On Sunday morning, I got up at 4am to go and swim 4k in the River Thames. I started the day with some decent fuel, following a fuel crisis the day before, then drove over to Eynsham Lock.
It was a very cold but bright morning with mist over the river when I arrived. And an ambulance parked up. I joked that it was my transport!
Here I am, dressed in rubber! A year ago I was a size 22 and wouldn’t have my photo taken in any situation whatsoever, and here I am asking people to take my photo dressed like a seal!
I met some lovely ladies at the start. I think it was their first open water swim event, and we chatted about which colour swimming caps would be the quickest (red caps) and Morris dancing. I told them I was a triathlete and they said I was a professional – haha! I let Debbie borrow some wetsuit lube, which is a bit of a forward thing to say to a person you’ve only just met – “Do you want some lube?”
We got into the water and after flooding my wetsuit with the rather chilly water, we were off! Debbie and Jude had said they were doing the whole thing in breaststroke and intended to stay towards the back. Having got battered in the Blenheim triathlon start, I decided to stick with them! The water gave me an “ice cream headache” when I put my face in to do front crawl so I was happy to stick with breaststroke for a bit.
I looked behind me and saw the very last swimmer. Having been at the back of lots of events now I know that it can be very demoralising and the psychological impact of being at the back can really make the event much harder than it would be anyway. I waited til she caught me up and asked if I could swim with her for a bit. We swapped names and clicked really well, and I ended up swimming the whole thing with her, singing, chatting, playing I Spy (what begins with W when you’re in a river?!), telling rubbish jokes, anything to pass the time. I did mostly breaststroke with little bits of front crawl from time to time.
And then I heard Chris say something that really, really bothered me. The safety boat that was at the back got a little bit closer and Chris said “I’m so sorry for being last”. Something about hearing her say this made me angry and sad all at the same time – probably because I often think exactly the same thing.
Please – make my blinking hard and long swim in the Thames be not in vain – NEVER APOLOGISE FOR BEING LAST!!!
We were the last of the swimmers in this event, but we were not last. Of all the population of Oxford we weren’t last. We were in the top percentile of people who could be bothered to get out of bed and get to the river. We were two of only 114 people who trained hard to make completion possible. We were slower than the other swimmers in the event, but we were infinitely faster than anyone who couldn’t be bothered / didn’t dare to try / didn’t believe they could.
What was she really apologising for?
For having a go? For caring enough about yourself to do something healthy? For being brave enough to go into a shop and say “I know you won’t have a woman’s wetsuit to fit me but do you have anything that might?” For all the hours of training? For all the times you’ve dragged yourself out early mornings/late evenings to get into a blinking cold lake to swim? For all the tears of frustration when you see people who are better than you, but all you can do is keep trying? For all the times your body has ached because you’ve pushed it harder and harder to make it improve?
There was nothing to apologise for, and yet I spent the day before saying sorry to my cycling group every time they waited for me to catch up. Hearing Chris apologise for being last made me vow that I would never again be sorry for anything good that I’m doing to be more healthy.
Am I slow at most things I do? Yep.
Can I do as many burpees / push ups / mountain climbers as many others? Nope, no chance.
Am I sorry? NO!!!
Am I proud of everything I do to develop to my potential? Yes, all the time.
Even when I’m last. Because I’m last, but I’m there.
Phew – needed to get that out there!
Anyway, Chris and I pottered down the river for 4k and finished within 2 seconds of each other. We swapped numbers and details and I’m looking forward to sharing more events with this lovely woman.
I was so proud to share this event with someone else who is just like me – trying hard to be healthy. Thank you Chris, keep at it and I’ll see you again soon.
There was no medal, which is a shame for a medal whore like me, but I did get a rather nice mug and swimming cap. I may have paraded round the office today with a cup of tea in my hands most of the day. “This thing? Yeah, I got it for swimming 2.6 miles in the River Thames yesterday. No, it’s nothing really, it’s what I do!” Haha!
So another thing ticked off the “Events I Never Thought I Could Do” list and onto the next one …