Archive for the ‘Swimming’ Category

3 rivers (3)

Don’t you just love a friendly welcome

I have a frequent day dream that I’ll open a letter from an unknown source after a chance encounter and that would lead to a life of adventure. These days of course it would be by e-mail but that doesn’t detract from the dream. The invitation came from Helen via Facebook and was due to an encounter in Estonia, it was for a day of adventure in three different rivers, Cate had been invited as well so we headed north with a tin full of cake and a car full of towels ready for a day of wild swimming.

3 rivers (5)

A killer Swan in the first bloom of youth

We met up with Helen and a few others in a car park by the River Great Ouse. The “No Swimming” sign looked a little ominous but a few of the gathered crowd were decidedly scathing about this addition to the riverside. More worrying was the adolescent swan that was very keen on protecting his patch of the river from anything that moved. He hissed at ducks, dogs and would be swimmers in equal parts. Eventually he bowed to the pressure of numbers and went downstream to terrorise smaller prey.

3 rivers (4)

So nice, so tranquil, so swim!

We slipped into the water by the bridge. This is the bit I never like. I try to explain to people that I don’t like getting wet but I’m happy being wet; no one seems to really understand this concept, either that or I’m unique in this regard. The water was pleasantly cold. It was cold enough to know it river water but not so cold to require a rapid and instant exit. We headed up-stream against the gentle current past one or two boats and a campsite. A few Swans watched our progress ready to pounce if we got too close. I was loving it, being in a river is so different to being in the clean, clinical environment of a pool. I could taste when the mud was disturbed, I could feel the flow of the river and I could see the ever changing scenery of the river bank. I felt that I could carry on swimming upstream for ever. Eventually though we had to turn round and head back. What seemed like a gentle current on the way up was now giving me a massive push on the way back. I took long strokes and waved at a few passing walkers feeling invincible whilst swimming with the flow. It was almost a shame to get out.

3 rivers (9)

Cate: dressed for a warm spring day

Wild swimming is a breakfast and cake sport. It should be either preceded or succeeded by one of these. In this respect it’s a lot like cycling. There was a café a stone’s throw away that served a proper breakfast: Fried slice, fried egg, sausage, bacon and beans. This is exactly what is needed after a swim like that; Muesli just wouldn’t enhance the experience.

3 rivers (6)

The River Cam and not a punt in sight

Our next stop involved an encounter with naturists and the River Cam. We got changed for the second swim on a private area by the side of the river. One side was inhabited by naked people and the other by swimmers struggling under dry robes with swimming costumes. It was an amusing juxtaposition of naked men watching people getting changed without exposing themselves.

3 rivers (7)

Helen, who organised the day, rising majestically from the Cam

There where steps into the water that made the whole getting wet with slightly more civilised but no more pleasurable. Everyone was saying that the water was colder than the last river but I couldn’t feel it myself. They may be more attuned to the minor variations or this may be part of the wild swimming rituals that I’m yet to be initiated into; I just don’t know.

3 rivers (8)

River beasts

We swam up stream past fields of picnickers enjoying the warm spring day. Every now and again we passed punts and canoes being inexpertly guided down the river, All they had to do was keep the boat in the wet bit but a lot of them felt compelled to hug the bank. We turned at the three willows after a bit of debate as to whether one had been chopped down. The way back was litter with Saturday punt traffic. I did wonder if the young couple appreciated moving through a bevy of swimmers, it rather shattered the pre Raphaelite splendour of the scene. A bit further down we came across some juggernaut punts. They were huge and carried many tourists, some of which wanted to ask us questions like “What are you doing in there?” I enjoyed this swim but felt a little chilly as I got changed under the watchful eyes of the naturists. We idled on the grass for a while to warm in the sun. The day could have ended there and I would have been content.

