More Lune Swimming

Last week I blogged about our attempt at open water swimming in the Lune, which was very cold, too shallow in places as well as there being an angler (read about it here). Over the past week a number of people from the local tri club, City of Lancaster Triathlon or COLT for short, have also been for a swim there.

This Friday, my lovely wife Helen, suggested we park up at Woodies and try swimming at the Crook of Lune. There is a small ‘beach’ area which should be easier to get in and out. The car park was packed, but just as we about to give up and leave, a couple climbed into their car and left. We quickly nipped into the space. Helen also noticed that the pay and display machine had been absolutely trashed. We grabbed our gear and walked over the Lune and down to the beach, past a couple of otter sculptures.

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Helen was also trying out her new swim buoy and I was trying out my flash new goggles. Unfortunately, once we’d managed to get into our wetsuits, we found that the entry was covered in very slippery rocks, and then once in the water it was too shallow to swim. We swam up and down a bit and found a small area that was deep enough, but there wasn’t enough of it. On the plus side, the water was warmer, my goggles were fantastic and Helen really liked her swim buoy.

The next day I tried further downstream at Halton, while Helen and Nelly very kindly agreed to ‘spot’ for me. Parking was great, seconds from the water and there was a concrete slip way to use to get in.

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It was also deep enough for a proper swim. At one point I stopped to check on Helen and found that I couldn’t put my feet down. I swam back towards Helen, and Nelly jumped in to ‘save’ me, but was distracted by a stick. We think that she had forgotten she knows how to swim.

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I only stayed in for 15 minutes, but it wasn’t too cold and would like to swim further next time. However, there are some serious drawbacks. The river Lune can be very fast flowing, especially at Halton which is a bottleneck. If you’re going to swim there, don’t go in on your own unless you have a spotter, and if it has been raining, don’t even think about going in. Additionally, this is the section of the Lune used by rowers, so again, be carefull and stay safe. If you’re not too sure, then go to the area near to the Bullbeck car park.

Below, in red, you can see the three places that we tried swimming, with various degrees of success. (Image courtesy of Veloviewer).

Lune swim

We went for a swim

It’s been two months since either me or my amazing wife had been for a swim. Too long, but Boris’ easing of the lock down allows people to drive places to exercise, play golf, go fishing, or go swimming in rivers or lakes. The dive centre at Capernwray where we would normally swim will not be opening for the forseable future, so we headed to the Lune.

Helen had had a couple of open water swimming lessons in the Lune a while ago, so she knew the perfect spot. Parking up at the Bullbeck carpark near Caton gave us a five minute walk to a relatively secluded spot on the river bank. We squeezed into our wetsuits and tip-toed into the murky water. For my birthday last year, among my many presents, was a Zone 3 orange swimming buoy, designed not as a floatation aid, but to make swimmers more visible. Additionally you can put keys, money, phone, etc, safely inside when you go for a swim. We didn’t have phones with us, but the car keys were safe and dry. I can say that it is one of the best pieces of kit that I’ve ever used, and I would say essential if you’re wild swimming. So good in fact that I’ve ordered one for Helen.

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Back in the Lune and by god it was cold. It also wasn’t very deep. We set off slowly with goggle issues. Helen’s were leaking a bit and mine were still on the top of my head. Top swimming tip, goggles work better over your eyes. We both were suffering from brain freeze as we tentatively ducked our heads under.

We swam up next to the bank, clambered over a shallow section and then continued upstream a bit further towards an angler. We turned around and headed back. As we climbed out a woman walking her dog chatted to us. We confirmed to her that the water was damn cold.

Back home to a couple of slices of homemade banana loaf cake.

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Uploading our swim to Strava showed that we’d not gone very far, but considering how cold it was and that we’d not been swimming for two months, it was more than enough.

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Next time we might try a bit further downstream where the river is deeper, if we don’t have any rain. The Lune can be an unpredictable river, as can any river or open body of water, so be careful, especially if you start getting cold.

