Tag Archives: grandad

Ghosts in the water

When I’m swimming, especially when I’m swimming in the lake, I get the sensation of another swimmer on my right hand side. It makes it all the stranger as I only breathe to my left, so I rarely look right. It sometimes comes out of nowhere and catches me by surprise, but then I realise what it is and it’s all ok again. Of course when someone is actually swimming next to me on my right hand side that then catches me by surprise all over again.

I was thinking about it more while I was swimming on Saturday and trying to work out what it is. I narrowed it down to three options:

– A bit of my goggles strap dangling in the water and catching my eye
– A reflection of my left arm in the goggles (or my right arm under water)
– The ghost of my grandfather swimming alongside me

My grandad was one of the pioneers of open water swimming and a founder member of the British Long Distance Swimming Association (BLDSA). While I don’t consider my decision to start swimming to be directly influenced by him – I don’t think I’m doing it in his honour – I am aware that without his involvement in the sport I would never have started.

When I was a kid we spent lots of summer weekends travelling up and down the country to watch swims. My grandad, by then, was more involved on the beach (or boat) than in the water, but he’d also persuaded both my parents to get involved too (although both of them stayed dry throughout their BLDSA ‘careers’). In the summer that I turned seven my dad was the President of the BLDSA, so they went to pretty much every swim, and my brother and I joined them for nearly all of them.

I loved that. I loved being the son of someone important. I loved watching all the people get ready for their swims. I loved getting to go on the launch boats and watch the swimming close up. And I also loved selling programmes on the beach and telling all the tourists what was going on (especially at the Bala swim). But at the same time the water looked cold and the swims were long and I thought that the people who took part were pretty stupid.

I’m still not sure that anyone that swims for that long in water that cold isn’t a bit stupid.

During this period my grandad and his friends were the lifeblood of the Association. My grandad was a fairly unassuming man, but there were people such as my ‘uncle’ Johnny who could never be described as unassuming. As a seven-year old I just hung around with them all and soaked it all up.

Like Grandfather like Grandson

Like Grandfather like Grandson

My decision to swim Windermere was inspired by my grandad. A couple of years ago my cousins and I were thinking about doing ‘something’ and because of grandad’s love of swimming and because of the special place that Windermere has in the hearts of swimmers it seemed like the right thing for his grandkids to aim towards. In the end, for a variety of reasons, there were only two of us that set off to swim Windermere and I was the only one that completed it.

I was thinking and talking about my grandad much more recently. On the SwimTrek training trip I recently went on a few of the people there knew him, so we chatted a bit about him (I also spent some of the trip trying to ‘defend’ the BLDSA – and of course I can’t avoid thinking about him then).

Again, while I’m not doing this ‘for’ my grandad and I am very aware that he has inspired some of this in me. I also know that if we was still alive he’d certainly be very pleased that I have followed in his footsteps (or possibly trunks!), he may even be proud of me too.

But of course he’s not swimming alongside me, it’s just the strap of my goggles.

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Windermere Report

It’s taken me a while to do this partly because there’s almost too much to say and yet too little – all I did was a bit (okay, a lot) of swimming. And also partly because I probably won’t write it as well as this post.

But I’m going to bite the bullet and do it. The pretentious “too much to say” stuff I’ll leave for another post and instead I’ll write about the day as it happened.

The Day Before

It all started quite relaxed with a leisurely drive up to the lake district on the Friday afternoon. I had a few friends and family coming along (most with rowing or childcare duties), so I was able to relax and be driven, which meant it was even more relaxing for me. We also got chance to go to Fell Foot and see the start which helped to settle the nerves, letting me know what to expect for the morning.

We were staying just near the water at Bowness in a pub and we just found that and after a quick walk to look at the water again in Bowness it was time for lasagne and chips for tea. I was sharing a room with Joshua, my 6-year old son (my wife had to be away in Germany for the weekend), so I took him to bed and settled down myself, although I didn’t get a lot of sleep. It wasn’t terrible, but not quite what I was hoping for and the 6am alarm felt a little too early.

