The One That Wasn’t To Be

You’ve spent months prepping for the most intimidating challenge you’ve ever faced. You’ve prepped yourself as best you can mentally and physically. You are ready as you’ll ever be to swim 10,000m in a chilly Windermere. 

Then this happens:


Well, shit. 

I’d been obsessively checking the weather for a few days but Brian and myself were more concerned with Saturday for my cycling adventure and his 25km fell race at Keswick Mountain Festival. Sunday looked breezy but ok! Until I studied it again and saw wind gusts of over 30mph. Ah. Not terribly ideal for swimming in a huge body of open water. 

Bollocks. 

The email from Great Swim said that they wouldn’t be able to accommodate the longer events on the Saturday, but they would happily let us swim a mile. 

My initial reaction was total, utter disappointment. I have trained my arse off. I really have worked so hard for this. It’s like training for a marathon, travelling down to it and then being told it’s cancelled but please feel free to do a lap of this here park. 

Meh. 

I never make excuses. I finish what I start and I give it my all. I have happily never been in this situation, but I absolutely understand safety protocols and experience swimmers are ingrained with respect for open water. It can be a formidable beast. I think the only reason I didn’t descend into a Bean-Strop-Tantrum was because: this was no ones fault. Mother Nature decides. Mother Nature wins. 

Witnessing my heartache, Brian gave me a hug and we set about making alternative plans. 

Luckily, i had been advised by my lovely friend to stay in Ambleside. This turned out to be the saving grace of the weekend. Brian could drive to Keswick and do his run. I’d skip the spectating (it was POURING so this was FINE) and I would spend the day exploring Ambleside (also in the rain though) until I could wander down to swim in the afternoon. (Still in the rain) 

At least I’d get a chance to kick the arse off this smaller distance. As coach said “at this point you could fart out a mile”…… Even if it is only a SIXTH of what I’m capable of. I could do it justice and earn some bling. 

We woke up and had breakfast(s) with our lovely hosts. The rain battering off the sky-lights in their gorgeous kitchen. No tops of any hills visible. 

Brian set off with all his kit to tackle some insane Cumbrian fells and I decided to go for a walk up the falls. 

I wasn’t disappointed. This is such a beautiful part of the world. 


Note: Those pictures appear bright. However the light belies the truth. I was very much wetter than after 10km in Windermere. I was soaked. Despite quality waterproofs. I. Was. Soaked. 

I wound my way down into the village and stumbled upon a small cafe. As I trudged in, the young girl serving smiled and said “you definitely need cake” and proceeded to bring me a perfect latte and, quite probably, the best Victoria Sponge I will ever taste. 

To reach Peak Cake at 31 is sad. But I swear I will not let my attempts to find a better cake end here. No no. I shall continue upon my cake quest. 


I digress.

I wandered back up to the B&B where I was served home made soup and bread while we checked on Brian’s progress. He’d made excellent time and reported that he was still alive. 

Once it hit 2.30, I slowly set off and began the 45 minute walk to the start. It was still wet. My clothes were soaked but I was on my way for a dook anyway so fuck it. Off I went. Soggy. 

As I walked along the side of the lake I could see how choppy the water looked. The winds had started to pick up and for the first time I felt relief that I wouldn’t be having to pick my way through that for 3 hours on Sunday. 

Of course…. Due to Sunday’s cancellations, they had amalgamated TWO DAYS of swimmers into one. Those that could/wanted to swim the mile were allowed. The email stated that you should bring your original cap and chip straight to check in and go. 


No problemo. Or so I thought. 

I got changed. Couldn’t find my chip. Spent 8 frantic minutes searching before it mysteriously reappeared beside me, popped my bag in check in and made my soggy way to the start. I watched the wave before mine set off. I watched about 6 people miss their chance to swim through what I can only describe as sheer ignorance. Marshals were shouting them over but they were too busy faffing about to notice. Then they got shitty with the marshals. Silly, silly swimmers. 

They open your wave check-in 30 minutes prior to your start time. I was organised and one of the first through the gate. Except I was being pulled aside. Uh oh. WHAT HAVE I DONE.  “You need a pink cap for this wave.” Said the girl. I must have looked beyond confused.  “You need to go to Race Information which is over there”. She pointed to a tent about 50 yards away. Across stones. I was barefoot. Nice. 

