The Great North Swim (GNS) is over. Posts about the upcoming Great Newham London and Great Scotland Swims are appearing in my timeline and it’s with a mixture of relief and sadness that I am not involved. The build up to the swim was so long and hard at times that it feels a bit weird that is all over for me now.
My family and I arrived in Bowness on Friday afternoon. My nerves, already jangled, were close to peak as the last half an hour of our journey was an awful combination of twisty country roads and the noise of a screaming baby in the back. We unloaded the car and my partner and I drove out to do a recce and figure out the journey in the morning. Then we went for a calming glass of wine before bed. Am sure the pros do that. I saw people walking around the busy town with their finishers t-shirt on and the nerves resumed. I wanted to grab them and shout “TELL ME IT WILL BE OK!” Instead I sipped my wine and fought back tears.
In the morning we arrived early so that I could see the first wave set off. We were due to go at 10am. I felt pretty sick. I was convinced everyone I looked at was a professional, even the 12 year olds, and that I was going to be the worst one there. I could barely speak to my family for nerves. I left them and went to meet the women I knew also taking part in the changing room tent. We struggled into our wetsuits and chatted. It was reassuring to know that I wasn’t the only one with nerves, though it didn’t stop them.
We had some photos taken together and then made our way to the acclimatisation zone. The water was a balmy 17 degrees. They made it sound tropical. It wasn’t. However it was a massive improvement on the sea in Mull. I sank into the water and adjusted to the temperature. I put my face in the water and then promptly took it out again. Oh no. I tried again. Same thing. I panicked a bit. I was having the same problem I had at the lake before. That stupid sensible mammal had reared it’s stupid sensible head and I couldn’t get my face in. We were hurried out and back to the start for the warm up. I tried to relax, tell myself it was fine, I got over it before and I will be OK once I start. We went through the warm up exercises, which I found pretty hard in the wetsuit. Last hugs all round and by this point I was fighting back tears again.
It was time. I walked into the water with everyone and slowly started to swim. I couldn’t get my face in. I decided to take it slow, I wasn’t the only one swimming with their head out, though they all looked more comfortable doing it. I reached the first buoy and stopped to tread water for a bit to try and gather myself to see if I could start again. Unfortunately my head wasn’t having any of it and my face refused to stay in the water. This made the swim a lot harder than I had planned. I couldn’t use my stroke effectively, there was no glide, there was just the stroke. I found I was puffing quite a lot, I think anxiety about not being able to finish, now I was working so much harder, was creeping in.
At the half way point I stopped for a moment and took a few deep breaths, gave myself a talking to and set off again. I managed to get half way to the next buoy swimming with my face in before it came springing back out again. I would think it’s very hard to imagine how little control I had over my own head, but that’s how it felt. However I took it as progress and when I got the the next buoy I tried again. I didn’t make it as far but I was determined and kept on trying. In between I swam some sort of made up side stroke, my face was mainly still out of the water, but I could glide a bit better and it was easier than swimming with my head up. I was starting to get tired now, but the last buoy was in sight. This was cheering, even the rain that had started wasn’t bothering me. I had started to catch up with some swimmers in green hats from the previous wave. I inwardly felt quite pleased that no yellow hats had passed me yet. Then immediately I was overtaken by a man powering past me in a yellow hat. Just one though!
As I swam to the finish I was so relieved it was over. I had done it. Sort of. The man who helped drag me out of the water was so friendly. I told to him to be careful I would probably drag him in with me. He reassured me that it would be fine if I did. Thinking back now perhaps a more reassuring reply would have been “Am sure you won’t!” My legs felt like jelly as I wandered up and collected my bag and I saw my family waiting for me. They started cheering. I felt amazing. I had done it. I put my medal on and went for a hug with my family.
After changing I met up with my fellow swimmers, we had a warm, plastic cup of prosecco and celebrated our achievements. I finished, I made it round, I did it in under an hour (51 mins 15 secs) which is what I had wanted to do, I raised over £1200 for a cause very close to my heart. I was happy. Except, actually I felt a bit disappointed. I had wanted to do it better, not just faster, but better.
I decided not to go for a swim that week, but I have been back to the pool since and it felt good to go because I wanted to, not because I felt I had to. I’ve also had another outdoor swim, lask week I swam in the sea on holiday in Menorca. The water was warm, crystal clear and calm. It was beautiful. I swam with my face in, gliding through the water, looking at the fish below and loved every minute. I don’t think my outdoor swimming career is over just yet. There is something wonderful about swimming outside. I’m proud of what I achieved. Although I feel like I just managed to complete the GNS, but I didn’t conquer it. I could do better and who knows, maybe next year I will?
You can find out more about who I was raising money for and why here: http://www.justgiving.com/Catherine-Hamilton2/