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Friday, 4 July 2014



Hi there, I’m Gary. In May this year I embarked on a little swimming challenge down the river Trent which took me from Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire to Dunham, Lincolnshire, 100 miles downstream. This was all in aid of the mental health charity, MIND. I wanted to raise both money and awareness for this great charity having suffered for several years with stress, anxiety and depression.
Having broken free from the shackles of my illness, I was determined to make the most of my second chance at living a full life and looked to take on a big challenge.
I only took up open water swimming in June of last year and took to it like err… well… a duck to water!
Up to then I’d spent a bit of time in the pool learning how to swim more than two lengths front crawl without tiring myself out.
Although I was swimming, I wasn’t sure at this point if my challenge was going to be a swimming one or not. It was the exploits of Sean Conway who become the first person to swim the length of Brittan, 1000 miles that inspired me to search for my own swimming adventure.
Two or three ideas later, I settled on the river Trent back in October last year. 6 months of training, planning and panicking followed and although the original route was shortened from 141 miles to 100 miles due to the lack of access during low tide towards the end. I was happy that I had set myself a big enough of a challenge.
On to the start at Essex Bridge on the Shugborough Hall estate. It’s fair to say that I had more than my fair share of nerves as I got into the water for the first time. I wouldn’t go as far to say s**ting myself as that will come into this blog in a little while!
I set off just after 8am with the aim of covering 20 miles. The biggest problem I encountered on the first day was submerged boulders in the shallow water. I took several hits to the ribs and shoulders but still managed to cover the first 3 miles in just over 40 minutes with a fast current. I felt relaxed, confident and strong by this stage and headed off again with my brother, Paul in the support kayak beside me. It was a good job I was in good shape as my parents and the rest of my support crew couldn’t gain access to the river where my next rest point should have been. This resulted in a 7 mile, 2 hour stint that knocked the stuffing out of me.
At around half 5, I reached the finishing point for the first day. I was exhausted but elated to have my first 20 mile day under my belt but I was unsure how I was going to be able to keep this up.
Day two was very much like the first apart from the missed rest point came much later in the day, the final rest point as it happened. This time it wasn’t due to lack of access, it was because I beat the support car there! So I blissfully carried on regardless while several frantic phone calls went back and forth from car to kayak while they both tried to find out where each other were.
By the time I eventually reached the days finishing point at the John Thompson Inn at Ingleby, I was an exhausted, shivering wreck. Heavy rain the night before had took a couple of degrees off the water, coupled the double stint I’d just done and the lack of any fuel all took its toll. I sat in the car with the heaters on full for quite some time before I was ready to peel myself out of my wetsuit.
Day three was nothing short of awesome! Due to a clerical error on my part, the day 2 swim was only 17 miles long. I really wanted to reach the centre of Nottingham by the end of the day as I knew there were quite a few people going to be there to see me in.

So I decided to put the missing three miles on to the beginning of the day. I can’t put into words how good I felt on this day. Both the previous days I’d struggled at various points along the day, particularly towards the end. I felt as though my mind had beaten my body into submission and I could just focus on each 3/4 mile stint without distraction. I felt that good at the end of the 23 mile day that I even put a bit of a sprint on spurred on by the crowd waiting for me on the river bank as I approached the City Ground.
It went from elation to deflation very quickly however. I woke up for day four with what I’ve come to call ‘Tent belly’. Illness had set in big time, I struggled to eat a thing for breakfast and my stomach was solid. Undeterred, I jumped back into the river to set off but by the time I got to the first rest point I knew I was in trouble. Nothing would go down and if I forced it down, it was straight back up again.
By the time I reached the third rest point I was in a very bad way. Unable to get warm, unable to eat or drink and with rapid, shallow breathing I reluctantly decided to call it a day for the day. Although I had all my support crew telling me that I’ve just swam 10 miles on 700 calories feeling like death. I still felt that the day was a failure as I didn’t cover the distance I set out to do.
I know this is stupid but when you’re 100% focused on the task ahead, anything less just won’t do.
After an afternoon, evening and night in bed, I woke up feeling better and determined to make up on some lost ground (stupid I know), I jumped in again. And again by the time I got to the first rest point, I knew I was in trouble. Both ends had opened like taps. The Imodium was taking care of one end but everything I tried to eat was coming straight back up.

