Really honoured to be on Sarah William’s Tough Girl Podcast, talking about the background to A Lotus Rises, how being hit by a lorry on the way to work the day before my 31st birthday helped change my path, how I got into outdoor swimming, tips for starting out in open water, adventures and challenges in and out of the water, China, career change, community, cake and the power and plans of our growing swimming collective.
Link to the interview here and you can also download it on iTunes and Soundcloud
A brrrrrrilliant blog by super lotus Kate, who swam through the summer in a wetsuit, but wants to enjoy the water all year around. So…
We met, as strangers, in the car park next to Tooting Bec Lido. After a hug and introductions, Alice and I headed to the entrance. Despite being the longest outdoor pool in the country, you’d hardly know it was there. It’s so well hidden amongst the trees, and going through the turnstile it’s like stepping into a secret world. And as the season changes, it’s a world of hardy outdoor swimmers – and I was planning to join them!
Inside, at a welcome coffee morning, some had already had their dip and were multi-layered, wide eyed and sniffy-nosed. Conversation skirted around the water temperature – the question never quite bubbling to the surface – a kindness perhaps towards those who haven’t yet taken the plunge.
Soon, Alice was keen for us to swim and we went to change.
I could feel my nerves jangling and I wondered if I could do this. As we headed out in our cossies and flip-flops, there was a light drizzle and a delicate breeze. The steps into the pool were just a few metres ahead, and as I approached, my mind went still – focusing only on what was in front. Alice confidently waded down the steps, throwing back an ‘oh it’s not that bad actually’ over her shoulder. I knew I couldn’t keep her waiting so followed as quickly as I dared. I was waist height before I knew it, and felt myself gasp. There was a giggle as Alice captured the moment on camera.
I tiptoed further in, so far so good… Then, Alice DUNKED! ARGH! One minute she was with me, half-in half out, then she was under in a swirl of bubbles and up again with a glorious exhale. What?!! A dunk was too much! I can’t dunk! Hysterical laughter as I felt myself stuck!
But again the camera was rolling, and, with a polite mention of a low battery, Alice helped me with a countdown, 3, 2……..1!…. I pushed off, glided forward and I was swimming! My skin prickled and a massive smile appeared on my face.
With an encouraging whoop, Alice joined me and we swam together up the pool, chatting as we went.
I felt every push through the water was cleansing. All that I had arrived with a few minutes earlier was being washed away. At that moment I was just me in the water, enjoying every sensation, feeling refreshed and revitalised.
Tootling lido is an oasis of calm, secluded from the buzz of the city. As you look up all you see is trees. The leaves were blowing down onto the pool like confetti and our breath joined the steam rising from the pool.
After two lengths a high five alerted me to the fact I couldn’t feel my edges, and we scuttled in to dry off and layer up. Suitably dressed it was time for tea, cake and a chat with other swimmers. Extra bonus – my burnt banana bread even won a prize!
What did I learn?
I can do it. Without any superpowers!
That goggles are for decoration only – face in is a step too far.
You don’t swim far, but emerge with a zing!
Winter swimmers don’t mind burnt cake
Great things happen when you meet in a car-park
I left Alice with a giant hug and plans to take advantage of any opportunity for a swim throughout the winter. Thanks Alice!
Cold water swimming is a fun activity, but as with all outdoor activities there are risks and needs to be approached with common sense. Knowledge is power and although this is not an exhaustive list, some helpful resources on cold water swimming are: the brilliant Lone Swimmer ‘s Bible of Cold Water Swimming. And this piece by Simon Griffiths at Outdoor Swimmer on After Drop is also an informative read and refers to the interesting research being undertaken at Portsmouth University around these issues.
There’s no such thing as a stupid question, so don’t be shy and do ask your fellow swim buddies for their advice and become part of a swim community. The same piece of water will change every day, as does how you feel. No swim is the same, so listen to your body and know your limits…And pack sensibly – post swim always have a woolly hat, and loads of layers, starting with a good thermal (top and bottoms) next to the skin and layer up from there – people take the p*ss out of me for how many layers I put on, but I don’t care!Oh, and don’t forget cake. This is a particularly important time of year for the International Institute for Swim Cake Studies – they need you – for your cake and your winter swimming smiles, not for unnecessary shivers or scaring yourself 🙂
A Lotus Rises is working in partnership with the International Institute for Swim Cake Studies to answer one of the toughest questions in outdoor swimming: “What is the best cake for optimum swim performance?” Links to our swim cake archives, and how to contribute your swim cake data are at the bottom of this post. But suffice to say, we are determined in our scientific pursuit and prepared to travel the world swimming and eating cake for the rest of our lives if we have to…And so it came to pass, that on Tuesday at 09.00 hrs, this serious swim science endeavour lead us to a car park in Ambleside for a secret swim cake mission with Lake District swim guide and pie expert Suzanna Swims…
The International Institute for Swim Cake Studies is a multi disciplinary, multi-stakeholder organisation, with a collaborative ethos at its heart – only through cooperation, discourse and truly listening and allowing different voices to be heard, can we ever resolve the critical challenges facing our world; and most of the time that’s best achieved with a swim followed by cake and a cup of tea (or perhaps coffee…).