I now refer you back to the above email. It was LIES. Not so amazing from Great Swim who usually have faultlessly slick communication. 

I had to peg it across stones in bare feet to the girl in the customer services tent who hurriedly handed me a new pink hat. Sakes.  I didn’t need that stressful few minutes at all. 

Finally through check in, I could get my fecking pink cap on and warm up in acclimatisation. Or cool down apparently. Windermere was 15.5 degrees. No colder than I’m used to but I’d have preferred something a little warmer having made the effort to travel for this race. 

Keri-Anne Payne was there to set us off and at 4.30 on the dot I wrestled my way into the lake. The start was violent as usual. I seeded myself with the other 10k rejects as I knew they’d be quick. I enjoyed the drafting as long as I could before we were clear of the marina and out into the lake. 

It wasn’t just a little bit choppy. 

Within about a minute I had already taken a face full of water. The wind was behind us and you could feel yourself being lifted by over a foot and then dropped. I felt sick but I was determined to PB on this distance. My previous best mile swim at Loch Lomond in 2015 was 34 minutes. In these conditions I knew I had to push hard. I wanted sub 30 but knew as soon as the first waves hit, that it would be a huge ask of my body. 

I battered on. Literally. Staying wide of the crowd and trying to relax into a fast rhythm. I felt panic on a whole new scale. Every time I lifted my head to sight I was met with a wave. I couldn’t see the beach or the pink buoy that marked half way. There was too much splashing. 

I powered through half way in 14 minutes. But I knew if the wind was behind me on the way out……….. it wisnae gonna be braw heading back. 

Oh. What. An. Understatement. 

As I turned parallel to the beach, the shallows meant the waves were breaking on us. I had to switch from bilateral breathing to LHS only. Even still every time I lifted my chin to sight the next buoy I took a lungfull. One hit me so hard I choked and for the first time in my swimming life , genuinely thought I was in trouble. After a minute of calming myself down, I bashed on relentlessly as swimmers who’d choked badly we’re being pulled from the water around me. I saw at least 3 swimmers get plucked out the waves. 

Heading back towards the finish, I became extremely uncomfortable. The waves were everywhere. Breathing one side was no better than bilateral. It was honestly quite frightening. I knew I was tight for my time so I tried as best I could to keep my pace strong. 

At this point the water is standing depth. Windermere has enough clarity that you can see the Lake bed fairly easily. I was giving it everything I had and the stones beneath me weren’t budging and inch. It was like swimming up a river. The final buoys took an AGE to appear. 

The field was pretty spread out so imagine my shock when, out of nowhere, a man swam over the top of me and then stopped immediately ahead to do breastroke. He narrowly avoided drowning me and kicking me in the head. I’ve always been told not to take anything personally in the swim, but this was total ignorance and despite the conditions he would have been aware of my proximity to him. He may have narrowly missed knocking me out but he did not narrowly miss a mouthful of my best Scottish swearing. What an absolute turd. 

As I reached the finish gantry I broke into as much of a sprint as I had left and clawed my way out of the water only to discover that their ankle chip beepers were not working. A very tired, very fed up volunteer, wrote my name down wrong three times before I was released, bless her. We were both frazzled. I was so genuinely distressed by what I’d just experienced that I almost forgot to collect my finishers pack (GASP). My watch said 30.20. I was gutted. I wanted sub 30 so badly. After the crushing disappointment of losing out on my main achievement, the sub 30 mile had been the next best thing. Sigh. 

I was worried about Brian getting back from Keswick. I knew he’d finished but his legs would be wrecked. His mountain race turned out to be extraordinarily mental. It was as I was climbing up to the changing tent that I felt the tap on my shoulder. And there he was. Bruised and battered and emotionally scarred. Alive though, so bonus. 

I changed, we hoovered (incredible) burgers, and then we trudged back to Waterhead to the van and a shower. 

