A year after I wrote about my first experience of outdoor swimming, I’m here writing about another swim which has been challenging for different reasons. After enjoying one swim race last summer (and nearly getting hypothermia on another in November…) I wanted another goal, something to really strive for. In January I signed up to swim the 1 mile course of the Great North Swim at Lake Windermere on the 8th June – but wanting to give it more meaning, decided to raise money for Mind. It would be the furthest I’d ever swum outdoors, and only my third event, so this one felt like the big one, proving to myself that I could really do this open water thing.
Starting the year well, I was training hard, using free weights to build up strength and regularly swimming a mile in the gym pool. I was feeling strong, capable and confident that with 6 months to train I’d be ready. The universe had slightly different ideas however.
We went on a fantastic holiday to Turkey in March, which was a good break from life and a chance to get some sun and climbing. What I hadn’t expected was for severe food poisoning to kick in the day after we got back. I was out of action for 10 days, in hospital for 1 (having nearly had an ambulance called out), lost half a stone in weight and was left feeling fragile and weak.
Being a bit naive (or stupid), as soon as I started to feel better less than 3 weeks since it first hit, I wanted to get straight back on it and began to tackle the Couch to 5k running app, hit the gym again and rather than fully restoring my reserves just went straight back into training.
It was going well, and a month later I was again feeling even stronger, my mile swim time was going down, and it was all looking fine and dandy. We then had a two week holiday to Australia to see my sister, and explore. A week in, we hiked Mount Warning in record time, enjoying the jungle tracks, amazing views and good weather. Feeling energised and fit, we decided to run back down – dodging tree roots, splashing through mountain streams, feeling like warriors. All was going well, for the first time I was properly enjoying running. About 500m from the car park on a flat stretch of path, I went over on my ankle. An audible crack stopped passers-by in their tracks. I crumpled to the floor in a heap of adrenaline, fear and pain, convinced the crack was a snapping bone.
Despite the drama, it was, thankfully, just a sprain – I could just about weight-bear after the initial shock wore off, the swelling kicked in eventually and I watched my foot go through a rainbow of colours. Being 6 weeks from the race, and finding out that ankles take 6-12 weeks to recover from a mild sprain, it was another setback. The focus shifted from training to recovery, getting handy with ankle brace strapping and finding whatever means necessary to enable me to still kick in the pool. It was a really tough time, I felt extremely down and disheartened, and had panic attacks for the first time in months as I dealt with a busy schedule, pain, and the inability to get back into what I had discovered I loved.
4 weeks after getting home from the trip, ankle still tender and weak but better than it was, I went for my first wetsuit swim of 2019, intending to fit in 2-3 before the race which was now less than a fortnight away. Ankle brace on, walkers looking at us by the river like we were mad (well, it was raining), it felt good to be back in the outdoor water. A kilometre later I was again feeling confident, and any fears allayed that no matter what, I would be able to do the course. Maybe not in the fastest time, but knowing that my body was still capable of getting through was a huge encouragement.
Just two days later, I was hit by a stomach bug. Turns out, my recovery from the food poisoning in March was not complete. What would usually have just been a day in bed and then carrying on as normal knocked me back for most of the week. That first day saw me up from 3am unable to keep any food down. I lost that half a stone again but in a fraction of the time, could hardly stand, and realised that my stomach was probably hyper-sensitive. My two reservoir training swims were no longer on the cards, and I was facing the final run up to the race just trying to build enough strength to go about daily life. Queue nutritional shakes (designed for older people unable to eat properly), lots of good bacteria drinks, and trying to pack as much protein into my meals as possible. I got into the pool with just a few days to spare, desperate to prove that I was at least still able to float around with some degree of skill.
Finally, when race week was here, the weather was too. First week of June, and it was wall to wall wind and rain. On the Thursday, 2 days before the race, it was almost cancelled. It felt very much cursed… and yet joined by my husband and mum and dad, we set off for a weekend in the Lake District to at the very least enjoy a weekend in a rented apartment with wine and games. Thankfully, the race did go ahead, albeit a 900m course rather than the mile due to the weather-related currents and safety concerns.
Despite all of this, I swam hard. The water was cold, but as soon as I went into that lake I felt strong. I finished in just under 21 minutes, at a pace that would’ve ironically been my fastest mile, and emerged over the finish line with the biggest grin, greeted by my cheering family.
Needless to say, the 6 months since signing up to the swim have been as much about mental strength as physical ability. It has been a test of my resolve, being able to face down challenges, disappointments and pain and keep pushing through.
As mentioned, this was to raise money for Mind – the mental health charity. Whilst I’ve not needed to use their services personally, having had many mental health struggles myself I know how important it is to have someone to talk to. To help you in the bad and the awful times. Mind do this for everyone, no matter the situation. I’m fortunate in that I’m surrounded by family and friends – not to mention an extremely positive husband – who have encouraged me, and spurred me on when I’ve felt low.
To know that despite my struggles, which in reality haven’t been that bad compared to some, I’ve been able to support this fantastic cause is one of the key reasons why I kept going. I was never going to give up, because Mind don’t give up on those who need it. I was able to raise double my fundraising target, but also bring awareness to my colleagues and wider network of the work they do, as well as my own journey.
I’m still in recovery – both post-illness and injury – but with a greater than ever resolve that I am capable of anything I want to do. I’m already planning the next race…
My fundraising page remains live until September 2019, so if you would still like to donate you can do so here.