Lake District 2017

After our week in the lake district last year, we were keen to do a longer Buttermere swim and also explore some areas of the lakes we hadn’t got to.

Saturday (Manda)

Saturday we arrived in Penrith accompanied by David and Brian to pick up our very small hire car, which with 3 tall adults, little me and our accompanying swimming paraphernalia meant the poor car was destined to have a challenging weekend.

We follow various Lake District residents on Instagram/twitter so we were grateful that  @suzannaswims (who now offers bespoke lake district swimming tours www.suzannaswims.co.uk) and @lottiethompson gave us advice when we ask where to swim in Derwent.

For our Derwent swim we started from Calfclose bay, where you can park 300m away in Great Wood NT car park.  We swam off with the idea that we would probably do around 15 minutes/1k taking into consideration we didn’t want to get cold (me, Katie and Brian were skins and David was in his thermal wetsuit!) and we were saving ourselves for Sunday’s race.  Despite the initial face burn the water felt “ok” or at least I thought it was until I tried to talk at 14 minutes and could hear I sounded almost drunk!  We promptly swam back to shore and therefore, ended up being in the water for around 30 minutes.  A quick change on the shore and a dash to the car where the heaters were turned up to the max.  Poor David who wasn’t remotely cold was subjected to sauna like conditions for the drive!

We dropped our stuff off at our hotel on the banks on Thirlmere.  Despite this being a non-swimmable lake/water (who knows what it is!!) this was a great location for us to be based as only 25 minutes from Keswick, 20 minutes to Ambleside and 40 minutes to Buttermere.

It was also a 5/10 minute drive from Dobgill car park where you can walk 20 minutes (uphill) to Harrop Tarn.  Following the instructions provided to us by Lottie, we eagerly set off.  According to Lottie getting there takes “10-20 minutes depending on hill fitness”…needless to say we are not hill fit!  The walk takes you up through the woods and then slowly you can hear water gushing getting louder and louder.  After coming out from the woods, you are greeted by a waterfall.  What a magnificent treat.  Further along the path, the tarn appeared.  We made our way through the grass/bog (see pics of Brian bearfooted!) to the water’s edge.  The water was Baltic.  We took it in turns to have a swim – it lived up to my magical expectations and then some.  Rolling hills, lily pads on the water, dark black water, pine trees, no one around -> MAGICAL.

After a quicker dash back to the car whilst the light was fading, we headed back to the hotel to pick up Katie, where she was deservedly resting at the hotel and headed to Ambleside for some pasta and then went back for an early night.

Note: if you do fancy some lake crawling, please ensure you read the below:

http://www.ntlakesoutdoors.org.uk/swim-safe

 

Sunday (Katie)

So Sunday was the day of the race.  It dawned nice and sunny but no sooner had we packed the four of us and our luggage into our tiny Citroen C1 it had started to rain and that turned out to be the order of the day.

The race didn’t start until 10.30am but we had heard horror stories about the state of the parking in Buttermere Village so aimed to arrive nice and early.  Having traversed the winding roads into Buttermere with our car barely making it up some of the hills we arrived at 8.30am and secured our parking spot.  It was still raining so we stayed in our car to wait it out.  During a short gap in the rain we rushed to register and for refreshments in the café which had opened early especially for the swim.

Manda, Brian and David were doing the 10km race.  I (Katie) was originally entered into the 10km as well but I am expecting a baby next year and severe sickness means I have done a total of 5 training sessions in the last 8 weeks which meant that I wasn’t feeling up to the 10km and dropped down to the 5km.  I almost changed my mind back again when I saw that the 10km race hats were purple!

The time soon ticked away and we were changing into our wetsuits and heading down to the start of the race.  It was still raining….we waded through what I can only describe as a bog to get to the start (okay well maybe not a bog but I am from London so I am mudaphobic) and arrived at the water’s edge.

The start of the race was about a 5 minute walk up the lake so I waved goodbye to Manda, Brian and David as their wave was starting 15 minutes before mine.  Soon it was our turn and I was walking up to the start.  One good thing about the cold and miserable weather was that it didn’t actually feel ‘that’ cold getting in.  It was one of the things I had been worried about, after a summer of a lido of 18 degree plus the advertised 14 degrees of Buttermere was quite intimidating.  I was wearing my booties though which helped keep me warm.

We all piled into the lake and started swimming…then about a minute later we all stopped again.  Oh you we were only swimming to the start!  You could see a lot of confused people frantically trying to re-set their Garmins.  Finally we were really off.  I swam down to the first buoy which seemed to have come loose and drifted to shore so a load of us then had to swim back up on the other side to next to the next buoy.

Conditions for the swim were really tough.  You felt like the wind was in your face the whole time which was making the water pretty choppy.  I wanted to give up a 100 times but before long I was at the top of the lake and then across to the other side and which point I had no choice but to swim back down.

I finished in 1h 30 mins which given my lack of training and extra human baggage I was actually reasonably happy with.  I do think the course was a bit short though as there were a couple of buoys at the top end of the lake on the course map which I don’t think were there.

