Great North Swim 10k 2016

Fiona did the Great North swim in Windermere this year and seeing as we have never done the ‘North’ event of the Great Swim series we asked her to write us a guest blog.

ps cheery bakewell cocktails… Yum or Yuk?

I’m writing this from the heavenly super king size bed in our guest house in Windermere. Whippet and I have just had northern fish and chips (the best kind) after a surprisingly successful 10k Great North Swim. It wasn’t looking good on any front…

My training-in-earnest started later than usual this year after the shocking and heart breaking loss of my Dad in March, but I gradually eased myself back in, spurred on by wanting to keep his water baby genes alive, and a comment by Manda that “swimming is therapeutic”, which I have found it is, in a meditational way. I find that the sensory deprivation of swimming is a welcome relief from the exhausting sensory overload of everyday life. I also resolved to stop pressuring myself to train a certain number of times a week, to stop feeling guilty if I didn’t train, and to stop beating myself up if I was knackered after work and couldn’t face a hellish public lane. As soon as I removed that pressure, and allowed myself to just work and go home during the week, the tug of war instantly stopped, and I found myself wanting to swim – it was no longer a chore. Pushing and pressure are not effective motivational tools for me. Indeed, the same applies to my OU studies. So I’ve more or less been doing one or two masters sessions a week, and one or two lido sessions a week, maybe only once swimming more than three times in a single week. I think I have finally found what works for me. It’s only taken me seven seasons of open water swimming to figure that out, so don’t ever accuse me of being slow on the uptake!

The other worry about Windermere was the temperature. I thought that it could be between 13c and 16c, so I was preparing for 13c and hoping for 16c. My first lido dip of the season, also later than usual because of the chilly spring weather, was 10c in early May. Head up breaststroke skins. No point faffing with a wetsuit if I can’t get my face in, or stay in long enough to make it worth the faff. Later on, I managed a two mile skins job at 16c, but I was still behind on the sorts of distances I wanted to be covering in the lido.

My final worry was injury. I’ve had sore elbows for a year and a half now, and the odd shoulder twinge. I’ve spent a small fortune on physio, osteo, sports massage and Dan (Bullock; should be obvious to most people reading this, innit) to try to give myself the best chances of long term swimming health.

The last few days leading up to the swim weren’t too hot either. I had a nightmarish alcohol incident the previous Thursday, and a dreadful stomach on Wednesday when we drove up here, and this morning. I was psyching myself up for a DNF.

In the end then, my training fears were unfounded, my temperature fears were almost reversed when I feared I would suffer heatstroke in the day or two leading up to the swim (I’m a fragile petal, and since when was the Lake District subtropical?) and the lake was a staggering 21c on the day, my injury fears dissolved when I hit the increased volume, and I smashed my 10k time (Dorney in May 2010; 04:06) by over half an hour to bag myself a 03:35:48. Three thirty-five forty-eight!!! How the hell did that happen?! What am I capable of? Whippet rushed over to me with a glass of fizz and I sat on the grass in my swimming costume semi speechless. I’d only hoped to make the four hour cut off, and that was before taking into account all of the above adverse events.


In conclusion, I think this was a confidence boosting training swim for Henley to Marlow in August, which I “accidentally” signed up for after a couple of my special homemade cherry Bakewell cocktails.



Open water Swimming dictionary

This is a list of words/phrases that we use regularly when discussing swimming.  As you will see from the below it is probably not that useful!

Thanks to the usual Team Mermaids support crew for suggestions:  Brian, pivo, Hilary, Lisa, Suz and Kate.



Acclimatisation: The act of screaming/whinging upon entering freezing (see below explanation) water.  Also, the act of preparing your body and mind ready for the cold water.  This can involve such activities as cold showers, sleeping with just a sheet in winter and (the money saving) no heating for the winter.

Alpha males: males swimmers who can’t accept that a girl might be faster than them and therefore insist on pushing off the wall right in front of you.   This species is found a lot at Crystal Palace.

Bathers: Term for swimming costume when in the Channel Islands.

Bathophobia: Fear of a bath due to being confined to such a small swimming space that is generally too hot… Nah only kidding.  The fear of the deep.   You know that moment we all have where you can’t see the bottom.  It happens to us all where suddenly you are overcome with thoughts regarding what is down “there”.   It comes from the ancient Greek for “deep” – bathos.

Blowing-up: being unable to carry on swimming at a certain speed having set off too fast.  Ask Pivo about this.

Bonus rest: additional rest taken between sets when there is some particularly interesting gossip to discuss.

Buoy (pronounced: BOY in uk and BOO-EE in US):  Large plastic thing that NEVER appears and when it finally does often attacks you for swimming too close to it.

Cake:  The food of gods that helps you fuel and recover from long swims.

Channel rules: the rules governing an English Channel swim.  Hat, goggles & costume.  No touching the boat.  They (the CSPF and CSA) love a man in speedos.

Crocs: ghastly footwear that many a channel swimmer insists they NEED to wear. NO.YOU.DON’T.

Dip’n’Dine: a swim followed by food with friends.

Double Hatting: When the water is Freezing (see below) and you need to wear two hats to keep warm.

Drafting: You can’t escape it, even if you don’t want to do it, someone will do it to you.  Kick them in the face.. go on!*

Dry Robe: popular brand of post-swimming warmth.

DYST: ‘did you swim today’ Facebook group where the majority of the time people post interesting summaries/photos about what swimming they have done of note that day.

Feeding: another name for chucking a few jelly babies in the general direction of a swimmer.

Freezing: any water below 18C.

Jellyfish Soup – Miles and miles of jellyfish.   Large or small… stingers or non-stingers.  Jellyfish Soup causes you to curse and swear lots and seek immediate exit route from water.

