It was time to set off back to Ambleside, just another 10.5 miles to go and I would have finally completed my 2 way Windermere swim. It had been postponed due to Covid19, I had had emergency surgery 4 weeks before and only 2 weeks before I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to swim when I got to Windermere!
Having got a decent amount of calories and something hot into me I was feeling good, strong, determined, and focused on the next 10.5 miles, but I had a feeling these next 10 miles wouldn’t be so simple. I just hoped that I had all that I would need in my toolbox to get me back to Ambleside. The things that I always rely on from my toolbox are all the previous swimming experiences that I have had in all different kinds of conditions, the amount of training I have done, the kind of training I have done, my determination and my stubbornness. I just hoped all of that would kick in and help me through the next 8 hours of swimming.
As we were going around the boats in the marina and heading back into the main bit of the lake I was struggling. I couldn’t swim in a straight-line and I kept drifting away or suddenly found myself swimming away from my safety boat. On top of that, I had the issue that the water was still very shallow and me being pushed off course was pushing me into even shallower water and as a result, I ended up catching my right foot on a rock and cut it. Thankfully, it wasn’t a deep cut so I was able to keep going but I think if it had been my left foot, it would have been the end of my swim. It was then that I realised I wasn’t even out of the marina and that the water would just get more and more choppy when I was. I knew I would need to rely on absolutely everything in my toolbox, even the little crumbs of things that normally seem utterly useless and pointless to me just to get me back to Ambleside in one piece!
After about 15 minutes of attempting to swim and feeling more like I was drowning I finally managed to sort of settle into a rhythm; at least as much as possible when swimming in rough water! The issue I had was that the wind had picked up even more and the water was getting more choppy and although I had finally managed to get into some sort of rhythm in my swimming, I honestly didn’t know how I was going to swim 10 miles in those conditions. There were waves coming at me from all sides, completely unpredictable and I never knew if when I took a breath, I would get air or lake water! It was the first time I questioned myself over if I should keep swimming or just call it quits because the likelihood of me finishing the swim was slim. I had words with myself and convinced myself to keep going and see how I felt at the feed stop in 1 hour.
An hour flew past in what seemed like 10minutes and I was still struggling, and I discovered that feeding was almost impossible. I tried having some drink and Jelly Babies but the method we had been using so far (holding a torpedo buoy with one arm and eat/drink with the other) wasn’t working in the rough conditions. I tried treading water but when your legs are rubbish it just doesn’t work and was too painful, plus I honestly thought that at one point I was going to end up under the boat and pop up on the other side of it. Thankfully, I did manage to get some drink inside me and a couple of jelly babies but I was most disappointed when I dropped the purple and red jelly babies in the lake! There was one good thing about the first feed stop though, and that was that I didn’t feel any worse than when I started swimming, no better, but no worse either. I had also made quite good progress, but I knew I still had a very long way to go! I once again told myself to put one arm in front of the other and “see how you are at the next feed” and kept going.
During the next hour of swimming the wind got worse and just to be helpful there were several idiots on a boats doing doughnuts around us which made me feel like I was swimming in the sea; at one point I even stopped to ask the pilot of the boat if I had got lost and ended up in the channel! It was then made worse when my safety boat had to do circles around me because otherwise it was going to hit me, making me my own personal washing machine.
Admittedly, I preferred the washing machine over being hit by a boat… and my pilot/boat crew were awesome given the conditions!
I was going no-where, my arms were moving, I was using my energy up but moving no-where; it was like swimming in an endless swimming pool. The biggest things I was struggling with was my breathing as I couldn’t have my head to the side for too long or I just got a mouthful of lake water and to sight I had to lift myself up out of the water so I could see over the top of the waves. This put extra strain on my core and Gallbladder surgery site, it was the only time my surgery site hurt during the swim.
The hour seemed never ending and I was hungry, tired, and beginning to struggle. I couldn’t wait for the feed because I knew it was surprise time! Before my swim I had organised all my feeds and throughout the swim I had randomly put ‘surprise’ for some of the feeds. I had given my sister a box of yummy things that would make me happy so when I stopped for this feed, I didn’t know what I would be eating but I knew it would be yummy! To my surprise she added some of her own Milky Bar (shock horror) and my god was it amazing! At the time it was honestly the yummiest thing in the world and made me smile more than I thought possible at that moment. My sister also informed me that my fundraising had gone up at just hit £800 – It gave me the boost I needed to keep swimming.
What I didn’t know at the time and thankfully my sister and the boat crew didn’t tell me was that in that past hour I had only covered about 1km and spent half of it going backwards.
After the Milky Bar and fundraising boost, I felt more positive and I actually managed to relax into a decent and fairly effective stroke. I raised my elbows and shortened my stroke so rather than fighting against the waves I was ‘spearing’ through them, this was what I used to do when I swam in the sea. Once I had started doing this, I began to move forwards again and stopped debating if I should stop swimming. For the next couple of hours I just put my head down and ploughed forwards (obviously I still had my feeds). Finally, I saw the Ferry in the distance, and I knew from the first way swim that was roughly half-way! Despite being able to see the ferry it was, sadly, a lot further away than I thought but being able to see it and have something to aim for drove me forwards.
