Steve Wand Memorial
The morning arrived and I was up with the sparrows after a pretty late evening chatting with the Slimhippo. She has this innate ability to bring up a discussion topic which I call “it’s not about the Nail!” – one which is not going to be solved by a short few words but a couple of hours. For reference, here is a good example: NOT ABOUT THE NAIL Well it normally happens as I am about to walk out the door for work (at least then I can escape with a valid excuse), or when I really could do with a good night’s sleep (unfortunately on those occasions, there is very little escape). The night before the swim, I got to bed early but a discussion was subsequently proposed; before I knew it, it was 1am in the morning.
The drive across to Charlton Lido was fine and we arrived in good time and got chatting with the Peeps and staff that had already arrived. Now, I was not worried about this swim. I find worrying is a completely pointless affair that only causes more anxiety. The past cannot be changed, only the future. Yes I had trained far less than I had hoped due to injury but I approached it with very little expectation and was happy to just put my head down and keep on trudging along. I had conceded – in my mind – that I was far from ready for it but I was confident I could get through it.
On a side note. After being positively chastised about my ability to train very little and still pull off pretty amazing swims, I think there is a bit of clarification needed on my part. Firstly: I have finally conceded to the idea that I have talent but a lot of untapped potential. This has been pointed out many times by many open water swimmers. So my disappointment in my swims is not due to my lack of ability but more to do with disappointment in myself as I have never really given myself enough of an opportunity to see what I AM actually capable of in this sport due to my lack of proper training. I hope the swimmers out there understand this. I even have some of them sending me daily mantras to say to start believing in my ability.
I digress. Whilst talking with the staff, I asked what the temp of the pool was and they told me that the thermostat was not working properly – my initial thoughts were, cool, that will make it colder than usual. My ears however, heard the phrase – “a toasty 29 Degrees Celsius (84.2F)” hence to say, mild alarm bells started ringing. I am far more suited for temps of around 16 -18 degrees and can usually only manage shorter distances in the gym pool (which is about 24 degrees) due to the fact I feel like I am undergoing spontaneous combustion.
After Registration, we moved around chatting with friends, both new and old. Thanks to the impeccable organization of Mark Sheridan, this was pretty much a who’s who of Open water swimming in the UK, the pool being shared by multiple record holders on both sides of the spectrum and of course a hippo in crocheted shorts. If you added up the distances of all the significant swims accomplished by all 40 participants, I suspect you could cross the Atlantic with them – mainland coast to mainland coast, every mile swum (Mmmmm, where have I heard that statement before????), and then turn around and come back.
The event kicked with a very moving speech by both Mark Sheridan and Mike Ball, both who were with Steve when a small group did this event a year ago. It was then off to poolside to get changed, and get the event started. The Wand family members took part in a 2 length stretch before the rest of us set off on the challenge. We all got into our lanes. I had been placed in the Supersonic lane, i.e the speedsters of the day – every lane needs a back marker! I would tag along at the back for the most part. At this point I put my hand in the water. To let you know my heart sank a bit would be about right. The Pool was BLOODY WARM!!! I did not realize how warm 29 degrees Celsius is. My internal temperature gauge is usually pretty accurate at the temps below 10 degrees Celsius but this was VERY close to the temperatures I have my baths at; just throw in the Rubber duckies, water toys, Loofah and bath salts and I would have been in seventh heaven. Sadly, I was not here for a bath. In the Gym pool, I normally have to get out after about 5km due to me starting to overheat – and that is about 6 degrees cooler!!
The format was to swim through 10 x 100m then have a minute’s rest, for feeding and making any lane rearrangements, before repeating it until we reached 10km. It was agreed we would be going off 1 min 40 seconds for each 100m. With Ollie (Round Manhattan World record holder) leading, we were off. I was coming in at about 1 min 21 seconds for each 100m. So I was having about 18 seconds rest. For the first 2km I honestly felt good, and felt that we could be going faster. All very comfortable and the minute’s rest was well needed to at least get out and cool down. 3km……4km…. Now my comfort zone ended on many levels. I was now willingly casting myself out into the unknown. This was the longest distance I had swum since July and the Lifeguards came over and asked if we were all alright? I jokingly said, it would be nice to get the temperature turned down a bit. He then said the reason we are asking is that it has actually gone up and is now just below 31 degrees Celsius (87.8 F). I thought Oh boy, this is going to be fun!!!!! But I was here and still alive so no reason not to go on.
