Dart 10k: a swim of two halves

The Outdoor Swimming Society’s Dart 10k is one of the iconic open water swims of the season is and probably on most open water swimmers’ bucket lists. The event is a 10k swim down the River Dart in Devon from Totnes to Dittisham.  I think the Devon countryside is beautiful which gives an added attraction to the swim.  The swim is usually on a Saturday but this year due to demand the OSS decided to run the swim on the Saturday and then again on the Sunday.

The beautiful Devon countryside
The beautiful Devon countryside

Team Mermaids and friends decided to enter this year. The swim sells out very quickly – in just a few hours!  I was disorganised and all the places for Saturday had already sold out by the time it came to enter.  I ummed and ahhed for months about whether to enter on Sunday instead – but this would have meant going down to Devon by myself with everyone else going on Saturday – when a few weeks before the swim I received an email from the OSS saying that some places had become available for Saturday due to people pulling out – yay!

After I entered I noticed on the email that it said that ankle to wetsuits were compulsory. I always swim in a sleeveless wetsuit as I find full bodied wetsuits give me shoulder pain. I assumed this wouldn’t be a problem but emailed the OSS to check. Apparently it was a problem and the deadline for applying for an exemption had passed.  I had a couple of stressful days exchanging emails with the OSS pleading with them to let me wear my sleeveless suit as otherwise I would not have been able to do the swim. Thankfully they must have decided that I was sufficiently acclimatised as they let me wear it in the end.

On the day of the swim I got up at 5am to get to Paddington to get the train down to Totnes at 6.30am with Brian, Kate and Charlie. Manda had decided that she would rather spend two weeks in Italy rather than swim in a cold river so had given me her train ticket (I’m not sure why) – thanks Manda.  On the train down we discussed the rumour circulating on Facebook that the water was a very fresh 14°C!

We arrived in Totnes, registered and met up with Uncle Davy who was still smarting about coming second to a 16 year old last year. You can’t fight the aging process, Uncle Davy. Another new feature of the race this year was the establishment of an Elite Wave which both David and Brian were swimming in.  This wave went off first meaning that all the fast swimmers get a clear run at the course without having to dodge slower swimmers.

Brian and David before the start of the elite wave
Brian and David before the start of the elite wave

All swimmers in the main event were automatically entered into the medium speed wave (red hat) and you could switch out of out this wave into leisurely (yellow hat) or fast (white hat) if you wanted to.  My speed would probably be more suited to the fast wave but I decided to stay in the medium wave as it was setting off before the fast wave which meant I would be finished sooner.  As all swimmers were automatically in the medium wave this mean that this wave was huge. I was expecting there to be a water start but in actual fact you just walked over the timing mat at the start and then walked in the water and started swimming.  Kate and I were right at the back of the group as we entered the water and were generally faffing about so we got a very slow start.

The medium wave starting
The medium wave starting

It appears that the rumours were right as the water felt freezing. I was worried that I was not going to be able to last 2 – 3 hours in the water. In attempt to make up for the slow start I tried to overtake as many red hats as possible and claw my way up the field. Despite the cold water I really enjoyed the first part of the swim.  The river was quite narrow and you could see the beautiful countryside. The current was super super quick and I reached the first feeding station at 4km in about 45 minutes. By this stage I think I had over taken most of the red hats who were in front of me. There was one red hat already at the feeding station. We left at the same time and swam most of the rest of the swim close to each other.

After this feeding stop, the river widened and the water became more salty. I didn’t enjoy this half of the swim as much.  The swimmers around me had thinned out and consequently there were fewer safety surfers. Given how wide the river was and the fact that I hadn’t swum the course before it was quite difficult to know where to swim without there being a safety surfer to follow.  There were a couple of points where I am sure I swam much further than I needed to. On the plus side the water was much warmer and I didn’t feel cold any more.

The next feeding station was reportedly at 8km (at least this is what the man at the station told me). I reached this point 1 hour and 25 mins after starting the swim. At that speed I was expecting to be finished in less than another half an hour.  One of my goals for the swim was to finish before any of the white hats from the fast wave who started 20 mins after the medium wave. Shortly after leaving the feeding station I saw a white hat zoom past me though.

The last section after the feed section was most disheartening.  I couldn’t see many other swimmers or safety surfers and I didn’t have a clue where I was meant to be going. I did find my red hatted friend from the first feed station though and thought I would just follow him as he looked like he knew what he was doing. I was chatting to him afterwards and he said he was trying to follow me as I looked like I knew what I was doing – err, no.  This section also went on FOREVER and I was swimming for much longer than the half an hour I had expected. After I had finished I learned that the second feed station was a 7km not 8km which makes much more sense.

I hate not knowing where I am going or what I am aiming for so I was just about to give up and throw my toys out of the pram when a safety surfer came up beside me. I stopped and demanded to know ‘Where does this swim finish?!’  He responded ‘Err, in about 50 metres in that direction’. ‘Agh’ I said and sprinted off.

Swimmers coming into the finish
Swimmers coming into the finish
Brian and I at the end of the swim
Brian and I at the end of the swim
Kate at the end of the swim
Kate at the end of the swim

I finished in a time of 2 hours and 7 mins – clearly that current was strong!  Uncle Davy finished in 1 hour 49, Brian in 1 hour 59 and Kate in 2 hours and 22 mins.  Well done everyone.

Brian, David, Kate and Katie after the swim
Brian, David, Kate and Katie after the swim

At the end of the swim there was a mini festival where we drank hot chocolate out of our commemorative mugs, ate cake and shopped at the Selkie stand.

While I was swimming I was thinking that I never want to do this swim again but having finished and reflected I think it would be much better to do it again once you knew the course and what to expect so I would be up for doing this again, especially as Manda still needs to tick it off her bucket list!

Thanks to OSS for putting on the swim and to Charlie for great support and for all of the photos included in this post.

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