Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Great North Swim

A friend of mine was talking about The Great North Run.

"Oh, and there's a swim, too," she said. "A mile in Windermere."

Well, I thought, I could do that. I love swimming in the sea. I bet I could swim a mile, if I trained a bit. And it would be fun to swim in a lake.

Sometimes such idle thoughts just swirl round in your head and fade away. But these didn't. They resulted in me finding the website, and applying to take part in the 2010 Great North Swim, in early September.

I started training in December 2009. I hadn't swum a mile before - my usual swim had been 42 lengths, a kilometre - but that first day I just kept going and, rather to my surprise, swam a mile.

Righto, I thought, I'll do that every time from now on.

Sadly, last year's swim was cancelled at the last moment because of blue-green algae in the water (we had a lovely weekend in the Lakes though). I deferred my entry to this year.

I kept on swimming a mile as often as I could - I stopped counting after a hundred - and I loved it all.

But then, suddenly, the swim was upon us and we (that's Stephen, Silverback and me) were off to Bowness, where we were staying for the weekend.

And suddenly, I was terrified. The weather forecast was RAIN only to be interrupted by HEAVY RAIN. My biggest fear was that they'd cancel it because of poor visibility. My second biggest fear was that they wouldn't cancel it, and that I wouldn't be able to see where I was going, and that Stephen and Silverback would get drenched and we'd all have a thoroughly miserable time, and that I wouldn't be able to complete the course, and that I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't. I didn't know how I'd react to being out in such a deep lake. Most people I'd spoken to - even really good swimmers - said "Ohh, but it's so deep!"

So, yup, I was really really scared.

But, by a miracle, as we caught the boat up the lake from Bowness to the swimming site, there was NO RAIN AT ALL. I couldn't believe it.

The site was very busy - this is Britain's biggest open-water swim and ten thousand swimmers took part over the weekend, in half-hour "waves" of three hundred swimmers.

I knew that, because of my diabetes, I needed to make sure I'd eaten plenty or I would just simply run out of energy. An hour before my 12.30pm swim I stuffed a beef salad sandwich down my throat, but I was both very nervous and not at all hungry. It tasted like cardboard, but I managed it.

I changed into my swimsuit and wetsuit in a huge, steamy heated marquee filled with women of all ages, shapes and sizes. Never has so much female flesh been on display combined with so much rubber. Some people would have been in very heaven.

We had to wait a little while before swimming and I was getting both even more nervous and very hot in my wetsuit.

"The acclimatisation pool is down there, do you want to try it?" said Silverback. Hurrah! This was so helpful to me. I would not have spotted it because of the crowds, and also because my prescription goggles, though a great help, are not brilliant vision-wise.

The acclimatisation pool was just a little pool where you went in and swam round in a loop to get used to the temperature. It was sixteen degrees Centigrade - much warmer than the sea I went into for the Tenby Boxing Day Swim, that was nine degrees - and the water was clear and lovely.

As I went in, all my worries just went. It wasn't raining (it never did rain!) Suddenly, I was sure I could do the swim.

Out I came and joined the crowd ready to start.

Here we are, in a photo taken by Stephen:

I'm the one in the orange hat.

And then the hooter went and we all went into the water:

I'm the one in the orange hat. No, not that one! The slim, fit one right at the front.

Well, perhaps not. I hung right back - I wasn't bothered about the time, just about getting round, and a timing chip on my ankle would give the time at the end anyway.

After the first stroke I thought - I love this! We had to swim past three huge yellow buoys - very easy for even someone with my eyesight to spot - and then to a huge pink buoy labelled HALF WAY - and then back past three more yellow buoys.

There were people in kayaks for safety all the way - they were very friendly and I stopped to chat to a couple of them as one said "Everyone swims past and nobody wants to talk to me!" I found myself giving advice of "you'll get used to it - just carry on!" to a girl who was swimming in a wetsuit for the first time and was finding it really tricky.

I wasn't anywhere near the front - - but I wasn't right at the back either. Out in the middle of the lake, I realised how much I loved the peace of it, and the opportunity to be there. The swimmers were well spread out and it wasn't crowded at all.

Suddenly I was at the pink buoy - half way! I had to touch it before setting off back. On the way back I realised I had plenty of energy and so speeded up a bit and it was such pleasure just swimming as fast as I could through that beautiful, chlorine-free water.

We had to swim under an arch for the end of the race and then climb up a slope. They had two people on hand to haul the swimmers out - - because suddenly, everyone's legs just didn't seem to work properly and I lurched drunkenly along the path to give in my timing chip and collect my very pleasing goodie bag with a T-shirt, a medal (and I'm really proud to have it!) and various other things, plus a pair of flip-flops.

So here I am, at the end of the race, epitomising the phrase "bedraggled but very happy".

I was very pleased - and surprised - by my time of 1 hour 5 minutes 20 seconds. Okay, the men's winner did it in just over quarter of an hour but hey, I'm a bit older than him, and I was swimming breast stroke, okay? You can see all the statistics about how I did by typing in my race number 5145 to this link.

