Keeping our heads above water!

Fran, one of our Project Managers, took part in the UK’s Great North Swim (a challenging 1-mile open-water swim in Lake Windermere) in June – not the warmest of months, and of course Windermere – the UK’s largest lake  – is a massive body of water so hasn’t really warmed up much yet… Fran takes up the story!

It was sometime back in February or March that my friend Claire dropped into the conversation the topic of the Great North Swim. We may have been in Starbucks eating cake, or possibly having a quick drink at the pub – but whatever we were doing, I was enjoying it too much to actually take seriously the idea of swimming a mile in a lake!

However, Claire kept raising it and eventually I caved in. I enjoyed swimming in a pool – how different could swimming in a lake be? Training in my local pool was fun, and I even began to feel a bit smug about the whole thing. Big mistake…

Then I stepped into the lake on the day. It was cold – much colder than 16.2 degrees sounds like it should be.  Reluctance had begun to creep in as Claire and I sat on the ferry to Ambleside – the weather was less than balmy with a distinct lack of sunshine. Then Claire uttered those words of doom: “I’m starting to think this was a bad idea”...

By the time I’d got to the acclimatisation pool, I completely agreed… The zip on my new wetsuit had kicked things off by deciding to break as I was being zipped up, so I wandered barefoot, Bridget Jones-esque, through the crowds of swimmers to find the wetsuit stall in the hope they had one left I could hire. Luck was in – the ladies at BlueSeventy sized me up and squeezed me into a more robust suit, before sending me on my way. Making it to the start line with minutes to spare, I attached the timing chip (which measures your time) around my ankle, and located Claire. A swim in the acclimatisation pool, then a quick warm-up  – and off we go!

Wow… if anyone tries to cajole you into open water swimming in the UK, consider this: the water will be cold. No, not cold – I’m talking C-O-L-D. The instant you go in, your heart starts racing trying to warm you up. Some enjoy the feeling, but to me it felt as I imagine having a panic attack would – utterly terrifying. However, here I was – so it was either get back out again, or get going…

To my considerable surprise, I actually made it the whole mile – past the yellow buoys, out to the pink halfway buoy (with a couple of short stops to relax my aching muscles and chat to the rescue duty kayakers), then on past the other yellow buoys on the seemingly never-ending swim toward the finish.

Open water swimming is WAY different to swimming in a pool. In a pool, you move your arms and legs, and progress is immediate. But, in a freezing lake you move your arms and legs in the best semblance of a stroke your tired cold muscles can manage, and it feels as if you moved 2 or 3 inches at most. The hardest part is the sheer willpower to keep going – well, that and the fatigue and cold… Eventually, after slightly less than an (incredibly, hideously, long) hour of this I finally made the finish, did my (rather wobbly) walk up the boardwalk, handed in my timing chip and collected my goody bag.

I proudly wore my t-shirt into the office the following day!

Having entered the Swim too late for official sponsorship, Lifeline and I decided to donate to the Great North Air Ambulance, which rescued the swimmers who got into difficulties during the race – one of whom later sadly passed away.

What a day…

Well then – go Fran! She hasn’t yet mentioned next year’s event and none of us is brave enough to… so we’ll see…

July 12, 2011 - People



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