As like the day before, I jumped back in and carried on. Every stroke was a battle and every time I stopped for a breather in the water anything left in my stomach would end up in the river (sorry fish).
By the 2pm I had made it to Farndon just outside of Newark. I was determined to get this far as it was the first place I jumped into the Trent in preparation for the swim. Having reached my goal, I had to make another very difficult decision to have a rest day to try and regain some kind of level of health as I was quite literally on my knees at this point.
The river may well have won the battle but I wasn’t going to lose the war!
After a day of eating and sleeping, I once again jumped into the river with only 20 miles separating me with triple figure mileage under my belt. This would turn out to be one of the longest days of my life. The rain from the early part of the swim had long gone and the water temperature was on the up but the flow of the river was slowing to an almost complete halt. That’s what it felt like anyway!
Although I still felt weak, I could keep food a drink down to fuel me through the day so I got my head down and went for it, and went for it, and went for it…. 12 long hours I spent in the water on the final day to get to the magic 100 mile marker near the village of Dunham, Lincolnshire.
Getting as far as I did was amazing but what made it for me was the unbelievable support I had throughout. My parents took a week off work to support me. Feeding me, ferrying me along the route etc. Friends, family and people I’ve never met coming along to help me in whatever way they could. Plus the countless good luck messages on facebook, twitter, text and email willing me on.
At the beginning of this very long blog (sorry) I said the goal of the swim was to raise awareness and money for MIND. Money is still coming in, please donate here. So far I’ve raised over £1,800 which I’m over the moon about!

On the back of my little adventure, I’ve been shortlisted for the Discovery Channels ‘My World Bigger’ competition. I’m in the running to win one of 3 adventure holidays of a life time and would really appreciate it if you could take the time to vote for me here.
My thoughts have already turned to next year’s adventure. Planning is in the early stages still but I’m looking at a 150+ mile sea swim next July/August time. Thank for reading about my adventure.


Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Windermere swim number 1

Windermere swim number 1

Who would have thought that an innocent swim would turn into an epic meeting.!

A good friend Alison Darley and I decided to have a wander over to the lake district for a swim...well it would rude not too wouldn't it. The weather was crisp but fine.
Arriving at the Langdale Chase hotel, the owner and very good friend Thomas Noblett granted permission to swim from his jetty and as and added bonus we used his 'swim cave' to get changed in...oh the luxury of a warm room to exit fleecy clothing into a cold wetsuit.

The water was remarkably clear with the bottom seen for quite a distance, it always turns us in to intrepid hunter for fallen treasure....yet to find any but we live in hope! Alighting the warmth of the changing room we walked the short distance to lake side, its rather like the feeling of leaving a pool changing room to get to the poolside, you feel the eyes of others on you as you do what you hope is a normal gaited walk. In our case its not fellow swimmers that are watching but guests of the hotel who must me wondering who the nutters are! i resist the urge to ask if my bum looks big in this!

Alison and i had decided to do our normal...swim then play. Managing not to break our feet on the slippery rocks we headed deeper into the water, the cold dampness penetrating the wetsuit and quickly taking what heat remained as well as our breath. As my good friend would say its chuffing cold, as she attempted to put me in a zen like trance to combat the chills! As you can see she had me in fits of giggles instead!
But that is nothing new when we are together. The odd boat passed by us, passengers agape as they huddled deeper into thick coats, some wave...we tentatively wave back...after all we are attempting to look professional....slipping off a rock would shatter that illusion!

