Where to find the Mermaids this summer

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Jubilee 10k

5th June

Manda has very kindly given me (Katie) her the free entry to the Jubilee River swim as it is scheduled just a few days after her baby is due to arrive.  This was my first swim ‘back’ last summer so I am hoping to improve on my time this year.  Last year the weather was lovely and sunny and I have my fingers crossed for the same this year as it make the 10k go in a flash just floating down looking at the scenery.

Henley Classic: Alumni match

26th June
The Oxford vs Cambridge Alumni match will be returning at the Henley Classic in June this year.  Last year the Cambridge Alumnae ladies were the only team that were victorious over Oxford. Fingers crossed we can triumph again this year.

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1 mile handicap (SLSC club event)

1st July
Katie will representing the Team Mermaids solo at this event and this will be a reoccurring theme of the summer season. (Un)fortunately for her I (Manda) live right by the lido, so I will be sure to be down there encouraging her… I am thinking a fishing line with a piece of cake at the end. Otherwise how else will she beat the SLSC’s amazing Nancy. Note: the female winner of this event gets the “Mermaid Cup” – we have to win it one year Nancy – please!

The Boulter’s to Bray swim

2nd July

According to the website the Boulter’s to Bray Swim is one of the oldest open water swimming events, with a history dating back to the 19th century.  I can’t believe Team Mermaids have not swum this already and this is something we should quickly rectify!

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The Great London Swim

16th July

If I (Katie) can find a babysitter (any offers?!) I will be down at the London Victoria Docks competing in the Great London Swim.  I am keen for the 2 mile event this year having always done the 1 mile event in previous years.

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Thames Marathon (aka Bridge to Bridge)

7th August

Bridge to Bridge has been re-named the Thames Marathon for 2016 (we are not entirely sure why!).  Whatever it is called it was our favourite swim of 2015 and there I (Katie) am planning to be swimming the 14km down the Thames from Henley to Marlow Bridge again

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Coniston (ChillSwim)

3rd September
The weekend this event is taking place there are several other big ticket swims taking place in other parts of the country. Dart 10k, Brownsea Island and the new Swim the docks 10k. It wasn’t a hard decision to do Coniston again for me (Manda) and Katie hasn’t done it before so would be a chance for her to get it ticked off. To date it has been one of my favourite events. When you are travelling to a race it becomes more about the whole weekend experience and Coniston and the lakes mean that it really can be turned into a holiday. It will also hopefully mark my return to the water post baby arrival, if I don’t end up swimming I know I will have a great time supporting my friends, celebrating their success and sampling some of Coniston Brewery’s finest.

Oxford 10k 

11th September
This is a new event swimming from Bablock Hythe to Kings Lock.  We are quite tempted to book this in but in reality we don’t know how realistic it is 1 week after Coniston so it might be a case of seeing how we feel that weekend.

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Serpentine Swim

24th/25th September

Currently umming and ahhing about this event as we want to do the 110 length challenge so we are probably going to enter the ballot and see what happens.

110 length challenge (SLSC club event)

24th September
It’s an even year (110 length)… PHEW!!! Therefore, no defending our joint title instead the 10k will be divided by 2. I (Manda) was thinking I could maybe make Katie do more but seeing as she did 50% of it in 2014 when she was 5 months pregnant, I should probably just suck it up!

 

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Reflecting on a fun summer of swimming

Now that the nights are drawing in and the weather (not to mention the lido) is getting colder we thought it was time to reflect on this summer’s outdoor swimming season.  Over the last few years we have been focused on one big summer swim (2012 Manhattan, 2013 Zurich and 2014 Windermere) but this summer, probably more through lack of organisation than design, we didn’t have anything planned.  To make up for this we have participated in quite a few shorter (though I wouldn’t say short!) races.

The season started off for Manda with a 10k in the jellyfish infested waters of Sa Dragonera in Mallorca.  My first open water race of the season was the Jubilee River 10k swim.  The relaxed atmosphere and beautiful weather made this the perfect season opener.  After Jubilee we went properly short with the 2.1k Henley Classic and a return, after a few years absence, to the Great London Swim 1 mile race.  The shortest race of the season was probably the RG Active relays.  This race is 6 laps of Ham Lake with Manda and I alternating each lap.  The whole race is 3.2km in total.  After victory in 2014 we were beaten into second place this year so will be returning for revenge in future years.

