Thursday, 10 May 2018

Let the 2018 open water swimming season begin!

What could be better than your first open water swim of 2018 coinciding with it being the hottest May Day Bank Holiday on record (except perhaps for my first open water swim of 2018 being somewhere very tropical with very white sands)?

The only downside to this weekend’s swimming was that swim buddy was away celebrating her birthday with family, and no, not a big birthday -that’s next year! (I am going to be in so much trouble for sharing this), but Shark likes a large celebration every year, regardless of age, hence the weekend away. Historically the water temperatures aren’t usually as favourable as they are this year, and our first dip back in the lake after the winter is usually the week after the Bank Holiday. Despite her being away I didn’t want to miss the fact that the water temperature was likely to be higher than usual, and so making the most of the opportunity, and so in the absence of Shark, and for safety reasons, I recruited a fellow squad member, Richard, to come with me (well actually in truth, he was going anyway). I just told him that it was just for a bit of encouragement on the way round etc., and I bribed him with the promise of coffee after as a thank you. To be honest I was expecting him to counter with the suggestion of cake thrown in, but he didn’t. He is a far cheaper swim buddy than Shark!

What I didn’t tell him (I was worried he’d say no if he knew in advance) was that I hadn’t tried on my wetsuit yet and that there may be a struggle to get my very inflexible self into it, requiring his (and possibly others) support (as in physical, not just standing near me cheering and offering words of encouragement!), brute strength and possibly some kind of implement (whatever works: shoe horn, wrench, crowbar) to get me in.

The lake looked glorious, and at 13.8oc, which compared to this time last year when I got in (10.1oc), was pretty much considered warm in my mind, and if wetsuits weren’t compulsory I may have considered getting in without, but they are, and so back to the difficult job in hand, which turned out to be less traumatic than I thought, that was until I was reminded that in order for it to be fully functioning I needed it to be not only on, but on and zipped up… Knew it was too good to be true! Step in my new, temporary swim buddy, who I might add made such a song and dance before he had even got hold of the zip, muttering he may “need the strength of an ox” but I was optimistic that all would be well, and it was, with what I would consider a bit of overacting from him, it was on, done up and with the added bonus that I could not only still move, but I could also breath (provided I didn’t do it too deeply).

Reunited once more with my Swimzi coat and my nemesis swans!

Getting myself acclimatized to the water was fine; it was the foggy goggle issue that I had that was not fine. It was not fine because I couldn’t see that swim buddy had set off and was swimming, very fast, off into the blue yonder (without a backwards glance). I also couldn’t also see the fellow swimmer next to me that I took a swipe out of (accidentally), and nor could I see the buoy that I think I was swimming towards.

In previous swim seasons I would have been delighted with foggy goggles, after all if you can’t see it, then it simply isn’t there as far a aquatic livestock go, however this year I am determined to overcome my fear of anything in the water, moving or non-moving - this includes my own limbs and that of those around me, ropes attached to buoys, the bottom, plants, twigs and so on, and so to rid myself of my fear I need to actually be able to see what was in the water, however today it took several frustrating stops to de-mist them whilst trying to stay afloat before they were fit for purpose again, by which time I noticed that a couple of the safety crew were circling me with their radios at the ready. I gave them a thumbs up, because as much as I do love ride on a jet ski (well I went on one once twenty years ago and loved it), I don’t fancy them getting it out in a rescue attempt because of my goggle issues. Shark would never let me live it down.

All this faffing about with my goggles had taken quite some time. And by the time I was organized and fog-free my temporary swim buddy was nowhere to be seen (even in the absence of fog). I would like to point out in the interest of honesty, that I didn’t actually have a cat in hells chance of keeping up with him, and so set off at my own pace knowing that he was probably going to lap me at some point.

My first lap round I would have had the biggest grin on my face if it weren’t for the fact that I know that smiling dislodges my goggles. It felt great being back in, AND I feel I’d made a small improvement in my progress as I was only startle three times (believe me when I say this is progress) thanks to unexpectedly seeing the bottom of the lake, a fellow swimmer and a ray of sunlight, which I feel deserves a pat on the back, or at the very least some celebratory cake afterwards.

