Great North Swim – 14 June 2014

Yesterday (13th June) was my 21st birthday.  Last year on the day of my birthday I was cycling 52 miles from Axminster to Bournemouth as part of my cyclingthe92 challenge.  This year I was set to throw myself in Lake Windermere.  I do know how to treat myself don’t I!

It was the time of the first swim and I was nervous yet excited ahead of this one, not least because I’m terrible at swimming but it had been arranged for me to be recorded for Channel 4’s coverage of the swim.

Mark, a mate from work, had decided to join me for this swim and so we made the 4hr 30min train journey up to Windermere on Saturday morning.  Being the typical students we are, we thought we’d get the train as late as possible to make it to Windermere on time so that we got the longest lie in.

I remembered the old saying that ‘swimming is one of the best forms of exercise and it uses every part of your body’.  As such I thought best to stock up and so bought food to eat on the journey, enough food to hinder, rather than help me to be honest.  I’m quite surprised I didn’t sink the amount I ate.

As it was my birthday weekend, my Mum and Step-Dad were coming up to Windermere as well so that we could go out after the swim and have a double celebration of the swim being completed and me turning 21. The plan was that they would pick us up from the train station and then drive us down to the swim in time for me to get interviewed and changed.  This was until we were advised of road closures and the amount of traffic on the road that we started to think we weren’t even going to get to the swim on time.  Mum and Phil worked some magic and managed to get us the only available taxi in the area to agree to take us. Thank god!

I did a little bit of training for the swims but nowhere near as much as I needed to. That added to the fact I am not great at swimming, I was slightly apprehensive when we arrived and I saw this huge open lake.  I’d done some of the runs and they were 10 miles, 10k, 5k, and they were fine so I thought how hard can swimming just one mile in open water really be? The answer... HARD!

I met the camera crew as planned, got interviewed, got on the main mic to talk about the challenge and then started getting ready.  This was when I realised my naivety; everybody else was getting changed and wearing Speedos under their wetsuits.  Sensible I suppose if you think about it.  Then there I am trying to get my wetsuit on with just yellow smiley face boxer shorts on underneath.  So much for the old saying of all the gear, no idea - I’m more no gear, no idea.  The fun started when I got outside and was asked to wear a different coloured swimming cap so that I’d stand out like a sore thumb and they could track me when in the water. Just what I wanted.

It’s funny doing this challenge of all the great events in one year as everyone expects me to be a serious athlete when I meet them, or at least to really know about what I’m doing.  I haven’t a clue, I’m just a chap that turns up to the events and has a laugh.  And I think that’s the joy of the Great events, they’re brilliant for having a chat to the fellow competitors, supporters and staff – it’s just a good atmosphere to be in and I’m really enjoying doing them.

At least I was enjoying them until I jumped into the water for this one.  It was like throwing a cat into water when I started.  I’d never swam with so many people so not only was the water a bit of a shock but it was strange having that many people heading into the water at the same time.

I have to be honest and say that the first 200-300metres of this swim were the toughest mental battle I’ve experienced.  But that is when the reason you are doing it comes into play and really pushes you through.  The swims are different from the runs as you don’t have supporters either side of you cheering you on all the way around, so it is very much a personal challenge of you against the water.

Just after half way the cramp started setting in as I hadn’t ever worn a wetsuit before.  Both my legs went and so that made it trickier but I just had to keep going as by this point I could at least see the finish in front of me, even if it were far in the distance.

I finally got to the finish and could barely stand up.  I had to agree with that old saying that it uses every part of you, I was ruined.  As soon as I got out the water I had an interview with the film crew to say how it had gone and then I saw Mum and Phil so that was fantastic.

We then all went back to the hotel got showered and got to the pub to for a fantastic steak dinner and a few much needed beers.  Even though I was shattered I managed to find the energy to celebrate Raheem Sterling’s wonder goal against Italy like crazy in the local pub.  It was a bit of an insult to injury when that was ruled out.

We then made the 6hr drive back down to Reigate on Sunday ready for work at 9am Monday morning.

All round it was a fantastic weekend though and despite it being incredibly tough I was glad to have the first swim out the way and look forward to the next swim.  But at least I’ve hopefully got a good break before it.  Oh no wait, the Great East Swim is next weekend.  Brilliant.

Having already clocked up 10 learning’s from the previous events I certainly a few more to add from this one.

11th Learning – Don’t be a lazy student and book the latest possible train.  Book it earlier to ensure you have more than enough time.

12th Learning – Eat before the swims so that you have energy on bored but not to the extent where you feel set to burst.

13th Learning – If it’s a new sport your attempting read up on any hints and tips, such as what you wear under a wetsuit and don’t turn up looking like a numpty in yellow smiley face boxer shorts.

14th Learning – As well as reading up, actually practice if you’re doing a new sporting event, a mile is a long way in water!