Over the long weekend I traveled to Cumbria in the north of England to attempt a single length of Windermere, England’s longest lake, at 10.5 very beautiful miles. Jeff and Rafe were to be my support crew. We met up at 9 on the Friday, ready to motor up during the day, and check in with the boat hire people.
It took us 5 hours or so to get up to Bowness on Windermere, where I had booked an electric boat a couple of months earlier. All was fine as we were briefed on the operation of the boat, and told what to do in the morning when we arrived before the boatyard was officially open. The swimmer’s flag (Flag Alpha) that you have to fly on your boat to warn other lake users of a swimmer in the water was not there, but we were given directions to Maiden Marine, who very kindly knocked us one up, at no charge, from some blue and white material. A couple of cable ties and a length of pine and we were lake legal.
We informed the lake wardens of our plans for the following morning, to swim from Waterhead at the north of the lake to Fell Foot at the south, starting at 8.30 AM. We chose this direction, as there was the forecast for a gentle breeze to assist in that direction. We then departed for Ambleside Youth Hostel , close to Waterhead, to check in, unload, and get some dinner.
Rafe has a PhD in nutrition, so he advised an early dinner of carb rich foods. 6 PM found us in a Chinese restaurant in Ambleside, enjoying the diamond banquet and a couple of pints of lager – Excellent. We then went back to the Youth Hostel to sample the Windermere water, and have a couple more beers. I am certain the beer wasn’t in Rafe’s nutritional plan, but it certainly helped settle any last minute nerves.
We did at least go reasonably early to bed, as we were to be up at 5 AM in the morning to get a flying start on the day. The combination of a very warm room, various snoring, and some pre-event nerves led to poor nights sleep all round, but we got going early as planned, packing the swim boxes, laden with food, spare kit, clothes, heading back to Bowness to pick up the boat. By this time we had decided to change the direction of the swim to south to north, as various weather apps had indicated that the wind would be negligible in any direction. Better to swim psychologically to ‘home’, or so we thought……
The lake was mirror smooth as we motored south to Fell Foot.
After an hour and 15 minutes, we arrived at Fell Foot, and soon we set off on a voyage of discovery. I had never done an open water swim of duration greater than 2 hours 30 minutes. Jeff was to drive the boat and deal with social media, and was to that point inexpert in both. Rafe was in charge of feeds, swim logging, and photography, but had also never accompanied a swimmer before. A recipe for disaster maybe, but as we set off north, the lake remained mirror smooth, progress was a reasonable 2 miles per hour or so including feeds, and all was well.
The water felt cool but pleasant, and I was enjoying myself. I had tapered prior to the event, so was feeling pretty fresh. I could feel that I was making good progress, maybe too good given that there was 10.5 miles ahead of me. There was very little other lake traffic for the first hour so, and the first feeds were going smoothly. Rafe was throwing me carb drink on a dog leash cable-tied to a sport bottle. Some solids were also taken of minirolls and jelly babies. Visibility was fairly limited – maybe 6-10 feet through the green water.
All went well till mile 6 as we headed up to the Lilies, when the water started to get more choppy, the traffic on the lake increased markedly, including water skiers and tourist boats producing nice wakes to swim through. This was a slight inconvenience to me, but a bit of a pain for Jeff trying to keep the very small boat true. My pace started to slow slightly at this point, though the stroke rate remained pretty constant at 60 strokes per minute.
Miles 7 to 9 were hard work. The wind started to really get up, and produced some head on waves that slowed me down quite a lot. This coupled with my entering uncharted territory (my previous longest swim, in Jesus Green Lido, was only 4 hours 10 minutes), resulted in a marked slow down in swimming pace, from ~ 29 minute mile pace before to ~ 35 minute mile pace as we headed across the wide open part of the lake towards the distant finish. I was feeling a little pain in my shoulders by this point, but had some ibuprofen at 3.5 hours which did a good job of helping.
At 9 miles I told Rafe to schedule the next feed after 30 minutes, not after a mile. I was glad I did, as into some of the worst conditions of the day, I managed only 0.75 of a mile in 30 minutes!
The last feed was at 9.75 miles, and I set off at a renewed clip, feeling fine. I even recall thinking that turning round at the end and swimming back with the boat to Bowness might be fun. It seemed longer than 0.75 miles to get to the finish. Indeed it was, as I finished the swim at 6 hours 8 minutes, with 10.99 miles on the Garmin. I am not quite sure where we managed to find the extra 0.5 mile from, but there you go!
Quite a few people were there on the beach to welcome me home, often with incredulity: ‘You just swam the whole lake?’. Rafe and Jeff soon joined me after mooring up for some celebratory hugs and high fives. The whole team had done well, despite our novicehood, due in no small part to previous blog write-ups of this swim. Thanks especially to Jeff and Rafe for helping me so ably and good-humourdely. The weather had been fine on the whole, largely cloudy. But to spend 6 hours on Windermere without getting rained on has to be counted on as good going.
I took lots of positives and some negatives away from the swim:
- I finished the 11 miles
- I maintained a 60 spm stroke rate throughout
- I was bilateral every 3 strokes for the entire swim
- Feeding went fine – I had plenty of energy
- I could have swum further
- The team performed brilliantly
- The temperature was fine (18.0-18.5 C). This is warmer than channel temperature by about a degree based on current temperatures, but really didn’t seem like any kind of issue
- I went into the 7th hour – 2 hours longer than I have swum before
- I had no demons – I didn’t get bored
- I didn’t do very well with the windy conditions. My speed dropped quite a lot.
- My feeds were too slow, about 2 minutes each. Too much chat! Slightly too much volume to drink.
- This swim would have only got me to the separation zone in the channel
I might try and schedule a 2 way for July next year, ahead of my channel slot. That should be more of a challenge……