After nearly 3 months away from swimming, you’d have thought that a return to the water would be beyond welcome, right? So, why was my first outing to the lake not exactly the trip I had anticipated?
Driving to the lake I was sooooooo looking forward to getting into the water. I had no ‘training’ plan, it was just a leisurely swim to find my turtle legs and enjoy the moment I have longed for so much over the past months. My swim slot was booked, I had plenty of time, there was no traffic on the road, I hadn’t forgotten anything important. After weeks of warmth and sunshine the clouds and rain were threatening but I’ve always loved swimming in the rain and it meant that I didn’t have to plaster myself with factor 50 so that was a bonus in my mind!
Immediately upon arrival my excitement was replaced with a strange COVID19 related anxiety. Avoiding people, negotiating around cars to park in the right space, trying to remember all the info from the Lake videos and what to do/not do to observe the new rules. I parked and paused, reaching for my hand gel, my drink and my members band and taking a deep breath before finally getting out of the car mindful of the need to ‘Arrive/Swim/Leave… no loitering!’ as directed.
Changing in the open air has never been an issue… nothing new there for me but for some reason I was all fingers and thumbs. Could I find my ear plugs? No… search again, I know they’re in there somewhere. OK, there they are in my sock, could I get my ear plugs in? No. Could I find one of the 2 tubs of Body glide I know I put in my trug? No. no. no. Oh, there it is, fallen out with my towel. Shortie on and independently zipped up, Check. Goggles, check. Hat, check. Tow float, check. Ready to rumble….
Standing in the queue, carefully poised on a red circle waiting for the person ahead of me to enter and exit the office, thinking ‘it’s a bit chilly today’. The 10 degree drop in temperature since yesterday now seems much more noticeable than it did in the garden an hour ago. Ah, a familiar face at last. I spot Tom and Josh lakeside and make my way through the office (sign in, hang up car keys) to say hello and catch up before heading down the bank and after a cautious step down the drop….
Finally the water surrounding me and that love/hate feeling as it seeps through the zip and neckline of my shortie, arms wet, face wet, neck wet, water up my shortie legs. Good to go! But hang on… just as I’m about to set off I realise something really is missing…No goggles. Now I know I had them in my hand, I saw them, I selected the non tinted pair and then… promptly left them in the boot of the car!!! Nooooooooo… For a moment I contemplate swimming without them but I know that just won’t work so out I get. Now I’m wet and it’s chilly, I have to confess to Tom and Josh my rookie error as they look at me quizzically as I walk back around their brilliant one way system.
I have to stand in a now much longer queue to get into the office so that I can retrieve my car keys and it feels like everyone is looking at me as if to say ‘that was a quick one!’
Goggles retrieved I decide I’m happy to leave my car keys in my shoes to avoid rejoining the long queue yet again and with a ‘Really? How dopey am I feeling?’ look about me I head back into the water. Of course, the second time around it feels much easier and I’m in and off without further ado. That first buoy to the start of the swim course feels like a long way off but before I know it I’m there and all is well… or is it?
I cannot find my rhythm, I cannot catch my breath. My arms are doing what they’ve done a million times before and they feel strong and fit (thanks Joe Wicks and Tom Daley!) but my head … Oh my word! My head and mind keep drifting off and I lose my focus. I’m anxious about social distancing from the other swimmers, I cannot overtake to the right without going out of the swim course to avoid a swimmer who is swimming their swim right up against the line of buoys. I try my mantra, it’s a simple little 6 word self chat that I often play over and over in my head in the water. Normally it works perfectly with my breathing pattern, timing and kick. But it just isn’t working. My head drifts off again and my thoughts are elsewhere with Coronavirus, sewing scrubs and caps, type IIR surgical masks, plastic density for PPE aprons, social media, online CPD, furlough dates, insurance battles and my supermarket shopping list.
It takes the best part of three 800m laps before it starts to fall into place again. My head finally clears, my rhythm finally clicks in, my mantra finally cuts through all the other inner chatter. And it feels grand. The water enveloping me, the air above cooling my arms with each stroke, the grey sky threatening rain and the school of fish beneath me. I’m back in my comfort zone and finding my peace. I spot the other swimmers and easily work around them, swimming closer to the reeds than strictly speaking necessary and momentarily wondering what lurks within as I work my way back down to the swim start and just for fun try out a few strokes of Fly to finish before heading to the bank.
My time is up for today... I'm Ok with that now. The water was about 6 degrees last time I was in it back in March, at 19 today, it’s a lot warmer today but still my toes, unaccustomed to the exposure are feeling chilly and I know I’ll be glad of my dry robe and my hot squash. Climbing out (again!) I’m glad I don’t have to go back round the queue to get my keys (note to self, don’t hang them in the office next time!). A quick chat to the guys to thank them and express, as always, my gratitude for all they’ve done before heading back to the car for a quick change, a woolly hat and, a guilt free bag of crisps (with added hand gel flavour!).
I’ve been swimming open water for many, many years, swimming through the winter and in all sorts of circumstances and events. I’ve had my fair share of ‘funny’ and ‘not so funny’ moments. But I don’t think I’ve ever got into the water feeling quite so unsettled that I walked in without an essential bit of kit….. It’s so true when they say that even seasoned swimmers can have a bad day in the water!
What a year 2020 is turning out to be. It has certainly brought us all some new and unexpected challenges. Thankfully this one is done and overcome…. Let the serious training begin (again)!
- Thankfully swims 2, 3 and beyond passed without further mishaps!
- Huge thanks to Tom and Josh for not falling about laughing too much… at least not whilst I was in earshot anyway!