Swim 22 blog 3: Actually doing the swimming bit

Swim 22 blogBy the time 22 February arrived I was itching to start the Swim22 challenge. Armed just with a towel, a pair of goggles, and a pair of running shorts that doubled as swim trunks (I’d actually lost weight during training, and my one and only pair of trunks no longer fitted) I set off for the local leisure centre. I felt nervous but determined. I’m not one for faffing, so I changed quickly and got straight in to the water. To my right, three of the pool’s lanes were marked out for medium, fast, and serious swimmers. I didn’t fool myself into thinking that I qualified for any of these lanes, so I stuck to the space left for everyone else.

The first two lengths of the first mile I swam were probably the toughest of the entire challenge. Despite my weeks of preparation, the minute I pushed off from the wall I regressed to a complete swimming novice. My swim stroke, breathing, and coordination immediately went to pot. I bashed out two manic and uncoordinated lengths and then stopped. Thankfully, I knew what was wrong; nerves and excitement had trigged an adrenaline rush. I used to be a runner and had experienced this rush many times at the start of races. Weeks of careful race planning goes out of the window as you set off like a whippet at an impossible pace once the race starts. The key to overcoming this rush is to force yourself to slow down and to concentrate on your plan. I took a few deep breaths and slowly pushed off again, concentrating on coordinating my stroke and breathing. Before I knew it, I’d finished 80 lengths in 40 minutes.

First mile in the bag and only 21 more to go.

So, did I make the beach in Calais? Yes, and I got there in 22 days as planned. It wasn’t easy, and on some days, I got into the water feeling exhausted and achy. But, as soon as I started swimming and got into a rhythm, the aches faded. And the high of completing each mile kept me going.

I’m an early morning exerciser and my nearest pool opens at 6.30am so that’s when I did most of my swims. I’d get to the pool the minute the doors opened, a quick change, and straight into the water. Surprisingly, I rarely swam alone. The pool was always at least half full. Usually, I’d be finished, showered, changed, and out within an hour. Swim done and still an hour before I had to be at work.

I’ve given a fair few tips in my blogs, but one of the best bits of advice I can offer is, if you’re a Facebook user, join the Diabetes UK Swim 22 Challenge Group, it’s fantastic. I have never known such an amazing and supportive group of people. Participants post questions and others give answers quickly.  Participants need motivation, and words of encouragement soon flow in. It’s fab. I also found the Swim 22 virtual badges achieved at various points of the swim really encouraging, Leaving Dover, Halfway, Calais in Sight, etc.

So, where was I? Oh, yes, on the beach in Calais. By now I was addicted. So, after a day off I got straight back in and swam the 22 miles back in 22 days. The lovely folks at Diabetes UK even have a Double Distance badge for those of you who decide to make this return journey.

And I still haven’t stopped. I am totally hooked on swimming. Fed up with the permanent aroma of eau de chlorine, and encouraged by friends, I decided to take my swimming outside.

My first outdoor swimming venture was on 12 May at Bathurst Lido, an absolute swimming gem located in the Forest of Dean. Bathurst is unheated, and the water was a cool 12°c. This first dip was soon followed by a swim in the River Wye near Monmouth, and then a dip in the Marine Pool at Clevedon. I swam a kilometre in open water every day during June, including an 4:25am swim to mark the sunrise on Summer Solstice day. Also during June, I completed the Big Cotswold Swim gaining my first ever open water swimming medal and, even bigger shock for me, I wasn’t last!

I am now an open water swimming convert, swimming in lakes, lidos, rivers, and the sea at every opportunity. I’m totally addicted. Over the late summer/early Autumn I swam in ‘skins’ (just a pair of trunks) for 88 days straight. Only an attack of labyrinthitis put paid to my attempt to reach 100 days straight. I’m currently one month into the Polar Bear Swim Challenge. To qualify, you have to swim a set distance in open unheated water every month across the winter (November to March) and yes, it’s in skins! Recently my wife and I hiked five miles to swim in a lake while it snowed. The water temperature was just 4°c. We loved it.

Swimming in open water and cold water swimming are hugely beneficial both physically and psychologically (Google it and see). Running used to be my go-to for stress and anxiety relief. Swimming is a more than adequate replacement.

Swim 22 has changed my life. I’ve gone from a virtual non-swimmer to an open water swim addict in less than a year. I’ve made new friends and faced new challenges. Last weekend I and 25 like-minded swim folks met at the top of Blorenge Mountain in the Brecon Beacons to swim in Keeper’s Pond and the Punch Bowl which are two remote lakes. We swam in freezing water and then ate cake and drank hot chocolate and soup. It was wonderful.

Hopefully, my blogs will help you with the Swim 22 challenge. I hope they encourage you to continue swimming once the challenge is over. Maybe we’ll meet one day on a beach or river bank. I really hope so.

If Mark’s story has inspired you, why not sign up for the Swim 22 challenge yourself?

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