Finding my inner Mermaid

Guest Blog by Amy. Beautiful honesty, a true Seabird

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Guest Article by Salty Seabird Amy

I first started sea swimming in 2013 when I dipped my toe into the world of triathlon. I’d run a few marathons and had my eye on completing an Ironman for my 30th birthday (because that’s what you do for your 30th right?!). I got into the water, and HATED it! Running was always my strength, I was OK on a bike but swimming, swimming was my absolute nemesis. I had never learnt properly as a child and despite hours and hours in a pool I just didn’t seem to get any faster or better. Despite loving being in the water I never found the love of chasing a time or covering distance. I just never felt good enough despite my desperate attempts to become the mermaid I knew I was inside.

After Ironman I carried on swimming despite my complaining, not wanting to lose the hard work I’d put in to my swimming fitness. I even entered some long distance events including the Dart 10k and swam round Comino Island in Malta. I wanted to be the streamlined graceful dolphins that seemed to be part of every group I swam with, but I still just never felt like I found my inner mermaid.

 

Fast forward to 2017 and all thoughts of sporting events disappeared as I started to suffer with my mental health. Throughout 2018 I fell into a black hole where I didn’t want to live anymore and was hospitalised twice consumed by the hideous monster that is depression. Running had in the past been my salvation, but even the enjoyment of my favourite trails wasn’t improving my mental health and so I looked to the water.

It was during this time that I started just going in the sea for fun. I have some amazing, caring friends who would literally drag me out of bed and off onto the Downs for a run or into the sea to watch the sunset. Being in the water I realised was the place I began to feel at peace. Long gone were any worries about chasing a fast time or covering a certain distance, just the peace of floating around, feeling the water on my skin was the only thing that stopped the incessant chattering of the racing thoughts in my head that I suffered with the rest of the time. I ditched the wetsuit and fell in love with cold water.

As the year wore on and the temperature started to drop there were less people willing to get in the water with me and my friend Claire suggested I look up the Salty Seabirds. This amazing group has allowed me to continue with my winter swimming and has become a valuable part of my journey towards recovery.

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There is always a friendly face or 17 to chat to in the water and everyone is so supportive of each other with no competitiveness. Last week I even found myself setting my alarm for 04:30 am to swim under the Blood moon at 5am with 17 other brave seabirds. The thermostat on my car showing -4 degrees as I drove down to the seafront wondering what the hell I was doing! It was one of the most magical experiences, organised by seabird Sam, made even more special to share it with such a lovely group of people.

Although the waves of depression still get me, they are getting smaller and I am getting better at staying afloat. Maybe I have become that mermaid after all, or seabird. The future feels brighter, and definitely salty!

New Year. New Me?

Sometimes I struggle to be a balanced Seabird and focus on the measure rather than the pleasure

My Social Media streams are full of Dry January, Vegan January, Red January, 2019 goals and challenges. Whilst I doff my cap to anyone that has taken the time to reflect and decided to make positive changes it is still something I struggle with.

The bit I struggle with is the balance. For me, when I really focus on improving something, pretty much everything else falls by the wayside. My struggle isn’t that I won’t stick to my goals or step up to the challenge, it is that I will do it at the detriment to everything else. And it may not actually make me happy.  (See previous blog; to swim or to gym?)

In 2018, I made a very conscious decision to focus on my mental health. But this has been  at the detriment to my physical health.  I ended the year over a stone heavier, drinking wine most nights and doing very little physical activity other that strolling with the dog and getting changed quickly to beat the sea swim after drop. I am not body shaming myself, far from it, but the midriff insulation was due to the alcohol consumption and lack of cardio exercise, so not a healthy weight change. I am lucky to have masses of body confidence so it never prevented me from slipping on a swim suit in public. But the sea swims became a way to clear the booze fuzz rather than the busy life buzz. A way to wake me up after a wine soaked sleep that is never the desired deep sleep that repairs and restores us. I’d achieved my goal to swim myself happy but at what cost. Imbalance again!

So I have jumped on the New Years Resolution train and am searching for the elusive swim gym balance again! Different year, same story…..so hardly a New Year, New Me! Undeterred, my plan is to try and balance booze, sweat and swims. So I have stopped drinking alcohol at home, entered a few swim events and completed my first parkrun. Hopefully a more balanced me rather than a new me.