It was time for another feed, but we decided to get past the Ferry so that we didn’t have to stop and wait for it to cross in-front of us. I was grateful for the guys on the boat suggesting this as once we were past the ferry, we were more sheltered from the wind and other boats behind a few islands, which made the feed much easier and therefore much more useful!
The sun was beginning to set and as cheesy as it may sound, I felt honoured to be able to watch the sunset in such unique circumstances and beautiful surroundings. It was time to swap back to my normal goggles and add my adventure light to them. I really enjoyed the sunset and admittedly got a little distracted by it but I knew that the sun going down would bring in more challenges for me, the biggest being the water and air temperature getting colder and obviously it getting darker.
Night swimming is a unique experience itself and I think you either hate it or love it. I love it and always have but, I will freely admit I had done no night training at all for this swim. I had expected to only swim for a couple of hours in the dark and knew I could happily do that with no training, but I knew that I was behind time and would be spending much longer than anticipated in the dark.
An hour and a half in the dark was when I first started to feel cold, that was about 13 hours into my swim. This also happened to be the hour I was asked my ‘honesty question’ about if I am safe to continue swimming. It was the first time during the swim that I had to think about if I was safe to continue for another 4 hours, simply because of the cold. I decided the honesty question should be asked each hour at my feeds from then on.
Due to it being dark there were far less boats on the lake and the wind had calmed down, so the lake conditions were similar to the ones I had started in that morning meaning I could make much better progress. It also made feeds much easier, and it allowed me to admire the beautiful stars. I was even lucky enough to see a shooting star and somehow/luckily my sister got a picture of me swimming with it.
The one downside of conditions being better was that it allowed me to think rather than just focus on swimming and not drowning. The thought I kept coming back to was “im cold”, I needed to try and make myself feel like I wasn’t cold and distract myself so I could keep going because I knew that by now I couldn’t have more than 7km left and unless the observer said I had to get out I wasn’t going to until I got to the end of the lake!After I told the observer I was cold, we agreed to keep each feed incredibly short, I had a couple of mouthfuls of hot chocolate and then got back to swimming as soon as I could to try and stop myself from getting even more cold. I think in total I ended up doing this for 3 feeds which wasn’t ideal but getting cold was worse than being hungry!
I kept swimming but could no longer tell how long I had been swimming for or how far I had swum as I couldn’t see anything apart from the lights on my safety boat and some lights in the distance that looked miles away. As mentioned, I love swimming at night, but it does bring some challenges. Firstly, it can be a little disorientating, this wasn’t helped by the fact it was the first time I had swum at night in such a rural area, normally at night you can see the lights on the shore or at least a slight haze from the lights but because so much of the shore along Windermere has no public access there were none that I could see. The only things I could see were my hands as they entered the water, the lights on the boat, the stars and miles away I could see lights on the shore, which, I assumed/hoped was Ambleside.
I was starting to struggle mentally more than I was physically. It was just black. I couldn’t tell how far or fast I was moving; I didn’t know how far I had left to go and it began to feel like the lake would never end. I knew going into the swim it would be tough mentally, it was double the distance of any swim I had done previously. I knew I had done 3 feeds in the dark and so I finally bit the bullet and asked “how far do I have left to go?”
I wasn’t expecting the response “we’re here, just swim round the end of the pontoon”. To give you an idea of how little awareness of where I was I then asked “Which pontoon?”. My sisters response was along the lines of “the one you’re about to swim into, go round it to the beach and we will come and meet you”. What I then realised was that the lights I had seen that looked miles away were in fact on the pontoon I was aiming for and they were about 100 meters in front of me.
I couldn’t quite believe it, I’d done it. My first worry was how on earth am I going to get out, will my legs work, do I try to stand up holding onto the pontoon or do I just crawl…I went with crawling, which was definitely the right option. I noticed my sisters partner Stu on the beach walking towards me and it was only then that I realised that I had actually finished the swim. I crawled up the beach far enough to meet him and then Leon, the observer from the boat came and helped me to my feet with Stu and got me to the nearest bench where my wheelchair and dad were waiting. My dad helped me pull the top half of my wetsuit off and quickly wraped my Dryrobe round me because I was starting to shiver. I didn’t realise, but by this time it was 11.30pm. I got as organised as a could, somehow got into my wheelchair and my dad pushed me to the car and got me in and sorted. I felt like I was floating, I felt like the world was swaying and I felt seasick, but I also felt proud. Firstly, I was proud that I had decided to take on such a huge challenge and I was proud that I was taking on the biggest swim of my life just 5 years after restarting swimming. I was proud that I had just completed such a mammoth swim and I was proud that despite a pandemic, family health issues, my own health issues and especially the fact that I had surgery just 4 weeks earlier I had completed a Two Way Windermere Swim.
16 hours 41 minutes
We got back to the cottage we had rented for the week and I was greeted by Reggie who had MAJOR zoomies because it was way past his bed time (yes, the dog has a bed time and goes more nutty than normal if he doesn’t go to bed at 10pm). I was thrilled to see that my mum had managed to stay up for a huge, emotional, and slightly soggy hug. Running on adrenaline and gone midnight I somehow managed to get the rest of my wetsuit off and have a shower, had something to eat, followed by eating all the yummy stuff left from my surprise feed box. We all went to bed, exhausted but elated and in mine and my sisters case – feeling like the world and bed was swaying!