On Saturday 5 September 2020, 10.5 miles, 15 degrees, 7.5 hours and 12,712 strokes later, I swam Lake Windermere.
Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!! I actually swam Lake Windermere!! I’m so so happy I can say that because there were plenty of times when I wasn’t sure I’d make it. What an adventure!
So, the adventure, henceforth to be known as the mission, started on Friday morning. Me and the husband dropped the kidlets at school, loaded up the car with clothes, food, drinks, safety supplies and a massive canoe, picked up one of our best mates Chris and headed North to the Lake District.
We arrived in Ambleside early evening and headed straight to the Lake so I could have a quick dip and hopefully get over the shock of the cold water before the big swim. We bumped into some lovely ladies, wrapped to their ears in Dry Robes, medals around their necks and with the familiar purpley tinged faces of those who have been submerged in cold water for a fair bit of time! They had just swum the Lake! Happy days! We chatted, they left, I dipped and didn’t give too much thought to their parting words… ‘When you reach the bay with the white house, it will feel like the house isn’t moving. That is the hardest part of the swim. But keep going. Once you pass that bay, you’re on the home straight to Ambleside…’
Dip finished, we all headed into Ambleside for a nice meal out. I was thinking nice-and-carb-heavy pizza but, not wanting to miss the opportunity for a posh nosh meal out, we headed to a curry house instead. It was delicious. But this decision now currently holds the top spot on my ‘Big Swim: lessons learnt’ list. Do not have a curry the night before a big swim! Thankfully I managed to avoid needing the loo in the Lake next to the canoe but… I’ve probably said too much already! Lols!
Anyway, meal enjoyed, we headed to the local Travel Lodge to begin the serious part of the mission. Dan carefully sorted the safety gear while me and Chris sorted food and set up a mini lab to measure out the correct amount of carb powder needed for each drink! As prepped as we were going to be, we bedded down for the night. Me in the double, Dan on a pull-out mattress on the floor and Chris in the kid’s bed in the corner! I promise I’m not usually so demanding 😉
Disorientated and dehydrated we woke up at 5am, gathered up all our stuff, snuck out the room, thanked the good Lord that the canoe was still on the car and headed to the Lake. (Big shout out to the National Trust team at Fell Foot who helped us out with early morning access to the park so we could launch and gave us all sorts of local knowledge about car parks etc. And Howard our cabbie! Thank you!)
It begins! I haven’t really eaten. I felt sick so I couldn’t. I try not to think about not having any energy on board. It’s very quiet. It’s raining. The sky is brooding. I’m excited. I’m happy to be in the water. I love the water. I’m nervous. I’m cold. Man it is cold in here! But what a breathtakingly beautiful place! I keep looking up to try and take in some of the scenery around me. I need to make sure the canoe is next to me. I need to try and settle into my strokes. Ah, the canoe is called Old Town, I see its name every time I breathe to the right. My kids would love that. ‘Yeah, I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road, I’m gonna ride ‘til I can’t no more…’ This song could keep me going for a while…
The rain has stopped. The sun is peeking out. The most AMAZING rainbow appears. I’m blown away. This bow of light, rising from and falling back into the Lake, before me, behind me, over me as I swim. I have Hope, I have Promise, I am ALIVE! I get to be here, right here, right now. I am so thankful. I swim.
I was hoping to swim for an hour before I needed a feed but I can feel the cold creeping up my toes. I’m colder than I expected. I need something warm. I’m happy though. I chat to my lovely crew, they sort me out, I stop for a carb drink and mini flapjack and head off again. I’ll need to stop every 30 minutes to feed now. That’s ok. I’ll tick them off in my head. ‘I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road…’
4km done. Stroke rate is good. Pace is ok. I lose myself in my thoughts. My kids. My friends. A-Z of my favourite food. I swim. I feed. I swim. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming. I love Dory. I love this place. It’s so beautiful. Its cold. But it’s beautiful. I need to come back one day to have a proper look around. I bump into the boat accidentally. I joke with the crew. The mission is going well. I’m happy. I swim.
9km done. We are at Belle Isle. Halfway. I’m no longer happy. I just pushed myself to get past the chain ferry and I am done. I have nothing. I am so cold. Have I ever been this cold before? People are waving and talking to the crew. I don’t care. I hurt. I want to get out. I can see the bottom. It’s so shallow. Will the canoe be ok? I could stand up. The coast is right there. I can’t carry on. I can’t do it. I cry. I say it out loud. ‘I can’t do it’. Hmm, it’s different when I say it out loud. Do I really believe it? Somewhere deep down I don’t. But I’m not sure I can find anything to carry on. ‘You’re smashing it! You’re doing so well. Keep going!’ the husband tells me. I am angry. I am clearly not smashing it. This lake is smashing me. He doesn’t care about me. He doesn’t care I’m cold and I’m in pain. I want to stop. ‘Babe, it’s the next tree. You just have to get to the next tree!’ the husband says. (We’re not mental honest! Read my ‘Why? Part II’ blog). I knew he was right. I had to focus on the ‘next tree’. Not Ambleside, but the next bit of headland. Can I make that? You knew it would be cold. You knew it would be hard. You said it would take 6-7 hours, how can you stop at 4? Come on! Why are you doing this? What’s the reason to carry on? Fundraising? No, its good but it’s not the reason. So my kids are proud of me? No, there are a tonne of other ways to be a good mum to them. Why? Come on! There must be a reason. Who would do this? Who would swim this Lake? This is so stupid. COME ON! What’s the reason? The pebble. When people swim to France they get a pebble off the beach they land on. I want that pebble. Well if I want my French pebble I need to get my Windermere pebble. Is that it? I’m going to carry on for a pebble? Ok, I’m carrying on for a pebble. Think process. One arm, in front of the other. Get to the headland. Nothing great is easy. Get to the headland. Process. Pebble.
