Rain…Rain…Rain…Rain. Not what I was hoping for a day before the swim. By 7pm the river looked like a mixture of thick chocolate mud, accompanied by warnings of poor water quality around Totnes by the event organisers.
In the end, it wasn’t the dirty muddy water that took me by surprise, but how cold it was. Unlike the Thames 14K swim where everyone gets into the water to acclimatises before the start, here you simply walk down the jetty in a long queue and when it’s your turn you gotta go. Knee deep in the water just dive in and feel the cold water rapidly seeping into the wetsuit while somehow the reddish muddy water inevitably finds its way inside the goggles. Take 20 strokes and see how it feels…still blooming cold and now short of breath!
Getting into a sustainable rhythm for these long-distance events is critical and controlling the breathing and stroke timing when everyone in your wave leaves you for dust is a mind game. You have to focus on your own swim knowing that come 5K, 7K, or 10K you will catch them up. In reality, it took about 2K before I caught up with some of the other white caps. But the thought in my head for the first 400m was….“Just remind me why I am doing this?”. The answer was clear: “One, because you are raising funds for Alzheimer’s Society and in excess of 150 people have sponsored you to swim this damn thing. Two, because past the 2K mark it will become fun…so just get your head down and FOCUS you damn fool!”.
To hit my 2h:30m target, I had to keep to a 90 second /100m pace. That was my magic number. Anything below 90 is great. Anything above 90 and I will have to revert to a long list of excuses ranging from cold water, salty water, muddy water, dinner last night, breakfast in the morning, lack of sleep, no coffee and the swimming cap not quite the right shade of white!
400m into the swim and the Marlin (GPS tracker) yells in my ear that the pace is 75 seconds for 100m. At that point I have a sigh of relief and relax. At the second 400m split, I am told my pace is 72s… Then 75s… then 71s. By the time I swim 1200m I was far more at ease. From there on, and having got used to the temperature, I was taking on the scenery. With the river running through beautiful and stunning valleys and reeds, trees, rolling hills, and the sunlight glistening off the waves. Soon enough, the taste of the water started to change very slight. And every 400m, as the Marlin yelled in my ear my pace, I could sense the water getting very slight saltier. I am not quite sure at what point in the swim it became proper full on brackish water. The salt, combined with wind gusts and boats churning the ever-expansive water, was quite a surreal experience given that this was supposed to be a river swim!
In the end, feeling strong and content with the swim I crossed the line for a time of 2hours:18 mins, 12 mins ahead of my target, mostly due to a fast current and, very modestly put, partly due to some wonderful swimming!! Could have been a few mins faster, were it not for me faffing about with my cap and drinks at the feeding stations!
Photos courtesy of Graham Wynne
I have been swimming for Alzheimer’s Society!
Alzheimer’s is set to become the single biggest killer this century. If you wish to be part of a programme that helps to research into the disease and provide care for those affected, please donate via:
I am grateful for all your support and thanks very much for reading.