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  • Writer's pictureDarren Watson

My longest swim yet - both distance & time

It was 4.45am when all three of the alarms that I set went off. I don't know why but when I set my mobile phone alarm for work it always does the trick, however for occasions such as today, I don't trust it so have to set my phone, watch and wife's phone.

Today I was going to be swimming the length of Windermere both ways, 21 miles in total, which would make it my longest swim yet!

It was a spur of the moment decision made after I came back from a 2 week endurance swim training camp in Dover with the King's Swimmers. During the camp I had swam over 40 miles in 2 weeks and completed my qualifier for my upcoming English Channel Solo swim at the end of August. My wife, Banu, mentioned it to me a few days after getting back and I knew it would be a good idea to see how I get on. I immediately got on to the Chillswim website, found a date and booked it.

So at 6.18am on the 14th July, after meeting Dave, the boat pilot who would navigate my swim, I set off from Waterhead at the Northern end of Windermere and began my journey.

Breakfast before the swim!

The days leading up to the swim I didn’t feel nervous or anxious about it, in fact I didn’t really think about it much which was a surprise as this swim, being what it was, should have had me bricking it, even just a little! I prepared my kit the night before the swim and went to bed around 10pm, eventually fell asleep around midnight.

I had packed three separate bags for my swim.

  1. Pre-Swim Bag - This contained my swim hat, goggles, Jammers, sun-cream, water and Ocean Lube

  2. Mid Swim Bag - This contained all my feeds, spares and medication

  3. Post Swim Bag - This was all my warm kit that I would need for when I got out, including my DryRobe.

Other than the poor naming convention, I found the above to work really well - there was no messing about and it was easy for Banu to keep control of the feeds throughout the day. I wanted to try a few different solid feeds during the swim, such as peaches, pears, pineapples, prunes and dates and agreed that Banu could decide what to give me at each feed point. My main energy source was a pre-mixed Torq solution. The feeding pattern was also pretty straight forward too; First hour and a half, then next hour and 10 minutes, then 40 minutes for the rest of the swim.

The weather was perfect in the morning, warm with a slight cloud, but was set to be a scorcher for the rest of the day. The water was as flat as a pancake and absolutely beautiful to swim through, with no chop or waves to hinder my stroke. The first hour and a half I spent warming up and getting used to the temperature. It usually takes me a few hours to adapt and get settled during a swim in cooler water - OK so 20 odd degrees isn’t exactly cold, but still it’s enough to let you know.

The water was so flat in the morning!

At the hour and a half point, as agreed, I had my first feed. I was swigging what I thought was Torq, but it looked like Banu had picked the only bottle out of the 4 that was just water. It threw me a bit, but I didn’t question it at the time as I thought maybe it was just pretty weak. I carried on for the next hour and 10 minutes, getting into a rhythm and settling in. The second feed came around quickly and again I was having water, was sure of it - so I asked Banu if she could fill up with Torq (as if we had pre-planned that water would be good to drink at the start) but Banu was pretty clear we hadn’t planned this when she said ‘Ooops, yep you’re right I’ve been giving you water’. During this stint I had also started to feel a bit of a niggle on my right shoulder, so had some Ibuprofen (I’m so glad I bought this the day before, it was a lifesaver, I’m sure). So, Torq’d and Ibuprofen’d up, and a bit of a laugh we were back on our way.

Another 40 minutes, feed 3 and probably about quarter way through the swim. The sky was still a bit cloudy, with the sun trying to burn it off. The sun on your back makes all the difference when swimming outdoors, it helps to keep you body warmer than it would be without it. The next few feeds came round quickly enough and before I knew it I was nearing the end of the first length. I was trying to figure out where we were from the last time I had swam Windermere one way, we started at the southern end and swam North that time, but I couldn’t figure out where the start point was. After a final feed before the turn point, Dave pointed out a large yellow buoy about a few hundred metres away, that was where I would turn. Still didn’t recognise it, but hey! 6 hours and 45 minutes I was halfway.

One of my many feeds that day.

