Great London Swim (aka “what on earth have I signed up for?”)

Joanne was somewhat cajoled into a swim by me (Manda) in 2011. Here is her account of how the Great London Swim was for her as a non goggle wearing pool swimmer, breast stroker and pretty much novice. Chapeau Joanne, Chapeau! 

So I have always been a bit of a water baby, in the sense that I have absolutely no fear of deep water and I love to swim, seriously just throw me off a boat in the middle of the ocean and I will just float straight back up to the top. But I will admit that when Manda and I started working together about 6 years ago, it had been quite a while since I had been in a pool. Manda, on the other hand, would regularly show up for work after her morning swim and listening to her talk about her training and open water events made me realise how much I had missed swimming. So she was the jump start I needed to get back into the pool and then in the summer of 2010 she suggested that I sign-up for the Great London Swim 2011. She made it sound so easy,” it’s just a mile” she said, “if you train properly you’ll be fine” she said, “it’s in July so it won’t be too cold” she said! It all sounded terribly feasible so with very little hesitation I signed up and then promptly forgot all about it until the following year, when it hit me “what on earth have I signed up for?!”

You see I am quite a strong swimmer but I swim breast stroke and my technique and breathing are not that efficient, and this is not ideal when attempting an open water swim; I mean I didn’t even own a pair of goggles. So I ordered my goggles and hit my local pool with a vengeance, I calculated that in order to swim 1 mile I had to complete 49 lengths and I had to do this without stopping or pushing off from the sides of the pool. I built up to it gradually, going to the pool about 3 times a week and after a while the distance became less daunting……although at this stage I still had not actually swum a full mile. I spoke to my coach, aka Manda, and asked for tips; she told me that for a start I would need a wetsuit and secondly I actually needed to get into the wetsuit and into some open water, I must have looked panicked because she found some local open water events that might work and also found a donated wetsuit (thank you Katie!) I was all set; so one cold and cloudy Sunday morning I headed over the lake at Lakeside shopping centre in Essex, joined a group of equally crazy people and embarked on my first open water swim. The things I took from the experience were as follows:

1. Flushing out your wetsuit is cold and hideous – there are no other words.

2. Most people at these events will be swimming front crawl so you better keep up. Unfortunately my front crawl is very poor and slow so I struggled to stay with my group and honestly, my left shoulder has never been quite right since.

3. Don’t think about what is brushing against your leg in the middle of a large lake and what you might be swallowing, it will only make you scream, cry or both.

4. The sense of achievement and adrenalin rush when you finish makes all of the above worthwhile.

I came away from the experience with my eyes wide open about what lay ahead and about just how difficult it is to swim breast stroke in a wetsuit. The buoyancy that works for anyone swimming front crawl, just makes you pop up to the surface like a wine cork; it was something I was going to have to work on adjusting to. So I got back in my local pool, hit my first mile and then went off to Fairlop Waters for my next open water training session, only to find the lake was shut indefinitely owing to an outbreak of blue algae. At this stage panic started to set-in; there were no other local events I could attend before the big day, I had set-up a Just giving website to raise money for Alzheimer’s research (a charity very close to my heart) and sponsorship was pouring in, I had to do this swim and I had to finish. Coach Manda stepped in and suggested I go down to Tooting Bec lido with her one Saturday morning and have another practice session in my wetsuit. Both Manda and Katie were very supportive and encouraging, although I’m sure they must have been horrified by my lack of finesse in the pool.

And then all too quickly the big day dawned, for once the British weather decided to behave and the forecast was for a warm and sunny day. My Mum and I took the train to the Royal Victoria Dock in London and stood by the finish line as earlier entrants were finishing; it was the first time I had seen the full distance completely laid out in front of me and it looked an awfully long way, and some of the people heading for the finish line were not looking good. I started to wonder if I could actually do this. The rest of “Team Joanne” arrived just after I had got into my wetsuit; my sister, her husband and their two young daughters. They wished me luck as I headed to the start line, telling them to grab a coffee as it would be at least an hour until I would come into view. Manda, being the amazing super mermaid that she is, was racing in an earlier “wave” of swimmers and was then going to run back to the start & re-swim it with me – a true coach and friend. I got to the start, flushed out my wetsuit (it was 17 degrees and not that unpleasant) and waited to start. To say I was scared was an understatement, although probably not as scared as my Mum who I later found out had said to my sister, after they all waved me off with big smiles, “I don’t think she’s going to be able to do this. Have you seen how far it is?” My sister’s response; “It’s Joanne, of course she will finish”.