After finishing I, very inelegantly, exited the water and went to retrieve my stuff.  I was walking back to the car when I found Manda huddled under a tree getting changed.  ‘I thought I might find you here’ I laughed.  ‘I wasn’t cold’ she replied ‘just miserable’.  I knew what she meant.  Buttermere is absolutely beautiful and a still one of my favourite places I have ever swum but the rain, wind and waves had not made for the most fun experience this time round.  Manda wasn’t alone with an early exit.  Out of 170 registered to swim only 56 people finished the 10km.

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We quickly got changed and then went back to see the boys finish.  David was beaten by only a few meters into second place in a time of 2h 28 minutes.  Brian in a hitherto unseen racing gentlemanliness let the lady he was swimming with finish in front of him coming in fifth in 2h 39 minutes.  Well done guys!

After finally getting changed and dry (well drier!) we couldn’t face going back to the lake for the prize giving so we headed back to Keswick for some well-earned lunch.  We mooched around Keswick eating fudge and drinking tea until it was time to get back for our train.

A lovely weekend despite the rain and race conditions – we will definitely be back in the Lakes next year!

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Crewing for the Channel

On Friday 14th August I got a text from Team Mermaids’ friend, Lisa Williams, saying that her Channel swim that was planned for the 1st week of September had been brought forward to start on Monday at 00:30. I knew this presented a problem as one of her crew members was Brian and he was on a plane to Tanzania so couldn’t just pop back to crew! I offered to help if I could and Lisa took me up on the offer, so on Sunday evening we arrived in Dover at 22:30 with other crew members Abby and Emma and met Loretta Cox, who would be Lisa’s observer.

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At 23:00 we boarded Anastasia, the boat for the adventure, met the crew and the pilot, Eddie, and then made the trip around to the start point. We got Lisa ready which involved copious amounts of Vaseline, channel grease and sun tan lotion. I got a bit carried away with the sun tan lotion and started applying it to the front of Lisa’s legs at which point Loretta said “Is she planning to backstroke to France?!”… good point.

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She dived in and swam to shore in the pitch black. We all knew Lisa was petrified about swimming in the dark and this part was really hard for me to watch as I could only imagine what was going through her mind when she was already a bag full of emotions. 00:32 she stood up on the beach at Dover and started her Channel swim.

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The crew’s role was split down into 3 main areas:
Feeding (giving swimmer warning of feeds, preparing, feeding, documenting)
Social media (keeping people updated and passing on messages to Lisa)
Swimmer watching.

Lisa was going to feed every hour for the first 2 hours then drop to 30 minute feeds for the remainder. During the night swimming the main task was keeping Lisa well lit so the sense of swimming in the dark was hopefully reduced. This led to “torch arm”, which is similar to the claw for those “Friends” fans, and this and an inability to multitask led to us, ok just me, blinding Lisa a few of times. Sorry Lisa!

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The sun finally rose and with it we settled into a routine. With the sunshine also came the wake up of all the supporters and soon messages of support were coming in thick and fast via social media. We were writing some on a white board and hanging them over the side for Lisa. As the day went on the hardest part was knowing what type of message to write her. She was obviously getting fatigued rapidly and therefore, things that she might normally find funny might just p!ss her off at this point, so trying to find a suitable message plus fit in on to a white board was a challenge. A couple that got a chuckle out of her were “Swim backstroke, it’s easier. Love Nico”. Nico is Lisa’s nephew and the pure innocence of this message was a guaranteed smile. “Go Go Lisa, from the WHOLE of facebook” – evidently I was a bit overwhelmed by social media at this point!. At one point we also decided to write a message from the DCosta family. Elaine DCosta was Lisa’s friend who passed away and the reason why she was raising money for the Royal Marsden. It was tricky to decide when to show this message as we wanted it to give her a boost but at the same time we risked overwhelming her with emotion when she should just be concentrating on swimming. As it turns out it did make her cry (not ideal with goggles on) but I think it was positive knowing how much they appreciated what she was doing.

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Over the following hours we nailed down the feeding routine, or so I thought, but a couple of incidents suggested the team still had work to do. We lost a paracetamol to the Channel and then someone who shall remain nameless dropped down the cup for feeding to then only let go of the other end of the rope it was attached to. The reaction of “that is not good” was priceless. So Lisa had to try and pass it up, whilst Abby lent over the boat to try and grab it and I stood in shock. I had a fear of the responsibility of feeding and this only cemented it.

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Around hour 10 we needed Lisa to give a push so that there was a chance that she could land at Cap Griz-Nez within the next 2 hours. She hadn’t been eating for a while and only having the carbohydrate drink, so we knew she would be running low on energy. I suggested we should give her a caffeine gel, but said that we couldn’t force her to take it. Loretta, who was amazing the whole way through, said “YES YOU CAN”. Hahaha. I sheepishly stood back whilst they told Lisa to take the gel and she did. She also then asked for another one for the next feed. Phew!

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Soon enough we realised that Lisa was not catching with her right arm, so had injured her shoulder and was obviously in pain. This also meant we were going to miss the Cap. This was heart breaking and started my emotional eating of jelly babies as missing the Cap meant that she was probably going to be swimming for another 4 hours at least. Lisa obviously realised this too and after that I dreaded every feed as it meant seeing the pain and upset in her eyes.

