Face your fear and feel on top of the world after conquering your first ultimate sporting challenge
Open-water swimming: if you're competent in the pool surely you can don a wetsuit and just dive right in. That’s what I thought. How utterly wrong I was.
After meeting the inspirational Olympic open-water swimmer Keri-Anne Payne, and determined to be the ultimate advocate of our Zesty #keepthemomentum campaign, I mindlessly signed up to a 3k swim at the Cornwall Festival of Sport in Marazion near Penzance.
Being overconfident, I decide to take part in a 10k beach run just an hour before. Despite my pebble-filled soggy trainers, I manage to clock up a decent time. Buzzing with adrenaline, I hoist up my rubber suit, squeeze on a swim cap and tramp down the beach.
In a swell of lemming-like swimmers, sardined on the waters edge, I begin to get the funny feeling everyone is quite a bit more experienced than myself.
I turn to a fellow female for moral support. “I took up open water swimming to get fit after having a baby,” she said. Now that beats a Zumba class between play dates.
She offers me some great last words of encouragement: ‘Relax, take long strokes and just enjoy it.’ With that mantra repeating in my head, I flop into the water, stick my head down and attempt front crawl (which I hadn’t practised since my school years of swimming galas and sports days).
FEAR AND PANIC
‘I can see the bottom,’ I splutter, as I shoot my head up in fear. (I forgot to mention I’m petrified of the sea.) A vivid view of the dark and eerily ocean floor is an unwanted catalyst for my imagination. I attempt a few stroke variations – one with eyes shut, the other with my head up – and then try to brave it. I don't have the arm strength to keep up enough speed to push myself through the waves for three minutes, let alone 3k.
The rest of the swimmers disappear into the distance - fast - leaving me and my completely non-streamlined breaststrokes smacking against the waves. I panic and splash manically, looking for the lifeboat to take me back to shore. That’s when I spot Katie.
Relaxed – elated even – she chuckles away to a nearby kayaker. A fellow breaststroker, she looks so confident I assume she’s an elite athlete, perhaps taking a little dip. 'I don’t think I can do this,' I wail. ‘Yes you can,’ she replies and swims over to my rescue.
It turns out Katie is a local masseuse who's always fancied swimming around St Michael’s Mount, a spectacular island that maps our route. She’d swam in the sea a few times but, other than dog walking, she gets most of her exercise and strength from giving clients a good, hard elbow in the back.
Without Katie, I’d have given up on the spot – resigned to believing an open-water swim requires a hefty stint of intensive training. But this superstar stuck with me the whole way, chirping up subtle words of encouragement every time my face begins to falter. First she sings, then I get a life story. She even allocates me a beer, which she’d positioned on the shoreline to ensure a prompt victory celebration.
A celebration it is. After countless buoys – which I’m convinced are drifting further from shore than I am - we reach the beach. Although our arms are spent we manage to race through that last few hundred metres and perform a dramatic run, hand in hand, up the sand towards the crowd of cheering spectators.
It turns out we didn’t do too badly – even a pair of strapping blokes stumble in a few minutes behind us. The great thing about The Festival of Sport is the range of abilities that are all welcome. We are 20 minutes behind supermum, who meets me with a massive hug at the finish line.
I admit now, I was extremely underprepared. I’d presumed, being a keen and relatively good runner, I’d whizz through a simple 3 kilometres of sea. My open-water experience taught me some great lessons – some more profound than other.
Firstly, even if you struggle, conquering a epic challenge rewards you with a euphoric feeling of achievement that’s impossible to replicate. Secondly, courage is useful but companionship is priceless. Finally, be prepared.
A big thank you goes to Rob at Aqua Sphere for the extremely warm wetsuit and the staff at the Artist Residence hotel for fuelling me with a champion breakfast and providing me with a cosy place to collapse.
For more information on active breaks go to www.visitcornwall.com
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