“Now water can flow or it can crash, be water my friend.” Bruce Lee
“The best thing about open water swimming long distances is if you start crying, nobody can tell” The Blog Author
I’ve left writing the blog for a while as this particular adventure did not go as planned. There isn’t a lot of media in here, however you will soon find out why! Anyway let me tell you a fail story that’s wetter than Neptune’s kitchen sink and a reminder that sometimes the odd’s are really stacked against you.
As the title suggests this story involves swimming none other than Lake Windermere. In this case the epic Windermere 1 Way Swim – which is essentially swimming the lake end to end in roughly a day or less! In my case this was for charity.
It’s only fitting i describe Lake Windermere for those who haven’t had the pleasure of seeing the big watery bugger. Turning up the the race start line at Fell Foot to register me for the race myself and my mate Andy get to take the thing in. Windermere sits before us like a huge silvery scar in the land with the fading light, and the hills and fells loom over it. Many poets have been inspired by the place but I’m not poet, I’m a guy who has no idea what the word ‘relax’ means.
I’ve been training for this event for months and for good reason. Though months may not seem long to some professionals I have also ran not one but two ultramarathons this year. In fact at this point it has not been long since I completed the 100km Jurassic Coast Challenge. Anyway I’m doing this event to raise money for Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice ( https://www.birminghamhospice.org.uk/ ) which has helped drive me forward in my training. Which has been essentially switching sporting disciplines in a very short time. My best training swim was nine miles in around six hours and I am confident at this point I have this sorted. I’ve trained so hard I’m either growing gills or those are the worse wetsuit chafe marks I have EVER seen on my neck. I’ve freaked out lifeguards at the local pool by swimming for up to five hours and even got an audience swimming for six hours open water in Dosthill quarry. I’ve almost given myself a heart attack imagining being grabbed by a shark every time my foots hit my swimming buoy while swimming in Weymouth bay. Training has been fun!
The race has also cost what to me is a small fortune, 150 for a kayaker at least 250 in equipment and even more in travel and hotels. I know what some will say ‘ well you want to do it, why should I donate?’ Let me be clear here : I would like to swim the width of Windermere and go to the pub and have a holiday, instead I’m going to try and swim the length.
I’ve also had the dubious pleasure of trying on my Triathalon wetsuit in a 40 degree motel room while running a Cotswold Store in Biggleswade. Why? Because when I was finished thee I was going straight to Weymouth to open water swim and run the Jurassic Coast Challenge. Anyway while trying on the suit (some of you may know these are VERY tight fitting) I overheated so much I came close to passing out and becoming the amusing newspaper headline of ” Man found dead in hotel room, in wetsuit, miles from sea”. I would like to think one day when I do die really spectacular and that it’s not in some dubious way that appears in the Sun newspaper….
Fast forward to race day
Last night we didn’t get to meet the kayaker supporting me until well after I needed to be asleep. Because of this we don’t get to eat until late and I’m still on edge and I get NO sleep at all. We awake and get in the car to go to the start at 5:00am and the kayaker texts me saying he has become too ill overnight to paddle. He seemed fine the night before and why has he not called me or given ANY warning? This is all about an hour before the start of the race, it’s dark, raining and I’m already on edge. Arriving at the start line, though the kayaker has asked me to speak to a guy he knows I don’t fancy a second let down so we speak to the organisers. They are as surprised as us by the drop out and set me up with kayak leader Kerry. This is far from ideal for either of us and I feel negativity building in my mind like poison. Kerry also has no gopro mount or way of recording so I can’t get any footage for my sponsors. This is getting worse.
Into the water
After a quick pep talk and being told we are mad by Foggy who is one of the race staff, we file slowly into the cold brown, waiting water. I feel the chill seep into my tri suit and lose my breath for a second. I start to swim and Kerry paddles up beside me. It’s on.