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After missing the Cap she swam towards Wissant bay, at which point Lisa resorted to backstroke for bits to try to ease her shoulder and me and Nico were smug with our foresight and advice…. Well kind of. At this point we also got caught in an eddy, which meant that despite us heading straight towards the coast, Lisa was now being swirled to the right back towards the Cap. I was also checking the tracker to see what was actually happening as you can often lose perspective on the boat and at this point it looked like we might get swept past the Cap again… NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. Cue more jelly babies being eaten.

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Several jelly babies later, Eddie the pilot told the co-pilots to get in the smaller escort boat. Surely this was a positive sign and would boost Lisa to make the final push to shore. Even with the boat in I was still worried she was going to get pushed across the Cap and end up back where she was 5 hours ago. Eddie decided that the French needed to know we were coming so started blasting Rule Britannia at full volume. The tourists gathered at the viewing points on the Cap must have really thought the Brits were finally losing it! After what seemed like an age, we abandoned the escort boat and Lisa and could only watch on from a distance.

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She had done it. She landed at Cap Griz-Nez, all be it a little bit later than expected, in 17 hours and 18 minutes.

So far Lisa has raised over £6,000 for the Royal Marsden and I think this can only increase once people take a moment to think about swimming non-stop for 17 HOURS and 18 MINUTES. For most people 18 minutes would be enough.


Thanks to Abby for not sacking me off feeding duty when I threw sugar over the boat!. When are we going to open our gourmet sausage sandwich café together? I am thinking a sausage and prawn cocktail crisp sandwich as our signature dish.

Thanks to Emma for being the “under deck hand” as me and more so Abby struggled with spending time downstairs due to queasiness. Also, thanks for teaching me how to act in a crisis.

Loretta for being an absolute rock. I am so pleased she was there to give us advice and reassure us as well as ensure Lisa got the right messages at the right time.

The biggest thanks to Lisa for letting me be part of her day trip to France and never giving up. I don’t think there would have been enough jelly babies in the world for me to deal with you not touching land!

Here is Lisa’s blog: https://lisaswims.wordpress.com/ and just giving page: https://www.justgiving.com/LisaswimsEnglishChannel

Night Swimmer (Sandford Parks Lido) July 2015

On Friday myself (Manda), Brian and fellow Tuesday Night swimmers, Adrian, aka Dad Carr and David, aka Uncle Davey, went up to Cheltenham’s Lido, Sandford Parks, for a 12 hour night relay called Night Swimmer.

Once again, this seemed like a great idea in January, but as the date got closer and the reality of rain throughout the night got realer, I questioned why I do this to myself!

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This was the first time this race has taken place and I am sure if they do again some of the format might change but this was the information this year:

  • Non stop swimming 8pm -> 8pm
  • Teams must be made up of a minimum of 3 persons with a maximum of 10 per team.
  • Self-officiating from the participants i.e one team member not swimming is lap counter
  • Teams must submit their order of swimmers.  Teams must stick to the submitted order and each swimmer should only swim up to a maximum of 1 hour at a time.
  • In the unfortunate event of injury, teams may change the submitted order.
  • Wetsuits allowed
  • Water approx 24 degrees

Being the girl of the team, I let the men put up the tent in the rain (thanks guys!!), which would be used to keep everything dry and a place for a brief respite out of the rain.

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There was 24 teams participating over 8 lanes, so we were sharing our lane with 2 other teams.  This meant there only 3 people in the lane at any point, which made things easier the tireder you got.

There were differing opinions of the time tactics that we should do.  As a one-pace-wonder I gain no benefit/speed from doing shorter stints, so I preferred the option of longer legs, however, the boys thinking they would gain from doing shorter stints thought that doing 20 minute legs would be better.  I also thought descending intervals would be best, 40 mins -> 30 mins -> 20 mins as once fatigue sets in you want to be swimming less. So we agreed on 30 minutes x 2 each, then drop to 20 minute stints for remaining 8 hours.

Once we started we realised that it wasn’t so much the time in the water that should determine the intervals but more the time out of the water.  The 2 hour cycle went like this: SWIM, DRY/CHANGE/EAT, LAP COUNT, DOWNTIME/GET READY, REPEAT.  When you remove 40 minutes of that 2 hour cycle everything gets a little bit more hectic. I mean how am I meant to eat a pack of jaffas in that time!! We decided to change to 4* 30 minutes then 3* 20 minutes to bring us home.

The hardest part was the 1am -> 4am stint where, even though the rain had stopped, it was dark, everything I owned was now soaked and I was warmer and happier in the water.  There were a couple of times when I was supposedly lap-counting for uncle Davey when someone had to point out that it had been a few minutes and I hadn’t marked any laps!  Maybe next time we should get someone not swimming to be the lap counter.

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The sun then rose and everything was right in the world again apart from now I was dropping off whilst sitting on a chair on pool side, so I said I needed to get back in the water asap as it was the only way I was going to stay awake.  The drop to 20 minutes was needed at this point.  Myself, Brian and Adrian also put on our wetsuits for the 20 minute slots as Uncle Davey was concerned we were going to lose 2nd spot.

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8am arrived and everyone had finished.  We had managed 923 laps between the 4 of us, which was 46.15km, of which I swam ~11km of it.  Well done Uncle Davey for doing 12km.  Our distance got us 2nd and my desire to not wear a wetsuit got me a nasty look from Uncle Davey, who was convinced we could have taken the win if we would have worn wetsuits throughout.  Glouchester Masters won with around 49.2km.  Well done guys.

