A tale of three swimathons

Back in January I (Manda) had what I thought at the time was an amazing idea (these things so often start this way…).  After doing the swimathon in 2016 at 30 weeks pregnant I asked myself what could I do it make it harder this year?  I know I thought let’s do the swimathon multiple times on one day and let’s also drag Katie along to share the pain!  For some reason Katie also thought this was a good idea and we started to look at logistics.  We originally discussed swimming in four sessions on the same day but we couldn’t find sessions that worked so we settled on attempting the 5km distance three times on the same day.  This is the tale of how our swims went.


Swimathon 1: Thornton Heath

Time: 06:30

Thornton Heath swimathon was meant to start at 6:30 so per the official swimathon email we turned up 30 minutes beforehand to find the centre didn’t open until 6:30. After some knocking on the door, shouting “SWIM-A-THON” through the glass doors and Katie doing some arm swinging action to represent swimming (I think?), the receptionist let us in. 6:30 came and along with the entire over 60s population of SE London, we made our way to poolside to discover there were only 3 of us doing it and we had one lane for us.  Things were a bit disorganised and we were allowed to wear our Team Mermaids hats rather than the official swimathon hat.  We were told we could start and Derrek sped off, whilst we casually dipped our toes in the water to discover it felt like a bath.  Admittedly my 10 month old baby is in training for UK Cold Water Swimming Championships 2019 and therefore, I might do his bath a bit too cold BUT the water was warmer than his bath! We had planned to do 5k straight for the first one, just to get it over and done with but after each 1k Katie wisely stopped to allow us a quick sup of nuun each.

Lane buddies: Derrek

Swim time: 1:19

Water Temp: at least 31

Hat Colour: Team Mermaids


Tooting Bec Lido

It was a glorious day on Friday so Katie suggested a dip at the lido and it didn’t disappoint. We only did 200 yards but it was lush! One of the regulars suggested we did more than 2 lengths but we furiously clinged on to our excuse of having to swim another 10k, whilst we hauled ourselves out of the pool.


Lane buddies: SLSC members and a duck

Swim time: 3 minutes

Water Temp: 12

Hat Colour: Team Mermaids


Swimathon 2: Pancras Leisure

Time: 15:00

This is a relatively new pool, which Katie loves because of the purple wall they have in the pool area.  We again arrived 30 minutes pre our swim start and slowly got ready.  Once on poolside we spoke to our lane buddies and tried to suss each other out.  The other lady in the lane had a garmin 920 XT, a gel and a nice swimming costume… she must be good!  I straight out asked the guy what time he was hoping to do and he said 1:16/1:17 so I said he should lead, whilst Katie gave him dagger eyes.  He kindly said that if we wanted to pass him just to tap his feet, but I explained we had already done 1 * 5km and had another one to go so we would either welcome the drafting (or extra drafting in my case!) or be taking it steady a long way behind him as 1:19 was more what we were aiming for.  Katie was made to leave 5 seconds after him and there was 5 seconds between me and Katie.  The first 100 I turned in 1:23.. WTAF!  I was trying to bridge the gap to Katie and unknown to me Katie was trying to bridge the gap to the man, which would have been great if the dude could have paced.  He managed to overtake us twice, first time being after 600m and second 1800m and then didn’t again… that’s all you need to know about his pacing!  After the 1:23 I decided to let Katie do what she wanted to do and I was just going to accept my fate and just plod as I didn’t want to suffer for this crazy pace later on.  She did settle down but it was still punchy hence the rather swift time we posted.


Lane buddies: Fast man with no passing and lady with pretty costume

Swim time: 1:15

Water Temp: 27 ish

Hat Colour: Pink (Katie), Black (Manda)


Swimathon 3: Balham

Time: 18:00

We picked Balham for the final swim due to (a) proximity to our houses and (b) because this is where Katie always used to do the swimathon when she was a kid.

I went home to feed my baby pre final swimathon.  I also minced around a bit at home as I thought it didn’t start until 18:30 and therefore, needed to be there AROUND 6.  17:55 I rocked up at Balham leisure centre, had a chat to Dennis and Max, who were just leaving after having seen Katie and then walked towards leisure centre.  At this point, still thinking I had 30 minutes until swim start time, I realised I had left my pre swim nutrition of a crème egg in my car, so went back!!  When I finally got to leisure centre reception, whilst shoving a crème egg in my mouth, I saw Katie and others on poolside ready to go.  Uh Oh!

