It’s one thing to write for an open water swimming magazine, but it’s completely different actually taking the plunge swimming in a lake or ocean…out in the open.
Just over a month ago I asked my close friend what she was doing one Saturday, and rather than suggest the expected activity of shopping, I asked if she wanted to swim in Shepperton Lake…
You see, in the space of a week I had transformed into an open water swimmer. One day I was one of those breast-stroke swimmers in the pool who didn’t like to get their hair wet. Seven days later, I had swum three times outside, with one of the swims in a race in a lake with 400 other people.
But, before I had the chance of feeling nervous about the race, I had to actually enter the water of an outdoor ‘pool’ or lake. That was the nerve-racking thing. Actually, backtrack…the scariest part was squeeeeeezing into a proper wetsuit for the first time. Sure I’d done a day of surfing (with school) and a day of wake-boarding (for a friend’s birthday) but those wetsuits were big and used. This wetsuit from Aqua Sphere however was new, which meant it was shamefully tighter and clung to all the bits normally hidden in daylight.
In the changing rooms at Shepperton Lake, I stood there scared, unknowingly in a new environment with experienced swimmers all around me, looking natural in their wetsuits as if it were their skin. Thankfully a lovely lady noticed my terrified face and between chuckles, she helped me with my wetsuit.
After the pulling and tugging and my face creasing up feeling like I couldn’t breathe, the fear went away. As soon as the zip pulled to the top, I felt as light as a feather in my wetsuit, and it really did feel like I was just standing there in my own skin. I practically danced out of the changing rooms.
Yes, standing in a wetsuit when you’re not the same shape as Olympic silver medalist Keri-Anne Payne is daunting but you tend to forget about all of that when you see the water.
The water wasn’t as cold as I thought it’d be, thanks to my new rubbery skin. But the first lap I did was harder than I thought it’d be. I knew it’d be different to swimming a pool but I didn’t realise to what extent.
Yes there are bugs. Yes there’s seaweed (lots of it) and there’s a natural current with the wind and nature. It’s a lot tougher swimming outside, I felt like I was doing double the work I’d be doing in an indoor pool. Having said that, I think it’s rewarding swimming outside. It is a completely different experience.
On 1 September, I joined two other first timers from work, and the editor of H2Open Magazine as we took part in the British Gas SwimBritain event at Blenheim Palace. There were over 110 teams in the race, each team with four swimmers, swimming a total of 1,000m each (4 x 250m). It was such an experience taking in the surroundings, and definitely a good starting event for us because the swim was broken down, and more manageable than 1 x 1000m each.
I felt so proud slipping the wetsuit on myself (to amateurs this is a big thing!), nerves aside – I was raring to go. If I’d have been on my own without a team and not surrounded by 400 other people I don’t know if I’d have done it. And so what if I swam most of the 1,000m in breast stroke, the point is I finished it and did my bit for the team. That’s what I’m proud of. It’s so cliché but the crowd and buzz of the event carries you whenever you’re doing a race like this.
The same thing happened when I did the Great South Run back in 2011, I’m not an athlete (in any sense of the word) so if it wasn’t for my friend running with me or the crowd, I don’t know if I’d have been able to finish it.
Since the race, I have a new found fondness for swimming, especially in open water, and I don’t take the stories I hear, read and write for granted because I know how hard they work.
From writing for H2Open and dipping my toe in the water, I’ve learnt that that you don’t need to be an extreme endurance swimmer or an Olympic medalist to do an open water swim, and best of all, you don’t need to be scared. You’re so distracted by the new experience and scenery, that you’ll forget you can’t touch the floor. Once you’re in the water, the rest will come to you – just try not to swallow the bugs.