Ullswater Swim

So I’ve gone off running, well running has gone off me, its not been working for me. Maybe I lost my mojo for it a couple of years ago, somewhere on a hill or in a peat bog, maybe I am just not inspired by the number of ‘commercialised’ events, the number of ultras that arise for the sake of making a route that is classed as an ultra. I want to run in beautiful place, not running on lots of tarmac for an ultra distance with 1000’s of others, but just with a few others, where an atmosphere lurks around every corner up every hill and down every trail. Sometimes it can just be me and my shoes, sometimes another runner or group of runners helps make that special run. I even felt a bit jaded after the Great Lakeland 3 Day event – was this telling me something?

Conquer yourself

A number of ‘injuries’ some not my own (the dog incident at Carsington and a prolapsed disk leading to a 12 week flare up) have left my running shoes on the shoe rack. Instead I dug out my wetsuit put it on, splashed out on a new (second hand new) one and dived into the cold open water lakes in Yorkshire, joined Yorkshire Outdoor Swimmers and went to SwimYourSwim sessions at Hatfield and Thrybergh. Everytime I go I feel stronger and more comfortable in the water. In addition I joined in COWS – Cumbrian Open Water Swimmers on a session throughout the bank holiday and did some ‘wild swimming’ with others. So I decided it was time to enter an event.

I’d never been to Ullswater before so the first event I picked was Ullswater Epic Swim – a 3.8km event. There was a choice between 500m or a mile or 3.8km. The 3.8km being the Ironman distance. I opted for the longer one as I am not very fast but I can keep going.

The best way to get something done is to begin

After checking out the HQ the evening before in glorious evening sunshine I looked at the course with the red buoys already laid out and questioned what I was doing. I questioned myself even more at 7.30am the following morning when it was raining and the water temperature I found out was 13 degrees. I had brought my neoprene hat, gloves and scarf (I mean booties), but noticed amongst the ‘ironman porn’ that no one was wearing booties or gloves. FFS be brave and stop being nesh, I told myself, however my hat did go on.

I had predicated a time of 1 hr 10 mins which put me in the ‘first wave’ of ‘pink’ hats – urgghh! Should I have predicted a slower time?

The way to gain self confidence is to do what you are afraid of doing

It was what was called a ‘deep water’ start. We all started off in a pen on dry land and one by one were counted into the water. And buoy it was cold! It redmined me of my first ever Open Water this year at Harthill in 12 degrees. Brrrrr… Ice cream headache, panic, cold, freezing. Even more freezing as we had to hang about in the deep water for 5 minutes until the very last swimmer was filtered into the water. Then as it was ‘Royal Ullswater’ swim we had to sing the National Anthem.

Then we were a go. A total bum fight splash splash splash drown drown drown, I couldnt get my breath at all, kick kick kick in the face, gulp gulp gulp as I chocked on water and swam a few strokes of breaststroke to compose myself whilst all the pink hats came flying past me. The cold water can be terrifying and this was even colder. Crapping myself I got my breath and tried to get my face in the water – inexperienced at my best, very inexperienced at my worst. Eventually I found ‘space’ and got my head down, kick kick kick, right in front of me, kick kick kick, splash splash splash as I kept going and kept swallowing all the water.

If you have everything under control you are not moving fast enough

The cold water was restricting the blood flow to my brain and I wasn’t breathing properly, down the end straight it got really choppy and I was throwing my arms over left right and centre. I wasn’t sure if I was enjoying this at all. But it was certainly challenging.

3 laps of this, 3 laps I told myself, I can do it  I can do it, as I saw some green hats come past me. I was inexperienced at this open water game and I could tell.

Swimming in a straight line just does not happen and I knew I was all over the place and out of control in my head. But it was ok as I was going to finish it and I was challenging my body, I may have been out of my depth at times but I was determined to get through the cold temperatures, freezing feet and stuck together fingers.

No lanes no limits

The second lap was more comfortable as I snuck in behind a couple of other people to ‘draft’ them, saving energy in the game. It was still choppy on the back straight, even more so I thought as I battled to sight for the next buoy. Some of the swimmers were certainly quite rough. Just like the water.

Just one more lap I told myself as I approached the ‘start’ bit once more. Just one more lap and keep going.

Just keep swimming

The last lap was actually much better than the first two. I found myself in more control and got into my rhythm a lot better than the first two. One two breath, one two three breath, sight, breath, sight, breath, blow bubbles, blow some more bubbles and round the buoy. Only one more buoy to go and I was near the end. I put in a bit of a spurt to see if I could catch the person in front and dragged myself out of the freezing water and over the timing mat to be greeted with a nice Epic Swim Ullswater Medal. I had done it, my first proper open water swimming event. I had done it in 1 hr 8 minutes. Happy with that.

In total I did over 4km. Oh well get your money’s worth and all that! I probably need to learn to sight better and get used to these mass starts and control myself rather than panicing far too much. Go with the flow and enjoy.



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