I DID IT! In case you hadn’t been following my open water swimming series from the beginning, 2 weeks ago I took part in the 2.2 mile open water swim in Plymouth from the breakwater into Tinside beach, I was told it’s only swimming in a straight line for 90 minutes, so it couldn’t be that bad?! Since I began my training back at the start of the year I have been hindered by an ongoing shoulder injury, the flu and a diagnosis of asthma, so pretty much every obstacle possible tried to get in my way. The swim was initially meant to happen in August, but due to bad weather it was postponed to October which actually really worked in my favour as I hadn’t been on my asthma medication for long and the sea was rife with jellyfish in August. Fast forward to two weekends ago and the weather literally could not have been any better, the sea was a mill pond and the conditions were perfect. It was the biggest challenge that I set myself for 2016 as it was 100% out of my comfort zone, but I can honestly say that although I had lots of obstacles and the ‘fear’ of the sea to overcome, the actual day of the breakwater swim was one of the best days of my life, and something that would never have happened if I didn’t push myself.
I’d been awake since 6am with nerves and excitement on the day of the swim, so I was so ready to head down to register at 10:30am, as we approached the Barbican and went to sign up it all suddenly started to feel real, and I was damn scared! But seeing how still the sea was and how beautiful the day was definitely helped to calm my nerves.
Number 197 will now forever be my lucky number. Each swimmer had to wear a Selkie cap and wristband along with the number written on our hand so we could easily be identified as we came into shore.
The CEO of my work and co-owner of House of Harris, one of our clients also took part in the swim, it was nice to see some familiar faces before the swim. For the record, yes I did beat them!
I owe everything that I did in the lead up and on the day to The Wild Swimming group that I stumbled upon on Facebook. They are the nicest community that I have ever encountered and they are a massive pool of advice about all things wild swimming. I wouldn’t have had a clue about anything before meeting them, and I would never have gotten over my fear of sea swimming. Most of the all weather, all season wild swimmers wear skins in the sea all year round, because the boat trip over would be a bit breezy they had a bin bag fashion show, apparently bin bags are quite warm and it meant that it didn’t matter if they got chucked away after the boat left us!
As the time drew closer I got changed into my wetsuit, it only took 15 minutes! This was going to be the longest time I’d ever swam with a wetsuit on, looking back it would have been a good idea to rub vaseline all over my neck to stop the wetsuit rubbing…
The waiting around was the worst bit, but it quickly approached 12pm and we all made our way down to the 2 boats that were taking 280 swimmers out into the sound, it finally started to get real as we boarded, and I was not scared one bit…
At 12:30pm we waved goodbye to our loved ones and hoped that we would all make it back in one piece. It took 20 minutes to reach the breakwater, and it wasn’t until we arrived that I realised just how far away it was. It looks even further away once you even get into the water! We had to wait almost another 30 minutes for the damn brittany ferries boat to pull in which only fuelled my nerves more.
As usual I was worried about all the trivial things about the swim like ‘what if I can’t jump off?’ ‘what if my ear plus fall out?’ or ‘what if my swim cap falls off?’. I should have been worried about the distance itself, but nope. But of course, none of those worries actually came to fruition. After jumping off the boat and positioning ourselves in the sea, it was one of the most beautiful sights that I will never forget. In the middle of the sea, surrounded by a sea of blue hats, unfortuntaly I don’t have any other pictures from this part of the swim for obvious reasons, but I’ll always be able to remember that temporary moment before the swim of how I felt, the conditions and what my surroundings looked like. After counting down, the swim began, the start of races is always the worst, but it slowly filtered out after 5 minutes, and I was always one stroke closer to finishing this epic challenge.
Prior to the swim I was petrified of the sea, what was beneath me, and potentially what could hurt me or eat me.. I’d been in the sea before, but never for longer than 30 minutes and it was always a rushed thing that scared me if I was alone, I did 90% of my training in the pool with the idea that I would just get it out of the way on the day and it would be done. Everything I had worried about never bothered me on the day, I felt incredibly peaceful and tranquil swimming in the sea, there was few waves and there was even a period of time where there was no one near me for about 25 minutes, I did panic whether I was going the wrong way, but smeatons tower lighthouse led me in alongside the colourful beach huts!
The distance itself was perfect, it wasn’t a challenge for me in that sense as I swim long distances in the pool regularly, nor was it the conditions or the sea, but the worst thing was realising you’d only been swimming for 10 minutes and it didnt look like you’d made any progress. The first marker for me was 2 massive yellow buoys and every time I looked up I felt like I was close, when realistically I didn’t reach it for another 20 minutes. I also didn’t look directly at land to start with as it was too unsettling realising just how far I had left to go!
I didn’t have a watch with me, so I had no sense of time and really didn’t know how long I had been swimming for. The thoughts of a lush bath and pizza afterwards quickly increased my speed, and when I could start to make out all the people on land I knew I was on the home strecth, and it was the best feeling!
I wore a pink tow float for the swim mostly for identification purposes, as most people have orange ones and without this my family would never have been able to spot me as everone looks the same in wetsuits!
Reaching land for the first time was the best feeling ever, that I really had completed this huge challenge. I don’t think there was one person that didn’t fall or slip over when they got in as it’s really strange to feel ground beneath your feet after swimming for so long.
I remarkably finished the swim in 53 minutes, although it’s not a timed event as it was for charity, and most importantly raising money for The Chestnut Appeal. For someone who’s always been competitive it was nice to know though that I made it in in under one hour which is what I was aiming for.
Coming into the crowds was just the best feeling.
Upon taking off my wetsuit I instantly regretted not using vaseline, my neck was red raw from the wetsuit rubbing and it took about a week to heal, never again!
10 minutes after having a series of pictures and posting one on instagram, my mum told me I had a dirt beard – it was literally disgusting!! If you zoom in on my instagram picture that I posted you’ll be able to see it, how embarrassing. You’ll also spot it if you watch my breakwater VLOG (linked below!). It just proves how incredibly dirty the sea is, and I’m just so happy it never made me ill, as again this was one of my main worries about sea swimming.
Did I enjoy it? 100%! I never in a million years thought I would ever take up open water swimming, do a challenge like this and partially enjoy it. It was my main goal for 2016, to really get out of my comfort zone and try something new, and you know what? It felt amazing! You don’t realise what you can achieve until you put your mind to it, and this day will stay with me for the rest of my life. Now everytime I go down to Plymouth Hoe I have a smile on my face as I stare out to the breakwater and think, did I really do that?
This is the end of my wild swimming journey for now and I may not do it again, but I’ll never say never. As my favourite wild swimming quote goes, ‘Wild Swimming is like a metaphor for life, daunting to consider, the first step is the hardest, once youre in it feels fine, and afterwards you look back at it glowing, excited and proud’.
If you want to see more from the breakwater swim, please have a look at my first EVER VLOG and subscribe if you want to see more! It will hopefully give you more of an insight into the whole day!
What do you think of my first VLOG, eek?! What has your biggest challenge for 2016 been?