About 2 years ago, I decided to try a bit of open water swimming. The venue was Hawley Lake, someone I sort of knew, a triathlete called Charlotte Hanson offered to swim with me. I got in the cold dark water, and started to swim, face above the water. About 60 metres in panic started to rise within me, unfathomable, breathless panic. Charlotte let me hang off her neck calmed me down and coaxed me round 400 metres of murky water.
Fast forward to a sunny Bank Holiday, I decided to do a bit of open water swimming. 5 kilometres of it. The venue was Dorney Lake, my friend who I knew very well, had trained for hours with, swum with, biked with, run with, and seen do a fantastically drunk karaoke of Oasis, Charlotte Hanson, made me do it.
300 metres in panic started to rise within me, unfathomable, breathless panic. Charlotte was swimming in her own race, she was not there to hang off of, tell me I could do it, and that everything was going to be fine. I started flapping widely, looking around me, trying to get the attention of the safety man in the canoe, get me out of here! Swimmers splashed past me, around me, in my face. I can’t do this, get me out. A man on the shore to me left was encouraging me by giving me the thumbs up. What’s wrong? The Hanson in my head was telling me to calm down, you can do this. The tiny bit of my brain that kicks in when the going gets tough in ultra running told me if I gave up now, my Ironman was over, 2 months before the start line.
Breathe, calm. Do a bit of breastroke! There you go. That’s not so bad is it? The sun is out! Calm. Ok, swim. Yes! See, not drowning any more.
Occupy your thoughts! Think of anything but this swimming.
Face in the water… sky, face in, sky, face in, sky. The rhythm returned and the panic sat, controlled, in the bottom of my stomach.
Face in… ooo look, an old race number at the bottom of the water! 368. Wonder what happened to that triathlete. Hope they didn’t fall in and got a medal!
Sky… what is that? An eagle! Don’t be absurd, this is Windsor for god’s sake, they don’t have eagles in Windsor. Must be a swan. That’s it. A flying swan.
Face in.. ah remember that film in the 80’s, Splash! That was funny wasn’t it? Everyone loves John Candy. Although that bit at the end when they jump in the Hudson and it’s all coral reefs is a bit unbelievable. What? She’s a mermaid? I know, but the coral reef in New York bit took the biscuit.
Sky.. hey, that cloud, it looks a bit like Pokemon.
Face in.. a DRAIN? Why is there a drain cover in a lake? Where does that go? What’s under this lake?
Another swimmer! I’m not last! Hang on, he’s got a pink hat on and he’s just wearing speedos. What the?! Some crazy cats out here. How is he swimming so fast? Follow him! Keep his feet in sight! Oh. He’s gone.
Over a lap done! Good grief. Less than a lap to go.
Hanson in my head: ” See! You’re doing it! Told you it was fine, just relax…and concentrate on your stroke for God sake. What the hell is that? This is not what I taught you. REACH. Stretch. Pull, there you go. Much better”
Weed in my face. WEED IN MY FACE. It’s ok, it’s gone now. It’s only a plant. Actually, I feel quite good! Certainly don’t feel tired! There is the bridge, just past the bridge is the finish!
Face in…Sky… face in… sky. Jeeze. Who replaced my arms with sandbags. I’m tired. Oh look! A man in a canoe is waving to me! HELLO MAN IN CANOE! Oh. Hang on, everyone else is over there. He’s telling me to go in the correct direction. Go left, LEFT.
Swim swim swim. The Bridge! The finish! It’s as good as done! The ground! What the hell am I standing on? Stubbed my toe. OUCH. OWWW. It hurts. Everyone is cheering! Everyone is also standing up. Get off your hands and knees. Stand up.. Camera in my face. Stop taking photos you douche, I do not want pictures of this moment. .. Everyone is looking at you. LOOK GOOD. Stop wobbling. Oh there’s Shaun! That boy looks so cute in a swim cap. He’s clapping! No idea what he’s saying, my ears are full of water.
You’ve DONE IT! 5K!
Here, have a medal.
Oh god, I think I’m going to start crying.
…The inane drivel of my internal monologue made the swim seem a lot quicker than the 2 hours it took. Swimming is such an isolating experience. I have no idea what triggered the panic attack, it came from nowhere. So glad it was conquered though. Ironman is ON.
This swim was for Charlotte, who has put up with me swimming, cycling, been the best coach ever and made me do it. I swam 5K so she is going to run a marathon in return. You read it here first.