Open water swimming hasn’t always been plain sailing for me. Let me tell you about my first disaster of an open water swim.
The swim took place in 2004, I was 31 and I swam with a friend of mine, Mike in South Africa. The event was the aQuelle Midmar Mile which is credited as the largest open water swimming event in the world by the Guiness Book of World Records. The event has around 16,000 swimmers of all ages and abilities, from all over the world. Midmar Dam is North of Pietermaritzburg in Natal.
I was chatting to Mike to get some details and the first thing both of us said to each other, was that it was absolutely “awful”, “terrible”, “ shitty”. I went into that mile swim not having any clue at all about open water swimming. No idea on what a mass start was, how to swim with everyone bumping into you, the colour of the water, no clue on how to sight. The bedlam of bodies at the start caused anxiety levels that would cause anyone with a healthy heart to have a heart attack. The anxiety was so overwhelming, I just wanted to do a Usain Bolt and sprint to get away. Then I thought I would just swim as fast as I could to get it over and done with.
I was genuinely so self-conscious about wearing a swimming costume. I would always have a towel wrapped around my waist or fully clothed. Seeing all these hundreds and hundreds of people walking around in their swimming costumes just amazed me but I still wasn’t having any of it. Do you ever look back at old photos and think what was your problem? When I see what I looked like then, I would give my left arm to be in that body now.
I certainly wasn’t going to walk from our chalet to the start line in just a cozzie. I needed those board shorts around me. So, I did my first event in board shorts and a swimming costume. The pockets started filling up with water, the shorts kept slipping to below my waist. “What am I going do with these shorts”? I thought about taking them off and then I thought I can’t do that because the safety crew will think someone’s drowned. So for the entire 1 mile swim, in panic mode I thought about my board shorts and how hard it was to swim with them on. I have never done that again. I think this is also why I like open water swimming, I have the safety cover of a glorious wetsuit.
You see so much on social media and everyone looks like they have it all sorted. I can honestly say there are many swimmers out there who find the open water horrendously hard and even pool swimming. Behind the scenes Pool2lake make action plans together and the next week the swimmer is back in the water giving it another go.
I can so relate to anyone when they say they have had a disaster of a swim because I have been there.
Open water is definitely a journey that challenges you mentally and physically. For me now it's the pure joy of being in the water.