Manda completed her first swim and joined me shortly before the start, I was so grateful to see her; words cannot describe the difference it made to have her with me. And then we were off and I immediately realised there was no way I was putting my face in that brown, disgusting water so I just swam breast stroke with my head up and my mouth shut, although as we started to hit the tide coming towards us it was impossible not to swallow some water. What do I remember about the experience? I remember there was an air show nearby and old fashioned war planes were flying overhead, I remember the halfway marker was a big pink inflatable bouy, I remember the tide being really strong and feeling like I wasn’t moving at one point, I remember my youngest niece screaming me on (I’m not sure she understood what cheering was), I remember Manda swimming to my left and guiding me around the halfway marker so I would not swim any further than I had to, I remember her telling me we were still on track to finish within an hour, which was my target, even when I thought we had lost too much time battling the tide. The screams and cheers of my family and Manda’s boyfriend grew louder and we even had time to chat to one of the guys in a kayak, and then the finish was in sight. I got cramp just a few metres from the finish and I remember Manda and my Mum yelling at me to keep going as I was finishing in just under an hour. I kicked on and finally felt ground beneath my feet, a few seconds later I was across the finish line; my time was 55 minutes and 19 seconds. I was elated!

My Great British Swim was an amazing experience and a real milestone in my life, plus I raised over £900 for charity which was the cherry on the top. Have I done anything else? No but coach Manda hasn’t given up “suggesting” other challenges. But to anyone thinking they are not a typical open water swimmer and that they could never do one, I am living proof that with sheer determination, practice and a donated wetsuit; anything is possible.


Olympic distance triathlon July 2014

Kate and I (Katie) have done a couple of sprint triathlons in the past and we had always talked about doing it properly and trying to do an Olympic distance race. After much chat we finally signed up for one at Dorney Lake in July 2014.

Having signed up we the proceed to do very little training other than for the swim section which really is not the most important part of a triathlon. Our cycling training consisted of commuting to work (me) and a couple of trips to Richmond Park. The first time we did one lap and the second time we did two but with a stop for ice cream after the first lap. I had never ridden in clip in shoes before but I decided to buy a pair just the day before the race. The bike shop owner looked at me with trepidation as I told him why I needed the shoes! I practiced on the curb taking them out and putting them in 50 times each side as instructed by Terry and the did a couple of laps round the block. Surely I was set? Kate had never run a 10k before the race so between us I think it is fair to say that we were not very well prepared. The final nail in the coffin of our preparation was that I had just found out the week before that I was pregnant so I was feeling decidedly sick and tired!

On the day of the race my kind mum drove us down to Dorney and amid a mass of nerves we racked our bikes and got ready. I had forgotten to charge my Garmin so had to race without timing which was scary as I tend to be reliant on the ‘stats’. My two goals for the day were to be first out of the swim and to do a total time of under three hours. I think Kate’s were not to die on the run!

Finally we were off! There were a couple of boys in our wave taking part in the team event and one of them sprinted off on the swim. I stuck to my own steady pace and I soon passed him. I eventually made it out I the water from the 1.5k swim in first place nearly 2 mins ahead of the rest of the field. As I exited I commentator said ‘If she can bike and run like she can swim she has this in the bag’. Unfortunately I definitely cannot! I managed to make it 9km on the bike before I was overtaken which I was quite pleased with. I will gloss over the fact that I subsequently was lapped.


The Dorney course is lovely and flat but it is quite windy which makes it a bit of a challenge. Kate caught up and over took me on about the 6th lap (out of 8). As she whizzed past she very cheerfully shouted at me that is much easier if you use you drop handle bars. I’m not sure how she had the energy to speak.


