Saturday night the 8th of September was the bi-annual, 2-way, 21 mile, Lake Windermere swim. Below is my account of this rather gruelling event.
We drove up to the Lake District last Saturday afternoon arriving just before 5pm to see the first wave of 3 swimmers entering the water. One chap was being filmed for an ITV documentary and entered the water initially in gladiatorial cape, helmet and sword before reverting to the regulation speedos and swim cap. I managed a quick snooze before we had to start getting ready for our 8.30pm start time. 4 other swimmers had started at 6.30pm and there were 6 in my wave. My support crew (everyone had to be accompanied by a rowing boat) was Grant Bates (my cousin), Hugo Hedley (a Cheltenham friend) and Vickie (my wife). They all strangely seemed to enjoy the experience; Hugo even thanked me at the end for accompanying him on his overnight rowing adventure. At the start I greased up, well assisted by Grant who seemed to enjoy covering me in grease more than Vickie thought was appropriate. I met a man from Liverpool at the start who was in one of the official support boats, he recognized me from Liverpool Penguins having coached me 26 years ago! He has also swum the channel and said he was the only scouser to do so. When I said I could be the 2nd he replied “Not with that accent you can’t!”. We started at 8.45pm and I quickly shot away from the ‘pack’. About an hour in I had cooled somewhat and had a little mental wobble as I wondered why on earth I was doing this crazy swim but fortunately soon after we came upon Belle Island which is just under half way down the lake and that re-enthused me. We turned at the end of the lake in just under 4hrs 20min and I wondered briefly whether I might get close to the record of 8hrs 44min. The return leg was a real mental test as I tried to just swim from each 30min feed to the next one (old channel advice). Eventually we came upon Belle Island again and I began to feel that the end was attainable. I had suffered increasing nausea through the return leg and was eating/drinking less and less and by the last hour my arms felt like lead. We could see the lights on the pier at the finishing site for over an hour and it seemed to take an eternity to get closer. As the sky started to lighten I felt strangely amused by the thought that I had swum all through the night, starting at dusk and finishing at dawn. I eventually finished in dead on 9hrs, the 2nd fastest male time ever (I think one lady has swum faster also). I was the first finisher, having past all the earlier swimmers through the night and I was just over an hour faster than the 2nd placed swimmer. I had only really entered this event as a good pre-channel test. The same distance and a chance to practice night swimming and feeding. Jimmy (the scouser) said it is 30% harder to do Windermere with less buoyancy in the fresh water and water and air temperatures generally colder than what you face in the channel. I do feel very encouraged by the swim, on previous Windermere and Channel finishers times it seems that the Channel takes 30min to an hour longer to do, tides, currents and chop probably adding to the duration. 5 weeks to the channel although there is a chance I may go in 3 weeks (the tide before) if an opening is available. Alison, my pilot is keen to take swimmers early if they are ready to avoid missing a slot on their own tide if the weather is bad.
24hrs on, I don't feel too bad, my shoulders are a bit stiff. Ironically Alison texted me this morning to see if I was ready to go this Wednesday (she had got her swimmer lists confused), I think Wednesday was pushing it recovery wise anyway!