On my second lap round as I approached the first buoy I was asked by the safety crew to stop as the jet ski was out on the lake taking a fellow swimmer back to the shoreline (he was fine, had got cold and had asked the safety crew for help). During this time I was forced to tread water (well it was that or drown!?!) and whilst we were being corralled into one area for safety, I decided to use the opportunity to actually look under the water, and I mean really look to see what was there, so I positioned myself in the middle of a few other swimmers (just in case…) and put my head under the water. Only for a few seconds, but enough to convince me that there were no man-eating minnows, in fact there were nothing more than some plants dappled with sunlight to be honest, looked quite pretty and not dangerous at all.

Several brave minutes of observing the subaquatic terrain without incident I was feeling very pleased with myself and more relaxed and wondering what all the fuss I was making for nothing, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted a thin black creature right next to me. How had I not seen a lake snake coming? There was quite a few swimmers waiting by the buoy by now, and if I made a fuss I was either going to scaremonger everyone from fleeing the area, and possible into the path of the jet ski or look a complete idiot if I made a fuss meaning the safety crew may think I was in trouble (not sure I’d live down having to be rescued due to being a scaredy cat either), especially when after the initial shock I realized that it was not a lake snake after all, but was the cord from the back of my own wetsuit that had come away from the Velcro (my temporary swim buddy is so responsible for this). Confirming that there is still work to do in the bravery department.

The final lap was thankfully uneventful, and I even managed to get out without breaking my neck, only to find no sign of my temporary swim buddy. I didn’t remember over taking him, but I must have done, as unbelievable as this sounds, as he wasn’t out on the shoreline. I was very surprised, and actually delighted if this was the case. I got changed (carefully and with a lot of effort) only to find that he was still not out, I would have been worried had someone not spotted him going round the starter buoy again, for what I now know to be the start of his fifth lap. I was sure we had said three, but as I had already taken off my wetsuit, wild horses would get me back in it again, and so I made myself useful by going to get us some coffee. I might add that the sneaky slice of cake I had whilst he was busy swimming his extra two lengths was delicious too, and probably the best cake I’ve ever had!

After I had devoured my well deserved slice of cake I though my swim buddy would probably like some too, after all, despite leaving me, and who could blame him, after all he was probably traumatised after having to zip me in my wetsuit, and I did faff about for an age trying to de-fog my goggles, and he’ll be thanking his lucky stars he wasn’t there to witness me wrestling a lake snake, he did come with me in the first place so I wasn’t on my own, for which I am very grateful. Unfortunately for him it seems that it wasn’t just me that thought it was enjoying the cake, but every other swimmer getting out sooner than my swim buddy did too, and by the time I got to the front of the food queue to get him a slice, there was none left, and so sadly he had to make do instead with a pre-wrapped flapjack to go with his coffee, and bless him, he even offered to share the flapjack with me. I declined, telling him he needed the extra calories after all he had swam an extra two laps of the lake. I decided not to tell him was that I had eaten a large slice of cake already, and really I should have got him one too at the same time. No, I decided that my best option, just in case I may need to ask him again to be my temporary swim buddy, would be to keep my mouth shut. And that's exactly what I did!

For those of you that enjoy my blogs, my book Open Water Woman Swims Windermere is now available in paperback and electronically at:

I also have a 'group' page on Facebook and am on Twitter and Instagram, where I post regular shenanigans and such like. If you'd like to join/follow you'd be very welcome. Here are the links. 😊

Open Water Woman

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Swimming with fishes goes hand in hand with open water swimming, so why am I still so easily spooked by them?

I am now going into my fourth year of open water swimming and I still love every part of it, every part that is, except the fish. This fear is not brought on by a nasty encounter, for the truth is, I haven’t actually seen a fish near me larger than a tiddler, and I should know, for every time I swim my eyes are on stalks looking for any sign of even a ripple. I have surprisingly good eye sight for some one of my middle life years, and it is true that I can spot anything moving from far, far away, and although 10/10 times it isn’t actually a fish, a shark or a sea monster and turns out to be something far less sinister, like a twig, a leaf, some plant life, the bottom of the lake, the buoy rope, a shadow, swim buddy’s leg and I am most embarrassed to admit, my own arm…I still pull a sprint out of the bag. Added to that, if there were any that I had missed Shark would have spotted it and would be fleeing at neck breaking speed away from it, and me.

