There was a pleasant and cheerful hum, the noise of people doing stuff. The stuff that these people were doing included chatting, drinking coffee, a few people drinking beers, eating burgers, hanging out with each other, and some people were shopping. It was a warm and sunny July day in 2014, and Tim was sitting by himself, amongst the other people, on a hill near Hawkeshead overlooking Esthwaite Water. He was drinking Lakeland Lager, which the Hawkeshead Brewery produces. On the topic of Lakeland Lager - Tim recommends it. He was more of a Guinness person, and Guinness was his 'usual.' Tim considered lager a lighter summer drink, and on this balmy sunny day, he was happily supping Lakeland Lager.
Returning to the group of people doing stuff, including Tim, they were all hanging out at the finish line of a fell race. According to Wikipedia, a fell is a "high and barren landscape feature." Therefore, a fell race could be described as a cross-country event that includes significant hill climbs and descents. As far as I can tell, the people hanging around at the finish line were all there supporting people running in the race. The exceptions to this would be the folk there with a coffee stall, burger van, or stall selling running gear.
Tim's sister, Joy, was taking part in the event and he was there supporting her. Suggesting that he was supporting his sister is stretching the truth of the matter. As Tim had enjoyed so much delicious Lakeland Lager, and it is delicious according to him, he hadn't noticed his sister finish. While Tim lay in the sun, minding his own business, an out-of-breath stinky female with a very familiar voice suddenly appeared. Please note that when I say 'stinky female,' I mean a person that considers themselves to be wholly female and, at that time, had a significantly odorous sweaty whiff about her.
Looking Tim up and down as she caught her breath, Joy made sure that he noticed her noticing him. She made sure that Tim noticed her seeing the empty bottles around him and the size of his belly. His belly, at that time, was positively portly. When Joy had caught her breath, she said, "Now you're back in the area, you should come running with me"! Regrettably, Tim did not have a massive appetite for running due to previous back injuries, knee injuries and operations. Some significant body conditioning would be needed before he could sensibility consider it. Tim and Joy were sitting on the hillside together overlooking Esthwaite Water. As they sat there, they noticed some people swimming.
" I'll do that! " Tim said as he pointed at the swimmers.
At that moment, it registered with Tim - more in a non-conscious manner than a highly conscious specific thought process - that he would hugely benefit from some lifestyle changes. His gut feeling at that moment was that he was not in a healthy state, either physically or mentally, and it would be better to address it. A few months before this took p
lace, Tim had filed for divorce, having had the harrowing realisation that what he thought was a fourteen-year good marriage was far from it. All he wanted was to be with his kids! They were now a three-hour drive away from where Tim was living. Every other weekend Tim made the six-hour round trip and booked a bed and breakfast to be with his children. The time in between those weekends was tough - he just went to work and existed. Sleep eluded him during this T period of his life. If he slept four hours in one night, it was a good night's sleep for him. Some nights’ sleep escaped him entirely.
On the nights that Tim managed to sleep, he often had recurring dreams about first trying to explain to his children that he was leaving. Without him realizing it, Tim's overall coping strategy had been chocolate, Guinness, McDonald's, and binge-watching box sets. Watching TV took Tim's mind off the immense psychological torment and heartfelt pain of real life. As he didn't have healthy mental strategies in place to process real life, the distraction was very welcome. So on the nights he couldn't sleep, Tim watched TV, munching his way through m&m's and having two or three cans of Guinness. This was probably four or five nights per week. To kick start most days, he was having a McDonald's breakfast.
'Self-Medicating' is a term that Tim learned was given to someone in this kind of situation. Through some counseling sessions later in his life, he discovered that he was trying to heal the pain of the separation from his kids with carbs, alcohol, and entertainment. At the time, Tim understood that he would benefit from establishing healthier habits but had not given thought to how to approach it or what to do. In principle, the notion of healthier habits was all fine, but when wide awake at three am feeling things he didn't want to feel, he wanted the m&m's and something to watch on TV to take his mind off things. When his sister suggested that he start running with her while eyeing up his portly belly, this is what she was alluding to. Tim could massively improve his levels of exercise, healthy eating choices, and good sleep hygiene improved in his lifestyle. The benefits that this would give him are a healthy body and a healthy mind. It was evident to both Joy and Tim that he needed to put his energies and attention into something positive and productive. Why not open water swimming? It might as well be that as anything else, and it provided the added benefits that regular exercise establishes.