3 rivers (10)

A small reach of the River Nene

Our third river was the Nene, we arrived mid-afternoon and made our way down to the river past a chocolate box church. A small crowd of safari swimmers had gathered on the bank next to the platform ready for some aquatic fun. Some jumped in, I really don’t know how they do that, I have to slip into the water slowly, making as much fuss as possible. Three of us headed up stream in search for a bridge that we didn’t find. The current was stronger here and that made to going harder but much more satisfying. The gentle push of flowing water heading is a constant gentle reminder that this is living water and not a sterilised indoor puddle. The fast return swim was a joy, one stroke seemed to last for ages and the river bank flew by in a blur. I could get used to this. It was almost a shame to get out, but if I hadn’t I would have missed out on the fabulous chocolate cake that someone was handing out.

3 rivers (11)

Here Be Cake, all hail the Cake!

We finished the day back on the Great Ouse. The river bank was dangerously close to a pub and the will to swim was sorely tested by the proximity of beer. In the end I thought that I’d just have a small swim, maybe though one arch of the bridge and back by another. Once I’d done that my enthusiasm was renewed so I headed off up steam leaving the rest of the party behind. Soon I was happily moving through still water watching the dabbled evening sunlight through the river side trees. I was in a personal heaven. It was everything I loved, solitude, scenery and swimming all in one beautiful moment, this is why I swim.

3 rivers (1)

Not a ripple in sight

 

tallinn (2)

A small cold aquatic playground

Sometime in the late autumn swimming in cold water was very appealing but now whilst standing on the Baltic coast looking at a makeshift outdoor swimming pool in Tallinn it felt very different. The water was about as cold as it could be before being solid. The air temperature was even colder. There was ice on the ground and the odd flurry of snow in the air. The reality was very different to the romantic notion of the autumn.

Cate and I had been cold water swimming throughout the British winter to acclimatise but we’d not really experienced water quite as cold. I’d entered the three freestyle events and the breaststroke whereas Cate had entered the fly, the breaststroke and the 50 free. Neither of us was really too sure what we had let ourselves into. The time had come to find out.

Day One

Day one started with the breaststroke and Cate was first. We arrived a little early and the place seemed deserted. Slowly as the time for the opening ceremony approached people drifted in from all over the place. I was expecting the sort of atmosphere that was present at the last event we were at, but that was not the case. I’m sure that the cold, snow and complete lack of shelter had something to do with that.

We found the British supporters at the side of the pool ready to cheer anyone from the UK. It was made up of all of the British competitors, their friends, lots of big flags and very loud voices. The aim was to make as much noise as possible whenever one of us was swimming. I may be biased but I think we were possibly the best cold water supporters in the world. We cheered Cate to a medal position in the 25 breaststroke.

There was a long gap to my attempt at the same distance. The snow had turned to rain and the rain had got into my down jacket to make it a cooling jacket rather than a warming one. The cold was getting to me and I’d yet to enter the water. I was shivering before I got changed; this was not a good state of affairs. Stripping down in a cold tent didn’t help the situation. I stood nervous and shivering by the tent entrance waiting for my heat to be called.

I stood at the poolside waiting to go. I was announced to the crowd and a big cheer. I was too cold to appreciate it. The announcer then instructed us in a thick East European accent to “Remove your clothes”. The cold air hit my skin. What the hell was I doing here, standing almost naked on the Baltic coast in the winter? I was not confident. My breaststroke is appalling. I’ve never been taught to do it properly, I just guessed, I don’t even practice my appalling technique. The announcer then told us to “Enter the water”. This was the moment of truth. I went down the ladder and felt the water. It grabbed at my very core and sent piercing shards of ice into my very soul. “Set!”, “Swim!”; I started across the pool with the icy water clawing at my skin, for the first two strokes I thrashed with my legs. It was not breaststroke. I calmed down a little and the legs came into the fold. My entire focus became getting to the other end and out of this frozen hell. I was last, I didn’t care, I’d completed the length and that was all I had to do. I hauled my cold body out of the water and into the icy wind. That’s when the cold hit.

I sat in a tub of tepid water hoping it would help but I just got colder. I shivered my way to the changing tent and decided that I would not be swimming the next event. It was the one I’d come to do but I didn’t care. I was not in the right frame of mind and body.

