Great North Swim vs. Great East Swim:

Last year I convinced a good friend of mine to participate in a mass swim event called the Great North Swim. I was aware of the event as I am a runner, within the UK if you are serious about running then you are usually aware of two races in particular, one being the London Marathon and the other being the Great North Run. Whilst browsing race events I came across the Great North Swim 10km swim and decided it was one to add to the list. Last year I completed the 10km distance, said to be the swimmers marathon, and thoroughly enjoyed everything the event had to offer. Naturally, this year I decided to attend and take Laura with me, seeing as she’s a much better swimmer than I am. In the moments of madness that came by booking the Great North Swim, we decided to also book the Great East Swim due to being more local to that event anyway. So this year we participated in both and here’s a blog post about what happened and a comparison of the two.

Open water over pool swimming every time.

I should mention that we swam the 5km distance at the GNS and the 10km at the GES. Like I said, last year I swam my first ever 10km open water swim, after having some pretty gnarly shoulder pain afterwards I said the classic ‘well I’m not doing that again’. Hence why we had entered the 5km at the GNS. However, moments after entering the 5km at the GNS, we suddenly had a change of heart and wished we’d just entered the 10km, so we came to a happy medium and decided the do the 10km at GES as well as the 5km at GNS. I am so glad Laura shares the same mantra of wanting to go further.

The Great North Swim 2019
We headed up to the beautiful venue of Lake Windermere late on a Thursday evening armed with our wetsuits and a bag of porridge oats. Unfortunately, unlike the previous year, the weather forecast meant conditions were not ideal for a weekend in the Lake District but we weren’t going to let that stop us. We stayed in a remote village just outside the national park called Hutton Roof, in a beautiful little cottage Air Bnb.

Friday morning came around and we had a few hours until our event started at 12:45pm. I am not really a fan of daytime events, I prefer the morning start times as it’s how I’m used to training. The waiting around gives you a lot of time to think about it and also it’s harder to judge nutrition. We made do though and had our porridge and headed to Bowness-on-Windermere via the ferry which is a discounted price for those taking part in the event – a nice touch I must admit.

2018 vs. 2019, biggest difference – the weather.

Upon entering the lake, it was noticeably cold! As I started my first lap I knew that mentally I was in for a tough ride, though I didn’t feel too bad physically and with no question over whether I could make the distance. Unfortunately as I came around on the 2nd lap I started to uncontrollably shiver, I’m no stranger to what hypothermia feels like but in the moment I just knew that things were not good. My vision started to slow down, I felt cold to the bone and I could no longer get my arms to function properly. There was no panic or sense of desperation, I just knew that it would probably be a good decision to alert someone. 10 minutes later, I was sat in the medical tent with blankets wrapped round me feeling completely out of it. Not my best moment but to be honest I didn’t mind much. There were other people in the tent being sick and looking greyer than the sky above. I decided I made the right call to get out when I did then miserably try and finish.

I did however, wake up the next morning absolutely determined to not let the same thing happen at the Great East Swim. Laura on the other hand had a great race, smashed an awesome time and was on top of the world. Despite my Did Not Finish result, we still celebrated and to be honest I wasn’t too cut up – I know my strengths, if it had been a running event I perhaps would have felt differently.

Overall the event was good but the weather meant it wasn’t as good as its potential.

Great East Swim 2019
This was a completely different story. First off, Suffolk is much more local to us so the journey was painless at under an hour and half away. We still decided to stay nearer to make for the least stressful morning possible. The swim started at 8:05am, much more fitting to my usual training protocol. Another thing was the weather was good, the lake was a tidy 19 degrees and I was in nothing but a determined mindset to prove that long distance open water swimming is something I can do.

Oats are the best.

Laura and I necked our oats, lined up on the start and so gracefully (her, not me) entered the water. The funniest thing about long distance swimming when compared to long distance running is the mental side is a lot harder in the sense that you don’t have lovely views and streets of people to look at, hear cheering you on, to take in as you cruise along – instead you’re greeted a green-tinged slightly murky water with the occasional foot in your face. It’s this you look at for the next 3 hours. Naturally this means your internal conversations are even more entertaining than those from running the equivalent amount of time. It’s partly why I think I get such a buzz out of open water swimming, I’d say the mental challenge is harder than the physical.

6 laps, a few Clif Blok chews and one wee (lol) later and I found myself crossing the finish line for my second ever 10km swim. Swimming isn’t something I really do for time, not just yet anyway, so I wasn’t particularly bothered about hitting a PB or anything, for me it was more about proving to myself that open water will not defeat me, especially after the GNS. Laura was stood there waiting for me having yet again come in at a great time, later she found out she was the first woman in! Amazing. Luckily for me, I’m the runner in the relationship, so she deserves all the swimming success…

Overall a really successful event.


Well, on a personal level I obviously had much better time at the Great East Swim but just on the basis of organisation and the events themselves, I think I still prefer the Great East Swim. Obviously, it’s not in Lake Windermere, which if you have never been to then I think its warranted a visit as it’s absolutely stunning. However, there’s something less in-ya-face about the Great East, it’s got a more humble feel. Perhaps because it’s not the ‘main title’ event amongst the Great Swim series, or perhaps its my perception due to it being more local to me and me feeling more at ‘home’ in the surroundings.

I will be returning to both in the future though. If nothing gets in the way of the calendar then next year for sure! Laura to win? I also hope so…

Muchos love.

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