(The) Jellyfish Crawl – the latest dance craze sweeping the world and also the slowed down swimming style that is adopted when swimming through Jellyfish Soup (see above).

Killer Whales: The “affectionate” term used by a core group of skin swimmers to refer to wetsuited swimmers.

Like a bath: any water above 18C.

Lube: normally in the form of Vaseline, bodyglide or channel grease.  Helps prevent chaffing and the resultant questions from work colleagues around how aggressive a kisser your husband is.

Marathon swim: Anything over and including 10km.

Oceans 7:  Not to be confused with Oceans 11, 12 and 13.  A wish list of the craziest long-distance sea swims that exist around the Globe.  For people who think swimming the English Channel is too easy.

Pool crawl: visiting a number of pools on the same day for swims.  This term originates from the phrase “pub crawl” only it is way cooler.

Pyramid of Pain: 1 minute hard swim, 1 minute rest, 2 minutes hard swim, 1 minute rest, 3 minutes hard swim, 1 minute rest, 4 minutes hard swim, 1 minute rest, 5 minutes hard swim, 1 minute rest, 6 minutes hard swim, 1 minute rest, 5 minutes hard swim, 1 minute rest, 4 minutes hard swim, 1 minute rest, 3 minutes hard swim, 1 minute rest, 2 minutes hard swim, 1 minute rest, 1 minute hard swim.  I don’t think I need to explain why it is called the pyramid of pain.  Renamed the “Christmas Tree of Pain” around Christmas.

Relay: A race where a team of people swim a certain distance each.  This used to mean a serious competition between teams but now is more likely to mean that we will be competing using flip flops as hand paddles.

Running: Like swimming but on land and not as fun and much harder.

Single Arm Drill: Where you have to swim free style with one arm with the other arm down by your side.  A drill so hard it makes grown men want to cry.

Swimmers Beach: the unofficial name of the beach in Dover harbour where most channel swimmers train during the summer.

T10: a 10 minute time trial where you have to swim as far as you can in 10 minutes.  Normally leaves everyone in pieces and shouting at Dan from SwimForTri.  Poor Dan.. (Note: Katie wrote that.. sod Dan (Manda)).


*please don’t really kick someone in the face!



Shelley Taylor-Smith: Dangerous when wet

I (Manda) heard about Shelley Taylor-Smith from Paul Newsome (of swim smooth fame) when he referred to her as his mentor in the run up to his Manhattan Marathon swim, which he won. It wasn’t for a year or 2 later that I got wind of her book and promptly tracked a copy of it down.


Whereas the book tells the story of Shelley’s life up to 1994, her swimming career kicked off in earnest after she was awarded a scholarship to the university of Arkansas in 1982, so the majority of the book is about her dominance in marathon swimming from then.

I loved this book. There was a lot of things I could relate to whether it being places where I have swum, the love you get from the guys when you beat them or the feeling of getting stronger the longer the swim but there was a 20 year gap between the book being written in 1995 and me reading it in 2015. So 20 years later, have things really changed that much in Woman’s marathon swimming?

Things that have changed since:

· Marathon swimming is now an Olympic event

Shelley mentions her desire for marathon swimming to be in the Olympics.  Shelley believed the media coverage her swimming was gathering would only help get marathon swimming in the Olympic programme. I think she was hoping that it would be a 25km or longer event in the Olympics but I hope she is happy with the 10km being there instead (even if we still haven’t got the 1500m for women yet…..what’s that about?!)

· Water quality in New York has improved… we think!

Shelley had to contend with condoms and dead rats during her multiple Manhattan swims and in 1984 Karen Hartley swam past a dead body. Fortunately during our 2012 Manhattan swim we didn’t seen anything like that, the threat of the east river monster was enough for me to handle.

· Men and Women’s now have separate world rankings

At one point in 1991 Shelley was the best in 25km combined world rankings. Not just best female, THE BEST SWIMMER. Shortly after they decided to split the rankings. Evidently the boys just couldn’t handle being chicked. Grow some lads…Grow some.

· Equal prize money for men and woman

Despite beating the men outright she would normally receive a smaller prize. Some races did offer a large prize for the “outright” winner but evidently they weren’t expecting Shelley to turn up and whoop ALL the boys butts, even if she occasionally did! As the swimmer’s representative at the International Marathon Swimming Association she fought for the equality in pay that we are now have.  FINA offer equal prize money in both the openwater world cup series (10kms) and the grand prix series (>10km).

Things that haven’t changed since:

· The water quality in Rio is poor

With RIO 2016 fast approaching there are still concerns about the water quality. Shelley when swimming there in the 90s got dysentery and this seemed to be a theme of any south American swim she raced in. She ended up in being horrendously sick 3 times after racing in Argentina and therefore, vowed never to return until they improved the water quality. Kerri-Anne Payne, the British 2016 10km swim hopeful, did a test event in Rio in August 2015 and supposedly no swimmers were sick post the race so hopefully the concerns re water quality won’t be founded.

· Marathon swimming can be more mental than physical

Yes you obviously can’t swim for hours and hours without being fit and lots of training but without the mental strength you aren’t going anywhere, let alone anywhere fast, long and cold. Shelley puts her mental strength down to being a woman and the pain she learnt to endure through years of back problems. She suffered from a childhood back problem that meant she was in a brace for 2000+ days, as well as multiple car crashes and temporary lower body paralysis from excessive training.

· Jellyfish are horrid

Shelley worked with her sports psychologist before her 25km world championship win to be able to deal with the excessive jellyfish. He managed to get her to think that the jellyfish were her friends and that the stinging was them kissing her. I am not sure what she thought was happening when she bit into one during the race.

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!


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


*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.


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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