I got back to the hotel and after a few hours’ sleep I felt a lot better. Lack of sleep and cold are a deadly combination that lead to almost instant exhaustion. I can cope with one or the other but definitely not both.

tallinn (1)

Powered by beetroot

Day Two

I felt much more positive after a good night’s sleep in a warm room. I’d heard tales of yesterday’s two hundred meters freestyle and knew that I’d made the right decision not to take part. It sounded brutal. It was run in the dark and the water temperature had dipped lower.

Cate opened the account with an impressive swim to a medal position in the ice fly. The supporters club was on top form and cheered all the British girls to the end. I didn’t see the lads as I needed to get prepared for the 100 meter freestyle. I felt warm, I’m sure that the changing tent was warmer too. I got changed and then covered myself in a pair of fleece leggings, a robe and my down jacket. I felt the warmth of the clothes against my skin. This was so much better than yesterday. This time I felt ready. I knew what the water would be like, I knew how the marshaling worked, and I wasn’t cold. I was in a good place.

I have never received a cheer from the crowd before, let alone a cheer from wildly enthusiastic flag waving crowd that was standing on pool side. It made my heart fly. For the second time this weekend I was forcibly instructed to “Take off your clothes” and then “Enter the water”. This time the water was cold but not hostile; this was somewhere I’d been before. It didn’t hold any mystery.

tallinn (4)

Cate and her WIN face

The first length was fast, the second was a little wobbly. The water was murky and there was no black line to follow. I was very aware of the lane ropes getting far too close. I nearly swam into the pool wall on the third length. The cold was starting to take its toll. The energy was being sucked from my limbs. I had a sneaky look round at the end of the third. I was definitely taking part rather than competing. The water turned to treacle on the fourth length, the energy seemed to drain from my limbs and the end of the pool seemed further away than ever. Eventually I reached the other side. I glanced up at the results to see that I’d swum a personal best. That made me happy.

I stayed in the hot tub for a long time. It was warmer today and I was expecting the after drop. Then I made my way to the sauna. The heat in there was so welcome. I sat there and breathed in the hot damp air, this was so much better. I was being warmed from the inside and the outside. It didn’t take long for normality to return.

I was there on poolside to cheer Cate to her third medal before heading off to get changed for the 50 free. This one held no mystery. I knew the ropes, I’d swum twice the distance, and I knew how to keep warm. This one was for the fun. I’d selected my brightest trunks for this race, it seemed only fair. I lapped up the whooping of the crowd. I felt it was a fast race and looking up I saw that yet again I’d scored a personal best. I beamed all the way to the hot tub and sauna.

tallinn

 

cold-1

Two years ago I competed in the UK cold water championships; I entered every category I could with the reasoning that I would probably never do it again. That’s why, two years later I was back at the next running of the event. This time I’d persuaded a few others to join me the water was colder but it was just as much fun.

cold-1

My first event was the ninety meter freestyle. It doesn’t sound far but when the water is 1.5 degrees it makes it a long way. I was marshaled through the familiar stations around the pool before arriving at the pool side. There was a woman with a camera standing next to my lane. She asked me to give a reaction as I entered the water; I told her that that would not be a problem. Then she asked me not to swear. That, I said may be a problem.

cold-4

Normally I take a long time to get into cold water. I don’t find the whole process of getting wet that pleasurable. But this was a race and there was no time for the niceties. It was straight into the water or nothing. The cold hit me like an ice cube tied to an express train. The lady with the camera got her reaction. I started to doubt my ability to do this event. Then I had to duck under the water, more cold water pain, before the very quick countdown. The first width flashed by. I was in an end lane and could see everyone to my right. I appeared to be about level with everyone else. I turned and headed back across the pool. I may have even convinced myself that I was warming up. The water turned to cold slow flowing treacle on the third length. I just couldn’t keep up the speed. The cold clawed at every limb and held me in the water. I saw a few people streak ahead but my only concern was to finish. I wanted to be out of the icy hell and into some warmth.

