So this is what it was all about in 2016. One of the longest lake swims in the UK, the longest in England (apart from a Windermere 2 way!). When I finished the Dart 10k and the B2B for the second time last year I was looking for a new challenge, and this was it, over 10miles of beautiful and challenging swimming.
For those who don’t know swimming in lakes is harder that river or sea swims, why? Well, rivers have a flow and the sea is salty, so you are more buoyant (however it tastes horrible and has currents, so more challenging than a river), lakes are just, well, lakes and when they are this big they have waves/currents and respond to the weather. The Windermere One Way is frequently the first step on the way to an English Channel swim (and no I am not doing that…), and is considered to be roughly half a EC. The swim itself is just over 10miles from Fell Foot to Low Wray (or Waterhead for the BDLSA swim), and MyTriEvents have a compulsory pause/safety check at Storrs Hall to hand in the green wrist band as a head count. Another thing that needs to be/should be considered is the kayaker you choose/end up with – they are the second half of the team and important….more on this later.
So…with all that in mind and my taper complete we set of from Great Abington to Windermere last Saturday, the weather had been gorgeous for a few days, sunshine, no humidity, lovely. Last Saturday it was lashing rain and windy, all day, everywhere. We arrived at Fell Foot at the same time as Kathy and Ben for registration. Kathy is a fellow open water (OW) swimmer, we met through the BCTTT – a tri club I am a member of and Kathy raced for it once – and have kept in touch through FB as we have walked our way through the world of OW swims, meeting occasionally at Events. Ben is her husband and he was her kayaker/photographer/moral support/rock for this swim.We both registered, I met up with David Horn (my paddler) and Team Sainsbury headed off for our digs – a hotel on the south of the lake which is stuck in the 80s (Newby Bridge Hotel – don’t bother staying there). After the compulsory fish and chips supper we hit the hay for a terrible night’s sleep before the race.
0445 – Race day
The alarm went off and after sorting things out and forcing some Bounce Bar into myself I met Kathy and Ben at 0530 for the brief trip to the start.It was pitch black and the path to the lake was lit with cylumes/or glowsticks – quite atmospheric.
After logging myself in I found my start pen and began readying myself for the off.
I managed to find the start with ease and tried to smile for the camera….
After the compulsory race brief, including warnings on boats/waves/etc we had 20mins to kill….this went remarkably fast….
I spent most of it considering the physical side of the next 5-6hrs (that is me in the green/black Yonda wetsuit) – very contemplative…
0645 – The start
As 0645 arrived the first wave lined up to head into the lake – no mass starts here – all setting off 1min apart an individual effort throughout….
Wetsuits are not the most glamorous items of sporting apparel as modelled here by me…letting Dave know I was ready he sprinted to catch up…and off I swam into the mist in the rather chilly (I doubt it was the advertised 17deg) Lake Windermere.
So that was the start – no gun, a cheering crowd of other loons who were about to embark on the same journey…
Fell Foot to Storrs Hall
The first hour of the race was probably the bit I most enjoyed, transitioning from early light to daylight, the bottom of the lake gradually receding into the green murk and the shoreline slipping past easily.
Following the first 2miles, 3.2km I stopped to tread water and have some food. I committed the cardinal error that I should not have done and tried new nutrition in a race…I have never really swum on gels, occasionally I will have one before a short (3-5km race) to get things buzzing a few mins in), but I decided this would be easiest for the kayak and for me as I paddled in the water. To be honest they were unsatisfying and left me empty – something I used to love swimming in pools – “the empty fast feeling” but in a cold lake it is not that enjoyable…but IsoGels it was…for over 5hrs…hmmm…
This was also the time that I realised how much of part of the team the kayaker is. On the BDLSA website, in the longer swim preparation it talks of the boat/kayak and the crew being part of the team with the swimmer and I can understand that. Dave did a great job, by the end trying to keep me going as things were getting tough but as we had only met the day before we had no rapport at the beginning, he didn’t know how I swam and I hadn’t been clear enough on nutrition/how I liked to swim, this made the beginning/middle of the race harder than it needed to be. This is something to work on for next time.