When you swim with someone as often as Shark and I do, you get to know each other well, and this is how I know I am not alone in my paranoia. We have had many a conversation about this subject, and as previous experiences swimming in a lake with her have demonstrated, she will think nothing of wind sprinting away from said imaginary aquatic dangers as much as I will. This year however I think I may have the edge. In order to gain some much needed advantage between myself and her (the weakest swimmer always get it first), over the winter, whilst in the pool, I have been working exceptionally hard at my sprinting. I tell Sharks it’s for the start of any races we have this season to give me a fighting chance at getting nearer to the front, but its actually not. It’s because in a swim off against a fish, no matter the size, it’s every swimmer for herself!

It is standard procedure to check out any new possible swimming venues online beforehand. It is to find out things like: distance away, facilities (changing and cake selection), cost and of course what type of aquatic livestock reside in the lake. You never know, they may well have a giant pike breeding program going on!  This information gives me the opportunity to further investigate the fishes (or other) they might have, including whereabouts in a lake they prefer to be, so I can avoid them at all costs, the largest one ever caught, teeth size, food preferences and if there have been any attacks on humans before now, of which I am delighted to share the happy news that all searches so far have come back as a big fat zero, I still check every time though!

All this said, knowing Shark’s fondness of fishes is on a par with mine, I was surprised when I received a very unexpected message from her this week, which included a link to one of the venues we have swam at before. The link was actually an invitation to go to the lake to feed the fish. On one hand I am really curious to see the size of the fishes that are in the lake, but on the other I am scared that it will put me off going if any turn out to be any larger than a stickleback or a sprat, which is how big I tell myself all fishes are when I get into any lake.

When my kids were small, and during my pre-open water swimming days, going to a lake to feed the fish sounded like a lovely thing to do. We would have bought multiple pots, because I really couldn’t bear the fact that some fishes might not have been adequately fed, and it would have probably been followed by a walk around the lake to tire out the little darlings and an ice cream and cakes in the adjoining café, all very gratifying, but here’s the thing, now I actually get in lakes and swim with them, I am in two minds whether fattening up fishes, for utterly selfish reasons, is a good thing.

Now, I really do know that it is. It’s a great thing – families spending time with each other, getting some fresh air, whilst learning about ecology and other sciency stuff and seeing all the different fishes close up, whilst the fishes are being fed the right nutrient rich food to keep them healthy and improve their survival rates, especially after a long and cold winter.

I was talking with Leon at SwimYourSwim this week about my fears. Leon is an avid naturalist (NOT to be confused with naturist!) and pointed out something that I hadn’t even considered, and it’s a really valuable point. He said that although fishes are predators, eating plants, microorganisms and other fishes (not people or their toes), they also recycle the nutrients they take in, acting as a kind of fertilizer helping to keep the lake healthy. The fact that fishes are in the lake, thriving and abundant means that the lake they swim in is also in good shape (the water quality is monitored there) and therefore I can be confident that it I can have a safe and enjoyable swim there too.

I must admit, I am comforted by this news and also have been giving the whole swimming with fishes some thought, especially the supplementary fish feeding thing, and may well suggest for Leon to think about some kind of feeding program at Hatfield (sort of around about the same time that I would be coming for a swim). Here’s what I’m thinking- if the fishes are busy being fed at one end of the lake, that frees up the rest of it for a relaxing swim for me (Yay!) (And a win/win situation I think?). Genius!

Alternatively, I could actually start to think more rationally, as there is no evidence that I’ve found, of anyone being attacked by the fishes that are in any of the lakes I swim in (and believe me, I’ve looked extensively), and in reality the only thing that has actually ‘attacked’ me has been the pondweed that I swam into once, and you could actually say it was my own fault. I am also huge in comparison to any of the fishes, and me swimming will no doubt scare them off and away from me (I may revisit this if I decide to swim Escape from Alcatraz), and so I have decided that I will spend this next season working on these fears, and in the meantime, I shall continue with my sprint training- for I’m quite enjoying them, and actually, just in case that fallen twig or pondweed does decide to give chase, I shall be ready!

Finally, last year I swam the length of Windermere for charity, and was asked if I would like to write a book about my journey, so I thought why not? It includes all the ups and downs, the laughs, the cake eating, the mischief, the amazing people I met along the way and of course the swimming. It's available on Amazon in paperback or as an e-book.

