Well, I did it! 1 mile in open water around Salford Quays. Wow, what an experience. It is now more than 24 hours since I completed the swim and I am still reeling from the experience! I couldn't blog about it last night as I couldn't easily put it into words and I felt elated, overwhelmed, dumbstruck and exhausted. Anyway, here is my account of the Great Salford Swim....
At 11:20 on Sunday 15th May, the Great Swim Series, sponsored by British Gas (!), started at Salford Quays. We arrived early and watched a mother duck swimming in the Quays with her brand new tiny ducklings and thought about the fact that we would be shortly swimming about in there with them....!
I was lucky enough to be swimming in the first wave of the first race of the year and it was a truly amazing experience. It was to be the first time I had swum in open water , in a wetsuit and I had been warned that is it different to a pool and I should try my wetsuit out first to ensure a good fit and to get a feel of it. Unfortunately I didn’t have an opportunity to do this before the event, and I felt confident in my ability to swim a mile as I have done a lot of training, so I made my open water début at the event.
As I plunged into the 14c water with 200 other people, I soon regretted this. I felt as though I had forgotten how to swim; my ankles felt really buoyant and floated up behind me. When I tried to put my face into the water to swim properly, the shock of the cold water made me involuntarily take a breath in (the rest of me was quite warm thanks to my wetsuit!). So I was swimming a very strange stroke because I had my head out and my ankles floating up behind me and it was pretty difficult and inefficient. At that point I really didn’t think I would make the distance. My husband, Dylan was swimming next to me and he is a seasoned tri-athlete and he talked me through the difficult parts, swimming just ahead of me, keeping me going. It was a very long 20 minutes, where I felt I was swimming slowly and with difficulty and struggling to breathe. The course allowed for spectators to walk alongside and there were helicopters buzzing overhead as the event was being televised. We had a lot of support from the crowds and from the crew. I passed the corner where we had spotted the ducklings earlier, I thought of my own children and kept going....
When we got to the half way buoy, I suddenly found my stroke and felt as though my body had warmed up (and I had calmed down) and I could swim again. Dylan stayed by my side and we finished in about 54 minutes which I was very pleased with. My aim had been to do the distance in less than an hour (I have previously swum just under 1 mile in 44 minutes in a pool). My legs were like jelly when I tried to get out and I was helped out by the lifeguards. One of my work colleagues was at the finish and he made sure the commentator gave me a mention as I finished (thanks Kev!) and it was a pretty good feeling to have made it!
We rubbed shoulders with famous swimmers on the day, including Duncan Goodhew who swam as part of a team of celebrities competing against each other in a charity contest; Olympic medallist Kerri-Ann Payne, who was the favourite elite woman to win, and who did not disappoint, by swimming it in just over 17 minutes. Also, the German, Thomas Lurz who won the men’s elite race in just over 16 minutes. Five times Olympic gold medallist, Ian Thorpe was there co-presenting the BBC coverage with Olympic silver medallist Steve Parry and the BBC's Matt Baker.
This morning I have woken up stiff in muscles that I wouldn't normally use to swim which I guess is a testament to my unusual stroke as I tried to cope with the buoyancy. I also have friction grazes on my neck from my wetsuit rubbing - I was offered some Bodyglide but I declined. Another thing I know for next time. And I have rosy cheeks! Most puzzling as it drizzled for most of the day, but they definitely feel lightly sunned, so I suppose the reflection of the water may have carried some UV rays to my face; just waiting for an eruption of freckles now!
I have entered the Great North Swim at Lake Windermere on 19th June. At this point I am feeling a little unsure about whether to do it all again as it was a pretty overwhelming experience wasn’t at all how I was expecting it to be. But I made the distance in the time I wanted to do it in, and the atmosphere at such events is quite addictive, so I suspect I will decide to take the plunge again in June…..
(Nb, I have since read a little about how common it is to hyperventilate when you (or your face!) enter cold water without acclimatising and about how badly fitting wetsuits can hinder your stroke. I will blog a separate entry about this shortly, after a little more research and some references. Won't be making the same mistake again....)
**I can be seen, entering the water on the BBC's iPlayer coverage of the Great Manchester Bupa Run, which was happening at the same time, just down the road. They broke off from the run to show the start of the Salford Swim, which can be viewed from 1 hour 19 minutes 30 seconds in. I can be seen waving at the camera in the left hand corner as I go in, at 1 hour 20 minutes and 54 seconds !**