Eventually we got down to the business of swimming, my daughter Gemma, our photographer for the day. The cold on the face can be likened to a visit to the dentist, the gums go numb, the lips feel thick. But swim we did until the chill of the water prevented us from moving in a coordinated way. A bit of butterfly to warm us up didn't go amiss either, it never fails to amazing me how Julie Bradshaw MBE managed to do the channel all butterfly when we struggle to do 50m!! But try we matter what it looks like and on the odd occasion Alison brings her monofin for us to play with as well! Again it probably not pretty but do we care....for a short time us adults revert to a child like state and just have fun!

Eventually the temperatures drove us from the water and back to the warmth of the swim cave, no matter what the distance, how long we are in, its fun, its great company and its the pure love of the water that brings us back to it time after time...little did we know we would have time for tea and scones (and those scones are amazing!) infront of an open fire...truly and open water swimmers dream, and then we would be nipping back in the great of long distance swimming!!!.... windermere swim number 2 coming soon!!!!

Happy swimming everyone!!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014



Well after a brief spell away from writing the blog (work and going on courses interfere with life!), its time to put pen to paper...for those young readers amongst us..that was the old fashioned method of communication. 

The winter has passed, thankfully without event (accident aside), the snow that was promised failed to materialise but the temperatures did plummet, now for mere mortals that means that we scurry inside, light the fires and wear as many layers of clothing as possible, the swimming pool our only source of watery play now awaits....but hang on...what about those of us who very rarely visit an indoor watery palace (i use that word dubiously as we know most are not salubrious nor are they palaces)

For those of us that shy away from the indoor watery boxes new adventures abound - winter swimming. Yes i can just see you all sat there giving out an involuntary shiver at the mere thought of it, but it like summer swimming is addictive.

What does it feel like i hear you ask. Well having a cold shower or plunging your hand into a bucket of water does not equate to the level of cold you will experience when submerging yourself into an icy lake. First the breathlessness, the heartbeat rising, the peripheral vision shrinking as very fibre of your body screams at you to get out and get warm. For those of us that manage not to make a rapid exit, the gradual lowering of the body into the water brings about a welcome numbness that further more invites you to swim!

Swim in that ....yes we do, it might not look as stylish as during the summer months nor do we swim the distances that the warmer waters permit. But we do slowly embrace the cold and its affects on our bodies. The mind is the biggest controlling factor during the winter months, waking up and seeing snow or a hard frost and the mind instantly turns to ....."fab, lets go swimming!" The journey to the lake is spent wrapped in as much fleece as we own and the heater in the car on full as we try to preserve what little vestibule of heat we possess. 

Getting changed can be a painful affair, attempting to pull on cold neoprene is difficult and no amount of speed will prevent the chilled air from wrapping itself around you, it was easier to not put the wetsuit on...after all how bad can it be.....for one and all its fine up to the mid thighs - then for the men...well you can just imagine the reaction on their faces as their nether regions react in the way they should, everything disappears, most cant talk and some have been known to produce howler monkey impressions, for us ladies the 'area' is higher up....equally as painful and then rapidly numb, thankfully. and again the final painful bit....the armpits, we all hold our arms close to our bodies, the natural instinct to preserve heat kicking in! The noises emitted from the mouth tend to get higher in pitch and a tad louder but it is all part of the process - we have also been known to develop tourette's! Thankfully the later is a short lived affair.

The distance we swim is always calculated prior to getting in (the brain barely computes once we are in!) and once submerged we are we worry about technique, what we look like...nope we head off to our intended destination, pleading with our bodies to let us make it there...and quick as flash we are there. The often raggy breathing starts to calm down, the body adjusts to the temperature, the hands and feet often ache to the point of painful....but we love it. The grins spread, new distances are calculated, we are mindful of time, buddying up and of a safe recovery....but oh wow it is addictive, seriously addictive.

