Swim upstream. Go the other way. Ignore the conventional wisdom.
Aristotle believed that a good life is only meaningful as pursued in a world where it is not necessarily handed to you on a plate. He suggested living life with an intelligent risk and in enriching ways. The half Greek in me likes this philosophy and tries to live by it.
Weekends without Athina can be lame. There are millions of exciting things in our bucket list so when she’s not around I tackle the toughest ones ‘solo’. It is Saturday 1.30am; time to hit the road for a 5-hour drive to a far-far away land called: Scotland :) As I pack the car I notice a group of people walking ‘merrily’ and singing songs of joy.
It’s 6.30am and my iPhone announces we have reached our destination. I’m at a forest called ‘Ard’ and I have just lost my internet signal. Judging by the name of the lake I can’t be too far off but as one would expect, there are no people out and about at this time of day to ask for directions ;) Luckily for me I have a map of the UK at the back of my car; knew it’ll come handy one day! Too much wishful thinking? Mais oui- After what appears a lifetime trying to figure out where Loch Ard is, I give up. Just then, an ambulance drives past and suspecting they are heading to the open water swim race too I follow them. Faith in the universe is once more restored.
Briefing begun 10mins ago. Good Ol’ Rob greets me with a ‘Good Afternoon’ and continues to explain. ‘Red buoys, big lake, swimmers go this way and that, food station on the boat, water temperature 15 degrees.’ Pretty simple one would say- He sees the ridiculous amounts of food I carry with me and asks if I am planning to feed everyone else in the race? Have to say: A good sense of humor and wittiness are great things to have in life and Rob has a bucket-full! Without any shame I tell him I’ve come here for the ‘feast’ not the swim ;)
There are only 6 of us swimming the 10km distance in a race of almost 100 people. Sums it up nicely, doesn’t it?
It’s a grey morning and the weather forecast says ‘Rain’. The clouds are practically touching the lake. One wouldn’t describe this as a particularly warm and inviting swim and I expect it will take me 5 hours to complete. Despite my initial ambitious plans for a skin swim, I make the sensible decision to put on a wetsuit after all. Hypothermia is a very real danger, one that should be given careful consideration and left to those who have done their ‘homework’.
Despite the cold and being sleep-deprived I stand in front of Loch Ard with a smile and a warm happy feeling inside from what is to come. I feel alive, excited and curious of what this challenge will teach me. As I finish my pre-race special breakfast (Porridge with seeds, jam and yogurt.) I feel grateful for all the wonderful things life has to offer.
The 10km open water swim in Loch Ard is brutal and not for the weak hearted-
The clouds are touching the lake and I can’t see the buoys. A nice volunteer on a kayak paddles parallel to me to assist with navigating until hours later the clouds lift up. When the kayak leaves, things start going pear-shape for me as my luck of visibility (definitely wrong swim goggles for a dark day) means I continue to divert and to add miles to my already long distance. Another friendly face; volunteer Magdalini who is on the feeding boat, confirms my suspicions of swimming bigger laps than necessary and so it is time for ‘the Biggie’. I ask her to skip the energy gels and rubbish sandwiches and pass me on a vodka-lemonade but sadly she says she hasn’t got any. What??? I’ve got 3km to do and things are not looking great- On a serious note, knowing I’ve swam more than necessary is possibly my biggest make or break point.
They say: 'You can't show strength unless you are willing to test yourself' but if all tests were successes, there would be no need for them, right? After km 7 my test began. Physically I’m starting to feel the strain. My left ear aches, I begin to feel the cold water inside my wetsuit, and my left leg has mild cramps. My fingers no longer remain closed to scoop out the water and no matter how many messages my brain sends to my body saying: ‘please collaborate’ it appears there is no internet reception again ;) I am tired but keep going and I ask myself: 'Seriously, what's the worst thing that can possibly happen?' Nothing, got to keep going- ‘On the bright side’ I think to myself ‘I’m not doing the 12.5km swim today, which would have been tougher’. By applying positivity, one finds ways to eliminate their victim status and gain perspective. This is enough to keep me going.
Finally I complete the swim in 5 hours and 6mins. Lesson learnt: 10km is a respectable distance and perhaps a few ‘training swims’ wouldn’t be a bad idea before attempting the next one!
P.S. I would like to thank the 3 ‘Mother God-fairies’ that I met in the changing rooms for their kind words and above all for helping me strip off my ridiculously tight wetsuit in times when I found it particularly difficult to move ;) I am in awe for your kindness and for your gentle human nature. People like yourselves make my challenges worth the while. Thank you.