Henley Club to Pub 2017

Henley club to pub is the annual swim that takes you upstream from Henley rowing club before turning downstream past Marsh lock back to the Angel on the Bridge pub in Henley.

We previously did this event in 2014 but haven’t made it back since. In 2017 I returned to the race without Katie but I did have Pivo, Brian and Charlie for company.


In a massive change of events, Pivo was in a wetsuit and me, Brian and Charlie were all skins. I had entered the open category rather than the traditional category resulting in me being one of only very few skins swimmers in my wave and same for Brian.

Brian and Pivo disappeared off with their pink caps for the men’s open wave, where apparently Brian drafted off Pivo for the first 400m and then following the men’s traditional and vets wave it was my turn to get in.

I waited until a minute to go before I plunged in. I was surprised to find warm water but with loads of weeds (probably both a result of all the warm weather!).

Now in 2014 the course was short (1300m rather than the 1500m advertised) and we turned at island so it came as a surprise when the top of the island appeared but the turning buoys were still approx 100m upstream.You really got to feel the current when turning as it felt like you were swimming horizontally but really you had already shifted 1m downstream. I was having to constantly readjust not to miss the buoy.

Once turned it was a case of carrying on pushing yourself past the fancy houses on the island in the middle of the Thames to make it to the pub. Must.Get.To.Pub.

About 100m from end, a suited swimmer came into my vision. She had been sat behind me most of the way and had now decided to make her move. No chance. I’m not a short distance swimmer so the effort I put into ensuring I finished in front of her nearly made me sick at end!

With cries of ‘the first traditional female’ I exited the water. Technically I was the first traditional woman out but seeing as I wasn’t in the traditional wave I had had a 10 minute head start off the traditional woman. It came as no surprise to see that I was actually second fastest female skins swimmer, however due to entering open category this wouldn’t be acknowledged. Whoops!

Post swim we cold footed it back to the rowing club to change and then headed back to the pub for some post swim food and drink.


Henley swim have taken on board the feedback from the previous events and it is great to see this event firmly wedged on their events calendar. We will be back!


Thames Marathon 2016 – Bridge to Bridge

The Thames Marathon was our favourite swim of 2015 so part of me was really looking forward to the 14km swim from Henley Bridge down to Marlow Bridge. The other part of me was pretty nervous as I probably hadn’t done quite enough training. While Coach Manda has been on ‘sabbatical’ we have not been as organised as we might be! Manda caught Brian and I trying to do some cramming training at the lido a few weeks before and just shook her head at us.

The event had a number of changes of format this year to go along with the change in name (previously it was just called Bridge to Bridge).

Historically swimmers had to swim in a pod of similar paced swimmers which were allocated at the first lock. In 2015 you had the option to swim solo with a tow float or to swim with a pace group. You chose your own pace group at the start of the event. This year it was mandatory to swim with a tow float but you also had the option to swim with one of three pace swimmers (one per wave) or you could be allocated to a pod at the first stop. I swam solo which made for a much faster race as you can go through the stops at your chosen pace rather than having to wait for the other people in your pace group. I choose to go through the feed stops as quickly as possible. On the other hand it does make the swim a bit lonelier as you don’t have a group to chat to which is a bit of a shame. I had not ever swum with a tow float before and I was a bit nervous that it would get in my way but I hardly noticed it at all.

Typically at these type of swims the slower waves set off first and faster waves later. For the Thames Marathon however this has been reversed with the fast wave leading it out. This definitely makes things easier as you are not having to pass the other waves. I can only imagine that with everyone having tow floats that this would have been carnage.

This year the second and third legs had been joined together to make one uber leg. This meant you started with a 4km leg, followed by 6km, then a shortie of 1.5km followed by a final leg of 2.5km. I was worried that the second leg would be really tough being so long but it was actually fine and it was really nice to finish that leg and to feel like you had broken the back of the swim with just two shorter legs to swim. I do wish however that I had tried to find some people to swim with on this leg as it was mostly by myself which I think made my overall pace suffer.

The event traditionally finished at the rowing club at Marlow Bridge but due to the event’s popularity this is no longer possible and the event now finishes about 200m short in Higginson Park. While it is sad not to swim right up to the bridge it is great to finish right in the swimming festival at the end for snacks and shopping.

Given all the changes along with a pretty rapid river flow it is really hard to compare times from year to year but I was happyish with my 3h 11m finish. Brian did an amazing job breaking the three hour mark finish in 2h 58m and Kate was pleased with her 3h 44m.

