Our swim date is getting closer and closer and having been unable to pause it, I thought I’d better get on and just get in a lake. Quite frankly I’m running out of time to practice and I’ve got to do it some time, and husband agreed to come along and chaperone me, so off we trotted to our local lake at The Quays in Mytchett, Surrey.
It was a beautiful morning! Couldn’t have asked for better weather, the sun was shining, it wasn’t too cold, and everything does look rather beautiful at this time of year, so I was actually excited about having a glorious outdoor adventure.
When we got to the lake it was pretty busy, lots of people in posh looking wetsuits, who all knew where to go and what to do. Large groups seemed to know each other and there was a lot of talk about ‘tri-s’, with clearly a large contingent doing the Windsor triathlon next week. There was a general positive vibe, certainly assisted by the weather, but it felt so much better than being at the swimming pool. I have been looking forward to getting away from swimming pool as I have found a lot of people to be quite rude, which hasn’t helped my confidence, and has certainly put me off training. So far so good, and the lake is plenty big enough for me to stay out of people’s way and they look like a jolly bunch anyway.
I was very glad to have husband with me as he knew the ropes, I signed my waiver, got my number tag and promised I had a bright swim hat (proudly wearing my blue Henley Mile 2017!) before wandering over to a bench seat at the edge of the lake to put on my wetsuit. I was glad I’d worn my swimsuit as there weren’t any changing rooms and people were getting ready or dressed around the cabin area. I’d just brought my old wetsuit used for UK summer holidays. It’s very well worn and not at all streamlined, or well fitted, but I thought I’d give it a go and it would keep me warm and floating, which was the main thing.
Katia #thisgirlcanswim had advised me to take it slow, splash my face with the water first, then head off with a little head up breaststroke before starting to swim front crawl. Husband had warned me that I may lose my breath a bit when I first got in, and I absolutely did! The water wasn’t too cold, a very acceptable 17degs, but even so, I found it very hard to breath steadily when I got in and let the water into my wetsuit, I could only manage short breaths. I duly splashed my face and head off with my breaststroke for quite some way before I had the courage and confidence with my breathing to try a bit of face in front crawl. It was harder than I thought, and couldn’t catch my breath properly for a while. Every time I calmed down, as soon as I put my face back in the water, I panicked a bit, swallowed some water and had to start again with my breathing. I found it frustrating as I didn’t actually feel panicky, my body seemed to override my brain, or at least my lungs did, and it seemed silly that I couldn’t control it better.
I pushed on and alternated between a few strokes front crawl, breaststroke, doggy paddle and kicking on my back to relax and just look up at the beautiful sky – it helped me enjoy myself, to forget about breathing and strokes and pressure, just to be floating along, soaking up the fresh air and the water and the sky and my surroundings, what a beautiful moment.
But of course I did have to swim round and get back to the jetty, so I kept on alternating strokes, trying to breath properly and keep my lungs calm. It was good to be able to put my feet down back at the starting point, first 750m lap done, so I stayed there for a few minutes to chill and sort my breathing again. I was determined to go around again because I hadn’t really swum much on the first lap, but also I hadn’t been able to relax very well and I wanted to conquer that as soon as I could.
After a few minutes, we struck out again, and I was determined to swim front crawl as much as I could. It felt much better as I knew what to expect. Whilst I was concentrating on breathing the WHOLE time, any other techniques I’d been told to practise completely went out the window. I can’t swim in a straight line in a pool, nevermind a lake, so I had to repeatedly look at where I was going and change direction. Husband showed me how to sight while swimming and I did give it a go, but didn’t manage it very often, so just stopped to have a look when I needed to. I also clearly hadn’t put on my swimming hat very well and the back of my hair kept getting velcroed to the back of my wetsuit, which was pretty annoying. I could sight then, when it stuck on and lifted my head up, but not the best way to do it I’m sure. My goggles kept filling up with water too, so it was hard to see anything. I couldn’t be faffed with sorting them out during the swim though, so just emptied them every now and again.
Around the jetty where we set off the water was beautiful – clear, fresh, not smelly, and couldn’t feel any weeds. Heading off towards the first buoy, about 200m away, the water was very different. It was much smellier, very murky and the sun was in front of us so you couldn’t really see much due to it reflecting brightly off the surface of the water. I hadn’t noticed it on my first lap, and it threw me a bit and I was nervous about putting my face in. When I got to the buoy, however, I’d got used to it and felt reassured knowing I was swimming away from that area and back into the nicer water. This thought helped me to relax and I managed to swim much better and enjoy it. As soon as I relaxed, for some reason, I seemed to inhale water through my nose when my face was in the water?! Oh for goodness sake, had I lost all logical control of my body?? I had a few nasty glugs, which wasn’t the best, but it was another fear conquered as I’d been dreading drinking the lake, and I had, and I was fine. Just keep swimming!
I then only had about 300m left to go, nearly there, and then I hit the weeds. First one on my hand, then my foot, then my face! It was almost like a little training plan the lake had for me: ok first lap let her off, she’ll be panicking, second lap chuck in smelly water, make her drink it and cover her in weeds – job done. I had a mild “Ah it’s on my face!” moment and then thought, after all the nonsense with not being able to breath, just get on with it and I made it to the second buoy.
Home stretch left and determined to finish, I thoroughly enjoyed the last 100m, zig zagging, tired, weedy, but very happy and loving being in the water in the sunshine. What a roller coaster of a swim!
Writing this now I want to do it all over again! Well, not right now, but I would tomorrow if I could. Most definitely next weekend and Ava is coming along too. I really hope the weather is as lovely as it was today, but even if it’s not, I am looking forward to spending a Sunday morning outside, enjoying a new experience and sharing that with my family. I’m ordering a proper swimming wetsuit as mine isn’t very practical to swim in, I will also learn to put my hat on properly and tighten my goggles. I’m guessing I’ll meet a fish or two next time as that’s the last of my fears to face. I’m thinking of names to call them to lighten the moment, just in case.
I’m so happy I did this swim, I’m sure it won’t go perfectly next week, or ever, but I’m confident I can do it and I’m determined not to let my fears stop my fun. If you haven’t tried open water swimming, you must, it’s amazing, and so much more fun than the pool! Only 4 weeks to go until Henley Mile, and I won’t be swimming fast, or well, but I will have a brilliant time, I know that for sure, even if that means floating on my back, smiling at the sky.