SLSC Mile race 2017

The Mermaid cup, the SLSC’s women’s open mile cup, has been something of note in the Mermaid camp for a while, but alas we have never been able to win it because of Nancy Shaw.   Nancy is this formidable SLSC swimmer, who reigned victorious over most of the women’s open cups for several years, including the Mermaid cup and once whooped our butts during the mile swim, whilst she was heavily pregnant.  Nancy and family have now moved abroad, so despite our sadness that we were losing this great swimmer, we were finally optimistic about our chances of some cups in 2017.

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Nancy Shaw – SLSC’s best Mermaid for several years

 

On the day of the event, we did our usual Friday morning 6:30am training and then spent a day at work.  Perfect preparation!

Upon arriving at the lido, there was some disappointment, as Emma Watson (SLSC star baker EVERY week) was optimistic she would win the cup until I (Manda) had turned up and declared I was hoping to swim in 26 minutes.  She then offered me cake for a year if I let her win.  There was a fundamental flaw in her plan as Katie was still due to arrive!  We declined the cake offer, which shows how much this cup meant to the team.

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The evening started with the under 10s race, which was a hot contested battle by the next generation of Team Mermaids and then the half mile race.

We then got in and found the newly repainted black market that signifies the start point as the mile is 17.6 laps of the lido due to its 100 yard length.

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We were off.  Katie and I had been split up with Katie as number 4 and me as number 6 but as soon as the opportunity presented itself, Katie appeared next to me.  We then stuck side by side for the most of the swim, only separating a few times when Katie missed the wall on her tumble (Katie insists those walls are really hard to see)!

On the final length still side by side, I tried to keep our strokes in synch so we would touch together and then boom.  Everyone was pointing at me as the winner.  This was NOT the plan.  Katie had also been trying to keep us in sync so we would touch together but had held back slightly but I had snuck in and touched first.   We were both credited with the same time of 24 minutes and 47 secs.  Katie had been saying that if she didn’t swim under 26 minutes she was going to retire so I’m glad we beat that threshold!

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Hopefully we will get a chance to put Katie’s name on the cup next year.

As usual thanks SLSC and all the volunteers who ensure these events can run.

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2Swim4Life 2017

Brian here, occasional guest blogger for team mermaids.

On the 22nd April I took part in the 2swim4life event in Guildford Lido for the second time. The format of the event is that you swim a mile every hour for 24 hours. I was aiming for about 26 minutes per mile, which would mean I had just over half an hour to rest, recover, refuel, etc. The swim started at 9am on Saturday morning, going overnight until 9am on Sunday morning.

The calm before the storm — Guildford Lido on Friday evening

Having done the event in 2015, I knew it was a good idea to stay in Guildford on the night before the swim, so I had booked to stay in the Premier Inn across the road. I was due to swim in lane 3, and had made contact with some of the other swimmers in my lane before the event. We met in the lido while assembling our tents, and then went for dinner in the premier inn to talk about the swim, and all things swimming. Most of the other people in my lane had swum in 2swim4life before (either as a relay or as a solo), so there was a lot of experience in the lane, and we agreed to share the workload in the lane, and to rotate the lead so that everybody got a chance to draft.

The plan…

I was very lucky to have lots of experienced crew to support me during the swim. Dan, Allison, Lisa, Katie and Charlie all helped, mostly making sure that I was getting through the rest periods OK, and eating enough food. Although half an hour sounds like a long time, it was a real struggle to get everything done before I needed to get back to the pool. I quickly settled into a routine where I would get changed into my next swimming togs straight away, put on as many layers as possible, and have something to eat and drink. That would usually take me until about a quarter to the hour, which meant I had about 5 minutes to relax, before heading down to the pool area about 10 minutes before the next swim.

One of the early miles

Having started in lane 3, I quickly started to get too cold. The advantage of drafting off other swimmers is that you don’t need to work too hard, however given that there were 8 or us, I was only at the front of the lane for 200m each mile, and was getting cold as I was not working hard enough. The water temperature was about 20 degrees, so it was easy to get chilly when you stopped working. I think Dan and Allison were getting very worried about how I would finish the event if I was already shivering after only 2 miles. I remember hiding out in the tent between the swims (the sunshine almost made the tent into a greenhouse, so it was nice and warm).

