Event 22 - Exmoor 4km Open Water Swim

I thought it would be a fantastic idea to get to Wimbleball lake on Exmoor the evening before the swim to have a leisurely evening camping before getting up in the morning. A crazy busy Saturday prevented that from happening and me and my bestie dawn rocked up in the pitch-black to a field full of eerily quiet tents and vans. It was freezing outside, winter is on its way.

The tent went up in a flash but the comedy blow up mattress and hand pump left us in giggles. Trying to blow up a mattress quietly is never going to happen. We then managed to sneak around the camp site to find the rest of the support crew for this event who were much more sensible and got to the lake in the light. I stuffed my face full of pasta and then tried to get a good nights sleep in the cold. Nature wees’ prevailed as we could not find any facilities on the campsite.

The morning dawned very cloudy and pretty darn cold. The thought of getting in the reservoir didn’t really appeal to me. I had a few hours before my toes would be dipped in. I went to register before once again stuffing my face. The mornings food was all in practise for the Ironman coming up. Rice pudding, a banana and croissant went down the hatch nicely followed by a coffee! Pure athlete nutrition I am sure. My coach assured me this is what he eats so in it all went.

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I still had a couple of hours before I had to get the wetsuit on and head to the waters edge. I chilled for a long as I could but then went down to the start to watch the other waves of swimmers start, both the 6km swimmers and the 2km swimmers were heading off before my start time. It was fun to watch and the atmosphere was great. The sun was starting to come out and lots of families were around to support with their dogs. Another coffee later the nerves were starting to get to me. Before this year I could barely swim two lengths in a row without nearly drowning, this task now seemed far to daunting. I had been training hard but I just always feel so slow in the water.

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The butterflies were starting to make me feel sick, I really wanted to get in and get going. A few delays meant that my briefing and start wasn’t going to be until about 10:20. A long time to wait in a wetsuit. Finally we were all called to the start pen. I was ready, the briefing was short; basically ‘go around the reservoir anti-clockwise and keep the big yellow boys to the left’. It was a deep water start so all of us with the purple hats headed into the water. It was cold, really cold. I did all of my usual techniques to get my heart rate down and to get use to the cold water on my face and neck. The water tasted funny and muddy, very different then swimming in the sea like I usually do. I was in the first wave to head off for the 4km swim. This means I had stated I would take over 1hour 30mins. To be honest I had no clue what time I would do it in! 1hour 30Minutes meant we were the slowest of all of the swimmers.

The whistle blew and everyones arms and legs started to fail around and cause loads of splashing. I made sure I gave myself lots of room from the other competitors and off I started. Soon I got into a rhythm and started to tick off the yellow buoys. I also seemed to be swimming in a straight line which is a bonus for me and something I have been training hard to archive for months. The first kilometre went by quickly, all of the supporters dog and family members were running beside the reservoir cheering everyone on. After about a kilometre and a half they all gave up and got bored; I am sure watching swimming is a pretty dull thing to do and we all look the same in the water. I was feeling quite calm and happy with my pace at this point, I could see the dam at the end of the lake which signified 1.8km complete. All of a sudden a wave of light blue and dark blue swim caps started to push past me, the first time of the swim that I had been barged by another swimmers was at 2km! The faster swimmers had caught up with the slower bunch and were trying to weave their way through. I am sure highly annoying for them and petrifying for us. For a short time this put me off my stroke. Going forward I would now check the small print of a swimming race to see if the start waves work in that order. I really think it is a ridiculous thing to do both for the steady and fast swimmers.

After about 10mins of these dark and light blue hats storming on past me we all started to spread out again, I got my stroke back and started to relax into the swim again, I felt that my pace was good and the songs were flowing freely in my mind. Before the last 600m there is a looooonnnnnng stretch of the lake, each yellow buoy seemed to be a long way away. I kept focusing on the next buoy, just getting to one at a time. I them turned the last corner, I knew I would make it, the finished seemed so close and yet so far to swim, I knew it would still be about a 15minute swim to get over the line. I was starting to hear the cheers from spectators every time I turned my head to breathe. That was the greatest feeling. I gradually got closer and closer and people started to get bigger, the finish arch was in sight and I could see other swimmers now standing and wobbling out of the water.

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Soon I would be one of those wobbly people, I tried to quickly think of a plan to look graceful and not a mess when coming out of the water. That did not happen, with a muddy face and jelly legs I took my first steps from swimming and into the mud. Luckily I didn’t feel dizzy so after a second I could happily run to cross the finish line.

Before this year of events I never ever would have thought I could swim that distance. It was something so out of reach for me. The unknown petrified me. Swimming is also a sport which I am not talented at, it was hard to push myself to train and work at something I find so difficult. However, it was a huge sense of achievement. Even if there wasn’t any medals!

After drying out and a delicious hot chocolate the tent was taken down and another event was successfully ticked off.

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