After huge amounts of disappointment in the previous week, when the Great North Swim was cancelled for us, due to adverse weather conditions, I looked forward to the Great Manchester Swim (GMS) at Salford Quays, much more than I thought I would. This was my first open water swim last year and it was tough. I knew going back there was going to remind me of the fear and I really wanted to enjoy it this year, not least because I was swimming with two good friends and my husband.
The weather was similar to 2011; grey, drizzly, wet. We were swimming at 12.35pm, just after the men's elite race. At 9am, after a rather heavy night on the wine (NOT recommended!), Dylan and I watched the first wave of the event start. The feeling I had inside was at first pure excitement and it was all I could do to not jump up and down. (Actually, I think I DID jump up and down!) But then as I watched the swimmers complete the first straight which is approximately 500 metres, my stomach started turning and my breath felt short. Huge emotion bubbled inside of me and I thought that if I tried to speak, I might cry. It was petrifying to think of swimming down that long straight again, remembering how I was unable to breathe, or keep my head above water. We took a walk around the Quays. I calmed down and we later watched other waves set off, and I started to feel a little better.
As the commentator kept reminding us, this was the coldest swim of the series last year, and this year it was (so far) the warmest, at well over 16 degrees. This made me feel much better and as we got into the acclimatisation zone, it truly did feel like getting into a bath! I realised I would have far fewer issues this year, because of this alone.
So at 12:35pm, I entered the water, at the back of the purple wave, alongside my lovely friends Sar, Linz and hubby, Dylan. I felt fine at first, although we seemed to be swimming amongst a large crowd, which I never did quite shake off all the way round. I soon lost sight of Linz, though Dylan remained within touching distance for most of the way. I realised Sar was just ahead too, and both of them kept checking on me, giving me a grin every now and then! I wish I could have smiled back, but the truth is, I was fighting fear again. I can't pinpoint what it was, my breathing was fine, I felt OK putting my head in the water. I attempted to swim crawl, as I had trained to do half the distance swimming crawl, but my arms felt really heavy and my wetsuit felt tight on my neck. When we passed the half way buoy and entered the Mariner's Canal, Steve Parry, who was hosting for Channel 4 TV, tried to speak to me, but I simply couldn't speak. I just kept going. I caught up with Sar who was grinning like you would no believe and clearly having a ball (this made me grin inside too!), yet I STILL couldn't speak, I had no way of making words, I was fighting a huge battle with anxiety.
We reached the finishing straight and I had lost Dylan, but I followed Sar into the finish, suddenly realising that although it had been tough, I had found it easier overall, compared to last year and allowed myself and grin too. As I climbed out just behind Sar, I found a massively happy Linz just behind me, and we clambered out hand in hand, which made me feel pretty happy! The four of us had finished and we posed for a picture taken by one of my work colleagues and then for the official GMS picture.
I was unable to share in the huge feelings of accomplishment that most people feel post-swim as I was feeling a little frustrated for letting my fears once again get the better of me. But on the journey home, I discovered my time was 43 minutes, which had beaten the target I had set myself of 45 minutes and well over 10 minutes faster than my 2011 time! I finally started to feel the elation and realised that it had indeed been a GREAT swim.
I have since had feelings come and go about what to do from here about future events. I LOVE swimming and I have achieved so much in the last 12 months in my training in the pool. But I struggle to get this to translate into decent open water swimming. The truth is, it doesn't suit me and it scares me. I had a few vague thoughts about pulling out of Monster Swim, at Loch Ness in August. But I know if we went along to support Linz, Sar and a few others do Monster Swim, I would WANT to be in there with them. I love the excitement and build up and I honestly can't imagine never doing another open water swim. The ideal solution for me would be to train more in open water, but with lack of time to do this and nowhere very near to train at, it's not a solution I can bring about. So, I shall continue to swim at the local pool and hope I can make the best of swimming in Loch Ness in August.