Jubilee Swim done!
The summer seems to be going really quickly this year, and it seems like yesterday that I was poised and writing about an interesting summer of wallowing ahead. A lot has happened and again I push the boundaries and again seem to come up with the goods. With all the training early on in the season where it was necessary to be able to do my 6 hour qualifier for the Big One this year, I am well ahead of the mark where I would expect to be but that is a good thing. What I have noticed is, with a bit of training, things get better.
Take the last couple of weeks. I did a 6 hour swim and was extremely surprised that after that swim, my body was fine, zero stiffness, zero achiness and my mojo for swimming was still there. Apart from the above, something else happened. I went back into training and – now this is where the real surprise lies – my times were getting faster. Faster than I have ever swum. I went out and did a few 3km swims and then a very short 2km swim the day before I was due to do a 3km race. The surprise was more because I believed that I had settled into a very comfortable pace, one that I hoped I could keep up for many hours. I was not stressing myself and I was not – in my mind – swimming with any pace. However, the times were proving totally the opposite. I then decided one day to do a 4km swim. At the lake where I swim, they have laps, which are exactly the same length. I settled into my usual “comfortable pace” and then with each lap I tried to shave off 10 seconds but actually went better than that, until on the last lap I was going under 13 minutes 30 for a km. Now I cannot remember the last time – if ever – that I have achieved that speed, especially the 1 min 18 secs per 100m average on the last lap.
Okay I was meant to be tapering before the 10km Jubilee River swim but the weather was so favourable that I just had to get into the lakes. I then took two days off before the race. Well, I say two days but I had uncle duties on the Saturday and had two boistrous boys to entertain for the day. As you cannot do anything that involves organised activities in this country spontaneously, I decided to book a session on the largest Aqua park in Europe at Liquid Leisure. I have always wanted to do this and having two kids to do it with was the answer.
The weather was not the greatest so I had to hire wetsuits for the kids. Fifty minutes on a floating obstacle course, what could be more difficult than that????? After suiting up and getting buoyancy aids for the boys, we were ready and soon we were let loose. About 100 people headed on into the aqua park. Trying to watch two young boys on a park that size… not really possible! I left the elder one to his own devices and I stayed with the younger one. With alot of climbing, sliding, grappling, rope climbing and swinging, and an equal amount of falling into the water, here is where the biggest problem lies – you try hauling 105kg of Zimhippo back onto the course once you fall off! It’s not that easy. Unless you fall off near one of the floating boards with a step in the water, at least. Convinced we were done, and KNACKERED, I looked at my watch – we had only been on there for 25 minutes. BLOODY HELL!!!!!! Luckily, the youngest then wanted to have a break so I happily obliged by swimming with him to the Slimhippo (the sensible one) who got him out and dried and dressed him. I then went back out to look for the other child. This was a lot harder than you would expect, especially when ALL the kids are dressed exactly the same, in wetsuits, red buoyancy aids and yellow helmets. Soon it was all over – PHEW!!! In answer to the question I posed at the beginning of this paragraph, NOT A LOT is more difficult than playing on an obstacle course for 50 minutes. I think it would be easier to swim across an ocean. It was great fun and we all enjoyed it but I was so pooped. Oh well, I only had to swim 10km the next day. A lot easier than an aqua park.
The Jubilee River swim – my fourth one
This one is a great little 10km swim that meanders its way along the Jubilee River, an overflow of the Thames that leaves the main course at Taplow and runs roughly parrallel to it and then joins it back at Eton. It’s a lovely part of the world and a river that has no boats on it so it is great to swim in as you do not have to worry about rowing or motorised boats. This year’s race was a bit different to the ones I’ve done before, because for some reason we could not use the Thames Valley Athletic club to register and finish at, so this year it all began at the Windsor race course. So the plan was get to there, register and pick up your race packs then board a bus to take you to the start at Taplow. After the Race we had a small staging area where we collected bags, got changed and then had to catch a bus back to the Windsor Race course. With this amount of logistics involved, getting 500 odd swimmers and thier supporters to the correct place for the start is a mammoth affair, and congratulations must go to the organisers for doing this so successfully, as well as for putting on feeding stations at the weirs. Yes, as this River has weirs, you have to get out and walk, run, crawl the 100 – 200m around the weir and get back into the river. In effect, the race is not exactly 10km but more like 9.8km. It is made up of 4 stages 1.9km, 3.5km, 2.5km and 1.5km. All in all, its a well organised congenial event, an awesome swim for any open water swimmer. Do not let what follows detract from how amazing this swim is.
