After my recent success as a triple ironman/failure as a quintuple ironman* (*delete as applicable), I wanted another challenge to avoid the dreaded post-race blues and conscious that I had a recently acquired hatred of cycling, I decided to do something based around my favourite discipline, the swim. I opted to enter a 10.5-mile one-way swim of Lake Windermere in Cumbria due to take place on 13 Sep 15.
By way of preparation I entered the swim leg of the inaugural Isoman Triathlon and Henley Bridge to Bridge marathon swim. The Isoman is a new take on the ironman format, endeavouring to balance out the disciplines with a 7-mile swim, 63 mile bike and a marathon run. The aim being that the competitor spends around the same time on each, as opposed to the usual cycling biased triathlons. I’d done a handful of long swims and was treating the event as training so foolishly agreed to go out with my sister in Birmingham the night before, and by out, I mean out out. This was a stupid idea as after numerous bottles of wine and less than 5 hours sleep, I found myself lakeside, trying to shovel a boost bar down and wondering just how painful the next few hours would be. The swim was 8 laps of 0.875 mile with a well-designed timing mat hung over a gantry for each competitor to swim under every loop, hearing the beep as your laps were checked off was a great feeling. Two-thirds into the lap was a feeding jetty for any pre-positioned sugary foods and teeth rotting drinks the swimmers might need, which I certainly did. My hangover was a contributory factor to how tough I found the event and every lap was a case of persuading myself to just do one more (just like Enduroman!). Whilst berating myself for being such an idiot and drinking too much, lap 8 came round and with it the sight of my sister and brother in law cheering from the lakeside. A real boost at that stage! I finished the swim in 3.39, an average of 31.28 per mile. Better than I deserved but I really felt it – I needed to get stronger before Windermere….
Next up was Henley Bridge to Bridge and this time I was hoping to feel stronger at the end to give me the confidence that I could do another 2 ish miles when at Windermere. The Bridge to Bridge is a fantastic event which I can’t recommend enough. It is 8.75 miles from Henley to Marlow along the River Thames. There are 4 locks along the way where you must get out and walk and these were used for feeding stations. The weather was beautiful and it was incredibly well organised with one of the best event atmospheres I have ever experienced. Overall my chip time was 4.10 and I came 131/397 overall. The last 1km felt like the longest km I have ever swam, looking up for the bridge every few strokes and willing my arms to move quicker but all in all I was happy, especially considering that 5 days before I had severely strained my lower back and was unable to move. After spending a day laid up and sulking, I opted to spend a small fortune on emergency physio and osteopath appointments to get me to the start line. The appointments, some pain killers and some serious mind over matter meant I finished the swim with a smile. A huge relief all round.
Six weeks later it was the Windermere Swim which starts at Fell Foot Park at the southern end and takes you to the northern tip of the lake at Low Wray, with the swimmers starting in groups of 20 at 10-minute intervals. Each swimmer must have a paddler in a kayak/canoe alongside them for the duration.
The southern end of Windermere is significantly quieter than the north, a great way to get settled and into a rhythm. We made good progress, feeding every hour; this involved a bottle of carb drink attached to a long piece of string being thrown at me, along with various Mr Kipling cakes and some malt loaf. My paddling crew had a Tommy Tippy mug filled with hot tea which was a godsend and kept me warm. We made the check point on schedule and after more feeding set off towards the dreaded chain ferry crossing; utterly convinced that I’d get run over by it, getting this done was a big tick in my book. As it was, it was uneventful; we waited for it to cross, then quickly swam by in its wake. Around this point of the lake the swim route takes you from the east shore to the west and around some gorgeous little islands. When we hit the 7/8 mile point I turned a corner into the toughest part of the lake. I was becoming quite fatigued at this stage and it is here where the water gets very deep and very cold, coupled with the largest rivers joining around this point makes for very choppy conditions, and the wind picked up too. Struggling to feel as if I was making any progress I knew the finish line was slight beyond a bay overlooked by a castle so became obsessed with looking for that. At long last and after what felt like hours, we turned into the final bay and I could see the red buoys indicating the finish line. A huge boost and surge of excitement came over me and I managed a spirit to the finish line leaving my paddlers for dust – ish!
My swim time was 5.24 with a chip time of 5.36 (feed stops and waiting for ferry to cross) and I was 32ndoverall (12thfemale). I’d had a leaky goggles drama during the first stage of the swim but decided to tighten them as opposed to swapping them for the spares in the canoe. This meant I had a horrendous headache by the finish line and as you can see in the photos look very much like I’ve been punched in the face! Overall, an event that I cannot recommend enough. And yes, I wore a wetsuit, but a handful of participants were in skins for those that way inclined!