Overall I think the changes in format have pros and cons but I understand why they have all been made and I really enjoyed the swim again. We will definitely be back!

Henley Bridge to Bridge 2014

Brian (@Brian_M_Foley) here – guest blogger and honorary merman for the day.

On Saturday, 9th August, I swum the Henley Club to Pub with fellow merfolk Amanda, Katie & Kate. The next morning it was time for the Bridge to Bridge swim – 14km downstream from Henley Bridge to Marlow Bridge.

This swim almost didn’t happen for me for two reasons.

Firstly, I was due to be a reserve swimmer/crew-member on a two-way, four-person relay across the English Channel. Our swim window was from 9th August – 15 August, so could have clashed with the Bridge to Bridge. The swimmers on that swim were Lisa, Paul, Hilary, and Parviz, and they were raising funds for COSMIC (@CosmicCharity), an intensive care unit for children at St Mary’s Hospital. Luckily, the channel relay was delayed till mid-week due to bad weather in the channel, which allowed me to do the Bridge to Bridge at the weekend.

Secondly, the same bad weather that delayed our channel swim was also threatening to cancel the Bridge to Bridge. Heavy rain and lightening were both forecast for Sunday, and up until the very last minute it was not certain that the swim would go ahead.

Katie and Manda dropped me off at the Leander Club at 6:30 on the way to their F3 Event, and I was able to register in good time. I also met Caroline and John, fellow Serpies who had swum the Club to Pub the previous evening. The pre-swim briefing confirmed that the weather was still a concern, and that it may be cancelled after the first 4km if the weather got any worse. Another part of the briefing explained the “sportif” nature of the swim. The bridge to bridge is not a traditional race, rather the swimmers are expected to swim in small groups or “pods”, and stay together for safety reasons. Each pod would have two kayakers, and would regroup at each feed stop.

The swim was split into five sections: 4km from Henley to Hambledon Lock, 3.1km to Medmenham, 2.9km to Hurley Lock, 1.8km to Temple Lock, and the final 2.3km to Marlow Bridge. Each stopping point was manned by volunteers supplying water, energy drink, bananas, chocolate bars and fruit cake. I took full advantage of the food stops, but also had two energy gels tucked into my wetsuit legs for “emergencies”.

We started from underneath Henley Bridge at just after 8am

The first section started with the reverse of the Henley Classic course (which I had swum earlier in the year with Paul), and was used to divide the swimmers into groups. We all swum at our own pace, and were placed into groups of about 20 at Hambledon Lock. To my surprise, I found myself in the first group.


The first section was also notable for the worst weather of the day. A very heavy shower lasted about 10 minutes, and cut visibility in the water dramatically. At this point I was glad I decided to wear clear goggles instead of tinted, as otherwise I don’t think I could have seen where I was going! As swimmers, we didn’t mind the rain so much, but we could see spectators on the river bank who must have gotten very wet in that shower 🙂

The second section was very fast. Being in the first pod put us all under pressure to keep up with the fastest swimmer, and I swum this section at close to 100%. We had a nice psychological boost when we got to the second stop at Medmenham — as we were eating, somebody announced that we were already more than half-way to Marlow!

As the swim went on, the sections got shorter and shorter. Soon we were at Hurley Lock, and made the short walk across an island to bypass the weir. Next came Temple Lock, and the knowledge that there was only one section left to swim.


Before too long we were passing All Saints Church, which is 600m from Marlow bridge. In previous years this would have marked the sprint-to-the-finish point, but our pod was very spread out at this stage, so we had to wait for a couple of minutes to regroup.


We finished in the shadow of Marlow Bridge, and came ashore at the rowing club. We finished in about 3 hours and 13 minutes, which probably equated to just less than 3 hours of swimming when all the food and regrouping stops were taken into account. A medal and a goodie bag was waiting for every finisher, and then it was off to the leisure centre for a shower, and sports massages or food for those that wanted them.

All in all a great swim. The water temperature was apparently 18.7, which felt nice and warm when you are in a wetsuit and swimming fast. I was a bit worried about wearing my wetsuit for the first time in months (I have been skins swimming all summer to prepare for the channel), but copious amounts of body-glide around my neck avoided any issues, and it was actually quite nice to get the speed boost of swimming in a wetsuit.

The organisers did a great job of keeping us safe in challenging conditions. I’ll be back next year, provided channel swims or bad weather don’t get in the way…


Thanks to Katia Vastiau for the photos (@KatiaVastiau)

Henley double header 2014

Kate, who loves beer as much as she does swimming, found the Henley Club to Pub event and as early as May she was rounding the troops for an evening out in Henley…even though she wasn’t sure she was going to be able to come as it had potential to clash with her channel relay if it got delayed.

