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
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…
Long distance and channel training swim ‘holidays’ are one of those things I’ve talked about doing ‘one day’… Happily the other week I found myself enjoying not just one, but 7 days of distance swimming, in the turquoise waters of Formentera with SwimQuest.
In my heart I’ve always wanted to experience long distance swims and I booked the trip because I wanted to explore what I can do and get some perspective on my swimming aspirations.
Add to that, Swimquest’sAlice (in Waterland) Todd told me that I would be rewarded with a mojito at the end of the week, and as an elite endurance athlete that’s the kind of thing I take very seriously.
This trip is a great opportunity to put winter training into practice and assist with acclimatisation – the swim plan for the week is tailored to each person (keen novice and experienced long distance swimmers are catered for), but in general you build up each day with 1-2 swims; each increasing the time in the 14-16 degree water – providing a great platform to kick off the northern hemisphere summer swim season.
For those with distance swim objectives on the horizon, the week is also the chance to get a confidence boost for the challenges ahead and perhaps get some paper work done by ticking off qualifying swims: For an English Channel Solo ,that’s a 6 hour swim at 16 degrees or lower; and for and English Channel Relay that’s a 2 hour swim at the same temperature.
Of course it’s not all about the English Channel – Lake Zurich and S.C.A.R were amongst the imminent swimming objectives of participants. I’d booked the trip without a specific objective in mind, but a few weeks ago joined a 4 women Channel relay team setting out in late June, so this was now a great opportunity to get my 2 hour qualifier done.
In between swims there is food and workshops on key topics for long distance swims like training plans, nutrition and feeding, fatigue, mental preparation and swim technique analysis (including footage taken towards the end of our swims in order to get an insight on how well we were able to maintain technique over time).
An Open Mind
For some reason until we started to swim, I hadn’t really appreciated the cumulative nature of the week and as we notched up more and more time in the water, it began to dawn on me what a big step this was.
However instead of freaking out at the potential volume of swimming , I enjoyed each swim as it came and kept in the moment, concentrating on technique, exploring the wildlife (beautiful fish, coral, sea grass and even an octopus!), enjoying the changing rhythm of the sea and taking every opportunity I could to learn from those around me.
That enabled me to consolidate and trust my potential, and, ignoring the slight hiccup where I managed to beach myself on a rock and was incapacitated with giggles for about 10 minutes (#eliteenduranceathlete), I found myself completing a 1.5 hour, then 2 hour, then 4 hour and then a 6 hour channel qualifying swim (my longest swim ever!) all with a big smile on my face. Proper wicked.
What a team! It’s the people that make these weeks. Swimquest’s John Coningham Rolls and Charlie of course (how many armpits can one smother with Vaseline in one week – quite a few it seems!) but also my fellow guests, all working towards amazing swimming goals and sharing their knowledge and inspirational stories along the way.
As the hours of swimming progressed, each of us met different challenges, gained new perspectives and surpassed personal goals and expectations.
To complete a four hour swim one day and then go into a 6 hour the next, did require a couple of deep breaths and I was somewhat wide eyed with expectation – but as John said “It’s just a 2 hour swim, you’ve already done the 4 hours.” – so rather like the rest of the week, that’s how I looked at it; in bite sized chunks, and any nerves translated into excitement – I was going to do my first six hour!
The experience also brought home to me how important support crew are. Often when I swim my mind goes to magical places, and keeping track of time or anything more than a high five, cup of UCan and a jelly baby, can be tricky.
Things got particularly surreal when at 5 hours I spotted an octopus. I spent the next 30 mins with ‘An Octopuses Garden’ by the Beatles going around my head and talking to fish.
This was a gear change for my mind’s juke box which had previously been playing classic hits like Wham! Club Tropicana and Ant and Dec’s ‘Lets Get Ready To Rumble’.
I know that completing a week of swimming like this culminating in a 6 hour channel qualifier would not have happened without the laughter, encouragement and insights of everyone who I meet along the way.
In January when I was swimming at the Jinan international winter swimming festival in China, Ranie Pearce gave me her South End Rowing Club pool parker. I’m sure it’s a pool parker with super powers and I wore it religiously throughout this distance swim week – before and after swims.
To me it represents the love and encouragement of the swim community, the people who don’t laugh at another person’s dreams, but have faith and see potential in them and share that all important spirit of adventure
I wear that parker with pride as well as it being rather comforting and toasty – thank you Ranie!
Once upon a time I was a wetsuit only swimmer and thought non wetsuit swimmers were nuts and that whole skins swimming thing seemed daunting. I still wear a wetsuit from time to time, but somehow via fun swims, mentors and encouragement at the Serpentine and South London Swimming Club, along with events like Chillswim, The UK Cold Water Swimming Championships, The Dart 10k, Henley Swims and others, I have become an all year round skins open water swimmer.
Swimming with my mates means acclimatisation to cooler temperatures has happened naturally through fun swims that have also lead me to explore different waterways, all at my own pace, rather than being on a rushed pass or fail mission.
My comfort level with distance is also progressing, along with a love of meditation that gives me a freedom of mind and body I cherish, and I reflected very much on the A Lotus Rises interview with endurance swimmer Beth French, about mindfulness and swimming, throughout the week.
All of that enabled me to enjoy and progress through the week.
Rest, Food and Recuperation
During the week I had two massages, ate a huge amount of food, and slept A LOT. I’m still taking things pretty easy and I make sure I get to my physio regularly. As my roommate Emma said, you need to build a team around you. Juggling swimming dreams with the demands everyday life is not simple – I don’t get it ‘right’ all the time.
Equally I am not in a rush – give or take a few global environmental challenges, the Channel et al ain’t going anywhere…Swimming is a sport for life and I want to have fun, be kind to myself and look after my body and mind as this journey progresses.
Overall this Swimquest week is about realising your potential and finding out what suits you as a swimmer on your individual path. It provided me with some important general advice and has empowered me to explore what’s best for me too – for example, a lot of people really like maxim as their main feed for long distance swims, but it seems I get on better with UCan.
Life in and out of the water
Last year when I was at the Camp Eton long distance swim training weekend, John described how in life there can be two types of people: “Drainers and radiators…Surround yourself with radiators” – and that resonated throughout the week – thank you to my fellow swimmers and in particular Emma and James who often kept me company and embraced my somewhat Dory – like qualities when in the water.
Other things I learnt:
No matter how long you spend in the water, however acclimatised or however warm the climate, when you spray p20 sunscreen on your back it feels really cold!
Long distance swimming is a team sport.
Doing your bra up after a 6 hour swim in 15 degree water is a significant challenge.
Never underestimate the importance of a powerfully named nail varnish. My room mate Emma has a selection of nail varnish with fantastic names for her big swims. For the six hour swim she let me borrow one entitled “Up the Anti”…And I did!
An open and positive mind unlocks potential
Anything is possible
I love swimming
…. Thank you SwimQuest!
At A Lotus Rises we’re celebrating women in open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and marathon swimming.
Many more inspirational stories, advice and adventures can be found on our Blog, and Facebook page and please don’t hesitate to get in touch via Twitter or email@example.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!
300m in Daming Lake, at sub 5 degree temperatures, with hundreds of other swimmers from China and across the globe, at the 5th International Winter Swimming Festival, in Jinan City, Shandong Province, North China.
I love how swimming adventures pop up as if from nowhere; yet somehow reveal a hidden logic that joins once disparate dots from across your life, together.
China has been a part of my life for almost two decades. I first went to China in 1996 to teach English as part of my ‘Gap Year’. Since then, I have had the opportunity to study, live and work in the country on a number of occasions and have been fascinated by the countries economic and social development.
My last visit to China was in 2008, when I working as a lawyer in Beijing. It was amazing to be living in the city at the time of the Olympics.
It was the performance of female British swimmers Keri-Anne Payne and Cassie Patten in the Open Water Swimming events at Beijing 2008 that helped start the growth of open water swimming in the UK.
In 2010 I swam my first mile and open water swimming is now my big passion in life.
The human body is 90% water and 71% of the earth’s surface is covered in water. It’s what sustains us and connects individuals and communities across the globe; yet our never ending rush for advancement means the world is facing a fresh water crisis and our oceans are being decimated, etching the battle lines of the future on a fragile liquid landscape.
It’s easy to get swept up in political and commercial agenda, and sometimes it feels we are at risk of forgetting that behind the brands, policies and rhetoric are people; each of us made of that same 90% water.
Now, more than ever it is time to remember that essence; our shared humanity.
Like many people, when I swim, I feel free. I am in my element and global and personal agenda falls away.
It is a great honour to have been invited to swim in Jinan. I am really excited to return to China and rather than work or study, to be celebrating my passion for water with new Chinese friends and the wider international swimming community.
My favourite Chinese proverb is ‘芙蓉出水’ (fúróng chūshuǐ) meaning ‘Out of the Water a Lotus Rises’ The proverb is used to describe strong beautiful women in water, and also overcoming challenges and coming into bloom, and inspired the poem that I wrote for Amy Sharrock’s Swimmers’ Manifesto in Summer in summer 2014.
That meaning resonates with me deeply and inspired the creation of this blog, ‘A Lotus Rises’ which is part of an online community, dedicated to women who inspire and are inspired by a love of water.
From Beijing I will travel to Jinan, then to Shanghai and Hong Kong and on to Sydney and Tasmania.
Tomorrow marks the start of a journey connecting friends, personal, social and intellectual passions, swimscapes, landscapes, communities, and family history… and I am sure many more things I cannot anticipate; all the way to Tasmania…
‘芙蓉出水‘(fúróng chūshuǐ) ‘Out of the Water a Lotus Rises’.
A Lotus Rises is dedicated to women who love open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and marathon swimming.
Many more inspirational stories, advice and adventures can be found on our Blog, and Facebook page and 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!
3 years ago the Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS) launched an OSS Adventure Series, “A series of social swims offered to OSS members, by other OSS members. They’re free, they’re wild – and they’ll take others to places (geographical, mental or physical) that they’ve never been before.” And they were right…
Spaces on the swims were allocated by way of a ballot.
I had been chatting to a fellow Solent Swim Challenge swimmer, saying how I dreamt of swimming up in the isles of Scotland ‘one day’ and he forwarded the details of the Isle of Skye OSS Adventure Swim, organized by the wonderful Gill Williams, founder of the incredibly friendly North West Skye Sunday Splash Group (NWSSSG).
My heart leapt; it was time to stop talking about ‘one day’ and just do it. So I entered the ballot, and to my delight, was given a place!
The weekend did not disappoint. Within an hour of my arriving at Gill’s place we were out the door with our trail kit on, with RhumRhum the dog leading the charge along the cliff tops, and looking out over a bay that regularly plays host to basking sharks!
And so the weekend continued: swimming in seas and lochs, exploring underwater forests, talking to seals and birds, seaweed wigs, pink and orange sunsets, good food, good wine, wonderful art, warm hearts and laughter; so much laughter!
On the saturday we swam off the Ardmore Peninsula, on the sunday we completed our circumnavigation of Lampay Island and in the evening we went for a bracing dip off the jetty at Waternish. Then, on Monday morning, an elite commando squad of NWSSSG and OSS Adventure ladies stormed Dunvegan Castle…
Lampay Island Circumnavigation
Over the OSS Adventure weekend we swam with a lot of seals. It was ever so slightly exciting. This is me talking to one at Lampay Island. To confirm, the narration is me, not David Attenborough, which would be an easy mistake to make.
Storming Dunvegan Castle with the NWSSSG
In the shadows of the dawn light, cloaked in seaweed wig camouflage, an elite commando swimming squad approached Dunvegan castle… I have never laughed so much on a swim before. An absolute joy, and four seals even came to join us! Thank you ladies!
A big thank you to Gill and Ian for being such wonderful and inspiring hosts and to all the NWSSSG swimmers who made us feel so welcome. I can’t wait for our next adventure!
芙蓉出水: (fúróng chūshuǐ) Out of the water a lotus rises.
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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 collectiveon a mission to increase the 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 email@example.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!
Suddenly all the things I said I would someday do more of; might change in my life at some point; became imperatives.
Along with regular physio, acupuncture and bowen massage, the little bit of yoga I was doing became a committed daily morning routine. And, having always been more veggie than not, I finally committed to a plant based diet (no dairy) and a life beyond saturated fat.
I was also in desperate need of a holiday.
To my delight I discovered The Zest Life and headed off to the Welsh mountains, lakes and sea for their ‘Dive Into Yoga’ retreat: A long weekend of yoga, wild swimming, vegan food, massages and other good stuff.
Whilst we can all get thrown some pretty nasty curveballs, the universe also has a habit of bringing wonderful things into your life; and often, exactly when you need them the most.
This weekend was one such wonderful thing.
Laura’s yoga sessions were beautifully multifaceted, combining traditional philosophies and a superb breadth of knowledge of her art, with a contemporary wit and sensitivity that was completely in tune with the pace, progression and personalities of the weekend.
From peaceful meditation and breathing exercises, entwined with inspiring poetry and music, through to crescendos of physical movement, where I discovered strength and power I never knew I had.
On the Sunday evening we even got outside in the beautiful gardens of Plas Cadnant and had lots of fun doing yoga in pairs…
It was a revelation to be doing something so physical, strong and active, that was also restorative and bringing energy and peace to my body and mind – A complete antidote to the training pattern I have been at risk of falling into: Pushing myself to the limit in an unhealthy cycle of exhaustion and recovery.
Having paid lip service to the virtues of yoga and nodded intently when friends sung its praises, I am now, finally, an official convert.
Thank you Laura.
What a variety!
After the hot, physical morning yoga sessions (and before breakfast), we jumped in the waterfall at the bottom of the beautiful gardens at Plas Cadnant.
It was bloomin’ freezing, but utterly delicious!
Then it was over to the lovely Dan and Gabs at Gone Swimming for our daily swimming adventure.
Our swimming adventures were not about distances or times etc. In fact temperature readings were guided on a “brrr” to “brrrrrrrrrrrr” gage.
It was joyful; and on the Saturday I found myself swimming with a seal at Yyns Lladwyn, and on the Sunday, in the beautifully cold and invigorating Llyn Idwal.
Whilst Dan and Gabs kept a close eye on us all when in the water, it was also pretty wonderful to be greeted with hot fruit tea and vegan cakes on our exit.
As well as all that, and perhaps most importantly, Dan and Gabs really know their swimming stuff and Dan kindly took the time to talk to me about other swimming spots in the local area: There is so much to explore – and thank you for helping me rediscover my swimming mojo!
I didn’t take any pictures of the food as I was too busy stuffing my face. It was delicious.
Fruit salad, muesli mixes, soya yoghurts, salads, homemade soups (thanks Laura’s mum!), avocado ‘cheescake’ (awesome), vegan chocolate mousse (ditto), sesame and something I can’t remember how to pronounce – sweet and savoury – all-at-the-same-time-things – which were just delicious.
Having changed my diet, it can sometimes feel isolating, especially when you are eating out with friends or at a mate’s house. You feel like you have to explain yourself. But here there were no such worries – it was lovely!
Positive kind-hearted people
Some of us were drawn to the weekend primarily for the yoga; for some of us it was the swimming.
I am new to yoga and other people were new to open water, but we all dived in!
I hadn’t ever thought those words could apply to me, but what if they did? It flipped a switch. So what if I had been managing a back and shoulder injury. So what if I didn’t know how ‘well’ I was swimming. Today I would see where all the hard work had got me. Today I would see how fast I could be. Today I would find out what my personal best is!
The adrenalin that was rushing around my body switched from being vomit inducing, to all encompassing, girl power, excitement.
“I’m swimming for Team Mel C – we’re racing Victoria Pendleton – what a privilege – this is the most exciting thing I’ve ever done – WICKED!!!!”
I’d never participated in an all female sports event like this before and there was definitely a different vibe, which also helped me relax a lot. Elite to beginner, families, little kids on tricycles, groups of friends, all coming together for a sporty day out.
Everyone was focused, but not in an intimidating way. Their concern was to put in the best performance they could on that day; to achieve a personal best. That brought with it a lovely atmosphere of mutual respect.
In fact I’ve never heard such positive chat at an event before. I loved it and it’s what this women only triathlon is all about: investing in yourself, in your well being, health and fitness; about feeling and being the best you can be.
For me, it was going to be a bit of an experiment. I have not worn a watch in swim training for many months as I’ve just wanted to focus on developing my swim technique so didn’t have a time to aim for. I was just going to swim, listen to my body and discover what I was capable of.
My main concern was getting fitted into my wetsuit properly, so I was as comfortable and streamlined as possible. Thankfully my team captain helped with that and once zipped in I had plenty of time to head down to the pontoon, flush my suit and warm up a little bit.
Everyone was smiling and laughing. Helen and I were bobbing around with excitement and Mel and Victoria came down to cheer everyone off.
For the first time ever I positioned myself at the front of the pack. Without thinking I even stretched my right arm out in front, like I have seen speedy people do. I’ve not done that before and it felt nice, purposeful and positive. I was so excited….The horn sounded… We were off!
I didn’t sight the first buoy very well and was tense, breathing every two strokes and I was indeed a little bit panicked. Also I was aware that having started at the front of the pack, I had remained amongst the front of the pack – new territory and I tried to switch off the pressure I felt and relax into the swim.
Unfortunately just after halfway my right arm started to weaken and I felt really tired. And then that little voice came back: “You’ve never swum like this before, are you sure you’ve got enough left in the tank? Shouldn’t you slow down?” And I did slow down and I felt a swimmer go past.
Thankfully my optimist kicked back in: “When are you going to get to swim this wonderful race again? Never. Enjoy it. Make it count” and so I did.
My body found it’s rhythm in the water and I swam my heart out until I hit the ramp, and, whilst feeling incredibly dizzy, remembered that I was in a race and managed to run in a relatively straight line over to my teammates for the transition.
Kelly flew off on her cycle lap, with Ingrid in hot pursuit and Helen and I cheered them both on with Victoria and Mel.
It was pretty special to hang out with such a great bunch of sporty women. And yes, Mel and Victoria are as friendly and as inspiring as you hope they are going to be!
From nutrition, leggings vs shorts, race nerves, swim training and cycle confidence to weight and muscle tone, swim technique, cycle helmets and tri bars, we covered it all.
And what’s particularly lovely is that those conversations have turned into action.
I was inspired and I am back cycling after my road accident, Kelly has started swimming lessons and Helen has just smashed her first 3.8km swim.
Team Mel C were just ahead going into the run, but despite an incredibly speedy performance by Mel, Victoria sneaked past – pesky gold medal winning Olympians!
We each crossed the finish line with our teams and I think its fair to say we were all buzzing from the experience. We each had our individual goals, our own personal bests we were aiming for that day; and we all exceeded them.
The event has also changed my view on a couple of things. I had previously questioned the value of women only events, but I am now a convert. This triathlon has a wonderful vibe to it (forget traditional triathlon stereotypes) and people should not be mistaken in thinking that ‘women-only’ translates to somehow a softer or less focused approach to the sport being undertaken. It doesn’t.