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I think 50km is realistic… next year anyone??

Thanks to Sandford Park lido team for putting on a great event that can only get more popular.

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Things I would do differently:

More dry clothes.  I was so concerned about not wanting to over pack and struggle to carry stuff that I didn’t take enough.

6 people.  I think 6 people would have allowed us to get closer to 50km and also meant more time to chill out inbetween swims.

Wetsuits.  Not sure how I would feel keeping a wetsuit on for 12 hours but that would definitely make things faster, especially for the boys, who seem to gain alot more from a wetsuit than us mermaids.

Bigger Tent.  This would be a luxury.  Travelling up on the train meant a smaller, lighter tent was needed but this meant that things got wet in there quickly.

Joint stop watch.  We were using our watches/phones to decide when the swimmers time was up.  This worked well for the most part but did lead to small variations so would have been better to have one joint timing device,

Windermere 2 way relay 2014

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”.

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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.

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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!

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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…

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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??

Manda

Lynne Cox: Swimming to Antartica

As it is book review month on the blog I thought  I would write a review of the first book I read about open water swimming – the wonderful ‘Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer’ ‘ by the amazing Lynne Cox.

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It has been a little while now since I have read the book but there are some memories that really stuck with me after reading it and here they are:

  1. Swimming the Catalina channel is on the to do list

The first major swim Lynne did when she was just a teenager was the Catalina Channel.  Lynne’s description was really amazing and made me really want to attempt the swim.  I keep trying to persuade Manda but she says too many sharks, jellyfish etc!

  1. Swimming costume technology has come a long way since the 1970’s

Lynne’s tales of 1960’s / 70s swimming costumes make me glad for the invention of Lycra.  Lynne writes about wearing costumes and cut into swimmers so badly they had to pull them down around their waists when swimming long distances in the sea.  Puts a little bit of wetsuit rub into the shade!

  1. Reg Brickell is a channel swim legend

Lynne’s pilot when she did her channel swim in 1972 was Reg Brickell who was the pilot when I did my first relay in 2000.  He’s had a long career!  Lynne was still only 15 when she did the swim and she set a record time of 9h 57 mins.

  1. Learning about hypothermia 

I learnt from Lynne that it is when your hands and feet stop feeling cold you have to start worrying!

  1. Never swim in the Nile River

It is fair to say Lynne’s tale of putting her hand though a dog carcass while swimming in the Nile has stayed with me.  No wonder she was too sick to finish the swim.

  1. Swimming the Bering Strait

What I really remember from reading the book is Lynne’s passion and determination to make the almost impossible happen.  It takes a very special lady to swim from the Little Diomede in Alaska, USA to Big Diomede then part of the Soviet Union across the Bering Strait.  Not only was the water cold (6 – 7c) but it was during the Cold War!

  1. Don’t ask for a Babushka in Russia

At the end of the Bering Strait swim Lynne asked for a babushka thinking it was a blanket.  She was actually sent a grandmother (babushka is Russian for grandmother) who got into her sleeping bag with her to warm her.  We mermaids now always say we need a babushka when we get out from a cold swim.

  1. Repeating Lynne’s wise words

For months after reading the book I bored all my friends by constantly starting sentences with the phrase ‘in her book Lynne says….’

Overall this was an amazing and inspiring book and I would recommend that anyone interested in open water swimming gives it a read.

NYC Swim Manhattan Island Marathon Relay 2012

It was in the Serpentine one September evening that I (Manda) heard some swimmers discussing how they had just got back from a swimming trip to New York. We didn’t have much time to chat but the brief words spoken about the Manhattan Island Swim left me curious. I started thinking about a shopping trip/girls holiday to New York, failing to appreciate the small 28.5 mile paddle that would also take place, but before I had chance to realise this I had planted the seed in Katie’s head and then we got Kate and Suz on board for our 4 person relay team.. Team “Mermaids in Manhattan” was born.

We started investigating what was actually involved in entering and soon realised it was A LOT. You need to create a profile on NYC Swim, upload your race history onto the website so they could ensure you have sufficient experience to handle the swim, then additionally, provide a team essay to say why you want to compete in the race. We decided that this final task was perfect for Suz. Here is part of an email from Suz discussing the essay:

“Do you think our application has greater chance of being accepted if we go for the patriotic, altruistic angle?: “We understand that the USA has a massive deficit and has recently had to raise its debt ceiling. It may be worth scouring your coastlines for buried treasure, which, under maritime and international law, will doubtless rightfully belong to the US Government. We are happy to do this on your country’s behalf in Manhattan.”

In the end we went for something a little less dramatic. The final essay can be seen at the bottom of this blog.  On the required application day I was away in Cuba and apparently there was some confusion over converting the US entry opening time to UK time but they did it and when I got the text, whilst drunk (this is becoming a theme) in Cuba saying we were in, I was filled with joy and dread.  Things has just got real!

We started training in earnest… maybe some of us more than others and soon it was only a couple of weeks to go. At this point something called the “East River Monster” was found washed up on the banks of Manhattan and people found utter delight in telling me about it and sending pics. I will leave it for you to choose to click the link to see some pictures of it but I will tell you I refused to google and open pictures of this beast until the swim was over and I am so pleased I did refrain.