Finally the 40k bike was over. As I came into transition I met Kate who was having a lovely chill out sitting down tying her shoe laces! ‘What are you still doing here?’ I asked. To finish off we just had the 10k run to complete. It was starting to get a bit hotter so not ideal running conditions but we managed to struggle round and finished in times of 2 hours 53 minutes for me and 2 hours 55 for Kate. Both very pleased to be under 3 hours.


We celebrated with an enormous brunch at The Breakfast Club.

SLSC Tooting Bec Aquathlons

Every year Manda and I get very excited about the SLSC Tooting Bec Aquathlons…..and then we remember that we can’t run!

The race consists of 1k swim (11 lengths of the Lido) and then a 7.5k run (3 laps around Tooting Common). Now that is a very long run for two little swimmers. There are four races each year – one every other week from the end of May to the start of July on a Wednesday night with an 8pm start time so plenty of time to make it from work.

We generally manage to exit the water in the first couple of people but any lead generated is very quickly eaten up on the run. Last year a lady and her two children were marshalling the run course. ‘Look mummy there is the fast swimmer’ one the girls said to her mum and they all cheered supportively. However, as I slipped further and further down the pecking order the cheers became much less enthusiastic!

Despite my above moaning they are always really fun races staffed by lovely and supportive volunteers from SLSC. We are looking forward to next summer’s races already!



Dorney Lake 10k May 2012 – 10k swimming is an awfully long way

In 2011 Manda and I had done a lot of shorter open water races so we decided that 2012 was the year for a much longer challenge. We also need to do more long distance swimming in preparation for the Manhattan Island Relays in August. We therefore decided to do a 10km swim. 10km is swimming’s equivalent of a marathon and is the only open water race which is currently an Olympic event.

We trained in earnest over the winter doing lots of long sessions in Crystal Palace. We even attacked the dreaded 100×100 session. Afterwards I was so exhausted I bumped my car into things twice on the way home.

The event we had entered was a human race event at Dorney Lake at the end of May. As the day on the race approached we started to panic as the weather was still cold which meant that the water was a very chilly 13 degrees. We were struggling to stay in for an hour let alone the nearly three we would need to complete the swim. We were furiously ordering neoprene gloves and booties to wear. Luckily the swimming gods were shinning on us and the week before the race was scorching hot which warmed the water up nicely to a lovely 18 degrees.
We had agreed that we would try and swim together but with 200 plus people not losing each other as the start was going to be a challenge. Somehow after about 200m we did managed to find each other and we started off on the 5 lap course. For the first three laps we managed to stay pretty much on 1.30 pace (lap 1 30m 22s, lap 2 30m 52s, lap 3 30m 33s). At the end of the third lap we stopped for a drink at the feed stop. I think Manda wanted to stay there all day so I had to remind her we were in a race and that we needed to get going again! We slipped off pace a bit for the fourth lap (34m 33s) but manage to bring it back a somewhat on the fifth (32m 15s). We exited together in a time of 2 hours 37 minutes.


Very tired but happy we went for a celebratory Byron Burger and a well-earned Oreo cookie milkshake.

The day we swum 100×100

How we attacked it and how it attacked us.

Myself and Katie decided to do 100×100 in preparation for our 10k swim that we were doing in May 2012. I tried to do an email search to find out whose stupid idea it was, so I could blame Katie, but alas I couldn’t find any emails. However, somewhere deep down I know it was probably mine.. Idiot! The idea was it would be good to do a 10k before we did our 10k open water in May, however, as with running a marathon, it isn’t essential to do the full distance in training so we didn’t put pressure on ourselves to complete it. If you know me and Katie though, you know that once we decide to do something, that is pretty much it and we can be the best and the worst influence on each other for this reason.

As it was March completing this in open water wasn’t an option so we went down to Crystal Palace and set about doing 100 x 100. We used a plan that was from H2open magazine site and then amended it for ourselves. It broke it down into 10 X 10 X 100 and varied each 10 based on effort/rest and additionally, we decided to alternate who would be leading every 10 x100.


The swim went to plan and then we hit block 8.. I mentally broke at this point and the end never felt like it was coming, however, you knew that block 9 and then block 10 would get easier… or so I thought. Block 9 was hideous and Block 10 was the swim down from hell. Everything hurt and you wanted to swim fast to get it over with, but 1) I couldn’t and 2) I knew I needed to reduce pace in order to swim down properly.