After turning and heading back, I was on a bit of a high. It’s always a morale boost to get halfway, knowing that every minute is counting down to the end. I was trying to work out roughly how long this was going to take me, I thought maybe doubling the first leg would do the trick - 13 and a half hours. That'll do!

At the 7 hour mark of my swim, I said to myself ‘this is now the longest you have ever swam for’. I was pretty chuffed with that. The sun had now burnt the cloud away and it was full on sunshine. During the next few feeds, we had some fast jets flying overhead and being midday lots of people were now out on boats whizzing up and down creating waves, which made it difficult to adjust and correct my stroke, which also led to my shoulders becoming fatigued. It was probably about the 10 hour point when I knew I was tiring as my left shoulder started to hurt. Thinking I would only have about 3 and a half hours left, I just kept thinking about the next feed - but time started to slow down.

Throughout the swim I never once crept into any ‘dark moments’ that can be expected for endurance type events. At the 2 hour point I usually have a moan to myself for half an hour and find it difficult to keep going with a clear head. I was totally surprised that I had kept my focus no matter how long I was in the water, I was just thinking ‘get to the next feed and that’s another 40 minutes knocked off the time’.

It was nearing 13 hours - Yes surely not long to go now, should be getting ready to hear the magic ‘this is your last feed’, but it never came when 13 and a half hours arrived. Ok, maybe next feed? By this time my arms were in agony, but I could still manage to push through, having Ibuprofen every 4 hours. The sun started to disappear behind the trees on the West Side of the lake and the wind seemed to have picked up creating some chop. I swear I had a slight tide pushing against me as I was just getting slower and slower. I don’t know if this was because I was tired or there was a tide. Whatever it was, it extended my time in the water.

I think it was probably just after the 13 hour 45 minute mark when I asked Dave where we were. He had pointed out White Cross Bay, which I thought was where they used to hold the Great Swim events - well I was hoping it was. But disappointingly I was told, that was about another Mile. OK, I thought, another Mile and a half, as I knew that from that point Waterside was another half a mile or so away. So another 45/50 minutes? Cool!

The next feed came and I was pretty sure it would be my last. But I still never heard those magic words. I then started to count in my head, not wanting to start losing focus, counting every left arm entry up to 250, which passed 10 minutes. A few of these as well as trying to think of girl and boys names for all the letters of the alphabet, bought me to the next feed. It was now 14 hours and 40 minutes. Dave lent over ‘Ok Darren, this will be your last feed. Not long to go now!’ Yes, I can’t believe it, got to be about 20 minutes or so - easy.

It was another 40 minutes before I eventually ended up at the little beach at Waterside. As I was approaching the shore, Dave shouted ‘Swim to the beach, left side of the pier’ and Banu was cheering me on. I saw someone standing on the Pier, and I swam off to the left, eventually getting out at 15 hours and 20 minutes. A few people were sat on the bench just off the little beach. The guy on the pier clapped and congratulated me, shouting ‘Well done, you just swim the length? I swam it before and it was tough!’ I replied ‘Yeah, 2 ways’. He seemed pretty much in awe, ‘Wow, how long did that take?. Anyway the conversation carried on a bit as Banu came running round with my DryRobe and warm kit. The other people at the beach were pretty shocked at what I had done and how long it took me.

It was over - a complete epic swim! Dave came over and congratulated me, presenting me with a certificate and a plaque to mark the occasion. As soon as I got my warm stuff on, I had to get back to the cottage before I had the inevitable crash. I also needed something to eat quickly.

After 15 hours and 20 minutes of swimming - I felt good, didn't look it though!

I’ve done a few challenging things, but this one tops it so far. Doing something for that length of time is no easy feat, particularly as your mind can step in and convince you that you needn’t bother. I was really impressed with my focus that day, not once did I lose it nor feel I couldn’t continue and wanted to get out. I’m now set up for my August Channel swim, I’m ready!

I do want to mention that this was an entire team effort, bit of a cliche, but it’s totally true. Without Dave, it would have been a nightmare to try and navigate the shortest route, avoiding all the other boats. And Banu, well she had a lot to deal with too. Sat on the boat for nearly 16 hours, keeping an eye on me, checking my stroke, providing me with the feeds and more importantly just being there!

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