Originally Katie and I (Manda) had decided that after Zurich we wanted to do something long in 2014 but not AS long. Not so long that we would be required to lose every weekend to the water from January to the swim. We had pretty much dedicated the whole first 8 months of 2013 to training for Zurich and this meant we abandoned friends, family and our (now) husbands (they obviously liked us abandoning them!!). So we started looking at Windermere as an option. We both had shoulder problems from all this training so decided that doing a solo was not realistic. In hindsight I think we sold ourselves short on this as later in the year I managed a solo. However, what we didn’t know in December was that Katie would be pregnant at the time of doing Windermere, so ultimately it was the right choice to stick to our relay format
When looking at doing a 1 way 2 person relay it would only come to approx. 8.5km per person. As we have already both completed a 10km solo race, we decided that the distance per person amount should be at least 10km. After some simple analysis we decided the best idea would be a 3 person 2 way relay.
We asked Dave Hook, who Katie and Kate had met on their Turkish SwimTrek, to be the 3rd person. He had also come with us to Cornwall for Festival of Sport, where he swam the 10km (a.k.a the 12km sea swim) with Katie. He was also of a similar speed so Dave was welcomed aboard.
We had decided to do it skins. Taking on and off a wetsuit, especially a wet one, on a small boat was not a challenge that Katie and I fancied. What this did mean was training in skins asap.
In order to find the balance between getting the distance in and acclimatisation, we would often go down to Shepperton at the beginning of the season and do the bulk in wetsuit, then get out and get back in to do a number of laps skins. One of the times we did this, Brian was with us, so the 3 of us did several laps wetsuitted and then ran out, took the wetsuit off and ran back in to do an agreed 3 laps skin. Within seconds of being back in for the skin swim I felt so cold and I started shivering whilst swimming. Katie reckoned she knew after about 400m metres that I was going to bail at the end of the first lap and so I did. I ran out, muttered a few expletives whilst running to the changing room past some waiting friends. In the changing room I started my transformation to the Michelin man and returned to find a cup of tea waiting for me. Katie and Brian had completed lap 2 and were heading into lap 3. At this point Brian ABANDONED Katie. Katie said that when she was at the furthest part from the exit she became disorientated with the cold and was not swimming in a straight line. When she exited the water it was immediately apparent that she was not with it. A dryrobe, lots of layers and several cups of tea later she was back to normal temperature..
Soon enough July was upon us and some horrendous weather hit the UK. After a 3 hour train journey up north we arrived in Windermere to torrential rain. Colin Hill, from ChillSwim, was supporting and piloting us on the swim and the night before we met him for a pre-swim briefing. What we realised at this point was a lot of things that were obvious to us weren’t to Dave as he hadn’t previously done anything like this. Where Katie came unstuck was being prepared for staying dry whilst on the boat during your non swimming 2 hours. When Katie showed Colin her pac-a-mac, to say he was less than impressed, would be an understatement. Admittedly I didn’t fare much better as I had plenty of top layers including a ski jacket and a dry robe but just primark joggers for the bottom! So once those were wet they would be staying wet.
The morning of the swim we set off down to Ambleside, which was where we were going to be starting and finishing the swim. The previous days of storms and rain had cleared and were replaced with a relatively clear morning. It was still cloudy but I was optimistic…. for now. I got in the water at approx. 6am. My optimism quickly disappeared when the first hour went by so slowly, I know I said that about Zurich, but this time it was torture. I was so cold. I convinced myself after 20 minutes that I was going to have to get out. After 30 minutes I “adjusted my cap”…really I was sticking my head up to say I don’t think I can carry on, but the looks I got when I stopped meant a quick adjustment to my cap and small mumble of “I’m cold” was all that came out. I told myself it was all downhill from here and that I just had to do one stroke at a time. I couldn’t do any more or any less.