I also have a 'group' page on Facebook and am on Twitter and Instagram, where I post regular shenanigans and such like. If you'd like to join/follow you'd be very welcome. Here are the links. 😊

Open Water Woman

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Surviving winter, flu free, and how (I think) swimming in cold water may have had a helping hand...

It’s official; I’ve survived the whole of the winter without so much as a snivel. I can say this with confidence because the vernal equinox that marks the beginning of spring, after what feels like a really long and cold winter, has finally happened.

Most years I catch something or other, despite the fact that every year I take the same multiple precautions to reduce my odds. Precautions like: a daily dose of Berocca, 2 family members (both asthmatic) frog marched to the doctors for flu jabs, no going outside with wet hair, hand sanitizerers placed strategically around the house, including daily lectures for my poor, long suffering teens on regularly using them (no need to be sparing, I’ve literally bought a million bottles) and vetting anyone entering the house for any evidence of cold/flu symptoms and turning them away if necessary (I say vetting – it’s pretty much a lengthy questionnaire, and by the time they’ve filled it in, whilst still on the doorstep, I’m hoping they just don’t think we’re worth the visit, and come back some other time – like spring).

So what’s different about this year? It could be that my many precautions have finally paid dividends, however, there is one other thing that I did differently this winter, and that was to do some cold water swimming. Now I may well be clutching at straws here, as it may well just be coincidence, but hear me out...

At the end of the summer swimming season last year (usually October sometime depending on the water temperature), I decided to continue open water swimming through the winter. I have no idea why I wanted to carry on this year. I’m usually up for trying something different (although wild horses or the promise of a shed load of cash as an incentive would not get me sky diving). Before now once the water temperature has dropped to below a chilly 15oc my swim bud and I call it a day and head, back to the warmth of the overly hot pool and wait the winter out there, which is why, before I continued to swim open water, I armed myself with all that could go wrong, after all swimming in cold water can be dangerous. I did the research into the potential dangers. I read about cold shock. I read about hypothermia. I read about after drop and I completed a course, where I regularly swim, about the dangers of cold water and how your body responds and, armed with this sobering information, could be forgiven for changing my mind back again, hanging up my wetsuit and leaving well along until spring, however did not, and decided that I’d like to try it.

And I did. The thing that surprised me the most about swimming in cold water was how I felt, how energising it was. Yes my fingers and toes went numb, yes I felt my skin (the bits I could feel) was burning and yes once I got out I was shivering so hard my fillings were in danger of being dislodged and, one of my toes rather randomly went a delicate shade of puce (?), however I was also feeling quite euphoric, and I was not alone. At first I thought this might just a reaction, as I was so delighted to survive my first cold swim and actually enjoy it, but many of the folks sitting with me warming through, covered in various swim coats and all sporting layer upon layer of clothing and draped in hot water bottles, trying to drink hot drinks wearing gloves, without spilling it, were seasoned winter swimmers, also appeared to be enjoying it. Something must keep them coming back, after all, there are few folks that would get into bitterly cold water to risk cold shock and/or hypothermia and then to go through a lengthy and sometimes painful recovery afterwards, week after week, with no gain other than the guilt free slice of cake afterwards and a catch up with friends, when there are hundreds of cafes everywhere for that! And so this got me asking around, why do these people swim in cold water?

