Project Big Swim

By Aleks Kashefi

There's no point in hiding what #ProjectBigSwim is, so I'll tell you the tale of how the idea came about...

Once I managed to let go, to deal with things as they happened and to be happy with whatever progress I made - be it a big miles day or a rest day - I knew I would be facing a big problem when I got back to the UK.

After a big adventure, you tend to fall into a bit of a pit. An odd sense of detachment from the real world followed a feeling of despair as I questioned everything about the 'normal' world around me. With this in mind I needed adventure plans.Something to work towards since I had no partner or family of my own to focus my attention on.

Ideas would appear, be analysed and then discarded.Running adventures were quickly dismissed since they seemed to lack the challenge needed to push me out of the slightly expanded comfort zone. The one thing I feared was the open water, and the one endurance adventure that had always had me speechless was Sean Conway's LeJog swim, and so I had the basis of my next big project. But I had a different focus, the self-supported aspect seemed to shout out at me.

Camp - now featuring wetsuits

Would it be possible to repeat Sean's swim self-supported?

Would it be possible to swim around the entire UK, self-supported?

The largest stumbling block, however, wasn't the logistics, the safety, the fitness, the mental strength or funding. It was my completely irrational fear of open water. Fear was so ingrained that the deep river crossings of Norway were more traumatic than being lost in the Arctic Circle, or low on food with days of running ahead of me.

The largest stumbling block was my completely irrational fear of open water

My approach to this problem has been methodical, despite the appearance of being slightly foolhardy or downright tortured. First I stepped into the open water of a reservoir with a group of open water swimmers. No swimming was done, just in the water. Then to the pool to regain some control of the fear. Hours were spent swimming back and forth, practising different things to do in case of panic, focusing on gaining more control over the fear.

Gradually this progressed to getting in the open water of the Lake District, swimming short distances in the shallows alone or with others, forcing myself to float face down and eyes open in the deep waters of Wast Water and finally regular solo swims in calm and choppy waters. Thefear hasn't been conquered, however. It hasn’t gone away. It's there, mostly in the background with occasional screams for attention but what is different is that there is no accompanying panic.The mental effort is no longer exhausting, and I've even begun to dive and swim beneath the surface of the water with a certain degree of comfort. The idea of 'making fear my friend' that I set out with seems to be working, and the skills learnt through ultra-running, and multi-day adventures seem to apply to swimming long distances in open water.

The idea of 'making fear my friend' that I set out with seems to be working.

Ahead I have a list of swimming challenges that I need to complete to know that I am ready and the next adventure is looming on the horizon.A SwimRun that covers 177 miles of the Lake District and involves swimming the full length of 22 of the 26 Lakes, Meres and Waters of an area that has been my training ground for running.

You can follow the journey from not being a swimmer to an almost impossible swimming adventure over atbarefootaleks.com/journal

Big Shakeouters will also be able to catch Aleks speaking about making fear his friend in the Wyedale Room.

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