The Great North Swim 2014, what was supposed to be a simple day, an easy swim which wouldn’t be overwhelming. I practiced and had done many miles in the pool and also in Salford Quays……. so I thought I knew how the day would pan out – my predictions could not have been more wrong.
We left our house at 12:30 giving us four hours to get there in time – easy! En-route we picked up my sister, dropped off Seb at Ang’s mum n dad’s and got some fuel. It was 1:15 by the time we got on the motorway. Luckily my bruv was 30 mins in front of me and I asked him to let me know on his way to Ambleside if there were any traffic issues. We chose Ambleside because it was closer to the event location and didn’t involve us using the ferry saving us £££.
En route, my brother called to say not to bother with Ambleside as he was in a traffic jam and hardly moved for 20 minutes. So we parked in Bowness and decided to take the ferry.
After arriving at the ferry drop off, I was surprised to learn that there was a good 30 minute walk to the event location Low Wood Bay. We arrived at 15:50 so I decided to watch the 16:00 wave to get an idea of what goes on. After this and seeing Rebecca Adlington join in with this wave I noticed that there were a couple of people doing breaststroke so I was really pleased with this. At this point I decided to get ready.
I came out at 16:10, 20 mins before my time and was surprised to see that EVERYONE was already stood waiting at the start area. I thought I missed the acclimatisation and heard the guy on the mic “This is the very last time for people to check in for this final wave” – I was like AARGGGHH WHAT why am I so late? So I ran to the check in area (eventually finding the right side to check in), scanned my ankle chip timer with my wet suit that wasn’t zipped up, the guys helping me zip it up told me I hadn’t put it on properly and that I needed to pull the creases through so that they could zip up and close the wetsuit around my shoulders. They did this, I ran into the start area and my sister then said “Paul you’ve still got your trainers on”. I thought what an idiot the guys must have thought this when I scanned my chip.
At this point I was pretty annoyed at why I was so late even though it was still 15 mins before the swim start. I was quite stressed so I started to calm myself using my CBT and then I saw someone running into the acclimatisation area – I thought I’m coming too – asked the lady next to it if I could also and she said “You have like 30 seconds” – and 30 seconds later after getting used to the water, which didn’t feel massively cold, we were called out to start the body warm up with my wave.
Whilst focusing on the warm up I was thinking and comparing how I do warm ups with the AFC Masters and if I could incorporate some of the things with our guys. I was quite lost in the moment until during the warm up I could then see the floating marker points of the course…. MY GOD THEY WERE MASSIVELY SPACED APART!!! The half way point was a fair distance away you had to squint to see it! The weather at this point was very cloudy, a bit drizzly but warm enough. An Australian open water swimming champion gave us some warm words of advice of not pushing too hard initially and that the waters were very calm. He said the water is 17.9C and in Australia in the winter if the water is less than 20 degrees they refuse to swim it as it’s too cold. Lovely!
16:30 WE GO IN! First thoughts, yep not too bad the water, aim for that first 200m floating marker. It was a bit chaotic at first banging into people even though this was supposedly a small wave of people. My goggles started to steaming up but I was finding my rhythm early, getting my head underwater and pushing the stroke a little quickly at first around 90% pace, hoping that I would eventually relax into it doing longer stokes. I noticed a few swimmers were overtaking me doing front crawl, which was fine and a woman doing breaststroke who was a little faster than I was – I thought just do your thing Paul. You have your own agenda so stick to it – don’t worry about anyone else.
After the first 200m marker I stopped banging into people, and I eventually caught up to and overtook the breaststroke swimming woman. Then I noticed THE GUY who was also doing breaststroke. He was a big guy and very animated with his breaststroke – up and down with every stroke – quite impressive which started making me think about my own technique questioning it. The negativity creeps in ALL THE TIME and you have to fight it, ignore it or laugh it off and think of something positive.
Up to the 400m marker my mind was a constant tennis of good and bad thoughts. Good as in, wow isn’t this amazing, look at the scenery, Paul you’re doing an open water swim, wow taking part in a challenge with loads of other people. Negative as in, PAUL this is fricking DEEP, you’re in the biggest lake in England, if you struggle here you’re going DOWN a long way!
Up to the 600m marker I realised that this guy and I were pretty well matched. I thought I was pushing a bit hard to be honest and this guy was a little ahead of me all the way up to the half way point so I thought I wasn’t racing him – again just focus on my own swim.