cold-3

The next event was the thirty meter freestyle. After the ninety meter this was small beer. I had no doubts about completing this but I now knew exactly how cold the water was. The thought of entering it again was not that appealing. I felt smug that I had remembered to pack many pairs of swimming trunks. Slipping on cold and wet swimwear would not have enhanced the experience. The race was over in a flash, thirty meters is not a long way and there was a reward of hot Ribena and a dip in a hot tub at the end.

cold-2

The fun part of the event is the head up breast stroke. Some people take it seriously and race whilst others wear hats. My breaststroke is appalling so I chose to wear a hat. I should have spent some time decorating it but although I had the inclination I didn’t have the time. I left my battered old summer hat as is and swum wearing it. I came last but felt good for entering into the spirit of the event. I stayed a lot longer in the hot tub this time, the cold was starting to accumulate and no end of warm clothes was going to take the chill away

cold-5

There was a big gap between the individual events and the relays so I took advantage of the array of food stalls and stuffed my face with a pulled pork sandwich. It was a delight to stuff it down my throat. I followed it with a marvelous cup of hot chocolate that warmed some of the less accessible cold bits. We had decided on a relay team uniform, garish scale patterned tights, selected for there hideousness. I slipped into the changing rooms to put them on and then quickly covered them with jeans. These were not an item of clothing to be proud of.

cold-9

Our race was called and the four of us headed for the changing rooms, we all had the tights on under our clothes. I’d like to think that we emerged from the changing rooms at the same time to a chorus of whistles and cheers. The reality was a little more muted. We took our places on opposite sides of the pool. I went first and, in my mind, powered across the pool, Tom was next, this was his first experience of water this cold. Tim was next; he wore the hideous unicorn head we had bought to go with the outfit. This had the disadvantage of flopping over his eyes. He to a very unsteady line across the pool bumping on and off the lane ropes. Cate brought the hideous head back across the pool in a similar style. We all felt that we had swum the relay in the style that it should be done. We spent a long time in the sauna.

cold-8

Getting changed I discovered I’d lost my underpants. I had to suffer the annoyance of unshielded jeans on the walk to the station. It was somewhat uncomfortable. It wasn’t until I put my hand in my coat pocket that I remembered putting them there when I changed into the tights. The equilibrium returned to my life.

cold-7

 

port-1

This was the first time in nearly fifty years that there had been swimming in the Port River. At some point in the sixties swimming had been banned because of the pollution, since then the port has fallen into decline but as a consequence the water has become cleaner. As part of the redevelopment of the area recreation has been emphasised and North Haven Surf Club had taken up the challenge.

We arrived early as everything was being set up and were the first to register. We had a wander around the impressive array of stalls in the start area and wearily watched the approaching dark clouds. Half an hour before the start the rain came down dampening the parched ground. The rain finished as quickly as it started and in time for the race briefing.

Soon after we were all gingerly stepping into the water ready for the start. The water wasn’t cold but it definitely wasn’t warm. I was so wrong slightly at the start but that went as soon as the hooter went to start us all off.

The first part of the course was across to the opposite shore. Bearing in mind that the previous day I’d flown half way round the world and I’d only had six hours of sleep I was amazed that I was keeping up with everyone around me. There was no doubt in my mind that this was a swim and not a race.

port-2

We turned at the buoy and headed up the Port Adelaide river. It was heavy going. Either the current or the tide or both were against us. However, my thoughts were more occupied with the wall to wall jellyfish that I was swimming through. The water was thick with these translucent slimy blobs. At times, I felt that I could probably get up and walk on them. Everyone and again the water would be clear of them but they would inevitably reappear.

It seemed to take ages to get to the next buoy. I had hoped that this was the turning point but when I got there I realised that the route went under the Birkenhead Bridge. The water under there tasted of diesel fumes and was distinctly unpleasant but at least the next buoy was in sight.

At the buoy the route crossed to the opposite bank and headed back down stream. The swimming got distinctly easier but I was definitely going slower. I could see lots to people in front but whenever I took a sneaky glance behind there was no one. This didn’t surprise me. I passed under the bridge once more only this time I tried to hold my breath to avoid the fumes.