" Like many of us, goals and targets help to motivate Tim to achieve things that he does not readily enjoy. "
This is because he can find it hard to be disciplined for the sake of being disciplined. By this, I mean that he struggled to make himself exercise regularly for the sake of it, but with a goal in mind, he could work towards the goal. With this in mind, he signed up for a half-mile open water swim in Windermere in June 2015. This gave him ten and a half months to prepare for it. Having signed up for this event, Tim joined a local swimming pool and went for his first swim in probably twenty years. According to some articles he had read, freestyle was the stroke best suited to an open water event. Two lengths of freestyle were all he managed in his first time in a pool before he needed a rest. The pool Tim had joined was relatively small at only twenty meters in length. Forty meters is what he had managed in one go and slowly. As Tim got his breath back, he did the arithmetic; he only needed to swim an additional 760 meters on top of the forty he had done to make the half-mile. Tim purchased a set of instructional DVD's which gave him a series of swimming drills to do. The DVD set also recommended weekly training timetables with incremental increases to facilitate progression. He followed the recommended plan.
As Tim wasn't brilliant at sleeping, it was easy for him to get to the pool at six am. Then, following the plan from the DVD set, he steadily got into a routine. This involved technique drills on a Monday Morning, speed drills on a Wednesday Morning, breathing drills on a Friday morning, and then a distance swim at the weekend for as many lengths as he could manage without stopping. For the sake of clarity and avoidance of doubt, his speed drills were more like splashing drills for quite a few months, at which point they then could be described as moderate speed drills. The idea of the drills was to develop good technique along with strength and stamina. The practice of drills, in turn, allowed a swimmer to settle into their optimum rhythm and pace.
There had been a lot to learn associated with the subject of swimming. This included how to execute the stroke; how to condition the muscles for swimming including a lot stretching exercises and some strength exercises using your own body-weight as resistance; optimum diet which involved significantly less carbohydrates than m&m's and McDonald's breakfasts provided, along with much more vegetables and more protein; types of swimming trunks - Tim had started swimming in swim shorts which are not particularly hydrodynamic - he opted for tighter fitting Lycra things that could be used both in the pool and under a wet-suit; types of wet-suits - before this he hadn't really considered that there are different types of wet-suit - he found a wet-suit made by a company called Zone3, based in Guildford, that was designed for beginners and intermediate swimmers - it had excellent reviews; training equipment including floats to isolate body parts when swimming, flippers to improve leg strength and paddles for the hands to improve arm and shoulder strength; how to find somewhere to go open water swimming which included things like water cleanliness, water depth, water clarity for visual purposes and lack of harmful debris and objects - Tim found a lake that was part of the National Open Water Coaching Association and as such had all these things in hand. Learning about wet-suits was something that Tim found pretty interesting. Until that point, he hadn't given any thought to the fact that there were different types of wet-suits to suit different types of activities. The most notable feature of wet-suits designed for swimming, compared to wet-suits intended for other uses, is that they had very thin material in the shoulders and arms to facilitate movement.
After a few months of training, the holistic benefits were outstanding. This was a very positive outcome in itself as it wasn't something Tim had planned for or given a conscious thought process to. It was the prompting and motivation of a loving sister combined with the random chance of seeing the open water swimmers they were talking to that set him on the path to swimming. More by luck than judgment, swimming had become a healer for him in the following ways: the regular exercise was increasing his endorphin levels which was reducing his stress levels which in turn was starting to help him get better quality sleep; sleeping was increasing his energy levels which reduced the McDonald's breakfast consumption along with sugary snacks throughout the day which in turn also reduced his stress levels, as high sugar levels can increase stress levels, as well his reducing his portly belly; Tim was reading about swimming in the evenings instead of bingeing box sets which helped him to sleep due to the lack of blue light and emotional entertainment; after a few months of regular exercise via swimming drills, better sleep, less sugar and salt and less stress Tim was starting to swim a little bit like a whale instead of just looking like one, which in turn improved his confidence and how he felt about himself.