The answers were varying, but the common denominator was because they felt there were various health benefits, from it helping with pain relief to enhancing circulation, one fellow swimmer, who shall remain nameless (but you know who you are), was very keen to share their happy news of an increased libido, I suspect they were teasing me, but not willing to risk it I made up a feeblish excuse to leave whilst saying “how lovely” (First thing that came out. Why oh why did I say that?); one lady, Jaz, spoke with me quietly (and with her permission I’m sharing her story) and told me that she started swimming under the advisement of her doctor. A lengthy battle with depression had led to her overeating and subsequently becoming severely overweight. After a particularly difficult period of time, and along with the support of doctors and a therapist, Jaz decided she wanted to commit to trying again at life, she was ready to take back control, and break the cycle. She decided to do this through fitness, and at 23 stone she knew that swimming was the one exercise that would put her body under the least strain. Jaz began open water swimming a couple of years ago, and during that time she met and became firm friends with a lady who wanted to try cold water swimming, and so to support her friend, Jaz decided to give it a go rather than getting back in the pool for the winter. She told me that she noticed immediately how her mood had lifted when she was in the cold water, and afterwards. Surprised, she went on to do some research to see if there were any links between cold water swimming and depression. She added that cold water swimming had been, and still was an essential part of her recovery. Since that initial dip she has continued to swim throughout the year, and has even ditched her wetsuit to skins swim. She has since swum two Ice Miles (water under 5oc in skins). When I asked her why two? After all, one is an amazing achievement already, Jaz agreed, but pointed out that her first one was a year ago, when she was at her heaviest, and although she was successful, felt that she had cheated in some way as she was so heavy when she did it. She had wanted to prove that she could do it and, so in the interest of fairness, she swam another one this January, after an incredible 11 stone weight loss! (I’d also like to add to that, his amazing lady has also swum Windermere one-way, that’s a massive 10.5 miles, and competed in two IM’s!) She finished by saying “Cold swimming is a huge part of my toolkit and if I didn’t have it, I have no doubt I wouldn’t have made the progress I have.”

Once I got home I decided to search the Internet for some more facts. I found that there were tons of stories of an amazing variety of health benefits, both physical and mental, many more than I heard about earlier, that are well documented amongst swimmers, however when it came to any research or scientific evidence (due to lack of research rather than anything else) I found it to be rather thin on the ground. Despite this, I did find a glimmer of hope, which was a story, recently covered in several newspapers. They reported on a recent case study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that tells of a man in chronic pain 10 weeks after surgery. After conventional drugs, physiotherapy and exercise failed to help, the man decided to go for an open water swim (he had been a triathlete prior to his surgery) to help take his mind off the pain, and after swimming in water at 10.5oc for just a minute his pain disappeared. Doctors were baffled and could come up with no other explanation. Although the BMJ were clear to point out that this was just one case, and that without further evidence they could not say whether it could be connected, but add that without any other explanation it could have helped.

What is amazing is that on the back of this case study experts at Cambridge University and the University of East Anglia are now calling for some research to investigate cold water therapy. Imagine if the findings are favourable? Not only for those that suffer chronic pain and many other health problems, but also for our struggling NHS. Other experts are also calling for a study into the effects of cold water on the human body, and some are already developing trials, and if it can be scientifically proven, what an amazing, and free, alternative to traditional medicine, with no side effects (with perhaps the exception of puce coloured toes) cold water immersion could be?

Something I read that really interested me was that one of the health benefits claimed by swimming in cold water is that it can improve your immune system, resulting in fewer illnesses. This winter’s figures from Public Health England show that the 2017-18 flu outbreak was the worst since 2010-11, despite 1.5 million more people having the flu jab since last year. This makes it makes it even more amazing that I have managed to avoid catching anything. You could argue of course that this was a happy coincidence, that it was just luck, or even good management (like buying the supermarket's whole supply of hand sanitisers) on my part, however you also couldn’t rule out the possibility that it could have been that I swam in cold water this winter... Here's hoping - and research pending!

Finally, I’d just like to add a safety sentence or two, or a warning if you prefer.
Cold water can be very dangerous. Please don’t just plunge in. Getting into cold water without the right advice and support, without putting too finer point on it, can lead to death (sorry to be blunt). Please, please seek medical guidance first, especially if you have an underlying health condition. Read all you can on the dangers first, and never swim alone, and please consider doing a course that tells you in very fine detail all that I’ve just said, and swim with people that know their stuff. I have added here the links to the blogs I wrote about cold shock and hypothermia to give you an idea.