It was back to endurance swimming after the Great London swim with the iconic Brownsea Island 6.5km swim, the 14k Henley Bridge to Bridge and the Dark 10k.

Something we had done much more of this year and have really enjoyed is early morning training at Tooting Bec Lido.  Two or three times a week we would meet at 6am when the lido opened, swim our 30 length set (3,000 yards).  We always start with 10 length steady as warm-up!  It would then be off to work for Manda and back to baby duty for me.

Given how much we have enjoyed the Lido this summer it was fitting that the last ‘race’ of the season was the 109 lengths challenge.  Each year the lido hosts a race consisting of 1 length for every year of the lido has been opened.  Last year we had competed in the 108 length challenge as a relay.  Given that 109 lengths is nearly 10km of swimming with no river assistance this time we were probably a bit blaze in our approach, worrying more about the cold than the distance.  Luckily the sun was shining on us on the day though so we survived.

While we have not done any major swimming challenges this year Team Mermaids friends have done some fantastic swims.  In July Kate and Lisa swam the length of Lake Windermere.  Lisa also swam back again in preparation for her channel swim which she completed in August.  Lisa got stuck in a current with an injury just off the French coast and basically had to battle for five hours to make it.  We are awed by her determination.  In September, Brian & Hilary along with their four other team mates completed a relay Arch to Arc.  For those that don’t know this is where you run from Marble Arch to Dover, swim the channel and then cycle to the Arc de Triomphe – wow!  In September Uncle Davy also completed his one way Windermere swim in an amazing time of 4 hours 20 minutes.  While not strictly all swimming a special mention also goes to Dad Carr for coming 19th in his age group at the Triathlon World Championships in Chicago.

Favourite race of the season?

KATIE: My favourite race of the season has to be Henley Bridge to Bridge.  The gorgeous weather, lovely water temperature, nicely spaced feed stops and good company made the 14km fly by.  Definitely one to do again.

MANDA: I loved them all for different reasons.  It really was a year for the bucket list swims.  Dragonera for the sunshine, facing my fears (jellyfish) and hearing Amanda Read on local television.  Jubilee for having Katie back with us.  Great London Swim as it really made me think of how far we have come since our other Great Swims.  Brownsea was a long but awesome day out with my favourite people.  All being said, my favourite race was Bridge to Bridge.  Despite Dan’s encouraging pace, it was great fun from start to finish.

Well that is the end of the open water swimming season for us.  We are looking forward our new winter training challenge (more on that soon), having some time to try other sports and of course to the start of next season!

Oxford vs Cambridge at the Henley Classic

The dawn of Saturday 28th June 2015 saw the Oxford and Cambridge teams line up on the Henley regatta course for the varsity open water swimming matches. The student varsity match was first held in 2014 and proved so popular that the organisers decided to add an alumni match as well this year.

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The matches were held as part of the Henley Classic event. This is a lovely race which was been going for many years now and one that Team Mermaids did in 2011. It is always held at dawn (4.30am!) on the Sunday before Henley Regatta starts on Wednesday. The swim is 2.1km upstream along the regatta course.

The format of the varsity and alumni match is that four ladies and four men compete for each university with the fastest three times for each sex counting towards the overall result. The swim operates on channel swim rules i.e. skins! Although this wasn’t made clear to all the alumni swimmers in advance, so as it was the first year some people were allowed to wear wetsuits (but won’t be next year!!).

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Kate and I (Katie) swam for the Cambridge alumni team. I would like to say that it was very competitive to be selected for the team but in reality pretty much anyone who wanted to swim was welcome! The student match set off at 5.45am with the alumni match setting off a few minutes later with an altogether much more sportive atmosphere to it! Marisa and Katia started off strong for Oxford with Jo and Rachel for Cambridge hot on their heels. Jo ended up winning the race, and Kate and I managed to come in fifth and sixth ahead of the final two Oxford girls (Anna and Katie)

Cambridge varsity and alumni teams before the start of the races
Cambridge varsity and alumni teams before the start of the races

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I really enjoyed the race even though towards the end if felt like the finish was never going to arrive. Oxford were victorious in the men’s and women’s student match and the men’s alumni match – well done Oxford. Somehow though Cambridge managed to win our women’s alumni race – all down to Jo and Rachel I think! Can’t wait for next year.

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Varsity girls race
Varsity girls race

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!