On Monday I completed my longest ever swim to date, in fact more than double the time that I had swam before. It was in Windermere where I swam to one end and then back again. For those of you that don’t know, Windermere is England’s largest lake, and when measured from Ambleside to Lakeside is 10.5 miles long. Meaning swimming both ways I covered 21 miles in a time of 12 hours 23 minutes.
I hadn’t been sure if after all the organising whether I would be able to swim as I had been suffering from an awful cold and cough for the last two weeks however I decided to go and see how I felt and could always stop part way through if I wasn’t feeling well.
I had travelled up on Sunday with Abby & Brian (my crew for both this swim and my Channel swim coming up) and Kate who was going to swim one way with me from Ambleside to Lakeside. Once we had arrived we headed over to Ambleside to check out where the start would be and the public pier and then over to Bowness to talk to the boat hire people about the logistics for the next day as Brian was going to be Captaining the boat for the swim. A lovely evening meal in an Italian and and then off to bed as we had an early start ahead of us the next morning.
Our alarms went off at 3.30am and having had a awful night’s sleep I felt like I hadn’t slept and the last thing I felt like doing was jumping in cold water and swimming for 12 plus hours but when we got down to the lake it looked stunning which helped motivate me to get me in the water.
With Brian at the helm we motored in our little electric boat from Bowness over to Ambleside which took about an hour, we were so lucky it was such a stunning start to the morning. We had chosen to start early (and on a Monday) as we wanted the first part of the swim to be nice and quiet on the lake – not many crazy people like us on the lake at 4.45 in the morning.
And at 5.45am we started in ideal conditions with the water temperature at 16.6 degrees.
We had decided not to feed for the first hour and then again till the second hour and then half hourly after that, the sun had come out and the water was so flat and calm . We were doing really well and making good progress , that was until we got to the other side of Bowness and the clouds came in and the wind picked up. The next 3 hours was really tough work swimming against the wind and the on coming chop. We arrived in Lakeside 6 hours 20 minutes after leaving Ambleside, it was slower than we had hoped but given the conditions it was good to get to the end. Just before we had arrived at the turning buoy where Kate was going to finish and my half way mark Abby called me over to the boat to get me to feed on a warm drink as my shoulders and top of my back at turned blue/purple from the cold. This can be the start of hypothermia so the team kept an eye on me and further signs as the colour came and went in my shoulders from then on till the finish of my swim. I had goosebumps throughout the swim but was never really shivering.
Kate got back into the boat, a great swim from her and lovely to have the company but now this was me alone swimming back the way we had come.
The first couple of hours felt okay and with the wind now behind me and dropping a bit it felt a bit easier but then came the torrential rain and the crew had to batten down the hatches which made it a bit harder as I could only see whomever was sat in the driving seat apart from at feeds and not what else was going on in the boat.
Abby was feeding me every half hour so I was just swimming to the next feed, I had previously only swam up to 6 hours before so this was new territory for me and I wasn’t sure how my body would cope especially given that I had been poorly the following few weeks and not really been able to swim. I was also not sure how I would deal with it mentally. They often say long endurance swims are 80% mental 20% physical and at times during this swim I completely agree. There were times I told myself I could do it and then another part of myself would say ‘well you’ve done 10 hours now, that’s great, you could just get out, you’ve done more than you have before’. And then the other part of me would chip in ‘you’ve got less than 3 hours left to go now, if you were told you had a three hour swim on Dover beach you would think it was a short one, so just put your head down and carry on’. Abby showed me messages of support from friends from time to time which really helped me and spurred me on – so thank you every one for your messages, you have no idea how much it pushed me on.
As the mist came down on the last an hour and a half in this large lake that I had been swimming in for a very long time it just never seemed to come to an end, every time I looked up it never came closer. I had what was to be my last feed and told the team I didn’t want another one, I just wanted to get to the end and I put my head down and swam. Abby said to me later that she saw me say to myself ‘come on Lisa, you can do this now’. 12 hours and 23 minutes after leaving Ambleside I returned to the same place I left. I crawled out on all fours as I wasn’t sure if I would be able to walk and Brian came down and helped me walk back to the boat. As I walked to the boat I broke down, it had been tough and I had finally done it.
During my swim I tried to adhere to all the Channel swimming rules as much as possible (the only one I didn’t was having Kate swim next to me for the first half) as I wanted to mimic the Channel swim as much as possible for both myself and the crew so we could learn what worked and what didn’t. I imagined different scenarios in my head of how I would feel in certain points in my Channel swim but I can now have the confidence that can swim the distance and I can overcome the mental challenges. I just need to keep reminding myself that!
I learnt a lot during this swim but most importantly how vital my crew are. Abby kept me smiling throughout, she was always there smiling at me and always had my feeds on time which is so important when you are just swimming to the next feed. Despite being stuck on a small boat in the cold and the rain she was so cheerful and excited throughout and did everything right, I am so pleased she is going to be on my boat for the Channel. Next was Brian, he kept the boat on track and watched me every single stroke, it is so good to know that although you are in the water on your own that you have someone there watching over you, you don’t feel so alone – again another superstar who is going to be watching and supporting me every step of the way on my swim to France. And last but not least, Kate, she will tell you she played no part in my success but first having swam 6 hours 20 minutes is an awesome challenge in itself but also having someone by my side to swim with for that time made it so much more do-able to achieve the whole bigger challenge.
Thank you to each of you that helped get me through – Firstly Abby, Brian, Kate but also all of you that sent me such wonderful messages and then all those that have so far donated towards my challenges and the Royal Marsden. It is the reason I do these crazy things!