The newly formed PSUK Open Water Swimming Team took part in their first event, the Epic Swim Series in May 2011. The event was held in Lake Coniston over the Bank Holiday weekend and the team had 10 police swimmers entered. The event comprised of 3 races, a 500m, 1.5km & 3.8km swim.
The weather conditions could not have been any worse, water temperature was said to have been about 11/12 degrees. The outside temperature was not much warmer with winds gusting to 45 mph and rain just to add to the drama. I had checked out the location on the Saturday evening and although the water temperature was a concern the chop and swell on the lake was greater. There was a suggestion from the organisers that due to the weather conditions the 3.8km race would be shortened to 3.2km for safety reasons as the kayakers would struggle to stabilise.
On the morning of the event conditions had not improved in fact they had worsened overnight. What I can only describe as ‘waves’ on the lake, something I had not seen before and had certainly not expected. It was also cold and damp. At registration I asked about the shortened distance but was advised it would still be a 3.8km swim.
The first race was the 500m event which got off after holding the swimmers in the water for over 5 minutes whilst everyone made their way to the start line. Many swimmers were seen to enter the water only to come out after a minute or two due to the horrendous conditions and height of the waves.
At the briefing of the 3.8km event the organisers announced that due to the bad conditions the swim had to be shortened to 1.5km and would be 3 laps of the 500m course in order to keep swimmers closer and allow the kayakers to make effective rescues if required. To be honest I was a little disappointed but understood that safety was paramount. I cautiously made my way into the water, hanging back so as not to be in the water too long before the start. Was it cold? Oh yes it was but not unbearable, was it choppy? Incredibly so! Again I saw swimmers enter the water and quickly retreat to the side.
It took a little while to get all swimmers behind the start line due to the high winds. Then we were off, I did an all out sprint to get into some clear water, travelling in the direction of the wind was a welcome boost. On making it to the first buoy I turned right and it was then that the cross winds hit and I felt the water battering my body, at the next turn you swam into the wind and it was tough, sighting was difficult as every time you looked up all you could see was a wave of water, at the next turn, once again you hit the cross wind and this was by far the worst part of the course. One lap down with 2 to go, it turned into a tactical race.
As laps 2 and 3 passed I felt that the waves became bigger and the swim more challenging, I thought this was because I was getting tired but I found out later that the gusts of wind had significantly increased during the race to the extent that many swimmers were asked to stop part way through the race and were ushered to the nearest bank. The kayakers were finding it impossible to stabilise themselves and were in no position to rescue any swimmers should the need arise. This was gutting for the swimmers involved including Andy Lakeland, South Yorkshire who felt that although the swim was very challenging was coping well and had covered at least 1100m when told to stop.
The race finished at the shore which entailed about a 100m run. Crossing the finishing line I felt exhilarated. It was by far my toughest swim I have ever done but equally extremely rewarding.
Out of the 208 starters only 108 finished and a well deserved ‘Congratulations’ go to all that completed the swim.
The later scheduled 1.5km swim had to be cancelled due to safety reasons, which was very disappointing as many police swimmers had travelled far to do the event.
Three police swimmers completed the race:
Claire Thorn, West Midlands was 1st female and 5th overall. Janie Carmichael, Lothian & Borders was 1st in the F50 and Angie Fisher, West Midlands (R) was 3rd in the F50 age group.
Anyone interested in open water swimming please contact Claire Thorn using the contact form here on the site.
Claire Thorn (West Midlands) stands atop the podium after taking first place in the women's 500 metre event