Swim Day

But here it was, swim day, so I got up and got on with it. I wanted to give myself plenty of time to stretch and get all my food (including making some jam sandwiches) ready. At 7:20am I dropped Joshua off with his baby-sitter for the day (my cousin’s husband) and we set off back down to Fell Foot. It’s funny though, as I said goodbye to Joshua I couldn’t stop crying. I knew it wasn’t “goodbye” and that I would be safe, but I felt really emotional and I sniffled for the next 15 minutes or so.

As I said it was a real family affair, as swimming as well as me was my cousin Sonny and we had a load of family members in our boats. I had my uncle Graham, my Grandad‘s eldest son,  and his wife Margaret – herself a very good long-distance swimmer and the person who persuaded me to enter this year’s event – in my boat, along with a friend of theirs. Sonny had his mum Veronica (or Ron), my uncle Tony (Ron & Graham’s brother) and Tony’s daughter Alison. I hope you’re following all that, there’ll be a test at the end!

Anyway – we all met up at Fell Foot and did all the family hugging, wishing of good luck and then hanging around a lot and slightly getting on each other’s nerves – it was like Xmas!

The wait did seem a long time at the start and while there was stuff to do (check the boats, buy tea for the flask, organise the food bag again, strip off to our swimming kit, have the safety briefing etc) there was also some time with not much to do. I was quiet during most of this – not nervous exactly, but certainly thinking about the task in hand.

I was as confident as I could be. I knew I’d done all the training I could have managed in the time I had, I also knew that I’d been in similar situations (running a couple of marathons) and I’d survived. So it wasn’t nerves, more a healthy respect for the task at hand.

And They’re Off

But then it was time to go. We’d been told the water was about 17 degrees, it felt colder getting in of course. But once we’d all managed that, at 9:22am we were on our way.

Swimming with rowing boat

The first thing we had to do was swim around the corner to where the boats were and then as the swimmers our job was just to stay with the boat – they guided us down the lake and got us to the end. And this is the point to say a great big thank you to my crew for that. They had to sit there for 8 hours while I plodded down the course and they did an amazing job. As I’ve said before, we swimmers couldn’t do this without the willingness of the kayakers and rowers to support us and in Windermere this is even more important. So a massive thank you to Graham, Margaret and Stuart for their support during Windermere and another thanks to Jon for Bala and Lucy for Coniston.

From that point on it was just the swimming that needed to be done. Pretty quickly I could tell I was last as there were 3 safety boats that sped up and down the lake checking on the swimmers. Well every time they got to me they would chat to the boat crew for a minute and then turn round and set off back up the lake – obviously there was no-one behind me to check on.

I can’t remember too much about the swimming itself. I just got on with it. And without my glasses on and with only ever breathing to one side I don’t see much of the scenery either. The weather held, but I just swam … and swam.

Half-way

After 3 hours and 43 minutes we crossed what is nominally known as the halfway point which is the ferry that crosses over the lake just south of Belle Isle. We were on the western side of the lake by now and so swam behind Belle Isle and found a spot to allow me to get a bite to eat. I’m not very good feeding on the go and I wanted to make sure that I got enough food inside to keep my energy levels up.

We stopped in the area known as the Lillies and I had a jam sandwich, a piece of flapjack and a couple of mouthfuls of tea. Even while feeding though, I had to be careful not to touch the boat and once finished I made sure I walked backwards a few paces so no advantage had been gained. We set off after “lunch” at 1:45pm, or 4 hours and 23 minutes after the start.

It was around this time that we realised that Sonny had got out – he just wasn’t enjoying it and after over 5 miles of swimming decided that he didn’t fancy another 5 miles. However, I was feeling pretty good at this point and I noted 5 hours to myself as the longest I’d ever swim and almost certainly the furthest too.

