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Great North Swim

How cold?!

I eased myself gently into the lake until I slipped on a hunk of plankton and ended up bobbing some where near my ears with a foul expression on my face. The lake was freezing and I had the pleasure of sitting in it for the bizarrely named “warm up”. There’s only one way this could be termed a warm up and the thought of 220 swimmers peeing in unison didn’t improve my look of disgust.

Actual temp was 15.1′C or 59 ‘F for those that understand these things.

I started shivering so got out pretty sharpish but then wished myself back in the water as I now had to hang around in front of the film camera feeling naked or at least a black rubberised version of naked which isn’t much better.

2857644260 6fc04088cf m Great North Swim

I was in the final wave so with no swimmers following up the rear ready to lap me, I faced the decided risk of coming in dead last. Or just dead, which I suppose would be marginally worse.

Not being a terribly confident drowner, I thought it would be best to steer clear of the main body of swimmers, so swam wide and started at the back. Speedracer keeps terrifying me with tales of swimming right over the top of slower obstructions and I couldn’t trust myself not to start fighting in the middle of the lake if anyone tried that technique on me.

As it was I quickly found myself alone, paddling serenely in the middle of this massive lake enjoying the backdrop of mountains and the occasional break through of sun. It was really quite pleasant and if it wasn’t for the inconvenience of being in some kind of race I would have liked to have taken my time.

Not that my swimming was fast in any way. My overly buoyant wetsuit wasn’t playing on this outing and refused point blank to lift my legs to the surface.  Thankfully I hadn’t cut the buttocks out to fashion a pair of chaps or I would have had to swim round in the walking position.

2861207454 98d9811225 m Great North Swim

By the end of the first half I started to notice a few problems, my chest was tightening up and I developed a cough. My lungs seemed to be filling with fluid and I was struggling to catch my breath, then the wheezing started and I was convinced I’d developed asthma. There were 3 of us together at this point and the swimmer nearest me had developed a productive cough at about the same time. The safety canoeists swooped in like desert vultures and guided us home, with motivational snippets like, “only 35 more lengths of a pool to go”. 35 lengths was probably the max I’d swam in a long time so I wasn’t that convinced I’d achieve it while threatening to have my first ever asthma attack.

2857621776 1e7830a688 m Great North Swim

I rolled on to my back a few times to float and to try and relax my breathing but in the end it seemed like the best thing was to get the race over and done with so I could panic on dry ground. I thought I was proper last at this point so when I finally reached the end I thought I better put on a bit of a sprint finish. This photo has to be one of the best action shots ever taken of me – thanks Tanya.

The satellite image shows Lake Windermere in all its glory, the next day as Dan and I drove down past its banks we flushed with pride at the thought of having swum across it. I have actually drawn our mile route on the image in it seems far from traversing the lake, we managed only a delicate nibble off a small corner. One of the rescue canoeists was telling me he had swum the full length of the lake – a mere 10 miles and another woman at the Great North Swim had swum it in both directions.

It still feels good though and now my breathing has recovered I can start making plans for next year, it wouldn’t take much training to ensure myself a whopping pb.

Stats for the event:

Time: 1:12:34
Position: 1779/1796 which puts me in the top 99% or if you prefer the bottom 1%. It is almost thrilling to discover that I am quite possibly a better runner than I am a swimmer.

The faster swimmer came home in 0:17:03 which is a bit galling.

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{ 19 comments… add one }

  • Adele 16 September, 2008, 4:41 pm

    Oh my goodness, what an achievement, well done! It sounds pretty scary to me! I can’t quite believe the fastest time…

  • Karen 16 September, 2008, 7:50 pm

    Oh that’s a bit chilly – glad you had good views to take your mind off the cold! Must have been a fun (on reflection) outing! Well done for surviving!

  • rache 16 September, 2008, 8:21 pm

    Hey – congratulations – you did well!!!!
    And you look so fetching in that swim suit. i thinki you need to add it as your FB picture profile.

  • Tony 16 September, 2008, 9:14 pm

    very well done, i too was in yellow group and not so far in front of you , thawed out in the lowwood hot tub !! a great day, hope you beat your pb next year.
    Tony. Windermere.

  • Runner Leana 16 September, 2008, 11:21 pm

    Brrr, that does sound really cold! Great job on your race though!

  • H 17 September, 2008, 10:26 am

    Been waiting to hear how you’ve done… a finish line sprint and a superb result! Cool!

  • Cazza 17 September, 2008, 1:25 pm

    Flippin’ eck well done!! Also that was the funniest thing I’ve read for ages, have you ever thought about publishing your exploits…?

  • Speed Racer 18 September, 2008, 4:24 pm

    I would like to copy and paste the parts of the post that made me laugh into the comments box, but I suppose that would just be the whole, entire post and you don’t need to read it all over again, do you?

    Congratulations on beating those other 17 swimmers! I’ve also had trouble breathing in really cold water sometimes. It helps to swim a bit harder to warm up, but then again, swimming hard is hard on the breathing as well.

    Anyway, congratulations. That took guts.

  • myironshoes 24 September, 2008, 11:54 am

    I’ve been downed by flu these past days and if laughter is indeed the best medicine well I’m definitely on my way to getting well. You just gave me the best laugh out loud moment of the day… of the week even! Thank you! And well done with that swim. I don’t think I’d even have the guts to step into that freezing lake!

