Saturday, June 19, 2010

Swimming in the Open Water

In the Olden Days we didn't call it "open-water swimming". We just swam. If there was water, and it didn't look too dangerous, we'd be in it.

Mum and I would be in the river at Eskdale in the Lake District, in the big pools, stark naked, whilst the Communist was nervously standing guard.

"There's somebody coming!" he would shout.

"They're miles away!" my mother would yell back, and we would carry on.

Or, wearing swimsuits this time, we'd be in the sea at Barrow-in Furness, or Tenby, or anywhere that there was sea and it was safe to swim. It was never warm. Sometimes it was sunny and often there'd be a bit of a howling gale. But in we went anyway. Why? Because we could. And because, in the old saying, "it's lovely once you're in". And it always was.

But now "open-water swimming" has become a Proper Thing and suddenly it's in fashion.

So, in practice for the Great North Swim, and nervously clutching my new wetsuit, I went with my friends Jo and Deb to Pugneys Country Park this morning to swim in the lake with the Triathlon Club. It was freezing cold and there was a bit of a howling gale but I thought - - oh well, I'm here now, I'm going to do it.

It was all very well-organised. You get changed in the warm and sparkling clean changing rooms, which are lovely. They make you fill in a form if you're new to it (so they know where to return the body, I thought, accurately).

"Are there any medical conditions we should know about?" - - Ohh heck. I wrote "Type 2 diabetes". I didn't put that I'd had a deep-vein thrombosis in case they didn't let me swim.

If you're a novice you wear a blue hat and everyone else wears a yellow hat. One minute you're in the clean, warm changing rooms and two minutes later you're on a landing stage which is covered in duck poo, at the edge of the lake.

I was wearing my wetsuit and put on my blue hat and goggles and am VERY pleased that no photographs exist of the combined outfit. Everyone else was younger than me - - oh, let's face it, most people were about half my age - - and they all looked very slim and fit. Only Deb was about my age - she's four years younger - but she's slim and fit too. Jo - also an excellent swimmer - wasn't swimming today: she took her Golden Retriever for a walk round the lake instead.

Deb jumped in and off she swam, calling back to me "It's okay!" meaning it wasn't too cold.

The only way in was to jump off the landing stage. Or, in my case, slither with supreme lack of elegance. I didn't know how deep the water was but it was deeper than I'm tall so I was immediately underwater.

Up I came, in only a bit of a panic, and I started to swim to the first buoy round the marked course.

It was strange swimming in the wetsuit. It made me higher in the water. And - rather to my surprise - the water didn't seem cold at all.

All the slim, fit people were swimming front crawl and so had hurtled off into the distance and I was completely on my own.

Even though I was wearing my prescription goggles, I couldn't really see where I was going and was pleased when I got past the first yellow buoy and headed off right across the lake to the pink one. This was a long, straight stretch on my own and I felt - to my surprise - a rising sense of panic. I seemed far more breathless than usual but I said to myself that this was just caused by the feeling of being alone in the lake, and the newness of it all.

I gave myself a stern talking-to. "DAPHNE! YOU KNOW HOW TO SWIM! GET ON WITH IT!" I got on with it. I knew there was a rescue boat in the middle. I kept on swimming.

I realised that I was actually too hot. I'm used to swimming in cold water and I'm not used to swimming in a wetsuit. I don't know what to do about that, except I was told later to try to pull it open at the neck a bit to let more cold water in.

There was a strong headwind and I seemed to be going very, very slowly. My arms, not used to the wetsuit, were finding it all rather tiring.

The landing stage appeared as a distant brown stripe in the distance. I kept on swimming and after a while I found I was about to touch it.

"How did it go? Did you enjoy it?" said the friendly man in charge of it all.

"It was great," I said, realising that it was.

In the changing room afterwards, a woman about ten years younger than I am was saying how the first time she did it she felt alone, and breathless, and rather scared, and how this wears off after a couple of times. She said everyone feels like that. She said a friend of hers was planning to do the Great North Swim without ever having had any practice in open water - - and she thought her friend was mad, because it is SO different from swimming in a pool.

It was different. Actually, it was the scariest thing I've ever done. Being on your own, with deep water beneath you and a long way to the edge, is, for some reason, just scary.

We're going to do it again next weekend. I hope I'll be less scared. I can't wait.


Blogger Silverback said...

My long lens photos are on their way to Rubber Monthly, The Naturalist and Jewish Life as we speak.

For some reason Hello and OK magazines turned them down.

Their loss.

12:49 pm  
Blogger Grumpy Old Ken said...

Brilliant! Reminds me of swimming in the local canal, 1953. Amid rubble, filth, dead animals, weeds, bikes, etc. Then came the polio scare and that was that. Happy days!

12:50 pm  
Blogger Jennyta said...

Brilliant. Well done, you, Daphne. And best of luck next time.

1:04 pm  
Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

Fascinating! You made me feel I was right there with you, and I don't even swim.

But why is the first buoy yellow and the second one pink?

1:49 pm  
Anonymous Ruth said...

Excellent, congratulations.
Compared to my little fall out of an airplane today, I think your open water swimming is amazingly courageous. (I bet your wetsuit is a better look than me in a jumpsuit. All that rubber must be flattering. That's why it's a specialist market... oh, sorry, fetishist market!)

6:56 pm  
Blogger Daphne said...

Silverback - I have absolutely no idea why Hello and OK should reject photos of me in a wetsuit, goggles and cap and choose Cheryl Cole in a bikini instead. Very puzzling.
Ken - yes, people used to just swim in all sorts of places that would be impossible now - and generally - though not always - they got away with it!
Jenny - thank you, much appreciated.
Bob - I think the colour of the buoys is something to do with the fact that the lake's generally used for sailing. Thank you so much for your comment about "made me feel I was right there" - that's what I was trying to do and thank you for saying it.
Ruth - - hmmm, the wetsuit/jumpsuit debate as to which is the least/most flattering is not certain! But, although I'm not scared of heights, I AM scared of falling so all respect to you for your jump yesterday!

11:36 am  
Blogger Debby said...

OK, brrrr! You may not have felt the cold, but when you slithered off the dock, I got goosebumps!

Growing up on lakes and swimming in open water since I was small, I can attest to the fact that it is indeed scary. When I was young, I would always think there was some big fish there ready to have me for a snackette. Of course, in fresh water, there really are no fish big enough to devour me...but tell that to an 8 year old!

I'm so proud of you for pushing on.

Hope you get used to the wet suit before the big swim.

Yellow cap here you come!

11:02 am  

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