheers and lovely words of encouragement from my swim family. I followed my usual getting in routine, and then I was off. It takes me a good 200m to get into my stroke usually. I don’t tend to put my face fully into the water until this point (if I leave it till then I avoid the ice cream headache that comes with the cold), and today was no exception. I was finding my rhythm, and with the absence of aquatic livestock, who at this time of year descend to the bottom to rest for the winter where it’s warmer (yay!), I was able to focus, without having to worry about being startled by any of the water’s residents. Swimming was steady, and I had begun to relax in the knowledge that my toes were safe, although having said that, they were already numb, so actually if I had been bitten, there was a good chance I would have no idea until I thawed out… or indeed saw the blood and/or missing digit!

Confirming the temperature was well and truly baltic!

...just setting off.
I thought I had managed to leave my Nemesis at the other end of the marina, however out of the blue at the 500m buoy, I noticed it had arrived, flanked by two other swans. They seemed pretty close, and to be honest for a few seconds my mind was taken away from swimming and onto more pressing issues like questioning myself as to why had none of my cold water planning involved watching clips on YouTube entitled “how to survive being attacked by an army of swans.” From the boat Ray yelled all would be fine, and that the swans don’t like the dingy and wouldn’t come near. What Ray didn’t know was that during several previous encounters with swans they seemed to have an unhealthy obsession with my orange hat. I am not all that convinced that the dingy would fair all that well against a determined swan and hoped that there wouldn’t be a stand off mid swim. In my mind I began planning my escape, and took my eye off the ball (well, swans).  Suddenly, and rather quickly, they all took off (somehow Ray captured this), and although brief, it was something else; I could feel the breeze from their wings as they flew past and was a very welcome distraction, and a very beautiful moment.
Here's the clip of the flyover. It's at about 50 seconds that the magic happens
(I may be bigging it up somewhat).
And so with today’s flyover done (doesn’t always have to be a plane), it was back to the job in hand. I’d completed my first lap in an okay speed, however the second lap, despite more and more effort I just wasn’t moving very far. The water felt dense somehow and swimming quickly became difficult. It was unlikely at this late stage in the swim that any endorphins, that had eluded me so far, were going to arrive. I had to face facts, there would be no sudden rush of adrenalin and no euphoria. Throughout the swim I was continuously asking myself questions in my head (how I felt, any changes, can you feel your hands/feet) and felt I was able to answer (again in my head… I’m sure if I began saying random words during my swim they would have pulled me out almost straight away), so when Ray asked me how I was feeling (1,100m) I was shocked as when I went to answer him I realized the cold had affected me far greater than I thought. My words were slurred, and talking was difficult. I stupidly thought this was because my lips were cold (they were) and didn’t consider it to be coordination because in my head I was thinking clearly. Very quickly I was unable to keep a rhythm and catching my breath became really difficult. I knew at this point that my muscles were so cold that they weren’t functioning properly and my coordination had gone, and with the best will in the world would not be coming back, and despite wanting to carry on so badly, I knew I had to make the call to end the swim, and swam next to the boat to tell them I wanted to get out (turns out I’d only just beaten them to it, and they seconds from calling me in).

I have to be honest, I don’t recall anything of the boat ride, I think I was just so relieved to be out, and according to Shark it took four of them (huge thanks to them all) to lift me out of the boat. I choose to believe it took four because the boat is in fact really tiny and I got wedged in, and we will leave it there…

Back at the clubhouse the recovery felt really long (although I was assured by Ally that recovery is long, and that’s normal). The care from Ally and Shark was absolutely amazing (the jokes were less amazing). They really knew their stuff. I was dressed, draped in hot water bottles and encouraged to drink, walk about and was asked various questions (to check my recovery), and although I felt a mild detachment from all that was going on around me, I did manage to answer them all. I drifted in and out of listening to the conversations going on around me, preferring to focus on the Herculean task of getting the straw in my mouth and drinking without spilling, when out of nowhere arrived some Mars Bar (I will never eat Mars Bar again I don’t think). Someone (Claire) put some in my mouth, which I immediately (and I can’t believe I did) spat it out! According to a very disgruntled (and rightly so) Shark I also spat out her home made lemon drizzle loaf cake… very out of character, and very much apologized for since.

