It was time for another crack at Windermere. Initially, as you can see by the name of this blog, that was my swimming goal – to complete the swim once, but after doing just that in 2012, I decided to have another go at it.
2012 was a rollercoaster swimming year with me managing to achieve in one year what I expected to take me two. And it was a good job that I did as, for a variety of reasons, I hardly did any swimming in the summer of 2013. So by the end of the 2013 swimming season I knew that I wanted another go at Windermere and started pool and gym training through the winter. I also signed up for the SwimTrek Long Distance Training (LDT) trip to get even more miles and experience under my belt.
With all of that training I knew that I was now a quicker swimmer. In 2012 my only goal was to finish (which I did in 7 hours, 42 minutes and 36 seconds). This year I wanted to beat that time – in fact my goal was to go under 7 hours.
Or, to put it another way – I wanted a 6, ie 6 hours xx xx.
I had a big gaggle of family and friends to help on my safety boat and support me for the swim, so we all gathered at the start with the other BLDSA swimmers. The pre-race nerves were pushed aside by the logistics of organising the feeds and checking the rowing boat had all my kit and then getting ready with hat and goggles and grease.
Me at the start (with my dad in the foreground).
Photo thanks to Paula Stritch
Photo thanks to Paula Stritch
Just before 9:20am the 26 swimmers set off and I got into my rhythm as quickly as possible as we swam through the ‘crowds’ and out towards where our safety boats were waiting for us (they wait a little way up the lake to allow the swimmers to spread out and create some room). What was pleasing was that the rhythm I got into saw me in the pack of swimmers, clearly not at the front, but not at the back either.
For the first hour I enjoyed this rhythm and found myself in what seemed to me to be a line of three swimmers – one of whom was Michelle, a swimmer that I’ve had very friendly ‘competition’ with at a few other swims this year (it wasn’t real competition as she won, it would have been real competition if I’d won).
In fact this relaxed, strong, confident feeling lasted well over the first three hours. Michelle and I seemed to be neck and neck for much of this time and I was enjoying the swim. I was focused and fed as quickly as possible – rolling onto my back and gently kicking as I took a big swig of my sports drink. In fact I hardly spoke to my boat for the first three hours, such was my concentration. Anyone that knows me will know how unusual it is for me not to talk for three hours!
We crossed by the ferry, the approximate halfway point after about 3 hours and 15 minutes. If things could stay the same I’d certainly get my 6!
Unfortunately that’s not what happened. I managed another hour or so feeling ok and then the wheels came off – and they came off big time. They came off so big, I’m not even sure I can describe it very well here. In the end I made it home in 8 hours and 10 minutes and I was going so slowly at the end that about 4 or 5 people swam past in the last hour or so.
The last four hours were horrible, really, really horrible. There was a LOT of swearing and moaning in my head. I was repeatedly telling myself how stupid I was for telling the radio guy that this was fun. At times I was almost day dreaming that my support crew told me to give up and got me into the boat. In fact I was ‘swimming’ away from the boat a lot so that I wouldn’t reach up and grab onto it (and by doing that disqualify myself).
Thinking it through – a bit while in the water, a bit since – there were four things that I need to think about that went wrong:
– Nutrition – this is the most obvious as after about 4 or 5 hours I was getting painful indigestion and feeling a bit sick from the feed. This meant that I was refusing feeds, which can’t have helped.
– Flexibility – for about two hours my legs just seemed to stop working, the main reason for this was that my groin had seized up and I just couldn’t really move my legs. It didn’t feel muscular, more to do with being ‘stiff’. On top of that, by the time I’d finished my left ankle / achilles was completely gone.
– Training – I clearly hadn’t trained enough for this. I had put in a lot of distance training at the start of the year, but since the SwimTrek trip in April I had done nothing over 3 hours. A better training plan is needed.
– Stroke – of all the things to assess this seemed to be the least concerning, but if I’m going to do this again it will need to be considered.
Having said that, there were a lot of times during the last couple of hours where I was telling myself “never again.”
The one positive thing that I can take from this is that I did complete it. I was clearly a little over confident and a lot under prepared, but I still completed it. I could tell from soon after 4 hours that I wouldn’t ‘get a 6’. I’ll be honest though, I didn’t expect to get an 8!
Having been on the radio and talked so publicly about it all, having so many people waiting for me at the finish (especially my son Joshua) and a bit of stubbornness and bloody-mindedness all contributed to getting me through it.
And so after just under 8 hours of swimming I could see Waterhead and the piers and I knew that round those would be the finish and the beach. At that point the swimming seemed to come a bit easier again, my stroke improved slightly and I knew that I’d make it. Although it was probably me sub-consciously wanting to show off for the crowds!
The check point and finishing times for everyone.
Photo thanks to Paula Stritch
I finished and could hardly stand, my legs wouldn’t work and even with support to get out I fell into the water a couple of times. Once I’d staggered onto the beach all I could do was thank the boat crew (Margaret, Tony & Sonny – thanks again), shake uncontrollably, hug Joshua and have a little cry. I was broken, despondent and a little embarrassed that everyone had come to witness what felt like a failure.
Now, a couple of days later I can see that it was a ‘success’ of sorts and that it has given me a huge amount of food for thought.