In August 2012 I wrote down in my notebook that I had managed to swim 100m front crawl after a series of swimming lessons. In June 2018 I am hoping to complete a 10K open water swim…… this is what happened in between!
When the PR people for London 2012 coined the phrase “inspire a generation” I don’t think that at 37 I was their target audience. But it was whilst watching the Olympic women’s triathlon in Hyde park that I decided that I was going to complete a triathlon.
I was already cycling a lot and had run competitively at school so I “just” had to nail the open water swim. I felt that my breast stroke Granny- style (head out the water, keeping hair dry) was not going to cut it. Actually my granny is another swimming inspiration –she only stopped swimming in the sea at 92).
Celebrating the swim leg of my Olympic Distance Triathlon
Making some investments
I booked a series of 1-2-1 sessions with a swim coach, which is possibly the best £100 I have ever spent. By the end of August 2012 I could swim 100m of front crawl but it was baffling how I could cycle for miles quite happily but swimming left me completely exhausted!
An open water induction session was also invaluable, covering basics such as getting your wetsuit on, safety, deep water starts and drafting. I found it immensely rewarding to be able to cross a beautiful piece of water, which felt so much more challenging than covering the same distance in a swimming pool. I loved swimming outside and compare the difference between pool swimming and open water to the difference between being on an exercise bike and cycling in the open countryside. I was hooked!
The last investment was a wetsuit, which I got at a discount in the Wiggle end of season sale.
The start of my first open water swim at the Tri20 lake
Facing my fear
In the changing rooms at my lake there is often someone new stressing about their first open water swim and being reassured by the regulars. (I always wonder whether these conversations happen in the male changing rooms?).
When I started open water swimming I also had some fears to conquer – my dad drowned whilst wild swimming in 2008 and I had a lot of drowning nightmares after his death. At the time of his inquest my research showed that it was very rare for someone who had planned to go swimming and entered the water sober to drown. Most incidents happen with people falling in, injuring themselves falling in, being intoxicated or rushing in to rescue someone or something. Whilst this did not explain why this had happened to my dad it was reassuring to know that the chances of it happening again were virtually non-existent.
It took me three visits before I could get round the 750m loop at my lake without having a moment freaking out.
I was determined to master open water swimming and the dream of being able to do a triathlon and the money that I had already invested were strong motivators to keep going. I made a deal with myself that I could stop at any point and do breaststroke but only swim 10 strokes before I started crawl again. This gave me some time to get calm but also prevented me from faffing about indefinitely – This is also my top tip for the newbies stressing in the changing rooms. As breast stroke is tricky in a wetsuit, it quickly became easier and more enjoyable to do longer stretches of crawl until I was able to get all the way around the loop without stopping.
As my confidence and strength as a swimmer has grown I don’t feel that panic or concern anymore. I have now even got to the point of swimming solo in open water and swimming without lifeguards (see part 2).
Celebrating my first open water swim event
Milestones and Progress
I have found that with swimming you get out what you put in and there has been a steady and rewarding progression. I don’t have such a satisfying relationship with running as swimming. I put it down to consistent training –pools enable a structured approach where plans are not scuppered by rain or wind!
My first swimming milestone was covering 400m as part of a pool triathlon in March 2013. Afterwards I was handed a leaflet advertising a 10K swim – I was amazed that people could even consider swimming 25x the distance that I had just covered. That summer I completed a 1500m open water swim event and an open water sprint triathlon. In 2014 I stepped up to Olympic distance triathlon, came third in a local aquathlon (swim + run) and also reached my ultimate swimming goal the iron man distance of 3.8K.
Whilst it was enormously satisfying to cover this iconic distance I did find the last 750m really hard mentally as much as physically. Afterwards I could hardly stand and needed reviving with hot tea and jaffa cakes. At the time I felt that this was a far as I could possibly swim….
Enjoying tea and jaffa cakes after The Big Dog swim
Part 2 here...