At the briefing, the swim was described as the equivalent of a marathon. It was 14k long, with four stops to go around locks. And took me just under four hours, including the generous stops. So, perhaps 3:30 of swimming.
The swim was downstream and I got to the start nice and early and watched some leaves floating on the Thames without moving more than a couple of centimetres in a few minutes. No current. But a bit later I watched a bit of weed move about 1 metre in 12 seconds. 300m an hour. Good.
I had a wetsuit on so the water temperature was fine. I swam to Henley Bridge and we eventually started and I swam steadily to the first lock, 4km away. Sometimes I stayed close to the bank and got covered in weeds. Sometimes more to the middle. Sometimes I swam by myself. Other times I drafted and then went by other people. When I was near people I did my best not to bump in to them. I thought that this would get frustrating over four or five hours.
The water was murky – I didn’t see any fish. In fact I couldn’t see much apart from the odd weed and the bubbles of people around me.
Mentally it was easy. I wasn’t swimming hard but I wasn’t swimming easy. But I wasn’t out of breath.
I got to the first lock in 57 minutes (4k) to be told I was in the Bronze group. This surprised me. Although I didn’t expect to be in the gold group, I didn’t expect to be in the last one either. I grabbed a mini mars bar and walked around the lock and watched the silver group get ready to leave. I probably missed the cut-off by less than a minute but decided that I would rather be a faster person in a slower group rather than the other way around. There was then a ten minute delay while the rest of the people got ready and I was ok with this, although the skins swimmers were unhappy with this as they were getting a little cold.
The next three km was pretty uneventful. I got a little lost and nearly went the wrong side of an island but a canoeist soon corrected me. It is here that I started creating mental images of the people I was swimming with. There was “Crazy Ivan” a swimmer who was a bit faster than me and who I found easy to draft. However, every now and then Ivan decided to swim breaststroke to see what was ahead. So I felt that I was the US sub in the Hunt For Red October. Ivan would suddenly stop. I’d shout to myself “Crazy Ivan” and then tried to swim to the left or right of Ivan so that I didn’t get a foot in the face. Most of the time I succeeded! Crazy Ivan was actually a nice woman who apologised for kicking me in the face at one of the aid station.
Then there were the terrible twins. I don’t think that they were terrible or even twins. It’s just that they wore similar wetsuits and swam next to each other all the way around. There was also Ms Very Angry and Ms Absolutely Freezing – both swam without wetsuits.
I was one of the first out of the water at the next aid station (7k in) but after that I changed my tactics. I waited until I was one of the last in the group to get in the water and then swam up through the group to the next aid station. I found it mentally easier catching people than staying at the front. But I did notice that it was very easy to change feet compared with a race. We were all swimming below our racing speed and so it was very easy to step up the effort and catch the next set of feet.
The swim itself was pretty boring as there were not a huge number of sights to see. Towards Marlow it got a bit more interesting as I was wondering what there was to see, where the bridge was and so on. Some of the garden walls seemed incredibly long – I guess that houses around there must be quite big. Eventually the bridge came and I finished, feeling pleased.
I felt fine afterwards. The next day I was a little achy when I put my elbow above my head for some reason or put on a jacket or something.
Apparently 83 of the 85 starters finished.
I don’t think it is as hard as a marathon. Not that I have done a proper one. But I certainly didn’t put the effort in that I would expect to on a marathon.
Would I do it again? If I wanted to swim a long way again then I might well enter it again. However, I have done it now and so I think I would probably chose a different one next time. But if the swim was the other way around, went a bit further or went on a different bit of the Thames then I probably would.