As we walked, some thoughts began to surface; For the last few months I’ve been questioning my decision not to enter Ironman 70.3 in Edinburgh. I know I can comfortably do those distances but having just experienced actual real waves, I felt overwhelming relief that my gut instinct had said NO. There is not a hope in hell that I’m ever doing a Sea swim in a race. Nope. Fuck that shit. The thought of colder water, salty water at that, in potentially the same level of swell makes me feel sick. Good decision, Bean. And good decision, Great Swim. Safety first. 

Of course, it also dawned on me that I’d just swam a 4 minute PB in the most challenging conditions I have experienced to date. I finally felt like I deserved my medal. Like I’d actually raced. I left everything out there. That was 10/10 for effort from me. 

I still want to swim 10km. Like some kind of mental idiot. I want that achievement. I can do it (in less choppy water……) and I WANT to so……


Oops. 

Endurance swimming isn’t dead to me. I shall not be beaten by the weather! 

One final silver lining to the re-shuffles this weekend was that we were able to spend a day driving into the Yorkshire Dales to visit my grandparents old home. I spent most summers there as a child and hadn’t felt able to return after my granny passed away in 2002. I felt the pull to go back when Grandad died a few years ago now, but this weekend was the first time we were able to visit. 

The family that now own the house welcomed me in with typical Yorkshire hospitality and gave me a tour showing me all the TLC they’d given to that house I loved so much. 

It was emotional but so worth the winding roads.


Ambleside, you’ve been wonderful. ❤️

*insert mermaid emoji here*

It is hard to describe the cold shock of open water swimming. Imagine an air temperature of 12-15 degrees. Not that cold, is it? You probably need a hoodie but not a coat…

12-15 degrees (Celsius. Not farenheight, Americans) feels*quite* different in water. 

Growing up in an old house, I’m familiar with how cold the shower goes when someone turns on a hot tap somewhere in the house. This felt like 4-5 degrees at the time. Actually it was probably closer to 12-15.

For those of you lucky enough never to have experienced Showerus Interruptus, I can only liken the shock of the cold against your skin to accidentally planting a bare arse cheek against cold shower glass at 6am on a Tuesday. The “FUCKSAKESTHATSCOLD” dance. Except you can’t escape. Because you’re getting into a Loch to swim for a mile.

So! Fresh from my dismay and subsequent relief of a shortened swim at Aberfeldy Middle Distance two weeks previously, I was very excited to give my wetsuit what will probably be its farewell for 2015. And what better place to celebrate a year of athletic adventure than Loch Lomond.

I’ve always been a fish. I swam competitively from the age of “small” and I have a large box of gold medals, ribbons and certificates somewhere. I guess I was just a natural. Like a wind up toy that starts kicking and pulling as soon as you let it go. I LOVED swimming and then did it so much that the love dwindled and the flame flickered out for 10 years.

A whole 1/3 of my life later, I’ve rekindled the flame. And it’s wonderful.

I have a buddy who’s done the Great Scottish Swim for YEARS (he’s really old) and he’d waxed lyrical about it so much that I promised myself, as a post Feldy present to me from me, I’d enter and swim the mile if I was uninjured. I AM uninjured. Happy days!

You can swim 1/2mile, 1 mile, 2 miles or 5k. I *could* have done 2 miles. But cold. And I’m not insane enough for 5km. 1 mile it was. And I loved every chilly second.

My other half realised at Feldy that if you’re not particularly in to the type of sport you’re watching, waiting 4 hours for your girlfriend to finish is BORING. So I knew he’d probably sooner drink loch water than watch people swim in it for ages. I came up with an idea that he and his dad could take their cyclocrosses up the West Loch Lomond cycle route while I swam and faffed about. This worked out well. They had fun. And although the beastly headwind held them up on the way back (not that I was worried at all…) the scenery was gorgeous. Good plan, Bean.

As I changed in the tent, a girl came in with her friend who hadn’t coped with the cold at all. It took about 4 layers of coats and towels and 3 of us rubbing her feet and back under a hot air blower to make her start to feel human. She was lovely. I hope she’s ok now. That’s what the cold does to some.

Changed and ready, I ditched my bags and headed to the start.

I was in the 11.30 Orange wave. We were called to check-in, numbers written on our hands, chips beeped and let into the starting pen. Cameras filmed us, all rubber clad in our silly hats, the presenter was chatting away to us all. It was calm! Then they announced that Acclimatisation was open. You’re allowed in a bit to get a feel for the cold. Did anyone step forward? Did they fuck. Except Bean.

