River Waveney -Done.

River Waveney -Done.
River Waveney -Done.

Norfolk whirlwind trip.

Lets take things back a week or two. I had done the Jubilee and although it was a frustrating swim, I did well. Now go back a few more weeks. The Slim and The Zimhippo decided to start the gruelling hunt for a new Hippo Hacienda. We wanted to be in our own pad before the end of the year. A bit more saving needed so lets do this! So started the task of looking at places on the web to see what we were letting ourselves in for. All in all life was good – training going well, into a good routine and fitting in the task of finding the home of our dreams – Tell me me why I am looking in the UK? Tell me why I am looking in Surrey?  Lets not go there. So it was a huge shock when we got a call form the letting agents saying that the landlord wanted the property back in two months. Our jaws and hearts dropped. We now had to find a place to either rent or buy in the next two months – and had to be out 4 days before one of the biggest swims in my life. It took us a day or two for the news to sink in. Cancelling a swim this big with so much invested in it was not an option – even if I had to swim 10 hours on muscle memory alone. Now we had to grapple with the question BUY or RENT. I really do not want to be moving house again in 6 months time but I also realistically know that buying a house in 2 months is a mammoth, if not impossible task.

Needless to say, focus has changed drastically over the last couple of weeks and the one thing that has taken a backseat is my training. Wtih the Slimhippo in Italy it was down to me to do the looking and inevitably, depression set in. We have been SO SPOILT with all our rented properties in the fact they are well located and have massive gardens. Reality hit with a big bump. Does anyone have another 500k above what we have to keep our living standards up?! Our area of looking is pretty big due to our respective work locations, but enough of that. It is something we have to do, even if we may have to stay with friends for awhile, unless we can find a place with an annexe for a short let. If anyone knows of a short let, keep the hippos in mind, we are both house-trained. But you are interested in my water wallowing feats so lets move on – nothing to see here!

River Waveney swim

With so much time invested in house hunting I was considering pulling out of this event. My heart and my head were just not in it. Thanks to my family up in Norwich, I had a place to stay. I had considered a 3 hour drive, then swim, then 3 hour drive home on the Sunday but I also needed to fetch the Slimhippo from the airport. I decided that I needed a break from getting depressed and needed to lose myself in my mind in the one place which I know brings me peace and solitude and time to think without distraction – the water! So I asked if I could crash with them on the Saturday night and they were happy with that. Saturday morning and early afternoon was spent looking at – you guessed it – more houses and then at 3.30pm I drove up to Norwich. I spent a lovely evening with my family up there and their daughter, who is new to triathlons and open water and was very keen to pick my brains and also come and watch me the following day.

As is with most event days for me, I was up at about 3.30am and the sun was just rising so I decided to head out for a nice long walk in the area before coming back and getting myself ready to go.  I arrived early and saw a few people that I knew and thought well, there goes my chance of a Podium place. This effect was magnified when we were all shipped to the start. This being the first time this swim has been run, it atttracted a pretty elite group of swimmers to it. There were only about 90 swimmers in the 3 waves and the fast wave – which I was in – had some pretty serious swimmers in it. If I thought I had a slim chance of a podium finish, they pretty swiftly snuffed it out. It was also unusual in that nearly all in the fast wave were supporting the bioprene brigade. There were very few wetsuit warriors, which is totally different from most the swims I do where bioprene is in a huge minority. Soon it was time for a briefing and I handed my bags in to be sent to the finish.  Getting to the start was a bit of a challenge. Yes, I will now confess, we were being tidallly assisted so the awesome times I posted on Facebook, I sadly have to admit, are not totally down to my ability or lack there of. Big things like hippos float faster in a current. It was not a massive current but enough to add some assistance. So after a bit of a struggle to get up to the start, we were off, the speedsters off like rockets. From a swimmers perspective, it seemed like I was now about 15th place. It was hard to figure out how many people had stormed off ahead of me. It was at this point that I succumbed to the belief that I did not have a chance getting anywhere near the front, so – in answer to a friends question, “was I competing or training?” – this was definitely going to be a training swim.

It is a pretty non-descript swim, but then most swims are from a swimmers perspective! However, the surrounding country side is gorgeous. The plan is pretty simple, hug the shore line and stay on the right. As you are so close to the shore, you do not get to see much and it is a typical river swim; murky and brown so nothing really to see. I settled into a steady pace and the first 4.5 km were pretty uneventlful with the swimmers spreading out and pretty much lining up along the course. As we were all using tow floats, it was easier to see the swimmers in front. it was at this point where I started to reel a few of them in. I overtook a couple and then set my sights on the next group ahead of me. They were about 30 – 50m ahead of me and there was a feed stop coming up. I decided, in an effort to catch them I would not feed – they all did, so the gap closed and I put in another effort after the feed point to get level with them, constantly keeping an eye on them and sighting them. But alas, no matter what I did, I could not catch them. About 2 km later, two of them dropped back and I closed the gap and overtook them, but I was still making no headway in catching the others in that group. 

