FEATURES,  Readers' Swims

I loved every single stroke – Part 2 (The Swim – Windermere two-way)

For Part 1 (training) – see here.
On 6 August 2013, the day before my swim, I met my guide for the swim, Colin Hill, who explained the route. I was encouraged by his positive comments about my preparation and the confidence he had in my support team, Lawrence and Sarah. The next morning I got up early, shaved, ate a large bowl of porridge, inserted ear plugs and greased up. At 5:30 in the morning I slipped into the water and started swimming. It felt warm and I settled quickly.
My hat soon started to work loose. I had only put it on in case there was a chill in the morning, but there wasn’t so I removed that and carried on my way. After a while I found I was getting bored at looking at the boat number 9089 only six feet away on the side of the boat so I moved to a more forward position where I could see the beautiful landscape on both sides of the lake and the bow of the boat just by my shoulder. This was my preferred position as it felt like I was racing the boat. Every now and again I put on a bit of effort and pulled a few feet in front to see if Colin was paying attention. He was of course and quickly caught up. It was a bit silly really as of course I couldn’t beat the boat! Then I remembered Colin’s words: “Keep something in the tank as it’s a long swim home.” I decided to keep it steady from there on.
The halfway point seemed to appear relatively quickly. I knew the rough times from my feeds and worked out it could be five hours. This was an hour quicker than I had planned and I felt really excited, could I get under five hours to the turn? I kept working and was delighted when Colin pointed out the buoy to turn on, back for a feed and was told I’d managed a time of 4:57. Wow I had cracked it. All I had to do was get back.
My mind then started working out times. Being from a club background and having done regular time trials I was wondering if I could get back in the same time. I decided there was no chance of that, but could I beat Colin’s time of 10:30? Maybe. I just kept working. My crew were fantastic. They had mastered the feeds to perfection and I was now getting a sign board with encouragement and messages from family texted in to them. The lake was still calm although with a bit more boat traffic. It was great to see the Windermere Steamer passing and I was told the passengers were waving and clapping. I was surprised at how little wake there was from the big boat and it didn’t really affect my stroke much when it passed.
At hour nine I had a bit of a wobble when I passed a cold river inlet and the water temp dropped a few degrees. I actually momentarily shivered; something I have never done before. Previous swimming temperatures, although much colder, had been pretty constant and this warm, cold, warm business threw me a little bit. I also discovered I’d slipped behind Colin’s pace and realized I was slowing down.
I found out later my stoke count had dropped to 58 at this point. However, after this the water returned to a constant temp and I relaxed again and picked up my work rate. My stroke count went back to 62 and I continued on. At the next feed I was informed I had just over three miles to go. Finally I was told to “pull my finger out” and head for home. I was fed up at this stage with the hydration drink flavour so opted for some raw Manuka honey, my favourite, which Lawrence spooned into me, then off I worked for the finish.
I could see Bev and Anne on the shore and knew that was it, I was home. Getting out was fun (not) as being horizontal for over ten hours makes standing up a bit of a party game. Bev and Lawrence waded in and helped me out and there were tears and hugs all round, and it was all over. Colin shouted out my final time – 10:38 – and I was gobsmacked. I hadn’t quite beaten Colin but close enough to be respectable. I wrapped up quickly as the shivering started. This made holding the hot chocolate a challenge but I soon warmed up and we marched off for a beer and debrief. Job Done.
Post swim I still felt elated. That night was difficult to sleep as I felt like I had been in a boxing ring, probably from working core muscles to their extreme. Next day I woke up feeling great with no obvious injuries or strains and headed off for breakfast in Ambleside with my crew. I had numerous calls and texts from my fellow swimmers, all of whom made the same comment: “You must swim the Channel now.”
So what did I do? As soon as I got home I made a few phone calls and booked a channel swim for 24 September 2013.
Sadly this didn’t go so well as the Windermere swim. I swam for over 13 hours and was only three quarters of the way across, the tide was preventing me making any forward progress and I had a terrible pain in my shoulder.
There was no point in carrying on and destroying my shoulder completely. As it is, I am now doing massive shoulder rehabilitation exercises and routines trying to build the strength back up and stop any further issues. Bloody annoying really since I should have been doing these years ago, but just kept ignoring the niggles.

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.