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#7DaysOfSwimRun – A Story of Drive & Commitment During a Winter Lockdown

Waking up to snow that doesn’t settle, watching rain that turns rivers into raging torrents, stepping outside to temperatures more like the inside of a fridge… most people — myself included — would agree that these aren’t exactly enticing conditions for an outdoor challenge. But I’d made myself a commitment. I’d decided I would go for a swim-run every day for seven days. Truthfully, I’d lost some of my passion for swimming after three months out of the water due to lockdowns, cancelled swimming groups, and no more access to the high mountain tarns I usually love to swim in. It was time to relight that fire.

The thing is, I need a project to focus on: that’s what drives me and will get me outside no matter what! So, I came up with #7DaysOfSwimRun. Each day would involve running at least 8km, starting and finishing at my front door, and covering at least 250m in a point A to point B river swim.

With winter conditions this harsh and a challenge that would really put me through my paces, I was counting on having the right kit to keep me safe. I opted for my full-length Speedo Xenon Fastskin wetsuit, knowing that it would allow me to retain some warmth in the cold water and ensure good core temperature on my solo swims. Plus, to keep my pack weight low and to save space — which, as friends will testify, I’m all about — I picked out my Speedo PVC towel. It’s actually my go-to towel as even when it’s really wet it keeps on working, which is perfect on a multi-swim day.

The river depth fluctuated between 0.7m and 2m, drastically changing the speed of moving water and the amount of debris crashing its way down the river.

I was excited that my #7DaysOfSwimRun was going to provide a bit of a technical challenge for me: the pure concept of observing how the river changes, day by day, during winter months intrigued me. In the summer months the river depth gauge usually reads at less than half a metre by the rapids, but during my week of swimming it fluctuated between 0.7m and 2m in depth, changing drastically in terms of both the speed of moving water and the amount of debris crashing its way down the river and over the weirs. I knew that this would require careful navigation, with me on full alert at all times, so in order to see clearly what lay beneath the waterline I used the Speedo Rift Mask with a clear lens — ensuring a wide field of view, plus great vision for spotting exit points too.

Back in pre-Covid times, it was common for me to swim three or four days out of the week up in the Lake District, but, honestly, I’d pick the best weather days, or at least stay home during the worst of the weather. So committing to all seven days of my project during winter guaranteed some suffering! Knowing the river, I had calculated that it was going to be possible to swim every day, but doubt grew in my mind about the feasibility of point A to point B swim. The week before #7DaysOfSwimRun I swam with the river gauge reading 2.5m in depth and the flow was unbearable without the safety of the eddie.

Soon enough it was time to begin. From day one of the project, I decided to stop thinking about much else and focused my mind on interpreting the weather and river gauge, then carefully plotting potential routes that would challenge me to swim in different, highly testing conditions. The over-thinking went on hold the moment I entered the water each day, the cold biting at my extremities. Its calming effect reminded me exactly why I swim.

Each day I embraced the icy sting and the fatigue in my legs. Above all, I was showing up for the pure joy of being in the water, the feeling that brings me back every single time. These seven days were all challenging in their own ways — Day Three especially so, when the water was flowing its fastest and I had to make the call to bail on my point B target, and stick to the safety of the eddie — expanding my understanding of the river from the waterline. Ultimately, in all of these ways, #7DaysOfSwimRun felt like a real success. Looking forwards, I’ve already been planning my next swim project — post-lockdown — and I’ll swim the length of all the Lake District tarns deeper than 3m, located at over 300m elevation. This is a similar concept to the #DeepWatersProject I completed last year, swimming the length of all the Lake District tarns deeper than 10m, but this time around I’d like to do my 3 x 300 project in a single trip, using a plug-in hybrid car and running to each location. Most of all, I’m looking forward to being around other athletes once more. Whilst I often go solo for my swim-run projects, I usually train with a swim group and the pandemic has shown me how much I miss having that friendship and solidarity to help motivate me. I’ve learnt that I need to work extra hard to continue to train and get myself out there when there’s no planned events. Through all of that, what’s really helped to focus my mind on why I train and why we swim year round is, as #7DaysOfSwimRun has reminded me, the pure joy of being outside in the water. I’ve decided not to focus on my distance training or even my cold water tolerance. Instead, it’s all about simply reminding myself why I love to swim.@rorysouthworth


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