We are immensely grateful to Suzanna for taking us on a swoosh-tastic, swim adventure along the River Rothay, past a Roman fort and across the “The Puddle of Unknown Depth”.
What follows is what will become (no doubt) award winning adventure film footage. Please note, that in the summer, this swim usually ends at the pub – literally you get out and walk into the pub garden. However as it was October and the water was pretty tropical, the autumn version of the swim enjoys an earlier exit, taking in the glamorous “Puddle of Unknown Depth”.
Shark dog was carefully secured in her dog box and Suzanna talked me through the swim and what kit to carry in her new Swim Secure Wild Swim bags that we got to test out for the first time. Kit list below.
Suzanna talked me through the safest entry point and lead the way into the Rothay. The water temperature was tropical “Just like Hawaii”…
We flew along the first section – no need to swim and could rest on our wild swim bags and chat – very happy swim times!
Laughter and Kayaks
Turning the corner we met a group of kayakers “you’ve forgotten your wetsuits”. Happily both of us knew we are acclimatised and happy skins swimming all year around. Skins swimming in October is not a badge of honour. But having acclimatised for a few years now, it’s something I enjoy. We all find our own path.
The Puddle of unknown depth
We exited the river and walked back across the fields past the Roman fort and across “the Puddle of unknown depth”. Glamorous wild swimming times!
Cream tea – Is it a scone or a cake?
There were pancakes on the menu too, but we kept things traditional with fruit scones and tea, over which we talked about swimming as a gateway to positive change in our lives and the environmental challenges faced in the local area and the responsibilities we have as swimmers (more to follow on that…).
For Suzanna though it is pies, rather than cake that fuel her swim adventures.
Train home. Is a pasty a pie?
Too much tea and chat lead to a dash for the train back to the metropolis, leaving no time for a direct comparison of cake vs pie. However, Suzanna is super organised and gave me a cheese pasty to evaluate on the journey home….
This is not an exhaustive list, but Suzanna was testing out the Swim Secure Wild Swim Bag It’s an inflatable dry bag with shoulder straps and waist band – you can remove the shoulder straps to swim, and put them back on when crossing the puddle of unknown depth and/or other terrain… Really good – space for a lot of clothing (down jacket, trainers, thermals etc), highly visible (good when encountering other water users), and versatile for swim-walk or run adventures.
Swimming costumes: Alice – Natatio Racer Back one piece Navy Pop; Suzanna – Zoggs – blue planet high back – (we think discontinued, we’re not sure). It’s her pick for buttermere swims – matches the water there (and that’s not just a fashion choice – more on that another time).
Swim gloves (Osprey): Again I never want to get cold, so when Suzanne offered gloves I gladly accepted them. They were much less cumbersome than I anticipated – could use my camera for Oscar winning film making etc…
And of course, the limited edition A Lotus Rises swim hat, perfect for river swims to the pub, or crossing the puddle of unknown depth. Incredible versatility 😉 (Note Alice wore two swim hats, just in case it was too tropical)
Post swim: Foot changing mat (insulates you from the cold), thermals (top and bottom), Swim Robe, Woolly hat, down jacket, waterproof jacket, mud and rain.
River Rothay, Ambleside.
Fruit scone, cream, jam and tea.
Cheese pasty or is that a pie?
The discussion continues (swim cake fellows there is a secret mission that we will announce that we need your help on…):
Kina Mara on the Swim Cake Science pulse:
Outdoor swimmer magazine has also said the cake/pie debate is “just heresy”…
Exciting times! A Lotus Rises is presenting a swimspiratonal panel at Adventure Uncovered Live, part of a night of story telling exploring journeys with a purpose, at the ICA on 30th October. We’d love it if you can join us!
