Eton Swim

Posted: June 8, 2015 in Swimming
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Bobbing about waiting to go

I get nervous before a race, I try to hide it, I try being nonchalant but there is no deigning it. It doesn’t matter that I have very little chance of winning. The mere fact of there being many other people about doing exactly the same thing and all trying to do their best brings out the competitive spirit and the nerves. This is why I like to turn up early, it allows plenty of time for me to deal with the fight or flight response and not having to queue for the loos. I’d done my ablutions before heading to the Eton Dorney but my body obviously had a secret supply of brown smelly stuff stashed that it wanted to get rid of. There is nothing quite like the pre-race movement. Quick, voluminous, smelly and loose; If the flush had worked and swept the evidence away in a torrent of blue water my preparations would have been complete. It didn’t. I was faced with the dilemma of leaving this odious pile of excreta for the next occupant or trying to encourage it down to the pit of doom by wrapping my hand in toilet paper and pushing the pile.

I’d entered the 10k swim in a fit of enthusiasm a few months before, safe in the knowledge that my carefully planned and dependable training plan would get me to the start in good shape to complete the event. I’ve only ever swum 10k once before and that was down a river with the current, so that was really no guide to how I was going to get on. I really wanted to do the distance in under three and a half hours as this was a qualifying time for another longer event that I had designs on. I really should learn not to put myself under pressure. My swim training since entering had been gloriously inconsistent but reasonably regular. I had no doubt that I would finish, but no idea what state I would be in once I finished.

The course was four laps of the lake, I’d opted to wear a wetsuit as, despite a winter of swimming in cold water, I felt that the added warmth of the wetsuit would leave me in a better shape at the end. I did contemplate doing the swim without, right up to the point I got out of the car and felt the biting wind coming across the lake. From then on I was swimming suited.


The start, like a bunch of eels released into the lake

The start was frantic, there were people everywhere, all trying to find a bit of clear water. I had to make a conscious effort not to race. It was so tempting to just blast through everyone and join in the fun of barging people out of the way. I had to remember that I had a long way to go and the plan was to go slow and steady. Get into the rhythm and stay there. Eton Dorney lake is purpose build for rowing so there are lines running along the bottom which mark the boating lanes. These also help swimmers who are very bad at sighting maintain a very straight line up the lake. I spent a lot of time following that line up the lake, deviating slightly to get past slower swimmers. I liked that line. The first lap was also about sorting out the landmarks and orienting myself: there was the bridge, then the van on the ridge, then we turned, went under the next bridge, there was no line on the down side of the lap, past the first feed station, then past the bridge, then a long stretch of nothing, then a building, the next feed station, nearly the end of the lap, buoy, under the bridge, start the next lap. These little landmarks broke the lap up into manageable pieces. Thinking about the whole distance in one go was too much, thinking about the next little chunk was much easier. I would get to the end one chunk at a time.

The 10k swimmers had pink hats, the 5k swimmers had blue hats. I started seeing blue hats on the second lap. I’d not really expected that to happen, the 5k swimmers had started 30 mins after us, but half way up the lake there they were. I took great pleasure in passing people. Slowly though I became aware that someone was edging past me. They were going slightly faster but not really fast enough. I’d see them on the edge of my vision of a moment, then they would slip back. I would move out to pass someone and bump into them. They were always there, edging forward and then dropping back. I got a little fed up with them. Then I realised that I could use this to my advantage, I slowed slightly, they zoomed past, I then caught their draft and hung onto it for most of the next lap. I have absolutely no objection to having a bit of a ride. I lost them at the end of the lap when they ducked into the feed station. I never saw them again.

There are fish in the lake, little fish, I saw them at the beginning of lap 3. It was quite unexpected and took my mind of a couple of pressing issues. I’d been swimming for quite a while now and my bladder was telling me that it was full. I’ve never been able to “go” in a wetsuit. I have no idea why and it’s not something that I want to practice. I’ve spoken to many people about this and most claim to be able to relieve themselves at will. Somehow I doubt that they are all telling the truth but it does put me off the prospect of borrowing a wetsuit from anyone. Whilst the bladder problem was pressing it was not urgent enough for me to try and get out of the wetsuit to relieve myself. The wind was more pressing. I really wanted to fart. I’ve been told that it’s something to do with gulping air whilst swimming. The problem was that I had very visit memories from just before the start of the race. What if no only pungent air came out? Whilst I wetsuit smelling vaguely of urine is just about acceptable, the application of other waste products would be totally unacceptable. The thought of cleaning it off the suit held the wind at bay for a while but slowly it forced its way out. Warm smelly bubbles worked their way up my back and exploded near my neck, releasing the nocuous gasses to the world and more importantly my nostrils. This is one of the disadvantages of using a wetsuit.


The start of the lonely 4th lap

The 5km swimmers peeled off at the end of lap 3, their race done. Lap four was destined to be quite lonely. My arms were aching from the constant push of the neoprene but I knew that it was just a matter of time until it was over. Halfway up the lap I lapped someone. That made me insanely happy as it meant that I would not be last out of the water. I don’t know why but despite evidence to the contrary I always think that I’m always at the back. I see many people pass me but never get a chance to look behind, my pessimistic assumption is that I’m last. Having these fears quashed does my ego no end of good. As I passed the aid station for the last time I realised that I hadn’t bothered to stop for a drink. It did occur to me that I really should take a drink but what was the point? Apart from appeasing the nagging doubt that everyone who tells me that I should drink more could be right, it would just add to the pressure that was building up below. The last kilometre seemed to speed by, a couple of swimmers sprinted past but I stuck to my slow and steady routine. Peeling off the course and heading for the finish was wonderful. Collecting the medal was great, but the visit to the loo after was heaven.


  1. […] pleasant and validated my decision. About half the field had taken the non-wetsuit route. I’d swum in this lake earlier in the season, so the general layout was familiar, in contrast to last time I was going about one tenth the […]


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