Training sessions are for SLSC members only. You can get a Club only membership costs for just £25 (£20 for 19-25 year olds) but with the club only membership you have to pay for your entry to the lido. More details here: https://www.slsc.org.uk/club-events/training-sessions/
Thanks to Paddy for giving us an insight into open water swimming events from the spectator’s point of view. It is as glamorous as we thought!!
Massive well done to Kate for her swim!
I’m not a sports spectator and never have been. I also can’t swim. I can float and vaguely control the direction of travel, but it’s not for me. The smell of chlorine evokes vivid memories of being thin and blue, shivering at the poolside in school swimming. I love lakes and the sea, but further schoolboy misadventures involving nudity and canoes (not at the same time, you understand) mean I don’t relish going for a dip in either. Rivers? Right up there with ‘rip tides’ in my list of reasons to decline an invitation from the swimming club.
So now we’ve established that I don’t enjoy watching sport, nor swimming, perhaps we can consider a pertinent question: what moment of lunacy has led to me getting up at 4am to go and watch people churning through a 3km stretch of the river Thames? It’s Saturday – I should be in bed, sleeping off a light hangover before getting up for a leisurely, high-cholesterol breakfast.
Thing is, Kate owes half of south London a lift (with IOUs ranging from Tooting Lido to the Lake District). The other thing is that Kate doesn’t have a car. Or, in fact, a licence – though that is a work in progress. Muggins here does, and has been enlisted. So, at 4am I’m at the wheel and we’re Maidenhead bound for the Boulter’s to Bray Swim.
Aside from the horribly early start, the day begins well. The sun is shining, we don’t hit traffic, we don’t get lost, we find a parking space immediately, registration is completed in the time it would take to buy a newspaper and there is a promise that later we will be offered bacon sandwiches. And coffee. Both will be needed.
Organised sport is not my natural habitat, but Kate quickly finds changing rooms and seems to have a good idea where the start of the 2.8km race is. I am promised the start will be “the exciting bit”.
Arriving at the starting area, things do get more interesting. Kate slips into a crowd being addressed by someone with a megaphone, leaving me to chat to the three other spectators (there are 180-odd entrants). But looking back on the throng, I notice that everyone has turned identical. As the starting gun looms, everyone has pulled on matching event-branded swimming caps. The uniform also includes a black wetsuit.
I can’t find Kate. Some more spectators turn up with a couple of labradors. Even the dogs look confused. It does look a little like the aliens have arrived. It doesn’t help that half of them are ‘windmilling’ like The Who guitarist Pete Townshend.
After a lengthy game of Where’s Wally? I manage to pick out a pair of distinctive pink goggles. It’s Kate, and I’m able to get missile lock long enough to see her enter the water. But now there’s a new problem: the organisers are ‘floating’ the swimmers around the corner for the start. I set off to get a better view.
I just catch the start, but there’s something surprising. Swimming is faster than I expected and this lot are heading downstream. I adopt a brisk pace in the hope of catching up. Problem is, I keep stopping to see if I can pick out a highlight of pink goggle among the rhythmically churning arms. Fat chance. I also have to cross via a bridge, which adds to the lag, following which I’m led down a riverside path where the dense foliage does not afford a clear view. I can hear arms slapping into the water, but I’ve no idea which end of the swimming order I’m walking next to.
Eventually, I come across a dozen or so panting wetsuited men on the towpath, just in time to see Kate (also panting) emerge behind them. It’s the first time I’ve had a definite ID on her since before the start, but I haven’t seen any of the other woman swimmers on the way down here, and there don’t appear to be any looking for their shoes in the pick-up area. Has she won? She doesn’t think so.
Back at HQ, important things are afoot, mainly involving pork and caffeine. Several men are trying to mend a computer. A small queue has formed. One of the men plugs in a new cable, gives it a wiggle and presses some buttons. He looks across the table hopefully and the expectant swimmer taps in his race number. A ticket is printed out. The queue begins to move.
Kate’s ticket reveals that she’s come 21st overall, and is the second fastest woman in the grid. During prize giving, we find out that she was off the leader’s pace by just seconds.
Swimming hasn’t revealed itself as the best kept secret in spectator sports, but Kate thinks having the support has helped her to put in a good time and there’s clearly a bonhomie among the swimmers. Would I get involved? Not on your life. But I might watch again, although I’d hope for a later start. And it’s definitely Kate’s turn to drive.
8. You could swim NEARLY the length of Windermere. We would personally recommend doing this properly rather than doing this event but the swim is a challenge whether fully doing Windermere or nearly doing Windermere. (Sunday)
While it is great that open water swimming is so popular that there is enough of a demand to fill so many events on the same weekend, it seems a shame that they are not more spaced out so keen swimmers could enjoy more than one in a season.
Some of these races are iconic events and a highlight of the open water calendar, therefore, wouldn’t it be better if organisers made sure they put their swims on different dates? Coniston and Dart are always on the same weekend but Brownsea has moved to be this weekend in 2016 (which we can only assume is tide related) but Dock2Dock swim is a new event to the calendar so presumably could have been on a different weekend.
That being said there is a possibility for doubling up. The double up of Coniston and Dart is probably unrealistic but you could definitely do a Dorney/Bray swim on the Saturday and then head to either Dock 2 Dock or RG Active on the Sunday. Anyone?
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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!