In my head my still determined to smash this, as I’d like to think I’m pretty tough. If you have followed my other blogs I’d like to think that you who are reading this agree!Right now though I’m not calm and I feel like I have a lead brick in my stomach. It takes a few more minutes for the shock of the early morning water temperature to subside and another ten for me to get my breath. I can tell lack of sleep is already not helping me as other swimmers are still overtaking me a few miles in. However just after this point I find my own pace properly and start to overtake some swimmers. I start to feel a glimmer of hope! I CAN do this.
The view from the water is nothing short of amazing and with the hills and mountains flanking the shores in my view I know I’ll carry the image of this in my mind forever.
Things start to go wrong
The water now reveals nothing as we progress into the lake. It is about as clear and around the same colour as swimming through varnish at points. I have no idea what lies below me (maybe unlucky swimmers?). I regret listening to other competitors panic about the cold of the water and buying my neoprene gloves and boots. I’m really warm and realise the wetsuit is also slowing me down. Every stroke with this gear takes more effort than it should. Seeing other swimmers overtake I know I’m not as fast as I was in training. Giving the gloves and boots to Kerry I neck a caffeine energy gel and speed up a little.
Speeding up I get my head down into the dirty brown water of the lake and think of the people this will help at the hospice. I also picture the finish line at Brathay hall and then make the mistake of asking Kerry for the time. It turns out we are very close to the cutoff time for half way at 5.5 miles. My heart skips a beat and my stomach does a backflip. I lose focus and then get hit in the face and subsequently swallow more than one of the pale brown waves thrown at me by passing boats. One boat crew however cheers me on and I push on, slightly more motivated. Only thing is I’ve already sprung a leak in my confidence.
Almost half way
Twenty minutes later and the half way stop though more than in view feels no closer despite the fact I’m practically there. I’m exhausted and stressed and I haven’t slept. When I ask for the time I realise I’m fish food. Even though the distance to the half way stop is nothing compared to the vastness of the lake behind me, unless someone installs an outboard motor on my butt i’ll never make it in time. Despite trying to sound upbeat about it, it’s clear Kerry knows this too.
And then it hits the fan
Kerry calls for a support boat to take me to the shore. Walking up the beach after I’m dropped off is soul destroying and after all my hard work I feel empty. This was a focus for months and now it’s all over.
The team on shore are concerned I’m getting cold but I barely hear them through my own thoughts. Was this my fault, did I not train hard enough, had I let people down? Would I raise as much for charity? Despite my dark thoughts a friendly volunteer makes me a coffee and another puts me in a car with a Spanish swimmer who didn’t make it either. I’ve called a lot of people and my mate Andy who is going to meet me at the finish and listen (unbeknown to him) to me being a person shaped thunderstorm for eight hours. All I want now is beer and to sit doing the thousand mile stare you see old fellas doing in Wetherspoons.
At the finish but not as a finisher
Standing at the finish line watching swimmers exit the water I feel like I’m crashing a party I wasn’t invited to. The sky is lead grey and it starts to rain gently as I say thanks to the guy who dropped us back and give Kerry a hug and a thank you. Then I proceed back to the hall.
I now get the unique experience of walking through in a wetsuit and dripping dirty lake water all over the carpets of a National Trust stately home. Apparently this is ok but it feels quite rightly really surreal. I see a professional swimmer I met at the start who was all nerves despite having done the race before and he’s done it in about 5 hours, what a lad! One guy has done it in 4 hours and I think everyone’s watching to see if he packs a trident into his duffel bag and gets a lift home off a dolphin.
Looking back the distance I covered was still epic at roughly half way and the money which I’m still raising for the hospice will do good for those who really need it. I’d gone way beyond the call of duty and I hope you can forgive my frustration and understand it.
As far as I’m concerned this isn’t over.
I’ll be back and with people I can rely on.
Thank you to all my supporters for your kind donations, to the amazing generosity from the customers of Cotswold Outdoor and of course to my friends, family, colleagues who have to constantly put up with me finding new and exciting ways to get myself killed.
And thanks for reading! If you want to sponsor me I’d appreciate it, if not please share this post! TO SPONSOR: uk.virginmoneygiving.com/markselevenmileswim