Monday 7th September 2020
Coniston Chillswim was on Saturday 5th September. I’d been looking forward to this swim and preparing for it since last year.
The day was breezy and overcast, and we were rained on, heavily, during the swim, several times. I’d been expecting the water temperature to be around 16 degrees, but local rumour said 15.3.
Basically it was cold, and I was swimming skins (no wetsuit).
The knowledge that I’d trained enough to complete three miles was tempered by awareness that this would be my lowest temperature swim since March and I was uncertain what impact the cold might have. It meant that when I walked off the road and into the water at the start it was with some anxiety about my decision to abandon the wetsuit. I needn’t have worried. Last winter’s acclimatisation was still in my body. Nine out of the forty-six women swimming the three mile (shorter) option were swimming skins and I was seventh finisher in that group (thirty-fourth overall). Which doesn’t really mean much except that it’s always a bonus not to be last.
Cold water and a dreek day set the scene, and the swim was very hard work, but I enjoyed it. It wasn’t long before the water and my arms felt the same temperature, although my feet felt cold all the way through – (maybe I should use them more while swimming!) The prevailing wind was from over my left shoulder which added a chill factor. The water surface was showing around Force 3-4 with frequent areas of additional bounce from the steamer ferry and various motor-powered boats creating waves and chop.
‘Waves and chop’ meant occasional face and mouthfuls of water instead of air. It was good experience for ‘something’ in the future, but not so pleasant at the time. Some of the motorised craft appeared to be running on two-stroke, if the fumes floating at water level were anything to go by. None of that made a huge difference though and most of the time the water and air were clear and clean.
The route instructions boiled down to ‘get into the water and swim north about 50 metres from the edge of the lake for three miles, missing the island, then get out and go over the finish mat smiling because there will be a photographer present’. So I did. I found it easy to spot the support kayakers and hundreds of other swimmers in multi-coloured hats, and mostly orange tow floats.
Unlike running events there was a noticable silence. Given that I was wearing earplugs and a swimhat that may not be surprising, but with no spectators, no cars, no footsteps, no sound of breathing, there were just silent arms in and out of the water, some splashier than others, and a sea of towfloats to follow.
I soon lost track of time and distance, and going in a straight line in an unfamiliar place with no landmarks was quite disorientating. The blood that would have served my brain had obviously been directed away from thinking, because I was wearing a watch and all I needed to do was look at it to get information! However, there were guide buoys with numbers on them, which led to a confusing experience when I approached one expecting to see a number five, only to see a number four. I had a mile further to swim than I’d expected. A mental ‘ho-hum’, and I carried on.
We had tyvek wrist bands with our swimmer number on them and at one point mine came off. I managed to retrieve it from the water and was busy treading water, pulling at the neck of my rash vest as I tried to stuff the number down the front of my swimsuit, when another swimmer stopped and asked if I was OK. I assured him I was fine, just readjusting my clothing, and he asked again. Eventually he was convinced that I didn’t need help, and we both swam on. Later it was explained to me that when someone gets hypothermia they feel hot and start taking their clothes off. The other swimmer must have known this and I thank him remotely for his concern.
Consiton, like Windermere is beautifully clean and clear and some of the swim was in very shallow water. I enjoyed watching the stones beneath me appearing to move backwards as I swam – sometimes the underwater view was the only clue that I was moving – it was always calm regardless of the surface. The Lake District is a spectacularly beautiful part of the country, and the views looking around from the water (when I could see because my goggles fogged up quite early) were wonderful.
The event provided fuel stops in the water, and although I can’t imagine being able to eat jelly babies, swim and breathe all at the same time I had decided I’d try to get one drink because I’m always very thirsty at the end of a swim. I stopped at the last boat and after quite a long wait, was handed a paper cup of watery sports drink. There is no way of knowing whether it had any positive effect, but at least I can now say I’ve tried refuelling in the water and it didn’t have any ill effects. Knowing I was only half a mile or so from the finish also made it feel like a bit of a treat.
At the finish the water was very shallow and we had to swim for as far as possible ‘like a whale beaching itself’ before standing up. I did as instructed and the photographs of me standing up are too like the instructions to be posted here. The joy of hot blackcurrant drink just after the finish was out of proportion to the sense of achievement at finishing – I now have an alternative to black coffee for my post-swim warm-up.
Overall I was pleased with my efforts. I’d managed a relatively steady pace and, when I got tired, focused on technique in the hope it would stop me getting too scrappy. My time was roughly two minutes a mile faster than usual so, once again, the adrenaline effect of an event kicked in. No wonder my shoulders ached afterwards!
Unlike last week’s training swim I didn’t experience any afterdrop and speedy refuelling with hot food meant that a lot of the usual tiredness was also missing. It was an enjoyable event and I’ll be looking closely at further adventures in the wet stuff. My aim over winter now is to keep the cold acclimatisation, and to speed up a bit (a lot actually). Wish me luck
Position: 50 (out of 67 people starting the 3 mile swim)
Elapsed time: 2:21:24
Age Group: 60-64 (4th out of 4 women in my age group)
Start time: 11:48:50
Pace: 2:55 min/100m, 47:08 min/mile
Westuit or skins: Skins (7th out of 9 skins in the 3 miles)