The only hazards on the day were the lane ropes that I kept hitting with my hand, an errant foot from the only breast stroker on the day – Bryn Dymott, and Mark Sheridan interrupting my stroke by giving me high fives when we were swimming side by side across the lane ropes. Oh and the heat of the pool. it was starting to become relentless! But we kept on plodding along, 5km…..6km…..7km…. My times were now starting to slip. Shoulders becoming heavy, I was now lapping about 1 min 27, with 13 seconds rest – not really enough time to take on any fluids. I think the biggest problem in this heat was keeping hydrated rather than keeping energized.
Throughout most of my long swims, I keep myself occupied by doing mathematical equations and seeing that they are correct. These are REALLY simple equations but I was starting to get very confused in my head as to exactly how many lengths, as opposed to sets, that I had left. At the last 1 min break it had been mentioned that we had 30 left and I was convinced it was more – even though my watch was telling me it was 30. I spent the next 5 x 100m trying to get it clear in my head – to no avail. This could be the start of warning signs but we only had 3km left – apparently.
All this extra brain activity must had swollen my head as we went through 8km…….. 9km……. Now I was stopping regularly to adjust my goggles as they seemed really tight and I was starting to get a headache from them. My times had now slowed even further and I was barely getting 6 – 8 seconds rest – not enough time to adjust my goggles. I had come this far and I was not going to stop now. I was concentrating so hard on keeping my stroke as good as it can possibly be, a battle which I knew I was losing dismally. We were now into our last 1 km. My times had now dropped even further so I might as well have just swum the last km non stop. Then, at 9.5km CRAMP in my right calf. I put this down to not feeding regularly. Luckily, it only stopped me kicking – not swimming. I plodded on through the last 400m and, it was done. I had just swum 10km — In a bath.
As is with so many swims, I learnt a great deal. Primarily, I CAN swim in water above 24 degrees for longer distances. Usually, I would have given up at about 5 km max in those temperatures I was in. It was interesting to see the systematic deterioration of my faculties; I put this down to the lack of time in the pool but the most noticeable being the following –
1 – Stroke going AWOL.
2- Times slipping.
3- Lack of mental clarity.
Luckily the swim ended soon after the cramps started. I also learnt again that I am a very lucky person who can do those sort of distances in those sort of times and, evidently, in those sort of temperatures, training or no training. There are some out there that would give anything for the ability to be able to accomplish what I was able to do. But as stipulated earlier, yet again I was disappointed, not in my ability but more in the fact that I let myself down by skimping on the training. This time injury may have been a valid excuse, but it seems that I find myself in the same boat for most of my swims – and for that, there is no excuse.
As always I had Slimhippo and Harry hippo by my side most of the time, when they were not helping Emily Sheridan and team prepare a sumptuous meal for 40 hungry swimmers and their supporters when they got out. I cannot thank the Slimhippo enough for supporting me. But she is also learning. Mostly she PURPOSEFULLY leaves her Swimming costume behind so that She will not be tempted/coerced into joining me in my mad adventures. This time, she was the one longing to get into the water and I was the one longing to get out. Yes, maybe she might not have been happy to do 10km, but for a casual swim, the pool was very inviting, especially to those ardent supporters having to stand poolside in the frigid winter temperatures whilst their swimming companions were doing a good job at par-boiling themselves. Slimhippo, I will be taking your costume as well as mine on my next adventure. You have been warned!!
Back to Cold water. PHEW!!
I never thought I would ever utter the above phrase but I will be thankful to get back to the colder water. It seems that I will be going from the sublime to the ridiculous as, in little more than a month, I will be taking part in Phish – a 1km plus swim in water temperatures around the 4 – 6 degree Celsius mark (39.2 – 42.8 F). I must admit I am more than comfortable somewhere in the middle of those figures so as this last swim did, my next one will just keep on throwing challenges at me. The only difference will be I will mentally be expecting the one coming up, even though every fibre in my body thinks it is silly idea.
So life is a great learning experience and I feel truly honoured to have shared the pool with such an illustrious group of swimmers but the one thing that knits us all together is our love for the water and this sport that we regularly and vehemently fight to keep Fair, Fun and Fantastic. Beware those who force us to challenge the ethos that we so love about this sport.
Roll on PHISH. It will be a pleasant change and yet another lesson in the art of Open water Swimming.
In the meantime, the Happy Hippos wish you a very Merry Christmas, and all the best for the festive season!
We look forward to sharing the water/poolside/lakeside with you all in 2017!