At the start of the summer when I realised I wasn't going to be running marathons/ ultras for a while I needed a challenge to keep me motivated. At this stage I would like to point out that I am not really a swimmer! I learnt to swim when I was young so have always been confident in the water but not fast and I only ever did a mile or a km. Last year I picked up swimming again and tried open water for the first time wondering why it had taken me so long to try it as I loved it! I did 4 events (including a 10km) which I enjoyed despite being nearly last so the next step up was Windermere.
My biggest worry was being cold as I found Coniston very cold last year but over the winter I seem to have toughen up (or fattened up) as when I got in the lake in May I was not as cold as I had been last year. I deliberately swam without my wetsuit about 4 times (when the temperature got to around 20 degrees) to try to get myself acclimatised - only an hour but it all helps! I had also not worn my heat seeker vest apart from for the first swim of the season as I wanted to save it for Windermere to give me some extra warmth.
I had a couple of video swim analysis sessions with swim therapy http://www.swimtherapy.co.uk/ to try to improve my technique and did a swim day with Julie Bradshaw http://getset4success.co.uk/ These were really helpful but I find it hard to change what I have been doing for years so still have a lot to work on.
In June I did the great east swim (10km). I have never known anything so choppy, there were proper waves so this was really hard work and slow. July was the 7 mile swim at Isoman which was another choppy one then early August the same 10km that I did last year. Although I am significantly faster in the pool compared to last year I was only 5 minutes faster for the 10km which was a little dissapointing.
I have been training in my school pool and at Loughborough university but the university pool has closed over the summer for refurb so I joined David Lloyd on their summer membership - it's a bit of a trek but it meant I could swim whenever I wanted and didn't have to rely on finding someone to swim with at school. I used the outdoor pool for my long swims including 9 miles - lucky the lifeguards change regularly so no one knew how long I was there (just under 6 hours in case you are wondering!!).
The training was done so with a couple of weeks to go I was just worrying about being cold and how choppy it would be as I'm not sure my shoulders would cope with anything like the 10km or worse! Then with a week to go I had wetsuit issues so ended up going with my old one which is not as flexible in the shoulders but at least it wasn't going to fall apart or rip my neck to shreds!
Weather watch started a week before and was looking ok. No heatwave like I had been hoping for but the water was 19 degrees on the day with little wind and the sun was shining so I couldn't ask for more in the UK.
I met Alistair and Leon from swim your swim http://swimyourswim.com/ who were going to be guiding me on the rib boat and looking after me for the day. They loaded the boat up with my stuff and I was off at 8.25am. It was a beautiful day and the water felt lovely. The boat was to the side of me so I didn't need to worry about sighting meaning I could just swim along and enjoy the scenery. Leon was driving and Alistair looking after my feeds/watching me!
The plan was stop every hour for the first half for fueling then every 45 minutes. After an hour Alistair did his whistle to attract my attention - that first hour went very quickly and I was loving the still quiet lake. Because of my worry about getting cold I had planned and practiced fueling only on liquids to save time as chewing takes forever. I had packed solids as well just in case. In the pool long swims I never really drank enough as I didn't want to get out to go to the toilet but that's not an issue in the lake!! I knew I needed to make an effort to drink more so first stop I had nearly half the 1 litre carton of chocolate soya milk - this was a lot more than usual so I felt a bit bloated.
The next hour passed fairly quickly too - I nearly managed to finish off the litre of chocolate soya milk but couldn't squeeze it all down. The lake was still quiet as we were at the south end but each time a boat went by there were waves which were quite fun as I knew they would not last long. One thing I found a bit strange was that I was constantly being watched as I was swimming. This meant that I felt a little embarrassed about having a wee the first few times time!! I am sure no one can see when you are in your wetsuit but that didn't stop me feeling self conscious!!
Next hour uneventful in that I was still loving it just plodding along enjoying the scenery. Each time we stopped Alistair pointed out landmarks or where we were heading next. Bottle of Coke at the 3 hours as I thought a bit of caffeine might be useful! Here the car ferry was pointed out. This is a slightly tricky part as the ferry has to be in the right place before you can pass due to chains one side (can't remember the details) so I was told we would stop just before the ferry and wait for the right time to go.
Luckily I didn't need to wait long and then was told to sprint!! I don't sprint at the best of times but after around 9km my sprint was a joke!! Get past the ferry then along and round the corner a bit to meet Phil. Stopped here for a chat and some lucosaide. Think I only had about half of this as only 45 minutes had passed since my previous feed so there didn't seem much space inside me!! Each time I was offered food I declined as I didn't fancy any and felt pretty full from the fluids due to drinking more than usual. Alistair didn't seem very happy that I wasn't eating said I was burning lots of calories - thought he might be able to tempt me with an mini sausage but as I'm veggie that didn't work!! I said I would have a gel next time.
The next 45 minute stop came round really quickly and like a good girl I had a chocolate caffeine gel and bottle of OTE (energy drink with electrolytes). I think it was around here that my right shoulder was hurting. Both shoulders had been aching but now the right one was pinching. Alistair suggested changing my hand entry which helped a bit.
