This was a swim that was not meant to happen this year. I had planned to swim from Jersey to France at the end of August, but the great British summer blew my swim to pieces with a week of continuous force 5 to 7 winds making the crossing impossible to attempt. After a week of frustration, I needed to do something as I had trained very hard and was ready for a big challenge.
I got in touch with Dave Carroll from Lake Swim Boat Support who agreed to pilot me on a 2 way Windermere swim. He enlisted Colin Hill as crew, the man that started the Great Swim series and who had just organised the Open water event at the Olympics. With such an illustrious boat crew the pressure was on to put in a good swim!
I had swum Windermere one-way in 2010 so I had a pretty good idea regarding the conditions and the swim route. Lizzie ( my partner and crew in 2010 ) and I met Dave and Colin the night before the swim at the Langdale Chase Hotel where we were staying. This was very reassuring for me as they both were very positive and professional about the whole venture.
I was quite restless the night before the swim as I was aware that I had to get up at 5 30 to get myself and my kit ready. It doesn’t need to take that long, I just wanted to quadruple check that I had every thing that I needed! Now that I am 55 I seem to worry about this a lot more these days! The morning of the 3rd of September was calm and the lake was shrouded in mist as we arrived at Waterhead ready for my 7 am start. Dave and Colin duly arrived in their rowing boat and gave me my final instructions.
I don’t do grease, only a daub of Vaseline to stop crotch rub and I am ready. I entered the water just after 7am. It was not quite light but the lake was a picture of stillness. The water temperature was just on 16C although the air was only 11C at the start. I was ready for the cold as I had only had cold showers over the last 12 months and had put in many hours swimming in the River Nene. 16C water didn’t feel that cold to be honest. Lizzie waved me off promising to see me at Fell Foot.
I had feeds planned on the hour and I couldn’t believe how fast the first hour went. Colin held up mile boards to show my progress and I had reached 2 miles at the first feed. I had sip of energy drink but I was aware that I may have diluted these too much as I didn’t have as much powder left as I thought. An error never to be repeated!
The first 3 hours saw me swim 6 miles in beautiful calm conditions. Going past the islands off Bowness changed all that in an instant as I turned into an annoying wind that made the southern half of the lake choppy and it broke my stroke pattern up a little. I was still keeping a steady 55 strokes a minute but I had to breathe differently as I was constantly getting slapped in the face by the waves. This slowed me more than I thought as I reached Fell Foot in 6 hours 45 which really disappointed me as my first Windermere took 6 hours 47 and I consider myself a far better swimmer than that now. Deep down I was saving myself for the return leg. As promised Lizzie was at Fell Foot and the thought went through her mind that it had got so choppy and windy that I might call it a day there. The thought didn’t really enter my head as I had set myself the goal of a 2 way swim and there was no way I was going to finish after 1 leg.
Swimming back on the second leg was psychologically easier as each stroke took me closer to the finish. At this point I brought my feeds down from 1 hour to 40 minutes. Mentally this helped me as it seemed to make the time go quicker. I maintained a strong 55 strokes although I was starting to feel very hungry and depleted at the 15 mile point. I was totally sick of the supplies that I had brought with me. I had been alternating energy drink, hot chocolate and jaffa cakes or gel. I actually started to fantasise about food. In no particular order I was desperate for hot chips, scones and jam and a cup of tomato soup! Strangely none of these were available on the boat so Dave gave me one of his beetroot and cheese sandwiches. It was like nectar from the gods. At the following stops he gave me yogurt drink and rice pudding. There is no doubt in my mind that this change in my feeding gave me the psychological boost to finish strongly and I will certainly include more variety, including plenty of water, on my next swims.
Darkness was now approaching fast so Colin attached a tasteful flashing green light to my goggles as I made my steady way towards the finish at Waterhead. Swimming in the dark is an art in itself as it was difficult to spot the finish as the lights at the top of the lake never seemed to get any closer. Feeling that the end was in sight I powered up for the last 30 minutes and reached the jetty at Waterhead at 26 minutes to 9, 13 hours and 34 minutes after I had left the beach that morning.
Standing up was another matter. In the pitch black I couldn’t see where I was walking as I got out of the water so I treated the crowd of 3 people the unedifying sight of me falling over 4 times before I could balance. Then the shivering started. Although I was wrapped up in warm clothes within a minute of leaving the water and then put in a warm car, I shivered wildly for 30 minutes. I only stopped after spending time in a warm bath at the hotel.
The feeling of satisfaction was tempered by another restless night as everything started to ache at the same time and I hardly slept a wink. Next year I am swimming around Jersey in June followed by the channel in August. This swim taught me valuable lessons about feeding, although I was pleased that my physical conditioning was pretty right for a swim of this magnitude.
Dave and Colin were magnificent and made it so easy for me as I just focused on the boat the whole way. Lizzie, as always, put up with a lot from me this summer as the weather played havoc with my swimming. Those of us that take to the waters should never forget the value of a supportive partner!