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)