Bridge to Bridge

Posted: August 10, 2016 in Swimming
Tags: , , ,


B2B (1)

Just in case you didn’t know what you were doing

Silly o’clock is not my favourite time on a Sunday morning but sometimes the rewards far outweigh the short term pain of dragging my body from the safety and comfort of the duvet and into a harsh cold world. Today’s reason was to swim the Thames Marathon (or the bridge to bridge as everyone but the organisers know it). I’d packed the night before and followed the satnav so getting to the event required very little thinking. This was good.

The swimmers gathered in the grounds of the Leander club, on the banks of the Thames in Henley. The bacon rolls and tea diverted my attention from being nervous for a little while, then people watching took over. There were all sorts of people gathered. Some were looking confident, some were looking quietly nervous and one woman with a loud voice and east European accent was being very loud.

B2B (2)

Pre-race nutrition

When I was young my next door neighbour built a bird table that collapsed if a cat jumped on it. He really didn’t like cats. I have a feeling that he had a hand in the design of the start pontoon. Once the critical number of swimmers had been reached it tipped over and deposited then into the water. This is great for people who like jumping into water but for those of us with a totally irrational fear of jumping into water it was a little unnerving.

The first problem was knowing which way we were meant to be going. I’ve not done this event before and just assumed that we would go under the bridge. I really couldn’t feel the current so I had no idea if the bridge was up stream or downstream. Eventually I gave up guessing and asked. They pointed me down stream. We wouldn’t be going underneath the bridge.

B2B (3)

From this bridge…

I was, for some inexplicable reason, in the fast group. I knew that I would be at the back of that group so I hung back a little. My race plan was the same as usual, start slow and maintain the pace. The hooter sounded, I found myself a patch of water and started with the long slow strokes. I tried successfully to relax into the swim. I wasn’t in any hurry. The speedy people had disappeared into the distance, I didn’t look behind. Slowly the field thinned out until there were just a handful of people around me, Now I felt like this was a real expedition.

It felt like I’d finished the first section really quickly. I’m sure the current had something to do with that. I was helped out of the water and ushered to the table of sticky delights. I did think briefly about staying here and stuffing by body with all of the goodies on offer but that would have been unfair to those behind. Reluctantly I walked on past the lock and started on the longest of the sections.

There was a lot of scenery to gaze at on the way down the river. Boat clubs mingles with massive riverside properties. I looked at them each time my head broke the surface to breath. It is an odd way of seeing the world. First stroke: look into the grey brown depths, second stroke: look into the grey brown depths, third stroke: admire some passing scenery on the left hand side, fourth stroke: look into the grey brown depths, fifth stroke: look into the grey brown depths: six stroke look at the scenery on the right hand side. When I wasn’t sightseeing I was thinking about my stroke or I was just drifting off into a world of my own; a place where spurious thoughts meet. I could smell roast meat, it was a very strong and mouth-watering smell. I had no idea where it was coming from. It lasted far too long for it to be someone’s breakfast.

I had no internal map of the river so gauging distances was beyond me. I could have spent hours poring over maps and pictures but there would have been no fun in that. Instead I had decided to start at the beginning and take long slow steady strokes until the end came into view. The end of the section appeared more quickly that I had imagined. A man helped me out of the water and had a little chat. He was either being friendly or assessing me for hypothermia, I’m not sure which. The tables of unearthly delights were laden with tasty morsels to replenish my energy stores. I didn’t feel that hungry but as I was here I indulged in chocolate and malt loaf. A tasty yet unusual combination that I wouldn’t recommend due to the malt loaf’s ability to stick to my teeth.

B2B (4)

Swimmers being chased by orange jellyfish

The bulk of the swim was now behind me, there were just two sections to go and the next was the shortest. It started with a quick swim across the lock and then a walk through some trees to the river’s edge. The marshal reassured me that there would be more food at the next stop. He didn’t see me trip over in the shallow in my eagerness to get to the last of the treats. This time we had to swim on the left hand side and past boats of all shapes and sizes. I swear I went past an ice cream boat (think ice cream van on water, complete with a large ice cream cone mounted in the top). It didn’t take long to get to the next stop.

The final section was just a cruise downstream. At this point there was no doubt I was going to finish and the field had thinned out enough that there were very few people around me. Very few to share the experience of the boat passing and turning the water black. One moment it was clear and clean, the next it was as if black out curtains had been pulled over my goggles. It was quite disconcerting. It only lasted a few strokes but that was enough. Further on down I passed a beautiful church. Just after the church the riverbank was decorated with a wonderful balustrade style wall. At regular intervals there was a pot of brightly coloured flowers on top.

All too soon I could see a bridge in the distance, this meant the end of a beautiful swim.

B2B (5)

…to this bridge

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