<WARNING: I might talk about FEEEEEELINGS a tiny bit in this one>
So my last pre-event blog marks my first that doesn’t consist of one long, thinly veiled whinge! It probably means I won’t spend hours trying to be clever or acerbic but I’ve just got to get these words out there whilst the euphoria lasts!
After my first (and last) (disastrous) lake swim I have been putting off getting back into the open water again. I felt so rough afterwards that I was worried, if it happened again, there was no way I could force myself to make it into the Thames on Sunday for the Mile…
In the meantime I have bought and returned pretty much every wetsuit in existence which has been completely disheartening as it feeds my greatest, gnawing insecurity – my size. But then, as if by magic, my final possible wetsuit option arrived and its perfect!!. It’s a Blueseventy sleeveless one and I completely love it. It fits like a glove (a bit of a barrel shaped glove but you know what I mean) and is stretchy and buoyant and my arms can flail about as much as they like.
Anyway today I arranged to meet the lovely Katia for a dip in the Thames. She is part of the Henley Swim – This Girl Can team and has been quietly reassuring us all for the last few months. When I tell people about my swim their first horrified reaction is usually to do with mud, fish (and sharks), weed or disease. I was pretty certain none of those things would phase me as I’m a bit of a tomboy but I must confess I did feel a little daunted when actually faced with the watery reality of it all!
I sat with my toes being nibbled by Sticklebacks watching Katia swimming fearlessly up and down and felt myself begin to relax. It was warm, quiet and very, very beautiful. So I finally got cautiously and incredibly inelegantly into the water – the suit felt great, the temperature was good and off we went.
I swam gently and floated around for a bit, did some breaststroke and a bit of front crawl and it all suddenly clicked – AT LAST. It felt amazing, and freeing and refreshing and (!HIPPY KLAXON!) it actually felt like I was part of the world we live in – really amongst it rather than just looking at it or, worse still, ignoring it.
As I swam along with swans, ducks, fish and beautiful, sunny yellow lilies I remembered that I really, really love nature – to the point where David Attenborough is my hero but I’m not allowed to watch him on TV as I sob intermittently throughout. And I remembered how I’d always promised to instil that love and respect for the world in my kids – and now I think will be much more determind about doing so. It was a bit of a Eureka moment for me as I’ve always wanted to swim in the openwater but I’d completely forgotten (or perhaps never really understood) why.
Now I feel like I finally get it and I know now this isn’t a one off. I don’t want to swim in a pool. I don’t want to swim in a warm lake full of people flogging themselves in circles on a Thursday night. I want to ‘free swim’. I want to find secluded spots and enjoy them with my friends (anyone?) and family. Its an incredible sensation and felt more relaxing and escapist than any conventional therapy I can think of.
So. The training is over. I did the distance last week in the pool and surprised myself in enjoying actually pushing through the point where I would normally give up and making it to the end.
I’ve finally got a wetsuit that fits – even if it is a bit depressing to see myself in it but I actually care a lot less about that too. A lot of my confidence issues are superficial and I’ve come to realise that a big part of the way I look is not something I can do anything about right now. My body has waged a ridiculous auto-immune war on itself and all I can do is try and sort that out over the long term. I’m pushing myself physically and mentally and it feels like, despite the very boring fatigue, that is doing me the world of good.
This is genuinely a challenge that I thought I would only think fondly of in retrospect. But now all that’s left is to tackle the Thames on Sunday and I honestly can’t wait to be part of it and enjoy it – and now I know I will – no matter what happens.