" Tim's first-ever attempt at open water swimming was on April 9th 2015, at 7:30 in the morning. Along with seven other beginners, he had booked onto a training course for beginners. The water was eleven degrees which seemed cold to him even in a wet-suit. It was the 1st time he had tried swimming in a wet-suit. "
Wet-suits were compulsory in the swimming event he had signed up for because they are a safety feature due to the built-in buoyancy within the front thigh and chest sections. These buoyancy sections are designed to be sufficient enough to enable a swimmer to roll over, face up, and float. In this position, a swimmer can completely rest. A common nickname given to this position is 'the otter.' This is due to the similarity between an otter laying in water on its back with ease. As a beginner, Tim found it easier to swim in a wet-suit than not. This is because of the buoyancy in the thighs. This buoyancy lifted his lower body into the correct position for swimming. Without the wet-suit, he hadn't yet developed the core strength or swimming technique needed to maintain a good swimming posture for a sustained period. Within the weekly swimming routine that Tim was now used to, he swapped his weekend swim in the pool to a weekend swim in the lake. This gave him twelve open water swims before his event in Windermere.
Since first sitting with Joy on a hill near Hawkeshead, ten and a half months had passed. Finally, the day of the event Tim had signed up for arrived. The starting horn sounded, Tim's heart was beating, hundreds of people started thrashing and splashing in the water. Momentarily, Tim was frozen in time and space - this was it - his brain told him to get going, and so he did. Months of training were supposed to kick in at this point - but they didn't. Tim found that the start of his first open water swimming event was a very conscious thing. He had hoped something - he wasn't sure what - would kick in, but it didn't. It was all a highly thought-led few moments.
Tim started his first open water swimming event clumsily in what could be described as a bewildered state. He was one of 400 hundred swimmers starting the 2014 800- meter great swim in Windermere. A few seconds before, all 400 swimmers were floating in Windermere between two large fluorescent pink buoys. These buoys marked the start of the race. The start of an open water swimming event is known as a wave. In this instance, the wave consisted of 400 hundred people with black wet-suits and brightly coloured hats. The hats are a safety aspect and are brightly coloured on purpose to make them highly visible. If spectators did not consider the brightly coloured hats, the 400 swimmers looked like eels as they set off on their swim.
The 800-meter course was marked in four sections of 200 meters with the start and the finish near each other but established as two distinct and separate places. This created an approximately square shape. Huge florescent pink inflatable buoys marked the 200-meter sections and presented turns of 90 degrees. The swimmers swam anti-clockwise around the course.
" By the time Tim had reached the first buoy, he had settled into the rhythm and pace that suited him. As he turned at the buoy, the state of bewilderment had left him, and the months of training had kicked in. Nevertheless, he was enjoying it and wanted to go for it - and so he did. "
Twenty-five minutes was the target time that Tim was hoping to beat. At 19 minutes and 46 seconds, Tim crossed the finish line according to the official timing of the event organizers. A unique identification number was on his hat. He had done it. An official 'helper' helped Tim out of the water as he staggered up the makeshift ramp. Unfortunately, the two friends that were there to support him missed his finish. The irony didn't escape him. He was showered and dressed by the time he found them. They had made their way to the finish line in time to see the swimmers coming in at 25 minutes. Tim, of course, wasn't amongst them. They offered to shout him some pints of Guinness. He gratefully accepted.
Tim informs me that Guinness at the end of an open water swimming event tastes terrific! He says that it tastes different to Guinness supped at 3.00 AM in the morning for comfort. This Guinness he drank as a celebration on that he accomplished his goal was the best Guinness he had ever tasted – so he sank a few and felt proud of himself.
By Matt Williams