The swim is 1.5km in the Thames and the finishers receive a commemorative bottle of beer and the medal is a bottle opener.


With potential Channel relay clashes the only confirmed attendees 1 week before hand were me and Katie. 1.5km for us is short so after realising the F3 were doing a swim at Shiplake, Henley the morning after, we decided to enter that 1.5km as well. So that was going to be 2 swims in 12 hours. 7pm and 7am.

Kate ended up doing her Channel relay on the Monday prior so decided to come down and then with the imminent arrival of Bertha, our friends doing a 2 way channel crossing were told that they weren’t likely to go until Wednesday following week, so suddenly we had a few of us going down.

I decided to wear my BlueSeventy Helix wetsuit and was the only one of our group to not be in the “traditional” category.. call me a “cheat”, “wimp”, whatever… but sometimes it is nice to go fast.

The boys set off at 7pm from the rowing Club and then it was the turn for the girls to get in the water for our start. I positioned myself at the front – not something I tend to do, but with the knowledge that I was potentially going to have to swim through some male swimmers, I decided to try and limit the female swimmers I would have to pass. Jeremy, from Henley Swim, set us off at 7:05 and the race began.

The first part of the course was against the current, so it was good to know that things were going to get relatively easier once you turned the corner. 2 swimmers sprinted off at the start. I don’t do this tactic very well as I prefer to build over the distance, where perceived effort increases but generally speed remains consistent, so I let them go and didn’t expect to see them again. 300m later I was neck and neck and due to some careful kamikaze weaving through swimmers, I still managed to take the buoys tightly and realised the other 2 swimmers were no longer aside me. With open water swimming, without turning on your back, you don’t know where the other swimmers are. They could quite easily be drafting off you and waiting until getting close to the finish and then sprint past using the energy they have saved by drafting. This was always going to be a fun swim, which they always should be, otherwise what is the point of doing them right?, so decided to relax and have some fun. This fun manifested itself in playing the simple game of “pass as many people as possible”. I knew I only had under 1km on the home straight and it was with the current so had potential to go quickly, so I set about ticking off the swimmers one by one. Secretly my aim was to try and catch Brian and every skin swimmer I passed I was disappointed to realise it wasn’t him. (Turned out he got to the end about 2 minutes before me! – so my goal was unrealistic to say the least!!).

Before I knew it I could see the bridge and the finish buoy and more importantly the pub! So I hiked up the effort for one last time and sprinted to the finish – partly waiting for a female to pass me but it didn’t happen. I was kindly helped out the water by another swimmer and the Mayor of Henley was there waiting to shake my hand. I found Brian and his friend, then a lady came over and ask me if she could take my photo with the mayor as I was first female. How exciting! Sod any prize.. I got my photo taken with the mayor of Henley, full on garms and everything!

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Round 2….

Shiplake was a great venue for a swim. We registered and headed down to the Thames, where I realised I hadn’t put in my contact lenses. As Brian summarised in a text to me “Amateur hour on the contacts Manda”. Just when you think you have this racing stuff down you do something like this but fortunately I had my dodgy prescription goggles with me.

F3 were putting on 3 swim races, 750, 1.5 and 3km. The 750m set off first and then the 1.5 and 3 set off next. I positioned myself as I do normally, a bit further back and Katie was directly behind me and waited for the GO. Then off we went…

You think it would be easy to tell which way the Thames is flowing and it was definitely obvious at the Club to Pub but constantly through this 1.5km – that was a pure 1 lap, I questioned whether I was swimming with or against the current. As the race goes on everything feels like you are swimming against the current (especially as we had swum the night before and even though we are used to longer distances) but then as the finish approaches it can mentally go one of 2 ways.. you feel like it is never going to come or you receive a boost from seeing the finish line and feels easy. Me and Katie had completely different experiences. She felt the last 200m, where you round the final buoy and turn back towards the finish, was the hardest, whereas I thought I was swimming with the current and it went quickly.

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The race panned out that several swimmers went off at the start and me doing my usual plan of slowly knocking them off one by one. There was one who I couldn’t get but as we approached the finish he didn’t stop.. he was doing the 3k. So I exited the water as the winner of the 1.5k.

Thanks to Henley Swim and F3.


Swim: henley swim – club to pub and F3 henley 1.5
Cake: hummingbird vanilla cupcakes (thanks to Brian @brian_m_foley )
Varnish: blue