Unfortunately it was before the days of the garmin swim, so I can’t show you our splits, but I remember clearly that we adhered to the above as only the queens of pacing can.

Needless to say it was a challenge and one that resulted in Katie crashing (not seriously!) twice on the way home.

Mencap mile – where it all began

This is the tale of the first open water race Manda and I swam in together.

We first met at a Monday night training session at Market Sports with the wonderful Keeley of Swim for Tri. We were both recently returned to swimming after long absences. I hadn’t swim properly for 7 years and Manda hadn’t for nearly 12 years.

We started training together a bit on the weekends and then Manda asked me if I wanted to swim in a race with her – the Mencap Mile to be precise. I agreed although it didn’t even have my own wetsuit at the time. I borrowed one from my friend Fiona who had hired it for London Tri and never bother to return it. Fiona is a lot smaller than me and her wetsuit was a size S. Now at 5ft 8 and 65kg I think it is fair to say that small is not my size. Somehow I managed to squeeze in to it even though it stopped just below my knees. Ironically it is probably the comfiest wetsuit I have ever swum in although it took about 10 minutes to put on.

The race was at Dorney Lake which is a great location for newbie as you can follow the rowing guide ropes and you don’t need to sight that much. I thoroughly enjoyed the race and somehow I managed to come out in first place in a time of 24 minutes. From then on we were both bitten by the bug (literally probably in open water) and the rest is history!

Aspire Channel Relay 2014

Guest Blog here from Kate, who is one of the super Mermaids who swam around Manhattan with us.  She features regularly on the blog, as is often accompanying/ring leading mermaid adventures.  Hopefully she will be doing more blogs in the future…until then here is her great account of her channel relay for Aspire

I feel a bit of a fraud writing this blog seeing as my two fellow mermaids, Katie and Suz, have already completed Channel relays in super-fast times. Katie has done not one but two Channel relays, both for Cambridge University in the bi-annual Oxford v Cambridge Channel swim race, one year clocking up an incredibly fast time of 8hr25 minutes. I think it’s fair to say Suz took a slightly more relaxed approach to her training (cold showers for acclimatisation were a stroke of genius!) but her team had a stonking crossing and completed the distance in around 10hrs20 minutes.

My Channel relay story began in April this year, when Lisa mentioned that Aspire were looking for more swimmers/victims to join their 2014 relay teams. I have always wanted to do a Channel relay so I jumped at the chance to sign up. Fast forward to our first Aspire training weekend in Dover in May, where I met the rest of my team (the Aspire Seahorses) and did a number of half hour swims in the sea. What I remember most about that weekend was everyone telling me how lucky I was that the sea was so warm for that time of year (much warmer than the year before). I’m sorry, but I’m not sure anyone in their right mind would describe 13 degrees C as warm… And just by way of a reminder, Channel swimming rules dictate that you are not allowed to wear a wetsuit so it’s your cossie only. BRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!


Anyway, we made it through the first May weekend without catching hypothermia and I had another few trips down to Dover over the summer for some more training and cold water acclimatisation. The culmination was our two hour qualification swim in Dover harbour in June. I found this really tough and was desperately keen to get out of the water after about an hour, but somehow managed to force myself to stay in for the required time. Over the summer, unfortunately two of our original team members, Tessa and Kirsten, had to pull out due to an injured shoulder and rather more happily, a pregnancy. We were lucky that Paul, the Fundraising Director of Aspire and endurance triathlon nutter (doing the Arch to Arc this September, amazing – Paul’s blog) and Colin, an experienced Channel swimmer and observer, agreed to join our team in their place.

And by early August we were ready for the off. In Channel swimming you’re given a week’s window when hopefully your swim will take place. You don’t know in advance which day it’s going to be, however, as this is dependent upon the weather and sea conditions and who else your pilot is taking across to France that week. Our window started on the evening of Friday 1 August. The weather, which had been hot and calm for weeks, suddenly took a slight turn for the worse so we weren’t able to go on Friday or Saturday. I was pretty convinced that we wouldn’t be going on Sunday night either, and therefore decided to go for a swim at Tooting Bec Lido on Sunday evening with Manda, Katie, Brian and Pivo. Just as we were leaving the lido, my phone rang and it was Kay, our boat leader, telling me that the swim would start at 3am that night! Exciting! We were on our way to Boadeans for a meat fest so I thought I might as well continue with that plan and stuffed my face with a burger and chicken wings. Excellent Channel swim prep.


