I appear to have lost the ability to breathe. My face is freezing cold, my heart is pumping fast and my chest feels restricted in my new and unforgiving wetsuit. Added to this, I can’t help not liking the murky green water.
I’m in a lesson at Shepperton Lake in Surrey, with four others who , like me, have an open water swimming goal this summer. My personal challenge is to swim around St Michael’s Mount on 18th July. If I carry on like this I’ve got no chance.
At around a mile and a half I know I can swim the distance in the pool, but open water swimming is a different sport. This is why I’ve done a 500-mile round trip to meet up with swimming instructor, Salim Ahmed, and dip my toe into Shepperton Lake in Surrey.
Back to the lesson, Salim’s talking, but I’m still in panic mode and not really listening. I can’t hear properly with my ear plugs in, or see him because my goggles have misted up. My hands and feet are cold. Basically my body is whingeing and I just need to man up.
We set off to the next buoy and I force myself to swim properly. I’m veering off course and the cold makes it hard to breathe bilaterally, but I’m finding some rhythm. As I start to relax, I notice the combination of the water and the wetsuit gives an amazing buoyancy and a more of a glide than in the pool. Also, I note with glee, you don’t have to use your legs as much.
Halfway round the 750m circuit and the murky water is no longer so threatening and the glimpse of bright blue sky on each breath is a treat. I feel invigourated to be swimming around a scenic tree-lined lake, among the ducks, when most people I know are still in bed. Salim tells us to lengthen and widen our stroke, slow it down, and make more of the glide and the roll. It’s exhilerating.
We arrive back at the first buoy and I feel like I’ve conquered my initial fears of open water swimming. I’m a convert. The next challenge is to translate this to the chilly sea, with its unpredictable waves and currents.
Purely for swimmers, Shepperton Lake offers a friendly and unintimdating initiation in open water swimming. It is open, during selected hours, when the water gets to 12 degrees (May until October). There are toilets, changing rooms and a place to buy a post-swim cuppa and flapjack. http://www.sheppertonopenwaterswim.co.uk
Salim Ahmed will take you from whatever swimming standard you are to wherever you want to go. He has the rare ability of a teacher to inspire confidence and self belief, in order to unlock your potential. If you’re thinking about learning to swim, or improving your swimming, just do it. http://www.swimlab.org.uk