“Excuse me. Step aside. Thank you”

Ever the pro. I jumped in and it was fine. IT WAS FINE. (It was fucking FREEZING) It’s always a shock. I splash my face and neck first. But the bit where it goes down your back is the WORST. Ok. In. Quick splash. Quick float. Out.

Then 10 minutes of trying not to get cold back in the start pen.

Ross Murdoch and Robbie Renwick started our wave. That was ace. I watched the swimming at the commonwealth games and the Olympics religiously. They were interviewed, wished us luck and fired the air horns to start our wave.

There were some clearly very experienced and speedy looking swimmers in my wave. So I kept wide and to the middle.

This turned out to be shite planning because a lot of the “speedsters” we’re, in fact, total pansies that got to the water and did a weird mini breaststroke thing. I had to pick my way through two dozen or so of them before I found some clear water and got on with the business of swimming.

It was so busy in the start chute that at one point a man stood up and shouted “NO” at someone who’d swum over him.

I didn’t notice the cold after 100m or so. I got into my rhythm pretty quick. Pull pull pull breathe right, pull pull pull breathe left. Minimal kicking. Save the legs. I was overtaking. Lots of overtaking. I was approaching a neon wetsuit who, when I was to his left about 4 ft behind must have switched to Breastroke as I suddenly received a kick to the chest so violent that I got a lung full of water and had to take a minute to calm the fuck down.

Once over the shock, I battled on. Sighting every 12th breath or so. I spotted what I thought was the turn buoy. I’d been swimming for what felt like eternity. It’s a funny almost rectangular shaped course. 1 lap is all. Easy. But that turn buoy turned out to be just a course marker and I still had the same distance to swim again. Bollocks.

By the time I reached the turn buoy, the waves were making me feel a bit pukey. Id never swum so far out in such a deep loch before. The course at Loch Tay was short and pretty shallow so there wasn’t a swell. The waves weren’t high but you could feel them building. As I turned to swim across the loch to the half way buoy, the waves were hitting my left side. I switched to right side breathing every fourth stroke and that kept me calm and balanced. Breathing every two strokes is too frequent for me. I’m a calm swimmer. Despite my splashy sprints, over long distance I like to slow my stroke down.

The half way buoy appeared and I knew I could finally start to push speed a bit. I kicked a bit more and concentrated on pulling myself through the water with some strength. I had to dodge swimmers who were from two waves previous to mine. And then two kayaks helping someone who’d come into difficulty. When I spotted the finish buoys and timing pontoon I knew it was time to hit the accelerator. I engaged my actually pretty strong kick and overtook 4-5 people before stumbling out of the loch, rather unglamorously to to beep my chip, confirm my name (which I almost forgot through water confusion) and find my finishers pack.

I asked, and was told my time. Which I immediately forgot. And then staggered deliriously to the changing tent in a torrential downpour to get warm and dry.

Once dressed, I checked my phone and discovered that Ironman was about somewhere. @ironpugsley was swimming the 5k (certifiably insane) so I wandered off to find him. Yet again it was the Oakleys I spotted first. Big hug. Lovely catch up. Brilliant. I showed off my bling and let slip that id turned up to an event in my Aberfeldy finishers tshirt WHICH I STILL HATE THAT I CANNOT WEAR TO WORK. After a good laugh and some encouragement for my mental friend, I began the 10 mile hike to the car.

The boys had had a fun adventure and were both pretty shattered which meant I volunteered to drive Mike’s BMW home. Fun!

Everyone got a nap except me, I think. And it’s 6am the following day and I’m STILL buzzing.

Because I wasn’t shit. I checked my time when I got back. 34:42. That’s ok! 115th. Oh. There were only a couple of hundred in my wave.

Wait. It’s out of 1000??? Oh!!! And 20th in my gender age? Out of how many? 187?

Bloody hell.

What if I hadn’t been kicked? Or placed myself further up the pack??!! Or stopped to take in the view?

Amazing.

Best day out. Loved every second. Next year I’ll consider two miles. Maybe.

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