One of my team mates, Andre, very kindly picked me up at midnight and drove me down to Dover. After some hanging around in a car park in the middle of the night (very surreal), by 3:30am we were on the boat and ready to set off. We chugged round to a nearby beach, where Andre jumped into the dark sea and swam to the beach. After standing on the beach for a few seconds to officially await the starting horn, he was back in the water and we were off!

After Andre had swum his hour leg, it was my turn. Although there was some light in the sky by this point (4:47am!), it was still pretty dark and lights were therefore affixed to my goggles on the back of my head and a glow stick attached to my bum (nice).


I was worried that it was going to be freezing when I jumped off the back of the boat, but it felt surprisingly warm (well done heat wave!). As I was swimming my hour leg, the sun came up with a beautiful sunrise, which made it a magical experience.


When I got out of the sea, I was pretty tired, having missed a night of sleep. I managed to have a quick nap on the deck snuggling up to a fender and awoke feeling surprisingly refreshed. The 5 hours to my second swim seemed to fly by, what with supporting the other team members, eating copious amounts of pasta and porridge, drinking cups of tea (very kindly made by Kay) and enjoying the view. My second swim was uneventful but lots of fun, especially as the wind got up a bit so it became quite choppy. Then it was back on the boat for more relaxing and shouting at the other swimmers (supportively of course ;-)).


At some point during this period, we started getting somewhat concerned as the change in conditions had put us behind schedule. When I got in for my third swim, therefore, our official observer Den told me that I really needed to swim as fast as I could, as if we didn’t hit the French coast soon the tide would push us the other side of Calais. I looked up and Calais was bloody miles away! So no pressure then… I got in and swam as fast as I possibly could for an hour. I kept looking up to see the white cliffs of France, which sometimes seemed quite close and at other times frustratingly far away. Luckily by the time I got out, we were nearing the shore and were going to make it. It was then over to Peter, who swam us into the French beach. I was incredibly fortunate to be allowed, with Colin, to get back in the water near the end of Peter’s swim to accompany him into the beach. Setting foot on French soil/sand was a truly incredibly experience, knowing that we had swum all the way there from England.  We completed the crossing in 14:49.


After a quick celebration on the beach and a chat with a random French guy in tiny speedos, the three of us swam back to the boat for the three hour trip back to Dover. Everyone was over the moon to have completed the challenge, although poor Emma (our helper) was horribly sea sick so didn’t get to join in the celebrations 😦


When we got back to Dover, we went straight to the Swimmer’s bar at the White Horse pub to have a pint and immortalise our swim with some graffiti on the ceiling.


I had such an incredible experience and it was fantastic to have completed it with such great teammates, and to have raised so much sponsorship for Aspire ( in case anyone would like to sponsor us post-event). I would really recommend a Channel relay for anyone who is into open-water swimming and would like an exciting challenge. Now it’s the Cosmic Rays’ turn as our friends Lisa, Hilary, Pivo and Brian (together with their team captain Parviz) take on their TWO WAY four person relay. Good luck guys!

Slovenia with Strel Swimming 2013

At SwimFest (Openwater swim races run by the lovely brother and sister duo of Dan and Keeley Bullock at SwimForTri) in 2012 I (Manda) won a trip to Slovenia with Strel Swimming at the raffle that they held for all competitors.

My first thought was who could I rope into coming along with me…..I managed to get all the Merms to agree to come and additionally, we were joined by 2 friends Paul (a.k.a Pivo) and Lisa.