BMJ study

And finally still, if you enjoy reading my blogs you may also enjoy reading my first e-book, which was published earlier this year. It’s about my 2017 journey from surgery to swimming Windermere one way – and all the shenanigans in the middle- of which there were many – mostly involving a vivid imagination and/or cake… Here’s the link.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Open Water Woman Swims Windermere

Most of you will remember that last January I had surgery on both my feet that left me being not allowed to walk, further than the kettle and back, for seven long weeks, followed by a further 6 weeks of recuperation, and trying to remember how to walk again! During this time, my son suggested I start writing a blog as a way of alleviating the boredom and frustration. Having never written anything in my life, I though why not? It’s only a journal after all; it’s unlikely anyone will be interested…
Just before I had the surgery my swim bud (Shark) and I had decided that our challenge for 2017 would be to swim the length of Windermere, that’s a massive 10.5 miles, and much further than we have swam before, and would be the most difficult swim, both physically and mentally (that’s a possible 6 hours of swimming non-stop) to date. Having said that, the surgery meant that I couldn’t even begin training again until 1st March, and that was if all went well, which left us with less than 7 months to train, from scratch, however having that goal to think about, especially during my long recovery, gave me something to focus on, and plan for.
Those of you that know me well know that when I set a challenge, there is no way I will not do it, and so, along with Shark, began a 7 month grueling, tiring, frustrating, ambitious, amazing, fun filled journey, full of highs, lows and everything in between, all documented in my little blog.
It's a year today since I got back in the pool and my love of open water swimming continues (not including the fishes or the swans) and so does my little blog. I have been amazed and overwhelmed at the amazing response I have had, with over 200,000 readers since I began writing it. Since our Windermere swim I was asked if I would consider putting last year’s journey into a book. Going from a blog to a book is something quite different, and a lot scarier, however I decided after a lot of consideration to take the plunge (no pun intended) and do it, and finally has now been published this week. How amazing (but mostly scary) is that? I hope that for those of you that read it feel inspired to not only take on difficult challenges, but also to never underestimate how far you can push yourself to achieve what you set out to do.

Monday, 19 February 2018

On being a dedicated follower of fashion... but only in the world of swimwear!

Last week I was invited out on a girl’s night out. All very lovely up to the point when I realized that I had an early training session booked the following morning, and that meant an early departure from what promised to be an outstanding night out. Historically these nights are spontaneous, fun, alcoholic, noisy, busy and late… very late, and in a previous life, wild horses would not have seen me leave early.

Skip forward, and it’s dawned on me that my life was a far cry from my pre-swimming days, when leaving early never happened, in fact it was frowned upon (by myself no less), and getting ready for the night took days, if not weeks of military precision planning and executing, starting with a shopping trip to buy a new outfit (sometimes several), hair and nail appointments secured, chicken nuggets purchased (for the kids), and the day of the night out was given over to the prep work that goes along with the same said night out, including a ban on all small people, no matter the sudden and immediate urgency to use that particular toilet, despite there being several others in the house, entering the bathroom. Music was cranked up to prevent myself from hearing those small people informing me, by yelling under the door, of things like the happy news that the dog had been sick all over the carpet, having eaten the chocolate mousse they had spilt, and that they also felt sick having eaten 3 each, and that they ‘may’ have also spilt some on the sofa too (despite there being a rule that all food is eaten at the table…).

I’d already given the girls the heads up that I’d be leaving at 10pm at the latest and I wouldn’t be drinking. The response was to question whether I would actually be any fun (!?!), to which I pointed out that I may not be fun, but I was handy as I could actually drive them home (I negated to tell them there was a condition attached- that to benefit from this offer they too must leave at 10pm). And so, after feeding the kids (who are now old enough to cater for themselves…), walking the dog, washing the dog who suddenly felt compelled to roll in something sinister, putting on some laundry (my now wet through, and dirty clothes having bathed the feral looking dog), I calculated that I had all of 40 minutes to get ready, which was to include an extended period of time in the shower washing and re washing my hair to rid myself of the embedded smell of chlorine, however the need to wash the dog used up all of the hot water, which meant that it was a speedier shower than I was hoping for, meaning I was unable to do my legs (oh well), drying my hair before giving up on any style whatsoever and hastily putting it in a pony tail, putting on some make-up (I have forgotten how fiddly and time consuming it actually is), finding something to wear that wasn’t sports wear or swim wear, staring for a long period of time into my wardrobe, despairing at my lack of ‘going out’ clothes in it, and then despairing again at the lack of any clothes, last seasons or otherwise, trying on the lowest high heeled shoes I own, that held the least risk of me breaking my neck in. There was no time, or inclination to paint of manicure my nails although did manage to find the time to pack my swim kit ready for the next morning, and after dropping my second born off in town, in completely the opposite direction, I managed to arrive (I felt) fashionably not too late.