  • julie 9 February, 2009, 5:09 pm

    this is a fantastic account and really very funny – you give Lucy Mangan a run for her money (she’s a dead funny columnist in the Guardian) – but she’d probably have something to say about running (she’s not really the gym-bunny type). Well done – my first swim attempt will be this year so I forward to peeing in the Windemere at a place near you in 2009 (that sounds bad….)

  • warriorwoman 10 February, 2009, 9:02 pm

    Thanks for the comment, it’s a good reminder that I need to register my interest for next year. Now that’s a scary thought….I wonder if I will still squeeze into the wetsuit?

  • Eileen 5 March, 2009, 10:46 pm

    Just read this, found it after signing up again for 2009. I think my time was a bit slower than yours but I can’t remember exactly, not that I really want to. My experience was very similar to yours. I’d done a lot of swimming in a pool and thought I could easily do it in about 50 minutes, which I had been doing. However i hadn’t reckoned on a wetsuit that was too small so I couldn’t raise my arms properly. I had never swam in open water before and never in a wetsuit so the bouyancy thing took me a bit by surprise. All my training had been front crawl but I couldn’t do it for 3 reasons
    1. it was a bit choppier that I’m used to so I had difficulty seeing where I was going, so needed to do breaststroke so I could see to keep on course.
    2. When I tried doing crawl my legs popped out of the water because of the wetsuit, so I didn’t like the position with my head deeper in the water that my feet.
    3. My wetsuit was too restrictive so I had difficulty moving my arms properly.
    So I invented a stroke, sort of breaststroke like arms and front crawl legs, but often I was swimming almost vertically in the water. It’s not a stroke I’d recommend people practice.

    When I set off I quickly realised I wasn’t going to win so just settled down to enjoying it. That is once I’d got over the shock of how far it looked and convinced myself I could do it. Well actually more accurately I think I was too stubborn to get out. I have a strange ‘I’ve started so I must finish mentality’. I quickly realised that I wouldn’t get many chances of paddling across the lake with my own personal canoe safety escort. I also realised since I was in a morning wave I had all day to do it. At one point I came within a few feet of a couple of swans, they didn’t seem to mind me being there.
    Anyway needless to say I can’t wait for September, see you there!

  • dumpty 17 May, 2009, 8:58 pm

    loved that !!

    ive given a few guys down the local pool a verbal commitment that i wil do it in 2010. havent given up being able to do it in 2009 yet, but realistically it isnt going to happen.

    never swam in open water in anything like this, and am a little nervous about it, even though its more than a year away. but reading your account is very inspiring, and if you can do it then so can i.

    just broke my pb for longest distance swam earlier today in one stretch (2.5k) so confident the distance isnt going to be a problem. but i guess the cold, swans, wet suits and faster swimmers coming over the top will be a problem !!

    anyway, great lil read, will see you there in 2010 !!

  • moi 22 July, 2009, 3:26 am

    a great read! thanks for the humour.
    but can i seek advice too??? i see by the dates that most of ya applied for 2009 ages ago….i only learned about this swim a few days ago. all of the places are gone exept for the slim poss of a few charity spots that may be available, maybe on standby only if others drop out from a late bout of sanity. does anyone have any tips on how a newbie may still be able to sign up for sure. ???? and i dont speak wet suit langauge so thickness and flexabilty etc ….is there a safe bet thats warmest? and im really rather sofa like ..i mean my size is pretty close to the size of my sofa, bur im only 5′ 6 , so should i get the largest suit i can ever find or one size smaller to alllow for the, not being 6’6. ???

    clearly i appear unready…i am…but i like to swim and large or not i’m happy to face the public humiliations in order to achieve the personal goal….any advice appreciated

    please emaiil as im a tecnophobe who may never find this site again.
    thanks. ….regards….moi

  • warriorwoman 20 August, 2009, 12:35 pm

    Moi, I don’t know if I already replied or not but here’s my comment response.
    I really don’t know of any sure fire ways of getting in at this late stage if you can’t go down the charity route. There are other great swims in other locations, admittedly non are as appealing as Windermere. Perhaps you could just register your interest on the site now and make sure you sign up early for next year.

    As for wetsuits, I believe you need to go for one designed for triathletes and not divers, that way you have some flexibility around the shoulders for swimming action.

    I can’t comment on the size game, I think you’ll just have to try them on. I’m short and fat myself so went down the made to measure route. It cost £200 from Snug but at least it fit (once upon a time).

  • Ali Luke 18 August, 2010, 11:14 pm

    Oh warriorwoman thank you so much for this!!! I am taking part in the swim for the first time in September and to read an account which I feel will totally echo my performance has boosted me no end!!! Are you swimming this year, I’m swimming at 3.30 on the Sunday! EEEEEEKKKK Good luck to all the swimmers…..I feel your pain! xxx Ali

  • warriorwoman 25 August, 2010, 10:19 am

    I’m not swimming this year – not sure I’ll fit in the wetsuit but it is a really great event. I hope you love it and don’t worry about anything, it’s a very friendly, relaxed and fun event.
    Let us know how it goes.

  • Simply Swim 24 June, 2011, 2:33 pm

    Great article thanks for sharing your experience and if your looking for sponsorship or kit next time make sure you drop us a line at Simply Swim ?

    Swimsuits

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