With starting a new job in May, it's taken me a while to get around to posting about the two outdoor swimming challenges that I took part in over a month ago: the first was the Great Salford Swim, and the second was my friend Hacky's "Twin Lakes Challenge" the following weekend - two quite different but equally memorable events.
Great Salford Swim: Sunday 15th May
The Great Salford Swim is part of the Great Swim series of mass participation swimming events, and this year around 2,000 people took part, braving the drizzly weather and cold water (14.4C, though I've felt colder so maybe I'm acclimatising) to swim a one mile "dock-to-dock" course at Salford Quays. Swimmers were organised into different coloured "waves" (I was in the yellow wave) and included various celebrities (such as Blue Peter presenter Andy Akinowolere, in the same wave as me) as well as men and women's elite races, featuring amongst others the British Olympians Keri-Anne Payne and Cassie Patten.
The organisation of the event was extremely impressive, with things running astonishingly smoothly in spite of the volume of people involved: I'd already received my race pack a couple of weeks earlier, which included my race number, official swim hat, timing chip and velcro ankle strap, and a baggage label (for the bag transfer between the start and finish). So on the day all I had to do was turn up, get changed and drop off my bag, and then head to the start line. After a quick warm up session (lots of people in wetsuits bending, bouncing and stretching - no doubt most entertaining for the assembled spectators) and dip in the "acclimatisation area", we lined up and were off into the water.
As I've said here before, although I feel I'm a very competent pool swimmer and have no problem swimming front crawl over a mile indoors (in fact I'd easily done 2km the week before, in the 50m pool at the Manchester Aquatics Centre), I often struggle to translate this to outdoor swimming. As a result I swam breaststroke for a large percentage of the course, with an occasional burst of crawl (including my favourite part, on the final strait to the finishing line). So while I felt that my time of 41m 41s was pretty respectable, I also felt I could have gone a little quicker (and I'm considering what things I need to work on for the future). But still, completing the one mile swim was an achievement to be proud of! Here's the official post-swim picture to prove it:
The Twin Lake Challenge: Saturday 21st May
The following weekend was a very different kind of outdoor swimming experience: Hacky's "Twin Lake Challenge", which involved a group of committed (or possibly certified) swimmers trying to swim the highest lake in Wales (Llyn Llyffant in Snowdonia) and in England (Malham Tarn in Yorkshire) in the same day. The challenge was two-fold - not only the distance between the two lakes, but also the fact that Llyn Llyffant is only accessible by a 7km walk which includes a 3,000 ft elevation to the lake. Like most of these things it had seemed like a good idea two months earlier (when I was sat cosy and warm in front of a laptop).
Through some impressive and ingenious logistical planning, Hacky managed to get eight of us gathered around 9am in the remote carpark in Snowdonia, the starting point for the trek up to the first lake. Buffeted by a persistent chilly wind (and with some ominously dark clouds lurking rather too close for my liking), I’m sure I wasn’t the only one feeling a little uncertain. But we were here now, and one way or another it was definitely going to be an adventure! and certainly the ascent to Llyn Llyffant was challenging, through a landscape of a spectacular and desolate beauty featuring huge walls, abandoned slate works, hidden bog puddles, and fragments of a WWII plane wreck.
With increasingly grim determination we finally reached our objective a few hours later, and were rewarded with a striking sight – a small lake with clear cold water rippled by the wind, and surrounded by rocks surreally peppered with more wreckage (including an engine and a wheel). We quickly changed into our wetsuits and with some trepidation (as least for me!) made our way into the icy water: the bottom of the lake seemed to consist of thick boggy mud over uneven rocks, and I felt my exposed hands and feet turn to blocks of ice almost immediately as I managed to breaststroke a width of the lake. Other hardier souls were able to stay in longer, but it was enough for me to say that I’d swum in the highest lake in Wales – made even more special by its remoteness and all the effort taken to get there - and to get the obligatory wetsuit picture (thanks to Jo Brown for this):
There wasn’t much time to savour our achievement however – almost as soon as we got out of the water the rain started, and the hike back was a gloriously miserable affair as we got wetter and wetter (more than when we were in the lake, even). No time to dwell on it though once we reached the carpark again – we still had another lake to get to! So began the long dash cross-country to Yorkshire, picking up more outdoor swimmers along the way before we arrived at the second lake.
Malham Tarn was a real contrast to Llyn Llyffant – a much bigger body of water, but more easily accessible just a short walk across a field from a carpark – and perhaps seemed a little ordinary after the adventure we’d had earlier in Wales. Still there was good swimming to be had here – the water again cold but beautifully clear, with the rocky lake bottom visible beneath and trees lining the more distant lakesides; and while the sky was overcast the rain held off long enough for our pod of 15 or so swimmers to get a good long swim. My favourite memories include chasing after a crowd of bobbing coloured swim hats (I’m not a fast swimmer); continually mistaking two pillars at the lakeside on the way back for two non-swimmers who’d come along with us; and leaving the water at the end through what felt like hundreds of “British Gas Great Swim” flip-flops, temporary abandoned by people when they’d first got in.
And then that was it – shivering as I ran back to the parked car, struggling into my warm dry clothes, and feeling the satisfaction of completing the challenge. Gathering in a pub nearby we were finally able to relax and reflect on our achievement. It might look like madness from the outside, but for me it’s during experiences like this that life seems to be at its most colourful. Thanks to Hacky and everyone else who made it such a fantastic day in so many ways: I know that the vivid memories of this Twin Lake Challenge – and Llyn Llyffant in particular – will stay with me for a life-time. Plus, Hacky also gave us a mug for completing both parts:
Since then it's been a bit quiet on the swimming front, but I'm now slowly getting back into a regular early morning pool-swimming schedule - so once things calm down I'm sure I'll be looking for the next swimming challenge!