The push to enter a swim event was to spend time with my teenage daughter who has her own life and very little free time now. So when she had to cut short our trip to the Lakes in the summer I decided to enter us both in the The Big Bala Swim to ensure we still make time to swim together. I then looked at pretty much every other swim event across the UK looking at dates and times and seeing how many I could cram in. After entering another two, The River Arun 3.8km and the Hever Castle 2.5km swim, alarm bells started to ring. I was in danger of losing the balance of swimming for pleasure as well as the measure, and had spent a small fortune on entry fees.

So I stopped and my only other swim ‘events’ this year will be moon gazey, sunrise, river field trip swims with the Salty Seabirds. A balance of pool plodding for the measure  and sea bobbing for the pleasure is the aim for 2019. Seabird Sam uses the hashtag #swimforthewin, and what she means by this is swimming outdoors, embracing your surroundings and being in the moment. Not entering lots of events to swim as fast as you can. I need to be a bit more Sam sometimes.

The push to do a parkrun was after a discussion with Seabird Clare (Race Director of Hove Promenade parkrun) on the synergies between parkrun and Salty Seabirds. Both are totally inclusive and free to participate. Both running, swimming and being outdoors has well documented physical and mental health benefits. The idea was to encourage some Salty Seabirds to do the parkrun and some parkrunners to come for a swim in the sea when the weather gets warmer. I decided to try out a run and cool down swim and threw the invitation open to any other Seabirds that wanted to join me. The response was great. Many of the Seabirds are already parkrunners or were looking for a regular weekend swim.

So I did my first parkrun last weekend. It was great. A really well organised weekly ‘event’ that has gone global. The whole thing is run by volunteers and anyone can join in, even walkers. There is a volunteer each week whose job it is to come last. As I started to run I was cheered on by some of the volunteers shouting ‘ Go Seabird’ . (We are easy to spot in our bobble hats.) Upon hearing this shout, a runner behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked ‘ are you a Seabird?’ Runner Rachel had heard about the Salty Seabirds and joined our closed Facebook page to see what we were all about. She’d seen my shout out for people to join me at parkrun for a run and a swim and decided to join us for the run. Having never met her before we spent the next 30 minutes chatting the whole way round the course. Only stopping when we spotted a Seabird hat of another runner and waved or shouted hello. Another synergy with Seabird swims – starting an activity as strangers and leaving as friends. When we had finished we jumped in the sea where other non-running Seabirds joined us. The perfect cool down.

I was a runner in a former life and have a couple of marathon medals. I trained hard whilst working full time with two small children and a husband that worked away a lot. Weekends were taken up with long trails over the South Downs and evenings filled with research on new routes, fuel filled diets and running shoes. The imbalance was very present. Interestingly, I never timed my runs but I did measure the distance and walking, even when injured, was never an option. I never owned a snazzy smart watch that told me how many minute miles I did and Strava hadn’t been invented then. I used the sea to cool down and would often walk up to my waist into the water in my running tights to sooth (numb) my aching muscles. Now, If I am strapped for time I may run with dog, but with no events entered or specific goal or challenge I just kinda stopped running.

The parkrun appears to be the perfect balance of one run a week over a short distance that I can improve at over time. It is on a Saturday morning starting the weekend in a really positive way with a run and a swim. I say appears as I have already bought new running tights and trainers and stripped 9 places of last weeks finishing position. But I haven’t entered any events…..yet. With no one to chat to this week I ran faster but didn’t enjoy it quite so much. As with my swimming I need to balance the measure and pleasure. Last weeks running partner Rachel was super chill and happy to chat. I need to be a bit more Rachel sometimes.

So, it’s the old me entering 2019, the old me entering events but it is the new me knowing when to stop and just float. It is the balance that will keep me buoyant. A healthy mix of both measure and pleasure in both swimming and running. If you see me signing up to Strava….stop me!

Author: Seabirds Kath

Footnote: Running bird Ostrich can out run a horse and can reach top speeds of 70 km/ph (That’s 43mph in old money)

Running bird Kath cannot.