Nearly There …

The first hour or so after lunch was good and I swam strongly, but soon it started to catch up with me. After about 6 hours I could really feel it and it became a real battle of willpower with myself. I was confident I would complete it, but I needed to keep reminding myself of that fact. I didn’t have the same searing pain as at Bala – and that in itself was a huge confidence boost as it meant that my training had been effective – but it did hurt and I had to dig deep to keep going.

At the start I’d written “S & J” on my hand (Sylvia and Joshua) and this was the time that I needed to keep seeing that to help me to keep going. The other thing that was keeping me going was seeing Joshua at the finish.

And then we could see the finish. It was still probably about a mile and a half away, but we could see it and it got a little bit easier for a while. At this point we had to cross back over the lake from the western edge to Waterhead in the north-east corner and I got my head down and tried to do just that.

As we were crossing one of the safety boats came up behind us and I heard them shout out “two thirds of a mile to go.” It was a great thing to hear as I knew I’d finish then – there was no way I wouldn’t complete it. But strangely that knowledge also took all the “fight” out of me and for a while it felt as if I wasn’t moving forward at all. Clearly I was, because soon my boat was waving at me to dig in for the last few hundred metres to the finish.

To finish you have swim past the short piers at Waterhead and turn into the beach, with the finish in line with the end of the last pier. I only breathe to my left and the piers and the beach were to my right, so I couldn’t see them at all. All I could see was my boat and Margaret urging me on and I just followed the boat, turning when it did and begging for the whistle to blow to tell me I’d done it.

And then it did and I had.

Finished

I looked up at the beach and there was a big crowd of people cheering – not only all of my family, but many other swimmers and the race officials, although I’m sure many of them were just cheering because it meant that they could pack up and go inside to get warm! All I did was look to see Joshua and give him a wave, it’s all I cared about at the time. Then someone came in to help me up the beach and I was out and had a Union Jack put around me. It felt a bit surreal, so the only thing I could think to do was the Mo-bot!

The Mo-bot, with Joshua

Hugs and handshakes were exchanged in equal measure and as I was just coming to terms with it all (and getting used to being vertical again after nearly 8 hours of being horizontal) a woman came up to me. She was clearly just a passing tourist or local (i.e. not part of the swimming crowd) and she said she’d heard what I’d done and though it was “bloody marvelous” or words to that effect – it was very touching.

All that was left to do now was to get dry and warm. Fortunately it was quite a mild day, so it wasn’t too hard to do both. And then that was that.

I had swum the length of Windermere in 7 hours, 42 minutes and 36 seconds.

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Weight…

Argh. How can it be the case that after all this recent exercise I still haven’t lost any weight? I weighed myself this morning and if anything I’ve put on a couple of pounds.

Now this blog isn’t really about weight or losing weight. And I’m certainly not going to be posting videos and photos of me before and after weight loss, like Julia_B has done (although it’s well worth a read if you’re interested). What I’m more interested in are the challenges I’ve set myself. But of course these challenges started because I realised that I needed to lose some weight.

As I see it there are two big problems at the moment to me losing weight. The first is my very sedentary lifestyle – apart from the exercise I do I’m almost always sat down (usually at my desk), so I need to develop a routine to get up and move about a bit more – if nothing else it will help my posture and mental alertness I’m sure. The second is that I seem to think that when I return from a swim or a workout that I can eat whatever I like, ‘cos, well I’ve just burnt lots of calories haven’t I? I know what I need to do with this one – but it’ll be tough.

As it happens, I’ve picked a sport that requires a little bit extra body fat – you need to keep warm on the long swims. In fact my Grandad used to try and put on weight just before and during the swimming season and then lose it over the winter.

What I have noticed recently is a slight change in body shape. Shoulders and lats are getting stronger and bigger and that is creating a little bit of a taper effect down to my waist – it’s not obvious, but there are differences.

At present the plan is that while I’m still swimming outdoors not to worry about the weight – it was just a bit frustrating this morning – but once the season is over to try and follow my Grandad’s lead and lose a bit over the winter. Don’t hold your breath though!

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