I ran to poolside and dumped all my stuff there.  Fortunately everyone was super relaxed about the start time, which would have annoyed me normally, but actually was to my benefit this time.

After the excitement of St. Pancras and with no one to race we settled back in to our normal plodding pace with a couple of stops for Lucozade.  Katie even forced me to go in front for 2km which I was not happy about.

After 4100m, we had a final drink of water and then with a chant of “so near, BUT YET SO FAR” Katie pushed off and 900m later we were done.


Lane buddies: NO ONE 😀

Swim time: 1:19

Water Temp: 28 ish

Hat Colour: Black (Katie), White (Manda)


Thanks to all the leisure centre staff who counted our laps today (even if we didn’t always agree with your counting!), dealt with us rocking up early, rocking up late and generally just being enthusiastic about the event.

Well done to everyone else who completed the 2017 swimathon especially to honorary mermaids Laura and Josie!


Now what to do for 2018?



Cross training for swimmers – the benefits of Pilates

“In 10 sessions you’ll feel the difference, in 20 sessions you’ll see the difference, in 30 you’ll have a whole new body” Joseph Pilates

As mermaids get let’s say slightly older they are less able to swim every day and cross training – building fitness in different ways – becomes even more important.

One of our favourite forms of training outside the pool is Pilates.  The concept of Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates in Germany in the early 20th century.   Pilates is based on six principles: concentration, control, center, flow, precision, and breathing.  Classes generally include a series of stretching and strengthening exercises focusing on developing the deep core muscles.  This strengthens the whole body and helps to prevent injuries – essential for making it though the long open water swimming season.

“In swimming, speed comes directly from the core,” says Dana Torres, “so Pilates helps immensely!”

Apart from the core strength you get that helps the swimming it also helps you understands minute movements of your body and how great an impact they have and how you can control them.  This sounds familiar because in swimming, where technique is so important and you can find yourself debating the positioning of the thumb on entry into the water, it is paramount to make tiny adjustments to your stroke that will have a significant impact, so understanding this out of the water can only aid these adjustments in the water.

Whereas at Team mermaids we TRY to breathe bilaterally as much as we can, we often resort to one sided breathing.  This can lead to misalignment and a strong and weak side, which in turn can and has led to issues for us.  Pilates helps ensure that you are giving time and strength to your weak side.  Additionally, we know how much the body loves to resort to the easy option and use 1 muscle instead multiple (specifically of concern for swimming with the complex shoulder taking so much of a battering), pilates allows you the time to build those muscles that have “switched off”

There are two main types of Pilates classes; reformer and mat.  Reformer Pilates involves undertaking the exercise on a bed type machine, which increases the resistance and stretching elements of the exercise.

Our favourite place for reformer classes is Frame in Shoreditch.  Classes are good value (£16) whereas classes at other studios can be £20 – £25.


We have both done reformer Pilates from about three years now and when I was going to at least one class a week I really noticed the different in terms of my core strength which in turn helped my swimming.

My (Katie) favourite teacher is Rhos.  He really really pushes you in classes and his no nonsense attitude is always amusing.  Manda loves Sara whose classes are often more rehab focused and great if you are recovering from an injury.  Maisie is also great for pregnancy Pilates classes.  Our friend Kimberly was doing her classes up until about 6 weeks before she popped.

Frame have just opened a new studio in Kings Cross which we are going to have to check out.

We are both more experienced at reformer Pilates but while I have been off on maternity leave I have been doing mum and baby mat Pilates classes with Katie Francesca in Balham.


Not only does she have a fantastic name but she runs great classes.  The classes are really challenging and you always feel like you have had a great workout.  Katie explains different levels for the exercise though so you can exercise at the right level for you.  Katie always has a fun 80s playlist as well!

I have really enjoyed the classes and they have been great for building up my core strength again after having had the baby.  They are going to be the thing is miss most about maternity leave!

If you are looking for something to do outside of the pool then we would definitely recommend giving Pilates a try.


Update 2017

I (Manda) continued using Pilates pre and post natal to complement my swimming and ensure I stayed fit and strong for carrying a growing baby bump, giving birth and for all the challenges post birth.  I actually did a class the Wednesday before giving birth on the Saturday and I had been booked in to do the Saturday class but I was somewhat busy giving birth so had to miss it!