I’d like to use this opportunity now to let Ally know that the neck massage was amazing, and actually I may have taken advantage of your good nature by not completely revealing the exact moment that I felt tons better, which was probably way before I actually told you. This was because I was worried that if you stopped I would feel cold again and I didn’t want to interrupt your flow, AND, you were not only helping my recovery, but also other important health benefits including: helping my muscles to relax, improving my circulation, strengthening my immune system, reducing fatigue and relieving constipation (although in truth I’m not sure whether the last one is actually achieved through just a shoulder massage)… So I’m very sorry, and also very grateful. X

When I finally felt completely back to normal, the reality was that I hadn’t succeeded, and no matter how many fellow swimmers congratulated me regardless, and no matter how many told me swimming 1,250m in that temperature was an amazing thing to do, for me I’d still failed. I felt quite sad and teary. The car journey home was spent with me, between tears, quizzing Shark on the bits I’d missed, whilst she continued to check my pulse every fifteen minutes.  She had told me that when the boat came in she thought I was in big trouble as I was laid down, rather than sitting. I lied and told her that I had actually rolled into the rather tiny boat, and got stuck, hence the lying down bit. She then revealed to me that I had lost one of my new nasty shoes, and that despite a thorough search of the premises at the time, there was no clue as to its whereabouts. I told her I was very upset that she had been so careless with this timeless and iconic fashion statement piece, that will no doubt become a collectors piece of the future. She said there was no doubt it would turn up, and unfortunately it did, rather quickly as it happens, for who would willingly steal a nasty shoe like that anyway? I checked with her that I hadn’t had an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction as I got out. I was so numb I would have had no clue if I had unknowingly revealed far too much of myself to the poor folks that lined the shoreline. I also checked that I hadn’t made any promises, or agreed to do anything stupid, legal, or indeed illegal, whilst I was recovering.

When I got home, and after a very long, hot soak in the bath, I began reflecting on the swim. Today I learnt that it wasn’t just about my strength of mind, it was also about how my body coped (thanks Karen for your wise words). Today I discovered where my limit is currently, and it's not at a mile yet, it's far from it. I've also learnt how I recover afterwards, and also know that if I want to carry on, I have to make more changes in order to progress. I can’t do anything about the water temperature, but I can do something about other element, including more acclimatizing, improving my fitness further (get faster) and probably spending the Christmas period high on a hefty dose or two (but probably more) of sugar in a bid to put a bit of extra weight on (oh the sacrifices!). Merry Christmas!

Before today I have swam in water as low as 6oc, and after every swim, once fully recovered, have felt elevated, lively and with a great sense of well being. It's exhilarating! We are all very different, and what I experienced today there will be some of you reading this that find this temperature and distance a breeze, but I'm not going to sugar coat it, for me today's swim was not only very challenging, it was also demanding, exhausting, harsh and by far the most difficult thing I've ever done (child birth excluded ... GWS). Added to this, the very lengthy recovery that followed was at times deeply unpleasant, uncomfortable and strenuous mixed with violent shivering and (I'm told) a few sweary words, and the remainder of the day spent on the sofa glued to my hot water bottle feeling fatigued and lacklustre and also very regretful of my decision to reject Shark's lemon drizzle cake! Despite all this, I'm far from put off. I cannot wait to get back in next week, not to try a mile, but to get in, swim a bit, embrace the cold, and enjoy a cappuccino and home made cake afterwards with my amazing swim family!

One more thing, I couldn’t finish without expressing how thankful I am to have been surrounded today by the most knowledgeable and experienced bunch at Swimyourswim, led by Leon, and if (it’s really only a matter of time really) I decide I’d like to have another stab at it, they are the guys that I trust the most to get me through it. What an amazing team! I’d also like to thank the great folks that I consider my swim family, who cheered me on, fed me and stayed well beyond they would have normally to check I was okay, oh, and if I did accidentally reveal all (or even a little something) to any of you, I’m truly sorry. X

Finally, to Shark, who supported me, stood freezing cold on the shoreline to make sure I was okay. She bought me hand warmers, inspirational books, dressed me, fed me, worried about me, cheered me on, yelled at me (all for the greater good), filled me hot water bottle up and drove me to Hatfield (a two hour round trip) whilst singing Mariah Carey Christmas songs to me at an ear piercing 120 decibels. All this without asking for a penny (well she hasn’t presented me with a bill as of yet.)! Thank you Shark, proving once again, without doubt that you are the best part of our swim buddy pair!