We arrived in New York full of enthusiasm and proceeded to eat our way through the town, which was defined as carb loading, so completely justified.

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On the night before the swim we made a team home meal of pasta and settled down for an early night.  I did not sleep as I was beyond anxious and it didn’t help that our trip coincided with a small event taking place in London called the Olympics.. you might remember it.  So with the time difference there were a million sporting distractions taking place on TV in the middle of the night and I couldn’t resist watching the men’s triathlon unfold when I should have been sleeping for my biggest sporting event to date.

Early the next morning we got a taxi to take us to Battery park, where we would register for the swim and meet our crew.  Our crew consisted of the amazingly talented Darren Miller (observer), who has completed the Ocean Seven swims, our Kayaker Sweeney (William Sweeney), who amazed us by wearing a kilt the whole day and only taking one small break during the 8+ hour swim (more on that later) and our relaxed captain, who couldn’t have looked after us better on his boat Taz

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Katie was doing leg 1 that was a swim up passed the Staten island ferry port and all the way up to Williamsburg bridge.  She boarded a rib and we boarded the boat and so our adventure began.  After 45 minutes Katie was nearing the bridge and it was my turn.  To say I was scared would be an understatement but it was time to jump in.  I got in and the first thing that happened was some floating debris hit me… my first thought was “can I get out??”, second thought “nope”, so off I paddled.  My swim was also to a bridge (Queenborough) and after c. 40 minutes I was there and out I got.

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The remaining swims were 30 minutes blocks that took us up the east river, into Harlem and then back down the Hudson.  There are strict cut off times as at a point during the swim the tide will turn and if you haven’t turned to come back down then you never will against the reversed current.

At some point during the Harlem swim, whilst Suz relaxed in her dressing gown, Katie chatted to Darren and Kate sang along to “call me maybe”, the kayaker ABANDONED me to go and speed ahead to have a short break.  Yes the boat was still next to me but I suddenly felt very alone and obviously you can’t talk whilst swimming so there was no way of communicating this without stopping.  Eventually Katie reappeared and signaled that I only had 5 minutes left.  Every-time we exited the water we would get hosed down to ensure we didn’t bring river dirt on board with us but also we needed to be hosed down for our own good.  There was also lots of wet wipe action after getting out to remove the river tan we had picked up.  Generally it was filthy swim but definitely not as dirty I had imagined.

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At the top of the island, what amazes you is the shear barrenness of the landscape.  Often as a tourist in Manhattan you stick to Central Park and below so to see this other side of Manhattan was surprising.  There are easier ways to see this though as there is the circle line ferry that does laps of manhattan… I wish I had known about this before!

Once you have passed the C on the cliff for Colombia University you are on your way back down.  In the Hudson you dodge being sucked into the sewage works, whilst the buildings that Manhattan is most famed for reappear and you suddenly realise you are nearly there.  The whole way through the swim Katie’s mum and sister, who had come to Manhattan to support us, kept reappearing when you least expected it.  It is always great to have support, especially on the other side of the world.  My boyfriend on the other hand rang me before the race and I obviously thought he was ringing to wish us good luck… No…he wanted to check in about buying a welsh dresser!  Charming.

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After 8 hours, Kate swum the team into the finish and was greeted there by our adoring waiting public and supporters, as well as, a TV crew.  The 3 of us and the crew headed back to battery park to moor up and unpack.. We had done it.  Something that had consumed my waking and sleeping thoughts for months was done…

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We then celebrated in true mermaid fashion with wine, cocktails and steak and proceeded to tell anyone and everyone in New York about what we had done.

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People say you will always remember where you were the night Mo Farah, Jess Ennis and Greg Rutherford won their gold at London 2012 and I know I always will.  I was swimming around Manhattan Island with 3 amazing Mermaids. Beat that!

Manda

Here is a video by Sweeneey of our swim: http://vimeo.com/47531573

and another one by NYC Swim: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKnDstBPd8w


As four independent, highly-motivated women, we lead busy, occasionally frenetic, lives in London pursuing our careers and trying to maintain a healthy family and social life. Mindful, though, of the timeless Latin adage “mens sana in corpore sano” (a healthy mind sits in a healthy body), we make a point to incorporate fresh air and exercise into our lives, and the way we prefer to do that is to swim in open water: the sea, lakes, rivers, lochs, fjords. In our increasingly desk-bound existence, we appreciate the opportunity it gives us quite literally to wallow in nature and to pit ourselves against the elements.

For each of us, swimming has always been and remains an important part of our lives. Amanda grew up on a small island off the coast of France where she became accustomed from an early age to the rough swells and cool waters of the English Channel. Katie swam to a high competitive standard at both school and Cambridge University, where she gained a ‘blue’ representing the university against its counterpart in Oxford. Kate swam competitively at school and regularly takes part in triathlons, while Suzanne spent long summers of her youth swimming along the lengthy beaches of the French Atlantic coast.

Wild water swimming is not just for us an exhilarating physical experience; it is also a social one. Nothing, we’ve found, unifies people quite so well as a shared open water adventure. We have recently started to take part, as a group, in open water relay races; the highlight of which has been racing together in a 10km open water relay this summer. Two of us have, independently, already completed a relay swim of the English Channel (Katie in 2000 and 2002, and Suzanne in 2011 – her team winning the Channel Swimming Association trophy for the fastest relay swim of 2011). On top of our competitive swimming, we also enjoy the lighter side of the sport. The four of us swam together in the Greek Mediterranean this summer on a SwimTrek holiday, each covering distances of 6 or 7 kms per day.

