It has come and gone and to be Frank, with various things happening in my life and in the Open water Swimming World, I was a bit weary about the challenge I had set myself over the weekend. It had not meant to be so but I had, at two different times, signed up for two different swims that just happened to be on the same weekend. Note to self. I must look at my Calendar more often!!
Mental side of things was absolutely fine, I had brainwahsed myself into beleiving that I could do this, but in all honetsy, what could be a 10km plus on Friday night and an 11.5km on Sunday seemed like a bit more than I could manage. Considering the recent death of a fellow Open water swimmer being fresh in my mind and my woefully inadequate preparation on the physical front. I managed to convince myself that throwing myself WAY out of my comfort zone was something that I thrived on but the deamons in my mind knew the reality. This was going to be a tough weekend, no matter which way you cut it!
I woke up very enthusiatic on Friday morning and went through my day as normal. All was good, the weather helped as the sun was out. The anxiety started when I left the office to drive to Papercourt where I was to partake in the Summer Soltice swim. It being the longest day of the year, the plan was to swim 3 hours non stop. 2 hours in daylight and 1 hour at night. Papercourt, whilst being a stunning lake, has had its problems when I have raced there in the past. Two years ago, a race had to be cancelled due to an irate swan attacking the swimmers. This year, they have worked tirelessly to keep the weeds under control and had done a grand job with the weeds being just at arms length but due to the cutting process there were some clumps floating around the lake and yours truly managed to find most of them.I had a great first 2 hours of swimming and was coming 2nd amoungst the bioprene swimmers but was getting very frustrated having to stop and disentangle myself from the weeds. It was odd as I had swum there recently and the weeds had not proved too much of an issue but tonight I seemed to find them quite successfully. For me, stopping every 500m or so to remove weed wrapped around some part of my body played havoc with my ability to get into a good consistent stroke. So after two and a quarter hours, and 8.5km I called it quits. I was actually in first place – in the bioprene brigade – when I threw the towel in as the constant stopping was just getting ridiculous. At this point a friend who is training to swim the Channel came past me to power onto a pretty awesome 10.5km in 3 hours. Somehow I still managed to come 2nd in the Bioprene brigade but Huge congratulations must go To Si Rich. To keep his training on track, Si would be back in the water in about 13 hours to take part in a 6 hour non stop endurance swim where he clocked up a very respectable 22 laps (just over 20km according to his watch) and beating my 21 laps that I did last year to win the event. Very good swimming Si. You are well on track to take on the channel. With two very good swims totalling 30 plus kms over two days, You will fly across the channel
Another Reason that I pulled myself out after two and a quarter hours was the fact that I still had a 11.5km swim on the Sunday to do. Being aware of how little swimming I had done recently, I wanted to save a bit of energy for that. The Slimhippo and I drove down on Saturday and it was at this point that I looked up the actual starting time as we wanted to try and be back home early. It was at this point that I realised that I was only starting at 11.40am. Not the usual 9 or 10 am that I was used too. So swimming near 2 hours 45 minutes then a three hour drive was seeming a bit optimistic. The Slimhippo was rightfully – to put it lightly – a little annoyed with me But this was only the start.
River Waveney swim
Sunday, wake up and have a leisurely breakfast before heading to the start for registration. I was in the last wave with two other waves going off before me. The sun was up, the day was beautiful so The slimhippo was all ready for a leisurely walk along the river. One of the reasons I was starting so late was due to the fact that we were swimming on an incoming tide so would be swimming a bit faster than normal due to the push from the tide – which gets less effective as you meander the 11.5km along the river. This was great for me. I would expect to do a swim of that distance in about 2 hours 55 minutes in lake or calm conditions. With the added tide, I would be quicker than that. Maybe we might get back to London in time?
After a bus ride to the start and seeing the field I would be swimming against, it was looking unlikely that I was finish in the medals this year so had decided to take it easy. Soon we were being briefed for the swim and health and safety gone through. What did make me laugh was the warning about NOT drinking the water – Like that has ever happened in any of my swims, where I generally end up swallowing some water. We also had to “observe good personal Hygiene!!! We were jumping into a murky river! Not very hygenic at the best of times.
It was a mixed wave of soloists and relay teams so along the route there were feeding stations that doubled up as change over stations for the relays. Soon we were in water under starters orders. We were off. Soon there were two distinct groups that had formed. The speedsters and the tailenders. After about 1 km, I had made my way to the front and was leading the tailenders, passing some of the people that I would expect to be ahead of me. I was happy to just swim on my own for pretty much the rest of the swim. Occsionally I would see The Slimhippo walking/running along the river to keep up with us. It is quite comforting seeing her following me and I really love having her with me on these swims. Especially considering they must be pretty boring to watch. The reeds and banks slip by at a much faster pace than ususal, thanks to the current pushing us along. Whilst being great for the swimmer, The Slimhippo is doing her best to fight her way through the scrub containing all sorts of brambles and other grasses.