Pre Natal

Whilst pregnant I did a physio (Madia) led pilates class at ReCentre in Balham.  The class was a slow class with only a few people so that you could ensure you were doing all the mat based moves correctly.

I enjoyed the small class nature and it was on a Saturday morning so could fit in pre swimming.

To complement the above class I did a class once a week with Katie from Katie’s pilates (see above).  I got so much satisfaction from this class as it was HARD and would often end up in a proper sweat.  The 2 classes whereas, both are pilates, they were so different and I really liked how they balanced each other out.

I also did Yoga at Yogahaven on a Sunday morning led by Toni.  It was a great class and I always left feeling mentally better about the challenges ahead than when I arrived.

Post Natal

ReCentre do a post natal class on Sunday but I was busy at the lido on Sunday’s over the summer.

Instead I attended Katie’s both buggylates and mum and pilates.  Being outside doing buggylates was amazing for someone who prefers to be outside and seeing weekly improvements made the classes all the more sweeter.

Now I am back at work I don’t have a chance to do pilates and boy does my body know it – I hope to find a Katie’s class than works with my family’s schedule as like we said above you need to compliment the swimming with the strength work.

My 25 years of the Swimathon

Regular swimmers in the UK will not have failed to miss all the advertising at their local pool for the 2015 Swimathon. This has made me think back on the times I have taken part in the Swimathon over the last nearly 25 years.

The Swimathon is a swimming challenge which absolutely everyone who loves swimming can take part in. Distances range from 1.5km to 5km and you can complete as a team or an individual. The Swimathon raises money for some great charities. It doesn’t matter how much you can raise – all donations are welcome.

I first took part in the Swimathon when I was 10 years old at Balham Leisure Centre. I don’t remember this but my mum said I had a really bad cold and was really not well enough to swim 5km. However, I was determined I was going to do it and when I have set my mind to something there is really not a lot of stopping me. I managed to make it through and completed in around 2h and 45mins.

I did the Swimathon each year after that at Balham until I was 16. Highlights included the year that Neil Pearson of drop the 1990s cult show Drop the Dead Donkey fame started us off. My fastest time for the event was 1h and 12m in 1996.

Katie's sister Clare and Neil Pearson at the swimathon in c.1995
Katie’s sister Clare and Neil Pearson at the swimathon in c.1995

After I went to University I didn’t do the Swimathon for a number of years until Kate persuaded me to join her at London Fields Lido for the event in 2011. London Fields is a great pool for the Swimathon as it is a heated outdoor 50m pool. The day was lovely and sunny and my mum, uber Team Mermaids supporter cycled over from SW London to watch. The event was somewhat chaotic in its organisation and it was with a sinking heart that I saw the competitor in front of me get in and start swimming breaststroke (you are meant to be sorted into lanes of people of similar speed). One of the advantages of a 50m pool over a 25m pool though is that you only have to try and pass slower swimmers half as often!

Kate and Katie at the start of the 2013 swimathon at London Fields Lido
Kate and Katie at the start of the 2011 Swimathon at London Fields Lido

I finished in 01:19:30 (slightly ashamed that my 16 year old self was so much faster) and Kate finished in 01:31:00.

Katie at the end of the 2013 swimathon at London Fields Lido
Katie at the end of the 2011 swimathon at London Fields Lido

I didn’t manage to swim in 2012 as I was at a friend’s hen do the weekend of the Swimathon but Kate and Manda both made it back to London Fields for the event. Manda finished in 01:21:00 and Kate finished in 01:30:00 (1 min faster well done Kate!)

Manda and I decided we wanted to try and swim at a good and quiet time in 2013. We therefore decided to swim at Putney Leisure Centre on a Friday evening. Our rationale was only swimming losers like us would want to give up their Friday night to do the Swimathon. In this respect we were right and there were people of similar speeds in our lane making it much easier to just keep going. In all other respects though the night was a disaster! About 2.5km in Manda hit her hand on a metal hook sticking out of the pool badly bruising it and she had to get out. After having cycled about 20 miles that day I kept on getting really awful cramp in my calves and kept on having to stop to stretch. The life guard kept on asking me if I wanted to get out. No way! Mermaids never quit! I finally trailed in in 01:23:44. My 16 year old self is becoming increasingly ashamed of me!