The Manhattan Island Relay swim is our chance now to consolidate on our individual and shared aquatic experiences and together to take on the next big swimming challenge. We relish the opportunity to focus our minds and energies on achieving such a momentous goal and we would value enormously the privilege of being able to swim in such a special, iconic setting. We believe that we have demonstrated already that we have the commitment required in terms of training for the Manhattan Island Relay swim; that we have the will and drive, in short, to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime event. We know, also, that we work well together. We bring different skills and abilities to the table, and we know, respect and like each other. In other words, we are confident that we have the key ingredients required to undertake this feat.

Waiting.. For the channel

Pivo here.. explaining to you what waiting for his channel relay has done to him!

Note: as I publish this.. he is on the boat about to start his relay… Go cosmic rays!!!


Well hello there, it is Pivo here, now I actually have a proper name, but well the mermaids choose not to use this, I may reveal my real name at the end of this post.

My blog post today is actually not about swimming, its about waiting …….. waiting…….. and waiting some more. I was meant to be doing a 4 person 2 way channel relay to France and back.  Myself, Brian (reserve), Lisa and Hilary, and doctor, Parviz were all scheduled to swim for the charity COSMIC, the Children of St Marys Intensive Care Unit, a great charity and a great cause.  We are lucky enough to have one of the children treated in the hospital by Parviz, who lost parts of 3 limbs coming with us to blog and tweet the journey.

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Our tidal window was for a week from 9-16 August. Now that is not a typo, that’s right we have been waiting 5 1/2 weeks now to do our swim. We were unable to go in our available week, so we essentially went on a waiting list, and we would be going once swims for a particular week went. Unfortunately the weather in this fair fine country of yours, to put it bluntly has been s**t since 9th August. There were long periods where no boats were going out at all. As each week passed, more and more swimmers became backed up.

To say this has been frustrating, is well a huge understatement, it is never nice being in limbo. While we have been waiting, we have had to put other things in life on hold. We have been able to make plans, but then not too complex plans, and when making these plans knowing that these could be thrown out the window if we got the call to go swimming. Except we have not had the call. The Coniston swim Manda blogged about recently I completed too, but it was touch and go till the Thursday before the weekend that we were sure we could go to the Lakes and would not be in the channel.

Some of us made concrete plans, 5 weeks after the scheduled date of the swim, not thinking there would have been any chance not to have completed the swim.   Hilary made plans to go on a family holiday to South East Asia. Hilary is now there, and she is unable to swim with us.   I feel absolutely gutted that Hilary cannot be there if we do go, the amount of effort she has put in. I am due to meet up with her in a few weeks in Vietnam, who knows if we will have done the swim when I do.  Brian our reserve swimmer, who is mentioned in this blog often, is also possibly unable to swim if we do go this weekend, he has family over and cannot get out of the plans he has made.

I can f***ing tell you as well what this waiting has done, it has made us all irritible as well, angry at little things, and friends and family. I don’t know how many times I have been asked the following: how was the swim? have you done it yet? when are you going? whats going on? has the weather been that bad? have other boats gone out? why haven’t you? will you go this year? at all? how is the training? how is the motivation? – ENOUGH ALREADY, I don’t know the answers to all these questions, only that I hope we will be going soon. Humph

It really has been exhausting, we keep swimming because we know we may be going soon, but don’t know when. That word again soon! Hmmm I am beginning to dislike it. It has been a long summer swim season. Motivation is waning

We have become pseudo experts on the weather, and looking at wind and swell conditions. If it is fine in London, is it fine in Dover, or in the middle of the channel. All I know is that weather presenters – well they still don’t know s*t. The weather is always ever changing, and that sucks!

The numbers of emails, phone calls, texts, whatsapp messages, smoke signal and psychic messaging we have been doing and all exchanged over this period has been ridiculous. Whenever I see a message, email about the swim, I can’t help but roll my eyes and take a deep breath sometimes. Social media is not so fun either. People know we are about to swim, or have swum, the support is all good but at the end of the day all of us are sounding like broken records with the same lines on why we have not gone being trotted out.

So waiting is not fun at all, I suppose we can compare this waiting to waiting for Christmas or your birthday, but then they keep changing the dates, or saying we can’t do it now, we will do it soon though! Enough already, really. I hate waiting, I just want to go.

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And then suddenly, well today as I was writing this blog entry, we were told we had an amber warning, we could be going on Friday, but then wait ….. good news this time, it seems we are all systems go for Friday morning at 7am. Hallelujah, the waiting maybe over real soon. I can wait now a few more days, and know that soon I will be in the middle of the English channel, swimming to France and back.

I can tell you, the wait although hard, frustrating, and a pain in the arse, well it has been worth it.

Wish us luck. We wait no more …….. well hopefully. If we swim I may be back for another tale to be told.

