Windermere September 2019

Why Windermere?

Annoyingly my watch decided to stop measuring distance before the end, though it did measure time.

Annoyingly my watch decided to stop measuring distance before the end, though it did measure time.

Windermere is the longest lake in England in the heart of the Lake District. I’d only ever been there once, with work and had never swum in it or any of the lakes in the Lake District. To be honest, it had never been a swim that had attracted me. So why now? Good question!

2019 was always due to be a year where I stayed on the beach whilst Paul & Mandi were able to train for their adventures. That is something that I was very happy to do. To be honest, I have been exhausted and really needed the break in big training. Still, despite all this, it seemed strange not to be planning a solo adventure of my own.

I have been hugely inspired by the celebrities in Sink or Swim and what they have achieved. I’ve also been inspired by the Class of 2019 and the phenomenal successes that they have had and started to feel a need to do something. But what could that something be given that I really haven’t trained? When I say that I really do mean it! I’ve not even been in the pool very much - a far cry from my previous 10-12 hours a week. My longest open water swim in 2019 was the Summer Solstice swim which was 3 hours. Other than that I’ve done two 2 hour swims and a few one hour sessions in Dover.

I spoke to Freda and asked her if she reckoned that I could swim Windermere on last year’s training - she said ‘yes, go for it!’. So we started putting plans in place.




Initially, I thought I’d go with SwimYourSwim or ChillSwim - apart from anything else, I know nothing about this swim and it would enable someone else to work out the logistics! Then Kevin offered to take me with his new boat so that’s what we did. Once I looked through my calendar, I realised that there was really only one date that I could do that wouldn’t impact Dover training or other relays that I have planned and before the water temperature dropped too far. So I simply had to hope that the weather would be ok on that one day!

We learned a lot about where and when you can access the lake, the licensing required, where to park etc. That will all be useful to support future swimmers wanting to do this.



Forecast for the day

Forecast for the day

The forecast wasn’t for flat calm. It showed a forecast of Force 2 increasing to Force 4 later but with big gusts at times, rain later and cool air temperatures at the start. Hey ho! The wind direction was due to be from the North West so we decided to go the opposite way to normal and swim north to south (apparently harder, though I don’t know why that would be).

The weather forecast for the weekend was beautiful, and anyone sensible would have chosen to wait, but I needed to be back for Dover, so we chose the day that was not quite so nice!



Sleeping swans

Sleeping swans

We decided to start nice and early. We parked at Ferry Nab, finished setting up the boat that we’d inflated the night before and loaded all that we needed for our adventure before motoring to the start - a journey of about an hour. The air temperature was cold! It was 7C with a wind chill making it feel like 5C.

I’ve never seen swans asleep before, I guess I assumed that they’d sleep on the bank. I saw these big white blobs floating in the water by where we launched the rib. I hoped they were asleep (and that we wouldn’t annoy them when we started the boat), I really hoped they weren’t dead and floating!

I was wearing my swimsuit, hoodie, jacket and Swimzi and I was still cold! I wanted to drink my warm drink on the way to the start and it took ages if only because I didn’t want to take my hands out of my pockets as they quickly got cold!

One of my fears is the cold, so you can imagine that this wasn’t the most empowering start! I really didn’t want to take my layers off! We moored up against a pontoon at Ambleside. I got off with my bag and made preparations. A couple of Japanese tourists were there wanting photos. That did make me chuckle.

I put my hand in the water expecting it to feel warm (it often does feel warm when the air temperature is cold - it’s all relative) - unfortunately it didn’t feel warm.

Anyway, nothing to be done now but to start. The tourists were waiting to see me swim, the boat was there, I was ready, so……. Time for game face and stride into the water. No faffing. I walked in until it was deep enough to swim and then I did just that. I met up with the boat quickly and we were off. The shore disappeared behind me at a speed that felt good.


Feeding pattern

I follow the same feeding pattern on swims as I do in training. Nothing for 2 hours and then feed every hour. The way I think of this is that I want to put as much distance between me and the start in that first two hours. Unlike the channel, this isn’t a swim that I know. I didn’t know the landmarks or the route so I had little feedback on how I was doing, though I did enjoy watching the world go by. I’m not used to having visual evidence of progress, so it was a nice treat.

I chose to feed on a combination of UCAN and black tea. We started with UCAN and alternated from there on. In total I had:

  • 3 UCAN feeds (120 calories)

  • 2 black tea feeds, plus a mouthful of another (zero calories)

  • 2 jelly babies (43 calories) - though I did spit most of it out as they took too long to chew!

