Last summer I swam the Great North Swim: a mile in Windermere in the Lake District. I loved it and wanted to do another one so decided upon the Great East Swim, which is in Alton Water in Suffolk.
As Stephen, Silverback
and I drove down there on Friday, I received an email on my phone saying that the swim had been postponed from Saturday till Sunday, because of the blustery weather. Although this was a real problem for many people, it didn't really matter to us as we had booked to stay in Suffolk for two nights anyway. On Saturday we had a lovely day exploring Southwold and Aldeburgh (more in a future post!). On Saturday evening we checked out the swim site which was empty apart from a couple with a tent.
On Saturday the weather was sunny but with really strong winds. Sunday was sunny - - but still windy. The "waves" of swimmers had been put a little bit later in the hope that the wind would die down a bit.
I was feeling nervous, but nowhere near as much as last year, having done the mile in open water once!
The water was colder than the previous year - Windermere was fifteen degrees Centigrade, whereas Alton Water was only thirteen and a half degrees. Our local pool is usually about twenty-nine degrees, just to compare!
For the Great Swim series they insist you wear a wetsuit, and each wave has a different coloured hat. Each hat has the swimmer's timer chip on it. They also write your swim number on your hand in felt tip pen and the unspoken reason for this is so that they can identify the body if you lose your hat - - - but I wasn't dwelling on that kind of thing - - - !
Wetsuits are only flattering if you have a perfect figure and most people, let's face it, don't. Here are a few from the pink wave: I suspect that the chap on the left wouldn't normally wear a pink hat.
I looked at the course on the lake - - you swim from buoy to buoy round the course, going outside of the buoys. Here are the first three, heading off into the distance, going slightly to the left:
I realised, looking at them, that they were much smaller than the buoys in the Great North Swim and that, even with my prescription goggles, with the wind and the waves and my lousy eyesight I'd be hard pushed to know which way I was going. Luckily there are lots of safety boats about so I resolved to ask the men in the boats!
As each wave prepared to leave we went into a little holding area and then could have a short swim in the acclimatisation pool - a small bit of lake. I was looking forward to this as last year I was really nervous but as soon as I got in I thought - - ohhh SWIMMING! THAT's what I'm doing! and I was fine. So here I am, in the middle with the smile, coming into the holding area:
Sure enough, as soon as I went in the lake I felt much more confident: it was quite chilly but the cold really doesn't bother me, fortunately. We had a little talk before we set off, warning us that the wind was still strong and to swim outside of the course, especially on the way out, or we might get blown off course.
Then off we went. I hung right back as the swimmers at the front tend to be really competitive and will swim straight over you.
The first ten minutes or so were quite hard going: my wetsuit is too big and it takes a while for the air to come out of it, so I feel I'm bobbing about on top of the water rather than swimming. In fact, all the way to the third buoy needed a lot of energy - I seemed to be swimming like mad and getting nowhere because of the wind.
But when I finally reached the third buoy and turned right, immediately it was much easier. Of course, I really couldn't see where I was going. I could see the white hats of course but wanted to know exactly where I should be heading.
"Where do I go next?" I asked a man in a safety boat.
"Just head for that buoy" he said helpfully - - but it wasn't terribly helpful as I couldn't see it. I followed the white hats until it came into my blurred view. There were quite big waves, too, in places, but they didn't bother me as I'm used to swimming in the sea and actually love bobbing in and out of waves - and of course I wasn't trying for a fast time! I swim breast stroke these days and although my stroke's pretty good I have never been fast.
One of the swimmers near me stuck her arm in the air - the signal that she needed to be rescued. The safety boat was with her at top speed - I was very impressed by all the volunteers in the boats. I think the cold and the wind meant that quite a few swimmers had to be rescued but I'm always surprised that some people don't prepare - the man standing next to me as we waited to start said "I've never swum a mile before" which rather shocked me!
Once I'd done about two thirds of the course I just wanted to stop and float for a moment, to experience being out in the middle of a big lake - - I love that feeling and I can't quite explain why.
Then on I went and I could see the two orange triangular buoys which were the finish - they seemed to come upon me pretty fast and suddenly I'd passed under the beam which signified the end of the course. As last year, I was surprised by how wobbly my legs were and how hard it was to stay upright - - so it took me a while to notice Stephen and Silverback waiting for me!
I won't be bothering the Olympics any time soon - - I came 967th on the day in a time of an hour and ten minutes, far slower than my usual mile! - but I loved every minute. Grateful thanks to Stephen and Silverback who were a fantastic back-up team, and to Silverback for the photos and videos he took as well.
I think I am smiling in every one.