From 0 to Open Water 5k in 12 weeks – By Lynne Tomlinson – Her Spirit Community Member

I think we’ll all agree that 2020 hasn’t been a great year! Coronavirus has restricted our movements; events have been cancelled and our daily routines changed beyond recognition.

I am much happier in the fresh air so when Spring Lakes in Long Eaton was able to open again due to a relaxation of restrictions I took the opportunity to try Open Water swimming. On June 20th I signed up for a half hour ‘taster’ session with Mel from Her Spirit and so my journey began.

I prefer to swim ‘skins’ (without a wetsuit) as I like to the sensation of the water on my skin and it enveloping me as I bob along. However, I have Reynaud’s which affects my fingers and toes so gloves and socks are a must.

There’s a lot to learn when swimming in open water. For a start there are no black lines to follow or an end to hold on to for a rest. There’s no shallow end in a lake either! With the help of Mel and the other coaches I learnt to ‘sight’ so I could swim in a straight line (in theory!). This involves looking ahead but with only your eyes out of the water, like a crocodile. Then came the bilateral breathing. I tend to breathe on my right side so that made for much water ingress through the mouth on the left side! Head position was another focus point. This all took quite a bit of practise and although I have improved, I’d call it ‘a work in progress’!

Fast forward to the beginning of August. Her Spirit was organising a Swimathon 2020 at Spring Lakes on September 12th, in 6 weeks’ time. In 2018 I swam 2.5k in Hathersage outdoor pool so I signed up for 5k as this would be more of a challenge. It was exciting to be part of an event with real people rather than a ‘virtual’ one.

I had been swimming once a week on average up until this point but now I’d really got my work cut out! I’d become a little bit hooked on open water swimming so to be told you need to swim 3 or 4 times a week was no hardship. I also had to build in strength sessions Her Spirit Strength coach Mel Young and iMoveFreely with Her Spirit coach Rachel France both of which are on live sessions on the Her Spirit app.

Around the same time as increasing my activity I developed a sharp pain down the right side of my rib cage. Having finished radiotherapy for breast cancer in April of this year I was concerned this was connected. I couldn’t take a deep breath and if I coughed or sneezed the whole neighbourhood knew about it! Still, I had training to do so pretty much ignored the pain and carried on.

The water temperature had dropped from a balmy 20 degrees to just over 15. Due to the Reynaud’s I can only manage 45 minutes in the water at those temperatures at the moment. It was obvious that the only way to swim 5k was either in a wetsuit or in blocks of 45 ish minutes. I tried the wetsuit option – not an option! I couldn’t breathe, just a minor detail you’ll agree, I’m sure. That left short bursts in ‘skins’. Mel and I sat down and worked out a plan. I could start at the lakeside, swim across to lake 2 where upon I would swim round the 1k loop and return to exit the water, warm my hands and feet and repeat. This would be about 1200m so if I did that 4 times I would nearly have achieved 5k – Yay!

The morning of the event arrived. It was lovely and sunny and there were quite a few Her Spiriters there. The camaraderie and support was great as usual. My yellow Swimathon hat was adorned with the names of close friends who had, sadly, died of cancer. If I thought this swim was going to be tough, it was in no way as tough as the treatment they all endured! That was my focus really.

The swim went to plan, in fact my last lap only needed to be 1k. When I got out and received my medal from Co-Founder Holly Woodford I felt quite emotional. I had achieved this in just 12 weeks! I’ve learnt that I am mentally stronger than I thought. I wanted to swim 5k without breaks but I hadn’t had time to acclimatise so rather than not do it at all I achieved it by a different route.

None of this would have been possible without the coaching and support from Her Spirit for which I am profoundly grateful. Thanks to sponsorship from my wonderful friends, I raised over £300 too so, for me, it was a Win/Win!