This week’s blog is going to be a little different to my previous ones. I will still be talking about my training and what I have been doing over the past week in preparation for Windermere, especially as last Wednesday it was officially 2 months till my swim! However, I’m going to talk about what you don’t see, what can’t be seen in the pictures of beautiful lakes, rivers and swims that I post and what definitely can’t be seen in stats from the past week.
From the moment I thought about setting myself the challenge of Windermere Two Way I knew it was going to be tough, after all, challenges and meaningful things often are but I didn’t realise the impact me taking on this challenge would have both personally and with those around me.
Since I started swimming and training again (5 years ago) I have always tried to listen to my body and paced myself because I haven’t wanted to increase my pain. When I have been in a flare up or suffering with bad fatigue, I didn’t train, and I gave myself a chance to rest. It has meant that my training has never been able to be consistent, I would do a couple of weeks hard training and then my body would crash and I would spend the next week in bed crying on and off because of the pain.
Living with a chronic illness can be debilitating, living with several chronic illnesses is quite simply exhausting.
I knew for Windermere the one thing I needed to make sure was that my training and swimming was consistent, I couldn’t afford to miss a few weeks training because I was very sore and tired. I knew I would have to train harder, longer, and more regularly than I have since before my accident in 2011, so I knew it would be tough. I also knew and constantly have in the back of my mind that on the day of my Windermere swim I will have to go and do the swim, no matter my pain or fatigue levels and as a result I must train consistently, even when I am tired and sore. To be able to do this it has been not only physically challenging and painful but also difficult mentally.
Lake Ashmore 3/7/2020
When you are swimming for many hours on your own all you have are your thoughts and feelings. When you are in pain, be it from a chronic illness or just an injury, your body and minds natural instinct is to stop the activity so it stops the pain, well, I am always in pain so I can’t stop. I have had to train myself to ignore this natural instinct by using distraction techniques and a lot of practice, and by trying to remember to be kind to myself! One way I have learnt to do this is that when my pain is increasing, or my foot has started spasming I remind myself to pay attention to any faults in my front crawl arm stroke and I focus on different parts of my stroke too. This takes my mind off any pain or negative thoughts around my pain, by making me focus on trying to make my stroke as affective as possible. Other things I do are sing songs and occasionally I even count fish!
This past week has really tested me, in every way mentioned above. I swam in the fastest lane at the BRJ coached session on Monday night for the first time and pushed myself harder than I should have, on Tuesday I finished off my mental health first aider course (and passed) and on Wednesday did a 10km river swim. It was by far the worst 10km I have ever swum and experienced. I struggled both physically and mentally, however, it was good practice/training.
The beginning of the 10km swim seemed to last forever, I was already sore and uncomfortable before I started swimming and the current was still reasonably strong making it hard work swimming upstream. It was when we reached about 4km that I started to really struggle. I got cramp in my left calf which felt like someone had just sliced into my muscle, I managed to keep swimming but after that my left lower leg kept going into spasm and I could feel my ankle gradually swelling up. The cool water helped the burning sensation I get in that leg and foot from my CRPS, but the wetsuit felt like it was crushing my bones and I couldn’t work out which was worse!
We continued the swim, and it felt a little like my swim buddy, Val was dragging me along the river to get me through the swim and that the swim was never going to end. We got to the exit/entry point in Godmanchester to cross over to the next section of the river and it gave me a chance to have a drink and take some painkillers to try and get me through the rest of the swim. Neither thing made much difference but the spasming did reduce which was something. Things felt a little easier for a while and I managed to get into a good rhythm, but I was still incredibly uncomfortable and the word happy was missing from my dictionary. Nevertheless, we kept going and finally reached the Brampton Mill where we had a short break and drink before swimming back.
It was a little better on the way back as we were swimming with the current, but I was still in agony and when we got to Godmanchester portage point I had no clue how the hell I was supposed to get out. In the end I sort of launched/beached myself across the pontoon and oddly it was a relief and I used it to stretch. My back clicked several times, which was very satisfying and relieved a little of the tightness I had in my back and neck. I was so relieved to know that when we got in the other side of the portage point we were on the last bit of swim but sadly, even that seemed to take hours. The relief when we finished was immense, I felt bloody awful, mentally and physically drained, in a lot of pain and hungry.
I was still very sore and tired, but I managed to go to my personal training session on the Thursday and we did some very gentle work focusing on mobility and movement rather than weights. Then on Thursday night I had my weekly coaching session with the wonderful Lesley, we mainly did acclimatisation work as they haven’t been going in open water very long and the temperature had dropped significantly. In the end we had a bit of a swim a bob and a natter which was really lovely and definitely needed!
After the disaster of a 10km swim and lack of other swims at the beginning of the week because of my pain levels I was really behind on my distance target (which so far I haven’t not reached). I decided the easiest way to reach the target of 21km was to attempt a double swim day so on Friday. I started the day with a pool swim followed by the normal BRJ Lake Swim I do each week. That took my distance up to almost 17.5km but my target for the week was 21km so I was still a way off it and not happy. I have been really trying to stick to my weekly target distances and if I didn’t reach this one I knew it would affect me and may allow doubts to creep into my head over if I will complete Windermere. In the end I decided to push myself even further and go to Lake Ashmore first thing on Saturday and that brought my total up to 20.6km.
The past week has been tough, the weather changing and varying so much has had a huge impact on my pain and fatigue levels and as a result I didn’t quite reach my target distance for the week. However, I do have a sense of pride for even getting close to my target when I was in so much pain and struggling so much. A saying that I have always liked is
“I may have a chronic illness but my chronic illness doesn’t have me”Sophie Etheridge
and this week I believe that I have proved that.
My Weekly Stats:
2 River Swims – 11370m
2 Pool Swims – 4225m
2 Lake Swims – 5050m
Total = 20,645m