I have to admit I felt a little uncomfortable and there was a distinct lack of any complements on my outfit choice (can you believe that?), unlike my friend Tinks, who had complements arriving thick and fast from everyone (me included) the second she glided in, about everything from her coordinated nail varnish to her carefully chosen complementary jewellery and perfume choice. She looked amazing I’ll admit, and when she casually asked my what the make of my ‘unusual’ smelling perfume, I realized that I’d even forgotten to put any on! I replied, “Eau du Chlorine”, a far cry from my pre-swimming self when the perfume of choice was Chanel (not to be confused with Channel!)! Tinks gave me one of those hugs that are difficult to interpret. It could have meant you poor, poor thing, or equally it could have meant you rock the chlorine look… Turns out it was the former, as she then offered to take me on a shopping trip to revamp my wardrobe. She could have added “to move you out of the ‘90’s” but she didn’t, even though we both know that’s what she meant…

The evening came swiftly to an end, and being honest, it couldn’t have happened soon enough. Once home I began reflecting on my evening. Had I actually let myself go? I mean, I didn’t bother with nail varnish anymore as it just never survived the pool, and I didn’t have the time to apply the several coats required to ensure it was still in place after even 1 swim, and it was disheartening having to constantly remove it. I didn’t change my earrings anymore. Gold studs are standard issue (base metal takes the longest to tarnish apparently, however if anyone of you wishes to disagree, feel free – I have no clue!). They also often come out when I take my cap off, so go through so many pairs. I leave the pool wearing gym attire, and as I work from home, generally remained in it for the rest of the day, without make-up (I say without, this isn’t completely true… always, and I mean always with mascara), without really bothering how I look.

There was nothing else for it; I arranged a coffee with my glam friend Tinks to seek some sartorial advice. She threatened to take me under her wing, by starting with a shopping trip, and whilst I love shopping, I explained that I really don’t have much free time at the moment (although this is true, it’s also true that I just don’t have the inclination either), at which point she waggled her perfectly manicured finger at me and told me that I must make the effort. She wasn’t actually saying I looked a bit shit, but there was no doubt she was implying it – very effectively!

Tinks said that fashion was fickle and that unless I was prepared to shop frequently, I would be out of fashion in one season. I’ve been out of season for the past erm… few years or so. Who’s actually counting? One season seemed not too bad to me. She instead suggested I go for a timeless and classic wardrobe that would stand the test of time (I’m taking from that that, as she looked disapprovingly, that she didn’t think the corduroy trousers I was wearing would…), and therefore less time shopping, and more time swimming (she had me at the mention of swimming – she knew this was a weak point and was prepared to go low to get her way). And so the (attempted) transformation began. We walked straight out of the café and straight into Boots, where she hotfooted it to the nail varnish aisle. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of colours stared back at me, I was completely lost, especially as I don’t do colour, in nail varnish or clothes. I do black, and to add a splash of colour I add grey, and if I’m pushing the boat out, perhaps some khaki. Bright coloured nail varnish is not for me -never was, except for my first GNS swim, where I made the mistake of thinking it would be great to match the splashes of blue on my wetsuit to some coordinated nail varnish. I wish now that I’d matched the main part of it (black) now, I felt so uncomfortable wearing it – nothing draws attention to your gigantic hands quite like a bright aqua blue! Fast forward and nail varnish had certainly moved on since I last bought some, back in the day when you chose your colour, paid for it and then left the shop, applied it, and waited an hour for each coat to dry, these days there’s shiny, not shiny, gel, accessories to put on your nails, literally all sorts. And then I saw it… the 60 seconds drying nail varnish. 60 seconds? Was that it? Only 60 seconds! And it came in lovely dull, lifeless colours too. Hooray!

Clever me bought some (in standard clear and a just off clear kind of skin colour called Nude) and felt quite pleased with myself, I mean, if it comes off or looks shabby, only a keen eye would notice, a great compromise I felt… that was until Tinks pointed out that my chosen colours were kind of missing the point, however I reminded her that I would need gently guiding into the new me. Rome was not built in a day.

