Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Returning (after a brief sabbatical) ... to the open water!

As I'd not even so much as put a toe in the lake (actually in any lake, pond or body of water larger than 25x10m) for a month, I promised Leon and Ally at Swimyourswim that I would definitely be swimming the following Saturday, and put in my 'welcome back into the fold' cake request with Master Baker Chris, so it would be considered rude to not to turn up, however on Friday night as I was putting together all my kit, I found myself looking for excuses not to go, even resorting to making up imminent and terrible adverse weather conditions that would (if they were actually true) prevent me from getting there, and even posted on Facebook evidence (see exhibit 1 below) that Antarctica was indeed headed our way. 

Desperate times call for desperate measures!
It’s been several weeks since I last swam in the lake, and with it being Christmas, which was then followed by a nasty bug, I was able to come up with some quite plausible reasons/excuses not to go. My last open water swimming experience hadn’t been all that great, and so returning from my sabbatical I felt overwhelmed and scared. All my concerns were met by the reassuring words of the very lovely Ally, I'd gone through my whole repertoire of excuses before exhausted, I finally ran out and said I'd go (I was able to think of a thousand more reasons not to after I'd agreed I'd go). Chris had told me he'd already baked the brownies for me, and if nothing else, the thought of any chocolate not fulfilling its destiny (me eating it) does not sit all that comfortably with me. 

The adverse weather I’d been hoping for (wintry storms, blizzard, dust storm, tropical cyclone, Antarctica itself, anything really) didn’t materialize, and so having run out of any plausable excuses I had no choice other than to go. I have to admit, it was lovely to be reunited with my swim family again and I nearly shed a real tear when Chris showed me the large Tupperware box filled with chocolate brownies he’d made for my homecoming, and as I wasn’t sure whether the whole batch were just for me, I opted for just one for after the swim and one for the road, and after hugs all round (I couldn’t be sure really whether they were long hugs or whether I was clinging on to prolong getting in), it was time to get on with the job in hand.

Star Baker Chris's chocolate brownies.
The water was the coldest I’d swum in at 3.5oc.  I stood for a good few minutes on the shoreline along with Deb, a fellow swim family member, who was also feeling a little apprehensive. assessing the lake (for no reason whatsoever, although did note the absence of swans today). We decided we would get in together, and whilst Deb got straight in and swam off, it was with many encouraging words from Shark that I finally got in up to my knees, before doing an abrupt turn and getting straight back out again (my costume wasn’t even wet, and I seriously considered stopping at a lovely warm, inviting pool on the way home to have a swim instead). Shark always puts my coat on over hers as it adds an extra layer for her, and keeps it warm for me when I get out, however she had barely done the zip up before she reluctantly handed it back to me. 

I was ready to call it a day even before I started. I stood on the shoreline in two minds whether to get back in the water or to go back to the clubhouse where it was warm and there were chocolate brownies... It was during my indecision at the side of the lake that Izzy (lovely, and known for her blunt yet comical delivery) said to me “if I didn’t think you could do it I wouldn’t be saying this, but you can, and I am…. If you don’t stop being a Princess and get in, I am prepared to take my boot off and kick you in.” Now, I’d like to think that it was meant for the greater good and with a small level of affection, but it was that and something that Jane also said, “it’s all in your mind. You can do this” that made me fling off my coat (poor Shark didn’t see it coming), do an about turn and get back in. No messing, no faffing about, no backwards glance, straight in and straight off.

Once in, I was surprised at how good it felt (once the initial cold shock had subsided and I’d had a chat with myself to remind me that there were no fishes, monsters or lake snakes (only buoy ropes) in the water). All my earlier worries and anxieties disappeared, along with the feeling in my feet and hands and pretty much my whole body soon after that!

the original photo
I swam one lap of 300m, mostly with my face out of the water. I didn’t care that it wasn’t far, I didn’t care that it wasn’t at any great speed. I was back in the water and loving it, and so rather than carrying on to do another lap, and possibly push my luck, I decided to call it a day whilst I was still enjoying it. As it has been a while I’d forgotten that getting out when you are at best uncoordinated is challenging, let alone getting out without any feeling in any of your limbs…Suffice to say my exit from the lake was nothing like the flamboyant entry earlier and was Oscar worthy but for all the wrong reasons…

Once Shark had scooped me up and passed me a towel, I tried (really hard) to put my fur lined swim shoes on, however I just couldn’t manage it. Every time I attempted to put them on they also moved with my feet. I was too cold to be able to maneuver them in and so asked Shark, rather than watch me in amusement, help me put my wet, cold feet in them. Laughing she told me it was not because my feet were wet that they wouldn’t go in, it was in fact my feet objecting to being put into such nasty shoes! I couldn’t argue with her, they really are quite horrid, whilst at the same time functional!  

The original photo that Shark added graffiti to.
Back in the clubhouse I changed as quickly as my frozen self would allow, with the help of Shark passing me my clothes. I noticed I was lobster pink all bar one toe. Panicking I turned to Shark for reassurance. She reliably informed me it is something called Raynaud’s disease (to do with blood circulation and cold) rather than the beginnings of anything more sinister like galloping dry rot or trench foot, but just to be on the safe side, I decided to keep a close eye on it over the course of the day. My feet were so cold I’m not sure that I’d notice if it had actually fallen off. I would have to take her word for it as I’m not sure whether operating a phone and trying to dial the ambulance service with frozen, shaky hands could even be achieved anyway.

Recovering in the clubhouse cafĂ© I reflected on my morning. I was so, so pleased that I’d got in, and although a brief dip, I was (still am) delighted. I really don’t know what it was that caused the light bulb moment just before I got in. It could have been a number of reasons - The fact that I’d got up before the crack of dawn, driven over an hour to get there, and had already forked out £5 to swim may have had something to do with it. It could have been knowing that Star Baker Chris only issues his wares to those that have actually had a swim, and I’m not all that convinced that wading up to my knee and then getting out actually qualifies me for even one of the chocolate brownies he's baked especially, that I'd already helped myself to. It could also have been down to sheer determination and bloody mindedness, however when I think about it, it was most likely to be the threat of Izzy’s foot making contact with my backside that really had me make my mind up. Bootless or not (although I hear she favours the steel toe capped variety), I don't rate my chances and suspect that I may well have found myself swiftly face planting the lake if executed! Whatever the reason, I did it! I finally got back in...Yay!

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

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