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Paul aka pt, aka Pivo

Windermere.. The secret swim 2014

After I (Manda) did the Windermere 2 way relay a couple of people mentioned to me that they were interested in doing a Windermere swim and I said I would be keen to do a solo after the 2 way relay so would be something to consider for next year.  However, next year wasn’t enough for Brian so he suggested this year! By this point it was already late in the season so we were running out of time, however, I have somewhat promised the OH no “major”* events next year so the idea of getting it ticked off this year was appealing.

At this point I started throwing reasons at Brian for me not to do it

1) Blue green algae break out at Fell Foot, Windermere

2) There were no weekends free for us to do it

3) We had no one experienced to pilot us

4) Most importantly I hadn’t trained for it!!!!

But he didn’t give up.. so the swim happened on Monday 1st September with the caveat that it was to be a #secretswim for me.  Brian told people he was doing the swim, whereas, I only told Katie, Kate and Verity who had a guess when she had seen a 10k training swim I did.  I didn’t want people being aware of the swim as I didn’t want the pressure.  I wanted a nice calm, simple swim and sometimes social media can make something bigger than the event itself.

We drove up to Windermere with Dom (driver of the weekend whether that be car or boat) and Sigrid, Brian’s friend who was going to be our support on the boat in charge of feeding etc.  She is an experienced open water swimmer so was good to have her on board (excuse the pun!)

After checking into our hotel we went down to the Bowness marina where we were renting a boat from for the swim.  They had to do our safety briefing that night as none of them would be there when we picked up the boat. We additionally had to be told how to unplug the boat from the charger.. which is something that didn’t sit well with me!  Electricity..Water..Sunrise.. no thanks!

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We headed for a early dinner of pasta and then went back for an early night.

We left the hotel at around 6am as we weren’t allowed to get the boat until sunrise due to insurance reasons.  Not that I would have wanted Dom to be driving on the lake before sunrise anyway.  Monday was chosen as we wanted to limit the boat traffic on lake when we were swimming.  We got down there, unplugged the boat (Well done boys!!) and off we set to Fell Foot where we were going to start the swim.  The trip down there took around 60 minutes and in that time, Dom scared me by practicing the kill cord.  On the boat ride down to the start I also decided to break the cardinal rule of marathon swimming by trying something new on “race day”.  Sigrid had brought Brian maxim for him to have at feeds, whereas, I was planning on having hot cordial or nuun at each feed and just some chocolate/shot blocks/banana.  After all the channel swim horror stories re maxim, I had built it up to be liquid vomit in my head, so when Sigrid presented me with a ribena looking drink on the trip down I was pleasantly surprised so we decided I would have warm maxim at first feed and then let her know after that what I wanted.

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We put on our wetsuits and jumped in the water.  I wanted to wear my wetsuit to give me best chance of finishing. We had to start earlier to 1) avoid boat traffic but also 2) to ensure we could get back to London that day by a reasonable time. That meant the air temperature was cool.  I knew from the relay, where I was freezing after my first hour, that I wouldn’t have been able to do it in 16 degrees without my wetsuit.  We left Dom and Sigrid outside of the boat mooring and swum to the yellow buoys that marks the start at fell foot and off we set swimming back towards them.

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I had decided not to wear my watch for the swim and this is something I really enjoyed.  This whole swim for me was about relaxing, staying calm and what will be will be.  So I didn’t want to be constantly checking how long to a feed and stressing over time.. finishing was going to achievement enough.  The first hour went quickly and I was pleased that I wasn’t feeling cold.  During the first hour there was a hot air balloon flying over us – this was an awesome sight, even if Brian didn’t notice! The 2nd hour again went quickly and at the 2nd feed I had prearranged to have some ibuprofen knowing that my shoulder would start hurting more and more and hopefully this would help.  After the 2nd hour we decreased the feeding schedule to 2×45 minute swims and then finally 2×30 minute before a final swim to the end.  The decreasing feed schedule was something Brian had suggested after experiencing something similar at Bridge 2 Bridge.  This mentally worked really well for me and something I would definitely use again if required.

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Towards the end with fatigue setting in I realised why having the man you are due to marry in 2 weeks piloting you is not a great idea.  There is a lovely video of me and Brian swimming and then Sigrid pans to the scenery and pans back to us swimming at which point I stop and start swearing at Dom as I am adamant he is taking us not in the best line.  Everyone said he was, although I am not sure they are just saying that to ensure the marriage was still on 😉  I did apologize afterwards and I think he has forgiven me… I hope!

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We were approx. 10 metres from the end when Dom and Sigrid stopped us due to the ferry coming into Ambleside.  More swearing.. we were 10 metres from the end and we were stopped!  So after a quick discussion we swam the last 10 metre and high fived.  We had finished in just over 5 hours.  Time was irrelevant** as I was just grateful to have defeated the lack of training, the cold and my shoulder demons.

Dom moored up on the public jetty and after answering a few questions from the people sitting on the shore and some tourists who came over to chat, we got changed into warm clothes and set about back to Boweness.  Brian at this point despite not feeling cold was a little blue in the face but nothing a dryrobe, hot ribena and a pack of chocolate fingers didn’t solve.

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At the hotel we had warm(ish) showers and then started the 6 hour drive back to London.  We arrived back in London at around half 9.  So from 6am – half 9 we pretty much didn’t stop… I went straight to bed then was up the next morning at 6:30 back to work for 3 days before I was back up in the lakes for Coniston.  What a week, what a swim, what a team!

