I woke up yesterday to the sound of the wind buffeting the side of the house, and knew that didn't bode well for what was to follow - my first 6 hour swim of the season, at Swan Pool lake. My second inkling that it was going to be a tough day came when I was driving to the lake, and at an unexpected exposed point on the M6, the van got knocked sideways almost into the next lane by a gust of wind, forcing me to drive the rest of the motorway stretch at a cautious 40 mph...wipers on as the rain started to fall.
When I arrived at the lake, the wind was whipping up the water, creating white-crested waves that were smacking against the quay. Lovely. But you don't get to choose the conditions, and so, with briefing done, food box set out, suncream on (a triumph of optimism over reality) and vaseline applied, off we went.
It's been a good while since I've done a long swim, and my fitness, while okay, is not as good as it was this time last year, but I was still reasonably confident that I could stay in for the six hours....although I was less confident about how far I would cover. The water was bouncing all over the place at the bottom end of the lake - it was blowing a gale, and the chop was smacking into the quay and then bouncing away, creating slappy, unpredictable waves and generally making life difficult. It was better at the top end, although the strong winds were chilly across the shoulders and were still making enough lumps and bumps to make sighting the buoys difficult. There is something weird about the light at Swan Pool, and when it clouds over or the sun starts to set, it becomes very monotone, and hard to distinguish water from shore from sky - I seemed to spend a lot of time peering about looking for buoys, which in turn caused me to get cramps in my hip abductors after a few hours.
The first few hours were hard going, and I abandoned my original plan to feed every four laps (c. 2 miles, or roughly every hour), and did five laps between the first couple of feeds - having got myself going, I didn't really want to stop and let myself ponder how hard I was finding it all. On my stops, I guzzled down maxim and the occasional jelly baby, which worked their usual magic. I did make one mistake though - I'd got a bit bogged down beforehand in the idea that it would be cold, so had made up half-filled bottles of double-strength Maxim that I planned to dilute with warm water from a pump flask (like I did in the Channel). In hindsight, this was a mistake...firstly, because it made me think about being cold, and secondly, because it was just too much of a faff. I should have just stuck with bottles of ready-to-drink Maxim, which would have been fine.
As the day progressed, the number of swimmers in the water diminished, and various relay swimmers came and went, until only Rachael Cadman and I (both in the pic below) were left. Rachael is training for the Enduroman Arch to Arc this summer - running from Marble Arch to Dover, swimming the Channel, then cycling to Paris. Unimaginable!! Swimmers are allowed to wear wetsuits for the event, which is why she is wearing one for this - her successful qualification swim. Well done, Rachael.
SLCSC President, Richard Davies, handed out certificates at the end - always a nice moment, knowing that the job is done. In the end, I managed c. 12.5 miles (25 laps) in the six hours, which is pretty what I managed in the previous two years - I may be a bit of a plodder, but I'm nothing if not consistent.
I generally love doing long swims...there's something very appealing about starting the day knowing that, for that day, I'm not going to do anything else except swim. No work, no juggling commitments...just swimming. This swim was not quite so pleasurable - a combination of not being quite as fit yet as I would like to be (it's still pretty early in the season), plus the difficult conditions made it quite challenging. I had to dig in a bit during the middle hours of the swim, and although the conditions settled down towards the end of the swim, I was still counting down the laps and looking forward to getting out.
But on the plus side, it feels really good to have done it, and it's nice to have my first 6 hour swim of the season under my belt nice and early.
Many thanks to Dan Earthquake for organising the event (and whose pics I've pilfered for this blog), and to the Birmingham Lifeguards for keeping us safe.