Strict and training aren’t words you’d normally apply to me, but in a moment of rank foolishness, I agreed to a 1.4 mile open water swim for charity. In Barbados or Southern Spain this might have been rational, but on the English south coast this decision is worthy of the attention of nice men with white straightjackets.
Crawl had been a thing of my ancient past as my long hair falls across my face on turning to breathe, like a suffocating sheet. A bit claustrophobic, especially for my lungs. Having decided that crawl is a must, in order to make it to the finishing line on the same day as starting, I began wearing a bathing cap, which I loathe with a passion. Taking it off rips out a wad of hair and seemingly loosens the rest at the roots. Doubtless if I wore it for more than 20 sessions I would be completely bald which at least would permanently cure the suffocating hair problem.
Reluctantly bathing capped, I recently crawled up and down the pool for the first time in ages. I emerged with bright pink eyes and for the rest of the day everything was fuzzy, which would have been fine if I’d been watching football or paint dry, but was not quite so terrific for working. In pity, my daughter gave me some goggles, which I felt compelled to wear out of loyalty. A light bulb moment. They solved both the problems of the myxomatosis eyes and the hair-rippy cap.
Someone then pointed out that the waves would be coming in from the right. Being a right sided breather, I had visions of gradually drowning as every breath dragged in a saline douche, until I was no more than a tiny red dot (compulsory event swimming cap) bobbing in the ocean. Learning to breathe to the left felt as natural as attempting brain surgery with the wrong hand; possible, but what a mess. My compromise is alternating sides, ploughing through the water breathing smoothly to one side and then performing a wild shoulder dislocating thrash to the left. Very chic.
The next problem was my state of negative wetsuit ownership. Hypothermia induced cardiac arrest could ruin my whole morning, although presumably since I’m swimming for the British Heart Foundation they’d be pretty snappy at saving me. Wading in, frogman suited with a de-fib, they could manage to save swimmers three deep around me as well. You have to love electricity and water.
Rejecting hypothermia, I had to consider other options. Whale blubber is oddly difficult to come by, even on eBay. Coating myself in large amounts of body butter would mean swimming in a personal oil slick, racked with guilt as I killed swathes of seabirds. A wetsuit it had to be.
For swimming, a wetsuit has to be the triathlon type or you end up bobbing on top of the water with your arms going round like a paddle steamer, acting more like a hovercraft than a speedboat. The one I’ve just ordered from the Internet seems suspiciously cheap so is probably made from recycled plastic bags. Had I thought about this in time, I probably could have knitted my own. Apart from the warmth advantage, the wetsuit claims to help you swim by reducing drag, presumably by aquadynamically flattening one’s bust to the chest wall. Breathing like this doesn’t seem fantastically easy, but they don’t make wetsuits in sizes small, medium, large and Dolly Parton.
The bonus for doing this has been spending a glorious guilt dishing morning e-mailing my friends to remind them that, as I had regularly sponsored their offspring (or dog, in one case), it was payback time. Getting to grips with the justgiving website wasn’t bad, except that there was only one picture remotely representing anything to do with water. Yes, I’m that little yellow rubber duck.
I’ve been swimming for about 3 hours a week for months now and either I’m faster or the pool has become shorter. The men in the team are also in strict training, but have not yet given up wine, women and song, although they are taking this seriously and have promised to relinquish song fairly soon.
Our team is called Crawl to the Finish, which encapsulates our chances of success and our likely ignominious ending. It’ll be a miracle if we finish at all; a group of women with no sense of direction in the open sea accompanied by men who won’t ask for directions.
So if you’re nearby, pop down to cheer us on. We won’t hear you, swimming caps over ears, heads down in the water, but it will give us a warm and fuzzy feeling to know someone is there. I’ll be easy to spot in my knitted plastic wetsuit, eyes matching my red bathing cap, looking hemi-epileptic with each stroke, smelling of rancid whale.
Hopefully, on rounding the last buoy we will emerge covered in glory as well as 2 ml neoprene. Having battled waves, hypothermia and risked drowning, the organisers will reward us with a cup of tea. That’s got to be worth swimming for.