The Summer is here.
May is nearly over and for many across the country, their open water journeys are just beginning. For others, they have been at it for a few months. Many have been eagerly watching the mercury like a hawk, either for the temperatures of the lakes to climb sufficiently for them to carry out the holy grail of any ultradistance swimmer – the six hour qualifier! Due to the nature of the sport, 6 hours in 13 degree water is gruelling – even for the hardiest of bioprene swimmer. Organisers know this and would generally not allow a 6 hour bioprene swim below that temperature. In my case, I have been watching that same mercury whilst waiting for a specific lake to open and praying that it does not get too hot to be able to do the qualifier.
I mention a certain lake as there is no lakes in the area that offer opening times to be able to carry out this 6 hour swim. Shepperton however are the only ones who come close with their normal opening hours. They very graciously agreed for me to use their idyllic venue to do a qualifying swim. This was totally dependent on whether or not they would have someone willing to hang around for an extra hour after closing time and the fact that I have my own support crew that came to look after me for the 6th hour of my swim. Why did I not just go down to the Ocean to do it? This year my needs are different to a channel swim. Loch Lomond, whilst being the same distance as the channel, is one of the coldest lakes in the United Kingdom and is also fresh water. I did not want to do a cold water swim in the ocean as the salt water gives you added buoyancy. Along the lines of “Train in the right environment for your swim” I did not want that added buoyancy to give me false hope.
So last weekend I was up with the the sparrows to head to the lake and just before 6am, I entered the lake for 6 hours of fun and frolicking. I had the lake to myself for the first half an hour and it was both pleasant and chokingly annoying. I say that because, the lake had not been disturbed since the previous Wednesday. Being springtime, LOADS of pollen and seeds are in the air, and if not dispersed sufficiently, it comes to rest on the water surface. Standing looking at this calm lake paints a stunning scene but get your eyes to waterlevel and the scene is very different. You cannot see the water surface at all! The view resembles what the ground would look like after a light dusting of snow, completely white and fluffy. All that fluff just sitting on the surface is not so great when doing freestyle and having to breathe. I really must figure out how to swim whilst not breathing!!! Maybe a challenge for next year. Every breath resulted in a mouthful of pollen and seeds. Consequently, coughing fits to clear the airways were fairly common in the first hour. Once other swimmers had entered the water, things improved with the extra turbulence dispersing the pollen and seeds. I then settled into a pace that was faster than I had hoped. This seems to be a common affliction with me. I start off at a pace, which in my head is very comfortable and more importantly SLOW. However, in reality, it is a pretty swift pace with the first 6km eaten away in just over 1 hour 31 minutes. So clearly not as slow as I had hoped. This was when I first came in for a feed. After this is was feeding every hour. I do not rely on my GPS enabled watch but I did have it on, and at about 8km it decided that it was going to do its own thing. Feeding at a specific time I think is a TOTALLY essential part of any long distance swim. This breaks up the swim nicely and goes a long way to keeping your focus. As anyone who does long swims will know, your mind prefers bite size bits to focus on rather than the whole cake – although EVERY swimmer also knows that cake by the ocean – or lake – is an essential part of any athletes post excercise nutrition plan (mmmm. Cake by the ocean….Would make a catchy tune…).
Soon, the lake emptied and a mirage appeared on the water. It was a Slimhippo – who had commandeered a kayak from the lovely peeps at shepperton to come and look after me for the remainder of my swim. The Zim and the Slimhippo spent some time cruising around the lake in totally harmony with nature. It is always a pleasure and comforting site knowing that I have such an amazing support crew to look after me. It was all over too soon. I would have loved to carry on but It was time to get out and relinquish the lake back to the owners to pack up for the day. All in all it was a great 6 hour swim with my GPS saying 19km swum. I was hoping for 22km but I make it 21 km that was done in just over 6 hours.
This is not the usual modus opperandi for the Zimhippo. The season has barely kicked off and I already have a a 21km, 19km, numerous 10, 8 and 5km swims under my swim trunks. Nearly all in open water at temperatures ranging from 9 degrees upwards. (At this point in my channel swim training 10 years ago, I had only just completed my first ever 3 hour swim in open water! Times change.) On top of all this training, I was amused the other day when the Slimhippo told me that I needed to put on some weight. Bear in mind that I am clinically obese already according to my BMI and now I need to put weight on?!!! If there is just one reason to love this sport, you can eat whatever you want and it does not make that much of a difference.
A new coach in town!
Recently, I was fortunate enough to be able to be one of the very first group of people to become an open water swim coach, under the auspices of the newly created coaching course with the STA. The trainer and course creator is none other than Keri-Anne Payne. Some of you might know her or know of her; I hear that she is quite a good swimmer and even has a medal in Open Water Swimming from some event called the Olympics. Anyone heard of it? She has redeveloped the course and is now teaching open water swimmers to be open water swim coaches. The training entailed spending time in the water and at that time of the year, the water temperature was hovering just above 10 degrees so a wetsuit was more a necessity than a luxury. I have no problem swimming in that temperature, but sitting in the water while coaching, it tends to get a wee bit chilly. So, two days before the course started, when I recieved the pack of what to bring, one of the items was a wetsuit. I am sad to say that I had to go against everything I think open water swimming should be about. Yes, I hang my head in shame! I had to put a wetsuit on!!!! Yes, you heard correct, they do make wesuits big enough for a hippo! Thankfully, my street cred is not totally shattered. I did mention to Keri-Anne that I did not have one, but I managed to borrow one and turn to the darkside for a while.
It was a wonderful course at the SHAC (Surrey Hills Adventure Company)- a great little swim spot; you could drive past it and not even know it was there – with people from all over the world, who had come a long way to attend the very first course of its type. The students were made up of some amazing people from lifeguards, current coaches, Olympians, Commonwealth games competitors, venue owners and event organisers and yes, Channel swimmers. This is one of the reasons why I love this sport; the sheer diversity of experience of the people that you meet. I came away with an open water swimming coaching certificate, so if anyone needs some guidance, please get in touch. However, my time this year is limited as for some unknown reason (aka the SlimHippo), the Zimhippo has turned over a new leaf and is actually doing some training for a long distance swim. Never fear, I still stand by my adage THINKYOURWAYTHROUGHIT. But this year I am taking a slightly different approach and using my body as a bit of a test bed. How would I fare if I actually did some distance training for a distance event? My body must really hate me as I ask so much of it and use it as a guinea pig on many occasions, but amazingly and thankfully it just keeps on rising to the challenge every time! It cements the idea in my mind that we all have truly amazing abilities, and it is our mind that instills the limiting beliefs that we all impose on ourselves. Yes these beliefs are for a reason and that is as a mental safety guard, but under the right circumstances and with the correct approach, those limiting beliefs can be greatly exceeded, thanks to our amazing bodies.
So. If you are wanting to learn the art of getting into cold water without a wetsuit, just transition over from the pool to the lakes or oceans, plan an ultradistance swim or just keen on getting your technique improved. Drop me a line and I will be happy to help anyone who wants to take on a life changing journey.