Clearly, changing the world for the better one swim at a time is a team sport and in our panel “Outdoor Swimming A Gateway for positive Change” Alice is joined by the swimspirational Becky Horsbrugh whose swimming journey has taken her from open water novice to qualified swim teacher and drowning prevention advocate; working with local stakeholders in Bangladesh to develop a drowning prevention scheme.
Then we travel back to the streets, landmarks and public transport of London with Emma M Watson, to discuss how her empowering #waitingforthecall campaign, in which she is photographed in various every day situations in her Channel swimming gear, is raising awareness of endometriosis and challenging a myriad of preconceptions in the process. WE ARE EXCITED! May be we should follow Emma’s lead and present in our swimming costumes, hat and goggles…
Then 7.5 hours and over 23km in to the 30km crossing of the Tsugaru Strait, Beth made the decision to get out of the water, and on to the boat, marking the end of her Oceans 7 in 12 months challenge.
We caught up with Beth to find out more about the bold decision to stop, what she has learnt from her experiences and its impact on her life and plans for the future.
Why did you decide to get out of the water?
Getting out the water was not a snap decision. I got in the water intending to complete the swim. But after a couple Of hours, when my mind settled, the only thing i couldnt get rid of was the realisation of the detrimental impact the stress of all this was having on my autistic son over months. His stress levels meant that he was no longer coping with everyday life very well. I needed to show him he was more important than anything else. Reaching the other side was not just irrelevant at that stage, but was exactly the wrong thing to do. Telling him was not enough. I needed to show him. I swam for a further 5 hours to make sure that it wasn’t a blip, but it all came crashing down- the months we had both been coping, trying to juggle the stress and my trying to just carry him until the end of the project. I got out with a smile on my face, sure i was doing the right thing for my family. I have nothing to prove.
What have been the highs and lows of your oceans 7 journey?
The highs are without doubt the amazing swimming community i have encountered around the world. People getting in touch and sharing my challenge, offering encouragement. And reaching a place in my life where i feel empowered and free, to change or remain as i see fit, in a life that i love. I think the lows will always be the concerns i had about Dylan not feeling safe when i was in the water. Its a horrible feeling knowing that what you are doing could be damaging your child. Luckily, dylan and i are incredibly close and we are looking forward to adventuring together more. It has taught him so much and i am immensely proud of him for managing to cope for 5 years of my channel swimming!
What have you learnt? How do you feel physically and emotionally?
The biggest surprise to myself is that i feel stronger and better now than I did in September. With only 5weeks between each of the first 3 channels, it was a gamble as to whether the body can recover enough- add to that jetlag again and again! I feel physically better than i thought i had any right to feel. Its an amazing sensation. Emotionally, it’s been a bit up and down- i feel completely fine about my decision and happy with my ‘journey’ and all i have learned. After any major event, there is a slump. I have had 5 major events in a very short period of time. I am exactly where i need to be. In recovery. I am just surprised by how little my body is requiring rest. Yay!
What impact has this journey had on your understanding of challenge and adventure? What advice do you have for anyone embarking on a personal challenge?
I think a single channel swim teaches you about yourself. So many major swims so close together, yes, i learned about myself but i also learned about the very nature of challenge. The goal is somewhere to aim, passion and drive move you towards it, but the very personal reason to want to reach the end is different. It is like an unformed question, and if you find the answer to why you were there in the first place, the end result becomes irrelevant and so there is no failure, you have arrived!! I think i would advise people to know why you want your goal, and give it your all, without losing sight of why you wanted it in the first place.
How has your relationship with swimming and water changed, if at all?
I am so grateful for my relationship with water- it is where the world makes sense to me. I am free of all landbased external demands and expectations so i am free to explore my inner landscape. It is solace and my forum for challenge, all rolled into one.
Enjoy getting wet, take time to adventure with dylan; wait for something to grab me. Its amazing knowing i have the capacity to go extreme, but i have nothing to prove. I have been adventuring since i was 18, so who knows what direction it will take me in next!
Cake was an integral part of your training. In your opinion, what, so far is the best swim cake for optimum swim performance?
The best performance cake ended up being a completely made up recipe that i called protein power. It was coconut flour, cocoa powder, condensed milk and egg. The texture was like fudge, but was so filled with energy!
What swimming costume did you wear for your swims and why?
For the swims i wore a tyr fusion swimsuit. I found they held up really well with all the Vaseline which usually trashes the suits and they were comfortable and didnt rub.
A Lotus Rises is very excited to be delivering our Guide to Open Water Swimming at WAExpo 2017, the annual flagship event of the Women’s Adventure Expo CIC. Never afraid to tackle the important issues, we’ve got together with Outdoor Swimmer Magazine and Zoggs to try and answer one of the toughest questions in open water swimming – What makes the best #SwimSelfie? and support you on your swim adventures, whatever they may be!