1980 Olympic Champion in the breast-stroke was there too - Duncan Goodhew - and there are some great photos of him on Silverback's blog, Retirement Rocks. Do read Silverback's post about the swim - and his excellent photos there really capture the atmosphere. Duncan Goodhew is the same age as me and I'm proud to have swum in the same lake as him this weekend - - though I think he swam a bit faster than I did!

Particular thanks are due to my husband Stephen and my great friend Silverback for their unwavering encouragement and also to those kind people who have sponsored me to help Sally Womersley in her fund-raising to help Multiple Sclerosis research (and there's still time to sponsor me for this excellent cause here). Also thanks to those who have given cash too!

What a wonderful experience. I'll never forget it.


Blogger Silverback said...

Great post and great swim, Daphne. You were wonderful. Speaking of which, thanks for the link to my blog and I reread it and yes, it's wonderful too.

Modest or what !

5:56 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant Daphne! You are firstly a great credit to yourself and secondly a huge credit to women of a certain age (of whom I am one).
You won't believe this but my verify is 'gosch' - exactly what I was saying over and over as I read your amazing post.
And there weren't monsters in the deep water after all then.

6:29 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow - I'm just SO impressed! Well done you! Yay for Daphne!!

I'm going to donate - just been to the site - but they don't do PayPal so it'll have to wait until I'm energetic enough to get off the couch to find my purse! I'm actually reading a book at the moment written by a fairly distant relative of mine (third cousin twice removed or something) about his life and living with motor neurone disease, so it's good to know this research would benefit people like him, too. He lost his battle at 43 years old.

'I'm the one in the orange hat'

Hahahaha!! And I needed that laugh. ;)

6:52 pm  
Blogger Jennytc said...

Congratulations, Daphne. You did so well. I can't imagine swimming anywhere near that sort of distance, but you did it. Hurray! :)

7:43 pm  
Anonymous Milo said...

Congrats, well done! Big sense of achievement to have done it I'm sure. Must have been really enjoyable to have trained for it for so long, all the highs and lows along the way, and then the day itself came and exceeded your expectations by all accounts.

I enjoyed reading the write-up here and on SB's blog too.

PS Have sponsored you (anonymous).

9:54 pm  
Anonymous Brian said...

Excellent, Daphne - glad I contributed to the good cause. There's nothing like setting out to do something and managing to do it, the glow of success is good for the soul.

From one swimmer to another....although it's a bit warmer here in Thailand

10:21 am  
Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

I'm sure that divulging this fact will cause you to think less of me, but the plain truth is I can barely swim (no pun intended). I can paddle around a pool in the shallow end as long as I know I can stop and put my feet down any time I wish, but the thought of swimming in the deep end scares me to death. I would drown. I just know it. Mrs. RWP does not even get her face wet in the shower. But all of our children and grandchildren are great swimmers.

My congratulations on achieving this unimaginable feat!

4:32 pm  
Anonymous Alex said...

I am just in awe of such an amazing achievement. Well done Daphne. It sounds thrilling

5:55 pm  
Blogger Daphne said...

Silverback - thank you. You're right, of course hehe!
Lucy - thank you so much. And there were no monsters - I wasn't scared at any point, once it had started.
Depp Effect - again, thank you so much.
Jenny - it honestly didn't seem that far - it was just so enjoyable!
Milo - thank you - yes, it did exceed all expectations, and thank you very much indeed.
Brian - ahhh you're a Proper Swimmer and it's lovely to hear from you on here.
Bob - I'm so pleased that your descendants enjoy swimming and thank you for your kind comments.
Alex - it WAS thrilling and also just such fun.
It meant such a lot to me - and all your comments and donations do too.

Brian -

9:07 pm  
Blogger Debby said...

Excellent all the way round! You wrote, I felt as if I were there!

I said it before, and I'll say it again, I'm so proud of you!!!

It was so exciting to hear you finally got to swim, and you not only finished, you finished with flair! Chatting, swimming, awesome!!!

It makes me want to train for something and do it. How's that for inspiring another woman of a certain age??!!!

2:05 am  
Blogger Yorkshire Pudding said...

Fantastic achievement Daphne and I guess all the sweeter because of last year's cancellation. A huge WELL DONE to you... now for the English Channel! You can do it girl!

4:34 pm  
Blogger Daphne said...

Debby - thank you so much. The buzz at the end was well worth it all!
YP - thank you too! But I think the Channel is just a teensy bit too wide for me. But next week, I hope, I'll be in the sea at Tenby - hurrah!

11:48 pm  
Blogger Daphne2 said...

Well done Daphne. particularly after last year's disappointment. It is a really brilliiant achievement and a memory that will be with you for ever.
You've reminded me to go and do a few lengths of Armley Baths (well actuaaly the new Sports Centre and its pathetically small pool)

7:37 am  

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