“Michael Phelps I am not”
It’s worth noting at this point that I’m not a professional swimmer. Far from it. In fact, a mere 12 months ago it became apparent that I couldn’t even do breaststroke without moving my arms and legs at the same time – a feat Helen kindly pointed out resembled the aquatic equivalent of a horizontal star jump. Seriously, Michael Phelps I am not.
What surprised me about open water swimming – regardless of my haphazard swimming style – was how refreshing, calming and invigorating it was, and that no matter how I felt prior to getting in the water, I always felt the same sense of tranquility whenever the time came to return to land. It didn’t matter if I splashed around like a five-year-old learning to master the basics of breaststroke, how cold the water was or how many jellyfish I ran into along the way, the feeling was always the same.
In the months that followed, I joined a gym and took it upon myself to learn breaststroke for real. In next to no time (aided by a few YouTube tutorials, I must admit) I was gliding through the water like a fish, my personal bests improving with each and every length.
When I first started swimming in the pool, I swam for half a mile before moving to a mile shortly after. This then evolved to one and a half miles and eventually two. Enthused by my progress, I took to the pool regularly, but soon found myself wanting more – a typically human trait if ever there was one.
What was it that was missing from the pool? Sure, the water felt the same, but it tasted different. It was warmer, more synthetic. It just wasn’t right. Invigoration was replaced with irritation – caused not only by the congested lanes of the pool itself, but by the chemicals used to clean it too.
Before long I found myself sat on the sofa discussing the best possible way to reconnect with my now fading love for swimming, and then it struck me. I needed a challenge, and if swimming in a pool wasn’t the best fit, maybe I’d be better suited to an endurance challenge across open water instead?
Originally, I’d flirted with the idea of swimming across Loch Ness but was soon discouraged after discovering its sheer length – a whopping 22.5 miles – was too long for a novice like me. Tail between my legs, I went back to the drawing board, Googling various lakes in the UK to determine which would be best suited to my rookie status. After a short deliberation with my partner, family and friends, it was decided that Ullswater was the best option.
At 7 miles in length Ullswater is by no means a small lake. What’s more, due to its location in the Lake District, it often falls victim to strong winds that cause choppy waves, which would make an endurance swim such as the one I was planning virtually impossible to complete.
Regardless of these minor details, I booked my swim for October 15th. Not only did this give me four months to train, it allowed plenty of time for me to organise a Just Giving page to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support – a charity that had done wonders for my family during what had been a tricky couple of years.
It was during this time that I also reached out to Another Place, The Lake. Having walked past the building’s white exterior a number of times during the occasional trip to Ullswater in the past, I was intrigued to discover more about the hotel and more specifically, whether they had a room that Helen and I could stay in when the time to complete my swim came around. Thankfully they did.
So, there I was. With time counting down towards October 15th, a Just Giving page starting to generate interest and a bed secured for before and after the swim, I set about training for the mammoth task ahead.
July rolled by, followed quickly by August and before I knew it, September had come around and my swim was no longer months away, but rather a short number of weeks. My training was going well and I was slowly starting to get used to swimming in a wetsuit – something that was essential given the time of year in which I’d planned to embark on my open water challenge.
It was also during this time that Robbie Hudson – the eldest of the Wild Swimming Brothers – got in touch, offering some priceless words of wisdom in the weeks that preceded the swim.
On a personal level, this was huge. Sure, Robbie and his brothers might not be celebrities in the traditional sense – I can’t see Robbie getting papped stepping out of a limousine, that’s for sure – but to me they are just as worthy of celebration as those plastered across our television sets and billboards. They were the reason I first plunged into the world of wild swimming and the reason I’m writing this blog today. As it turns out it’s true that not all heroes wear capes. Indeed, some wear wetsuits.