Tag Archives: Ambleside

Event: Great North Swim 2009 & 2011

22 Sep

Beware of flags stuck to your swim cap

So this is the one, the Great Grandaddy, where it all started for me back in 2009 at Lake Windermere.  Grab yourself a brew and get comfy folks, cos this post’s gonna be a long’un! (well, for me)

Back in 2009 the Great Swim series was still getting started, with the first event being held just the year before.  By the time my team and I (affectionately called ‘Betty’s Buoys’ by the only lady in the group) had entered there were only a handful of places left, so even back then it was a popular event.  The entry process hasn’t changed much over the years – choose your wave time, t-shirt size, etc.  We received our event packs about a week before the event and were ready to go with our swim hats, timing chip and info booklet.

Since this was my very first open water event (or any event for that matter) I really didn’t know what to expect beyond the info on the website.  I’d managed to swim a mile in my local pool a few times (64 lengths x 25m, thereabouts), but at this stage I hadn’t attempted freestyle so it was the frog-kick all the way for me.  So many questions were running through my head:  what would it be like swimming in a wetsuit? (certainly not as hot as trying it out in the pool!)  How many people would be in my wave?  Can you see the bottom?  How cold will it be?! (in case you’re wondering, the answers were: pretty fun, lots, not really and hmm, a bit chilly)

My wife and I stayed in Bowness-on-Windermere, along with my folks, at the Westbourne hotel (a tip here – make sure you book waaaay ahead, particularly if you only want to stay for one night).  Driving to the event is a no-no as there’s only a couple of ways to the event and they get very busy.  Instead, we caught the ferry (free for me as a competitor) to Ambleside, which was a really pleasant journey.  For the 2011 swim we stayed in Ambleside itself, so were only a half hour walk away from the Low Wood Hotel, which is opposite the swim itself.  There’s absolutely no mistaking the route once you get close – just follow the crowds (but the not the one’s wearing the medals!).

The event village itself is really well set up, with plenty of food stalls, charity marquees, swim related companies and even a climbing wall. Once we’d found the changing tent and got ourselves ready there was a bit of time to hang about and get *really* nervous!  I always find this the hardest part – it gives my brain too much time to think.  Once the wave registration opened we were funneled down to the start area, timing chip and name checked on the way, down to the start.  This was our first opportunity to test the water out – all I can remember was thinking “Ohh, mmmy goddd, it’s cooold!”  This was early September, so I was really just being a bit of a wuss.

Right.  I need to stop myself before I get too much further, as I haven’t mentioned anything about the amazing surroundings!  I mean, wow – there can’t be many more places that are more picturesque than the Lake District.  Of all the events I’ve done so far this has got to be the most stunning.  You’re surrounded by impressive peaks and greenery in all directions – it’s almost a shame to swim freestyle.

Amazing Ambleside

Ok, where was I.  Once we’d had a dip and wondered what we’d let ourselves in for it was nearly time for the start.  (Incidentally, there’s a grandstand right next to the start that’s perfect for family and friends to watch from)  With about 10 minutes to go it was time for the safety briefing and short warm-up routine (I warn you – it’s impossible to look cool doing these).  It’s a rectangular course, with large yellow buoys marking various distances, waaaay off in the distance the pink turn buoys, and finally the very welcoming red buoys, which mean you’re almost home.

10…9…8…7654321  HOOONK!!  They’re off!  Back in 2009 I was quite far back in the pack, so it was a steady walk across the timing mat, with time to make *help*faces at the rest of the team, followed by the wild melee of flailing arms and legs.  This year, however, I was right at the front so I actually managed to run in.  The stretch to the first pink buoy seems a long way off, but it’s actually shorter on the way back in.  There’s not much I remember about the actual swim itself as I tend to ‘zone out’ a bit – it’s one of the reasons I like swimming, I find it quite meditative.  Anyway, once you’re past those red finish buoys it’s a short sprint to the ramp and a welcoming hand out of the water.  Hurrah – the finish!  All that’s left is to get the goodie bag and those classic Great Swim flip-flops!

Amongst the Great Swims I’ve done this is probably my favourite, partly for sentimental reasons, but mainly for the atmosphere and location.  I think it’ll keep me coming back season after season!

[One thing I haven’t mentioned is what happened to the 2010 event – pesky blue/green algae, that’s what!  It’s just one of those unpredictable parts of open water swimming, but of course no one wants to be swimming through that muck.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the 2011 event being moved to June?)]