Derby Triathlon Club

Chillswim Report by Lisa Tatem

Swim the length of Coniston??? Not a chance……..or so I thought…

Saturday 9th September, and with much trepidation, I stand on the start line of the Chillswim Coniston 5.25 Miles End To End Event, with my fellow DTC swimmers Kathy Carmichael and Paul & Nicole Stewart. Conditions are perfect. The sun is shining, the sky is blue and the water looks calm and ready for us all to dip our toes in for a bit of a splash…..

Rewind the clock 11 months…..

I’m sat at home during one of those horrible cold dark winter nights in October 2013 wondering, like many of us no doubt did, what could I do to challenge myself in 2014. Having given up running the previous year due to a back injury, marathons and triathlons were sadly not on any future list of sporting endeavours so I started to dig around for something different that would really challenge me. I then came across an advert for Chillswim Coniston and for the next few days debated in my head whether this was a realistic challenge for someone who couldn’t even swim 25m front crawl a few years ago, and rarely made it out of the slow lane at Etwall on a Thursday night swim session. Also having only previously swum a mile non-stop, 5.25 miles was going to the extreme.

Through early 2014 I started to think about the event a little more and still had major doubts as to whether I could complete the swim but I put them to one side as I prepared for my annual trip up to the ‘Keswick to Barrow’ 40 mile challenge in May. Coincidentally the route includes running/walking the length of Coniston but this time on foot on the adjacent road. It was during the K2B that my doubts seriously surfaced as I approached Coniston and you get a panoramic view of the full length of Coniston Water. The enormity of what I had committed to hit me, and it put the fear of god up me!

As spring turned to summer I considered whether to pull out or defer my entry but I just couldn’t do it. I had to try and became determined to give it everything I could to achieve my goal. Despite my doubts, I still didn’t start training anywhere near early enough. 8 weeks training was all I had and even then I had had to juggle between open water sessions at Barton/Blithfield, early morning pool swims at my club before work, and all of my other commitments.

My longest training swim was approx. 3 weeks before the event and consisted of 9 laps of Barton (just under 3 miles) on a calm Saturday morning in a rather chilly 14 degrees water temp. I was amazed no-one swam past me during the 9 laps but then realised not many fools were swimming that many laps in that temperature, and my confidence level rose considerably when I realised that physically I could have carried on had I needed to. This was the first time I really thought I might just be able to do Coniston.

Event weekend arrives and Mark and I travel up to Coniston the day before and I’m a complete bag of nerves. Apparently I talk too much when I’m nervous or so Mark tells me. He must have needed ear plugs after 3 hours on the M6 with me.

On race day we all admitted to being very scared having never attempted this sort of distance before. The event seemed really well organised though which gave us confidence and we all nervously edged towards the start line after hugs and sharing good luck wishes with each other.

The water was a balmy 17.2 degrees, it was calm with no wind, and it was dry with sunny intervals. How lucky we were to get perfect conditions as they don’t happen very often in the Lake District. Getting in the water was just like getting into a bath, no chilly swim here I thought and I set off. Within a mile I could already feel the effects of the last minute over training in my arms but pushed on through it and focused on getting to the first support boat at 1.5 miles. These boats and the canoe safety crew were a godsend. Thankfully I didn’t need the help of any of the canoe safety crew but bananas, energy drinks and jelly babies were a godsend at the support boats positioned every mile.

And so I swam on, and on, and on…..the water and the views were just amazing. Every time the sun shone, the rays reflected on the water in front as you swam through it. It was just the most perfect experience and one I will remember for a long time. But by ‘eck it was mentally and physically tough to keep swimming mile after mile through the pain, with no end in sight. Coniston just seemed to go on forever. And then, the part we were warned about in the pre-race briefing arrived….. ‘When you get to the weeds you will know you are near the finish’. My god, I will never complain about weeds at Barton ever again. Those weeds were almost continuous for about a mile and were right on the surface. It was like swimming through treacle which after 5 miles of swimming I could have done without.

The sense of achievement I felt as I approached the crowds of cheering supporters at the end was an amazing feeling. I was relieved to get to the end but I was also so proud of myself for achieving a goal I had set myself yet never thought I would be able to achieve. I dragged myself unceremoniously out of the water on my hands and knees wondering if my legs would allow me to stand upright again and headed off for a much deserved warm cup of blackcurrant juice! (oh how the other half live). Kathy, Paul and Nicole and the rest of our party also managed to successfully complete the event.

The following two days were a blur. I was convinced that someone had come into my tent during the Saturday night, taken away my arms and left me with a set that didn’t appear to work anymore!

And so to the end of my chill swim tale...it was tough and amazing all rolled into one. One of my greatest sporting achievements ….which could only possibly be surpassed by swimming Windermere end to end at a mind numbing 10.5 miles. Oh dear, I think I’m in trouble, the cold, dark winter nights of October are approaching again…..!

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