In February this year I was indulging in a sauna with some friends when I heard a mate’s voice in my ear, “we are doing an event swim in the arctic circle in July and you are coming.” Then I heard my own voice saying, “I haven’t been in a swimming pool for over 5 years so I don’t think that’s a good idea.” The retort was, “you’ve got till 6 pm tonight to decide.” And that was it. In terms of discussion anyway. At 5.45 that evening I was at my friend’s house eagerly loading and reloading the page for Swim the Arctic Circle to await its registration launch. I duly signed up to the 3km swim - dismissing the 2 km one as ‘missing the point’.
I soon realised that saying yes was quite a lot easier than doing yes. I could swim front crawl but only just and breathing did not form a part of the process. In the sea I could muster a good 7 strokes pre splutter and flail. But….rescue was at hand as one of my more proficient friends suggested a lesson with Mike. And so began a rapid and fantastic journey of improvement.
I only had two pool lessons with Mike and, just a few weeks before the event, an open water session. In my first lesson he gave me some fundamentals to focus on - not least taking the occasional breath for a change. He also gave me a training programme and a whole load of encouragement. Putting his advice into practice was pretty straightforward and my confidence in the pool grew quite fast - even though my technique had a way to go.
There were notable milestones - getting my first wetsuit and the novelty of swimming in it; swimming in a lido and the shock of the cold, swimming in the sea and the bigger shock of the bigger cold. But….when I went back for my second lesson Mike’s first reaction was “oh wow - you are a different swimmer.” It was true. Largely because I had worked on the key things that Mike had identified I needed. I felt jubilant but tried really hard to stay nonchalant. He said that even if the swim was next week I’d be fine. The event was 4 weeks away.
The event itself is 3 km along the Arctic Circle line across a river bordering Finland and Sweden. It starts at midnight (as the whole point of the arctic circle in summer is 24-hour sunlight). The route also crosses a time line so if you complete it in less than an hour you arrive the day before you set off. Everyone achieves this.
On the night, the water temperature was above expectations, a balmy 17 degrees and the river was glassy and stunning. The sun sat behind us on the horizon and we swam towards the rising moon. I completed the event in 41 minutes - (with the helping hand of a massive current I hasten to add). But….the best bit was the fun - I literally loved it all: the build up, the lessons, the encouragement, the improvement, the anticipation and fear, the event and the beers in the hot tub. Also to my pleasant surprise (and probably Mike’s too) 2 km into the swim I found myself thinking “what would Mike say now” and I imagined he would say “do more body rolling” so I did and that felt great too.
I am really looking forward to the next swim adventure and to channeling some more of Mike’s calm, infectious expertise and enthusiasm.
And the moral of the story: if you get a strange voice in your ear telling you to swim - listen to it first - then ring Mike.