In July 2013 after a quick plane ride to Ljubljana and then a pleasant transfer (where Pivo realising he was with 5 girls spoke to our lovely ex-pat Driver Graeme about football for the entire drive) we arrived at the lake side hotel Strel provides in Lake Bohinj. With a few hours to spare before we met our group, we headed off to the “beach” next to our hotel and did what swimmers do best.. had a paddle/dip/splash. My first thought was it was freezing (it really wasn’t!) but secondly how clean and tranquil it was. This was the lake swimming of dreams. No algae, no boat traffic..just us and a few friendly kayakers.

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We met our guides (Borut, Alex and G) and group (I think there was about 14 of us on trip) later in the evening for our briefing. We discovered there were some good swimmers based on the achievements and forth coming plans and there was even a fellow Zurich swimmer, Jonas, who was attempting the swim solo. These were all good signs for a great trip.

The next day we met early on the lake shore to do a test swim. This allows the guides to band swimmers according to speed. Upon returning to shore it was apparent that we were all of a similar standard so no splitting into sub groups was required. So off we went to Lake Bled for our first official swim of the trip. The plans were tentative as there was due to be an air acrobatic show in the afternoon and additionally, they would be practicing in the morning so we prepared to be flexible.

We ended up swimming to the castle in the morning and were accompanied on the swim by Borut’s father, Martin Strel, of marathon swim fame and additionally, by practising planes. Once at the castle we had drinks and snacks and then had a look around, including ringing the church bell and then swum back to the shore. After a lovely traditional lunch, a group of us headed on a walk to a view point to discover amazing views of the lake and beyond.

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The afternoon consisted of swimming the length of the lake along the rowing course. So a nice straight line, passing the castle, of approx. 2km and then swum to the local lido to get changed and chill out for a bit.

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The following day we headed off to Italy for a swim Lago di Predil. The water here was colder but as we were preparing for Zurich, non-wetsuit it was.

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After our visit to Italy, we headed to for a walk to a waterfall. Once we got to the waterfall we all had a “refreshing” dip and Alex entertained us through various mischievous activities then we headed further down the river Soca to go for a dip there. It was a bizarre swim as it started off very cold, some swimmers who hadn’t previously worn wetsuits were now wearing them and I was initially regretting my bravado/being peer pressured into no wetsuit, but suddenly it became warm, almost too warm. We swum past various traditional lake boats and the tourists as always were fascinated to see us.

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After the swim we went to the train station and boarded a car train. This was so RANDOM! Never seen anything like it and was a funny experience and one I will remember for the military operation required for shutting the van door before we went through a tunnel as well as the general party bus atmosphere.

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The final day consisted of a walk to the other end of Lake Bohinj and then swimming back. This was a 4km swim and was a real test for some of the swimmers, who hadn’t previously swum that far and an ideal opportunity to put into practice the technique advice that had been provided by the Strel team. It was a great way to end the trip and probably my favourite swim.

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That afternoon we headed back to Ljubljana, as we were spending one night in the city before heading back to London. Ljubljana is a small city and makes it easily explorable. We walked around taking in the sights, whilst having a few Pivos (Slovenian for beer and also Paul’s nickname) and aperol spritzes. The following day we did a (comical) boat trip along the city’s canals and then headed back.

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Thanks Slovenia and Strel for having us.

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Things I liked specifically about Strel :

Local knowledge (Including speaking the language(s)) – you can’t undervalue this and I think this is where Borut excels, not just in Slovenia but in other countries, and by choosing the right team to support him.

Food – often lunch can be included in these trips. On this specific trip we were responsible for buying our own lunch. On other trips, Non-Strel trips, we have had bad experiences with there not being not enough food for everyone, no carbs, salad for lunch etc – giving people control of their meal is the best option for me. Snacks provided were also good and varied.

Length – yes you want to make the most of it but I think 4 days works well. Whether that be from a fatigue perspective or from a being in a group of people you don’t know perspective.

Flexibility – no group is going to be the same, so you have to be prepared to accommodate everyone’s wants and needs. This was done well in our group. Where most of us were a similar speed there was one lady who wasn’t up to the (unusual) standard of our group. G looked after this lady and pretty much provided and 1 on 1 service, which if wouldn’t have been done could have quickly easier ruined the lady’s experience and impacted the others as well.