Submit your pics to @WAEXPO and@ALotus_Rises with the hashtag #swimselfie, for the chance to win a year’s subscription to Outdoor Swimmer Magazine, a Kit Bag full of swim gear from Zoggs (1 x swim cozzie from a choiceofthree (size 8-20), the excellent predator goggles, swim hat, ear plugs, and towel), and 2 tickets to WAExpo 2017 held in Bristol on 7th October to inspire you on your swim adventures. Competition closes on Monday 2nd October.
The WAExpo 2017 will feature workshops and talks on all aspects of outdoor adventures, including talks from Beth French, SUP adventurer and ocean advocate Cal Major and Endurance Athlete Anna McNuff – it’s going to be awesome!
The underwater #SwimSelfie – breathing and timing is critical.
The oh-my-goodness-we’ve-just-met-our-open-water- Olympic -heroine-Keri-anne Payne #SwimSelfie
The in the middle of a swim race in Sydney Harbour, but it’s ok sharks don’t eat swimmers do they? #Swimselfie
The pre race excited/feeling a bit sick team Ireland, USA, Russia and UK #swimselfie
The UNESCO world heritage site #SwimSelfie
The we’ve just finished a swim race and now we’re eating cake #SwimSelfie
We’re storming a castle in a loch on Skye whilst wearing seaweed wigs and crying with laughter #SwimSelfie
In the middle of an English Channel Relay fancy dress including the pilot – it’s ok someone else is steering the boat #swimselfie
The first All Party Parliamentary Group on Swimming, launched yesterday with input from Swim England and representatives from across political parties and the House of Commons and House of Lords. The APPG has been set up to focus on access and participation in swimming. In particular, to reverse the frightening statistic that 31% of children leave primary school unable to swim competently. Competency is measured as being able to swim 25m in a pool without touching the bottom.
Catherine West, Member of Parliament for Hornsey and Wood Green is the MP behind the move and A Lotus Rises caught up with her to find out more.
What is an APPG?
They are cross party groups, where representatives from all the different political parties can come together to pursue a particular topic or interest.
What key issues is the APPG going to address?
Participation and most especially that of children and access to swimming lessons through schools. We will also be looking at broader issues around the numbers of swim schools, swim safety, outdoor swimming and lidos as they are increasing in popularity. We’re very keen to reach out to underrepresented groups.
We are aware that many people are anxious about swimming outdoors and recognise that the swim journey to water confidence begins in the pool, so we are interested in understanding the different areas. There has been a lot of interest from across the two houses and our first research trip will be a visit to Hampstead Ponds.
Today we also discussed the Thames Bath project and the right to swim in different swimming environments; but the main thing is about affordable access to swimming and at its heart is swimming in schools.
The Commonwealth games is coming up and we want to use that momentum to encourage schools to better support swimming. At present, some areas don’t have swimming pools, or not enough to cater for the whole community. We’ll be looking at local level impact and encouraging MPs to promote swimming for their area.
Swim England is participating in this group and we will be working closely with their Scottish and Welsh counterparts.
What impact will the APPG have?
I recognise the importance of grass roots engagement and the APPG will produce a practical report that addresses core issues. Overall, our aim is to ensure that all children are able to swim 25m and are confident in the water. In general primary school swimming is fun and a fantastic opportunity for development for life both in and out of the water.
People have concerns about swimming outdoors, and helping to foster water confidence in schools is critical, but there are concerns around cost. We recognise the need for more funds to be directed towards swimming in schools.
In addition there is a need to promote greater rigour in the delivery of swimming and meeting that 25m benchmark. One practical change could be ensuring that an assessment of swimming lessons is a compulsory part of Ofsted assessments in schools. Solidifying swimming as a benchmark for school performance will strengthen swimming’s position in school life and best practice in schools.
How can the swimming community get involved?
The main focus of the APPG will be children swimming and school swimming and we’re keen to get input from the grass roots. You can get in touch via email at: email@example.com and my team will work out the best way to collate input.
A Lotus Rises is the swimming blog for women who love open water from your first splash, through to wild swims and marathon swimming. We’re building a swimming collective on a mission to increase visibility, access and participation of women in swimming and we’d love you to be a part of it. Many more inspirational stories, advice and adventures can be found on our Blog, and Facebook page and Instagram, – please don’t hesitate to get in touch via Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!