Finally, it's a year since I first began writing my little blog, which stared as a way of writing about my recovery, the training and the swim I did last year (Windermere one way). I have been amazed and overwhelmed at the amazing response, and lovely messages of support I have had. After I had completed the swim I was asked if I would consider putting last year’s journey into a book. Going from a blog to an e-book is something quite different, and a lot scarier, however I decided after a lot of consideration to take the plunge (no pun intended) and do it, and finally has now been published this week on Amazon. How amazing (but mostly scary) is that? I hope that for those of you that read it feel inspired to not only take on difficult challenges, but also to never underestimate how far you can push yourself to achieve what you set out to do.

Open Water Woman Swims Windermere is available on Amazon

I also I have a "group" on Facebook. It's not really a group, as it's only me, but on it I post more regularly, and I'm also on Twitter and Instagram. You'd be very welcome. Here are the links. 😊

Open Water Woman

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

A swim video analysis gets to the bottom of why I'm not improving...

If I’m to attempt an ice mile this winter season, to reduce the chances of getting anything more than mild hypothermia whilst swimming, without a doubt I need to speed up. Not to over complicate it, in short, the quicker I’m done the quicker I’ll be out and enjoying a congratulatory, and very well deserved, slab of cake (the real celebrations will be later, once I’ve sufficiently recovered and warmed through, and will probably involve a large glass of a warming, seasonal tipple whilst cuddling very closely to a hot water bottle and sporting a very smug grin).

I spent this last season firstly build up my strength again after surgery, and then train for a long distance swim (10.5 miles) I had entered pre-surgery (anyone else that level of stupid, or is it just me?) and so all of my training was geared up for endurance rather than speed (not that I’m built for speed in the first place), and so now all that’s done, I’ve been spending hours in the pool and various lakes, working on my speed and as of yet, despite my best efforts, haven’t been able to improve on my mile time, and if my current training isn’t yielding me the results that I’m going to need, it needs changing. 

One way of doing this is to actually make full use of the squad training offered by the Tri club that I’ve been a member of for the last three years. Till now the only thing I’ve used is their beautiful lake, and so despite feeling out of my depth, and more than nervous, I bit the bullet and went along to their squad training session. I fully expected to feel intimidated, however I couldn’t have been more wrong, it was full of regular folks, mixed with seasoned triathletes, training for different reasons. I really enjoyed it, except for trying to decipher what all the numbers and letters (all in swimming lingo/code) on the white board meant. They may as well have been written in Mandarin (there may also have been an element of middle aged eyes trying to read tiny writing)! I think I hid my fear well, and decided that my best chance of not cocking it up was to follow the swimmer in front and hoped that they too weren’t new, and also struggling to decipher the lingo. It was hard work (in a good way) and at the end of that first session I felt great. At the end of the session I spoke to Coach about my inexplicable lack of progress, and also that my mile time in my wetsuit was about five minutes faster than without. As an official ice mile can only be done in a costume, hat and goggles, I didn’t have the luxury of the faster time. He suggested there could be several reasons for the time difference and for my lack of improvement. These included: I’m possibly over reaching, my lower body position being wrong, my hypermobility, a wetsuit is more hydrodynamic, less kicking required in a wetsuit meaning I won’t fatigue as quickly. He added that the best way to get to the bottom of what was exactly the problem would be to have my swimming analyzed. He does have a good point, and so I decided to go for it.

I booked one for the following week with Coach at the pool in Tadcaster. He explained that it would be done using a high definition camera to record my swimming above and below the water from various angles. I have to say, if I’m being honest the second he mentioned high definition camera he cannot have failed to see the look of horror on my face. High definition? Doesn’t that translated as up close? Which leaves me in a bit of a dilemma, you see as the winter swimming had progressed, and the water colder, I have followed the advice of various hard as nails fellow swimmers, who insist that one of the best ways of keeping warm (unless they are literally pulling my leg, and the more I think about it now, the more convinced I actually am that they might be) was to (I quote) “relax a bit on the self grooming” They weren’t talking about the odd out of place eyebrow, they were talking legs…now I have the long legs, (this is just a point of fact, not a complaint), so there’s a lot of leg, meaning I have grown quite the impressive winter pelt, which that leaves me in a quandary. Should I get rid? I’m not actually sure whether it does add that much extra warmth, and I might be over thinking this but I’m now worried that whilst it could be keeping me a tad warmer, it could also be causing unnecessary drag (thus I think I have unwittingly stumbled across the reason right there for my lack of speed without even needing the analysis after all!). Added to this, I’m not sure I’m ready to give up the luxury of the extra five minutes I’ve gained in bed every morning as a direct result of my ‘relaxed self grooming.’ Despite my quandary there was no way I was risking it, sadly it would have to go. All those minutes gained in the morning would now be spent in one fell swoop… I may be some time!