I’m not good at swimming in a straight line at the beat of times but my route to the last buoy was distinctly wobbly. For most of the way I was shadowed by one of the water cover people on a paddle board. This convinced me that I was at the back of the swim and inspired me to swim even more slowly. I was quite surprised when someone passed me as I rounded the last buoy.

After the swim, we feasted on pork sandwiches and nearly hot tea and reflected on being the first people in a very long time to swim in the Port River.

 

The British Open Water Championships

Posted: October 1, 2016 in Swimming
bowc2

Quack!

 

I like an event with an impressive title and I like a new event, this event was both new and had an impressive title, I just had to do it. Swim serpentine ran over two days, day one was one loop of the serpentine and day two, called the British Open Water Championships did two loops. I had entered the Sunday event as it was longer. If I was going to travel up to London, then I wanted to have a decent swim. The first surprise came a week before in the shape of number transfers or tattoos as they were called. It looked like they wanted us to have numbers all over the place.

 

It was nice to have an afternoon start, it meant I could have a Sunday morning lie in and a proper breakfast before meeting Cate and heading up to London on the train. I was expecting the area around the swim start to be a hive of activity but it seemed almost empty. A few people told us that it had been a lot busier yesterday, the extra loop of the lake must have put a few people off.

 

bowc3

Tattoos R us

Slowly people assembled at the start. It became very clear that loud swimwear was a feature of this age group. There were some very bright trunks, some of them were more hideous than mine. It started to get serious at the briefing. We were racing under FINA rules. This meant no watches, no jewellery and short nails, there were some other things as well but I ignored those as I was removing all my jewellery and trimming my nails.

 

A few minutes before the start we were given the opportunity to acclimatise to the temperature. We had been told that it was around 17 degrees but that is just a number. The real test was getting in. After the initial shock of getting wet the temperature was not a problem. It was warm enough to swim in and that was good enough for me.

 

The start was a chaotic affair. First of all, we had to line up behind a rope. The instruction was to hold the rope. That would have been easy if it wasn’t for all the people standing on it and holding it below the surface. Stupidly I’d picked a place in the middle of the line, I never start in the middle of the line.  After a bit of shuffling about to get us all in line the starter sounded the horn and we were off. The start was similar to having a boxing match in a washing machine. There were arms, legs and water all over the place. One moment someone would be swimming over me the next I would be swimming over someone else. I don’t like the starts of swim races; they are far too violent.

 

The struggle had calmed down by the first turn. Most of those that were faster were in front and most of the slower ones were behind. Now I could start to enjoy the swim. Well I would have if it were not for the person in front of me. I went left, they went left, I went right, they went right. It was as if they were deliberately trying to block my path. All I wanted was a clear bit of water. Eventually it got beyond a joke, there may have been some cursing, loud cursing. I pulled back and then swung out wide. It took a while but slowly I passed him. Now I was happy, I was in clear water, I could set my pace and start enjoying the swim.

 

The first woman passed me at the bottom end of the course, she came flying past at a speed I could only dream of. A little later one or two others came speeding by. The women had had given the men a six-minute head start so these women where really moving, they would probably be finished, showered and changed by the time I had finished.

 

The second lap was much better that the first, I’d warmed up and settled into my stride, occasionally someone would come past but as I had no hope of keeping up with them that didn’t bother me. This time round I could look at the ducks and swans and wonder what they were making of it all.

 

I turned the last corner and all of a sudden realised that it was nearly over. I don’t do sprint finishes but a group behind me were determined to. One or two came by but I kept to my slow and steady approach right up to the last few meters. Someone in a green hat was trying to come past. I wasn’t going to have that. We finished together. She turned to me and said “I’m glad you are a bloke” as she was given the news she was third in her category.

 

There was a selection of hot tubs in the finish area, it was a suitable place to wait for Cate and warm up. There were bragging rights at stake, she would have to wait a while to find out that she had beaten me by a minute.