Mighty exhilarating it was though. Can’t wait to go again.

First Open Water Swim of the Year

It’s that time of the year when the triathletes pull the wetsuit out of wherever it’s been hiding, struggle into in and gingerly tip-toe in the cold dark water. For the last six or seven years I’ve been open water swimming with the City of Lancaster Triathlon Club in a small lake near Carnforth. This year, due to various circumstances, the swim venue has moved to the Capernwray Dive Centre. Less hassle for the club and cleaner water, although no revenue stream. I don’t think the club were every really welcome at the previous venue, especially in the last couple of years. The only drawback of the new venue is that the water is colder. I have swam there a few times, most notably in the dark for the Fireworks 500, where the water was seriously cold (read about it here).

Last year I think I only swam open water four times; once with COLT and then at the Salford Triathlon (read about it here), Isoman (read about it here) and the Hurly Burly (read about it here). This year both me and my beautiful wife are planning to swim most weeks.

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Last night at the Dive Centre the water was cold, and as usual I struggled until I was nearly at the second buoy, but then I started to warm up and get into my stroke. I pushed it a little faster for my second lap, knowing that I was going to call it quits after two. Most people did at least three laps, and one hardy (foolhardy maybe) swimmer went in without a wetsuit. Yikes!

I had a chat to the club captain as I watched my wife swimming, where we reminisced about how our very first time open water swimming was in a triathlon. John’s was at the Windsor triathlon, while my first time was at the Swindon triathlon in 1995. Fortunately things have progressed.

Overall a good swim if short, but I will aim to increase the distance each week. I might see you there.

Hurly Burly

What’s the Hurly Burly, I hear you cry? It was a 10k open water swim in North Wales organised by The Outdoor Swimming Society, who also put on the more famous River Dart 10k.

I’ve been swimming more this year than ever before, but I was still nervous as we headed towards the event, especially after Isoman (read about it here). The swim at Isoman was supposed to be 7 miles, but it based on other peoples Garmins, it was most likely about 12k. It was the hardest swim that I’d ever done, the longest swim I’d ever done and by far the longest non-wetsuit swim I’d ever done. I will stick to wearing wetsuits from now on (read about it here).

The Hurly Burly is set in the village of Barmouth, and goes up the estuary with the tide, advertised as maybe the fastest 10k swim you’ll ever do. I was hoping that it was as I didn’t fancy 3 or more hours in cold water.

Me and my beautiful wife decided to make a weekend of it, staying in a pod at the excellent Hendre Mynach campsite less than a mile north of Barmouth. After the Satnav had a moment of madness we made it in plenty of time. We walked along the beach with our unruly pointer, Nelly, into Barmouth so that I could register. Nelly loved the beach.

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Registration was a bit chaotic, as expected with almost 800 people taking part, but once it had been done we had a walk around the town.

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End of September, and the weather was fantastic. We walked back along the beach the campsite and had an early night. Even though it had been sunny all day, overnight the temperature dropped to 3 degrees, so we were happy in our snug little pod.

Coffee and breakfast, followed by another gentle walk into Barmouth. The swim wasn’t the only event, there was a run-swim, with an 11k run from the finish back to the start before doing the swim, and just a run from the start to the finish. I had decided against the run-swim as I wasn’t sure how much time there would be between the two events. In the end there was almost an hour from finishing the run and starting the swim, so I would have been OK. We cheered on the first runners returning to Barmouth before I changed into my wetsuit and dropped off my bag to be transported to the finish. The organisation couldn’t be faulted with so many helpful volunteers. I was also cheered by how many people seemed to know so many others, it all felt like one big family.

Photo by Jess Rose

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With so many people the start was split into four waves, slowest first, speedy people last. The start was also very relaxed. Over the timing mat and a gentle walk into the water, the complete opposite of a triathlon start. Maybe the fast wave ran into the water with gusto, but the wave I was in definitely didn’t.

