Wound our way cross country to Alton Water with mixed weather as our escort. I was trying not to dwell on reports of 21mph winds, although it was obvious as we arrived at the lake that conditions were far from calm. This wasn't going to be a leisurely swim in the sunshine. There was just time for a cup of hot, strong black coffee and an open air squeeze into the wet suit before the heavens opened. I tried to form a human umbrella for the children, after all, I was going to get wet anyway, but it didn't seem to work. I don't know if I felt more sorry for them waiting miserably in the rain.
This great expanse of water stretched out before me with giant inflatable yellow buoys bobbing gaping distances apart. I was intimidated by the lithe wetsuit clad hordes, many in ironman seal suits, until I realised Ironman was a brand name, there was hope for me yet. Watching the crowd ahead of my neon red wave was worrying. They huddled together by the starting line, delayed by adverse weather conditions, but still teemed into the water and sped away, arms wheeling like thousands of swimming spiders.
The call came for my section and I walked through the pen, wading into the shallow acclimatisation zone, relieved that the water, at least, was mild, but soon called out by the organisers eager to get everyone going. I looked for lone swimmers like myself and attempted to strike up conversation, finding empathy in other first timers, and hoping I could tag alongside to sooth my nerves. When it came to it, I was strangely calm. Years of practise of derring do with She Who Dares, and the thought that out there somewhere, one of our girls was lifeguarding in her kayak.
The first three bouys and 600 metres were so hard, buffeted by the wind and gulping huge amounts of lake water, I tried breastroke until my knees ached, and I didn't seem to get anywhere, backstroke till my shoulder cracked and I crashed a zig zag course through the other swimmers, flipping back on my front, head submerged in the murky green. Finally my breathing settled and my stroke lengthened and strengthened. I saw SWD Linda, she even made me tread water long enough to take my picture. Spurred on by her encouragement I made it past the penultimate Buoy and tried to judge the final distance. Did I have enough left in the tank for a burst of proper front crawl? I decided to wait till I was in sight of the blue finishing line, and went for it, only to realise I had to swim another 100 metres to stagger out and up to the waiting family.
Six months of training and I'd come a long way, well, at least a mile.