Headland reached and passed. Yes! The husband tells me I have around 5km to go. Ok, 5km. I can do 5km. I’ve done that before. I can do 5km. On a good day, with fresh arms that’d be under 2 hours. I start doing the maths. I’m slow, I’m cold. So probably 2 more hours, even if it ends up being 3, I can do that. I feel the confidence rise again. The hope rises again. I can do 5km. Ok, lets go. Bring it on!
The wind is picking up. It’s coming from the west, chopping up the water. I breathe to the left and chug down loads of water. I need to breathe to the right but my right shoulder is playing up again. I need to lift my arms higher to get over the waves, I need to roll more to breathe in air and not water. The white house. Oh this is bay with the white house. What did they say? Right this is the hard bit. Really? This is the hard bit. It’s all hard. I need another rainbow. Any chance of another rainbow God? Why is this so hard? Ok. Come on. ‘I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road, I’m gonna ride, ‘til I can’t no more…’
The white house. The */@-“*/\’@~#”* white house. I hate the white house. Why isn’t it moving? I’m not getting any closer. I cry. I roll on to my back and I cry. ‘I can’t do it’ I say again. ‘Yes you can’ I get told again. Do these guys ever give up? Do they have no idea how hard this is, how much I am hurting right now? ‘You have about 1km to go, you just have to get to that next bit of headland and you’re there’. ‘I DON’T CARE’ I shout. I really don’t. I am so tired. My right shoulder is really hurting. My hips are killing me. I feel like I can’t hold my legs up any more. As soon as I stop, they sink. ‘Come on! You can do it!’ they say. They clearly don’t love me. If my dad was here he’d let me get out. I can’t swim anymore. But how can I get out with 1km to go. Arghhhh. I am so angry. I can’t. I cry. I can’t give up now. Never give up. Never give up. Process. Arms. One in front of the other. Even if you breastroke it in. (No offence to the breaststokers out there!) Help me Lord. Please help me. Come on. Come on!
My right hand brushes against the stones. The relief rushes in. Thank you, thank you, thank you I pray again. My feet hit the floor. My head comes out the water. I crawl forwards. I pull my goggles off. I try to stand. I’m unsteady. My hips hurt so much. I walk bent over to the husband. My towel is coming. This is not pretty. The husband holds me up. I’m here. I’m in Ambleside. A lovely Scottish couple come to congratulate me and with rolling r’s tell me ‘get that drrrink in ya gerrl’ Yes. Hot drink. I need hot drink. I need clothes. Layers. I am cold. I have made it. I’m not sure I ever want to swim again. But I’ve made it. Thank you.
I ring family and friends. I’m not sure I’m happy. I’m in pain. I don’t really want to talk. I mustn’t sleep in the car but I’m so tired. We stop on the way home for Burger King. I’m happy about that. And I usually don’t even like Burger King that much! The mission is complete.
Honestly, it took a while for it all to sink in. It took a while to stop hurting. It took a while to process. I felt broken for a couple of days and wasn’t sure if what I had done was a positive thing or not. It was so hard. I had hit a massive wall. And only at half way. I’ve never really had that before.
But I had made it through the wall. Somehow, I made it through and I had finished the swim. And that is so good. The pain at the time was bad but the joy of finishing is immense! And it keeps on giving! I can’t help thinking how the pain would have been less if I had stopped halfway but would be so so much more now.
I definitely would never have made it without my crew, so my biggest thanks and love to the husband and to Chris. They watched over me, fed me, encouraged me and kept me safe. My biggest thanks to my family and friends for supporting and encouraging me and praying too. These missions are definitely not solo missions!! And thanks to you too, for reading this and being part of this crazy, swimming journey.
But anyway, this is not the Oscars! This is a long old blog but it is just little me, swimming, and hopefully encouraging you to not give up! Life is amazing and hard all at once. COVID, marriage, singleness, having children, not having children, working, not working, money, no money, growing up, not growing up, health, sickness, … I could go on. There’s beauty and goodness and there’s suffering in all of it. We get told so often, if it feels good do it and if it stops feeling good then sack it off. I want to sing a different tune. I want to keep going, to persevere, to fight… for the right… to paaaaaaaarty! I digress.
But seriously, don’t give up. It gets hard. It gets messy. There’s a reason endurance athletes look wrecked when they cross the finish line. But the JOY of finishing, that it is what is set before you! And if you have given up, its ok, you are dearly loved, get up, go again. If you don’t have the strength He does. He’s kind and generous. And He makes a lot of rainbows.
I’ll leave you with some words from a beautiful song (Oceans) that a beautiful friend messaged me while I was swimming…
Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now
So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
And I got my pebble