The water was a very pleasant temperature and the water an expected murkiness with the slit being held in it. The river seems to be relatively deep as often I was swimming within one metre of the edge with weeds and branches of overhanging trees brushing past me but I could still not see the bottom of the river. Being on my own and not having any other swimmers in my immediate vicinity afforded me the ability to get my head down and get into a pretty good rhythmn. A far cry from the stop start experience I had had on Friday night. I generally change various aspects of my technique about every 2km or so, either altering my breathing, altering my stroke length, chaninging the way my hands move through the water, engaging my legs, So to swim uninterupted lets me change my stroke then learn whether or not it works for me.
Soon we were at the first feed station, 4.9km. This is where I manage to catch people ahead of me. Some swimmers of the leaner build stuggle to swim distance without having some form of sustenance along the way and The organisers had put on a smorgus board of cuisine to use for refuelling. it seems from other posts that Flapjacks were welcomed by swimmers but did result in some interesting outcomes. Imagine a squirrel with its cheeks full of peanuts. now try and swim. https://outdoorswimmer.com/blogs/riding-the-incoming-tide-up-the-river-waveney?fbclid=IwAR0HZnLKrCYFeCszm0lEWKk76T5aAPYB3lxcnUf1_qoWqleAOkpScPYxY40
For me, I generally carry all my fuel very fancily packaged in my natural bioprene. Not only does my natural bioprene serve as a good fuel store, it also acts as a good flotation device in salt water and insulation for any swims. The Reallly fancy thing about my bioprene is that If I need more, I just eat more, Need less – eat less. Show me a neoprene wetsuit that offers that adaptability? So I managed to pass a few people as I just ploughed on past the feed station.
I first looked at my watch at about 5.5km so figured we were nearing half way and now the river was shallower in patches and you could see the weeds on the bottom flailing around in the current as we “flew” past them. It was a welcome site to break the boredom of the swim. I now started to catch the last swimmers from the wave that had started before us. I was feeling very comfortable and was very surprised to be keeping up the pace I was, obviously slightly false due to the current. It was not long when we approached the next feed stop (8.1km) I stopped to have a bit of a chat with some of the organisers and have a fruit drink before taking on the last 3.3km to the end. I did not need to stop, I just decided to take a bit of a breather to keep the monotony at bay.
Now the water seemed a lot clearer as I could see the bottom most of the time now. As we were further inland, the effect of the current had all but vanished but I was still putting in a cracking pace. I stopped again to wave at and chat with the Slimhippo, who had found her way onto a moored dredging barge -probably illegally – to watch me come past. Seeing her smiling face made life great again before I swam off into the distance and onto the finish. Soon I swam under the Road bridge, the only bridge along the 11.5km stretch and denotes the impending end of the swim. About 150m further up the river is the end. I stopped my watch. 11.376km in 2 hours 39 minutes. We now had the last obstacle to overcome before getting an official time. To get out of the River you have to make your way up a ladder and then cross the line to officially finish. I waited in the water for a bit whilst a few other swimmers were helped out and then clambered up the ladder myself, aided by Charlie Wheadon.
There to greet me was the slimhippo. She had had a pretty rough time of the walk/run along the river. As she had come equipped more for a nice leisurely walk in a country park, and not dressed up like Indiana Jones trying to find the temple of doom, here legs had cuts on them and she had tiny blisters and welts on her legs and arms from fighting her way through some of the undergrowth along the walk. She had an allergic reaction to something along the way. The Zimhippo, being male, does not really bother much about the odd scar, blister and welts on their legs. The Slimhippo, being a lady, and far more refined than I will ever be, was soon to be on a plane to Croatia and may have to show said legs and arms whilst lounging on a pooldeck at a hotel. This on top of freaky tanlines from last week down in Dover did not really put a smile on her dial. Seems our heads are just different about that sort of thing. Suffice to say, the little blisters that she had were gone the following day leaving her with only a few mildly unsightly blemishes and her fast fading funky tanlines.
The River Waveney had been conquered again and I am sure will grow from strength to strength. This being only the 2nd time it has been run, it is already proving to be one for your bucketlist with the organisers and general location being pretty spectacular. After getting my time, I was pretty amazed to have come 3rd in the skins category and First in the Mens skins category. Slightly slower than my time last year where I only managed 3rd in the mens skins. I was not expecting anything from this swim but a podium place is always welcome. Overall, including wetsuits, I was 5th out of 38 male swimmers. Imagine where I would be if I had done some training?? maybe next year?
After saying very rushed goodbyes and taking heed of the helath and safety warning of “observe good personal Hygiene.” It is amazing what crap gets stuck in your head!!!! I headed for the showers then into the car to try and make it back to London before 6.30pm. Alas, we were on track until a Burger King stopped our car in its tracks and forced us to go and have a double whopper and chips. I swear that store has a tractor beam dragging all cars off the motorway into it! So that was the end of a fairly busy swimming weekend with just over 20km done in 2 seperate swims and two podium finishes in the skins only category. I cannot be unhappy with that but training must go on building up to my relay in Loch Lomond for both The Slimhippo who has been tasked with kayaking for the team and The Zimhippo who will be starting for our team.