Finishing one of the miles

Dan and Allison had been checking the other lanes, and after three swims we decided that I should move up to lane one. This lane had a mix of solos and relays, but crucially allowed me to swim a bit faster and keep warm. I settled into a routine of swimming with another soloist (David) and an Otter swimmer every second mile (he was in a two person relay). I was still only swimming at the front every 200m, but it allowed me to swim faster on average.

We did get a bit carried away though. We did mile 5 in 23:40 which was my fastest mile of the event. It really felt good to put in a faster mile, but I think I definitely paid for that later in the day… Between mile 7 and 16 we settled into a steady routine, and all of those were between 25 and 26 minutes. The final 8 miles were a lot tougher, and my pace really started to fall off. This was partly due to it being nighttime, but also I started to pay for the sub 25 minute miles earlier in the day. I was happy that I managed to maintain a faster average pace than in 2015, but annoyed with myself that there was such a variation between the fastest and slowest miles. I’m sure my last 8 miles would have been easier if not for that pesky 23:40 early on 🙂

2015 vs 2017 splits

Part way through the day, I realised I was short of towels, so put in an emergency request to Lisa and Katie to bring some spares with them. In an ideal world, I would have had 24 togs and 24 towels so that I would never have needed to put on wet togs or dry myself with a wet towel. In the end I think I had about 11 pairs of togs (about half of which I managed to dry during the day), so I was putting on wet togs for the last 8 or so swims. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I brought so few towels — maybe I had forgotten how miserable it is to dry yourself with a cold/wet towel.

I’m finished!!!

In terms of food, I had a massive plastic box filled with all sorts of goodies. As it turns out, I had brought too much, so some of it was either “donated” to the lifeguards at the end of the event, or brought home with me. I think the food I enjoyed the most was: cold pasta, bagels, noodles, hot ribena, chocolates, and biscuits. I would definitely try to bring less food if I had to do it again.

A key part of my nutrition strategy (and bribes for Katie)

I thought I would be able to relax at the end of the 24 miles, but the journey home turned out to be just as grueling as the swim… It was London Marathon weekend, so I was not able to drive home like I had done after the previous swim. Instead, Charlie and I got a taxi to Ealing Broadway (the end of the central line), and took the tube all the way to Bank, before changing for the DLR. Then I had to negotiate through the London Marathon crowds with a big heavy plastic box (luckily it had wheels), and a duffelbag full of my swimming kit/tent/chairs etc.

I was so exhausted when I got home, that I managed to sleep through seven hours of cheering crowds, marathon runners, and street sweepers. By the time I woke up, it looked like the marathon had never been…

London Marathon

All in all, I am glad I did the swim. It had its tough points, but there was a really good camaraderie, even if the “chat” in the lane became more and more brief as we all got more and more tired. I think I’ll give it a miss in 2019, but if one of my valiant crew decides they want to swim it, I’ll be first in line to return the favour and crew for them.

SLSC 1 mile race – July 2016

So something like this wouldn’t normally warrant a blog but sometimes the smallest achievements are worth the biggest noise. The SLSC 1 mile Sunday morning race! Every Sunday (even in winter), SLSC hold a Sunday morning race over a range of distances from 1 width to the longest race 1 mile. Team Mermaids try and attend the 1 mile race each year so not even having recently had a baby was going to put me off.

When I (Manda) plus my gang (husband and baby) arrived at the lido, Brian and Katie had already been there for an hour and half doing some last minute ‘cramming’ for this year’s Thames marathon next weekend. As I told them both this would never have happened on coach Manda’s watch!

After clearing the lido we all marched to the deep end of the lido and lined up in speed order for the 1 mile swim. I suggested that I would swim around 32 minutes on the basis of how I had been swimming the last couple of weeks since being signed off to swim, so ended up in the middle of the SLSC line up. There were notable absences due to Ride 100 and summer holidays but it was still a large crowd.

