Those of you that know me, or have been reading my blog (is anyone reading it? I sometimes wonder if I am wittering away to myself and then, out of the woodwork, I meet up with friends who have told me they read it, which makes my heart give a little jump of pleasure) will know about my latest venture into Open Water Swimming…. or swimming as some people witheringly call it 😉
Myself and my sis-in-law had been steadily training towards participating in the Big Welsh Swim which is organised by LoveSwimRun. The lake below Snowdon, Llyn Padarn, was the place and we had booked it in November last year. July 22nd 2017 was the date and then suddenly it was upon us. Helen and I had both decided to enter the 3k distance.
7am was the start of registration, so Helen and I travelled to Wales on the Friday night. She had booked a campsite for us (I mean, how much rest do you need before a 3k swim in a lake?) and we arrived in the evening to the most amazing sight. Rain had been our companion for much of the journey (me, from Cornwall) and as we headed up to the summit and then back down the other side, the skies cleared and we saw the lake for the first time.
We quickly went to the campsite to put up the two man tent, then walked into the town, to get a feel of the place and test the water temperature. The email had said it was about 17.5 and it felt lovely. The sea in Cornwall has been taking its time to warm up, so this felt fine. All that was left to do was to find somewhere to eat that night; carb load and then hunker down for a good nights kip.
All week we had been avidly watching the weather and it hadn’t looked too good at the start. We had received an email from the company saying that there might be waves as the wind was up. In the night Helen got up to use the camping facilities and as she climbed into the tent, passing me on my way to the loo’s she said “Look up.” I stepped out into a star filled night. With very little light pollution the night was clear and stars seemed closer. I stood out of the tent for a while, drinking in the view and thinking of what tomorrow might bring.
Next morning, the alarm was set for 6am. I was already awake and looked over at Helen once the alarm went off. I think she gave me the same grin that I gave her; excited and a little nervous. First things first, cup of tea and breakfast. We both had some overnight oats to eat (bearing in mind we weren’t actually swimming until 10:30am) and I put the kettle on.
We had noticed a small one man tent had arrived overnight and the man that owned the tent was up and about, making his breakfast. We sat in the boot of Helen’s car to have our cups of tea and the man wandered over to us. “Are you doing the swim?” He asked. We both nodded and told him we were doing the 3k swim and enquired what he was entered for. “9k.” Was the answer. That’s 3 laps of the lake for those that don’t know. We were mightily impressed and looked at him with respect. Definitely something to aspire to..
With breakfast eaten and tea in Go Mugs we decided to head down to where it was all starting. Once parked we followed a small group of people that were walking down a path to where registration was. The path opened out onto the lake. There wasn’t a ripple on the surface. The sky was blue above and a light breeze was blowing. We received our swim hats and tags and then went to stand in front of the finish line. Once again, we tested the water and then gazed out, trying to see where the starting point would be.
The event had four choices of swims to do that day. 1.5, 3, 6 and 9k. The 1.5, 6 and 9k were all due to start at 9:30am, with the 9k swimmers going on the little train that took you to the other end of the lake (which was where we would start too) but our race was due to start at 10:30, so we had plenty of time.
We got ourselves a coffee and sat beside the waters edge to chill out before the briefing at 8:30am
After the briefing we steadily got ourselves ready; calculating time to swim, to time to eat more food. I had made some protein balls (recipe courtesy of Outdoor Swimmer magazine) and we also had bananas. Plenty of water needed to be drunk too. All too quickly it was 10:00 and time to get on the little passenger train with the rest of the 3k swimmers, all of us excited and nervous. As the train gently trundled along the lake, we passed many of the swimmers. Some would stop their swim to wave at us and we cheered them along, hanging out of the small windows. Different coloured hats let us know what distance they were swimming and there a lot of swimmers, doing the long swim in skins! (just their costumes). We had noticed the guy from the campsite earlier in just his trunks. Hardcore…
And then we had arrived. All that was left for us to do was to walk down a path, deliver our small bags that had our keys and flip flops in them, to the waiting van and then enter the lake. No mass start for us, which was a relief, just single file, stepping down into the water. I followed Helen. “See you at the end!” she said to me just before she plunged in and then I was in.
Cool waters covered my head, after I had done a few “water polo” strokes to acclimatise. I could see rocks and pebbles below, but the water was dark and peaty from the amount of rain that had been falling in the days leading up. I quickly got a rhythm going, breathing every third stroke and found myself comfortably passing other swimmers. At the half way stage a feed station had been set up so I concentrated on that as my first stop. Orange buoys were floating at regular intervals. We had to swim to the left of these so that we didn’t bump into any swimmers coming the opposite way and kayakers were also out in force; there to help us if we should so need it.
One, two three, breathe… one, two, three, breathe…. People say to me that they don’t like swimming because they find it so boring, but I suspect they don’t like to be alone with their thoughts. Usually, in a pool, I’m just busy concentrating on how many lengths I have done; I have a bad habit of losing track. But here, with no need to think about the distance, just concentrating on completing, thoughts swirl around my head. I couldn’t tell you any one thing I thought about, but I was never bored. I rejoiced in the ease of the swim; how many body felt in the water; the fact that I was doing something new and how, with my new found love of swimming in the open I could partake in events like this and enjoy the beauty of my surroundings. I had to said to Helen earlier “this is living…” and it is….
I spotted the half way point not far ahead and debated about stopping at the feed station. I had just passed a couple of swimmers with the same white hats as me, and they showed no signs of a break. I decided that it was wise to grab something, so clambered out with the help of one of the stewards. Chocolate biscuits, jelly beans, bananas, squash and water were some of the choices available. I ate half a banana and some orange squash before heading back into the water again. I suddenly felt the glimmer of a race head coming on, as I knew the end was near.
Back in the water I managed to pass the couple of swimmers that I had passed previously. And then, I saw it. The end. It was there…. I had nearly completed my challenge. I began to up my pace. When I was gig rowing I was placed in stroke as I was able to dig deep and find that inner strength to slightly speed up when I could see the end. Alas, it was too soon! Even though I could see the end, it was probably still a good 1k to go. I could feel my body start to get cold, which was a sure sign that I was flagging. I gave myself a quick pep talk; after all, I was nearly done and then I could get out and eat as much as I liked and have a hot drink. I concentrated on the stroke. Counting and breathing. The finish point was getting closer and I could see spectators along the bank. And then it was done. I had finished! My feet were touching the ground I was being ushered up underneath the finish line, to be presented with a medal and a bottle of water,
“Eat,” said one of the helpers, pointing to the table full with more of the same. I grabbed a banana and some chocolate biscuits and then stopped and drank in the moment. I had done it and it was amazing feeling.
I got the car keys and scampered back to the car to get out of the wetsuit, put on my dryrobe towel and grab one for Helen too. I had about 20 minutes until she came in and wanted to get some pictures (and a coffee).
17 mins later, with camera and coffee in hand I spotted her.
She had done it! We had both done it! It was an amazing feeling for the two of us. I had wanted to finish in under and hour and I did and H exceeded her expectations too. All that was left was for us to go and have a huge celebratory lunch. I thought that I would quickly see where we both were on our results whist Helen was getting changed and was stunned to see low numbers next to my name. I had only gone and won my age group, came 4th woman and 8th overall. I was totally speechless. How bloomin’ amazing. I never expected anything like that!
And so, our swim was done. We left Snowdonia on a massive high. Brilliantly organised; wonderful fellow swimmers, that proved you could be any ability, any shape or size and any age. We left with talks of going for the 6k next year 🙂