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My journey from 5m to 5km open water swim

 

I hear every day of people training for triathlons, marathons, half marathons, but when my friend Emma told me that she is training for a 5km swim in Windermere it sounded just like the challenge for me. Surely I could do it, I love swimming, breast stroke swimming! Front crawl can’t be much different, can it? Oh yes it is! And the catch was that I had to finish in under 2h. Did I mention that I was unfit as well?! I did not remember when I last run or did some exercise other than running after my son in the garden, but this did not stop me to sign up for the Great North Swim.

 

It was January and I thought 5 months of training will be enough. I joined a Swim Squad and on Sunday evening 8pm when everybody else would enjoy a nice meal, watch a good movie or have an early night before the beginning of the week, I was at the pool, keen as mustard to start. Then these fit chaps and women turned up and I found out that they were all triathletes and some were even training for IronMan challenges. The trainer gathered us and started writing down these hieroglyphs that supposed to correspond to types of drills, whatever those were anyway. She then looked at me and said: in the pool, I want to see what you know. I had to admit that I never swam front crawl before. So she gave a lane of my own to practice and her assistant started to tech me. I was next to the best girl in the group, and boy she fast, so fast I could not even figure out what she was doing to go this fast. I left that night with a smile on my face: I was the bottom of the class, but hey, I was in the class!

The next weeks were hard. I watched many swim technique videos, I tried on my own at the pool, I signed up for private lessons, but for the first 2 months I was going nowhere in the pool. And I started wondering: why do I have to learn to swim front crawl? I can perfectly swim breast stroke. Laura just cut this thought short and said I will never do it in 2h. Then she started to give me more tips and it was clear that I need to change the trainer. I needed Laura.
 

early morning in Windermere
early morning in Windermere

Laura runs the TriSwim Squad for Kent, UK. She is a brilliant coach! She has this amazing energy and I honestly believe she can teach a fly to swim. She did not just teach me how to swim, she gave me the confidence that from now on, whatever I’ll try to do, I’ll succeed. I once asked Laura if I will be able to complete the challenge. I wanted to know if there was any point in this hard training at anti social hours. She could not sugar coat this for me and say that I’m going to do it, she just said that it’s going to be HARD.

That was when I figured out that I needed to do this for charity. The struggle that goes into the training it is probably nothing compared to the struggle that people that fight cancer go through, the struggle that parents have when their children are ill or going through bereavement. I turned to the charity that my husband and I have always supported, Sense International. Their work supports the teaching of children who are both deaf and blind, to communicate with their parents and the world. If those parents can learn to communicate with their children, I could definitely swim 5km.

For the last 12 years, my husband and I have organised some splendid treks in Romania, Outer Hebrides, Camino de Santiago and other events. But none of the things we’ve done before was as challenging as this, this was a proper challenge.
 

start of the 5km
start of the 5km

With just 3 weeks to go before the big day, I turned up at the teaching pool and Laura said ‘you won’t like this, but you’ll have to swim continuously for 1h. There is that much that technique can help you, but you need to raise your endurance.’ It was so hard, I wanted to quit on the spot, but I got into the pool and swam. Laura sat on the side and counted my laps, I’ve done 2km. The next week I swam every day at my local pool, I found the time and did it. Every lap I could see Laura on the side of the pool saying ‘keep going, stretch your arms and focus on your breathing.’

Then it was time to swim in open water. It was so different! For start not seeing the bottom it was scary. Then there was no end of the pool to turn and take a bigger breath. The distances from one buoy to the next were bigger and there were less people in the water. But lakes are beautiful and by the end of my first lap, 400m, I really enjoyed it.
 

Actual footage of me swimming
Actual footage of me swimming

When the big day came, I was nervous and excited at the same time. I had over 40 messages on my phone wishing me good luck, people praying for me and thinking about me. I could not let them down. Then a message from Ana Claudia came and she said ‘no matter what the result, for the training you put into this, you are amazing to me’. Such a support and understanding of what this really felt like was wonderful. I relaxed and went it the water at 8.30am with the thought that I should enjoy this. I was in a stunning place, the skies were blue and the supportive crowd was just wonderful.

The last 500m were hard though, I started to think about my dog Roxy who died at Christmas last year and I wanted to cry. This swim has also celebrated our dog, whose 7th birthday would have been that weekend. As a Newfoundland, she was a great swimmer, a dog who would have swum to the end of the earth to help someone.

coming out of the water
coming out of the water
I've done it!
I've done it!

I completed the challenge in 2h and 20min, I was not the first and not the last. Noone took me out of the water at the end of the 2h. My friend Emma did it in 1h 45min, she is an amazing swimmer, but everyone who met me on this journey, said it was an amazing achievement! I definitely feel great and I can only thank Emma for telling me about it and supporting me every week on the way to and back from our squad training. I am now converted to an open water enthusiast and I can’t wait to swim my way through any place I go to.

Any open water swimmer out there? Where have you been and loved it?

Is anybody else training for a challenge this year? We’d love to hear about it?