For those who what to push their limits the ICEMILE is the swim of all swims. One mile in sub 5 degrees, in just your swimsuit, a hat and a pair of goggles!!! To show you how big a feat it is lets put it into perspective, more people have climbed Everest than have completed an ice mile. I have been in the very privileged position of overseeing and officiating at a good number of said swims this last winter. Swimmers having trained and practiced in the ever decreasing temperatures watch the thermometers drop, the first frosts are greeted with cheers and then big gulps and the realisation dawns the time has come, the training and practicing times are over and its time to get in and do it.

On the day the only thing swimmers have to worry about just doing the distance, a team at the ready are there to support from every angle. Officials, first aiders, witnesses, kayakers, ....oh the list goes on. We are all following the remit of the International Ice Swimming Association, our aim, to make the swimmers experience the best it can be, whilst at the same time taking care of all the safety aspects that ensure a successful swim. It is quite magical watching the swimmer entering the water, the concentration is intense, the atmosphere relaxed. The stoke is counted, the eyes of those attending never leaving the swimmer, the distance counted off. Exiting the water to applause and cheers, just like us short distance swimmers, it barely registers, if at all.

All they know is that they have done it, all they are aware of are the deep effects of the cold on the body, they trust us completely as we bundle them up and get them to shelter, warm drinks are given, at times trunks cut off to aid a swift application of clothing. The warm up is carefully managed. For those that have swam through the winter we know the 'shivers' that we love to video and post on facebook. the shivers of the icemiler are not for public consumption such is their greatness. As the warmth seeps back into the body, cognitive function returns and so the swimmer having been given the same drink throughout his recovery....asked 'what was the drink'. 'bovril' came the reply...a still slightly confused swimmer then announced 'but i don't like bovril'...he finished the flask though!! Later he stated that he thought he was drinking hot chocolate!! Needless to say the vital bit of clothing is the amazing DRYROBE, as one swimmer once put it, 'a hug in a robe!', its become the mainstay of swimmers throughout the uk!!!

Does the distance matter or is it the pure achievement of swimming in cold water, which ever way you look at it we end up the same...shivering and grinning. The experience joins us together in the same way that the warmer waters do. No breaking of ice this year....but Decembers not that far off is it...

Friday, 21 February 2014



For me as both an out door and pool swimmer, it is vital that goggles can be used for both purposes. And so the new Aqua Sphere EXO-core have been tested in both to see if they can suit the cross over as needed by many swimmers. The EXO-core are the next step up from the Kaimen's which are already a swimmers favourite for comfort and fit so it will be interesting to see how Aqua Sphere have managed to progress their product.

At first glance the goggle are stylish in appearance and do feel nice to the touch. As a passionate swimmer, i know what I look for in a goggle, baring in mind that I wear them for at least an hour a day..its the goggle marks, will I be left looking 'water wounded' as I call it. Aqua Sphere have introduced a new bi-material frame technology designed to be comfortable as well as maintaining the streamlined fit and appearance that we all require.

In the pool after adjusting them, which was easy to do using the new buckle system, I set off. For an hour's solid training in the pool, not once did I have to adjust them, nor did they leak - result. Vision wise the lack of misting, and lack of water ingress were a massive bonus, it meant and uninterrupted swim set. Running through the full range of strokes in an attempt to get them to budge seemed impossible, as the new streamline fit makes the water flow past as opposed to hitting the goggles. Stopping at the end of the hour I was amazing at how light they still felt on my face, the swim has been as if I was not wearing goggles such is the weight of them on the face. Now the 'wound' test, taking the goggles off, the Advance Fit Technology promised a gentle suction to the face, and i had been careful how I had put them on, would I be walking around with the mark of the swimmer on my face all day. Alighting the pool and heading for a mirror, I was delighted to see nothing there, the softness of the new material had moulded itself to my face and held on enough to do the job in hand without letting the rest of the world know that I had been swimming! My second trip to the pool even earned the goggles a compliment on their look.

