My “big” swim planned for 2013 was the Two Way Windermere swim. I completed this 21 mile swim on 20th August 2013 in a time of 13 hours 0 minutes and 40 seconds. If only I had sprinted a bit harder in the last mile!
Windermere is the longest lake in England. The official distance from end to end (i.e. Fell Foot to Waterhead) is 10.5 miles. Last year I had completed a one way swim in 6 hours 29 minutes and 59 seconds.
I considered a number of swims for 2013, and my shortlist of three was Lake Zurich, Two-Way Windermere and the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (MIMS). Given that I had swum the English Channel in 2012 I was trying to minimise my costs this year.
I will never be considered a “fast” swimmer, but I really fancied the challenge of the two way swim.
I arranged my swim via Chillswim. Chillswim offers an escorted boat support service for swimmers wishing to attempt solo or relay crossings of Windermere. The pilot for my swim was Dave Carroll. I also chose to be supported by Chillswim as I was on a family holiday in the Lake District at the time. On the day of my swim I was supported and fed by the legend that is Colin Hill. Interestingly, the day after my swim Colin flew to Macedonia to be an official in the FINA 30K marathon race at Lake Ohrid. Given that Colin is used to seeing swimmers such as Thomas Lurz and Keri-Anne Payne in action I did wonder what he thought when he saw a 39 year old woman turn up for a 21 mile swim! Thankfully, Colin was not at all starstruck and was absolutely wonderful to me all day. He worked his socks off all day to keep me fed and watered and afterwards he provided a comprehensive set of stroke rates, mile times and temperature recordings. I would thoroughly recommend the Chillswim end to end escort service for anyone who is thinking of attempting a Windermere swim.
I had arranged to meet Colin and Dave at Waterhead for a 5:30am start on 20th August. However, due to nerves and being unable to eat any breakfast I was late in getting there. In short, I was a nervous wreck. The photos taken of me show me looking terrified and, to be honest, I was having second thoughts.
Eventually I lowered myself into the water from the pier and Colin was able to line me up for the start of my swim. No going back now! My swim started at 6:11am, just 41 minutes after I was supposed to have started. Sorry Colin and Dave!
The first mile wasn’t my greatest. I was struggling a bit mentally and kept thinking about how far I had to go. But I settled down after the first mile was done and then really started to enjoy my swim.
My first feed was one hour into the swim and we had agreed beforehand that I wanted to follow “Channel Rules”, so feeds were conducted via a bottle on a string with solids being handed to me in a cup on a string. I noticed that you have to tread water harder during feeds compared to in the Channel (where the saltwater helps with buoyancy). My feeding intervals were every hour for the first three hours and then every 45 minutes for the rest of the swim. I had planned to have Maxi at every feed with an occasional treat. It didn’t quite work out that way as I seem to be having problems with Maxi (basically maltodextrin),
I did spend longer feeding than in the Channel. In the Channel there is nothing to look! Windermere is gorgeous and I found myself spinning around at feeds trying to take in the glorious scenery. It is an amazing, peaceful feeling to be in Windermere at 7am in the morning with no other boats out there. It’s stunning!
At around the four hour mark I started to feel a bit sick and asked for my next feed to be black tea with a snack, rather than Maxi. I felt much more settled after this next feed and Colin varied the feeds going forwards to include some gels instead of Maxi feeds. The sickness passed and I didn’t feel sick again. It started to get a little choppier in the lower basin of Windermere, but this was in comparison to the completely flat early morning start so it’s all relative!
I reached Fell Foot after 6 hours and 31 minutes and swam straight around the turn buoy and headed back. No hesitation whatsoever. I had played this out in my mind before my swim and had decided I was just going to keep going. I feared that if I had paused to acknowledge the one way then I might have stopped. As soon as I turned, my mindset completely changed. I had a one way Windermere to do now and I knew I could do that!
The return journey seemed a lot easier than the first length. I was counting down the miles now rather than counting up and I knew exactly where I was and all the landmarks to look at. Although it is a 21 mile swim and the same distance as the Channel in a straight line, it was much easier mentally because of the landmarks and the fact that there was no tide. Every stroke was getting me closer to the finish at Waterhead. Over the last 5 miles of the swim Colin was getting a lot more animated and encouraging me to feed much more quickly. With hindsight I now know it’s because it looked like I was going to finish in around 13 hours (before I started I was hoping for 14 hours!) and he was trying to hurry me along.
As we passed the Langdale Chase Hotel, about two miles from the finish I was delighted to see the friendly faces of Amanda Bell and Thomas “The Gladiator” Noblett paddling out in a kayak to come and see me. They stayed alongside me and the support boat for about 15 minutes before heading back to the Langdale Chase.
I was putting absolutely everything I had left into my swim and Colin was getting even more animated! I could see the finish at Waterhead and was really trying! It may not have looked like I was trying, but I was knackered by then! Eventually Colin blew the whistle which signified the official finishing point.
My time was 13 hours 40 seconds. My return length was quicker than the first length and was a PB. That has to be my best negative split ever!
Many thanks to Colin Hill, Dave Carroll and Steph Cox from Chillswim for organising my swim and for being so fantastic on the day itself. All I had to do was to turn up with my feeds and swim!
Here are some photos from my swim which were kindly taken by Colin on the boat and also by my husband who positioned himself at various vantage points along the route. The photos show how beautiful Windermere is as a swim location.
The water temperature on the day varied between 17.6C and 18.1C, which was the perfect temperature for a long swim.
Colin also took some video footage of me swimming at around 6:45am and it shows what a peaceful location Windermere is at 6:45am in the morning. Thanks for the video, Colin. I really must fix those arms!