Get to know Cath Pendleton
Find out more about what the outdoors means to open water swimmer Cath.
How would you describe your relationship with the outdoors?
"I love the outdoors but in particular, I love outdoor swimming. I’ve been doing it for a few years now and it’s what I do when I need to go and clear my mind, hit my reset button, and when I want to have a laugh with friends as well. When I’m in a really foul mood, my children like to say to me “Mum, go for a swim”! Even if it’s just a leisurely swim, I’ll knock out a good few fast lengths or widths when I’m like that and it gets it out of my system. Sometimes I’ll even say to my friend, “I don’t feel like swimming but I need to be in the water”. When the temperature is colder the reset button is hit a lot quicker. I’ve always been a water baby, so I think that’s it for me, it’s going back to my childhood, playing mermaids or trying to do handstands and pretending I’m a synchronised swimmer!"
What does outdoor swimming mean to you?
"It’s a real mix of health benefits. For my physical health, I’ve always swam, but it’s particularly beneficial for my mental health. I’m a single mum, I work, and my daughter has a disability so sometimes that can be a bit challenging, and the place I go to relax and zone out is swimming. Sometimes I go with my friends and we have a laugh, other times I’m going for a particular purpose and swim harder. I swam the English Channel last year, so a lot of that was about distance training. In the winter I ice swim, which is my absolute favourite, and you haven’t really got time to play mermaids because the water’s not too warm, so the winter really is my time where I really concentrate on my stroke and my breathing. In the summer, I am trying to get a little bit faster, but I find myself just generally out there having fun really. I’ve got a group of friends I go with on a Friday, we call them our “Fun Friday Swims” to make everyone jealous, and we try to swim somewhere we haven’t been before, and maybe take a picnic or go and have coffee and cake or fish and chips. In the winter, I’m the one badgering everyone to go swimming because people aren’t as keen, but now, in the summer I go twice, three times a day if I get the chance! Normally I go three or four times a week."
Why is it important to you to swim with other people?
"I just love being with other people, laughing and joking, and even being a bit competitive with each other. If it’s a serious swim session we’ll say “we have to swim two hours today”, and we’re not talking, but you’ll still be warming up afterwards, having a drink and having a laugh. So swimming is a real social thing for me, and I’m also sometimes not good at motivating myself, so when you have a big group of friends, you’re more likely to go. We just have great fun when we go swimming."
What’s your favourite part about the outdoors?
"Just being out in the fresh air. I don’t mind the weather. I’m just not really a gym person, I’ve always loved the outdoors so I’ve swum, I’ve done triathlons, I’ve hiked lots of different mountains, I’ve cycled. For the last four years I’ve been pretty addicted to ice water swimming, and different lakes in the summer. You just get a better feeling from the outdoors, I think it lifts your mood a lot more than being indoors. You sleep a lot better when you’ve been outdoors all day, and generally I think I’ve been brought up outdoors, everything I’ve ever done has been outdoors. It’s in my DNA."
Is there anything you don’t like about the outdoors?
"I didn’t like the little wormy things in the water today! Honestly, I don’t think there’s anything I don’t like. You can go walking in the rain if you’ve got decent gear on. We always have a hot drink when we come out of cold water, and lots of layers to keep you toasty and warm. I can’t think of anything I don’t like because I swim in all weathers, I hike in all weathers, and sometimes I really like swimming in the hail and the wind and the rain. We go looking for bigger waves in the sea or better chop on the water. The weather doesn’t stop me because, especially with swimming, I’m going to get wet anyway! It just means the getting dressed after is in my van or in my very small car with the seats back. Nothing puts me off at all. I walked up Ben Nevis once in the rain in a pair of yoga pants, that wasn’t funny. I had to stop halfway up and wring them out, then just put on waterproof pants. It was sunny when I left! Good thing I had waterproofs with me, I’d have had to walk in my knickers because they were so heavy with water! I lost two toenails on the way down. I’d still do it again!"
What do you get from pushing yourself and challenging yourself in this way? Is it something you’ve always enjoyed?
"I’ve always enjoyed challenging myself - my family will say “you’re always looking for the next challenge”. It was triathlon for a while and then I did a lot of hiking and cycling. I got rollerskates when I was around 30 but that craze didn’t last long! But I do love a challenge. People think I’m competitive but I’m more competitive against myself. I’m not going to be elite at anything, I’m not fast at swimming, but I’m good at ice swimming and I like it. Every ice swim in itself is a challenge, even if I go to my favourite river and I do the same distance, there’s always something different about it, whether it’s the weather of a couple of degrees in temperature. The Channel was a massive challenge, people ask me if it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I say no, and tell them that I did a training swim called Champion of Champions in the harbor in June, and that was the hardest thing I’ve done because it was just so choppy and I wasn’t used to the conditions! By the time the Channel came, I had the mindset of “chuck it at me”. And I think that’s what got me across the Channel: I was listening to Ross Edgley last night who said “you’ve got to be naïve enough to start something and stubborn enough to finish it”. That really resonated with me because whilst I trained hard for the Channel, a lot of my friends would say I didn’t do enough training, but I did what I could, and I did the Channel on the Friday and was back in work on the Monday so my stubbornness got me across. I’d raised a lot of money for charity, and also my sponsors were saying “get across the Channel, then we’ll talk about Antarctica”!"
What’s been your most memorable ice swimming moment?
"I’m actually addicted to ice swimming. Since starting ice and winter swimming I’ve done loads and loads of challenges. My proudest one is becoming the first Welsh woman to swim an Ice Mile, and I got to represent Great Britain in Murmansk which was awesome. My next big challenge is swimming in Antarctica next February, which I’m so excited about, I think people hear it every day! After that, my goal will be to complete the Ice Sevens challenge, which so far only one woman has completed, a lady called Jaimie Monahan from the USA. That’s my dream now, and one I will definitely follow. My other swimming dream from childhood is to swim the Channel, which I’m lucky enough to say I did, but every dream for me now is ice swimming. I just love it, and I can’t wait for winter to come. I love the thrill of the ice, people always say they want the water to warm up and I’m saying “please let it stay cold!”"
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