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


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