Sri Chinmoy Zurich marathon swim 2013

Last weekend (10th August) was the 2014 Sri Chinmoy Marathon Swim across Lake Zurich. This brought back some great memories of 2013 when Manda and I competed in the race. The race is a scenic 26.4k from Rapperswil to Zurich lido. You can swim it solo or in a relay (up to three people), wetsuit or non-wetsuit so there is something for everyone depending on your preference.

The swim is very popular and space is limited so we applied three times before achieving our place in 2013. Given that we had been turned down twice before we didn’t hold out much hope in the third year so it was a bit of a shock when I got a text from Manda early one cold December morning to say we had got a place. At that point I had been struggling with a shoulder injury and had been out of training completely for 8 weeks so the thought of the race was pretty daunting.

We slowly built up the training again and soon we were back to doing long sets. In the winter we mainly do our weekend training at Crystal Palace often sharing a lane with Lucinda Bayliss and co. They frequently put us to shame by knocking out 20km sets. It makes our 8 – 10k sets look a bit puny! When I was an age grouper I used to swim at Crystal Place 2 – 3 times a week with my club Leander SC so it always brings back old memories training there.

We also attended two intensive weekend training camps with Dan Bullock of Swim for Tri. These included plenty of time in the water, technique coaching and dry land work. Vicky, Dan’s fiancé and semi-pro triathlete, took us through her daily core routine – we all collapsed after about 30 seconds!

As the weather and the water gets warmer we moved outside splitting our training time between Tooting Bec Lido, Bray Lake and Shepperton Lake. This means a lot of early starts (Manda always jokes that she makes me get up earlier at the weekend that I have to do during the week) and a lot of shivering from the cold!

Our final bit of ‘training’ was going on a Strel Swimming Adventure to Slovenia with the other Mermaids and our friends Lisa and Paul. The trip was amazing and Slovenia is beautiful.

The actual day of the race was getting closer and we were packing and doing the last minute bits of preparation when Manda fell ill. When I met her at the airport to get our flight she looked pretty pale and I thought it would be touch and go whether we would be able to start – like a trooper though she did.

On the day of the race (another early wake-up!) Manda was swimming first so she went down to the start line and I got aboard the support boat. The boat and its three sailors were very nice – unfortunately the sailors didn’t speak any English and I didn’t speak any German so communication was kept to a minimum! Manda has a degree in German and lived there for a year so she managed to chat away with them.

The solo swimmers were set off and 7am and at 7.15am we were finally off. The format of the relay was is that you each swim an hour on an hour off. This meant that we didn’t actually get to speak to each other all day so we had to send each other text messages of encouragement.

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It wasn’t long before we started catching up with some of the solo swimmers including Shane, a friend of Manda’s and his kayaker also called Shane. Manda, who was swimming at the time, stopped to have a chat. Now knowing Manda, once she has started chatting we could be here all day so I yelled at her very sternly to keep going! I’m not sure she has forgiven me.


The weather at the start of the day was absolutely beautiful, hot and sunny and the water was lovely and warm. When Manda was in for her third hour, however, a storm picked up and continued when I got in for my third hour. This made the water very choppy and this was definitely the toughest part of the swim. Towards the end of my hour, however, it cleared up and the sunshine returned.

With Manda back in the water we were getting closer and closer to Zurich Lido. During her 4th hour Manda had some competition from another swimmer and they swam neck and neck for a while. Such is the nature of the race that we didn’t know if they were a solo swimmer or another relay. By the time I got back in at the start of the fourth hour we only had about 2.5km to go before the end of the race. I put on the fastest swim I could muster but I am not going to lie after an hour of being pulled about by the storm my shoulders were killing and I definitely found it tough going.

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It seemed like we were getting no closer to shore but then suddenly Manda was on the side of the boat putting on her hat and goggles. This sight filled me with relief as I knew she would only be getting in alongside me if we had less than 200m to swim.

We finished the 26.4km in 7 hours and 39 minutes well ahead of our target time of 8 hours. The best news of all was that we had won our category! I think the photos below show how happy we were at this news.

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Henley Bridge to Bridge 2014

Brian (@Brian_M_Foley) here – guest blogger and honorary merman for the day.