Next stop, which meant walking past the window displaying a black sparkly swimming costume, and although clearly for a holiday, I was drawn like a magnet. Tinks reminded me that a swimming costume, sparkly of other, does not count towards a capsule wardrobe, and ushered me on. Trying to remain enthusiastic, I followed her row of clothes after row of clothes, until she had two arms full of colour… At this point she noticed my distress, and pointed to the one piece of black clothing – a t-shirt with ‘glamorous’ written in it in a silver cursive, sequined script, and said “these are all for me, that one’s for you.” I sagged in relief, as I feel that trades descriptions would be onto me like a shot if I bought it, however entering the spirit of the day, AND because I’d asked her, I went to try it on.

The t-shirt was not the success Tinks was hoping for. The cursive ‘glamorous,’ once on changed somewhat, and looked more like ‘amorous’ which is lots, lots worse than the former. The sparkly swimming costume that I’d snuck in to the changing room, on the other hand, was an absolute triumph, and then I was faced with the dilemma; do I come clean about the costume, or do I buy the t-shirt as well, using it as a red herring to buy the costume? I very suddenly had a brilliant idea, and after some conspiratorial whispering with the changing room attendant, I slip her the money and the label for the costume, and she returns with my receipt and my chance. The transaction was completed in next to no time, and I leave the shop dressed in my newly purchased costume, but rather than in a bag it was under my clothes. Genius!

3 hours, and 2 essential coffee breaks later (needed to regain my strength, and her sanity), and I have purchased the following:

2 x nail varnishes (assorted colours (ish)).
1 x sparkly swimming costume (shhh).
1 x flip-flops (also useful lakeside)

Not the most successful of trip, and Tinks is ready to throw in the metaphorical towel, when I spot a beautiful blue dress. Blue (I know!) and kind of swirly, and I think I love it. A very excited Tinks would have probably shoved it over my head to try on there and then in the middle of the shop, but instead frog marched me to the changing rooms. I laughed and told her I’d changed out of clothes in the open air, lakeside on many occasion. Tinks looks horrified at the thought of me walking round the shop in a state of undress, however little does she know that even if I were to strip off, I’d be in less of a state of undress than she knows!

And it was whilst I was trying it on that I began thinking. Had I actually let myself go? I may not wear nail varnish anymore, I may not have this seasons ‘must have’ dress, make-up is a minimum, I can’t walk in 7” (or 177.8mm) heels anymore (who am I kidding? I never really could) and my hair is styled (and I use this term very loosely indeed) for ease, but here’s the thing- I am fitter than I’ve been in years, I eat more carefully (the odd cake being the exception), I am focused, and determined and I feel great. So I suppose if you’re asking if I have let myself go, I would say it depends on who you’re asking. Is it the end of the world if I turn up to a night out wearing my corduroy from the ‘90’s or even wearing my gym gear? No it won’t. Having said that, I will buy the dress (which is lovely by the way) and I will wear it on our next night out, and I will make a conscious effort to block out 60 seconds beforehand to apply one of my new nail varnishes, I may also decide to team it up with the flip flops, which I’m sure is a big fat fashion no-no, but probably a huge improvement on last time’s outfit! And as I have our next girls night out outfit in the bag, I can spend my time and money instead on new swimwear; something that I will wear far more frequently. I may not rock the fashion world anymore, and I may not know whether orange or pink or green or blue is the new black, but what I do know is my Speedo from my Swimzi and my Deakin and Blue from my Dolfin... And so you see (as I have demonstrated here), in my own world, I am actually very much a dedicated follower of fashion!

Finally, it's a year since I first began writing my little blog, which stared as a way of writing about my recovery, the training and the swim I did last year (Windermere one way). I have been amazed and overwhelmed at the amazing response, and lovely messages of support I have had. After I had completed the swim I was asked if I would consider putting last year’s journey into a book. Going from a blog to an e-book is something quite different, and a lot scarier, however I decided after a lot of consideration to take the plunge (no pun intended) and do it, and finally has now been published this week on Amazon. How amazing (but mostly scary) is that? I hope that for those of you that read it feel inspired to not only take on difficult challenges, but also to never underestimate how far you can push yourself to achieve what you set out to do.

Open Water Woman Swims Windermere is available on Amazon

I also have a 'group' page on Facebook and am on Twitter and Instagram, where I post daily shenanigans and such like. If you'd like to join/follow you'd be very welcome. Here are the links. 😊

Open Water Woman