By Sarah Clough
I’ve been to three of the open water sessions before. The first was on August 2016 as a trial, in fact it was this that put the idea in my head about joining the club despite not being a club person, as I really liked the people I met and how it was run. I was amazed by how different open water swimming is to pool swimming, and how much harder, looking back at my bite at the time I wrote: “It was surprisingly hard work, until now I’ve never swum where I’ve struggled to keep going, normally I feel I can go forever if I didn’t get bored.”
In 2017 I went to the first two open water sessions, which were quite different because it was a guided acclimatisation which was really useful. I didn’t make any more sessions that year partly due to a clash with a cross country running series, and partly since as I was working part time Monday – Wednesday I could go on number of long walking trips to Scotland.
So come 2018 I made it to the second session – the first of the year for me and the first for a year too.
I’d had a filling done at the dentist after work and had run out of ibuprofen so was feeling a bit fragile, but psyched to swim in the sunshine. I have recently purchase my own wetsuit, having borrowed one on my previous trips, and wearing this I crept into the mere, working the chilly water down my wetsuit. There were a few involuntary squeals at the temperature as always but perhaps due to my wetsuit fitting well, the water didn’t cool me down too much nor slosh around, and it was nerves that delayed me setting off rather than the temperature. I love swimming but am a total wuss if I can’t see what I am swimming in and if there may be wildlife nearby (I love photographing wildlife but am scared of touching it!!)
I started off with my head out of the water but that inhibited my breathing so I looked in, but instead of seeing weeds every stroke was the same – just a metre of so or speckly murk. With one addition – rays from the sun. I thought it was some kind of refraction through my goggles first but the rays changed direction with each corner I turned so I realised it was the sun piercing the water. After that I almost wanted to gaze into the depths as it was pretty and intriguing, almost… I have seen a massive carp in there before and didn’t want to see one again.
My new wetsuit was amazing. Not perfect – it rides high at back and was chafing by end, but it very manoeuvrable and warm despite being thin. The ones I had borrowed before were obviously very much appreciated since they meant I could have a taster but they were either too tight or too thick making it hard to breathe, or had holes in making it cold, so having my own really made all the difference.
I’ve never done more than one lap of the course at a time before and didn’t intend to do any more this time as it felt just as draining previous visits. I left the blue buoys marking the course and headed for the orange buoy, and the water started to warm up which rejuvenated me before I even hit land, enough that I was ready to head round again before I even reached the orange buoy… so off I went.
On the second lap I concentrated on style. I had been mixing crawl with breaststroke for ease of breathing but I managed to do crawl for the full distance between two buoys (about 100m). I felt like that this open water stuff was finally falling into place! On the third lap I alternated crawl with breaststroke between each buoy. I found other style points to focus on – for example when sighting I found myself switching to a breaststroke kick so figured I was lifted too high so concentrated on staying lower and maintaining a torpedo kick. I also did windmill turns round the buoys. There was a bit of banter at the third buoy with Paul in a kayak, to break up the swimming. I said I was aiming for a mile – 4 laps. He said 4 laps was a little under so I’d have to do 5 – I mock groaned but the challenge was set!!
The fourth lap came with some aches and pains. I had hurt my back at work a month ago and since then have had a crick in my neck which keeps moving around, so every time I turned to breathe I had to do a full body roll with my arm pinned to my ear, rather than just turning my head. Nevertheless, on the fourth lap I managed a full round of crawl too. I was really into the swing of things now. (And my neck was actually massively improved the next day, oddly).
Finally the fifth lap was done – I could have done one more as I was moving at about 12 minutes a lap, but I was busting for a pee and starting to get calf cramp.
Back on land it was all pretty quiet, many opting to finish off with a run and for others it was just a normal training session, but I’m sure underneath many were secretly celebrating their own personal triumphs too, so well done!
A big thanks to the lovely staff great – the coaches, organisers, those signing in and out, the safety team and any others. All essential roles in providing an exciting evening for us all!