It was at this point that I figured I was not going to catch them doing what I was doing, so on the premise that you are NOT going to get different results by doing the same thing, I had to figure out how I was going to get on their feet. What to do? I was in a river. There was no need for sighting, just follow the shore line. I then let them swim their own race and banned myself from sighting them. Let them swim their swim and I will swim mine. So I got into a new routine, breathe every 3 – 5 breaths bilaterally and NEVER look forward. Now for the coaching side of it. By not constantly lifting my head up to see where they were, this forced my head down in the water, lifting my hips and legs up slightly putting me in a more streamlined position and releasing the tesnion on my lower back. I engaged my legs and got them working in a two beat kick, driving me forward during my Glide Phase. So for about the next 20 minutes, this was my new routine. IT WORKED! When I did allow myself to look up to see where they were, I was on their feet. So lets keep this up. Slowly another swimmer succumbed to the Hippo on a mission. Now there was a group of three of us. Them slightly ahead of me. It was now back to my regime of not sighting. I pulled out to the side and just left them to their own devices whilst I ploughed on in my own world concentrating on swimming as efficiently as I could, head DOWN, not breathing too hard, keeping my extension and glide as long as possible, keeping those legs working. Just before the next feed at about 7.5km, I was swimming parallel with this group of swimmers and I did not know who they were – but watching them, I could see they were constatly sighting, with their heads coming entirely out of the water. As we reached the feed stop together, again, I decided that IF I wanted to over come these guys/girls, I needed to get a wriggle on and not lose vital time stuffing my face. I swam on past the feed stations and was now ahead of the Group that had been tormenting me for most of the swim.

At about this point whilst swimming I got a bit of a fright! Below me, the water was a lot clearer than earlier in the swim and I was now swimming over reedbeds. It is not common on a river swim to have the pleasure of being mesmerised/hippotised by the swaying motion of the weeds below you. Not wanting to miss any of this, I was now breathing about every 8 – 10 strokes. This goes a long way to balancing out my stroke as I am not moving my head so much to breathe, but, although I consider breathing a big waste of time and energy in swimming, it is quite useful and also fairly life threatening when not done regularly. So a compromise had to be reached. I believe that this actually helped me speed away from the group I had passed and sent me powering onto the finish. We were now catching swimmers from the waves before us, but I pretty much assumed that catching anyone in my wave would be a dream too far, no matter how strong I felt and how well I thought I was swimming.

Soon, 11.4km done, it was all over, bar the Fat hippo getting up the finishing ladder. I don’t know how small the people in Norfolk are but for a gent of my generous proportions, stepping through at the top of the ladder proved a bit challenging and I nearly got myself wedged in….but with a little help from some of the helpers I managed to extricate myself from the ladder to waddle across the finishing matt. It was only a while after I finished that I discovered that a friend of mine who pretty much always beats me was actually in that last group that I had passed. This really surprised me and then, what was even more surprising is realising that I had come 3rd in the wave. All in all not a bad outing, and to top it all off my extended family were there with a picnic to finish off the swim before a LONG arduous drive back to London.


it was a pretty insightful swim for me on many levels. Primarily I was definitely not in the right head space to take on this swim,But once I got into the swim itself and the focus was on something other than current life challenges, I found myself relaxing into it. By the time I got to the end I felt – whether my feelings are right or not I don’t know – But I definitely felt I was swimming stronger and faster. This is possibly a side effect of the end being in sight. One thing that is becoming clearer is that no matter what state of mind you arrive in, it can always be changed along the journey.

I managed to get through the whole swim without feeding at all; yes this was a choice, but I normally would not go 10 km plus without any food. This surprises me quite a bit as normally, in my day to day life, I am a grazer. Instead of 3 square meals a day, I will eat something every hour through the day. My mother always said I only have one meal a day – ALL DAY. So to go for near on 3 hours without any sustenance whatsoever while using my energy stores does baffle me a bit.

Worrying about and concentrating on my swim rather than everybody elses makes a huge difference to my overall speed and mental fortitude. On a lot of the swims I do, there is no need to sight as I normally have the slimhippo in a kayak or boat right near me, so my job is not to worry about where I am going but more importantly to focus on my job – to swim. In a river swim this is quite easy as you just make sure the bank is on the right side.

Finally I commend the organiser – even if she is an Oztralian – on a great event. It is good to see that they are now offering recyclable bags and that there is an option to recycle the caps that they give you by donating them to a charity. I am sure this comes as music to many swimmers ears who have a draw or cupboard full of swim caps.

Onwards and upwards to wherever this journey takes me; one of the next challenges is to finish an event better than third. I have enough Bronze medals for this season. The very next challenge ahead is not really a race per se but more a distance challenge; see how far you can swim in 6 hours. I have no expectations but to finish.




About the author

Ameteur Endurance athlete and marathon swimmer Having taken up marathon swimmng in 2008 with the challenge of the English Channel, I then continued on to Cycle up Britain, Kayak across Scotland and run a few marathons. None of those held the draw that marathon swimming held so in 2014 I was back in the water to Swim one of Switzerlands iconic endurance swims, lake Zurich. In 2015 I opted to take on my biggest swim to date. SCAR challenge.- 4 lakes in 4 days with distances Ranging from 6 miles to 18 miles.

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