 

bowc1

Happy people with a duck toilet in the background

Although I call myself a triathlete and I belong to a triathlon club the truth of the matter is that I’ve not actually done a triathlon for quite a while. I have a sneaking suspicion that training for all three sports and doing them individually doesn’t really count. Eventually the guilt got too much an I entered one. It helped that it was the first running of the event and that it wasn’t too far to travel.

It was a perfect morning for this sort of silliness, warm and clear. We all racked our bikes, listened to the race briefing and then started some dedicated milling about whilst the swimmers with slower swim times started off. I always enjoy watching swimmers and today was no exception. There was a real mix in the pool, from someone who stopped at the end of each length though some very strange stroke styles to some very polished swimming. This is what I love about these events, people having a go. I sometimes feel that televised sport gives the impression that everyone needs to be absolutely perfect when in fact it’s possible to complete no matter how imperfect you are.

I joined the line and waited to be ushered to my lane. As usual there were people who wanted to talk and people who didn’t. Eventually I was taken to the lane nearest the side and told to get in. The pool seemed very shallow, I was expecting it to be deeper. I got myself prepared and completely missed the starter telling me to go. I thought he was starting someone in another lane. It took a few lengths to get into a rhythm but slowly things started to get a bit smoother. The other person in the lane was quite a bit slower than me so I passed them many times but I made up for it by messing up at least half of the turns by misjudging where the edge was. Before the start of the swim I’d been playing with my watch to put it in “multi-sport” mode. I wasn’t sure if I’d done it right. I was quite relieved when it beeped signalling the last lap.

There was a “no running in the pool area” rule. This meant exiting the pool consisted of a fast walk to the door and then a sprint to the transition area. My transitions have always been slow. I don’t know why I find it hard to put on a helmet and a pair of shoes quickly, I just do.

dscf3251

Yet another lightening fast transition…

I enjoyed the bike course. I didn’t think I would as they were roads I was familiar with but I was on pretty bike and she always makes me feel good. I was don on the tri bars as much as possible and tried to maintain the position. It took a while but eventually I saw someone up ahead. This always makes me feel better. It didn’t take long to be “that bloke”. The one hunched in the time trial position that comes storming past. It happens to me often, it’s nice when I can do it to someone else. Not long later “that guy” passed me. There was a roundabout at the halfway point. It looked like a whole bunch of bikes had been held up as it seemed to be full of bikes. I negotiated it safely and set about trying to catch someone. I caught a fair few people but not all of them were actually in the race, they still count though.

The bike leg ended with a run down a path in bike shoes. It’s not a thing that fills me with joy. Other sensible people had taken their shoes off. I should have thought of that. Instead I slipped around on the path on route to another tremendously slow transition. This time I had to take shoes off and then put another pair on. How hard can that be?

I always forget how hard it is to run off the bike. I spent the first kilometer of the run wondering what was wrong with my legs. Eventually my body made the necessary adjustments to be able to run more like a runner than a cyclist. The route took in two laps of a sports field. As a chugged round a couple of my club mates came past, one made it look easy and the other looked like he was putting in a lot of effort (he won the over 50’s category). About half way round the second lap I realised that my watch thought I’d not started. I’d clearly managed to get the set up wrong. I started it anyway, now my swim would be in the middle of the field. After four hundred meters I changed the sport. Now I was cycling round the field. Eventually I got it to the running bit. The record of this race is going to look very strange.

dscf3256

I claim my bottle of water and a medal

Just outside the entrance to the sports centre I heard heavy breathing behind me. Someone was catching me. I had a choice, I could sprint for the line in a display of pride or I could just let them go past. In my last sprint finish I managed to damage myself since then I’ve given up of the notion of sprinting for the line. The extra few seconds gained are not worth the weeks of recovery. I watched him gain a few seconds before I crossed the line and was rewarded with a medal, a bottle of water and a slice of cake.

When the results were published I found I’d done quite well. This could only mean a full fried breakfast to celebrate.

 

 

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