After our 2013 experience we decided to give 2014 a miss. Plus the weekend of the Swimathon was also the weekend schedule for my hen weekend! My amazing friend Alison though knows me too well and after a 3am night of drinking she had entered us into the Swimathon on Sunday morning at the London Olympic Pool no less! Knowing we wouldn’t be up to much Alison had only entered us into the 1.5k team event rather than the full 5k individual event. Swimming in the Olympic Pool was such a fantastic experience thinking you were swimming in the same pool as all the greats from London 2012. To cap the day off we got to get our picture taken with British Olympic legend Duncan Goodhew who won Gold in the 100m Breaststroke at the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games!

London 2012 Olympic Pool for the 2014 Swimathon
London 2012 Olympic Pool for the 2014 Swimathon
Us with Duncan!
Us with Duncan!

So that brings us up to date! Looking forward to 2015….I am due to have my first baby at the end of January 2015 so I am hoping to be back in sufficient shape to swim this year on the weekend of 17 – 19 April although I’m sure not in a time my 16 year old self would be impressed with!

For those of you who are keen details of the 2015 Swimathon are below.



Pool Crawl: South West London edition (January 2015)

Manda and I live in London. There are so many fantastic and historic pools all across the city, only a fraction of which we have ever swum in. To try and rectify this we decided, along with some of our swimming friend (Katie, Brian, Pivo and Lisa), to embark on the “Winter Pool Challenge 2014/15”. The rules are simple. You have to swim in as many pools in London between 1 October 2014 and 31 March 2015. You have to swim at least 1km in each pool and it has to be a pool which is open to the public – no gym pools allowed! For more details on the challenge see Manda’s previous entry https://teammermaids.wordpress.com/2014/10/13/winter-pool-challenge/.

I am due to have my first baby on 27th January 2015 and therefore I decided I needed to get a bit ahead of the game before I am out of action for a bit. I therefore managed to persuade Manda to come of a “pool crawl” with me one Sunday. This is like the 30 somethings swimmers equivalent of what 20 somethings do on Saturday night. Who says swimmers aren’t super cool? Brian and Pivo were also up for the challenge.

Manda meticulously planned the route around South West London to ensure that we hit the pools during lane swimming time rather than during swim for all. We were allowing an hour for each pool. 20 minutes for swimming, 20 minutes for changing and 20 minutes for travelling in between.

Richmond Pools on the Park


We started the day at Richmond Pool on the Park. This is not a new pool for us but it is lovely. The site has an indoor 33.3m pool and an outdoor pool. The outdoor pool is heated but not open during the winter so it was the indoor pool for us. The pool was nice and quiet and as a special bonus we spotted James Cracknell, rowing legend, leaving the centre.

Despite Manda’s careful planning the day did not get off to an auspicious start when Pivo got on the wrong train and ended up in Staines! I didn’t mind so much as this gave me time for a bit of a head start. Being 38 weeks pregnant means I am sadly not as quick as I once was!

Pivo and Brian in the car
Pivo and Brian in the car

Putney Leisure Centre


Despite the delay we were back in the car by 2.10pm and on the way to Putney Leisure Centre. Putney holds a special place in my heart as it was the pool I did my first gala in and where I made my first final (66.6m breaststroke) aged 9. Manda and I also regularly swim in this pool with Swim For Tri.

On a Sunday afternoon though the pool is quite busy and I was glad we were only doing 1km.


After Putney it was time for a cake stop at the Wimbledon Windmill Tearooms (http://www.windmilltearooms.com/) – yay!

Morden Park Pools


After some refreshments (I mean cake) we were on the road again to Morden Leisure Centre. This is a new pool for me and I can’t say I would hurry back there! On the plus side it was quiet and we had a whole lane to ourselves.


Streatham Leisure Centre


The final pool stop of the day was the newly refurbished Streatham Leisure Centre. This pool is lovely with facilities for swimmers of all ages and abilities. We had managed to make for the adults only session but this did mean that the lanes were pretty busy.


The centre also has an ice ring (I was keener to go ice skating than swimming)!

After all the swimming we felt we deserved some pizza and pasta at a Term Mermaids favourite Bucci’s in Balham.

Pivo at Bucci's
Pivo at Bucci’s

Overall it was a great way to spend a Sunday. North / East London Pool Crawls are already in the planning!

Evidence of a hard days swimming
Evidence of a hard days swimming