When we approached the half way point I noticed I was still with this guy, sod it I’m sticking with him. I’m being pushed here outside of my comfort zone and my pace was a little high, but I stuck with this guy because I thought if I let him go I’d just see a guy swimming away from me and I would be on my own swimming my own swim and it would seem a little pointless – I could at least see if I could beat this guy. NOW, what annoyed me the most is that this guy had the inside line all the way round the course so even at times when I was half a body ahead of him, every time we went around the floating markers he would make up the difference and level with me.
As we passed the half way point I noticed that I was tiring a bit and my back and legs would come in huge pangs of pain which I needed to ease off a little. I was choking a lot on the water, which resulted me in stopping in the water, panicking, getting my breathing back and carrying on. This allowed the guy to overtake me again. From the 200m marker I reckon we were never more than half a body length apart the whole way, chopping and changing with who was the leader. Reminded me of the Beowulf swimming clip:
Up to the final marker point, I started thinking I’ve been going around 90% pace all the way around, I reckon I have just enough energy to do him now. So at the final marker I went for it, around 95% pace before ultimately realising that I pushed too early. About half way between the final marker and the finishing area I realised I had no energy and I turned and saw he was still only half a body length away!!! NO!!! At this point I thought RIGHT he’s won it – I can’t compete anymore. So I let him go, I swam at around 80% pace and he was now a full body length away if not a little more than that. I was thinking at this point about planning talking to Ang and everyone else who came to support me that about how I tried but there is no shame in finishing second to this guy – the greatest breaststroke swimmer I’ve ever swam with (considering I’ve done thousands of lengths of breaststroke previously).
A third of the way left to swim between the final marker and the finish point, I realised that this guy wasn’t pulling away any more… so I thought OK I’ll up it a bit to 90% again for the final part… I was catching him! Just less than a body length away so I thought LETS DO IT!!! BOOM FULL 100% PACE I had a second wind and I was powering through, reeling him in…. I still thought I didn’t have enough time and approached a bridge finishing point. He was still a little bit ahead, half a body length in front. But I realised – it was not here that was the official finishing point, you had to get up the ramp out of the water – only there was your finish time made. AND GUESS WHAT… it was on my left…. I HAD THE INSIDE LINE THIS TIME! HOW DO YOU LIKE THAT PAL??? OOOUUUSHHHH!!!! I ran up the ramp with absolute no energy, and there were volunteers with smiles on their faces grabbing my hand pulling me up the ramp. There was Ang, Pete, Maria, Helen, Martin, Anna, Luke and his friend and I ran to them who were cheering! I said “Did I beat him?”. They said “YES you were the fastest breaststroke swimmer!!!”. GET IN!!!!
Finish time of 38:01
I said where is the guy? I want to shake his hand and I turned around and he was there and completely blanked me!?!? Fair play mate I felt nothing bad in my blood – if he beat me I would have still shook his hand and said “Good race buddy”. I then walked to the check out area and he was there again and still completely blanked me – I was a bit disappointed being honest! 😦 Oh well!
I got changed and it all started to become real. I just swam the fastest mile I could have ever done. I now wish I could thank the guy for pushing me and making it a brilliant race! I would have got a time of after 40 minutes otherwise. I got my goody bag which contained my t-shirt, medal and lots of food goodies. My shoulders were absolutely battered so I just crammed in the protein.
My brother showed me a video of me getting out of the water and I saw behind me running out of the water and up the ramp this guy was being carried out of the water by volunteers. It wasn’t just me keeping up with him – he was keeping up with me all the way. Wow I felt hugely proud of this. I also realised, scarily, that if my brother didn’t go ahead of me and realised that there was traffic I would have been stuck in it and missed my race!!!
I felt pretty good once we left the venue, getting sausage and chippy chips for tea before heading home for a celebratory beer session evening in Horwich with my best friends.
Now ends the fundraising of Daytrippers and Kidz2gether – two charities I’ve had the ultimate and incredible pleasure of meeting the most amazing people. What I did fair enough was tough at times – these guys crack on and give their time ALL THE TIME and have all been through some tough demanding times with their own kids or foster children. This has been an absolute pleasure doing this for you and is huge thank you for the incredible work you do. I’m sure that this is not the end of our relationship – if not it is just the beginning.
I’ll be presenting the cheques to the two charities on Wednesday – pictures and happy faces to follow soon!
Thanks for reading 🙂