Next stop was half a banana (it was a big one) with vanilla soya milk. As I was now stopping every 45 minutes I wasn't able to squeeze as much in! I didn't really want any food but thought I better do as I was told!
My garmin was playing naughty games. It measures in yards until it gets to 10000 then it switches to miles but only to the nearest mile. It just wouldn't budge from 8 miles. I was not sure if this was because I was so slow or if it had lost the satellite (it did this at Consiton). I know the garmin is not accurate but it's nice to see progress. I think it was this section where I saw Alistair and Leon tucking into some Jaffa cakes, mmmm I could manage a Jaffa cake! I find when I am running and don't want food I can usually squeeze a Jaffa cake down. Previously they had been having crisps, mini sausages and what looked like a pasta meal in a tuperware container - none of those interested me but the Jaffa cakes did!!!
At the next stop I had the rest of the banana and I think more vanilla soya milk then asked how much further. I thought that I must be at least at 9 miles now so would have an hour and a half tops left to go. I was told about 3 hours or maybe 2.5 hours. That was a real low. Much like the Edinburgh marathon where I thought I had been past the 25 mile marker and that the one I could see in the distance was 26 but it was actually 25! I'm not sure if I was more annoyed that I would be swimming for another 3 hours when I was geared up for just over an hour or that my finish time would be starting with a 9. Although I didn't really have a time goal I was kind of hoping to be between 7 and 8 hours.
I set off in a bit of a huff. I couldn't work out why it was still 3 hours to go. Had I really been that slow since the approx half way point (3.45 ish) ? Were they winding me up? Were they using a formula such as double your half way time and add 90 mins? Was the 'halfway' point maybe a bit less than half way? My shoulder was still hurting and with the thought of another 3 hours I was a bit grumpy and decided that I would ask for paracetamol when we next stopped. When I am doing long swims I do have a tendency to dawdle a bit so thought I had better focus and make a concerted effort to try harder rather than tootling along enjoying the scenery. Maybe that's why I had slowed down - I had just lost focus and was enjoying the journey too much!!
Every so often I would look ahead; it was now a lot busier with boats, jet ski, kayaks etc which was quite nice as it was something else to look at! 45 minutes came and went but no sign of the whistle and no sign of Alistair moving to the front of the boat for my food. I wonder if he's got his time wrong or maybe he can see I'm on a mission and doesn't want to stop me!! Or maybe he was thinking as I was so slow he would try and get me to last an hour between feeds so we only needed to stop a couple more times?? I didn't need anything so was not bothered and if I did I could have just stopped and asked.
After an hour I was stopped. Had another bottle of OTE and a chocolate gel. Then Leon said 'you need to get to the beach in under an hour then I win' or something like that. I'm a bit confused as an hour had passed since I was told 2.5-3 hours so how can it only be an hour away. I asked if it was my last stop; yes it was. That was dissapointing as I had a chocolate bar I had saved for my last stop but I had already had the gel and drink so if I had any more it might have come back up again!
Set off in much better spirits. It was just over 7 hours on the watch so maybe I could sneak under 8? Never had the paracetamol as by the time I stopped my shoulder was a bit better. I was still a bit confused about timings but didn't care as I was on the home straight now and was going to do this.
Fairly soon I could see what I thought might have been the ferry jetty in Ambleside. I knew the finish was not far after that but not far walking is quite different to not far swimming. Then out the corner of my eye I saw something white when I was breathing. On the next breath I had a longer look..... It was a xxxxxx swan. These creatures scare me; they hiss and have caused me to stop in running races to wait for someone to come along to escort me past! The last thing I needed was to be dealing with one of these. A naughty word might have come out of my mouth and I 'sprinted' to try to get away...in my head I was sprinting but really don't think that was the reality after 10 miles!
Not long after shaking off the swan I was stopped. The tree I was aiming for at the finish was pointed out and then I was told to go as hard as I could because we were near the jetty and a boat was coming. Got past that ok but then lost sight of the tree. The boat was still with me so just stuck to that until I could get a better view and could see Phil standing there.
A couple of minutes later and I was there...the hardest bit of all the day was getting up!! Finished in 7.40 nicely under 8 hours so very happy.
I can't thank Leon and Alistair enough, they were amazing. I think they must have been on a 'how to lie convincingly' course as they were constantly encouraging me and saying I was looking strong/ doing well when I'm sure I wasn't!
For anyone thinking of dong this don't think any more - do it! It was an amazing experience and although it wasn't easy it was not as hard as I expected and was easier than running for that long ( and that is coming from an ultra runner!). I feel so lucky that I have had this opportunity.
Post swim my arms hurt a lot, getting the seatbelt on was hard work as was washing my hair in the shower after - my arms didn't want to move! Two days later they still hurt but are much better.
What would I do differently? Not sure really but I do know I still have a lot to do working on my technique but I knew that before. I also need to make my shoulders more bullet proof as if it had been choppy I may have needed a lot of painkillers.
Would I do it again? Yes definatly but I would want to do it faster so would need to get faster over the winter if I want to do it again next year.