The analysis:

Coach asked me to swim six lengths and explained that he would video me from various angles (oh hell!), which would capture all of my movements, enabling him to clearly identify the problems that are preventing me from improving. We would then look through the footage together (him at my stroke, me checking how my newly de-feralled legs were faring under the spotlight of ‘high definition’) and discuss what was happening and why, after that it was back in the pool for a step-by-step guide in how to correct my stroke using drills, training methods and practice specifically tailored to me. This was accompanied by analogies (some were hilarious, but hell I will never forget them) to solidify my understanding.

Six lengths completed, and one thing’s for certain, we were able to pin point many flaws in my stroke technique, which we discussed in depth. Some were problems due to poor technique; some caused by something else in my stroke (symptoms), some were bad habits and others were linked to my hypermobility. I’ve included some here:

1)   My right hand entry is thumb first, which is causing unnecessary strain on my shoulder (after Windermere I certainly felt this). I was given some Finis training paddles to help correct this. Let’s just say there’s work to be done… Nothing more embarrassing that having to fettle round the bottom of a deep pool for a lost paddle, all because you have a wayward thumb that just won’t do as it’s told!

2)   The video showed that because my stroke rate is slow I am over gliding which then causes me to have a pause (dead spot) in my stroke. This meant that in every stroke I took I had a point where I was actually slowing down, and I then have to do a kick-start to re accelerate. To get rid of this dead spot Coach suggested I shorten my stroke and increase the rate from 54 strokes/60 sec to 66/60. He also suggested that I spend time building up to this rate (thank goodness… I think I may expire from the effort otherwise!) and also spend time focusing on my rhythm. I had previously, and deliberately spent time slowing down my stroke rate, as mainly the distances I do are longer. I felt this meant that I was swimming more economically and preserving energy, however the video also highlighted that when I was doing my longer, slower stroke, what I was also doing was over-reaching.

3)   Over reaching causes two problems for me. The first being the increased strain on my already tense neck and shoulders. Let me explain: being hypermobile is of great benefit to swimmers, however my hypermobility (score 6 on the Beighton Score (that’s like a B in the new GCSE’s!)) is below the waist, and the lack of stability I have there (despite the trillion daily exercises I do) means that it causes increased strain for the muscles in my back, neck and shoulders as they are constantly trying to stabilize me (the effects of hypermobility, sadly), so whilst it would have been miles better for my swimming to be hypermobile in my upper body, my legs are the one area that Coach said was fine, and my ankle flexibility is actually an asset (hooray for me!). So basically, by over reaching I am adding extra stress to my already over worked muscles, and so by changing the length and pace of my stroke, it will mean I am swimming within my range and mobility, and will actually be kinder to my body.

4)   The other problem with the over reaching was that I am dropping my wrist and elbow. This meant my catch and pull are actually not very effective. To demonstrate this Coach compared it to that of Team GB Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington. Side by side it highlighted that I was using my shoulders to push the water down and outwards, rather than using the power of my lats and pecs, like Rebecca, to push the water back. I addition I was also arching my back as I lifted my upper body and was overloading my shoulders. Coach used a great analogy here “It’s like driving to London with the handbrake half on. You won’t get there as quick, you’d use lots of fuel and you’d probably do a bit of damage.” I must add here that in order to view the comparison I was given a large head start. In addition Rebecca was at half speed, and for a very brief moment I was actually winning (‘cause it’s always a competition, right?) before she motored past me at neck breaking speed!