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Thanks to Brian for dealing with me, planning the swim and letting me tag alone.  Dom for dealing with me, being a great boat pilot even if I didn’t realise it at the time and driving us there.  Finally Sigrid for agreeing to take a day off work so she could sit in a car for 6 hours each way, then sit on a boat for 6 hours, where she counted strokes, prepared our food and was generally a trooper!

An additional thanks goes out to BlueSeventy and RG Active who provided me with equipment for this season and it is a testament to the helix that I swam 5 hours with just body glide on my neck and experienced no chaffing on my neck.. and no unexpected rub elsewhere.

Sometimes in life if an opportunity presents itself and yes there is a high chance of failure but there is a chance of success.

It is better to have tried and failed than to live a life wondering what if.

Manda


*definition to be negotiated!

**Since I have thought about having another go at doing it faster!

Sri Chinmoy Zurich marathon swim 2013

Last weekend (10th August) was the 2014 Sri Chinmoy Marathon Swim across Lake Zurich. This brought back some great memories of 2013 when Manda and I competed in the race. The race is a scenic 26.4k from Rapperswil to Zurich lido. You can swim it solo or in a relay (up to three people), wetsuit or non-wetsuit so there is something for everyone depending on your preference.

The swim is very popular and space is limited so we applied three times before achieving our place in 2013. Given that we had been turned down twice before we didn’t hold out much hope in the third year so it was a bit of a shock when I got a text from Manda early one cold December morning to say we had got a place. At that point I had been struggling with a shoulder injury and had been out of training completely for 8 weeks so the thought of the race was pretty daunting.

We slowly built up the training again and soon we were back to doing long sets. In the winter we mainly do our weekend training at Crystal Palace often sharing a lane with Lucinda Bayliss and co. They frequently put us to shame by knocking out 20km sets. It makes our 8 – 10k sets look a bit puny! When I was an age grouper I used to swim at Crystal Place 2 – 3 times a week with my club Leander SC so it always brings back old memories training there.

We also attended two intensive weekend training camps with Dan Bullock of Swim for Tri. These included plenty of time in the water, technique coaching and dry land work. Vicky, Dan’s fiancé and semi-pro triathlete, took us through her daily core routine – we all collapsed after about 30 seconds!

As the weather and the water gets warmer we moved outside splitting our training time between Tooting Bec Lido, Bray Lake and Shepperton Lake. This means a lot of early starts (Manda always jokes that she makes me get up earlier at the weekend that I have to do during the week) and a lot of shivering from the cold!

Our final bit of ‘training’ was going on a Strel Swimming Adventure to Slovenia with the other Mermaids and our friends Lisa and Paul. The trip was amazing and Slovenia is beautiful.

The actual day of the race was getting closer and we were packing and doing the last minute bits of preparation when Manda fell ill. When I met her at the airport to get our flight she looked pretty pale and I thought it would be touch and go whether we would be able to start – like a trooper though she did.

On the day of the race (another early wake-up!) Manda was swimming first so she went down to the start line and I got aboard the support boat. The boat and its three sailors were very nice – unfortunately the sailors didn’t speak any English and I didn’t speak any German so communication was kept to a minimum! Manda has a degree in German and lived there for a year so she managed to chat away with them.

The solo swimmers were set off and 7am and at 7.15am we were finally off. The format of the relay was is that you each swim an hour on an hour off. This meant that we didn’t actually get to speak to each other all day so we had to send each other text messages of encouragement.

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It wasn’t long before we started catching up with some of the solo swimmers including Shane, a friend of Manda’s and his kayaker also called Shane. Manda, who was swimming at the time, stopped to have a chat. Now knowing Manda, once she has started chatting we could be here all day so I yelled at her very sternly to keep going! I’m not sure she has forgiven me.

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The weather at the start of the day was absolutely beautiful, hot and sunny and the water was lovely and warm. When Manda was in for her third hour, however, a storm picked up and continued when I got in for my third hour. This made the water very choppy and this was definitely the toughest part of the swim. Towards the end of my hour, however, it cleared up and the sunshine returned.

With Manda back in the water we were getting closer and closer to Zurich Lido. During her 4th hour Manda had some competition from another swimmer and they swam neck and neck for a while. Such is the nature of the race that we didn’t know if they were a solo swimmer or another relay. By the time I got back in at the start of the fourth hour we only had about 2.5km to go before the end of the race. I put on the fastest swim I could muster but I am not going to lie after an hour of being pulled about by the storm my shoulders were killing and I definitely found it tough going.

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It seemed like we were getting no closer to shore but then suddenly Manda was on the side of the boat putting on her hat and goggles. This sight filled me with relief as I knew she would only be getting in alongside me if we had less than 200m to swim.

We finished the 26.4km in 7 hours and 39 minutes well ahead of our target time of 8 hours. The best news of all was that we had won our category! I think the photos below show how happy we were at this news.

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http://ch.srichinmoyraces.org/z%C3%BCrichsee-schwimmen-marathon-swim

http://www.better.org.uk/leisure/crystal-palace-national-sports-centre

http://www.swimfortri.co.uk/

http://www.slsc.org.uk/

http://www.braylake.com/

http://www.sheppertonopenwaterswim.co.uk/new/

http://www.strel-swimming.com/