A few days later, it was time to put them to the test in the open water, not the best of days for a swim, windy and a tad chilly. But wetsuit and hat on I headed to the lake. Again the goggles were worn, slightly adjusted this time to account for the choppiness of the water. Heading out into the deep, I only had to adjust the goggles one and that was my own fault, spotting a fish I managed to almost dislocate my neck and budged the goggles a few millimetres by trying to watch the fish whilst carrying on swimming at the same pace, none the less they resealed themselves easily and I carried on swimming. Again it is the seal and the feel of the goggles that I am impressed with, they literally do not feel like you are wearing any, the vision afforded in the open water is as good if not better than the Kaimens. And again the wound test yielded a zero score.

Over all I am seriously impressed with the Exo-core's, several other swimmers were able to try them on in both the pool and open water and the response was an instant 'wow, i have to get a pair', for social swimming, a quick dip and definately for racing in they are the perfect goggle, the goggles are available from this month and would recommend them! Contact your local Aqua Sphere retailer for details of where to purchase on 01254 291717, ( , and of course don't forget to follow them on Facebook at AquashpereUK and also Twitter,  @aquasphereuk. If you want to try before you buy give me a shout, come for a swim and see for yourself, you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

AQUA SPHERE GUEST BLOG - Fiona Walker of Aqua Sphere UK

Open Water Swimming

According to,  ‘swimming in open water has a long and colourful history dating back as far as 36BC, when the Japanese organised the first open water races. The Romans held high-profile races in the Tiber, when thousands would crowd along the banks to watch and cheer. The Knights in the middle ages reputedly had to swim in full armour as one of their seven required agilities.’

In 1986, FINA officially added open water swimming to the international competition calendar and in 2008 the International Olympic Committee listed the first ever Olympic 10km marathon swimming race as one of the events for Beijing.   Team GB clinched three medals in this event – half the medals on offer – and since that moment the UK has really seen an upsurge in outdoor swimming.    Echoing the bold waterbabies of Russia, China and Scandinavia, more U.K citizens  are becoming converts of cold winter swimming, arguing that it boosts the immune system, improves circulation and provides an addictive adrenalin rush which cannot be found amongst the cosy lanes of your local pool.  

Pauline Squire, Wild About Swimming owner, confirms this. “The natural endorphins high from swimming outside in fresh air can last for days.  It’s been proven to be a mentally and physically beneficial activity.  Open water swimming can also take you to some of the most stunning locations, where your mind can rest while your body is embraced by the waters.  In my opinion it’s the most inclusive sport/hobby you can have, and open to any age or ability.”

Europe’s biggest open water swim series, Great Swim, is attracting more first time entries each year.    Aqua Sphere is the official swim kit partner to the series and the brand’s Marketing Manager, Fiona Walker, completed her first Great Swim last year.   She says “This was a huge personal challenge.  Up till then I was a confident swimmer, but I wasn’t a particularly good swimmer. But I love being outdoors and there’s something very instinctive about taking to the open water and engaging with the elements. No chlorine, no lanes, no hair tumbleweed populated with plasters and scabs! There are very few things that compare to the exhilaration of an open water swim! My favourite memory was a training swim where the water was chilly but fresh and clear and I was surrounded by swallows dipping around me as I swam.  The sun glinting off the water and the rush of the birds around me as I became part of their environment was just wonderful. ”

Fiona trained systematically in her local pool and, as it became warmer, took her training outdoors.   Conversely we all saw Davina McCall’s shocking collapse after swimming across Windermere as part of a Sport Relief fundraising challenge this chilly February.  Simon Griffiths of H2Open magazine believes “the fact that she struggled to breathe or to lift her arms out of the water are fairly normal responses for an inexperienced swimmer plunged into cold water and almost certainly could have been avoided with more training and preparation.” 