  • 2 paracetamol plus

  • Total less than 163 calories

My watch suggests that I burned 4,253 calories though I’m not convinced it was that many!



As I said, I didn’t have much of a clue on progress as I didn’t know the lake, but I did recognise the area near where we launched the boat as we had travelled that bit to the start.

Whilst this was not a secret swim as I had discussed doing it at some point, the fact that I had started had not been publicised. We had discussed perhaps putting something in the Dover Channel Training group at the point that it was 100% clear that I would finish. Imagine my surprise when Kevin asked if he could do a facebook live as we approached Ferry Nab, approximately half way. I took that as a positive, I must be making OK progress or he would not suggest doing it.



So we knew that the forecast was for a bit of wind from the North West. However, the start was beautifully calm. There really wasn’t more than the odd bit of drizzle and was mostly sunny until about half way. The forecast had been wrong but in my favour.

But then the wind came. What should have been a tail wind was actually a head wind in the final part of the swim, leading to choppy conditions. Hey ho, you can’t win them all. With hindsight I could have swum South to North.

Water temperature was 16.1C according to the Lake District weather station at Low Wood.



This swim was a big ask as I had not trained. I get a lot of comfort from knowing that I have trained and that I can trust the process. In this case I had to trust logic. The logic was that not only did I have training in the bank from previous years but also that if I went on a training camp that I would be able to go from zero to a 6 hour training swim within a week.

With hindsight, training would have made it more enjoyable!

I wasn’t in a dreadful mood, but I also wasn’t in a good mood, not until about half way. In the first few hours I watched Kevin write ‘We Love U’ in duct tape on the side of the boat - sweet but still not in a good mood. Then I saw him put tape on his nose - amusing, but I still didn’t allow myself to be lifted by it. Next time I breathed that way it looked like he hadn’t moved but there was more tape! Three strokes, breathe to the left, 3 strokes, breathe to the right - more tape yet he hadn’t moved a muscle, still no mood lift. 3 strokes, breathe to the left, 3 strokes breathe to the right and there’s even more tape without moving. That one did make me laugh underwater. It was the not moving but more tape that did it for me!



I went into this swim with a niggle in my right elbow - a tendonitis. It had been ok when swimming but not ok for conditioning work in the gym. Fingers crossed that it would hold.

I did notice a niggle here and there, and then it would pass. Nothing much stayed.

Then I started to get groin pain, something that I associated with feeling cold.

Then, about an hour from the finish, my left shoulder became extremely painful. I suspect that was from flattening off rotation too soon - a flaw in my stroke. I was in a world of pain and very glad that the end was in sight at the point that it went.


The end is in sight - we think….

Kevin & Paul told me at 6 hours that this was my last feed. I looked ahead at the water still left and it looked like a long way still, so I didn’t allow myself to get excited.

At 7 hours they admitted they’d got it a bit wrong and would I like a feed. It was at this point that I told them that I was in a world of pain. They asked if I wanted a feed and some painkillers. I took the painkillers with a bit of tea. Not because I thought it would make any difference to the swim, but would hopefully kick in for the return journey.

As we approached a marina I could see that we were nearly at the end. We weaved our way along the inside between boats and the bank. I could see Paul & Kev try and work out where the finishing point was. The joys of facebook live helped them work it out. I was shown a small beach at the end near where someone was paddle boarding. 7 hours 31 minutes after I stepped into the water I stepped back out again. No fanfare, just job done.

What was nice was being able to get changed on the land before getting back into the rib.

We then went a bit further back down the lake and found a small coffee shop and moored up to pay a visit. I should have been hungry but I wasn’t. Kev ordered me a hot chocolate, which I could only manage half of. I also had half a cup of tea which was slightly easier to handle. It was nice to start to warm up.

It was then back in the boat and make our way back to when the cars were, whilst faster than swimming it was still an hour. By the time we got back my shoulder really wasn’t working and I would not have been able to get out of the boat without help!

We stayed at an Airbnb the night before the swim, and the owner had been so lovely and said that we could go back for a shower before heading home. Oh my - a warm shower was delightful. I’d already warmed up but it was lovely to be cocooned in warm water.


The feeling of success?

How should success feel? Should I have felt ecstatic, excited, accomplished? I felt nothing and I mean nothing. If someone were to ask if I’d ever swum Windermere I’d say not, I’ve never done that. But I have. I knew I had.

It’s a bit like my first English Channel solo, there was nothing afterwards.

I guess these things are just that way sometimes. I prefer the swims with a high afterwards, I mean who wouldn’t!!

Emma France1 Comment