After swimming to the black marker on pool side for where the mile officially starts we were soon set off. Unfortunately for the man standing next to me waiting for the start, the black marker wasn’t sufficiently in the shallow end for me to stand flat footed, so I was on tip toes just to keep breathing.  Once we were set off there was nothing for me to push off to get going … Apart from the man’s belly. So after ‘go’ I spent the first 10 seconds apologising. Sorry Katie and Brian but team mermaids may never be welcome at a club race again!

After 17 and a bit lengths of, I can only assume, perfect pacing if not perfect speed I arrived home in a respectable 30:10. If only I hadn’t have kicked the man in the belly it could have been sub 30! I was really pleased considering I have only been back swimming for 2 weeks and have also had a throat infection to deal with in that time.

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Katie and Brian naturally stormed home together in a time of 26:30. Katie was slightly (read very) mortified that she was beaten by an eleven year old!

Hopefully I will get a chance to race in the 1000yds race next Sunday whilst the rest of the team and friends tackle 15,310 yards at Thames Marathon. Good luck!

Great London Swim 2015

On 18th July 2015, Manda and Katie took part in the Great London Swim. The swim is in the Royal Victoria Docks out by the ExCel centre in East London. It has been four years since we last raced on this ‘home’ course. Back then one mile felt like a long race but now it is definitely considered to be a sprint!

The day started at 9.30am with a family half mile wave followed by 11 one mile waves. Manda and I opted for the 3pm wave on the basis that most people would prefer to swim earlier in the day and therefore this wave should be less crowded. We were right and there was only about 30 people in this final wave of the day.

The course is a big rectangle very clearly marked with buoys  around every 200m. I really liked this as it gave you a good idea of progress and had meant that I planned to sprint the last 200m but was just too tired! At the start of the swim if felt like there was a strong current pushing you to the side. This calmed down once you hit the top right corner and was pretty calm along the straight. I had to stop dead twice though to adjust my hat which kept on falling off! When you turned back towards the docks at the end of the straight there was quite a wind which made for choppy progress and the second half was slower going than the first.

Manda finished in 25m 18s and was third female and 18th overall – well done Manda! Although I think she was a bit disappointed after having gone a minute faster in skins the week before at the lido. I was pleased with my 26m 24s, and 8th female and 34th overall place though. Pivo also competed in an earlier wave and finished in 26m 25s. Overall a whopping 1,052 people took part in the event – a lot of people taking part for the first time.

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As ever the Great London Swim was professional and slickly organised. The event is good value for money and you get a cool goody bag including a t-shirt. It is also nice to not have to get up at the crack of dawn to race and to be able to take the tube!

A special mention goes to Manda’s husband, Dom’s mum, Sarah, for watching Max for me while I swam – thank you!

SLSC Tooting Bec Lido 1 mile race

In 2011 Katie and I participated in the SLSC 1 mile race where we got beaten badly. Our egos were so badly bruised we haven’t made it back to an SLSC race since, despite me claiming that I will do the weekly Sunday races every year but never have. This year the 1 mile race was being held on a Friday and both Katie and I were available and headed on down.

They held a kids’ race and then a half mile race prior to the 1 mile. One of the kids was a child after our own hearts as she did our favourite stroke, the not yet officially recognised, “kick-on-the-back”. Note: WHEN this becomes an Olympic sport me and Katie have got the 1, 2 locked down.

The mile race starts half way down the pool and then once you get to the other end it is 17 lengths from there as the lido is 100 yards long. Katie got in and immediately declared “ooh this is cold without my wetsuit”. Now if there was a top 10 of things you shouldn’t say around people who swim in skins all year round in a non-heated lido, then that must be in the top 3. The only thing she might have said that would have been worse is “just going to have a little wee to warm this water up for you all”.

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Off we swam. Despite the back and forth nature, no collisions were experienced and everyone looked out for each other. I managed a respectful 24:50, which is actually a 40 second improvement since 2011 and Katie came in shortly after me. The ladies winner was the lady who beat us last time, whilst then heavily pregnant! Well done Nancy.

I had a celebratory cupcake (thanks Katie) and headed to bed for an early night as we were back at the lido for 6am the next morning for a 7000 yd swim.

Top 10 most memorable swims…so far!

