I am late with recommendations. The dreaded Festive Flu struck me down and saw off all invitations to Christmas parties. And inclinations to bake and knead and fill the house with wonderful smells. Urg. If you’ve been hit you have my sympathies.
Last time I did one of these round ups I got a message saying someone had read one of the books I’d talked about and it’d then made it into the kit bag of one of Team GB’s staff at Rio 2016. Who knows if The Three-Year Swim Club helped our golden tally… like to think it might have!
I’m recommending 3 books:
Find A Way
Leap In (out in Jan)
First up this time is Find A Way by American ultra endurance swimmer Diana Nyad. I have been somewhat mesmerised by this book and Diana’s quest. I started it, read of her first attempt to swim between Cuba and Florida when she was in her 30s, and then I got derailed in the chapters on the terrible, terrible abuse she suffered first at the hand of her father and then her coach. Gut wrenching. I went back, curious to see how she put her demons behind her, and to find out how a challenge which had defeated her as a 30 year old still held it in its powers 30 years later. Diana is an extraordinary woman. The distance from Cuba to Florida is a moveable feast as you’re utterly at the mercy of tides and currents – as you would be when attempting a Channel crossing – but we are talking over 100 miles. But unlike the ‘hop’ from France to England, she was also at the mercy of swarms of jellyfish and sharks and was forced to wear a strange garb to swim in overnight to keep her safe from all the life threatening stingers. When she undertook her crossings she also had to contend with waves, great big waves, that took her away from her support crew, and that meant she lost sight of her handler Bonnie. She swam through the night, and then another night, and started hallucinating. She swam for 53 hours. 53 hours. It took her 5 attempts until she conquered her quest aged 64.
At the back of the book is a list of all the swims she undertook and where. So 6 hours in a 50m pool or on 20.12.2012 10 hours in a 50m pool. TEN HOURS?!
After she completed her swim I remember reading of rumours that it wasn’t for real, that she’d spent time on her support boats or been somehow assisted – but I’m confident that on her 5th attempt her navigator read the tides right and they had some luck. This is the story of an incredible swimmer whose will would just not be broken.
I was itching to get my hands on a proof of Alexandra Heminsley’s Leap In (out on 12th Jan). I’m a big fan of her Run Like A Girl which I discovered just as I was embarking on my own quest to learn to run. This new book is a searingly honest account of her determination to overcome a fear of the sea and to learn to swim well. She doesn’t stop at conquering the Pier to Pier challenge in Brighton but goes on to race – chalking up more firsts and more achievements with every swim. She is a very plucky swimmer, and when she sets her sights on something really goes for it – much as I’d love to improve my technique I’m not sure I’m quite game for swimming lessons and showing myself up to be not very good, as she does. I am lucky, my stroke technique sucks – the young super swimmer laughs at my meagre stroke length – but I never struggled with breathing. She has to go right back and master her breathing before she can truly get going. There’s a section on technique – after reading it I tried out swimming long strokes with long leg kicks from the hips at Charlton Lido and I swear I did swim more powerfully. Alexandra goes on to race, which holds no allure for me. She tells you how it is – and reminds you that you don’t just get better, like with running you have to put the sessions in to improve. A highly recommended bedside poolside companion.
Last up is my book of the year, The Outrun by Amy Liptrot. Oh how I adored, adored this book. I bought it on the strengths of the jacket and the fact it was piled up very high in the shop. It then sat by my bed for a time until at the lido conference a fellow swimmer started raving about it so I went home to get stuck in. I loved this book so much I got my husband to read it and caught him doing as I did – going back and reading sections, and phrases aloud. This book is so good, her turn of phrase so clever, she makes you stop and pause and reread. I galloped and galloped through its pages til I was forced to go back and eat it up again. Amy’s life in London derails and she finds herself back on Orkney, the Scottish island where she grew up. Gradually she rebuilds her life, swimming in the sea amongst the seaweed and the waves. Her prose reminded me of the three trips I’ve made to the Highlands and Islands; Eigg and Mull and the swims I had alone and with the family amongst jellyfish in the clearest, most life affirmingly chilled water. Need a morsel to tempt you in – try ‘We swim in windscreen-wipers-on-highest-setting rain when we rush to get into the water where it’s dryer’….