Introduction to Open Water Swimming.
After Christmas I decided that as I had always wanted to try open water swimming, this was the year I was going to make it happen. While chatting about this with Harry, my younger son, he said he was up for the challenge too. We applied to take part in a charity swim from Padstow to Rock in July, a mile swim across the Camel Estuary, in aid of Marie Curie a charity that has touched our family deeply in the past. Application sent and BOOM we both got places; this open water swimming was really going to happen.
Now recovered from the ordeal of the Triathlon, it was time to face the open water.
So Harry and I booked onto the “Introduction to open water swimming course” with the amazing Jason Tait from South West Swim, taking place at the lakes at South Cerney. For this to happen, I had to get myself a wetsuit! The fab people at Selkie suggested that I go and try on one of theirs. So off I went to see if I could squeeze myself into one. With a bit of huffing and puffing, success! I was in a Spirit wetsuit. Probably not the prettiest sight but I can now say I am the delighted owner of the most amazing wet suit. Selkie you have done me proud. Thank you, I felt like a kid at Christmas with my new toy and I couldn’t wait to use it.
Saturday morning came, we set off full of excitement and trepidation at what the day would hold. We arrived early and met up with the other swimmers. Chatting amongst the group there was a mixed bag of emotions and expectations of the session. We were swimmers of all different abilities and with different water experiences.
The first part of the session was classroom based, this was a very relaxed open environment. We were put at ease by Jason and his coaching colleague Colin Jones. I knew that we were in safe hands, this was supported by their vast range of swimming knowledge and experience, reinforced with their calm approach and manor.
My fears were that there’s no black line to follow, no physical end (except a bank or duck or boat?). How would I know where I was going? When to stop?! What would it feel like to swim in a wetsuit? Would I be ok? All the comforts and securities of my usual swimming environment gone! Then my biggest fear, the temperature of the water! How cold would it be? Jason reassured us that the water temperature was currently 17-19 degrees, quite warm for open water swimmers (really?? still not convinced) although it may still feel cold if it is your first time. The thought of this made me shiver.
During the session we covered some of the differences between swimming in a pool to swimming in open water. We discussed safe entry and exit of the water, safety while in the water, being seen and being safe. Breathing (very important), relaxation and acclimatisation to the water. Then came the technical bits, sighting, stroke, breathing, turning, oh my! so much to take on board. I’ve been swimming for quite a while how different could open water swimming be? All this, then the art of putting on a wetsuit, followed by how to get out of it.
The classroom talk over it was time to hit the water. Standing at the edge of the lake all wetsuited up, Swim Secure swim hat on and my training Swim Secure tow woggle securely fitted around my waist I was ready for action, with a whole range of emotions rushing through my head, including that of excitement and in trepidation. This was silly, as this was something that I’d always wanted to do and now was the time it was going to happen. The weather couldn’t of been better; it was a beautiful sunny day and I had been reassured that the water wasn’t that cold (well I would be the judge of that and I was about to find out). Harry was with me and I was being coached and supported by Jason and Colin. As I stood at the water’s edge having a moment taking it all in, it was one of those moments that will stay with me - my first open water swim!
Wearing my beautiful multi coloured wet shoes as I didn’t want anything slimy on my feet, I was brought back to reality as I took my first steps into the lake; they lied, it was cold!! Standing there watching the rest of the group move out into the deeper water, I thought how am I going to do this if the water it is that cold? It was one of those should I stay or should I go moments. I had come this far took a deep breath and took a couple of steps forward, taking on board what I had been told earlier about taking your time and acclimatisation. Stepping forward with the water level rising up my legs, the wetsuit doing its job, I wasn’t able to feel the temperature of the water, that was until the water hit the zip of the wetsuit and cold water seeped in trickling down my back. Ooh that was a little chilly. It didn’t last long though.
Beginning to relax a little more I advanced slowly into the lake and before I knew it, I was in. OMG I was in the lake, floating, and swimming, it felt so amazing, I couldn’t believe it.
WHY HAD I WAITED SO LONG?
For the next hour or so we went through everything that we covered in the classroom. One of the funniest things we did, well funny for me, we were asked to swim twenty strokes with our eyes closed. This was to reinforce the importance of sighting. My go, off I went feeling confident that all would be ok, how wrong was I? I had swum off in a 45 degree angle away from the target buoy, this proved that sighting was something I was going to have to work on.
I took some time to take in the enormity of this event. Floating in the lake was so tranquil and peaceful. Swimming in the lake/open water without a care in the world has to be one of the more exhilarating things I have done. I didn’t want to get out of the water.
Once back on dry land and removed from my wetsuit, it was quick debrief and a hot cuppa. I cannot wait to do it all again and I can call myself an open water swimmer. For the rest of the day I walked around with a silly smile on my face so chuffed of what I had achieved and the adventures to come in the open water.
I can now start training for my next event, Padstow to Rock, a mile across the Camel Estuary.
Click here for Part 6 of Rachel's story.