This blog summarises our top 10 most memorable swims. We have excluded the ‘big’ races e.g. New York, Zurich etc. as while very memorable we have already covered these in other entries. We decided on what swims we were going to cover together but we as we often have very different perspectives on the swim we have written separate accounts.

No. 10 – VOtwo Endurance Day 3.8k

MANDA: Before this race I was ambivalent about the whole thing as I had lost my “mojo” after winning Zurich with Katie. This caused much chuckles, concern and confusion when I said it would be like an athlete being bothered about a diamond meet after winning Olympic gold. Deluded … yes I am! Ha! So I got in and set about getting the 3.8k done. There was a tight pack of us from the start, which included Katie, Brian and another friend of ours Dave, who had travelled down from up North for this. Dorney is an “easy“ course due to the lane ropes at bottom and perfectly rectangular course so I just sat with everyone putting in a bit of effort but not too much. On the last lap the argy bargy around the buoys got a bit much, which normally I wouldn’t be shy in dealing with but in this case I thought I can’t be bothered with it so sat back and drafted off Katie and another girl who were leading. With approx. 500 metres to go, due to drafting and general ambivalence I had energy left so I decided to make a move. The idea was to swing around the other girl and Katie and then position myself in front of Katie so she could draft off me for a bit. That’s what I did. This move involves no hesitation so full throttle off I went. I turn backed at one point and didn’t see Katie or anyone else for that matter so appeared I had dropped them all. I exited the water and realised Dave was right behind me and was obviously hiding well. Next followed Katie, Brian and the other girl in the pack. Top 5 out within 20 seconds of each other!

KATIE: I do love a race at Dorney Lake as it saves all that bother of doing that pesky sighting. We had a big crowd down for this race as our friends Brian and Dave joined Manda and I and our friends David and Tom were competing in the 10km. Manda and I were swimming along nicely together up until the final buoy when another girl managed to get in between us. The girl then proceeded to push and shove me for the final 400m, pulling my arm under so I couldn’t catch back up to Manda. Now I am normally quite mild mannered during a swim but this girl got under my skin especially when she tried to push me over on the run up to the finishing line so I tried to push her back! The race commentator even shouted at us to stop pushing each other.

No. 9 – Tooting Bec Lido – Members race 1 mile – May 2011

MANDA: This was somewhat of an accidental race. Every week SLSC hold a race at the lido on a Sunday morning. Despite being members for 4 years we have never done one. This Sunday we turned up and were training when we got asked to vacate the pool for the weekly race. The race can vary from 100 yds to 1 mile, this day it was 1 mile so we would need to be out of the pool for a while. If can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. So we took off our wetsuits and joined in. You were asked to line up in speed order and we cautiously put ourselves in the top 10, which drew some looks but we had faith/delusion on our side. Needless to say we were beaten by some awesome swimmers, including a pregnant lady!

KATIE: Manda and I are members of SLSC so we can swim all year round (for us this means a bit in May and October but never in the cold months). One of the other ‘perks’ of membership is that you can compete in the weekly races. We had turned up for a swim one Sunday morning at the same time the race was about to start so we thought we would join in only to totally embarrass ourselves by being soundly beaten by a very pregnant lady and a gentleman who must have been 60+. We haven’t been back.

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No. 8 – SwimFesT 3.8k / 5k – July 2012

KATIE: I love the Swim for Tri SwimFesT course. I always say to Dan it feels very intrepid as it is not just a boring circular course. For the last straight you have to swim across the lake and swim under a bridge tapping the timing mat like a proper Olympic swimmer. As part of our New York training we decided to do a double race weekend (see no.4) with SwimFesT on the Sunday. The day was lovely and sunny and the water was not too chilly even though we were swimming skins. After battling in the river at Marlow the day before 5k felt like quite a long way. I guess that is why Manda decided 3.8k was a better option!

MANDA: Yes it was me that only did the 3.8km. You can always rely on Katie to make you feel inferior! But in my defence it was the morning after No.4 swim at Marlow. It is always a really nice event down at Lakeside for SwimFesT and the course is really nice. Unfortunately they aren’t doing them this year but if they do again be sure to get yourself down there.

