“Can you be there in 30 minutes?”
It’s the kind of message that spells adventures.
It was late one weekday afternoon in this recent hot spell. The sun was bright. The sky a brilliant blue. And my desk suddenly seemed very unappealing.
Because the mini-adventure being suggested was something I’d never done: swimming – properly swimming – in a Devon river.
No contest. 30 minutes later we were here: toes tickled by sun-warmed grass beside a river that flowed through dappled shade.
Feet in neoprene socks scrambled down the bank, sharp stones dug into toes. Inching in was squealingly cold. Then it’s ‘oh what the heck’ (or words to that effect) and a deep breath and a step and a plunge and: ‘whoosh!’ – cold water gasps and puffs.
Then water-borne conversations about flow and eddies and learning to swim – generations of Devonians have sketched their first strokes in this water. And chats about using the water flow to perfect swimming technique – it’s a natural resistance pool.
Next we were exploring a mini-island, discovering another stretch of water, and playing in a swoosh – the section of current that propels you downriver faster than you can swim, to deposit you safely on a sloping bank.
Blissfully cool. Sunlight glinting on water. Squeals from playing children. Youngsters jumping in.
This is something to value – friends who can unlock new experiences and places.
People, sensations, wild spaces. Playing, learning, enjoying.
A grin-inducing way to GetOutside.
The practical stuff:
I was lucky, a friend knew just where and how to swim. If you don’t, do your research carefully – nationally the Outdoor Swimming Society is a good place to start.
Devon & Cornwall Wild Swimming provides sound regional advice.
While Ordnance Survey maps will help get you wherever you need to go.
In the overall arena of contests and endeavour, the Polkerris Biathlon doesn’t loom large. A 1.5km swim, followed by a 6km run – for some isn’t that far. But for me it was and it underlined five simple truths about why I love to GetOutside.
Completing Not Competing
“Are you competing?” said the guy pointing people towards registration.
“Yes”, I said automatically.
“No”, said my friend at the same time. “We’re taking part”.
And she was right. This wasn’t about speed and race positions. Yes, we were here to challenge ourselves and step outside our comfort zones – but it was more about finishing and having fun.
This is the face of someone who is really very nervous. I love sea bathing, but I’m not a speed or distance gal. 1.5km would be the furthest I’d done. At my painfully slow swimming that’s 45+ minutes in 13 degree seas (in a wetsuit). Worse still it was a blustery day with a four foot swell – from the beach it looked an awfully, awfully long way … Luckily I had two good friends to tell me I’d be fine. Could I do it? I kept wondering, eyeing a very bouncy sea. Their answer, always: “of course you can”.
Trying Something New
If the sea was off-putting, the transition zone was baffling. Great advice from the organisers saw me equipped with a washing up bowl (to rinse sand from your feet before putting them into trainers for the run). And friends had advised on how to dress (a bra under the swim suit was a top tip) but how to best arrange the gear was all very unclear. It adds to nerves when you can’t quite envisage how things will pan out. And everyone else seemed to know just what to do …
This is the route (marked up on OS Maps). While the swim worried me, it didn’t remotely phase my friend. While the run didn’t worry me, that was her bug bear. We could have chosen to do the event as a relay. But we wanted to help each other around. As I plugged away, horribly slowly on the swim, my buddy kept me company – encouraging, chatting, being chilled and calm. She could have swam four times as far (at least), but instead chose to help me. Eventually we made it (yay!!) and we headed onto a sometimes hilly and slippery course. It was now my turn to go a little slower than I could (note: not much slower), as we chatted our way around, taking in the views.
“Failure” & Success
Because of that determination to finish together – to match the pace of each other at our slowest, we came very spectacularly last. But you could also say we triumphed. Not just because that last place – and the spirit in which it was ‘achieved’ – netted a bottle of Prosecco each. But it was a kind of triumph because we’d been bold and stepped outside our comfort zones. Because perhaps the only failure is not to try.
We were there not to compete, but to complete. And we did that in fine style.
Fancy trying something new?
The Ordnance Survey has lots of good ideas on how to GetOutside in its Beginner’s Guides section.
The Polkerris Biathlon was run by the excellent Mad Hatter Sports – they have plenty more events in Cornwall this summer, over a wide range of distances, for you to try.
Let me know how you get on …