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Race Review: The Great North Swim (Contains a pink swim cap)

It’s been a month since I awoke to the sound of the Great North Swim rushing through my ears, it’s been a month since I strapped on a wetsuit in the warm June sun, it’s been a month since I urinated in my own wetsuit out of fear as I was getting used to the temperature of the wonderful Windermere and it has been a month since I feared drowning. I haven’t gone back into the pool/lake as yet because I’ve been busy recovering from The Wall but The Great North Swim was a challenge that I loved and below is the story why.

It all started on a rather pleasant day in the Lake District, I had intended for it to be a jolly jaunt to stay in Keswick with the dads (Mine and HPs), sadly due to certain commitments elsewhere OHs dad didn’t make it, so without him, on the Sunday morning and with both dogs in tow we headed off to Windermere. Parking was relatively abundant as we had left very early and chosen to walk down from Ambleside (probably about 15 minutes away from the Swim Village). The good news was that we were super early and in time to see the last of the half mile swimmers coming in with super fast times – many of them barely teenagers and as the morning progressed we watched each of the waves setting off and hurtling through the water without a care in the world.

Now I’ll be honest, I was looking at the finishing times in the early 20s and the early 30s for the mile thinking that there was no way I could compete with that and a very real part of me did consider pulling out but with some rousing words from HP and my dad I was convinced that the only way to earn the undying respect of my beloved Spaniel was to hurl myself into the watery abyss.

My wetsuit was a cheap and cheerful affair, about £70 from a place in Shoeburyness and although perfectly suitable for the race was never going to be the best thing I was ever going to wear. I had decided that this was probably going to be a one off so as a consequence didn’t need a decent wetsuit as it would soon be going into the loft (little did I know!)

Anyway I got changed with the rest of the insanne people in my wave, my dad constantly mummering to himself about how he wished he was in the water doing it, feeling the diesel between his teeth and the bird shit. The changing room was adequate and actually on reflection the whole of the race villiage was pretty brilliant but more about that later.

The heat of the day was closing in but I levered myself into the wetsuit and strode out purposefully clutching my pink Great North Swim cap. There was now a race fire in my tummy and despite being scared shitless I was very keen to get in the water and the moment that the entry opened I went into the main arena and paced around, shortly after though the pool opened and we could go and get used to the cold, I ran down to the waters edge and discovered I was going to get in rather gingerly but once in all was fine and I was a very happy bunny.

With a distinct lack of grace I climbed back out of the water and joined both HP, my dad and the hounds, had a few sips of water, joined in the general merriment of the warm-up and then at the sound of the countdown headed to the back of the group.

I knew I was going to be slow and I had decided that I was going to go for a combination of breast stroke and freestyle as I’m not strong enough in the water to freestyle all the way. I was slow at first but once I’d been kicked in the head a few times I found my stride and pressed on through the water to the first marker, then the second marker and the third, the markers simply kept coming as I made relatively easy progress in the water and I had visions of finishing within an hour rather than the 80 minutes I had originally set myself as a target. I was actually having fun and even when the collection of elderly Geordie ladies went past me like they weren’t moving I didn’t really care. My fears about drowning had pretty much disappeared and i went into the home stretch feeling pretty good and laughing and joking with the safety boaters.

It was safe to say that I was pretty near the back and that the next waves faster swimmers caught me relatively easily but even this didn’t put me off, nor did the fact that the movement of the water seemed to be endlessly pushing me to the edge of the water and forcing me into going even furher than the mile. The amount of energy required to correct my course was much worse than the actual distance I was covering but with 200metres to go I gave it a bit of welly and aimed for the run up the plank! It felt so good clambering out, reaching for the support crews hand to guide me out and I raced upwards, there really was no looking back or even stopping to wave at HP and my dad. I wanted the best time I could manage and I did it in a respectable 1hr 05mins

But afterwards I felt inspired enough to sign up for my home swim, The Great London Swim event and this time my dad is joining me in the water – father v son and I suspect he’ll win but that’s okay (I’ve got Ultra Marathon medals).

I have a number of things to say about the event and not a single negative thing.

It had an amazing atmosphere, it was filled with brilliant people, swimmers, spectators, marshalls, tech team, security – everyone made it an amazing day. The facilities were pretty good and you could move around barefoot, the changing, bag store, etc were in the right places and it was a well thought out race village.

The course was challenging but kept you within sight of the banks of Windermere and at every step of the way there was boat based support for you. The support crew couldn’t actually do enough to help us, I saw people’s goggles being cleaned, one guy gave a swimmer a massage as she clung on to the kayak.

It was well supported by quality useful partners like Aquasphere and there was a general air of quality in the food and other services available.

The location of Windermere was excellent and you really felt as though you were taking part in something quite special, it was a race for everyone and it felt so individual but at the same time you were one of ten thousand and you really were a part of that.

Then there is the all important race goody bag and The Great North did not disappoint, a great medal was combined with a nice collection of crap including a lovely magazine with all the upcoming races you could possibly want and as a newbie open water swimmer I want more races!

And finally I can say without a shadow of a doubt that ‘The Great Swim Series’ is a fantastic event, certainly for newbies and from speaking to other more experienced swimmers ace for them too.