Katie coming into the finish at SwimFesT
Katie coming into the finish at SwimFesT
SwimFesT
SwimFesT

No. 7 – XT Swim 1.5k – September 2010

KATIE: This race was back when we were novices on the open water scene. I think we have been very spoiled as the other races we had done before were at Dorney or Bray lake which are nice and clear with lovely changing rooms and warm showers. This race was a bit ‘different’. It was on an army barracks covered in mud. The water was peaty black and FREEZING. Changing rooms and showers were a distant dream. We didn’t even have our swimming costumes on when we arrived and had to change in the car. #rookieerror!

MANDA: I think this was the 2nd race I did with Katie. Maybe it was inexperience but this race felt really really cold and I also recall seeing a sign saying if you got flu symptoms afterwards to head straight to the doctors as could be weil’s disease… arggh. It was also the first time I met Kate. On the way back to London the 2 of them were discussing this girl called Suz they knew from Uni who had done Swimtreks… little did I know that in a year’s time I would be going on my first Swimtrek with the 4 of them.

No. 6 – Human Race, Dorney Lake 1.5k / 3k – May 2011

MANDA: A year later we would be doing the 10k but I felt like the 3k was a massive step up after having only competed in max mile swims. I really enjoyed it, despite the shock that we weren’t swimming in the main lake with the lane ropes at the bottom, but the side lake. Later in the year we did a 3.8km swim, which again felt like the longest swim in the world… if only I knew what was coming!

KATIE: This time it was my turn to wimp out. 3k just sounded so far (little did I know what Manda had in store for me for 2012!) so I opted for the 1.5k alternative.

No. 5 – Great London Swim 1 mile – July 2011

KATIE: Racing at the Great London Swim is always great to remind yourself about how popular open water swimming has become and how anyone can enjoy the sport. Thousands compete in event. For some this is the first (and maybe last!) open water swim and some people have completed in hundreds of races. Times range from an elite 18mins to 1 hour plus. All you need is a love of open water swimming.

MANDA: This was an exhausting event for me despite the 1 mile distance. I got in and did my 1 mile but after that I had to run back to the start to swim again with my friend Joanne. I had bullied her into swimming the mile but had promised to swim it alongside her… what I didn’t know was she was planning to swim breaststroke. It was exhausting. 1 hour of breast stroke was harder than the 24 minutes front crawl. Chapeau to those swimming breastroke.

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No. 4 – F3 Marlow 3k – July 2012

MANDA: This swim was the afternoon before we did SwimFesT (No. 8) and we were swimming it skins in preparation for NYC (that turned out to be warmer than the local leisure centre!). We set off against the current and would turn at a buoy for a swim with the current and repeat once more through for the 3km distance. With Thames swims, sometimes the current can be strong and sometimes it can be weak. Due to heavy rain it was very strong. A lot of people were trying to swim against the bank so as to avoid the strong current working against them. I tried this but still didn’t seem to be progressing, then I turned at the buoy and in what only felt like seconds I was back at the bottom for another go at battling against the current. When I got to the buoy to turn for the return leg, I didn’t realise that the buoy had come loose with the strong current and was drifting, albeit it slowly due to a kayaker trying to hold it in place, downstream. I furiously chased after it until a kayaker told me to stop. I think he had been trying to tell me to stop for a while but obviously I couldn’t hear him and it was only after we had clashed that I took note. I drifted to the finish line, where Katie has been waiting in the cold and no wetsuit for some time.. Sorry!

KATIE: This race is one of my favourite racing memories just because of the total chaos that ensued. Highlights are the buoy becoming detached from its moorings and floating downstream. I was swimming towards it at the time and saw this unfold which was lucky or else I think I would have been very confused. My other highlight was desperately trying to remember from GCSE geography about river flows to work out were the river is flowing fastest and slowest to take best advantage swimming up-stream and downstream. I’m not sure I remembered correctly!