After the gel and a sip of High5 Caffeine drink I set off again with my sights set on Storrs Hall (about 4.5 miles). At this point I was still on my own – there were no other swimmers around me, no-one caught me until Storrs Hall – it was quite weird being on my own.
Between 2 and 4 miles the wind picked up and the water surface became quite choppy – I hate this, I don’t mind waves but chop just annoys you after an hour or so..
Eventually after about 4 miles swimming I considered gel 2 and briefly discussed it with Dave but decided to push on, a big mistake as I left the nutrition plan and it took me some time to get to Storrs Hall, by which time I was cold, fatigued and cramping badly. I hadn’t intended to stop by I had to to try and release the cramp (incidentally it didn’t stop I had it until the end).
Storrs Hall itself, I am the swimmer second from the right.
The Storrs Hall checkpoint roughly 2hrs into the swim – I am the swimmer in the water on the right nearest the Jetty and bank.
Me leaning on the jetty (left of photo), trying to release cramp in my legs whilst being fed banana and malt loaf by Amanda (and her daughters) from FRANK Water
Storrs Hall to Low Wray
After Storrs we pushed on into the most challenging bit of the swim from the kayaker’s perspective, crossing the chain-link ferry path, Dave was fabulous and guided me through it.
Although not me swimming here you can see the ferry we went past – it moved at some speed!
It was at this point of the swim we really started to pick up a lot of traffic – the lake cruises were the worst (along with jet skis) as the wake was significant off them.
After the ferry and 2km I don’t remember swimming, Belle Isle came into view – David and I stopped on one of the small islands near it for a biobreak and a bite to eat – I actually ate solids (mars bar) and it felt better.
At this point we also had a Lancaster Bomber fly over us – very cool!! There is a film of this from the Lancaster’s point of view, you can just see the swimmers in the water and their support boats:
After the excitement of the Lancaster fly past we kept to the left of the bank all the way to the finish, the banks got higher and more rugged here and at 14.448km my Garmin decided to stop working, it simply decided that was too far, it also stopped the LiveTrack feed which Liz and the girls were following…all rather frustrating…
The other impact this had was on my mental state, long distance OW swimming is a lot about how long you can keep yourself going mentally – it is not just sky, water, sky, water….it is what you do to stop going nuts….I think a lot about the stroke and technique, especially in bad weather or during a physical race, but I sometimes think through holiday plans, sing songs in my head (lots of people do this I found out), think through work/family stuff….anything to keep the mind active….when I lost the Garmin track at 14.4km I had no idea how far I had swum…had I done 15 or 16km….or was it 14.6km….it became really challenging, especially when Dave turned to me at a feed stop and said – only 2 miles to go…I thought I only had about 1 left…it was really tough. Also around the same time, 8 miles in my arms became really really tired, very heavy and sore…everything hurt, this combined with the mental stuff made the last 2miles the hardest thing I have done since IRONMAN Switzerland.
Ultimately at this point is was just about keeping that thought in your head “…just keep swimming, just keep swimming….”.
Eventually the waves/boat wakes and endless corners of Lake Windermere gave way to the most magical sight, the red Zone3 buoys of the finish…the last few hundred meters were quite emotional and when I saw Lizzie and the girls after racing to the finish line (yes another guy ran and I raced the last few feet) I was in bits, I couldn’t talk, I just collapsed on the bank of the lake…a really tough challenging experience.
Overall I came 17/106 swimmers, I finished in 5:20:51.9, and going by several kayaker’s Garmins (which didn’t stop) it was a total of 17.5km. To top it all I came 3rd in my AGand I got a spot prize from FRANK Water, a rather beautiful slate with the swim logo on it:
So the last question is where do I go from here – as I drank a pint after the race I thought, never again….but….after getting 3rd in AG with poor nutrition, cramp, not enough long training I am now thinking….maybe….
If you haven’t and you would like to support the Charity I raced for, FRANK Water, please head to: