Tag Archives: Open Water Swimming

New Blog: A Lotus Rises Meets Lynne Cox…We talk about her new book ‘Swimming in the Sink’, the power of love, and realising swimming dreams

Lynne Cox is an American long-distance open-water swimmer, motivational speaker, and author. Over the course of more than 35 years, spanning a period equal to 8 Olympic Games, Lynne has accomplished swims setting world records and opening borders, contributed to medical research, supported environmental causes, and inspired people to overcome great obstacles. She is best known for her swim across the Bering Strait from the United States to the Soviet Union 7 August 1987.

She twice held the overall record for the fastest crossing of the English Channel from England to France and has completed over 60 challenging swims around the world, including being the first woman to swim the Cooke Strait and first person to swim off Antarctica in 32 degree water, for 25 minutes!

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It is fair to say Lynne puts her heart in to everything, and in her latest book “Swimming in the Sink. An episode of the heart” Lynne tells the story of facing her biggest challenge ever – a broken heart – dealing with the grief of her parents passing, the loss of her beloved Labrador and diagnosis with atrial fibrillation, placing the real possibility of her own death before her.

As her world unravels, she becomes estranged from the water, but courage, patient determination, friendship and love take her on a healing journey, reconnecting her to her heart and mind, rebuilding and making her whole again.

Why did you want to write this book

My goal was to write a book that would help people in many ways. I explain the process that I went through to become an elite athlete, how the stress of life made me lose touch with my body and heart and how I nearly died. I write about the process I went through to recover my health so other people may adapt that process to their lives to recover from illness and thrive. 

What have you learned about life both in and out of the water from this journey of the heart?

I have learned that life is a gift and that it’s important to remember each day is precious. I have learned that love heals your heart. And there are many forms of love – romantic love, love of family, friends, love of the ocean, love for oneself, and love for other beings. Love is a powerful emotion and force that connects us and makes us happy we are alive

Your book explores the mind-body connection. How important is that for open water swimming?

The mind-body connection is essential for open water swimming. You have to be constantly aware of your body when you are making a long swim or a cold swim. You need to continuously monitor how your body is performing, to adjust your pace and you need to continuously maintain a positive attitude. 

“Each day I told my heart that I was happy that she was still a part of me, and I was grateful for her. I told her that she was strong and powerful and that she would endure like she always had. I told my heart that I loved her, that I always wanted her with me. We still had great things we would do together, and I wanted to do them wholeheartedly.” Lynne Cox, Swimming in the Sink

What advice do you have for other people embarking on new challenges, facing a broken heart or a loss of swimming mojo?

I would give different advice for the three things you’ve listed. If people are embarking on new challenges I would suggest they determine the level of their commitment to the challenge, figure out how much research they need to do, and focus their training to meet their goal. As for facing a broken heart, I think there are so many components to consider when people are doing that, and there are so many possibilities and options.

That’s why I wrote the new book because you can’t advise people in a few sentences. If people are losing their desire to swim the best thing they can do is to get out of the water, do something else, take a break, enjoy hiking, kayaking, going to the movies, do something different with friends. There will be a time when the water calls them back and it will be impossible for them to resist that invitation.

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What next for you? 

I am doing speaking engagements for: companies, physicians, libraries, and associations. I’ve begun to work on a new writing project, and I am swimming whenever and wherever I can as I continue to travel to promote Swimming in the Sink.

Finally, as you may be aware A Lotus Rises is working in partnership with the International Institute for swim Cake studies to answer the critical question: what is the best cake for optimum swim performance? What is your favourite swimcake and why?

A slice of moist rich dark chocolate cake with chocolate butter cream frosting was a swim cake that I’d dream about when I was doing a four hour ocean swim 🙂

Thank you Lynne!

A Lotus Rises is dedicated to women who inspire and are inspired by a love of open water: We celebrate their successes in the water, inspire others to embark on swimming adventures and raise awareness of the social and environmental issues that are entwined with our love of water.

You can get involved via the BlogFacebook, Instagram, Twitter @ALotus_Rises and alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

The name ‘A Lotus Rises’, comes from the Chinese proverb 芙蓉出水,“Out of the Water a Lotus Rises,” used to described strong beautiful women in water and overcoming challenges and coming into bloom.

Swimming Diplomacy 游泳外交 “Yóuyǒng wàijiāo”

Tomorrow I fly to China to Swim…

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.

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Karaoke, Beijing 2008

 

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.

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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.

Finishing my first 1 mile swim at Ullswater 2010

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.

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River Crossing, Zhejiang Province 2003

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.

Sunset swim at The Jetty at Waternish
Freedom! Enjoying a Sunset Swim off the Jetty at Waternish, Isle of Skye (Photo Copyright Gill Williams)

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.

The symbol of Jinan is a lotus, and they rise up out of the water of Daming Lake. I am really excited to bring together all these different elements of my life by participating in the festival.

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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’.

Henley Bridge to Bridge
UK swimming – the Henley Bridge to Bridge  2015- TEAM!

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  alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

These Girls Can…Swim With Seals!

Jane Hardy  set up an open water swimming initiative to introduce twelve women to open water swimming, culminating in a fantastic sea swim with seals.

“Open water swimming is not a traditional mainstream sport, so the girls didn’t have a history of failure which often stops young women taking part in activities.

Sometimes young women have poor body image, low self esteem and bad experiences from PE at a younger age, so they simply give up on the idea of participating in sport and that is desperately sad.

This is new and exciting (swimming with wild atlantic grey seals has a wow factor, doesn’t it?); Perfect for #thisgirlcan

Here’s the inspiring film about the project; A Lotus Rises spoke to Hardy to find out more…

Why did you set up this initiative?

I’m a community Sports Officer for ActiveNorthumberland and my job is to break down barriers to participation in sport and to encourage 14-25 year old females who are inactive to take part in exercise to develop healther lifestyles, mental wellbeing etc.

Was it easy to organise? How did you get support and funding?

It wasn’t easy to organise. It took hours of planning behind the scenes – in particular considering every risk or hazard and making the correct decisions to maximise the girls safety. As far as I’m aware, I’m the first to organise such a programme.

I am a level 2 British Triathlon Coach qualified to coach in open water. I’m also a volunteer Coastguard so I have excellent local knowledge which I could incorporate into my planning and share with the participants.

I’ve also completed the RLSS National Open Water Safety Management Programme Supported by my employer and funded by Sportivate I was able to deliver the programme.

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These Girls Can! Credit Jane Hardy

How does the project relate to #ThisGirlCan and what does that mean to you?

I’m passionate about open water swimming so to have the opportunity to share this with 12 young women was like all my birthdays came at once.

Open water swimming is not a traditional mainstream sport so the girls didn’t have a history of failure which often stops young women taking part in activities.

Sometimes young women have poor body image, low self esteem and bad experiences from PE at a younger age so they simply give up on the idea of participating in sport and that is desperately sad.

This is new and exciting (swimming with wild atlantic grey seals has a wow factor, doesn’t it?); Perfect for #thisgirlcan

These Girls Can. Credit Jane Hardy
These Girls Can. Credit Jane Hardy
One of the seals. Credit Jane Hardy
One of the seals. Credit Jane Hardy

Please tell us about the participants? What were their motivations for starting in open water and what did they gain from the experience?

The participants varied in age from 14-25 and were all female. Most were taking to the open water for the first time. Some were at school, some had just left and were waiting to go onto further education and some were working.

They took part for a variety of reasons : To conquer the fear of the unknown (what’s lurking beneath the surface), to get fit, to make new friends, to gain confidence, to try something different, to progress from pool swimming….the list was endless.

These Girls Can Swim With Seals
These Girls Can Swim With Seals

How did the seals react to a whole load of excited swimmers in their neighbourhood?

The seals on the Farne Islands are unique in that historically dive boats visit the islands daily all year round. They are used to divers and so we weren’t unusual or a threat.  Having the paticipants in the water was no different from any other day. Seals are naturally curious and inquisitive so they swam around the girls confidently – we were in their waters and they are much better swimmers than we are so they simply came as close as they wanted as and when they wanted.

I’m a volunteer marine mammal medic for the British Divers Marine Life Rescue. I am trained to assist with marine mammal strandings (including seals) and I was able to educate the girls about seal behaviour and ensure there was mutual respect between human and seal. We didn’t climb onto the islands where the seals were resting. We didn’t approach them. We didn’t swim in the mating season or the calving season so we ensured minimal disturbance to their natural behaviour.

 

These Girls Can Swim With Seals - And so can you!
These Girls Can Swim With Seals – And so can you!

What advice do you have for any women thinking about getting into open water?

I would encourage anybody interested to look for a local social open water swimming group.

If they post on the Outdoor swimming Society and share there location, then there is always a friendly swimmer willing to share the love of the open water. There are usually tri clubs who offer open water swimming coaching too.

I would advise to absolutely never swim alone. Find someone who can read the tides and who knows the local waters. The waters in the UK are cold so I would suggest hiring a wetsuit intially too.

These Girls Can Swim with Seals

Will you be running other courses like this? If people want to create their own initiatives around the UK, where is the best place to start?

Given the success of this initial programme I would love to be able to deliver again. Ideally not exclusively to 14-25 year olds and inclusive of men too. I’m not sure about the best place to start – insurance will be an issue and I obviously had that covered through my employer.

Social meets where folk swim at their own risk are possibly best which is why I suggested the outdoor swimming society.

The thing I liked best about the programme is the fact that it was not for profit.

It would be sad to see the growth of folk charging for something which should be wild & free. 

Wild swimming, not expensive swimming, that’s my vision.

And finally, where’s your favourite swimming cossy and what is your favourite swim cake?

I love zoggs. I’m a bit busty and tall and they have cossies which suit my shape.

Favourite cake has to be lemon drizzle any day 🙂

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  alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

Story of an Open Water Novice, by Ruihua Wang

This is not meant to be an epic story. This is about what an ordinary person can achieve when he or she focuses on something.

One of the challenges I set for 2015 was to try open-water swimming. I have no intention of becoming a technically brilliant swimmer. But having always been scared of deep water, I figured that the best way to tackle fear is to do exactly what I am scared of.

Only able to swim 60m in a pool, I had my first dip in open water at  the Serpentine LIDO on the first  day it opened to the public  in April. By the end of September, I had finished a 750m race in Stoke Newington West Reservoir.

Ruihua Wang
Ruihua Wang


What happened in between are: moments of embarrassment; a lot of pool training;  getting panic attacks in cold water; thinking about giving up;  covering 250m for the first time,; covering 450m for the first time; and  starting to believe I could actually cover 750m…

I think the trick to enjoying an open-water swim is turning around the seemingly unpleasant moments and embracing the experience.


I used to hate the chilling sensation which crawls over your spine during the fir­­­­­­st few minutes in open water. After learning a trick to acclimatise (by pouring some water inside the wetsuit before jumping in), that became less of a shock to the system and  I now find the coldness of the water refreshing and energising.

Putting on a wetsuit is a battle in itself: because it acts like a second skin, it is incredibly tight and it took me 20 minutes to try it on in the shop. After watching tons of youtube video and discussing with fellow swimmers, I can now put it on in 5 minutes. Yes, the tight suit makes me conscious of my tommy and regret for having that extra bar of chocolate the night before. I now love wetsuit because it keeps me warm and gives me lots of buoyancy and confidence in water.

What used to frighten me most about open water is not knowing where I am going (where is the line at the bottom of the pool?) and having nothing to hang on to if I get tired (there is no pool end!).

Mastering the sighting, treading water and sculling helps me find my way in the water. Knowing the wetsuit is sufficient to keep me afloat is also comforting. Otherwise, rolling on my back is a good way to catch a breath and enjoy the blue sky. When I really started to relax in the water, breathing became therapeutic and I was able to swim longer and felt less tired at the end of my training. 

The 750m swim

The race was on an early Sunday morning. When most people were having a lie-in, I was up by 7am travelling to Stoke Newington West Reservoir. There were over a hundred people who entered the race, swimming for 750m, 1.5k or 3k. I was so excited to be a participant rather than a spectator. I picked up something new as well: putting cold tap water in the wetsuit to acclimatise  since we would not have had the opportunity to warm up in the reservoir before the race. 

The race was uneventful really, even though it was my first time to swim 750m on my own. I started at the back of the pack and found my rhythm. I focused on sighting for the next buoy, catching my breath by spending a few seconds sculling and briefly watching a duck at the edge of the reservoir.

When approaching the finish line, I was still full of beans and swimming in such a stride. When I arrived at the pontoon, people arriving at the same time were breathless and stumbled. I just got up calmly and walked on.

Ruihua Wang
Ruihua Wang

I want to say a big thank you to my ex-boyfriend who encouraged me to take up open-water swimming, to my instructor Matt Gordon who was patient and tailored his teaching to a nervous student like me, and to my swimming buddies who were good fun to train with.

This experience has been very positive in terms of expanding my world, removing self-doubt and achieving things that I think are beyond my limits.

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  alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

How a love of openwater and freediving led to a new career. A Lotus Rises meets SwimQuest’s Alice Todd.

Open water can lead to all kinds of adventures. Alice Todd is an open water swimmer, free diver and triathlete. In 2014, she took the brave decision to follow her passion for open water and left her job in media to co-run SwimQuest Holidays with John Coningham-Rolls.

A Lotus Rises spoke to Alice about her love of open water, career change and the hardships of making a living by swimming all over the world…

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Alice Todd enjoying her new career

When did you start open water swimming and why?

I started open water swimming as a child, when we went on family holidays to Whitby. There are loads of photos of my sister and I splashing about in the North Sea, on what look like pretty chilly days. We had a blow up dingy, which we loved, and we used to take it in turns to drag each other around in it – one of us swimming, pulling the rope, the other sitting in the boat ordering the other one about: left, right, faster, faster … I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it more than my poor sister did! I’ve always been drawn to water though – looking at it, painting it, and swimming in it, whether it be pool, river, lake or sea. I think the sea is still my favourite.

What do you enjoy most about open water?

I think it’s still the childlike, carefree adventure I love most about open water and the outdoor swimming community; splashing around, feeling free, enjoying beautiful spaces – and having fun with other people. In this sense, I started swimming in open water because it was great fun, and made me feel good. I’m determined never to lose that feeling even now open water swimming is my job.

How did you get into freediving – Is it dangerous, where did you learn?

Like all sports, freediving can be dangerous if you do it irresponsibly, or without proper training or knowledge. That being said, anyone who has held his or her breath underwater has technically been freediving. I used to do that all the time, diving down to look at coral on holiday, enjoying the way it felt to tumble and roll underwater and feel completely weightless, but I didn’t realize it was a ‘sport’, until a couple of years ago. It wasn’t until a friend bought me a freediving course for my birthday, that I became a little obsessive about how far some people could push themselves without the bubbles. The current depth record for dynamic apnea with fins (basically swimming down a line using fins – as deep as you can go, and back of course) is 288m. 288m! That’s further than swimming from the public viewing gallery at the Shard (244m, incidentally) and back, on one breath of air. This record is currently held by Goran Čolak from Croatia. I’m still just a novice on the scale of things, but its helpful to be able to get beautiful GoPro footage of our guests underwater – and it’s nice for people to be able to take home photos of themselves floating in the blue.

Alice in Waterland: Freediving
Alice in Waterland: Freediving

If you’re keen to find out more, I would recommend starting with an AIDA International course. This will give you a good grounding and knowledge about the risks and safety procedures. The course I completed was run by a real-life merman – Adam Drazga [see www.bluewater-freediving.co.uk]. A challenging but fascinating introduction – highly recommended for anyone seriously interested. I then joined a really friendly club in Victoria called Apnea Revolution, who train biweekly in a pool.

 What do you find most challenging about open water?

If I’m totally honest it’s the loneliness on the longer swims. It makes me realize how bad I am at being in my own company! When you swim for a long period of time, it’s just you and the water, and if you’re not careful your head can visit some scary places, especially when you’re cold. That’s the biggest challenge for me – learning how to deal with that – and I think it’s very personal.

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Swimming together!

Many people talk about making changes to their careers, but it can be daunting. What gave you the confidence to make the move to SwimQuest and do you have any advice for other people contemplating a career change?

It is so daunting. I actually enjoyed many aspects of my job in the media, and I worked with some incredibly impressive people, which made it an even bigger decision, however I did reach a sort of ‘now or never’ moment. I was confident in my own abilities, I didn’t have a mortgage, or kids, and always knew I wanted to work for myself in the long run. I bumped into John at The London Triathlon in 2013, and really liked the look of what he was starting. I knew I had the skills to help him build what was then Coningham-Rolls Swimming Holidays into a bigger brand, and I was excited about the concept and the idea. I decided to take the plunge (I know, I’m sorry).

My advice to anyone considering a similar career change would be to do it, but to make sure that you have the skills you need to bring in money independently of the business start up. Freelancing has been fantastic, but you need to be prepared to sell your skills, and live hand-to-mouth for a while.

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In her element

How has your life changed since making the move – What’s a typical work day for you nowadays? Is running SwimQuest all about drinking cocktails by the beach and swimming in warm turquoise waters or is there other stuff involved?

I live a completely different life now. I have the freedom to work my own hours, from wherever I like, which is amazing. The more I see the business grow, the more I want to work. Some days I will work longer hours, some days not. I do end up working in some form or another most weekends too, but the freedom of not having to sit glued to a desk from Monday – Friday is invaluable for me.

The other major difference is the breadth of work. As we are such a small team, I get involved in pretty much everything at the moment – which is great fun. Marketing, accounts, web design, print design, merchandise, planning, strategy, promotions, partnerships, bookings, SEO, and of course swim guiding!

The swim guiding is brilliant as you meet so many fascinating people. This week I feel particularly lucky – I am spending the week with our guest coach, Olympic Medallist Cassandra Patten, who is incredibly inspirational, an amazing role model for young women and has everyone hanging on her every word when she’s giving advice on stroke technique. Occasionally we do get to drink cocktails by the beach, yes, and I have to admit there is quite a lot of swimming in warm turquoise waters!

You’ve swum all over the world. Where’s your favourite swim spot?

One of our SwimQuest locations is a tiny little island called Mathraki, just off Corfu. The water is really, really sapphire-blue – and there’s a little pile of rocks I swim out to in the mornings, teeming with tiny little velvet-black darting fish. It looks like someone has cut tiny little black holes in the water – and they shift and dance as you swim through them. That’s probably my favourite – it really is idyllic. If you don’t believe me – watch this!  Having said that, I still have a soft spot for the Norfolk Broads. Not many people think you can swim in them, but they are some of England’s cleanest waters. We run a Swim & Sail weekend there in September, on a gigantic Wherry Yacht – it’s very surreal, there’s even a piano on board …

And finally, what’s your favourite swimming cossy and why?

The brighter the better. I have a luminous orange one with a high leg that is my current fave, but I’m open to brighter suggestions.

Thank you Alice Todd!

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 to follow via our BlogFacebookTwitter and please don’t hesitate to get in touch at alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

A last minute 5km

I wanted to up my mileage a bit this week and made a last minute decision to head to Eton Dorney for the Votwo Long Swim 5k. Also didn’t want to miss the chance to race my coach!

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TEAM! Great performances all around!

I beat Dan to the start pen, and was just ahead when we walked into the water… I then didn’t see him again until the finish, where he was cheering us all on having had a three course dinner, hair cut, shave, and sent some emails. You get the picture … Next time!

5k First place cake and wine! Well done Dan!
5k First place cake and wine! Well done Dan!


Key stats for the day:

  • Races: 2.5k. 3.8k, 5k and 10k.
  • Entry fee: £23, £25, £30, £35 (plus £2 on the day registration)
  • Non wetsuit friendly? Yes!
  • Conditions: Windy chop on the way up, speedy on the way down the lake. Clouds and sunshine.

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  • Race briefing? Excellent. Witty, detailed and clear.
  • Toilets. Not bad! Slightly distressed by half eaten sandwich next to me in one cubicle.
  • Sustenance? Yes. Food stations had gatorade & coke. Always good to have water as an option though. Impressive array of cakes at finish. In fact the most cake I have ever seen at an event like this. Well done.
  • Atmosphere: Friendly. Votwo steward helped with my sunscreen and really friendly at the food station. Too friendly actually and  I ended up chatting for about 5 minutes (it’s tough being a serious endurance athelete…).

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  • Swim performance. A new 5k PB! Could have been even better if it hadn’t been for chatting too long at the food station and being in a meditative state so forgetting to pay attention to sighting when crossing the lake. Also got tangled in some weeds.
  • Thing to remember for next time? My underwear.
  • Prizes? Yes. A medal for everyone and first place got wine and more cake!
  • Overall: Kind of swim event that can be a great challenge in its own right, or just a fun addition to training.
CAKE!
CAKE!

 

 

 

 

 

Suits vs Skins. The Henley Mile. #ThisGirlCan and We All Did

On Sunday I took on the toughest competitor I know: Myself.

Part of the Henley Mile swim events, Suits versus Skins is a one-mile straight-line swim up the river: First in a wetsuit and then in skins. It’s basically the swimming equivalent of a personal Rocky IV.

#ThisGirlCan: Suit
#ThisGirlCan: Suit
#ThisGirlCan : Skins
#ThisGirlCan : Skins

Wetsuit or non, I love open water and this was a fun opportunity to see what kind of difference a wetsuit makes to my swimming.

Over the last few months I have spent A LOT of time at the physio and working on my technique, so these swims were also  a fun way to check in on my progress.

Add to that, the build up to this year’s Henley Mile has been particularly motivating, because as part of the #ThisGirlCan movement we have been able to follow  the inspiring journeys of eight women, for whom the Henley Mile was their first swim event.

If you’re wondering about whether to try open water or not, take a look at their blogs. Brilliant.

Swimming features prominently in the This Girl Can campaign
Swimming features prominently in the This Girl Can campaign

Competitor Analysis

I took a moment to assess my competition…

Incredible serious and aspiring open water swimmer. Lake Zurich Marathon Relay 2013
Suits vs Skins: The Competition

A competitor that loves openwater, could get in and get on a swimming mission, but also has the potential to get panicked by the whole concept of a race and get in a hyperventilating water fluster.

There was also a high chance I might end up just floating down the river, having been distracted by the blue skies and green pastures of regatta country and chatting to ducks…

This was going to be tough.

Race Strategy

Walking up to the start, once again my butterflies were dancing.

I generally swim without a wetsuit, but will happily admit to enjoying being back in neoprene. And not just any neoprene… I was wearing my new Speedo Women’s Elite 2015 wetsuit.

It felt fantastic. All the support, glide and buoyancy of a wetsuit, yet once in the water it didn’t feel like I was wearing one.

Walking to the start
Walking to the start

I also know that unless you have good technique, you can’t optimize the benefits of a great wetsuit.

I switched off any thoughts of ‘All the gear and no idea’ and backed myself – ‘How exciting to be swimming in such a great piece of swim kit. I can’t wait to see what I can do!’

I also decided not to wear a watch. When I do that, I worry about the clock, rather than enjoying how my body feels in the water.

I just wanted to swim. So that’s what I did…

Suit vs Skins Part 1
Suit vs Skins Part 1

Swimming!

Our pod was a spectrum of experience and speed and felt all the better for it. “I’m so pleased we’re here doing this all together”, said one woman to her friends, and wishes of “Have a good swim” passed down the start line. All of that helped put my butterflies at ease – thank you fellow open wave women!

Open wave start line encouragement in action
Open wave start line encouragement in action

Reciting: ’11 o’clock ; 1 o’clock’, meant I maintained my hand entry position, and, as I progressed through the water I went through a checklist of all the elements of my stroke, noting how I was engaging my catch,  using the rotation of my body to support my breath, and enjoying the different feel that a wetsuit gives in the water.

Checking through the different elements of my stroke kept me focused on technique, and distracted me from the fact that I was working pretty hard – My lungs were disappointed to discover that the half way mark was just that, and not a sign for the finish!

24 minutes and 27 seconds later I crossed the line. I know this for sure, because I went back and checked it on the results computer three times, and then spent the best part of an hour staring at the print out confirming that it did have my name on it.  In recent weeks a couple of people at swim training had commented that I was getting faster – I had guessed I might hit a 30 minute mile wetsuit pace –  I was stunned!

Pep Talk

The H2Open swim show ran alongside the Henley Mile swims with info on all things swimming including, technique and coaching advice, holidays, and kit.

In the break between suit and skins, I went to a talk by Cassie Patten about her journey to  Olympic Bronze at  Beijing 2008 and beyond.

We can all face Olympic challenges of one kind or another and her story is a powerful tale of talent, commitment, judgment calls and perspective, that translates to life both in and out of the water.

I was in a post swim stupor, so couldn’t articulate the many questions I wanted to ask. However, it’s fair to say it was the best pep talk one could wish for – thank you Cassie!

Then just like an Olympic athlete, me and my mate Ann popped to the local pub for some eggs on toast.

Happily we were back just in time to watch everyone jump into the river for the Henley splash and see the junior races where parents and kids could swim together.

At different points the commentators gave the mic over to kids on the riverbank so the cheers of support for their mums could echo across the Chiltern hills – lovely!

Swimming…Again!

Re –fuelled, but if I am being honest, ever so slightly knackered, it was back to the start for the skins swim. This time in the wind, rain and a bikini; the kind of weather that reminds you that you’re alive, and makes skins swimming that extra bit wild and wonderful.

Wind, rain and skins - Perfect!
Wind, rain and skins – Perfect!

It was pretty inspiring to hear the swim chat of the young women in this pod. All really excited about open water and talking proudly about the swims they had completed.

Swim psyche was high and I kept well back from the front row. The start signal was given, and I glanced up to watch the future of openwater swimming speed off into the distance. My goodness they were fast!

The future of openwater swimming
The future of openwater swimming

Towards the end there was a  swimmer on my right and we silently agreed to help each other maintain pace and push through to the finish. We thanked each other at the end – Really cool!

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The Finish!

I was knackered, but delighted to discover I finished my skins swim in 27. 42 – another personal best and great to know all that pool practice is starting to pay off!

Results

  1. In the battle of suits versus skins, I concluded that I love swimming.
  2. In the Alice versus Alice face off, Alice won.
  3. #ThisGirlCan and we all did, demonstrating once again, that no matter what, we are all first in our own category.

芙蓉出水 (fúróng chūshuǐ) Out of the water a lotus rises.

 And finally…

Thank you Henley Swim and H2Open for putting together such a fun and informative event for novice and experienced swimmers of all ages.

Thank you Speedo for my lovely new wetsuit. And thank you to Dan, Keeley and all the team at Swimfortri for getting me back in the water that I love,  helping me stay there and achieve PBs I didn’t know were possible!

By Alice Gartland

Get in touch:

At A Lotus Rises we’re celebrating  women in open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and marathon swimming.

You can get involved via the BlogFacebookTwitter and alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

 

 

 

 

 

Power of the Pod: The Human Race Eton Swim 2015

The Oxford English dictionary defines a pod as, ‘A small herd or school of marine animals.’

Dolphin pod!
Dolphin pod!

I don’t know much marine biology… but what I do know is that pods can be pretty multifunctional.

For example, pods of whales might travel and feed together and some can divide along gender and familial lines or they can form large loose temporary groups. Similarly pods of dolphins can provide protection and build social bonds and at times may even merge into super pods of one thousand or more dolphins.

Serpentine Swim Pod
Human swim pod!

The swim pod works in similar ways and on Monday a pod of Serpentine ladies merged into a super pod of over 1,000 swimmers at the Eton Dorney Olympic Rowing Lake for the Human Race Eton Swim 2015.

Serpentine Ladies Swim Pod. From 1.5k to 10k, we had it covered – BOOM! Credit Elina Grigoriou

The event includes races from 750m to 10km, bringing together swimmers of all ages and experience, with the 5k and 10k swims divided into waves of wetsuit and non-wetsuit swimmers. It’s a great way to kick off a summer of open water swimming.

Eton Dorney also has a special place in my heart. Last year I raced there as the swimmer in Mel C’s triathlon relay team, racing Team Pendleton in the Human Race Women Only Triathlon. That 400m wetsuit super-sprint swim and the women I raced with that day continue to motivate me. A year on, entering the water in my bikini as part of the Eton Swim 5k non-wetsuit wave, I couldn’t help but smile – It was great to be back!

Team Pendleton and Team Mel C
Team Pendleton and Team Mel C
Serpentine Ladies 5k swim pod (with Geraldine en route!)
Great to be back! This time with the Serpentine Ladies 5k Swim Pod.

The 5k non wetsuit swim pod included Elina and Arabella who only started open water swimming in September. This was their first ever open water swim event and first ever 5k. Eli swam front crawl and Arabella swam breaststroke.  They both smashed it, inspiring all those around them in the process.

Progressing through two laps of the 2.5km course, I was grateful to find myself assimilated into the momentum of temporary pods of swimmers, supporting one another in silent swimming synchronicity.

Other pods swam past in similar unison and when I stopped at the feed stations, it was pretty cool to take a moment to watch the waves of human endeavour progress through the choppy and temperate water, before diving back in to join them.

Of course, a swim pod isn’t just about what happens in the water. On land we continued to look out for each other. At the finish my post swim dizzy head almost got the better of me, and thank you to the race steward who realised that before I did and was quick to catch me before I fell.

Our pod made sure we each got changed quickly into warm clothes, grabbed hot chocolate, coffees and cakes for one another and cheered our fellow swimmers as they emerged from the water.

BOOM!
10k BOOM! Nice one Bee!

A fantastic swim pod powered start to the summer: The scene is set for some epic adventures and here are the smiles to prove it!

Swimming smiles!
Hello sunshine!

 

芙蓉出水: (fúróng chūshuǐ) Out of the water a lotus rises

Get in touch:

At A Lotus Rises we’re celebrating  women in open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and even swimming marathons.

You can get involved via the BlogFacebookTwitter and alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First In Your Own Category

The clocks have sprung forward and a summer of sporting adventure awaits… A few weeks ago at swim training, I was chatting to two wonderful women who are both undertaking exciting personal challenges (on land and in water) in the next few months. I don’t think either of them fully appreciated this, but they are embarking on amazing challenges. One is simply ‘Going for a run’ and the other, ‘A bit of a swim’. I found it totally inspiring. And yet somehow, we managed to navigate our conversation into that classic realm of never being quite ‘good enough’. Thankfully we also had the self awareness to catch ourselves and laugh at our ability to get swept up in the narratives of others and ‘do down’ our own achievements:

“I will probably come last…”, ” My friend has been doing X hours of training. I haven’t even started yet…”, “I only came in X place in that ultra marathon…” “I should have been faster in that triathlon…”, “everyone is going to be thinking ‘why are you here?'” Because whoever the audience is you think you are performing to, completing ultra marathons, triathlons and wonderful swims whilst juggling the challenges of everyday life, is not enough.

I was grateful for the self-check of my peers in that conversation. We were falling into the trap of the kind of helpful discourse that enables you to single handedly ignore any sense of enjoyment and pride in your training journey and completely overlook the awesomeness and reward of the objectives you have achieved.

It’s sometimes worth remembering that even trail running and ski-mountaineering phenomenon Kilian Jornet doesn’t always come first in his races. And, as inconceivable as it may seem, Beyonce told me that back in 2013 she came third (behind Kelly and Michelle), in a Destiny’s Child egg and spoon race. Tough times, but she bounced back.

Human beings love to compare: who is fastest, strongest, furthest, toughest etc? And of course if none of those superlatives apply to you, you’re probably not trying hard enough.

Fortunately there’s always the opportunity to claim a ‘first’ in order to give an achievement real meaning.

‘Everyone climbs Everest nowadays’, but if you’re the first person called Colin from Paraguay to successfully ride a unicycle to the summit and back (without supplemental oxygen), then in some circles that achievement may just be credible.

I am pretty confident Colin would be setting a world record ‘first’, however I also sense that within this cunning plan, there may be a level of unnecessary exertion. Why? Well, although Colin is free to fulfill himself with whatever unicycle challenge he feels necessary, I hope he will also realise that even without the unicycle, he is already first in his own category.

The race of life
Tortoise and Hare Face Off, or is it?

How do I know this?

I recently undertook a scientific review of my sporting performances since birth, and the level of consistency is incredible; Second to none in fact. And I am confident that if Colin, or anyone else for that matter, undertakes a similar review of their own performance, the result will be the same.

For example, at first glance the official results of the 2013 Traversee de la Ramaz 7.5km cross-country ski race indicate I was second to last. However, I reviewed the performance thoroughly with my adjudication panel, and it turns out I actually came first in my own category: The first and only girl to cross the finish line from South East London with about 4 hours cross country skiing experience in her life, who loves avocado and who had been given unwaxed skis to ‘race’ on.

Sadly there are no photographic records of the epic 7.5k TraversePre Epic Race Training. Learning to skate with the wonderful Tania Noakes and the added bonus of waxed skis.
Sadly there are no photographic records of my literraly ground breaking performance in the 7.5k Traversee de la Ramaz  However here is a pic of me learning to skate for the first time with the wonderful Tania Noakes. As you can see I am not enjoying myself. Not enjoying myself at all…

Unlike normal skis, cross country skis have to be waxed before each use, otherwise, as I can testify, they get stuck and at best it’s like skating across sand paper, in what turned out to be pretty hilly terrain: I was (unintentionally) riding a unicycle up Everest. As Tania said before the start, “It’s not going to be easy, but you’re here now, so you might as well get on with it.” Suffice to say I put in a performance the likes of which I am confident the cross-country skiing community is unlikely to see again. Somehow I actually managed to finish.

Of course it wasn’t the performance I had hoped for, but I embraced the situation and was first in my own category and I was delighted.

This weekend I enjoyed the handicap races at the Serpentine and Tooting Bec, as well as a cheeky training session at Charlton Lido. Did I come first in any of the races? No. Did that matter? No. Was I training in the slow lane? Yes. Was I a bit p*ssed off that once again I found myself back at not quite square one with training? Yes. Overall did that really matter? No. Did I have wonderful conversations about the relationship of humans to water, film festivals, social change, bravado and winter swimming, the power of dogs and the importance of saunas for the human spirit? And was the water delicious? Yes.

It was all lovely and a big thank you to my unknowingly inspiring peers!

But back to those all important challenges… I am still hedging my bets over plans for the summer. There’s a fair few things pencilled in, but they all come with the asterix *subject to injury. Fingers crossed.

Happily, whatever happens, I, like everyone else, will be first in my own category.

The starting line up for the first heat of a Saturday Morning  Serpentine Race. No-one has started swimming, but already everyone is first in their own category.
The starting line up for the first heat of a Saturday Morning Serpentine Race. No-one has started swimming, but already everyone is first in their own category.

 

芙蓉出水: (fúróng chūshuǐ) Out of the water a lotus rises

Get in touch:

At A Lotus Rises we’re celebrating  women in open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and even swimming marathons.

You can get involved via the BlogFacebookTwitter and alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

 

 

Overcoming the Fear of Judgment: Authenticity and #ThisGirlCan

Sport England launched its TV ad campaign for ‘This Girl Can‘ last night, all aimed at increasing women’s participation in sport and empowering us to embrace exercise.

It’s a wonderfully inspiring film and struck a particular chord with me, not just because the advert features open water swimming and a woman kicking arse running up a hill to a Missy Elliott soundtrack, but above all, because of its authenticity.

A lot of people talk about the importance of “being yourself”, but knowing what that is can be difficult – sometimes we get lost or we become hidden; and the ‘being’ bit isn’t always straightforward either.

Sport is often the place where all of that comes to the fore.

Olivia Parker’s article in the Telegraph describes how Sport England’s research found that “2 million fewer women are regularly participating in sport or exercise than men, despite 75 per cent of women aged 14 to 40 saying they’d like to do more.” They also identified that ‘fear of judgment’ was the biggest barrier preventing women from doing exercise. Other research has also found that 1/3 of young girls think that exercise is socially unacceptable . Something which I have written about previously on the blog.

Each section of the This Girl Can film evokes images from my own sporting life past and present, like the endorphin rush, agility and team work of school netball. It also allows me to reflect on some of the battles that have choreographed those experiences. For example, hiding in my living room in 1997 doing a Jet out of the Gladiators fitness video because I was too self conscious about the weight I’d put on to exercise in public (note it is a fantastic video and was, for me, a great place to start getting fit again).

Although I have  been extremely sporty at different points in my life, my biggest moments of doubt are when I have had a break (sometimes that’s meant a ‘rest’ lasting a few years) and make a return to exercise – That I love exercise and the outdoors would come as a massive shock to many people who knew me in my twenties.

Who knew swimming could be so much fun ?!
Who knew swimming could be so much fun ?!

I have found that it is at the point of making a return to activity that my fear of judgment is at its height, and when, the little voice in my head is doubt’s strongest advocate: “How could you have let yourself go like this?” And then, having mustered the courage to make that first step and head to my local leisure centre, doing the walk from the changing room to the pool thinking, “You don’t belong here.”

Swimming features prominently in the This Girl Can campaign
Swimming features prominently in the This Girl Can campaign

Thankfully I got in the water – there comes a point where that flicker of intent becomes a fire of commitment; well that, and the realisation that no matter how out of place you feel in your head, it would be even more weird if you headed back into the changing room – and so I began an amazing journey into open water swimming, well-being and an array of adventures on land, sea and air.

I am so excited to see swimming and open water swimming feature so prominently in the This Girl Can campaign. When we exercise, we are exposed in a different light (and in the case of swimming, we really do bare our physical selves), but where once just the thought of putting my cossy or trainers on induced questioning apprehension, they now open a door to liberation, a lot of fun, health and friendship.

Swimming with the NWSSSG all women elite commando squad: Photo: Gill Williams
Swimming in the Isle of Skye with the NWSSSG all women elite commando squad, part of the Outdoor Swimming Society’s Adventure swim series: Photo: Gill Williams

It is those friendships that continue to inspire me to keep on my path and embrace well being.

Of course I still have doubts and that little voice hasn’t completely gone away, but then one day you discover that the girl who hid in her living room doing the Jet out of the Gladiators fitness video, is now happily pictured in the Telegraph emerging from the Serpentine in a bikini on Christmas day, and you realise anything’s possible.

Here’s to embracing authenticity. #ThisGirlCan.

"Fu 荣出水“ Out of the Water a Lotus Rises: The Serpentine Peter Pan Cup Christmas Day 2014 as featured in the Telegraph online and other press (Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA)
“芙蓉出水“ Out of the Water a Lotus Rises: The Serpentine Peter Pan Cup Christmas Day 2014 as featured in the Telegraph online and other press (Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA) #thisgirlcan

Related Posts and a Thank You

See also ‘How to feel good [nearly] naked’  about how one of the things I love most about open water swimming is that for a sport where everyone pretty much gets naked most of the time, body image feels irrelevant – I have never asked anyone if my bum looks big in my swimming costume; and celebrating women in sport in Finding Our Personal Best. Team Mel C vs Team Pendleton: The Human Race Shock Absorber Women Only Triathlon.

And last but definitely not least,  a big thank you to Jo and Pat with whom I was able to explore the link between authenticity, joy and happiness on their yoga retreat at new year.

芙蓉出水: (fúróng chūshuǐ) Out of the water a lotus rises

Get in touch:

At A Lotus Rises we’re celebrating  women in open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and even swimming marathons.

You can get involved via the BlogFacebookTwitter and alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!