Fortunately Davina recovered quickly but the experience was a timely reminder of the risks in open water swimming, especially in extremely cold conditions. Simon advises “making your first open water swimming experience a winter one is a little foolish. Swimming in Windermere should be a wonderful and life-affirming experience. For most people it is. We wonder if Davina had any opportunity to savour the majestic surroundings and the beautiful, clear water. Did she, at any point in that swim, experience, notice and enjoy the electric tingle of fresh, cool water against her skin? Did she delight in the weightless calm that only swimming can give you?. If you haven't yet tried open water swimming, please prepare properly and consider when and where you first do it. Make sure it's a positive experience that brings you back for more.” Pauline adds  “There appears to be wide condemnation for Davina's lack of preparation for her swim. The normal open water swimmer trains and prepares well in anticipation of the enjoyment and competition of an event. Sadly, that Davina didn't, has potentially brought the sport into disrepute and does leave the rest of us defending our right to enjoy the water.”

Davina -  we do admire your gumption - but please revisit Windermere with us this summer for a swim you'll remember for all the right reasons, not the wrong ones.

Aqua Sphere is the official wet suit and goggle brand to Great Swim.   For information about entering and training for a Great Swim visit

By Fiona Walker - Aqua Sphere UK

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

First disabled swimmer completes Ice Mile swim

Simon Griffiths | H2Open Editor | Monday 27 January 2014
On 19 January this year, Jonty Warnekan of Harrogate joined the elite group who have completed a one mile swim in water of less than five degrees Celsius – an Ice Mile. 

Warnekan, 41, decided late in 2013 that he wanted to keep swimming outside through the winter with a view to taking part in the Big Chill Swim, Windermere, in February. He became a regular at Ellerton Lake, steadily increasing his swim distance and time in the water under the watchful eye of Pauline Squire of Wild about Swimming.
As a result of injuries from a car accident, Warnekan had the lower portion of his left leg removed. He has pins in the other ankle and a metal plate in his head. None of this stopped him completing 10km swims in the summer and it wouldn’t stop him doing the Ice Mile.
The swim, supported by a team of 14, took 58 minutes to complete, with Jonty maintaining a steady pace throughout except for the final stretch where he started to slow.

The International Ice Swimming Association confirmed the swim on 23 Jan.

First northern Hemisphere Ice Milers for winter 2013/14

Pleased our lads are in the H2O Magazine!!! Thanks Simon Griffiths :)

First northern hemisphere Ice Milers for winter 2013/14
Simon Griffiths | H2Open Editor | Wednesday 11 December 2013 International Ice Swimming Association (IISA) has ratified four more Ice Milers: three in the UK and one in the US.
Starting on 19 November, James Brown completed an Ice Mile at Ellerton Lake in Yorkshire.  Eleven days later Brown was back in the water at Treeton Dyke, along with Alistair Beattie and Leon Fryer. The official temperature for Brown’s first attempt was 3.9 degrees Celsius. For the second it was 4.18 degrees. According the IISA rules the temperature must be measured by three different devices.
The three were coached by Pauline Squire, who says: “The first lap appeared to be done with ease, but then came the turning point where the cheers of the supporters appeared to go unheard as each swimmer headed towards the start line and turned, the distance ahead of them unfathomable as with cold leaden arms they started out again.”
On the second lap the swimmers' breathing became laboured and their stroke rates slowed.
“Now was the dangerous part of the swim: the body tiring, the brain barely registering the route required, the mouth so frozen that words could not be formulated,” says Squire. “Their limbs now felt like dead weights. It was a painful process to cover the last 500 metres. All three stopped several times.”
The three swimmers made it to the end and managed to exit the water unaided. Their supporters then bundled them quickly into warm clothes and blankets and plied them with hot drinks.
A week later, on 7 December, Gordon Gridley completed an Ice Mile in tough conditions in Utah’s Great Salt Lake. The water temperature was a mere 1.19 degrees while the air dropped to minus 6.1 degrees. Despite this, Gridley blasted through his swim in 26 minutes, which looks like a top ten time, and only a couple of minutes behind the fastest ever.
Editor's note: An Ice Mile is a serious and potentially dangerous swimming challenge that should only be undertaken by experienced swimmers in controlled and supervised situations.

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