Diary of a temporarily not-so wandering swimmer – how to swim 8m in 15 minutes

Garden Swimming

Kate Gillwood was born in Galashiels, Scotland, raised from three years old in Yorkshire, found herself in London for 30 years and eventually escaped back to Scotland. She was raised to swim in rivers (the Wharfe at Appletreewick, for example), open air pools (Otley) and the sea, so open water swimming is not new. She started taking part in organised events about 10 years ago, putting on a wetsuit for the first time for the Great Scottish Swim in 2011. Now living just a few minutes from Portobello beach, one of her favourite things is to start the day with a sneaky swim in her local waters. She also likes to explore new swimming spots and share what she finds.


The swim

I have been asked by colleagues if I was the one featured on the news the other day for swimming while tethered in a pool in my garden. Funnily enough, no it was not me. I am also unable to claim any recognition for being the first person to think of tethered swimming. I have, however, recently found myself stepping into what I can only describe as an adult paddling pool, fully swim-hatted and goggled-up, and attaching a bungee cord to my waist (and yes, I am using a bungee cord, which I guess costs way less than a ‘proper’ tether and means I am righteously avoiding our poor postie having yet another parcel to have to deliver). But it works and I am enjoying it.

Before this pool arrived, I read some of the posts from swimmers who had tethered before me, who reported needing wetsuits and the water being cold. I was so confident, having successfully completed my Polar Bear challenge this winter (just in time before lockdown), that I would happily jump into the water and crack on with it completely forgetting or ignorantly not realising that tap water (probably more so in Scotland) is only about 10 degrees. This is still higher than the last sea temperature I endured but then I was head up crawling as fast as possible to do my 200m. In the paddling pool, I am swimming semi-properly, with my face in the water. Consequently, I very quickly deleted the first video my No.1 fan recorded because it was all too clear that I found it “bloody freezing”.

I remain hopeful that we can soon be swimming again in lochs, rivers and the sea. I therefore opted for a pool costing less than £100 rather than some of the deeper models that would have set me back several hundred pounds. This has, to the humour of said No.1 fan, resulted in me being faced with another challenge… the depth. I (perhaps arrogantly) decided that 2 feet deep was plenty, given I am only 5’2”. However, it is not sufficient to do my usual stroke. Oh well, as my coach has said, “just keep your arms turning over”.

So, instead of being the wandering swimming, exploring wonderful new swimming spots around the country and meeting amazing people, I have been reduced to swimming in my garden, in 2 feet of very cold water. However, I am still swimming, much to the amusement of those heathen non-swimmers I know who have found it hilarious that I am trying to catch a rubber duck!

As for the rest of my time at home, given the amount of energy I have to ‘manage’ on a daily basis (and I don’t just mean because of lockdown), I have reignited my passion for other home-based sporting activities. If I accidentally typed “passion” there, I didn’t mean it. I cannot think of anything less enthusing than sitting on a bike, indoors, not going anywhere for half an hour. Still, I am proud to report that I have built up from less than 10 minutes to 35. Yay for me, and hopefully going someway to retaining some fitness.

More interestingly, I have been testing out the art of visualisation. If it’s good enough for Tom Daley, then it’s good enough for me. Now, I am most definitely not one to meditate in any way and, so far, I have just about managed to get on the boat to head to the start of my swim. Oh well, I suppose I have the time to practise…

I have also been set some very insightful daily challenges by my coach. These have included wood chopping with a medicine ball, stepping up and down a stair with weights in a backpack, swinging a kettle bell around (that didn’t work out so well), shoulder exercises against the wall, “V” sit ups, floor l-sit (also a complete failure) and wall squats. I am truly grateful for this engagement. I have enjoyed doing something different. But like the rest of you, I am looking forward to family and friends no longer being at risk of an awful illness or worse. I will therefore continue to manage my first world problems with a smile and thanks for how lucky I am, especially as I step into my paddling pool.


Contact me

If you have any suggestions of places I could swim email me on k.gillwood4@gmail.com or find me on Instagram @kategillwood4


Read more about my swims

01 Cover August

Issue 41 August 2020

  • Quiet places: Exploring some of the lesser known swim spots in the UK
  • Lockdown: Could it make you a better swimmer?
  • Lido Love: Celebrating outdoor pools with Author and journalist Christopher Beanland
  • Training: Keri-anne Payne's open water checklist
  • The loneliness of the black long distance swimmer: Charles Chapman

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