Soon enough Dave was in the water and I was out. In order to exit the water the guys would drop the front of the boat so that the swimmer could beach themselves upon it. I decided after my first swim that I would get better at it, ultimately the fatigue meant I got worse and by my last exit I was like a caterpillar with all its legs chopped off crawling aboard the boat.
Taking off a wet costume immediately is a necessity when cold, however my numb hands didn’t lend themselves to this. Me and Katie are close but I think if I would have made her remove my costume that day I might never have seen her again. Fortunately at 7am there was no one on the lake, so the indecent exposure that took place was only seen by some birds . Dave ploughed on whilst Katie and Colin chatted and I sat at the back of the boat willing myself to warm up and the sun to make an appearance.
It is worth mentioning at this point, Liz aka Katie’s mum. She is some kind of super supporter. She flew out to New York to support us for our Manhattan swim but I think what took place for Windermere was more impressive. She drove 6 hours from London to Windermere the day before our swim. The day of the swim she was there at the start taking photos and smiling away whilst the rest of us, mainly me, were wondering how we were going to survive the cold! Throughout the day she schlepped to various points along the lake to see us and additionally, took the ferry at Bowness 3 times. After the swim she took us for celebratory tea and cake and then drove 6 hours back to London BEFORE getting the red eye flight to Singapore the next day. I’m exhausted just writing about it. Needless to say this type of enthusiasm and support is always welcomed and appreciated. We were also receiving a crazy amount of support through texts and social media before, during and after the swim. Colin had a tracker on board so it was lovely to know people were watching our progress from the comfort of their office/home. When we were about halfway down the lake, Dennis, Katie’s husband, texted us to say congratulations on being half way through the swim. Katie texted him back to remind him we were doing a two way. His response? “Congratulations you are a quarter of the way there!”.
Before we knew it, we were at Fell Foot. After a couple of cheers, I suddenly realised I had forgotten that we were doing 2 way!! Minor detail to forget!! We were now on the return leg and battling our way back to Ambleside. For the return paddle we were surrounded by sun, tourists and algae. Steph, Colin’s partner, had emailed us prior to our swim to advise us that there were algae blooms in various parts of the lake. It is one thing knowing it is there and another thing seeing it in front of your face for an hour. At points it would ease off and then at points it became the only thing you could see. Ultimately I knew it was ok as Colin, an experienced swimmer and pilot, was allowing us and Katie’s unborn baby in the water.
The return journey was relaxed and enjoyable as the sun meant I wasn’t getting as cold, and on the boat Colin chatted to us about everything and anything swimming related. It was actually at this point that he suggested we start writing a blog… here you go Colin!
Before I got in for my final swim, Colin told me I would be getting to the finish within the hour and probably only had a mile to go. Game on. So I decided to do this final leg as a mile sprint….well as much as you can with 3 hours swimming in your arms. I knew I was probably looking at only 30 minutes swimming. When I got in the water I powered on and resolved not to look at my watch until I thought I had done 15 minutes. After what I thought was 15 minutes I look to my watch and realised I hadn’t pressed start… so had no idea how long I had been going. As someone who loves my garmin stats this was sooooo annoying!! However, soon enough Katie and Dave were in the water with me and we swam together to the finish line by the ferry port and Colin blew a whistle to signify the end. After a couple of un-elegant water based high fives we swam back to the beach. I don’t know what made me smile more, having completed the swim or the confusion on the awaiting tourists’ faces.
We had done it…
The difference between Windermere and Zurich/Manhattan was the fact that Windermere wasn’t a race. You can’t change the fact that we won in Zurich and ultimately that was the cherry on top of the cake and really made the whole event. However, even without that win, I loved the event and knowing there were other people on the lake doing exactly the same thing at exactly the same time as well. That being said I did enjoy it and I learnt a lot about myself, what I enjoy about these things and ultimately not to under-sell ourselves.
I know we will be back and swim the solo together…or maybe even the 2 way…… tandem……with a piece of string tying us together…..and matching mermaids costumes….. too much??