I’d got there earlier than planned and walked around the grassy banks to take in the beautiful view. It’s a lovely place, and the weather, whilst still chilly was wonderfully sunny.
After I’d paid my £3.50 swimming fee, I was chatting to a few divers who were preparing to get in, when Mark and his son Charlie arrived. Mark immediately jumped out of his car and shook hands. It was good to meet the guy who had single-handedly provided me with so much information about open water swimming. It’s the first time I’d met Mark.
“Are you nervous?” he asked.
I decided to stick to the truth, rather than put on any false bravado. I find honesty is always the best policy!
“Yes”, I replied “I’ve not been in Open water since last June, before I had my back operation”. I was also nervous because I didn’t want to slow anyone down if there were plans to swim in convoy, as I knew Mark to be considerably faster than me.
We waited whilst another swimmer, Jo and her daughter Verity arrived and then got ourselves ready for the off.
As we walked to the little jetty Mark casually asked:
“How do you feel about things being in the water?”
Er. “What kind of things Mark?” I asked, studiously keeping any apprehension from my voice.
“Well, there’s a few things down there to make life interesting for the divers. There’s a boat or two at the bottom of some of the buoys, and apparently there’s a caravan down there too. There are teddy bears tied on to some and they look at bit weird as they’re all covered in mosses and things”
“Oh” I said with relief, “That doesn’t sound too bad”
Mark continued “There’s also a manikin doll down there as well, that the divers use to scare the newbie divers, they turn it over every so often……..”
“Really?” I said, as casually as I could manage. Oh hell. Boats and caravans don’t freak me out, but if I saw a human shape looming at the bottom of the lake, I’m fairly sure I would crap myself. However, doing the Channel for me is a massive exercise in pushing myself past any limiting beliefs. So, here was another opportunity to go a little more outside of my comfort zone. That’s how I get used to it. Dive in and get on with it. Every time I swim outdoors, I try to focus on what’s in my mind so that I can keep it calm (but more of this later……)
I reckon Mark would normally jump in straight off the jetty. I don’t do that – I go in three stages, waistline (Say goodbye to the wedding tackle), shoulders (brrr) and finally head (the “Slush-puppy Brainfreeze”).
Mark gladly took the stairs and we quickly got in up to our shoulders. As we breast-stroked to the first buoy I told Mark that I always had to concentrate on keeping my breathing in check when first dipping my head under water doing front-crawl in such cold water. His advice was to start dipping my head in every third stroke of breaststroke to get used to it before going straight into front crawl. It was good advice – it felt a lot easier than what I used to do. Simple yet effective. Thanks once again Mark!
As we approached the second buoy, Jo was already off and running (well, swimming), and Mark set off in hot pursuit. I’ll be honest, at first I was a little perturbed as I’m so used to having a canoe to my side, I felt a little exposed. It just goes to show how much I got used to the comfort factor of either having someone swimming next to me, or a canoe nearby.
Still, the good thing is that it makes you then resolve to get your head down and get on with it. The water was definitely on the cool side, but I was happy enough that the sun was shining and taking some solace in the fact that without it, it would have felt a damn sight colder.
The next stretch was out to the fourth buoy, which is way out in the middle of the lake, and further than I thought at first. The water must be quite a bit deeper there too, as it’s definitely more chilly around that buoy marker. I realised that my sighting (the ability to look up every so often to keep oneself heading in the right direction) had got poor through lack of practice. Never mind, that’ll come back with more visits.
Don’t ask me why, but I always give buoy a wide berth, as the “hairy” rope that disappears down into the depths gives me the willies. I know. It’s totally irrational and shouldn’t change anything, but for some reason it bugs me!
Anyway from that buoy, it’s a stretch back to a buoy closer to shore and then another right turn back past the jetty. Mark and Jo were way ahead, but I was happy with the fact that my swimming, whilst slow, felt comfortable and smooth. Speed isn’t really my forte – I made up my mind 3 years ago to finish each and every swimming event with a smile on my face, rather than throwing up on the shore. I’m not a quick swimmer. I love being in the water, but I’ll never be one of the fast cats.
The second lap went OK too and everything felt OK. I was initially worried that the flu I had recently would have effected me, but apart from a few underwater coughs, all was well.
On the 3rd lap I had what I would describe as a “moment”.
I have these mini-panic attacks from time to time when swimming in open water. I’ve never had to be hauled out or abandon a race because of it, but it’s unnerving when it strikes.
Whenever it happens I just flip on to my back, control my breathing and rather than think “Oh my god, the water’s deep, it’s too cold, I’m getting cramp, it’s too far to shore, I can’t make it” I put a heavy lid on that panic, and remind myself that I’ve done a lot of open water and never failed to get over any problems.
I then look up at the sky and remind myself how grateful I ought to be to be able to swim in the open on such a fine day. Once I’ve brought my mind back to enjoyment and gratitude, it seems to dissipate the fear. Once settled and sorted, I flip back onto my front, swim a little breaststroke to ensure all is well again and finally get my head back in and pick up the front crawl again.
Now, I know that these little panics are nothing more than the result of letting that bit of my brain that allows negative thoughts to take over. Each time I beat it, those bits of my brain get squeezed to be a little bit smaller. Each time I carry on, I kill off a limiting belief.
So in the end I managed 3 (OK – 2 and three quarters. I said this was an honest blog) laps of the buoy marked circuit. I clambered out feeling pretty good, and saw Mark and Jo complete an impressive 5 circuits each. In the meantime Charlie had found a tree and was attempting to break previously unbroken limbs by falling out every so often.
“How was it?” said Mark after he came out.
I told him about my mild moment, but I don’t think he was worried. Perhaps he doesn’t get them too! I’m sure I’ll settle with experience. After sharing a few of Sarah’s homemade brownies and some of Mark’s goodies (we’re allowed, we’d just been swimming), we waved ourselves off. Mark was kind enough to give me one of his copies of H2Open, a new Open Water Magazine. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but on the cover there’s an interview with Kari-Anne Payne (the UK’s silver-medalist open water swimmer from the Beijing Olympics 10K) it says in big letters “If You’re Scared, You’re In The Wrong Sport” on it. Oh dear. Let’s hope not.
Once home and dry I got a kind text message on my mobile from Mark asking if I’d got back OK. I replied Yes, and that next time I go up there I’ll do 5 laps.
My mobile buzzed again “At least 5 laps!” Mark’s text said. Rocky’s trainer has nothing on this man!! His text also said I was welcome anytime, so he can’t have be too disappointed that I’m a slower kind of swimmer. Thanks Mark – it was a great swim, and great to meet you, Charlie and Jo. As you say, next time it’ll be 5 laps.