No. 4 Marlow
No. 4 Marlow

No. 3 – Human Race – Festival of Sport

MANDA: What a sh$t show. The 10k swimmers were meant to be starting first but due to delays and tides not slowing when people aren’t on schedule, the shorter distance swimmers arrived to the start area to find the 10k swimmers still there and with the tides still continuing to come in, the event organisers decided to set us all off at the same time. Now my swimming friends, if there is one piece of advice I can give Event organisers, this will be it: DO NOT GIVE SWIMMERS THE SAME COLOURED HATS AS THE BUOYS. We set off and no one had a clue where they were going and often I thought I was sighting a buoy (that were way too far apart) but really it was just another swimmer. In the end I did the ultimate sin and just followed another swimmer. When I got out, Simon Griffiths, Editor of H2Open Magazine, who was also swimming, was there and I told him my thoughts re buoy colours etc and some other swimmers who came in earlier thought they might have missed a buoy. I then got changed and waited for Katie, who was doing the 10k. After waiting for her for an unusual amount of time, we saw this very forlorn looking Katie emerge. She looked emotionally and physically ruined. Fortunately Kate was on hand to be her “babushka” and normal Katie service was resumed.

KATIE: Despite all the above this was still one of my favourite races. I had never been to Cornwall before and I loved it. Having the festival around the sport was a great idea as it meant you go to sample some famous Cornish Rattler cider in the evenings and listen to live music. It is a shame they haven’t repeated the event. On the train traveling down to Cornwall there was a whole load of hip and trendy people on the train talking about the ‘festival’. We thought they looked way too cool to be coming to the Festival of Sport with us and we were right as it turned out they were going to a festival called ‘Bangface’ in Newquay. Anyway about the swim! I decided to do 10k as it seemed a waste to travel all the way to Cornwall without making the most of it. I ended up swimming 11.25k as the course was quite confusing and it was very difficult to see the buoys as they were spread quite far apart. You had to pretty much hope you were heading in the right direction. It was gorgeous (if slightly chilly) swimming in the clear sea and I don’t regret swimming the longer distance despite the fact that the 1k back into shore was probably the most mentally taxing swim I have ever done. I was crying into my goggles! My highlight was swimming round the beautiful St. Michael’s mount at the start of the swim.

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Mermaid hug
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Katie before the swim
The beautiful St. Michael's Mount in Cornwall
The beautiful St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall
Katie exiting the water looking forlorn at the Festival of Sport
Katie exiting the water looking forlorn at the Festival of Sport
Manda's route round St. Michael's Mount
Manda’s route round St. Michael’s Mount

No. 2 – 10k ‘Relay’ Bray Lake – September 2011

KATIE: This race had been advertised as including a relay category but I think we were the only one entered so we had kind of been forgotten which meant we could make up our own rules. The course was 1k long so Manda, Kate, Suz and I all did 2 laps each and then Manda and I did another lap at the end each. I did the final lap and after I got out a man came up to me and said I saw you sprint past me and it looked like you had only just got in. I reassured him that was because I only just had! As we came 1st out of 1 we demanded a prize! Afterwards we went to lunch in Maidenhead and got to see David Walliams swim part of his amazing Thames challenge. What a hero.

MANDA: What I remember most about this race was the realisation of what kind of team member Suz was going to be for NYC. This was our first team race after having signed up for NYC and Suz proceeded to nap through the rest of us swimming. Welcome to the team Snoozy Suzy. Oh and we came 1st out 1.

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No. 1 – Henley Swim Classic [2.25k] – June 2011

MANDA: Whose idea was it to start a race at 4am?!? We stayed in reading at Kate’s parents’ house the night before and then when they were off to the pub we set about going to bed in order to get some sleep before our 3am alarm. Whilst driving to the swim we drove past people who were still walking home from their nights out. Things just kept getting more surreal. We registered in the dark and then put the wetsuits on ready for our swim. The swim was relatively uneventful, apart from the fact that as the men are set off first, the faster woman had to plough through the slower men. Once we got to the finish we walked back to the club house and had some breakfast then headed back to London. We got back to London at 9AM… YES 9AM. I went to go back to bed but there was a street party on my road with a brass band so couldn’t. I remember the Monday at work me feeling worse than I did the Tuesday morning after Glastonbury. .. That’s how rock and roll outdoor swimming is.

KATIE: Watching the midsummer sun rise while swimming down the Henley regatta rowing course (almost) makes up for having to get up at 3am to swim!

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”.

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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.

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!

http://www.mencap.org.uk/get-involved/events/swim-mencap

http://www.swimfortri.co.uk/