Swimrun Life #6 2018 – A word from the editor

Mar 13, 2018

Scrolling through Instagram during winter months, I am blown away by the proud posts of swimrunners at the pool showing hand-scribbled drills and goggle-imprinted faces. Such dedication.

I haven’t dipped a toe into a swimming pool in three years, even though both Nice and Monaco have first-rate 50-m indoor pools, since I discovered winter open water swimming in the Mediterranean. Although my speed probably hasn’t improved as a result, the payoff is my alone time with nature.

“The sea is alive, expansive; a pool is dead and confining. The sea is freedom. There is nothing in a pool: no current, no tide, no waves, and most of all, no history,” Gillian Best writes exquisitely in “The Last Wave”, a story about a woman who swam the English Channel.

According to Dover.uk, 36.8% of swimmers who crossed the English Channel have been female. In 1926, Gertrude Ederle, 20, was the first woman to do it. In only her second attempt, she crossed in 14 hours 39 minutes – 2h29 faster than any of the five men who had completed the task before her.

“People said women couldn’t swim the Channel, but I proved they could,” Gertie said.

The 1926 NY Daily News newspaper reported:
“During her twelfth hour at sea, Burgess, her trainer, had become so concerned by unfavourable winds that he called to her, ‘Gertie, you must come out!’ The swimmer lifted her head from the choppy waters and replied, ‘What for?’”

The sea is alive, expansive; a pool is dead and confining. The sea is freedom.

This evokes a chuckle from my husband, who in 2012 helped me transition from the pool to the open water as I was preparing for my first Ironman 70.3. I was terrified of jellyfish, even hyperventilating at times when I’d mistake my own air bubbles for a gelatinous blob. If I did see a jelly, and I’m not proud of this, I’d push my husband towards it as a moving target.

These days, across the year, I’m in the sea at least three times a week, covering between 15 and 35km. And yes, I’ve survived my worst-case scenario: I’ve been stung a number of times by jellyfish.

Facing fear in the open water is something Diana Nyad, who at 64 was the first woman to cross 180 km from Cuba to Florida (in 55 hours!), knows all about. In her mesmerising autobiography, “Find a Way”, the swimming legend shares: “I don’t believe I was genetically equipped to override the heinous pain of those box jellyfish stings. I was shocked when they hit. But I had set my will ahead of time. It was deliberate, conscious resolve that allowed me to withstand that monstrous pain, or any pain I would encounter.”

Not to say that open water swimming has to be painful! In fact, swim coach Eva Fridman offers some advice this issue on getting out of the pool and into the sea, and getting over the initial anxiety.

Diana and Gertie would have made a kick-ass swimrun team. Forget #metoo or #timesup; these two icons have shown us that will has no gender – #whatfor


Article first published in Swimrun Life Magazine Issue #6 (March 2018)

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