Photo by Jess Rose

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The initial shock of the cold water took my breath away, even with my beard, but it felt good to be off. Within minutes we were under the bridge. Quite a few people rolled onto their backs to wave at the hundreds of supporters on the bridge as we were swept with the tide.

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My wife and dog were on the bridge as they were walking to the finish, although I didn’t spot them. Nelly had a bit of a fright when a train went past, but she has been known to be scared of her own shadow.

The timing of the swim is difficult. If the swimmers are set off too early then there won’t be enough water in the estuary, too late and the tide will turn making the last section very tough. After half an hour I spotted a few people standing up, and then my hands started to drag on the sand. I walked with everyone else for a few moments, taking the opportunity to look at my Garmin. 3000m in 30 minutes! I put it down to GPS error as there was no way I could have swum that quick. I continued to swim, guided by paddleboarders and jetskiers.

Photo by Sian Lane

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There was a feed station at the half way point, which I completely missed, thinking it was a boat. I was a little concerned when I looked at my watch on the next sand bank and it said 7000m. If I hadn’t seen the feed station by 7k it was going to be a very long swim. There was one final sand bank at 9000m, where the tide was so strong that I couldn’t stand up.

We rounded a corner and I could smell the bonfires at the finish. This was very welcome as my hands were numb with the cold. Minutes later and I was climbing out of the water, handed a blanket and a welcome hot chocolate. I quickly changed and soon managed to get some feeling back into my hands. There is no way I could ever swim that in skins, so I doff my hat to those hardy folks who did.

Photo by Jess Rose

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Once changed I hunted for my wife. There were stalls with cake and Helen had the money. It had taken her longer to walk the route, but when reunited yummy cakes and coffee were purchased. The organisers had put on buses to transfer everyone back to Barmouth, although Nelly isn’t too keen on buses, which she let everyone know by letting out a truly noxious pump. Thanks old girl.

Back in Barmouth and I inhaled fish and chips before heading back to the campsite for a few beers and another early night.

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My finishing time on my Garmin was 1 hour 36 minutes with a distance of 9661m. My official time was 1 hour 39 and 133rd. Without doubt the fastest swim I will ever do and probably the equivalent of a 5k swim in a pool. I loved the whole event and will definitely be back in 2019. Helen has also stated that she intends to have a go as well. A medal or some bling at the finish would have been nice, although a blanket is far more practical.

I can’t recommend this event enough. If you’ve ever fancied a longer swim, this is the one for you. If you can manage an Ironman swim then you can easily complete the Hurly Burly. See you all next year.

 

Wetsuit or no wetsuit?

With all of the hot weather that we’ve been having, there has been some talk that IMUK might be a non wetsuit swim. This won’t happen. The organisers will take the temperature early in the morning and probably from a boat near the middle of Pennington Flash, just to make sure that the temperature is below the upper limit. In over 20 years of triathlons I have never done one where wetsuits were banned.

I’ve done some long swims, including Ironman, double ironman (here), triple ironman (here) and a 10k swim in Salford Quays where I ripped my wetsuit minutes before starting. The swim in Salford was on a very hot day, and I didn’t overheat in my wetsuit, although my drinks bottle almost melted.

But, if wetsuits are optional, should you go without?

Hell No!

I’m not the strongest swimmer or the most efficient, so for me it’s a no brainer. A couple of weeks ago at Isoman (read about it here), because I was only doing the swim I went without a wetsuit. I didn’t get cold, but I was seriously tired at the end of the 7+ mile swim and would have been much quicker if I’d been wearing my wetsuit.

I have raced once without a wetsuit. I did the Cockerham Triathlon in 2007, my first race after moving to Lancaster, and because the swim was less than 400m, the time I would have saved from wearing a wetsuit I would make up with not having to remove it. For me, if the swim is 500m and the water isn’t too cold, then I would possibly go without a wetsuit, but for all other races, I will be wearing one, no exceptions for me from now on.