That's me on the left for those of you struggling to tell😆

Analysis done; there’s lots to do. I’m armed with a copy of the session (video and audio), which I can (and I will) refer back to, suggested tools and corrective drills to support my training, and the knowledge that I can call Coach for advice and support (and I will) if I need to. I’ve learnt today that sadly I will never be able to swim like Rebecca Adlington, or a dolphin, or even a mermaid for that matter. I’m hypermobile in all the wrong places and slightly (only just though) over middle aged and over the hill (I already knew this bit), but today I also learnt that although the point of the analysis was to improve my technique to be able to swim faster for what is ultimately only one swim (and what I wasn’t expecting), the session was very much centered around this (‘cause that was the point of it), but the changes and improvements were also very mindful of my own physical limitations, so in essence the things I can do bugger all about, a better understanding how swimming as I am can exasperate these existing problems, and that the adjustments we’ve made will not only result in improving my speed, but (I feel now, as importantly) will also remove any additional tension to my already fatigued back, neck and shoulder muscles, for which I am delighted. And so what I wanted to gain from this analysis ultimately was speed, but what I actually came away with is knowing that I have actually invested in longer than just the one swim… I’ve invested in all of my future swims.

One last thing, and almost as importantly as all of the above, news of the body hair – after much discussion with Coach (mainly consisting of his rip taking and not taking it one bit as seriously as I felt he ought) the jury is still out as to whether I should ditch the razor again or not, when actually I’m not one bit convinced that either the extra glide I’m promised from being more sleek or the extra insulation from a dense pelt are a fair match when compared to swimming in a lake that’s water is under 5oc. What I do know however is that thankfully hairy legs (or not) are not visible in high definition at a swim analysis (I checked … real close).

One last thing, it's a year since I first began writing my little blog, which stared as a way of writing about my recovery, the training and the swim I did last year (Windermere one way). I have been amazed and overwhelmed at the amazing response, and lovely messages of support I have had. After I had completed the swim I was asked if I would consider putting last year’s journey into a book. Going from a blog to an e-book is something quite different, and a lot scarier, however I decided after a lot of consideration to take the plunge (no pun intended) and do it, and finally has now been published this week on Amazon. How amazing (but mostly scary) is that? I hope that for those of you that read it feel inspired to not only take on difficult challenges, but also to never underestimate how far you can push yourself to achieve what you set out to do.

Open Water Woman Swims Windermere is available on Amazon

For those of you that are interested, Coach Morgan Williams did my stroke analysis at  

Finally, I wanted to share with you this link. It’s written by Dr. Alan Pocinki, MD about movement balance and sports performance by about hypermobility syndrome that I found interesting and informative, and actually made me feel something close to normal!

If you have enjoyed reading my blogs also I have a "group" on Facebook. Its not really a group, as it's only me, but on it I post more regularly, and I'm also on Twitter and Instagram. You'd be very welcome. Here are the links. 😊

Monday, 4 December 2017

"Not feeling it" swim...

There’s one thing that’s stuck with me since day one of the cold water swimming course I attended, and that was the words of one of the instructors. He said “you will probably have an off day, and if you do, even if you’ve only got as far as one toe in the water, if you’re not feeling it, get out.” Well, I’ve just had one of those days…

In hindsight I shouldn’t have swam really, I’d had a late (non-alcoholic) night the night before along with not much food (out at a bash where the best thing to eat was some olives that I managed to persuade from the waiter (and I hate olives). The food was truly terrible – AND I’m not easily put off). I’m also nursing the back end of a cold (nothing too debilitating, two paracetamol were consumed at its height along with necessary chocolate (being a medical emergency and all that), and that’s about it). I wasn’t feeling a hundred percent but thought I felt okay to swim (I didn’t want to miss a week either). I’d made my usual breakfast, I also found myself making a full English for my kids too as I was reminded, “it is Sunday, and you always do breakfast on a Sunday… you make the best…” And as my usual swim day is Saturday, and I’m a sucker for a complement, and a complete push over as far as they are concerned, and I felt the guilt, and yes, I’m sure they are perfectly capable of rustling up their own breakfast, but made it for them regardless, I then filled and packed my hot water bottle and hot drink, and set off on the hours drive to the reservoire.

The water temperature was 6.1oc, so just shy of a full degree colder than last week. I began my usual pre-swim routine, however I just couldn’t get myself as warm as usual, and started putting off getting in. I began faffing about with my stuff, re-folding my warm clothes round my hot water bottle and rechecking my already checked goggles, before Shark took the lot off me (she actually snatched), put them back in my bag and led me to the waters edge, where a welcome party of swans was there to greet me (Yay! - and if this wasn’t the sign I needed not to get in, I ignored it – not them though, no I didn’t let them out of my sight).

Nemesis and I keeping a close eye on each other.
I'd have preferred the distance to be larger, as in different lakes larger, but it didn't seem one bit bothered by the lack of personal space that I was.

