Mark Beaumont‘s programme about his Highland Line Challenge was broadcast this autumn and it generated a small amount of chat seasoned with a large amount of awe amongst the runners and swimmers around here. We had not long finished our swim when I watched it and there were a number of things that really struck a chord with me. I can’t recall whether it was before or after the swim from Arran to Bute, 10 or 11 km and 4 1/2 hrs non stop in the very cold open sea, when he commented that he’d never swum for more than an hour and a half before. That figures. I think we got up to nearly 2 hours on one or two of our training swims but we certainly felt we should have done more. We planned to, but it never quite happened. Heh, that’s life. And then, on one of his mega runs of I think 35 miles or so in a day, he said that he’d never run that far in a day. And here he was, running huge distances for several days on the trot.
One of our concerns had been how we would manage over several days. We were fairly sure we could swim for 6 hours over the course of a day, with breaks to warm up and refuel, but would we be able to do the same the next day? And the next and the next? In fact we managed for the four days’ hard swimming that our first weekend entailed, but only just. Saartje hurt her shoulder on day 3 and ibuprofen, paracetamol, hot water bottles, ice packs, you name it, helped her through day 4. She then spent a month in pain, wondering whether she would be able to swim over the second weekend. She did! And as for me, I might not have got injured but I was sore all over for a good week after weekend 1. I really hadn’t anticipated just how much four days solid swimming was going to hurt. Duh. We really hadn’t trained enough but we got away with it.
The week after we reached Bonar Bridge, Anna Wardley swam round the Isle of Wight. 60 miles, 26.5 hours. And just recently Sean Conway has become the first person to swim from Lands End to John O’Groats. 900 miles, 135 days, and he had to grow a ginger beard to counter the jellyfish stings. Respect. Set against these real endurance events, our swim can begin to seem small and pale.
But we’re all different people. Following Mark’s programme, our local sports shop owner was reminiscing about running the West Highland Way. He pointed out that if you knew you could do these things before you started, it wouldn’t really be a challenge. That to be a challenge it has to put you out of your comfort zone and there has to be a risk of failure. And that seems to me to hit the spot.
Challenges come in all sizes. I remember standing on top of the high diving board as a 6 year old, looking for my mum in those very small seats a long way away, and wondering whether I could really dive. I think I did but you wouldn’t get me up there now. I also remember the buzz from the first triathlon I completed, and the first 10 km run. The Shin Swim was certainly the biggest sporting challenge either Saartje or I have ever undertaken, and two months on I’m still glowing with the achievement and pride. But for someone else the challenge might be getting out of the front door. And whether it’s swimming the length of Britain or walking down the garden path, it’s about believing that what might seem impossible may in fact be possible, and just giving it a go. If you can’t do it today, there’s always tomorrow. Whilst I might think I couldn’t possibly swim the length of Britain, I think instead “What can I do? Maybe I can swim across Scotland.” And I did.