There were 4 waves that went off at half-hour intervals, with the slower swimmers leaving first and the speedier swimmers in the 4th wave. I arrived on a bus about an hour before my start so there was a lot of waiting around. This is always a good time to meet/catch up with fellow competitors, such as the posse from Teddington – my swim masters group. Well done to all of you on a great race. Soon, we were getting ready and having a briefing about obstacles in the course, where to swim – quite easy actually – just follow the river. Pretty impossible to get lost. The water was a balmy 17 degrees Celsius and as a bioprene (non wetsuit) swimmer, I am generally one of the last to get in as I really do not want to hang around in water that temperature for too long without moving. At 10.30am we were off. I usually stay out of the ensuing melee whilst still remaining competitive so I stick to the outer edges of the group. It was all going according to plan until after the first weir. We got past the weir and I now had some wetsuit swimmers ahead of me and some behind me – trying to slipstream off me. REALLY, wetsuits slipstreaming off a hippo in Bioprene! Soon I was swimming next to one of them and we matched each other stroke for stroke for about 500m. When there is two of you it is fine as you can keep watch on each other whilst breathing so as not to make contact. Soon, another wetsuit caught us up and now there were three of us with me in the middle of these two wetsuit warriors. This is not usually an issue but we were all very evenly matched and they just seemed to close in on me. We had the entire width of the river but the three of us took up about 1 metre width of that river. We were now swimming so close together that I reckon we would have taken up half the width of a lane in a pool. If it were not for the fact that our arms seemed to be in sync, there would have been a lot of head slapping going on. I do not know what I was thinking as this really frustrated me – intensely! I was now concentrating on not hitting the other swimmers, bilateral breathing so I could monitor both of them, instead of the more important task of swimming. This posse lasted for about 2km – when I sped up they did, when I slowed they did. Finally I put in an extra spurt of speed and lost them. I then pulled out to the side where I could not be boxed in.
At the next weir, I let them go as I was now really annoyed with both myself and other swimmers. The rest of the race I just kept to myself and did my own swimming. Something I should ALWAYS do. I then got to the last leg and realised that I could go under 2 hours 20 if I got moving. Well I did not quite make that.
Overall. it was a great race and a great personal best time for me by about 4 minutes but I was not a happy bunny. Having mulled this over over the last few days, this was for various reasons. Primarily that I got sucked into battling for space and place. Then, at the weir I let them go when I know I could have battled on further. The other reason I was very upset with myself was that I did not swim my own race. I should always do that as then I can concentrate on the job at hand rather than have to worry about hitting other swimmers. I still averaged a speed of 4.1km an hour and, keeping it up over 10km shows that I am on track for what I want to do. The next test for me will be next month when I do another 6 hour swim and I hope to do 24km. If I can do that I will be very happy.
I realise this sounds petty coming third, doing a great time and a personal best for me. But it really bothered me on the day that I did not follow my gut instinct. I feel that if I had, I could have done better. However I did come away from a great day, with great swimmers, meeting and catching up with great people like Greg Wood. He and I met 10 years ago when we both swam the English Channel. Our times across the channel differed by 6 minutes and on Sunday we had the privilege of swimming together again, him in a wetsuit and me in my trusted Bioprene. We both finished 3rd in out respective categories. A very fitting end to a great day with great people.
So the season rumbles on and there is still so much in store that I have to look forward to. There will be times when I get down and despondent but that comes with the territory. To do extraordinary things you have to overcome extraordinary obstacles along the way. I find it surreal that someone like myself can hold their own in this world of open water swimmers, many of whom have way more talent and fitness than I will ever have and I count myself lucky that I can get out there and swim, every single day.