Thryberg reservoir

One place I don’t faff about is at the getting in bit; I get in and get on with it. No point in prolonging the agony longer than necessary (this also refers to getting in the lake with the swans – honestly, I’m beginning to think I am Dr. Doolittle of the swan world…). It took me much longer to get into my stroke, and by the end of the first 300 metres I was still to find my rhythm, it felt like I had needles being stuck all over me (this is new?), my hands and feet were already feeling numb (not usually feeling this until near the end, however this is colder than usual…) and I was feeling really tense having my very own escort swan all the way round sizing me up. I should have got out after that first one, however decided that I needed to swim another torturous lap… Just in case things were to improve. They didn’t.

I got out quickly, or as quickly as a stony walkway, frozen feet and jelly legs allow and Shark had me dressed and in the café drinking coffee in no time, (not like me at all) I declined the offer of cake. I put it down to self-pity, and feeling that I didn’t deserve it after a poor and frustrating swim. I felt miserable, like I’d failed. It’s not like me to feel so deflated. Something was most definitely amiss, and I found out what on the way home. Driving on the motorway I began with the symptoms of a migraine. I’ve not had one for probably ten years, so felt a bit stunned and scared. The zigzag aura, that’s usually a pre warning of an inevitable nasty headache, was getting worse. I immediately called Shark, who fortunately was driving in front of me. She told me to stop driving immediately (yep, only me…hard shoulder of one of England’s busiest motorways). We pulled over, and she administered tablets, water, sugar and advice whilst checking my vital signs and waited for the aura to go. If she’d have pulled a stethoscope out of her rucksack I would not have been surprised (whole new level of gratitude for my swim buddy). It was almost comedy (if I weren’t so panicked) when she reminded me that I’d had a full medical the day before and been given a clean bill of health, and asked me what the hell I’d been doing in the twenty four hours since I’d had it to cause this! When the aura had gone the headache I expected didn’t arrive (I’ve read since that this (a silent migraine) is more common in older sufferers, although I must fall into the rarer instance of it happening to the younger, in the prime of their life, only slightly over the hill sufferer), and so drove, again in convoy and slowly, home, where I had a long shower and an even longer Nanna Nap.  

Here’s the thing, I don’t know what caused the migraine. It could have been a number of things: not eating the night before, feeling a bit ill, swimming tense (thanks to my Nemesis), I could even probably find a way to blame the Super Moon and my decision not to have cake for it, however I’ve also read that the warnings of an imminent migraine (prodromal stage) are very similar to all the things I’d been feeling before and during my swim: irritability, feeling tired, tingling and numbness. It’s been so long since I’d had a migraine I’d not even considered it as a possibility, and if that is the case, then the timing was just awful… and so there is a lesson here, and (as always) a silver lining. I have had a stark reminder that cold water is not forgiving just because I’m having an off day. Swimming in it at these low temperatures can be dangerous and brutal and is already punishing on the body, and that’s on a good day, and if I’m “not feeling it” again before I get in, there’s no way on Earth I’m getting in. It's just not worth it. I will sit it out along with a hot water bottle, my body weight in tissues and some Berocca (and cake and emergency chocolate) if necessary.

Oh, and the silver lining? Whilst my kids seemed unable/unwilling/like their routine too much to cook breakfast, it seems they can pull a delicious Sunday dinner out of the bag without being asked and without help. Well, to be fair, I think they realized there was no hope of getting fed by me once the duvet arrived on the sofa. I'm still not sure whether the "hope this is a one off" was referring to me being a bit under the weather or them actually cooking, but anyway, who knew they could? Not me, that’s for sure!  

Finally, it's a year since I first began writing my little blog, which stared as a way of writing about my recovery, the training and the swim I did last year (Windermere one way). I have been amazed and overwhelmed at the amazing response, and lovely messages of support I have had. After I had completed the swim I was asked if I would consider putting last year’s journey into a book. Going from a blog to an e-book is something quite different, and a lot scarier, however I decided after a lot of consideration to take the plunge (no pun intended) and do it, and finally has now been published this week on Amazon. How amazing (but mostly scary) is that? I hope that for those of you that read it feel inspired to not only take on difficult challenges, but also to never underestimate how far you can push yourself to achieve what you set out to do.

Open Water Woman Swims Windermere is available on Amazon