The first problem was this:
The weather forecast was miserable (and as it turned out, accurately so), with rain, high winds, falling temperatures and a general absence of anything much like summer. On Friday, the South West received about a month's worth of rain in one day, and on Friday night, as I lay in the campervan trying to get to sleep, all I could here was the sound of rain drumming relentlessly on the roof. On Saturday, I drove down to Meadfoot Beach in Torquay with some trepidation, and when I saw (and heard) the angry water of the bay, I was pretty certain (and a little hopeful) that the event would be cancelled. This was very unadventurous of me, but given that this was my first venture into the sea this year, on top of a very modest amount of training, I really wasn't sure how I'd hold up under those conditions.
After much discussion, it was eventually decided by the organisers that since people had travelled some distance to swim, and since they'd already had the trophies made with 2012 on them, they would run a 4 mile swim comprised of 8 half-mile laps around buoys in the bay. I have to admit that my heart sank a little, and I wasn't in a great frame of mind when I got in, but even then I wasn't really prepared for what it was like in the water. Looking back through the blog, each year when I've got into the sea for the first time, I've had problems with balance and orientation that seem to diminish as I become more acclimatised to the movement; so this was something of a baptism of fire given that it was my first sea swim since last September, and I simply didn't have the skills, the strength or the sense of balance to cope with such nasty conditions. Struggling to make headway through the waves, I then became seasick. This has never happened to me before IN the sea (rather than on it) - except for Catalina, but that only happened because I was still sick from the boat. It was becoming harder and harder to focus my eyes and keep my balance; my head was spinning and my stomach kept heaving, eyes watering into my goggles. And so, after 4 laps, cold, depleted and miserable, I decided to call it a day. DNF.
So, what did I learn from the day?
Firstly, skimping on the training is risky - you train for what goes wrong, not what goes right. If I had been able to train harder, and in different conditions and bodies of water, it would have been easier to adapt and rise to the occasion.
Secondly, sometimes, it's just not your day, for whatever reason, and it's okay to get out. Nothing bad happens. It's only swimming.
Thirdly, there are some amazing swimmers out there and it was fantastic to watch everybody completing the swim. Well done to everyone.
Fourthly, the BLDSA is a wonderful organisation. The swim was made possible by an enormous number of volunteers (kayakers, St John's Ambulance, the event organisers) who got cold and wet without complaint. I love the tone of BLDSA events - the safety cover is always excellent, but low key; the prizes are never awarded until everyone has finished (or retired), and while the winners are always celebrated, so are the slower swimmers too. And I love the fact that no-one is snotty or derisive about those who DNF. Their events, whilst incorporating some seriously impressive racing, are ultimately about swimming, not winning, which is just great for the sport. I'm also particularly grateful to the poor kayaker who accompanied me round the course to the soundtrack of me heaving and puking, and to the first aiders who looked after me when I got out.
And finally, even though the day didn't quite work out as I had planned (both in terms of the weather, and my own rather poor performance), it was actually a fantastic day of hanging out with swimmers, meeting new friends, and finally putting online names to faces. Even bad days can be good days.