We’re cutting it a bit fine timing-wise, so we have to power walk the mile from the boat landing to the point where the Great North Swim actually takes place. There’s not enough parking, so we decided to make use of the park, boat and walk option to get to the swim, which sounded scenic, but now, as I squelch through mud soup the like of which I’ve only seen at Glastonbury, in the pouring rain, with just 40 minutes till I’m meant to be changed, acclimatised and warmed up, it doesn’t seem so smart.
But, after this unplanned warm up, we get there, and a lovely woman in the very overcrowded changing tent helps me get my arms into my wetsuit. That’s one of my favourite things about these events – the great sense of camaraderie. I get through into the warm up area with five minutes to go, heart thudding and a little clammy. I decide not to go too mad with the warm up as I’m already pretty warm from practically running to get here! The acclimatisation area, a small section of the lake you can splash around in for a few minutes to get used to the temperature, is closed, but at least I’m here.
I stay at the back as everyone runs forward to the water, I want to enjoy it at my own pace rather than be elbow to elbow. A woman next to me strikes up a conversation and tells me she’s really nervous – she hasn’t trained at all. I tell her I’ve only swum in the wetsuit once and we gasp together as the cold water hits our chests before wishing each other good luck and splashing off.
At first there are too many bodies to be able to do much more than tread water, but I try and find a little space to be able to kick without connecting with someone else’s face. It’s cold, but in the adrenaline of the race, everyone there all together and the mountains all around, you don’t really notice it. Plus it’s raining, so we’re all wet before we even get in the water.
My thudding heart isn’t too keen on the sudden immersion though, and putting my head under makes my breathing gaspy. Maybe it is colder than I thought. I alternate between a few strokes of front crawl, proper breast-stroke breathing and sticking my head up to see what’s going on around me. It’s a windy day so the water is choppy, flint black waves rising in front of me edged with white lace foam, and sometimes it feels like I’m not moving at all. But steadily I get toward the half way mark.
There are big inflatable yellow blocks that mark out the route, and there’s a triangular half way mark that’s left over from the half-mile course. A few years ago at the Great London Swim I saw one and thought I was half way when I was just a quarter. So disheartening!
As you get further round the route people start spreading out, the more competitive charging off into the distance with everyone else puffing along through the waves. The safety is excellent, with lots of friendly kayakers paddling around the edges, keen to check that you’re okay. My goggles keep fogging up and I end up pushing them up to my forehead and looking around at the view. After all, we are in lake Windermere, surrounded by blue water and purple hills, and it’s just stopped raining. It would be a shame to keep your head down and miss it.
Despite the fact that in the rush I didn’t put my timing chip on properly, and so I keep having to stop to re-stick it on my ankle, I completed the swim in 47.10 mins – not great, but I’m blaming the windy waves for that. And it’s the experience, the cold, the wind and rain, the hundreds of swim hats dotted through the waves like bright coloured beacons, that make it worth it.
I did the Great North Swim in aid of the Alzheimer’s Society. Please sponsor me at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/swimbonnieswim