On Saturday, 9th August, I swum the Henley Club to Pub with fellow merfolk Amanda, Katie & Kate. The next morning it was time for the Bridge to Bridge swim – 14km downstream from Henley Bridge to Marlow Bridge.

This swim almost didn’t happen for me for two reasons.

Firstly, I was due to be a reserve swimmer/crew-member on a two-way, four-person relay across the English Channel. Our swim window was from 9th August – 15 August, so could have clashed with the Bridge to Bridge. The swimmers on that swim were Lisa, Paul, Hilary, and Parviz, and they were raising funds for COSMIC (@CosmicCharity), an intensive care unit for children at St Mary’s Hospital. Luckily, the channel relay was delayed till mid-week due to bad weather in the channel, which allowed me to do the Bridge to Bridge at the weekend.

Secondly, the same bad weather that delayed our channel swim was also threatening to cancel the Bridge to Bridge. Heavy rain and lightening were both forecast for Sunday, and up until the very last minute it was not certain that the swim would go ahead.

Katie and Manda dropped me off at the Leander Club at 6:30 on the way to their F3 Event, and I was able to register in good time. I also met Caroline and John, fellow Serpies who had swum the Club to Pub the previous evening. The pre-swim briefing confirmed that the weather was still a concern, and that it may be cancelled after the first 4km if the weather got any worse. Another part of the briefing explained the “sportif” nature of the swim. The bridge to bridge is not a traditional race, rather the swimmers are expected to swim in small groups or “pods”, and stay together for safety reasons. Each pod would have two kayakers, and would regroup at each feed stop.

The swim was split into five sections: 4km from Henley to Hambledon Lock, 3.1km to Medmenham, 2.9km to Hurley Lock, 1.8km to Temple Lock, and the final 2.3km to Marlow Bridge. Each stopping point was manned by volunteers supplying water, energy drink, bananas, chocolate bars and fruit cake. I took full advantage of the food stops, but also had two energy gels tucked into my wetsuit legs for “emergencies”.

We started from underneath Henley Bridge at just after 8am

The first section started with the reverse of the Henley Classic course (which I had swum earlier in the year with Paul), and was used to divide the swimmers into groups. We all swum at our own pace, and were placed into groups of about 20 at Hambledon Lock. To my surprise, I found myself in the first group.


The first section was also notable for the worst weather of the day. A very heavy shower lasted about 10 minutes, and cut visibility in the water dramatically. At this point I was glad I decided to wear clear goggles instead of tinted, as otherwise I don’t think I could have seen where I was going! As swimmers, we didn’t mind the rain so much, but we could see spectators on the river bank who must have gotten very wet in that shower 🙂

The second section was very fast. Being in the first pod put us all under pressure to keep up with the fastest swimmer, and I swum this section at close to 100%. We had a nice psychological boost when we got to the second stop at Medmenham — as we were eating, somebody announced that we were already more than half-way to Marlow!

As the swim went on, the sections got shorter and shorter. Soon we were at Hurley Lock, and made the short walk across an island to bypass the weir. Next came Temple Lock, and the knowledge that there was only one section left to swim.


Before too long we were passing All Saints Church, which is 600m from Marlow bridge. In previous years this would have marked the sprint-to-the-finish point, but our pod was very spread out at this stage, so we had to wait for a couple of minutes to regroup.


We finished in the shadow of Marlow Bridge, and came ashore at the rowing club. We finished in about 3 hours and 13 minutes, which probably equated to just less than 3 hours of swimming when all the food and regrouping stops were taken into account. A medal and a goodie bag was waiting for every finisher, and then it was off to the leisure centre for a shower, and sports massages or food for those that wanted them.

All in all a great swim. The water temperature was apparently 18.7, which felt nice and warm when you are in a wetsuit and swimming fast. I was a bit worried about wearing my wetsuit for the first time in months (I have been skins swimming all summer to prepare for the channel), but copious amounts of body-glide around my neck avoided any issues, and it was actually quite nice to get the speed boost of swimming in a wetsuit.

The organisers did a great job of keeping us safe in challenging conditions. I’ll be back next year, provided channel swims or bad weather don’t get in the way…

Thanks to Katia Vastiau for the photos (@KatiaVastiau)